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Over one million viewers watch Verstappen’s debut win in the Netherlands — The F1 Broadcasting Blog

May 17, 2016

An audience of over one million viewers in the Netherlands watched their countryman Max Verstappen claim his first Formula 1 win, viewing figures show. According to the ratings bureau Kijkonderzoek the Spanish Grand Prix, which aired live on Ziggo Sport, averaged a massive 1.01m (35.5%) from 13:55 to 15:48 local time. The post-race section rated even higher than the […]

via Over one million viewers watch Verstappen’s debut win in the Netherlands — The F1 Broadcasting Blog


Jack Brabham – in his own words

June 15, 2014

Alan Brinton was an excellent British journalist with whom Jack always had a great rapport. Alan ghosted Jack’s regular column in Motor Racing magazine – and often interviewed him at a time when “interviews” were not really fashionable. When I first came to England, in 1972, I complimented Alan on his work and very kindly he gave me a bundle of tapes he had made over the years. Amongst them was a conversation he had had with Sir Jack just prior to his last Grand Prix, in Mexico, 1970. You can listen to it now (below). And by means of a postscript to this interview, I once had a long chat with Jack in his office near Chessington, during which he took up the story of what happened after his retirement:

Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?

October 27, 2013

Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?

What happens to a country when its young people stop having sex? Japan is finding out… Abigail Haworth investigates

Japanese man and woman lean away from each other

Arm’s length: 45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 are ‘not interested in or despise sexual contact’. More than a quarter of men feel the same way. Photograph: Eric Rechsteiner

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means “love” in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did “all the usual things” like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples. Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan‘s media callssekkusu shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome”.

Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy” – and it’s partly the government’s fault.

The sign outside her building says “Clinic”. She greets me in yoga pants and fluffy animal slippers, cradling a Pekingese dog whom she introduces as Marilyn Monroe. In her business pamphlet, she offers up the gloriously random confidence that she visited North Korea in the 1990s and squeezed the testicles of a top army general. It doesn’t say whether she was invited there specifically for that purpose, but the message to her clients is clear: she doesn’t judge.

Inside, she takes me upstairs to her “relaxation room” – a bedroom with no furniture except a double futon. “It will be quiet in here,” she says. Aoyama’s first task with most of her clients is encouraging them “to stop apologising for their own physical existence”.

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

Sex counsellor Ai Aoyama with a client and her dogLearning to love: sex counsellor Ai Aoyama, with one of her clients and her dog Marilyn. Photograph: Eric Rechsteiner/Panos Picture

Many people who seek her out, says Aoyama, are deeply confused. “Some want a partner, some prefer being single, but few relate to normal love and marriage.” However, the pressure to conform to Japan’s anachronistic family model of salaryman husband and stay-at-home wife remains. “People don’t know where to turn. They’re coming to me because they think that, by wanting something different, there’s something wrong with them.”

Official alarmism doesn’t help. Fewer babies were born here in 2012 than any year on record. (This was also the year, as the number of elderly people shoots up, that adult incontinence pants outsold baby nappies in Japan for the first time.) Kunio Kitamura, head of the JFPA, claims the demographic crisis is so serious that Japan “might eventually perish into extinction”.

Japan’s under-40s won’t go forth and multiply out of duty, as postwar generations did. The country is undergoing major social transition after 20 years of economic stagnation. It is also battling against the effects on its already nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche of 2011’s earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown. There is no going back. “Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.”

Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval.

Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan’s giant cities, are “spiralling away from each other”. Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms “Pot Noodle love” – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality “girlfriends”, anime cartoons. Or else they’re opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes.

Some of Aoyama’s clients are among the small minority who have taken social withdrawal to a pathological extreme. They are recoveringhikikomori (“shut-ins” or recluses) taking the first steps to rejoining the outside world, otaku (geeks), and long-term parasaito shingurus(parasite singles) who have reached their mid-30s without managing to move out of home. (Of the estimated 13 million unmarried people in Japan who currently live with their parents, around three million are over the age of 35.) “A few people can’t relate to the opposite sex physically or in any other way. They flinch if I touch them,” she says. “Most are men, but I’m starting to see more women.”

Young women shopping in TokyoNo sex in the city: (from left) friends Emi Kuwahata, 23, and Eri Asada, 22, shopping in Tokyo. Photograph: Eric Rechsteiner/Panos Pictures

Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. “I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work.” Sometimes, for an extra fee, she gets naked with her male clients – “strictly no intercourse” – to physically guide them around the female form. Keen to see her nation thrive, she likens her role in these cases to that of the Edo period courtesans, or oiran, who used to initiate samurai sons into the art of erotic pleasure.

Aversion to marriage and intimacy in modern life is not unique to Japan. Nor is growing preoccupation with digital technology. But what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country’s procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense. This is true for both sexes, but it’s especially true for women. “Marriage is a woman’s grave,” goes an old Japanese saying that refers to wives being ignored in favour of mistresses. For Japanese women today, marriage is the grave of their hard-won careers.

I meet Eri Tomita, 32, over Saturday morning coffee in the smart Tokyo district of Ebisu. Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. “A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realised I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up.”

Tomita says a woman’s chances of promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as she marries. “The bosses assume you will get pregnant.” Once a woman does have a child, she adds, the long, inflexible hours become unmanageable. “You have to resign. You end up being a housewife with no independent income. It’s not an option for women like me.”

Around 70% of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child. The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world’s worst nations for gender equality at work. Social attitudes don’t help. Married working women are sometimes demonised as oniyome, or “devil wives”. In a telling Japanese ballet production of Bizet’s Carmen a few years ago, Carmen was portrayed as a career woman who stole company secrets to get ahead and then framed her lowly security-guard lover José. Her end was not pretty.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe recently trumpeted long-overdue plans to increase female economic participation by improving conditions and daycare, but Tomita says things would have to improve “dramatically” to compel her to become a working wife and mother. “I have a great life. I go out with my girl friends – career women like me – to French and Italian restaurants. I buy stylish clothes and go on nice holidays. I love my independence.”

Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either. “I often get asked out by married men in the office who want an affair. They assume I’m desperate because I’m single.” She grimaces, then shrugs. “Mendokusai.”

Mendokusai translates loosely as “Too troublesome” or “I can’t be bothered”. It’s the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan’s Institute of Population and Social Securityreports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is “preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like”.

Eri Tomita, 32, office worker in Tokyo‘I often get asked out by married men in the office who want an affair as I am single. But I can’t be bothered’: Eri Tomita, 32. Photograph: Eric Rechsteiner/Panos Pictures

The sense of crushing obligation affects men just as much. Satoru Kishino, 31, belongs to a large tribe of men under 40 who are engaging in a kind of passive rebellion against traditional Japanese masculinity. Amid the recession and unsteady wages, men like Kishino feel that the pressure on them to be breadwinning economic warriors for a wife and family is unrealistic. They are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success.

“It’s too troublesome,” says Kishino, when I ask why he’s not interested in having a girlfriend. “I don’t earn a huge salary to go on dates and I don’t want the responsibility of a woman hoping it might lead to marriage.” Japan’s media, which has a name for every social kink, refers to men like Kishino as “herbivores” or soshoku danshi (literally, “grass-eating men”). Kishino says he doesn’t mind the label because it’s become so commonplace. He defines it as “a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant”.

The phenomenon emerged a few years ago with the airing of a Japanese manga-turned-TV show. The lead character in Otomen (“Girly Men”) was a tall martial arts champion, the king of tough-guy cool. Secretly, he loved baking cakes, collecting “pink sparkly things” and knitting clothes for his stuffed animals. To the tooth-sucking horror of Japan’s corporate elders, the show struck a powerful chord with the generation they spawned.

Satoru Kishino, 31‘I find women attractive but I’ve learned to live without sex. Emotional entanglements are too complicated’: Satoru Kishino, 31. Photograph: Eric Rechsteiner/Panos Pictures

Kishino, who works at a fashion accessories company as a designer and manager, doesn’t knit. But he does like cooking and cycling, and platonic friendships. “I find some of my female friends attractive but I’ve learned to live without sex. Emotional entanglements are too complicated,” he says. “I can’t be bothered.”

Romantic apathy aside, Kishino, like Tomita, says he enjoys his active single life. Ironically, the salaryman system that produced such segregated marital roles – wives inside the home, husbands at work for 20 hours a day – also created an ideal environment for solo living. Japan’s cities are full of conveniences made for one, from stand-up noodle bars to capsule hotels to the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores), with their shelves of individually wrapped rice balls and disposable underwear. These things originally evolved for salarymen on the go, but there are now female-only cafés, hotel floors and even the odd apartment block. And Japan’s cities are extraordinarily crime-free.

Some experts believe the flight from marriage is not merely a rejection of outdated norms and gender roles. It could be a long-term state of affairs. “Remaining single was once the ultimate personal failure,” says Tomomi Yamaguchi, a Japanese-born assistant professor of anthropology at Montana State University in America. “But more people are finding they prefer it.” Being single by choice is becoming, she believes, “a new reality”.

Is Japan providing a glimpse of all our futures? Many of the shifts there are occurring in other advanced nations, too. Across urban Asia, Europe and America, people are marrying later or not at all, birth rates are falling, single-occupant households are on the rise and, in countries where economic recession is worst, young people are living at home. But demographer Nicholas Eberstadt argues that a distinctive set of factors is accelerating these trends in Japan. These factors include the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family, the country’s precarious earthquake-prone ecology that engenders feelings of futility, and the high cost of living and raising children.

“Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction,”Eberstadt wrote last year. With a vast army of older people and an ever-dwindling younger generation, Japan may become a “pioneer people” where individuals who never marry exist in significant numbers, he said.

Japan’s 20-somethings are the age group to watch. Most are still too young to have concrete future plans, but projections for them are already laid out. According to the government’s population institute, women in their early 20s today have a one-in-four chance of never marrying. Their chances of remaining childless are even higher: almost 40%.

They don’t seem concerned. Emi Kuwahata, 23, and her friend, Eri Asada, 22, meet me in the shopping district of Shibuya. The café they choose is beneath an art gallery near the train station, wedged in an alley between pachinko pinball parlours and adult video shops. Kuwahata, a fashion graduate, is in a casual relationship with a man 13 years her senior. “We meet once a week to go clubbing,” she says. “I don’t have time for a regular boyfriend. I’m trying to become a fashion designer.” Asada, who studied economics, has no interest in love. “I gave up dating three years ago. I don’t miss boyfriends or sex. I don’t even like holding hands.”

Asada insists nothing happened to put her off physical contact. She just doesn’t want a relationship and casual sex is not a good option, she says, because “girls can’t have flings without being judged”. Although Japan is sexually permissive, the current fantasy ideal for women under 25 is impossibly cute and virginal. Double standards abound.

In the Japan Family Planning Association’s 2013 study on sex among young people, there was far more data on men than women. I asked the association’s head, Kunio Kitamura, why. “Sexual drive comes from males,” said the man who advises the government. “Females do not experience the same levels of desire.”

Over iced tea served by skinny-jeaned boys with meticulously tousled hair, Asada and Kuwahata say they share the usual singleton passions of clothes, music and shopping, and have hectic social lives. But, smart phones in hand, they also admit they spend far more time communicating with their friends via online social networks than seeing them in the flesh. Asada adds she’s spent “the past two years” obsessed with a virtual game that lets her act as a manager of a sweet shop.

Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, who writes about Japan’s youth, says it’s inevitable that the future of Japanese relationships will be largely technology driven. “Japan has developed incredibly sophisticated virtual worlds and online communication systems. Its smart phone apps are the world’s most imaginative.” Kelts says the need to escape into private, virtual worlds in Japan stems from the fact that it’s an overcrowded nation with limited physical space. But he also believes the rest of the world is not far behind.

Getting back to basics, former dominatrix Ai Aoyama – Queen Love – is determined to educate her clients on the value of “skin-to-skin, heart-to-heart” intimacy. She accepts that technology will shape the future, but says society must ensure it doesn’t take over. “It’s not healthy that people are becoming so physically disconnected from each other,” she says. “Sex with another person is a human need that produces feel-good hormones and helps people to function better in their daily lives.”

Aoyama says she sees daily that people crave human warmth, even if they don’t want the hassle of marriage or a long-term relationship. She berates the government for “making it hard for single people to live however they want” and for “whipping up fear about the falling birth rate”. Whipping up fear in people, she says, doesn’t help anyone. And that’s from a woman who knows a bit about whipping.


A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning

October 7, 2013

A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning

Michael Stravato for The New York Times

“You are here because now is the single best time we have to defund Obamacare. This is a fight we can win.” SENATOR TED CRUZ, speaking in August to a Heritage Action gathering in Dallas

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Published: October 5, 2013 2149 Comments

WASHINGTON — Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.


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From Left: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images; Doug Mcschooler/Associated Press; Mike Theiler/Getty Images

DRIVING FORCES David Koch of Americans for Prosperity, Michael A. Needham of Heritage Action and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III played roles in the health law fight.

Americans for Prosperity

SOWING DOUBT A site by Americans for Prosperity, which has spent $5.5 million recently on television ads critical of the health care law.

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Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.

It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.

“We felt very strongly at the start of this year that the House needed to use the power of the purse,” said one coalition member, Michael A. Needham, who runs Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “At least at Heritage Action, we felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight that we were going to pick.”

Last week the country witnessed the fallout from that strategy: a standoff that has shuttered much of the federal bureaucracy and unsettled the nation.

To many Americans, the shutdown came out of nowhere. But interviews with a wide array of conservatives show that the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010 — waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known.

With polls showing Americans deeply divided over the law, conservatives believe that the public is behind them. Although the law’s opponents say that shutting down the government was not their objective, the activists anticipated that a shutdown could occur — and worked with members of the Tea Party caucus in Congress who were excited about drawing a red line against a law they despise.

A defundingtool kit” created in early September included talking points for the question, “What happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?” The suggested answer was the one House Republicans give today: “We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.”

The current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a well-financed, broad-based assault on the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.

The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.

One sample Twitter offering — “Obamacare is a train wreck” — is a common refrain for Speaker John A. Boehner.

As the defunding movement picked up steam among outside advocates, Republicans who sounded tepid became targets. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee dedicated to “electing true conservatives,” ran radio advertisements against three Republican incumbents.

Heritage Action ran critical Internet advertisements in the districts of 100 Republican lawmakers who had failed to sign a letter by a North Carolina freshman, Representative Mark Meadows, urging Mr. Boehner to take up the defunding cause.

“They’ve been hugely influential,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “When else in our history has a freshman member of Congress from North Carolina been able to round up a gang of 80 that’s essentially ground the government to a halt?”

On Capitol Hill, the advocates found willing partners in Tea Party conservatives, who have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they do not get their way on spending issues. This time they said they were so alarmed by the health law that they were willing to risk a shutdown over it. (“This is exactly what the public wants,” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, said on the eve of the shutdown.)

Despite Mrs. Bachmann’s comments, not all of the groups have been on board with the defunding campaign. Some, like the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, which spent $5.5 million on health care television advertisements over the past three months, are more focused on sowing public doubts about the law. But all have a common goal, which is to cripple a measure that Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and leader of the defunding effort, has likened to a horror movie.

“We view this as a long-term effort,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. He said his group expected to spend “tens of millions” of dollars on a “multifront effort” that includes working to prevent states from expanding Medicaid under the law. The group’s goal is not to defund the law.

“We want to see this law repealed,” Mr. Phillips said.

A Familiar Tactic

The crowd was raucous at the Hilton Anatole, just north of downtown Dallas, when Mr. Needham’s group, Heritage Action, arrived on a Tuesday in August for the second stop on a nine-city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour.” Nearly 1,000 people turned out to hear two stars of the Tea Party movement: Mr. Cruz, and Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator who runs the Heritage Foundation.

“You’re here because now is the single best time we have to defund Obamacare,” declared Mr. Cruz, who would go on to rail against the law on the Senate floor in September with a monologue that ran for 21 hours. “This is a fight we can win.”

Although Mr. Cruz is new to the Senate, the tactic of defunding in Washington is not. For years, Congress has banned the use of certain federal money to pay for abortions, except in the case of incest and rape, by attaching the so-called Hyde Amendment to spending bills.

After the health law passed in 2010, Todd Tiahrt, then a Republican congressman from Kansas, proposed defunding bits and pieces of it. He said he spoke to Mr. Boehner’s staff about the idea while the Supreme Court, which upheld the central provision, was weighing the law’s constitutionality.

“There just wasn’t the appetite for it at the time,” Mr. Tiahrt said in an interview. “They thought, we don’t need to worry about it because the Supreme Court will strike it down.”

But the idea of using the appropriations process to defund an entire federal program, particularly one as far-reaching as the health care overhaul, raised the stakes considerably. In an interview, Mr. DeMint, who left the Senate to join the Heritage Foundation in January, said he had been thinking about it since the law’s passage, in part because Republican leaders were not more aggressive.

“They’ve been through a series of C.R.s and debt limits,” Mr. DeMint said, referring to continuing resolutions on spending, “and all the time there was discussion of ‘O.K., we’re not going to fight the Obamacare fight, we’ll do it next time.’ The conservatives who ran in 2010 promising to repeal it kept hearing, ‘This is not the right time to fight this battle.’ ”

Mr. DeMint is hardly alone in his distaste for the health law, or his willingness to do something about it. In the three years since Mr. Obama signed the health measure, Tea Party-inspired groups have mobilized, aided by a financing network that continues to grow, both in its complexity and the sheer amount of money that flows through it.

A review of tax records, campaign finance reports and corporate filings shows that hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and spent since 2012 by organizations, many of them loosely connected, leading opposition to the measure.

One of the biggest sources of conservative money is Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt “business league” that claims more than 200 members, each of whom pays at least $100,000 in dues. The group’s board is headed by a longtime executive of Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by the Koch brothers, who were among the original financiers of the Tea Party movement. The Kochs declined to comment.

While Freedom Partners has financed organizations that are pushing to defund the law, like Heritage Action and Tea Party Patriots, Freedom Partners has not advocated that. A spokesman for the group, James Davis, said it was more focused on “educating Americans around the country on the negative impacts of Obamacare.”

The largest recipient of Freedom Partners cash — about $115 million — was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, according to the groups’ latest tax filings. Run by a political consultant with ties to the Kochs and listing an Arizona post office box for its address, the center appears to be little more than a clearinghouse for donations to still more groups, including American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association, both ardent foes of the health care law.

American Commitment and 60 Plus were among a handful of groups calling themselves the “Repeal Coalition” that sent a letter in August urging Republican leaders in the House and the Senate to insist “at a minimum” in a one-year delay of carrying out the health care law as part of any budget deal. Another group, the Conservative 50 Plus Alliance, delivered a defunding petition with 68,700 signatures to the Senate.

In the fight to shape public opinion, conservatives face well-organized liberal foes. Enroll America, a nonprofit group allied with the Obama White House, is waging a campaign to persuade millions of the uninsured to buy coverage. The law’s supporters are also getting huge assistance from the insurance industry, which is expected to spend $1 billion on advertising to help sell its plans on the exchanges.

“It is David versus Goliath,” said Mr. Phillips of Americans for Prosperity.

But conservatives are finding that with relatively small advertising buys, they can make a splash. Generation Opportunity, the youth-oriented outfit behind the “Creepy Uncle Sam” ads, is spending $750,000 on that effort, aimed at dissuading young people — a cohort critical to the success of the health care overhaul — from signing up for insurance under the new law.

 The group receives substantial backing from Freedom Partners and appears ready to expand. Recently, Generation Opportunity moved into spacious new offices in Arlington, Va., where exposed ductwork, Ikea chairs and a Ping-Pong table give off the feel of a Silicon Valley start-up.

Its executive director, Evan Feinberg, a 29-year-old former Capitol Hill aide and onetime instructor for a leadership institute founded by Charles Koch, said there would be more Uncle Sam ads, coupled with college campus visits, this fall. Two other groups, FreedomWorks, with its “Burn Your Obamacare Card” protests, and Young Americans for Liberty, are also running campus events.

“A lot of folks have asked us, ‘Are we trying to sabotage the law?’ ” Mr. Feinberg said in an interview last week. His answer echoes the Freedom Partners philosophy: “Our goal is to educate and empower young people.”

Critical Timing

But many on the Republican right wanted to do more.

Mr. Meese’s low-profile coalition, the Conservative Action Project, which seeks to find common ground among leaders of an array of fiscally and socially conservative groups, was looking ahead to last Tuesday, when the new online health insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, were set to open. If the law took full effect as planned, many conservatives feared, it would be nearly impossible to repeal — even if a Republican president were elected in 2016.

“I think people realized that with the imminent beginning of Obamacare, that this was a critical time to make every effort to stop something,” Mr. Meese said in an interview. (He has since stepped down as the coalition’s chairman and has been succeeded by David McIntosh, a former congressman from Indiana.)

The defunding idea, Mr. Meese said, was “a logical strategy.” The idea drew broad support. Fiscal conservatives like Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth, signed on to the blueprint. So did social and religious conservatives, like the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The document set a target date: March 27, when a continuing resolution allowing the government to function was to expire. Its message was direct: “Conservatives should not approve a C.R. unless it defunds Obamacare.”

But the March date came and went without a defunding struggle. In the Senate, Mr. Cruz and Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, talked up the defunding idea, but it went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled chamber. In the House, Mr. Boehner wanted to concentrate instead on locking in the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, and Tea Party lawmakers followed his lead. Outside advocates were unhappy but held their fire.

“We didn’t cause any trouble,” Mr. Chocola said.

Yet by summer, with an August recess looming and another temporary spending bill expiring at the end of September, the groups were done waiting.

“I remember talking to reporters at the end of July, and they said, ‘This didn’t go anywhere,’ ” Mr. Needham recalled. “What all of us felt at the time was, this was never going to be a strategy that was going to win inside the Beltway. It was going to be a strategy where, during August, people would go home and hear from their constituents, saying: ‘You pledged to do everything you could to stop Obamacare. Will you defund it?’ ”

Heritage Action, which has trained 6,000 people it calls sentinels around the country, sent them to open meetings and other events to confront their elected representatives. Its “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour,” which began in Fayetteville, Ark., on Aug. 19 and ended 10 days later in Wilmington, Del., drew hundreds at every stop.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, led by Mr. DeMint when he was in the Senate, put up a Web site in July called and ran television ads featuring Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee urging people to tell their representatives not to fund the law.

When Senator Richard M. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, told a reporter that defunding the law was “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” the fund bought a radio ad to attack him. Two other Republican senators up for re-election in 2014, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, were also targeted. Both face Tea Party challengers.

In Washington, Tea Party Patriots, which created the defunding tool kit, set up a Web site,, to promote a rally last month showcasing many of the Republicans in Congress whom Democrats — and a number of fellow Republicans — say are most responsible for the shutdown.

While conservatives believe that the public will back them on defunding, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority — 57 percent — disapproves of cutting off funding as a way to stop the law.

Last week, with the health care exchanges open for business and a number of prominent Republicans complaining that the “Defund Obamacare” strategy was politically damaging and pointless, Mr. Needham of Heritage Action said he felt good about what the groups had accomplished.

“It really was a groundswell,” he said, “that changed Washington from the outside in.”


A version of this article appears in print on October 6, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Crisis Months in the Planning.


Copyright. 2013 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved

2013 Formula One Grand Prix of Korea. Sebastian Vettel Cruises to Win Seventh Race of the Season

October 6, 2013

Webber accuses Pirelli of not caring about drivers after suffering puncture in Korea before car explodes into flames (…but team-mate Vettel avoids carnage to cruise to victory)


PUBLISHED: 02:47 EST, 6 October 2013 | UPDATED: 04:09 EST, 6 October 2013


Mark Webber hit out at Pirelli after suffering a puncture which forced him out of the Korean Grand Prix which was won by his team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

The Australian started 13th but had moved through the pack to be in contention for a spot on the podium before he ran over debris from Sergio Perez’s disintegrated tyre.

His car then burst into flames after spinning off before Webber accused the tyre manufacturer of not caring about the drivers.

Champion again in all but name: Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth successive victory

Champion again in all but name: Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth successive victory


Podium: He finished ahead of Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean

Podium: He finished ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean







1. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
3. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
4. Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber)
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
6. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
8. Jenson Button (McLaren)
9. Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
10. Sergio Perez (McLaren)

‘That is how it is. The drivers aren’t super important – it is what other people want,’ he said.

‘The tyres are wearing a lot and they also explode a bit – but that is for Pirelli to sort out.’

Webber added: ‘I think I got a Pirelli puncture from a Pirelli tyre. Don’t think they’ll be putting that on a poster.’

Vettel, meanwhile, made it four wins on the spin as he closed on his fourth world title with yet another commanding victory.

But at least the smattering of locals that made it to Mokpo, not to mention a global television audience of millions, were treated to a cracking grand prix – once you had taken the German and his Red Bull out of the equation.

Crashes, fires and overtakes were the order of the day for the rest of the field, not that the runaway championship leader had to bother with such matters.

Vettel got off the line smoothly from pole while Lewis Hamilton – who had to settle for fifth – was under pressure from the off as Romain Grosjean in the Lotus was on his tail.

And by the tight turn three the Frenchman was making a move stick up the inside to pass the Mercedes.

That overtake was clean but behind the field was squabbling was five cars trying to make the corner together. The biggest loser was Felipe Massa who span, almost taking out his Ferrari teammate in the process. Massa’s punishment was to drop to second last but was soon carving his way back through the pack.

Smokey: Mark Webber's car goes up in flames after being hit by Adrian Sutil

Smokey: Mark Webber’s car goes up in flames after being hit by Adrian Sutil


Burning: A view of Webber's car from the on-board camera

Burning: A view of Webber’s car from the on-board camera

Trying his hardest to get past: Lewis Hamilton fighting with Grosjean near the start

Trying his hardest to get past: Lewis Hamilton fighting with Grosjean near the start


Jenson Button, however, was headed in the opposite direction, his McLaren requiring a new front wing and nose on lap four after some early contact.

At the front, Vettel was stretching away from Grosjean but not at the rate of knots he managed in Singapore, pace which promoted yet more speculation that Red Bull were sailing very close to the wind regarding the regulations. 

Such accusations were flatly denied by both Vettel and team principal Christian Horner and they certainly were not affecting the triple world champion’s focus at the Korean International Circuit.

Meanwhile, Webber, after being hit with a ten-place grid penalty for hitching a lift from Alonso in Singapore, was making swift progress through the field, the Australian up to eighth from 13th on the grid by lap eight.

Out of sight: Vettel cruised to his seventh victory of the season

Out of sight: Vettel cruised to his seventh victory of the season


Making little impression on the front two, Hamilton was into the pits at the end of lap nine for the harder prime tyre closely followed by Alonso.

The rest of the front runners – Vettel aside –  were in on the following lap with Grosjean emerging just ahead of Hamilton. The Mercedes man was all over the back of the Lotus gearbox but just about managed to hang on.

In came Vettel at the end of lap 11, promoting Webber, yet to stop, to the lead as Hamilton continued to tussle with Grosjean.

But the Australian was not in the same race and his teammate and was in at the end of lap 12 so as not to slow Vettel’s progress.

Unbeatable: Even several safety cars couldn't stop the German from securing another win

Unbeatable: Even several safety cars couldn’t stop the German from securing another win

Still, after making his option tyres last that bit longer, Webber could at least start to think of a podium finish.

Meanwhile, Webber’s replacement at Red Bull next season, Daniel Ricciardo, had hauled himself up into third place after being the only driver who chose to start the race on the prime Pirelli’s.

The start of lap 19 was as far as Ricciardo could take his Toro Rosso before stopping, the switched strategy not looking likely to do much for his chances of an eye catching finish as he returned to the track in ninth.

At the front, Vettel was receiving gentle reminders form his team to preserve his tyres as the gap to Grosjean fluctuated between four and five seconds.

Matters became processional in the middle phase of the race with tyre preservation the priority. 




Sparks fly: Nico Rosberg's front wing producing sparks after he overtook Lewis Hamilton

Sparks fly: Nico Rosberg’s front wing producing sparks after he overtook Lewis Hamilton

Button was back in the pits at the end of lap 22 for his second stop having managed just 18 laps on the primes, emphasising that the Korean tarmac was proving more abrasive than most had anticipated.

Hamilton was also on the radio complaining of a lack of life in his tyres as he continued to fall back from Grosjean at an alarming rate.

Indeed Hamilton lost a remarkable five seconds to his team-mate Rosberg in just two laps as his tyres fell off the cliff.




But those problems were nothing compare to those of Paul di Resta, yet to be confirmed as a Force India driver for next season. On lap 27 the Scots car snapped out of his control at Turn 11, pirouetting him into the tyre barriers and out of the race.

Meanwhile, Hamilton was powerless to prevent Rosberg pulling a DRS move on down the back straight on Lap 28. But, as the German pulled out to overtake, a shower of sparks shot from under his front wing as the nose of his Mercedes came loose.

Ahead: Vettel makes a quick getaway from the start pursued by Hamilton and Grosjean

Ahead: Vettel makes a quick getaway from the start pursued by Hamilton and Grosjean


Assistance: Paul di Resta, who was forced to retire early, is helped under a fence by marshals

Assistance: Paul di Resta, who was forced to retire early, is helped under a fence by marshals

Scooter: A disgruntled Di Resta was then carried away by an official

Scooter: A disgruntled Di Resta was then carried away by an official

The need for Rosberg’s repairs further compromised Hamilton who had to wait an extra lap for his stop and made his displeasure known to his team via the radio.

And as if to add insult to injury Hamilton, along with Webber who had also made his second stop, was to be on the receiving end of yet more Pirelli problems.

As Perez entered turn one, he suffered a major lock up on the right front. And as the Mexican accelerated down the back straight the rubber let go in spectacular fashion causing Webber, who had just emerged from the pits, to take evasive action to avoid the flying debris.

As ever Vettel, this time along with Grosjean, was the chief beneficiary of the safety car deployment on lap 31 required to clear the debris.

Good friends: Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber before the race

Good friends: Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber before the race


In came the race leader and the second place man for a stop under the safety car. And behind it they stayed for a serene six laps of tyre saving action.

There was nothing serene about the restart on lap 37. As the cars jostled for position, Hamilton dropped to fifth after being passed by Nico Hulkenberg and Grosjean lost second to Lotus team-mate Raikkonen.

But it was the banzai move of Force India’s Adrian Sutil that caused the most damage as he slewed backwards into Mark Webber. Off flew the Red Bull into the escape road before bursting into flames, Webber, to his credit, calmly climbing out of the cockpit.

More calamity ensued as the fire marshal’s jeep somehow replaced the safety car at the head of the field as the pack was required to slow for a second time.

But once that communication breakdown had been sorted out, Vettel once again kept his cool to stay at the front once the safety car was withdrawn once more.

Further back, Alonso managed to muscle his way past Hamilton to take sixth. But the Mercedes man had was clearly in no mood to give any further quarter and quickly elbowed his way past the Ferrari to reclaim the place.

Determined to reclaim third Hamilton set about retaking fourth, the Sauber man having also benefitted by pitting under the safety car.
Off the circuit: Felipe Massa spins off at turn three on the first lap

Off the circuit: Felipe Massa spins off at turn three on the first lap

The duel was taking longer to complete that Hamilton would have hoped as Hamilton edged past only to lose the place down the back straight as Hulkenberg hit the DRS button.

The battle was bringing Alonso back into the picture, while Button, once again trying to make his tyres last longer than anyone else, was also in the hunt.

The tussle provided an action packed finale to an event filled race, and certainly enhanced Hulkenberg’s chances of a top drive next season as he held off the chasing pack in the final throes prompting Hamilton to ask his teams for suggestions as to how to get by.

But none of the drama was heading in Vettel’s direction, the race leader’s only concern being to look after that marginal front-right tyre.

Whether being told to drive as hard as he could like in Singapore or conservatively like in Korea, a fourth successive title is just a matter of time.

Track girls

Track girls


Track girls


Track girls

Read more: 
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Copyright. 2013 All Rights Reserved

Dispatches from Killadelphia

October 1, 2013


Dispatches from Killadelphia


By Daniel Denvir, Samantha Melamed and Eric Schneider 
Published: 09/26/2013 | 3 Comments Posted




Joseph Kaczmarek

Police cordon off the 2500 block of North Corlies Street in Strawberry Mansion after a man was shot fatally in March.

Neal Santos

After the funeral for the year’s first murder victim, 16-year-old Jaymire Rustin, friends gather at the site of his killing on Carpenter Street. Two doors down, the house where his alleged killer lived was ravaged by a fire two days after Jaymire’s death.

Neal Santos


Jaymire Rustin, a 16-year-old West Philadelphia High School student, became the city’s first murder victim of the year when he was shot once in the chest at a party just after midnight on New Year’s Day. An 18-year-old from the neighborhood is accused of killing Jaymire — reportedly over an argument about a cellphone.

Memorials soon crowded Jaymire’s Facebook wall, filled Twitter feeds, and were silkscreened onto hoodies and jackets. “Rest in paradise Jeezy, My lil bro forever. Sunrise: 02/20/96 Sunset: 01/01/13.”

Jaymire: The good die young.”

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The Rev. Michael White convened a candlelight vigil at a park on 57th and Baltimore on the Friday after the killing. The young pastor of Good Samaritan Baptist Church had never met Jaymire, whom friends called J-Money. He had learned of the killing from TV news, and made an emotional YouTube plea to find Rustin’s family and friends.

“You can be out here tonight with Jaymire tatted on your arm and pasted on the back of your jacket, but if your mindset does not change about how you live,” he said, “you put yourself into a predicament to fall as a victim to the same kind of crime.”

One young woman, who was sobbing, said the city’s killings were motivated by rage. “People not thinking. … And it’s stupid. Because of one emotion, you rode off of one single emotion and shoot — and then did something permanent to somebody’s family.” Jaymire’s brother was upset that his tragedy had become a media spectacle. “What you mean, ‘How we feeling?’” he asked a reporter. “We mourning right now. You all coming out asking us how we feeling? How would you be feeling?”

White pleaded with the mourners to stop the bloodletting that has terrorized Philadelphia for decades. “Young black men: There’s too many of us in the ground, and not enough of us in college,” he said.

Despite the efforts of thousands of pastors, cops, reformed gangsters, concerned parents and politicians, Philadelphia is consistently among the most violent big cities in a country with the highest murder rate of any wealthy nation on earth. And while rates of violent crime, shootings and gun homicides have fallen dramatically nationwide over the last two decades, in Philadelphia declines have been far more modest and often quickly reversed. In 2012, 331 people were murdered in Philadelphia, bringing the death toll to nearly 9,500 since 1988.

Why gun crime has persisted in some cities, like Philly, while declining in others, like New York, is a question that involves not just law-and-order strategies, but also deep-seated social and economic problems. The murder epidemic in Philly’s poorest black neighborhoods has been more than a half-century in the making. Likewise, ending it has been a decades-long preoccupation of law enforcement, which — in lieu of effective violence-prevention programs — has mostly relied on locking people up. Today, though, police and prosecutors are adopting data-driven tactics that home in on crime hot spots with concentrated foot patrols and target repeat offenders for aggressive prosecution. And new programs are dispatching ex-offenders to help turn the tide of violence in their own neighborhoods. There are early signs that such efforts may be working.

On July 1, Philly quietly recorded a milestone: Murders as of midyear were down 38 percent from 2012, on track to the city’s lowest homicide rate since 1968.

Politicians generally flock to positive front-page headlines. But no one rushed to take credit for this one. Murder rates fluctuate — and Philly’s could spike again.

• What does murder in Philly look like?

Jaymire Rustin’s murder — and all the others that flash on the evening news — seem senseless and incomprehensible. But taken together, they form a pattern.

Eighty-three percent of alleged perpetrators in 2012 were black, as were 80 percent of the victims. Eighty-six percent of murder victims were felled by gunfire. Last year, the most popular firearm model was a 9 mm handgun. Most perpetrators and most victims had one or more prior arrests; a good deal had many. Killings are concentrated in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

North Philly’s 3-S community, named for Sterner, Silver and Seltzer streets between 25th and 27th, is one of those neighborhoods. Since 2003, there have been almost 200 shootings and 50 murders within a quarter-mile of 27th and Sterner. Far from the pop-culture perception of gangs and high-rolling drug dealers, the regular gunfire on these streets is the outcome of neighborhood feuds and a drug business that’s not making anyone much money.

One man, who asked not to be identified, says he lives in fear. A bullet recently flew into his rowhouse, ricocheted off a steel bar on the window and then against a 75-gallon aquarium before it dropped to the floor of the living room where his partner, daughter and granddaughter sat terrified. “It’s a select few,” he says, “that like to run up and down the street terrorizing the neighborhood.”

The young men who hang out on the corner perpetrate much of the violence — and attract the rest of it, through feuds with other corners. “Guns are stashed all over the place,” the resident says. “A little kid can go over and find a gun in an alley, or in a lot. Because if you got seven or eight guys hanging on the corner, they may not have guns on them, but those guns are maybe 15 to 20 feet away — no farther than that.”

Police posted a “No loitering” sign. Drug dealers ignored it. Police erected a spotlight, but it was soon broken.

Carrying guns, says a young man who grew up a few blocks south of 3-S in Strawberry Mansion, “gave me a sense of power … I could play God. With this in my hand, you had to obey me. Either you do what I say, or you have to deal with my wrath.”

In the 22nd Police District, which includes Strawberry Mansion, “Crack is the big issue,” says Capt. Roland Lee. It’s different from the open-air drug markets in Kensington that attract addicts from all over the city and suburbs looking for heroin and oxys. “It’s homegrown,” he says, and hard to shut down. “The low-level guys are replaceable.” The way Lee sees it, at least 75 percent of the shootings in his district are “narcotics-related, some way, somehow. It could be a deal gone wrong, or over territory, someone makes too much money, jealousy.”

Citywide, police classified just 10 percent of murders in 2012 as drug-related. But an untold number of killings labeled as personal disputes took place on drug corners. Often, those crimes are linked to feuds between small gangs whose territory may be just a block or two long. Police classified 48 percent of murders as argument-related.

“It’s all beef, to me — if you want to be technical,” says Terry Starks, a former North Philly dealer. He says his neighborhood’s drug economy has collapsed. “That breeds tension when you got people arguing over $15 sales, because he been standing out there all day on his feet, cold.”

The man from 3-S remembers a different sort of dealer in his childhood. A dealer might watch out for the neighborhood and hold cookouts for kids. The dealers that now attract gunfire to his block are broke.

“The sad part about it is that they not making no money,” he says. “You stand on the corner, you fighting, and you killing each other. … We can hear them asking each other, ‘Let me get a half of that sandwich.’ What kind of drug dealers are you? You need to change your occupation. … They’re working for sneakers and to smoke blunts.”

In neighborhoods like this, guns are easy to find and quickly drawn.

Lee says guns on the streets are higher caliber now than ever before. “When I first started it was the .38 specials and then it was the 9-millimeter. Now I’m seeing a lot of .40s and a lot of .45s,” Lee says. “But those guns that are being used in crimes are not necessarily new weapons. Some are older — the average is 11 years old. A lot of guns are passed around from person to person for years.”

The former drug dealer from Strawberry Mansion found his first gun at age 13 in an alley. “It’s kind of cliche,” he concedes, but “that’s when my whole life turned around.” Not, he notes, for the better. Now, if someone wants a gun, “All you got to do is ask.” It’s like asking, “‘Do you know where the Walmart at? Do you know where the restaurant at?’ It’s as simple as that.”

• How did we get here?

That gun, and how it came to be stashed in that alley, could be traced back to a previous crime, a previous gang, a previous generation that ruled the corner.

But a review of the historical record shows it really goes back further, to the early 20th century, when the first of two Great Migrations swept millions of impoverished black people out of the Jim Crow South and into Northern cities in search of jobs and less repressive environs. In Philadelphia, working-class whites violently opposed the arrival of blacks in their neighborhoods, while middle-class whites fled to segregated suburbs. And so, the hyper-segregated metropolis was born. The black ghetto sat in its isolated center. There, job opportunities were few and the murder rate was high.

The murder rate fell during World War II, as black Philadelphians found work opportunities. By the early 1950s, African-Americans had a homicide rate 12 times the white rate, but that gap was narrowing.

But by the late ’50s, black youth gangs in West Philadelphia were preoccupying city leaders; the murder of a University of Pennsylvania international student in 1958 by a group of black youths made international headlines. Crime and race became bitter flashpoints in the city.

Gangs had multiple generations: Midgets, juniors, seniors, old heads.

“They had their own institutions, as they saw it. They had their own leadership hierarchies: leader, the runner, the assistant, the war chief, consul,” says Harold Haskins, a gang-outreach worker during the 1960s who documented the 12th and Oxford gang in the classic documentary The Jungle. Youth gang members had little interaction with drugs aside from alcohol, he says. They had guns, but not as many as today, so street fighting was still a popular way to settle disputes. 3-S resident Wayne Jacobs was from Camac and Diamond streets, “known as a fighting corner.” They “resolved most things with our fists,” he says.

The deindustrialization of Philadelphia and the growing economic inequality that followed pummeled the black ghetto. Between 1967 and ’77, the city lost 40 percent of its manufacturing jobs. Even the timing of murders changed as a result. From the 1950s on, murders in Philly spiked on weekends. But as more young men went unemployed in the early 1970s, a greater share of killings took place on weekdays.

As jobs evaporated, an informal economy emerged in poor black neighborhoods: selling liquor by the glass at the kitchen table on Sundays, selling prepared meals to neighbors, hosting card games — and selling drugs.

Illegal entrepreneurs, vulnerable to robbery, increasingly purchased guns; nationwide, handgun sales quadrupled between 1962 and ’68. The murder rate began to climb in Philly.

Things came to a head in 1969, when 45 youths were murdered in gang violence (up from just one in 1962) as .38s and rifles replaced homemade zip guns on the streets of the city.

A polarized Philadelphia elected Police Chief Frank Rizzo, who had a reputation for brutality against the black community, as mayor in 1971. Things got much worse in the 1980s, with the development of crack cocaine and multi-shot pistols to replace the old-fashioned revolver as protection in a tumultuous drug marketplace.

Murder was never so easy. Nationally, the murder rate has fallen since 1991 — but failed to drop to anything approaching historic lows. And it has stayed persistently high in Philadelphia. “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by six” became the credo of permanent urban warfare.


• Can Philly stop the killing?

Changes in the murder rate over the past century are generally attributed to social and economic forces. Police efforts — including increasing the size of Philly’s force to an unsustainable 8,500 in 1979 — have had little lasting effect in areas like North Central Philly.

That neighborhood’s 22nd Police District leads Philadelphia in homicides. Now, the 22nd has become Philly’s laboratory for testing crime-prevention and crime-fighting methods. The District Attorney chose the area to roll out a new targeted prosecution program. Criminology professors are focusing experiments there with help from the police district. Everyone from Family Court judges to top brass at the city departments of Health, Commerce and Licenses & Inspections is zeroing in on the 22nd under a federal violence-reduction grant. And a new anti-violence program is deploying some of the very men who used to run the corners to turn the neighborhood around.

Perhaps as a result, crime in the 22nd has declined this year: Through the end of August, murders in the district were down 26 percent, and shootings were down 31 percent. Bryan Lentz, who heads the District Attorney’s Gun Violence Task Force, says, “The good news is there’s a lot going on there [in the 22nd]. The bad news is that it’s a lot harder to link one particular activity to reductions in crime.”

The earliest of those experiments occurred in 2009, when Philadelphia’s new police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, allowed Temple University criminologists to use two classes of graduating cadets to see if foot patrols deployed to the city’s most dangerous corners could reduce violent crime.

The studies found that violent crime fell by 23 percent, at least in the short term. The 22nd District and others now make foot patrols a regular part of their policing strategy.

A reporter stopped by the precinct to meet the patrolmen — and received a warning. “We don’t usually let people do walk-alongs or ride-alongs without body armor, because we’re not really that popular in the city,” an officer said.

Lee, who started his police career at the district but has only been back as captain for a year, sees the issue of police “popularity” in the neighborhood, where distrust for law enforcement runs high, as his most vital challenge. He thinks foot patrols are starting to help with that.

For the 6 p.m. shift, officers pile into a van, then get dropped off at points around the district to walk their beats. Sgt. Bisarat Worede says that all of the neighborhoods are difficult to manage — Temple, with its students and parties; Brewerytown, with its burglaries; or North Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods, like Strawberry Mansion, where shootings and drug dealing are pervasive. “It’s all a challenge,” Worede says. “There’s no typical night in this neighborhood. You try to get into the mindset of, ‘expect anything and everything.’ You don’t want to get into a routine, because that’s when you might get surprised.”

On a warm evening in March, Brian Nolan, a former Wildwood, N.J., cop and Mitch Farrell, a former fireman, are on their second day alone on the streets. Their beat is from Oxford to Jefferson, 22nd Street to 24th. It includes the two 18-story high-rises of the Blumberg projects, where the stairways smell of urine and are littered with tiny plastic bags that once contained drugs.

Nolan and Mitchell climb the stairs, offering greetings to residents they pass in the stairwell. Not much is happening. “Usually by the time we go up, they’re all inside,” Nolan says.

Worede worries about the new guys. “You’re in the academy, it’s a controlled environment. And now you’re out here,” he says. It’s hard to prepare them for “someone who’s not your instructor yelling at you, or seeing someone actually bleeding.” This is the third class of foot patrolmen that he’s overseen. He encourages them to chat up residents, play a little basketball with the kids. “The hardest thing for me is just convincing people we’re here trying to help.”

One police source who works in the district is sympathetic to the young men he chases across the city, and understands their reticence. He recalls that when he was growing up in an Irish neighborhood, his little brother watched a robber escape from police. His mother told the child to keep his mouth shut.

“They have no other life. If they cooperate with the police, they have to go back to that neighborhood,” he says. If “you go to relocate people, it’s not just one person. It’s generations. The families are so entrenched in these neighborhoods, for them to cooperate — you know?”

Murders in Philadelphia are often tangled with ties of family, friends and neighborhood. When suspects elude capture, police say, they rarely leave the city. Being “on the run” from North Philly usually means crossing the Schuylkill River, and hanging low in West Philadelphia.

“When someone gets shot, you have a window to clear that job. Because once they realize they’re going to live,” they won’t talk, says a police detective.

The city dabbles in neighborhood transformation with programs like PhillyRising, which organizes residents to plant gardens and clean vacant lots. But without resources to enact more widespread change, the law-enforcement solution has been to lock up more young men for longer.

Now, for the first time, Philly prosecutors are putting those offenders into context. District Attorney Seth Williams reorganized his office into geographic bureaus in 2010 — previously, units focused on specific types of crime — and began focusing on bringing down the most dangerous offenders in the most dangerous neighborhoods.

Mike Barry, chief of the Central Bureau, which includes the 22nd District, says his team’s understanding of the communities they serve and their adoption of a data-driven approach has enabled them to chip away at North Philly’s hot spots. But, he admits, “there are areas within our hot spots, especially this summer, that have started to re-show activity. When you create a vacuum and get rid of a problem, sometimes other people will step up.”

Barry also cites the benefits of GunStat, a program the DA launched in 2012 to get police, detectives and prosecutors all collaborating to identify repeat offenders who might otherwise be able to slip through the cracks of the criminal-justice system — and demand higher bail and longer prison sentences. The program launched in the 22nd and has since expanded.

In promoting GunStat, prosecutors often roll out the profile of the program’s unwitting poster child, a man from North Philly named Shaheed Springs who, despite nine arrests and numerous charges of drug and illegal gun possession, robbery and shooting, had previously evaded conviction. Lentz says prosecutors “prioritized him for resources and attention.” The DA made sure the judge knew the full extent of Springs’ record this time, and brought in numerous police officers and community members to testify during sentencing. Ultimately, Springs was sentenced to 7½ to 17 years in prison for gun charges. Sentencing guidelines, according to the DA’s Office, call for nine to 16 months.

“We’re doing our job by getting to know the people we’re prosecuting on a much deeper level,” says Barry. As of midyear, homicides in the 22nd District were down from 22 in 2012 to seven. “It’s not much of a stretch to say that whatever we’re doing is working, and that it saved 15 lives.”

He cites another major change (one that has some civil-rights advocates concerned): the return of grand juries to the Philadelphia courts. “The vast majority of our most serious cases go [through grand juries] now.” A grand jury replaces a preliminary hearing at which a judge would decide whether the prosecution has enough evidence to go to trial; witness intimidation at such a hearing can kill a case. But because grand-jury testimony is not public, Barry says, “there’s a lot less recantations of testimony, a lot less failures to appear.” Of course, those witnesses still have to appear at trial. If they recant, he says, “we have the transcript. … If they [change their testimony] while your client’s in the room, it certainly raises some flags.”

Still, murder remains a problem that is simply too big for police to control. Last year, police made arrests in just 171 of the 331 murders committed. The number of convictions will be even smaller.

• A solution from the streets?

GunStat meetings take place around a massive shiny conference table in the District Attorney’s Office near City Hall. Terry Starks’ reality, on the streets of North Philadelphia, is about as far from that as you can get.

He remains skeptical that hot-spot policing will work.

“It’s like a project,” Starks says. “They study their opponent and, you know, they catch them at the damnedest times.”

He thinks he might be able to do better. Today, Starks works for Philadelphia CeaseFire, a program run out of Temple’s School of Medicine that formalizes, funds and professionalizes the longtime ghetto practice of squashing beefs, or creating gang truces. “Squashing is basically defusing — or conflict mediation is what they call it — but we call it squashing,” says Starks. “When you can squash a conflict, it’s supposed to be done with. … People still hold up malice in their heart but, like an old person told me, sometimes you gotta cut your losses in order to move forward.”

Starks, who in a previous life was a gun-toting drug dealer, is not a police officer’s idea of a crime fighter. But some experts believe his criminal past and current street credibility are precisely what endow him with the power to convince young men to stop shooting each other. He knows all about violence and retaliation — and what it takes to break the cycle. He was a victim of an attempted murder when his business partner robbed him and shot him four times in the chest with a .38 handgun.

“This’ll blow your mind,” Starks says. “I could’ve retaliated. But I see him every day. He took the money and bought a church. And he’s a pastor.”

But squashing beefs is often not simple. Eighth and Diamond, where Starks grew up, is home to just the sort of longstanding street-corner feud that’s at the root of many Philly murders. There has been “a rivalry for the last 24 years with our neighborhood and Seventh and Jefferson. So we trying to get in and get with the guys down there, the older guys. They try to come up with some sort of truce, but, you know, it’s like the younger guys don’t listen.”

Philadelphia’s slowness in embracing violence-prevention initiatives is a reflection of a national predilection to view murder as something that cannot be controlled. When Attorney General William French Smith announced a nationwide campaign against violent crime in 1981, experts said there was little the government could do. Even the FBI Uniform Crime Reports included a disclaimer in 1980 that prevention was basically impossible. So many killers knew their victims that murder was “largely a societal problem beyond the control of … law enforcement.”

CeaseFire, which was founded in Chicago, views urban gun violence as a public-health issue: Norms of retaliation, post-traumatic stress and gun-toting make for an endless cycle of shooting. The program has sent outreach workers into Philly neighborhoods for the past two years and hired its first Interrupters, who de-escalate potentially dangerous conflicts, this year. In Philly, the program is focused on the 22nd Police District, where many murders trace back to beefs, and on a crime hot spot in Swampoodle, just across Lehigh Avenue from the 22nd, in the 39th District.

“You can mediate 20, 30 or 40 conflicts in a month,” says Temple University professor Caterina Roman, who works with the CeaseFire program in Philly. “But the hard work is also — you really need the team approach. Maybe these guys who are carrying the guns and doing the shootings are thinking, ‘I want a way out.’ The outreach workers are doing intensive behavior change to help the person that’s on their caseload understand that, really, there is another way out.”

Quinzel Tomoney, who now runs CeaseFire’s 22nd District program, says most young men on the corner are too caught up in the streets-level arms race to see the big picture. He was one of them: Over the years, he carried illegal 9 mm handguns, .40-caliber guns and Glocks. “I carried it because I knew the game I was in, it bring police, stick-up boys. And that’s what it was: to defend myself,” says Tomoney.

He says sometimes the motive was a beef, sometimes not. “You have stick-up boys, and you have people that just want to murder you. People envy you that bad that all they want to do is to kill you. They won’t even rob you. They’ll just kill you and just leave you.”

Recently, he ran into an old acquaintance who recalled that his friends had wanted to kill him. “I’m glad we didn’t run across you, ’cause we probably woulda killed you, or you woulda killed one of us,” he told Tomoney. “Man, we were sick individuals, do something like that.”

• The big picture

Almost everyone on the North Philly streets says things might change if only there was something for kids to do: recreation centers, sports leagues, adequately resourced schools. Harold Haskins, recalling the youth participation in making The Jungle in the 1960s, says that, just from that project, many gained the self esteem and curiosity necessary to find jobs and leave the streets behind.

As it stands, no one is declaring victory in Philly’s war on murder.

In March, Sgt. Worede of the 22nd District looked forward to the warm weather with some anxiety. “It’s been quiet,” he said. “Usually that means it’ll be that much busier in the summer.” But as of Sept. 24, Philadelphia had witnessed 179 murders in 2013, a 41 percent decline from the same time last year. Violent crime overall has fallen 7 percent as of Sept. 15.

No one yet knows why violent crime is down so far this year or if the trend will hold. But, indisputably, its root causes remain. Philadelphia still has the highest poverty rate — 27 percent — of any of America’s largest cities. The institutions like public schools and welfare programs that sustain the poorest residents are in a state of deep, budget-cut-induced crisis. And tighter restrictions on guns, which many argue could combat violent crime, have proven a political impossibility.

For now, the odds are still stacked against Philadelphia teens like Jaymire Rustin: The leading cause of death for Philadelphians aged 15 to 24 is homicide (52.4 percent). For the rest of the state, it’s automobile accidents.

It’s possible that no particular law-enforcement or prosecution strategy could have stopped Jaymire’s death this January. And figuring out how to stop the next young Philadelphian from reaching for a gun remains an elusive goal.

Days after Jaymire Rustin’s New Year’s Day killing, an ominous sign of the retaliation that often follows murders, and that precipitates many others, soon appeared on Twitter. After one person tweeted that alleged killer Kamonne Jordan should be freed, another responded with a succinct threat. “Bitch you stupid for saying ‘Free’ the nigga that killed #Jaymire, he gne die tho!”

Jordan’s home, only two doors from where Rustin was killed, caught fire and burned early in the morning of Jan. 3. Fire officials say they do not know what caused the blaze.

This report was co-authored by Eric Schneider, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania. Schneider can be reached at Casey Thomas of Axis Philly also contributed to this report.

A photograph posted earlier today of a streetside memorial was incorrectly identified as being where Shaheed Jackson was killed on the 1300 block of North Dover Street. The memorial is on the 1200 block of North Dover Street.

AN APPRAISAL Mariano Rivera: A Zen Master With a Mean Cutter

September 29, 2013

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Mariano Rivera during a game at Yankee Stadium last Sunday. More Photos »

September 28, 2013

<nyt_headline version=”1.0″ type=” “>Mariano Rivera: A Zen Master With a Mean Cutter




<nyt_correction_top>In a game in which perfection is elusive, he was reliably sublime.

In the high-stress vocation of ninth-inning pitching dominated by theatrical personalities, he was the embodiment of Zen calm — a cool Jedi master among the hotheads, and an almost extraplanetary source of composure and grace in the gritty, often chaotic world of Major League Baseball.

He was the reliever who arrived to the strains of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” a closer who dependably delivered closure — turning out the lights on the league’s best hitters, shutting almost every door. He was feared as the Yankees’ silent killer, their one infallible weapon — Mr. Automatic. But he was also the one member of the Evil Empire so respected by enemy fans that he was feted, in this, his final year, in other ballparks across the country, including Fenway Park in Boston, where he was hailed as “a real gentleman, a fierce competitor and a most worthy opponent.”

Mariano Rivera understood what Steve Jobs, Lao Tzu and Bruce Lee understood: that simplicity is an art and a strength, a source of joy and beauty and power. The greatest closer of all time, who could become the first player to win unanimous election to the Hall of Fame, did it all with basically one pitch: the cut fastball. It moved with such velocity and wizardry that it seemed to defy the laws of physics, breaking hundreds of bats and shattering many more dreams. It was a pitch delivered with easy elegance and brutal economy, a pitch Rivera could tailor with such precision and infinitude of detail that it flummoxed even the most canny and experienced batters.

It was also a pitch that underscored an almost perfect fusion of character and style. As Yankees Manager Joe Girardi has pointed out, baseball is what the deeply religious Rivera does, it’s not who he is. But who Rivera is — a consummate professional, stoic, focused, dedicated and at peace with himself — has indelibly imprinted the way he has gone about the job: his unparalleled consistency and longevity, his grace under pressure, and his ability to come back from adversity, be it a blown save or his potentially devastating ligament tear in 2012.

Over the years, the arithmetic of Rivera’s career has been dazzling: 652 regular-season saves, including 44 this season through Friday at age 43. His postseason numbers have been even more stunning: 42 saves, with a mind-boggling 0.70 earned run average in 141 innings. The Yankees would not have won five championships from 1996 to 2009 without him; he got the final outs in the last four of those World Series.

But math alone cannot communicate Mariano’s achievement, his almost otherworldly control of the ball, or his aura as a great warrior, gentleman and mensch. Colleagues, fans and journalists have struggled to find words to convey his accomplishments, and his heart and soul and will — his steely determination on the mound and his humor and charm off the field.

ABC’s Robin Roberts observed that it was rarer to score an earned run off Rivera in the postseason than to walk on the moon. The former Mets manager Bobby Valentine once said: “No one else throws a 94-mile-an-hour cutter. It’s like bird watching in a foreign land. You can’t understand it.” Rivera’s teammate David Robertson, who may inherit his job, called him “the most consistent human being to ever play the game of baseball.”

One baseball analyst attributed Rivera’s success to the “three C’s” — “control, control, control.” Another attributed it to the “four C’s” — “confidence, concentration, control and competitiveness.” To which a Yankees fan might add even more alliteration: constancy, calm, class, composure, continuity and complete command of craft.

People have compared Rivera to Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky to convey his soaring talent and just how indispensable he has been to his team. Explaining Rivera’s mystique goads others to reach for analogies outside sports to describe the indescribable, comparing his artistry to that of famous musicians and painters, his tenacity and mental toughness to that of Navy SEALs, his sleight of hand to the legerdemain of a Harry Potter or Houdini.

Rivera himself was succinct and to the point about his job: “I get the ball, I throw the ball, and then I take a shower.”

For fans who grew up watching No. 42 or have followed him for the last 19 seasons, he has become the embodiment of the Yankees at their very best: not the big-spending, patched-together All-Star team that chased after the likes of Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown, but the team that Rivera, along with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, defined. The team always came first for these homegrown Yankees, and they played with brotherly dedication and collective pride.

Rivera’s retirement is a melancholy moment for the Yankees and their fans. Williams retired in 2006, Posada last played in 2011, and Pettitte was scheduled to pitch his final game Saturday. Jeter will be the only one to return next year — and to a team in need of reimagining and rebuilding, and possibly fated to some long years in the baseball wilderness.

That the beloved and seemingly ageless Sandman is exiting this year not only means the end of a golden era, but also reminds us of the swift and unrelenting passage of time. The perfect ending everyone yearned for after the Rivera tribute last Sunday at Yankee Stadium was a win for Andy and a save for Mariano, but that was not to be. And yet, the larger narrative of Rivera’s career remains a storybook one.

The son of a fisherman, he grows up playing baseball on a beach in Panama with a milk carton for a glove, a stick for a bat and whatever was available for a ball; after being signed by a Yankees scout for $3,500, he does his apprenticeship in the minors, joins the Yankees and struggles at first, and then suddenly hits his stride. He wins a championship in 1996 as the setup man for John Wetteland and, soon, leaps into hyperspace as the closer, becoming such a feared adversary that opponents will talk about needing to win games against the Yankees in seven or eight innings before he takes the mound.

In the last month or so, the pace of Rivera tributes has accelerated, within baseball and the news media, and also among fans on Twitter and Facebook, on radio call-in shows, and even in an AT&T-sponsored “Thanks for the Mo-Ments” promotion. They recite Rivera’s luminous stats, cite songs (like Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” or Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye”) they would dedicate to him, and trade memories of his clutch performances: those emotional World Series winsGame 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox (won in 11 innings by Aaron Boone’s home run); his record- setting 602nd save with a perfect ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins in September 2011.

Such outpourings of love are a testament to the intimate and deeply felt karmic relationship that has developed over two decades between Rivera and Yankee fans, and New York City — a relationship that has been heightened, perhaps, by his job as the closer. No one has been more of a team player than the humble and loyal Rivera, and yet his was a strangely solitary job: taking the field not alongside his teammates but alone, at the end, with the heavy responsibility of saving the game for them all.

The photographs and videos of Rivera running toward the mound from the bullpen — shot from behind, No. 42 starkly outlined on his impeccably crisp pinstripes — have given way to similar images (in newspapers, and on T-shirts and souvenir pins) showing him striding not into the electric blur of Yankee Stadium but into some less immediately recognizable realm. Jogging into the future and retirement. And through the gates of Cooperstown and into the forever of history.

Copyright. 2013 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved

September 23, 2013


Analysis: why Webber and Alonso were punished for ‘taxi’ ride

Analysis: why Webber and Alonso were punished for ‘taxi’ ride

By Jonathan Noble Monday, September 23rd 2013, 11:58 GMT

Mark Webber has a lift on Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, Singapore GP 2013Formula 1 fans have been left fuming by the fall-out of Fernando Alonso picking Mark Webber up and giving him a ride back to the pits in the Singapore GP.

But despite even stars like Jenson Button joining the chorus of disapproval for Webber and Fernando Alonso being given reprimands, a deeper look at the facts of the case show that stewards had to act.


Button was one of many people to complain that Webber and Alonso had been punished for the eye-catching taxi ride – reminiscent of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell at the 1991 British Grand Prix.

On Monday morning Button, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, tweeted: “Disappointed to see the penalties for @AussieGrit [Webber] and @alo_oficial [Alonso], act of sportsmanship should not really be punished.”

However, the reality is that the penalty had nothing to do with the actual ‘sportsman’ aspect of a driver giving a lift to his rival – it was down to safety.

There is in fact no regulation that strictly outlaws drivers from giving such rides.

Article 43.3 of F1’s sporting regulations states only that: “After receiving the end-of-race signal all cars must proceed on the circuit directly to the post race parc ferme without any unnecessary delay, without receiving any object whatsoever and without any assistance (except that of the marshals if necessary).”

Fernando Alonso wins the 2013 Spanish GP

That was the regulation under which Alonso was summoned to see the stewards after his victory in this year’s Spanish Grand Prix when he received a flag on the slowing-down lap. He escaped with a caution.

High-level sources have confirmed to AUTOSPORT that the FIA would almost certainly not have taken any action had the pick-up been conducted in a safe way.

That means Webber would have had to wait for permission from the marshals to enter the confines of the circuit, and Alonso would have had to pull completely off the track to collect him.


Webber and Alonso were punished because of the dangerous manner of their actions.

Although the race had finished, article 30.9 of F1’s sporting regulations is still in force, which means drivers cannot run on to the track without permission from marshals.

Sources have revealed that not only did Webber not have permission from the marshals to enter the track at Turn 7, but he was in fact explicitly told by track officials not to do so.

CCTV footage of the incident shows Webber hailing Alonso as he runs towards the track, ignoring the marshals, before he sprints around to the left hand side of the Ferrari.

At that moment, Nico Rosberg has to swerve to the left of Webber and Alonso, before just a few seconds later Lewis Hamilton has to take to the kerbs on the outside.

Mark Webber has a lift on Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, Singapore GP 2013

Alonso’s reprimand was for stopping in a dangerous place, which was in the middle of Turn 7 where he could not be seen by cars entering the corner.

Hamilton said on Sunday night that he was“really shocked” to find a stationary car on the track at that point, and that Webber had been lucky not to get run over.

Dangers in motor racing remain even when the chequered flag is out. At this year’s Canadian Grand Prix, a marshal was killed when he was run over by a crane as he assisted in the retrieval of a car.

And on Sunday afternoon in Singapore, GP2 driver Fabio Leimer crashed into Alexander Rossi on the slow-down lap.


Much of the anger about the sanction is because it has resulted in a 10-place grid penalty for Webber at the Korean GP.

However, it is incorrect to state that Webber has been moved down the grid because of the Singapore GP incident.

Webber’s grid punishment is, instead, because he has racked up three reprimands this season – two of which have been for driving offences.

Article 18.2 of the sporting regulations states: “Any driver who receives three reprimands in the same championship season will, upon the imposition of the third, be given a 10 grid place penalty at that event.

“If the third reprimand is imposed following an incident during a race the 10 grid place penalty will be applied at the driver’s next event.

“The 10-grid place penalty will only be imposed if at least two of the reprimands were imposed for a driving infringement.”

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Canadian GP 2013, Montreal

Webber’s two previous infringements are for causing a collision with Nico Rosberg at the Bahrain Grand Prix, and for ignoring yellow flags during first free practice at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Had Webber not received those reprimands, then the Singapore incident would not have resulted in any grid penalty.



Red Bull boss Christian Horner suggested that the stewards would have been better off fining Webber rather than giving him a reprimand.

However, as part of a gentleman’s agreement between the FIA and F1 drivers relating to their increased Super Licence fees, infringements are no longer punished with fines for drivers.

That is why even speeding in the pitlane fines are given to teams and not drivers now.

Webber’s actions in running on to the track compromised safety and clearly warranted a reprimand.

The stewards also only have to care about ruling on individual incidents, and cannot be more lenient on an individual offence simply because a reprimand will trigger an automatic grid penalty.

Have your say on the Webber/Alonso Singapore incident and reaction in theAUTOSPORT forum

Copyright. 2013 All Rights Reserved

Into the Wildfire

September 22, 2013


Lassen Volcanic National Park, in Northern California, consists of more than 100,000 acres of wilderness and woodlands surrounding Lassen Peak, a volcano named for a pioneer and huckster who guided migrants through the area, that last blew its top in 1915, before anybody knew it was an active volcano. Last summer the park, like much of the West, was in the midst of a yearlong drought — which could be more accurately described as the continuation of a decade-long drought that had merely been less severe for a couple of years.

A forecast of thunderstorms might seem like welcome news for a firefighter in charge of so many acres of dry forest — parts of the park can get so hot and dry during the summer that rain evaporates before it reaches the trees — but Mike Klimek, the firefighter in charge of the park on July 23, 2012, knew better. Storms bring lightning. So Klimek was patrolling the park road, in regular communication with other firefighters, when late that afternoon, he got word that a column of smoke had been spotted. Klimek and a U.S. Forest Service firefighting crew stationed in the park drove as close as the main road would take them to the smoke, then he and a captain from the crew hiked into a wilderness area, where an aircraft reconnaissance team directed them to a single tree that was burning. When they got there, the red fir was smoking and there was some fire on the ground, but it wasn’t spreading. Klimek’s job at that moment was to decide what to do about the fire: put it out immediately or allow it to burn and monitor it carefully. If he let it burn, it would be for the sake of what wildfire experts call resource benefit: letting fire play its proper role in the ecosystem, and allowing forests in the West to revert to the conditions that characterized them in the days before every wildfire was extinguished as quickly as possible. That practice — pursued for more than a century, and today recognized by scientists as a really dumb idea — allowed younger trees and underbrush to flourish in many places, increasing the density of flammable material and thus exposing forests to fires hotter and more intense than they had evolved in response to. Now firefighters like Klimek look for ways to reduce the potential fuel in the environment, which sometimes means letting lower-intensity fires burn and watching them closely. This seemed like an opportunity for just such a “managed” fire.



“That fire is not going anywhere fast,” Klimek recalls thinking at the time. He took out a notebook and wrote down the altitude: 7,100 feet above sea level. The cooler mountain air was one factor telling him this fire would not spread quickly. Another was the tree’s location: a relatively sparse area where there wasn’t all that much that could burn. And because the tree was on a northern slope, the other trees, underbrush, grasses and fallen branches around it were probably not as dry as they would be on a southern slope, where they would have absorbed more sunlight. There was also a ridge, a road and several creeks nearby. Firefighters are trained to “build a box” around a fire, taking advantage of topographical features that tend to slow a fire’s spread, including existing breaks in the woods, and clearing new breaks as necessary to contain a fire within controllable boundaries. “In suppression training, you always talk about the ‘three R’s’: ridges, roads and rivers,” Klimek told me one day in June. “And I had all three.”

He had evening on its way too, bringing with it a likely rise in relative humidity that would dampen the grasses and woody vegetation around the burning tree. Klimek radioed an interagency fire center in the nearby town of Susanville to say there was time to decide how to deal with the fire.

Left: Scientists at the Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula observe the behavior of fire in a wind tunnel. Right: Mark Finney observing the behavior of flames fueled by ethylene gas.

‘By suppressing fires … we’re saving the landscape for the worst conditions,’ a fire researcher says. ‘We need to choose good fire over bad fire, and if we understand spread we can make better choices.’


Time, yes, but that wasn’t going to make any decision easy. Whatever Klimek and his superiors decided to do would entangle them in a knot of political, economic, legal and ecological issues that involve firefighters, regulators, scientists, politicians, homeowners and others, from Washington, D.C., to state capitals throughout the West. As more and more acres burn, all these different constituencies are asking, without arriving at the same answers, What are we going to do about these fires?

The area around Klimek, about 150 miles north of Sacramento, was often still patchy with snow in midsummer, though on that day, after another dry winter, it was bare. And the hottest, driest time of year — the period when Lassen Park is most susceptible to dangerous wildfires — was still to come. Before he left the burning tree, Klimek jotted down one more thing in the margins of his notebook: “August?”

Fire has always been a part of the natural ecology — many plant species evolved in direct response to it and couldn’t survive without it; when the sap of some pine cones melts, for example, seeds are released. But the reflexive practice of putting out all fires, which has dominated national policy for so many decades, has turned much of the American West into a tinderbox. On June 30, in the deadliest incident in wild-land firefighting in decades, 19 of the country’s most highly trained, highly skilled firefighters died in a fire near Yarnell, Ariz. While awaiting the findings from a federal investigation (expected this month), many have asked whether unexpected changes in the wind’s direction and speed, which abruptly exposed the men to the fire, were simply the most immediate factors contributing to their deaths. The Phoenix New Times, for instance, reported that the team should not have been deployed at all that day because its members may have already reached the maximum number of consecutive days they were allowed to be in the field. What’s clear, however, is that the buildup of flammable materials in the area and the ongoing drought in the Southwest contributed to the fire’s intensity. And it was a fire the firefighters were combating there in order to protect a housing subdivision on the outskirts of town.

Jack Cohen (left) and Mark Finney, of the Missoula fire lab, observing the leading edge of the Lolo Creek Complex Fire near Missoula, Aug. 21, 2013.


Seven weeks later, a hunter’s illegal campfire started a wildfire near Yosemite National Park; named the Rim Fire, it would go on to burn an area about the size of San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento combined, involve nearly 5,000 firefighters at one point and cost roughly $90 million to fight. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency as the fire threatened San Francisco’s water supplies and access to electricity. That same week in August, images of giant flames from a fire burning over a 174-square-mile area near Ketchum, Idaho — close to where a fire in 2007 burned 65 square miles — dominated nightly news coverage.

Wildfires of a size and intensity that only a decade ago were rare are now almost an annual occurrence. This summer, more than 500 homes were destroyed by fire in the Colorado Springs area; last year, the nearby Waldo Canyon Fire burned down 347 structures, at a cost of $453 million. In 2011, 5,600 homes and buildings were destroyed by fires in Texas. In 2009, one wildfire lasting several weeks burned an area in Los Angeles County the size of more than 10 Manhattans and cost $93 million. The amount the federal government spent putting out fires over the last decade was triple what it was in the ’90s.

We probably wouldn’t be as concerned about fires that are getting bigger and spreading farther, of course, were it not for the increasing intrusion of people and buildings into fire-prone landscapes. This development creates what fire experts call the wild-land-urban interface, or WUI (pronounced WOO-ee), and from Bozeman, Mont., to Laurel Canyon in California, more and more of us want to live there, with forested views and coyotes for neighbors — but without the fire. About 80,000 wildfires in the United States were designated for suppression each year between 1998 and 2007, and only an average of 327 were allowed to burn. Yet trying to put out all those fires leads inevitably to more intense, more dangerous and more expensive fires later on. The accumulation of dead wood and unburned “ladder fuels” — what ecologists call lower vegetation that can carry fire to taller trees — turn lower-intensity fires into hotter fires that kill entire stands of trees that otherwise might survive.

The fire-whirl generator inside the Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula.


We know this, but we haven’t wanted to pay the costs to do things differently. It’s possible to break up and remove smaller trees and other vegetation, but the heavy equipment needed to do that is very expensive. (The process can inhibit plant growth too.) It’s also possible to set “prescribed” fires, but these carefully controlled operations can take decades to produce the desired effects in a given area. And managing a fire that starts naturally in order to let it clean up ladder fuels is risky and costly.

“If we let fires burn, it takes up resources to watch them, and we don’t have the luxury to do that,” says Ken Pimlott, the director of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “We’ve got to put it out and move on to the next fire.” A sudden change in wind can send a fire raging toward populated areas, which can lead to fatalities, damage and lawsuits. With responsibility for 31 million acres, almost all privately owned, that have more and more people living on them, Pimlott maintains a strict policy of immediate and full suppression for every fire that starts in his area, even as he recognizes the policy flies in the face of logic and science. “The entire cycle is out of whack,” he says. “The movement of people into the WUI, the fires they start there and infrastructure that needs protection, plus drought, climate, suppression — you combine all these things, and it’s creating more intense fires. It just becomes a larger problem.”

‘Nobody really heard about it until after it crossed out of the park, and by that point it was beyond control,’ one resident says about the fire. ‘Manage a fire at the end of July? It was a really bad decision.’


But it’s not an unfamiliar one in its broadest outlines, in the way that the narrow pursuit of short-term gains can undermine longer-term interests. We know we shouldn’t build wooden structures in the wilderness, but we do. We know the Mississippi River will flood disastrously again, as it has at a rate of more than once a decade since 1927, yet we keep planting crops in the rich soils alongside the river and subsidizing farmers in its floodplains. We know it’s only a matter of time before another giant storm smacks the New Jersey shore — as one did in 1903, 1944, 1991, 1999 and 2012 — yet in that state alone we’re hauling in 27 million cubic yards of sand to replace what Sandy washed away and allowing an estimated 200,000 homes to remain — and in some cases be rebuilt — in the possible paths of future storms. We don’t want to pay more for fossil fuels or otherwise make serious sacrifices to limit climate change (which is also amplifying the other problems). We get caught in feedback loops.

Our firefighting policies may have more direct and immediate repercussions than our other environmental choices do, though. “The harder you try to remove fire, the worse it gets,” says Mark Finney, a research scientist at the U.S. Forest Service’s research lab in Missoula, Mont. “By suppressing fires in all the conditions we can, we’re saving the landscape for the worst conditions. We won’t say that’s our policy, but by our actions, we are selecting for only the most extreme fires. We need to choose good fire over bad fire, and if we understand spread, we can make better choices.”

Kyle Shannon, a computer programmer at the Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, operating the mass flow controller for the burner, to control the amount of ethylene gas burned. The burner is used to study flame structure.


Thanks to experiments that Finney and his colleagues are now conducting, we may be on the cusp of a new understanding of fire. Despite the fact that humans have been using fire for at least 300,000 years, “people have no idea how fire actually spreads,” Finney says. It turns out, for example, that one assumption about how grasses and pine needles catch fire — a significant factor built into the computerized models of fire spread used to fight fires — may be completely mistaken. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratories, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Forest Service and elsewhere are investigating other aspects of fire propagation, like how big fires create their own weather — a process that has contributed to some of the most devastating fires in recent years — and how prescribed and managed burns might affect a landscape’s propensity to catch fire later. Much of this research is so new that it hasn’t made it into any models yet. With results from this new science in hand, foresters in the coming years may be able to keep fires (whether managed, prescribed or otherwise) from becoming as extreme as they have lately. We may yet return to the days of “good fire.”

The day after Klimek found the single tree on fire, he talked things over with Eric Hensel, the fire-management officer at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Among other things, they considered the point of ignition, the surrounding topography and forest, current drought conditions and the potential places where a team could create breaks in the trees to contain the fire. They consulted with the National Park Service’s regional fire ecologist and regional fire management officer, in San Francisco, then presented their findings to the park superintendent. The nearest town was more than 10 miles away, and a lot would have to go wrong before the fire could get close to it. The group decided to manage the fire rather than put it out right away.

Five days later, the fire was doing just what they hoped. Klimek described it to me as “a low-intensity backing fire” — that is, one moving downhill rather than up; an uphill fire tends to spread faster. It was “cleaning up” underbrush and wood on the ground as it moved. On July 30, the fire’s extent was only three acres, and a person could still walk safely in its midst. (When officials describe a fire’s size in terms of acreage, it doesn’t necessarily mean every spot in that space is actively burning.) When I walked the area 10 months later with Scott L. Stephens, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on prescribed and managed fires, he said, “This looks exactly like what I would’ve aimed for if I were setting a prescribed fire in here.”

Hensel gave thought to initiating a “burnout operation” between the park road and the fire’s location. That would entail starting a second fire that would burn toward the existing one, thus reducing the risk that it would spread beyond a chosen limit, in this case the park road. This line of control was selected because there was a stand of lodgepole pines on the north side of the road. Unlike Ponderosa, Douglas firs and other conifers in the mountain West, lodgepoles are highly susceptible to fire, and this stand, nearly a hundred years old, had never burned; it was like a land mine waiting to be set off. But more thunderstorms were in the forecast, and the cold air they brought with them was likely to create a downdraft with the potential to spread the fire rapidly in any direction (and additional lightning strikes could also start more fires). It was this risk of its becoming unpredictable, Hensel later explained to me, that made a burnout unwise.

Jack Cohen next to the reflector tunnel, which is used to produce a steady level of radiant heat to examine how different materials heat up to ignition.


As Hensel weighed the options, Calvin Farris, the Park Service fire ecologist in charge of Lassen Volcanic, was working with an analyst who studies fire behavior for the Forest Service. They were using a computer model that Mark Finney helped develop, called FSPro (Fire Spread Probability), which predicts a wildfire’s likely movement, based on variables like topography, weather, the types of trees in a forest and how dry they are. In a typical year it works well, but for whatever reason, as August and its heat approached, that wasn’t the case. It was consistently underestimating the likelihood that particular areas would burn. This wasn’t unusual; at one point during the 1988 fires that burned nearly 800,000 acres in and around Yellowstone National Park, the statistician whose work underlies many fire-spread models used his own model to project where the fire would be in two weeks. It spread twice as far in the next 24 hours.

On Aug. 6, 2012, the weather in Lassen Volcanic National Park changed: the wind turned around and picked up significantly, blowing the fire across the road and into the lodgepole pines. Once the fire spread into the lodgepoles, it became very hard to control, because of the surrounding terrain and the weather at the time. The next day, a federal interagency fire-management team was brought in to coordinate suppression efforts. On Aug. 8, the fire expanded beyond the park’s borders, and it became a threat to the town of Old Station.

The new people in charge held a public meeting to inform area residents about the fire’s status and possible evacuation procedures. Both Hat Creek Valley and Old Station had evacuated their homes because of wildfires twice in the previous 10 years, most recently in 2009, when lightning ignited fires that burned 9,300 acres.

Darlene Koontz, who is the park superintendent at Lassen Volcanic, was in charge of some federal lands in New Mexico a few years after a prescribed fire there spread out of control and burned part of Los Alamos in 2000; 400 families lost their homes, and the fire’s total cost was estimated to be $1 billion. So she was familiar with balancing the risks in a drought-stricken forest and aware of the public outcry that could follow mistakes. Yet efforts to notify the community near the Lassen Fire were minimal, and reports in the local news media seemed to add a measure of anger to the public’s anxiety.

“It was a really hostile setting,” according to one firefighter who was at the meeting. Because the fire began as a managed wildfire, he says, it was regarded differently from past fires. “They had a particular place and person to, in their perception, set blame, and that was the park and the park superintendent. I thought she was going to get accosted.”

Top: The gate of a house that burned in the Lolo Creek Complex Fire near Missoula. Bottom: Landscape burned along U.S. Highway 12 in Montana.


Koontz confirmed the tension. “I have very little butt left after last summer,” she told me.

Pam Giacomini, whose family has been ranching in the area for generations and who now represents Old Station on the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, says Koontz should have consulted with Cal Fire before deciding to manage the fire. “Nobody really heard about it until after it crossed out of the park, and by that point it was beyond control,” Giacomini says. Lassen Park officials “act like they’re an autonomous unit, but they reside within the community where they’re located. Manage a fire at the end of July? It was a really bad decision.” More than one firefighter told me that one mistake with a prescribed or managed burn can set public acceptance back a decade.

As August stayed hot, the Reading Fire, as it was named (after Reading Peak, near the fire’s starting point), raced north toward Old Station. On Aug. 9, 10 and 11, with the temperature topping 90 degrees and relative humidity around 5 percent, the fire had a high potential to grow significantly and act unpredictably. It started to create its own weather: the fire’s heat generated a mass of upward-moving energy that spread flames in all directions. On Aug. 13, embers carried by the wind ignited a satellite fire just four miles south of Old Station. When the fire-management team reached its maximum allowed number of days in the field and was rotated out, another, more experienced team was brought in.

How do we reintroduce fire into this landscape?”

It was the middle of June this year, and a Forest Service expert in tree cultivation named John H. Bassman was crouched on a steep, damp slope in the Priest River Experimental Forest, in Idaho’s panhandle, putting that question to a couple of dozen ecologists, soil scientists, firefighters and others on a Forest Service-sponsored field trip. The Priest River Forest is 6,300 acres of mixed-conifer woodlands about 60 miles northeast of Spokane, Wash. The Forest Service probably leads the federal bureaucracy in quaint traditions, and field trips where scientists from different forests can get together at camps like the one located here are a big part of its culture. “We learn best when our boots are in the dirt” is how Bassman put it to me over a breakfast of biscuits and gravy in the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps-built bunkhouse. He lamented the loss of the tableware adorned with the Forest Service logo and said that with budget cuts and virtual training, “this kind of thing is getting rarer.”

The experimental forest, which has some of the most complex and productive woodlands in the country, has been used for wildfire research since its founding a year after the great fires of 1910 first brought the issue of fire’s impact on the West to national prominence and prompted the young Forest Service to elevate “over all other duties and activities,” as an agency bulletin that year put it, its policy of suppressing fires. The early work was on seed growth — to figure out how to replace what burned — and until then, virtually the only places where Americans were studying forestry were in Europe or back East.

Research foresters from around the region like to come to Priest River and have a local fire officer torch some trees and plant various seeds afterward to see how they respond, testing the effectiveness of prescribed fire and seeing how a burned area recovers. Bassman and the others were here to focus on different ways to reduce the accumulated vegetation in a landscape, through prescribed fire, for example, or mechanical thinning. Research by Finney in the last decade indicates that burning or cutting up as little as 30 percent of a forest can, if done strategically, have an outsize effect on limiting a wildfire’s spread. (The federal government, however, has slashed the budget for putting those experiments into practice.) The visitors’ hope was that they’d be able employ these tactics to influence how fire moves through the forests where they work. Bassman wants to restore Montana’s Flathead National Forest so that the frequency and severity of its fires more closely resemble what the land was like before the Forest Service started fighting every fire a century ago.

Even if he successfully manages his forest, the social geography will still be fraught. “In parts of the northern Rockies, the historical fire-return interval is 100 years,” Bassman said, referring to the average time between fires in a forest. “But those are stand-replacing fires, and nobody’s going to put up with that. So understanding landscape-fuel treatments is the key to how those forces can be altered so we can better protect people and property and wilderness.”

The remains of a house near Lolo Creek that was burned by a wildfire.



Jack Cohen, who works at the Forest Service’s Fire Sciences Lab in Missoula, probably understands “landscape-fuel treatments” as well as just about anyone else thinking about fire in America. Cohen told me that he started stealing matches and lighting fires when he was 5. He knew this would get him in trouble, he said, so he made sure to keep his fires small. This proved to be excellent experience, decades later, when he was the lighting supervisor for prescribed fires in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California.

Cohen noticed then, to his surprise, that live foliage could keep a fire going in the absence of dead plant matter. He discovered he could rearrange piles of vegetation in various manners and still get them to sustain fire. By changing his ignition methods, he could increase the height of flames and get fires to spread when they otherwise wouldn’t. Cohen describes this as “campfire knowledge,” but it occurred to him these sorts of observations were missing from — or contrary to — what was reflected in the models.

Years later, when he came to the Fire Sciences Lab, the only facility in the world dedicated to studying wildfire through experiments in a chamber, he worked a great deal on what he would call the Home Ignition Zone, or H.I.Z. He decided to try to figure out how close a fire needed to get to a house to set it aflame. On seven occasions, Cohen placed walls like those used in house exteriors at distances of 33, 66 and 98 feet from the edge of an experimental forest plot, where he set trees ablaze. Three times the walls at 33 feet failed to catch on fire. The walls at 66 and 98 feet were never even scorched.

Intrigued by how unsusceptible the walls seemed to be to nearby fire, he started investigating houses that had burned in wild-land-urban areas: how near to the most dangerous flames had they been? “Not very,” he learned, reinforcing what he saw in his tests. In Los Angeles in 1961, houses on fire in Bel Air were the sources of the fire that burned houses in Brentwood a mile away: residential structures facilitated the fire’s spread. In San Bernardino in 1980, some 280 houses were destroyed in a fire that might have stopped at the forest’s edge, if they hadn’t had wooden roofs.

When I visited Cohen, who is 63 now, in his office last June, he showed me a picture taken from a helicopter over Lake Arrowhead, Calif., in 2007, that showed a house on fire eight hours after the fire had moved through the neighborhood. “We see wildfire destroying houses,” he said, “but 90 percent of the houses burn down after the wildfire has ceased its significant activity in the vicinity.”

In these cases, embers, which can be as small as a thumbnail, were carried by the wind from the fire to some flammable part on or near the house (wood shake-shingle roofs that aren’t treated with flame retardant are especially vulnerable). When residents had been evacuated and firefighters were off fighting the wildfire, or were too few in number to protect every house, nobody was around to put out the smoldering firebrand.

“It’s all embers,” Cohen said. “That’s not an intense igniter; that’s an insidious igniter.” Burning pine trees toppling onto roofs weren’t causing these fires to spread, in other words; the problem was burning material blown under wooden decks or into gutters clogged with dead pine needles, where it smoldered for hours amid other flammable stuff. “Embers don’t ignite houses if the houses aren’t susceptible to them, and that’s something we can mitigate through engineering.” And, he admonished, get the dead leaves and branches and pine needles off your house.

California has been a leader in adopting building codes and brush-removal regulations, but for the most part, despite the clear evidence from Cohen’s published research, municipal governments in the western United States have been slow to follow. Some people don’t want to cut down trees; others don’t want government telling them what to do with their property. Cohen said that when he took his research to urban firefighters, he didn’t find an enthusiastic audience. His experience with fire departments that had not been “kicked multiple times” by wildfire has been that they don’t want to be the ones telling homeowners they’re part of the problem; his impression is that urban firefighters prefer instead to say, “This fire was so big and fast, there was nothing we could do to save your house.” And that’s true, as far as it goes. But until people grasp or act on what Cohen has demonstrated — that homeowners would not need to rely on firefighters as much as they do if their houses were better built and maintained and the properties around them were prepared to withstand fire — changes to forest management and firefighting policies are unlikely to significantly improve matters.

One person who is putting Cohen’s message into practice is his colleague at the Fire Sciences Lab, Mark Finney. A former wild-land firefighter, he uses prescribed fire on his own property to maintain a defensible space around his house outside Missoula. For eight days in 2007, he defied an evacuation notice — in Montana, the police cannot order an adult to evacuate his residence — and stayed home with his Labrador retriever while the Black Cat Fire raged to the west of him. (Convincing firefighters that he was not insane and that they should not build a fire break through his back yard with a bulldozer was challenging, but ultimately he prevailed.) About a decade ago, Finney and Cohen started engaging in long conversations in the hallway at the lab, and Cohen, discouraged by the lack of public response to his research on the home-ignition zone, joined him in focusing on the physical properties of fire itself.

Top: A block of wood ignited after exposure to radiant heat. Bottom: A fire experiment in the wind tunnel of the Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula.


Finney would tell Cohen something like, “I was burning this pile on my property, and I didn’t see ignition until the flame touched.” And Cohen, drawing on his experience in Southern California, would say, “I can get live vegetation to burn without dead vegetation.”

The more they talked, the more they realized that many of the things they’d observed, both in the field and the lab, weren’t incorporated into the computer programs firefighters were using to predict the likelihood that a particular forest would catch fire, or that an existing fire would spread from one point to another over a period of days or weeks.

One day a scientist named Don Latham, who was retired from the Fire Sciences Lab but was still friends with Cohen and Finney, told them about his attempts to measure the amount of energy being transferred by radiation to a pine needle when it caught fire, but that the pine needle wouldn’t ignite. Latham hadn’t been trying to determine what causes pine needles to catch on fire — he assumed it was radiant heat — so he basically ignored what he figured was an anomaly. In the context of Cohen’s and Finney’s other observations, though, it took on new significance. “I said to Mark, ‘Well, we’ve got to try this,’ ” Cohen said.

They had a machine that emitted radiative heat at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit without convective heat, and they started placing different flammable materials in front of it. (Radiative heat is transmitted by electromagnetic waves from one point to another without warming the space between them. Convection transfers heat from place to place — and through the space in between — by the movement of a medium like air or water.) When I visited Finney and Cohen in June, they showed me video of a wood block placed in front of this apparatus, which they call the death ray. (“Don’t worry, it won’t actually kill you,” Finney assured me when I saw it later.) The block ignited after about 25 seconds, but nothing happened to a pine needle placed in the same spot. Other fine fuels — grasses, shredded wood — did not ignite, either. Their higher surface-to-volume ratio allowed the surrounding air to cool them faster than radiation could heat them to the ignition point.

We all know that kindling ignites faster than logs, though, so this is not only puzzling to anyone who’s ever tried to light a campfire; it’s also, Finney said, “absolutely contrary to the models,” most of which assume that radiation from a wildfire lights the flammable materials at the fire’s leading edge.

Cohen searched the scientific literature for experimental support for this assumption and found nothing. Because the models are based on what has been observed in the field, of course they sometimes accurately predict what happens there. But because they don’t take into account what has been learned from experiments in the lab, they sometimes fail to explain a fire’s unexpected behavior. Cohen likes to quote the statistician George E. P. Box: “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Until Cohen and Finney thought to test radiation in controlled conditions, no one realized that flames must touch the fine fuels to ignite them.

“If radiation can’t ignite the stuff next to it, the fire doesn’t spread,” Cohen said. And yet, clearly, fires are spreading; it’s just that the models aren’t telling us why. “We’ve allowed modeling to get way ahead of our actual understanding,” Cohen continued. “The models have become illusions of understanding.”

So, if radiation isn’t lighting the stuff at the edge of a fire, Cohen said, “that means flame contact is required.” But flames are hot; they rise. So how do flames extend laterally? Fire can spread horizontally even when there’s no wind.

And that’s what leads you to look in other places for convection, Finney explained. With a laser cutter, he started making his own objects to ignite inside a wind tunnel. He filmed them burning with a high-speed camera so he and his colleagues could watch the results in superslow motion. It turns out that fires have frequencies, like radio or magnetic waves. The pulses that create a flame’s peaks and troughs come at intervals that aren’t random.

“And here’s where the thing gets blown open,” Finney said, jumping up from his desk to point at a big flat-screen TV on the wall. It showed the U-shape of a flame from one of his chamber experiments. What he and Cohen found is that that U-shape is caused by air being drawn into the fire and spinning in two counter-rotating vortices that converge (picture interlocking gears) and push the flame down and forward, scorching whatever is beneath it. That establishes the contact necessary for ignition.“Flame is just a hot, buoyant fluid,” Finney said, “but no one was looking at that, because they assumed radiation was lighting fine fuels.”

On the wall next to the TV was a photograph of some flames. The resolution was low, and there were no discernible objects in the picture, so you couldn’t tell the scale of the photo. It happened to be a picture of an enormous grass fire in Australia, photographed from a satellite. The structure of the flame in the photo was the same as in the video. “You can see these peaks and troughs in any fire,” Finney said. “That’s cool! That means you’re on to something.” He said that previously he and other fire scientists “were watching fire, but we weren’t seeing it. We were observing the wrong phenomenon.” No one sought to understand flame structure before, he said, because of their assumptions about radiation. “Well, they couldn’t have been more wrong,” Finney said. “And we demonstrate that very, very clearly.”

“All this stuff that’s not in the models is affecting the propagation of fire, particularly those that produce big flames,” Cohen told me. “And every time we have big flames in the WUI, people get scared. And that causes us to go to suppression.” Suppression, in turn, allows forests to grow to the point where they produce big flames. “And we end up with a 200,000-acre fire instead of a 10,000-acre fire,” he continued. “So we’d better figure out how fire burns.”

The Fire Sciences Lab is hoping to come up with a physics-based model that would incorporate the findings. More than that, they want their research to lead to a better understanding of fire and hence better decisions in the field. The dynamics that Finney, Cohen and their collaborators have observed would explain a lot of fire behavior that has puzzled firefighters — a wildfire suddenly spreading rapidly without wind, say, or failing to be tamped down by cooler, moist night air. “There may be a general principle that can be applied to every wildfire,” Finney said.

What that general principle might be is still unformulated, so exactly how it might change the way we approach any specific fire remains unknown. But what we do know now is that fire spreads in ways we didn’t realize before. This argues even more strongly for a policy that encourages removal of underbrush and managed or prescribed burns, and for the regulation of communities living at a forest’s edge. The way to make wildfires, and the people living near them, safer is by making peace with the idea that we need to let more of them burn longer.

In June, I toured the Reading Fire’s burn area with Hensel and Klimek. We were joined by Calvin Farris and Robin Wills, fire ecologists with the Park Service; Scott Stephens, from Berkeley; and Carl Skinner, a research geographer with the Forest Service who is highly regarded for both his experience as a wild-land firefighter and his scholarship. Skinner grew up on a farm not far away, where his family regularly set fires to manage their land, until the state strictly limited the practice.

We were 20 yards from the stand of lodgepoles that ignited on Aug. 6 last year; it was too dangerous to walk among the dead trees, which can drop limbs at the slightest breeze. Since it was devastated by the eruption of Lassen Peak nearly 100 years ago, the area has become what foresters call “parklike” — mostly grass, with Ponderosa pines, white firs, some lodgepole pines, wild currants and various species of ceanothus, which elk prefer, sprinkled throughout. It’s as aesthetically appealing and as ecologically rich as any stand of trees in the region (or, for that matter, in any of the undeveloped areas I visited in six states while reporting this article). And it wouldn’t have happened without the fire that followed the volcano’s eruption.


As I listened to them speak, it was evident that there is still much to learn about fire and its effects, which was why several of the top scientists in the country who study fire had gathered here in the first place. But a few conclusions were emerging. Through interventions driven less by fear and more by data and science, it would be possible to get forests closer to the state they were in a century ago, before firefighting policies began to turn them into tinderboxes. But to let — or help — nature run its course again would mean tolerating greater risk, and as Cohen says, we’d have to keep our roofs clean. With each passing year, though, it becomes clearer, at least to those whose interests lie in not fighting ever-larger and more destructive fires, that this is the only sensible course of action.

We talked about the impacts, both ecological and political, of the Reading Fire. The alternative to managing it, Stephens said, was to “kick the problem down the line and have a worse situation later. What the hell were you going to do with this lodgepole-pine bomb? The prescribed-fire budget is being reduced, so we’re forcing fire managers into wildfire management. Then they’re panicking as the season goes on and suppressing any fires that ignite. It takes away the only tool they have.”

Wills said, “If this had been a suppression fire from the outset, we probably would’ve built the same box around it and formulated the same plan.”

The plan later involved using bulldozers to create a number of breaks in the trees south of Old Station as the fire moved north. But to the east, they didn’t need the fire breaks. Lassen Park fire managers had, over the previous decade and a half, conducted a prescribed burn and managed several other fires that, taken together, formed “a nice, continuous solid layer of previously burned areas, which had consumed a lot of the forest,” as Farris put it.

I talked to him days after he first saw data on the severity of the Reading Fire. The forest had been successfully managed, he said, so firefighters confidently allowed the east and northeast flanks of the fire to burn out on their own, while they focused on protecting Old Station, due north. “Had it not hit those treatments” — the places where the prescribed burns were conducted in the past — “it could’ve gone over the ridge into lower-elevation, high-temperature areas,” he said. “But it got to the prescribed fire zone and stopped.”

Wills pointed toward Raker Peak, where patches of trees that had survived the Reading Fire could be seen, indicating that pockets of less-intense flames had passed through. “You look at that mosaic pattern, and it’s exactly what you’d want,” Wills said. “We always struggled over what to do about Raker Peak, then the Reading Fire did it for us. From an incident-management standpoint, it’s an example of success and patience” — even if that’s not at all how the public viewed it.

Wills continued, joking: “If this had been a suppression fire from Day 1, the firefighters would all be getting cash rewards — ‘You saved Old Station, not a single structure was burned, no loss of life.’ The biggest lesson here was not operational or ecological, it was sociopolitical: what we perceived versus what the public perceived. So that’s the place where potential change resides. We’re never going to eliminate fire or fire risk. We have to develop some acceptance. And we’re not going to stop managing fire, no matter how unpopular it is. We’re managing a fire right now, in Yosemite.”

The Rim Fire near Yosemite hadn’t ignited yet — Wills was talking about a much smaller fire, which would creep around harmlessly for several more weeks. When the Rim Fire crossed into Yosemite two months after we spoke, the Park Service didn’t commit any additional resources to it. But the portion of the fire in the park didn’t present any threat, and two weeks later, the entire fire was almost completely contained.

In early September, the fire chief in Ketchum, Idaho, where so many square miles had recently burned, announced he would be “fighting tooth and nail” to ban wood-shingle roofs in his city.

Maybe the people of Ketchum will take his message to heart, and wise and needed change will follow. And maybe this summer, with all the lives and property lost, will mark the time when we began to reckon rationally with fire.



Paul Tullis is a contributing writer for the magazine and the features editor of TakePart.

Editor: Dean Robinson


Copyright. 2013. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved

‘There is something fundamentally wrong’: F1 bosses worried about the future of the sport as costs continue to escalate

September 22, 2013

‘There is something fundamentally wrong’: F1 bosses worried about the future of the sport as costs continue to escalate


PUBLISHED: 05:34 EST, 21 September 2013 | UPDATED: 05:34 EST, 21 September 2013

Formula One team bosses say the rapidly escalating costs of the sport – set to climb even higher next season – mean there is something ‘fundamentally wrong’ with the sport which must be corrected. 

The switch to V6 turbo engines next season, along with the re-introduction of in-season testing, means already financially-stretched teams will face a significant increase in costs. 

‘Talks between teams to agree on cost-reduction methods have collapsed without any agreement, failing to bridge the gap between the smaller teams and the big four of Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes, who were resistant to any restrictions,’ Caterham team founder and Air Asia chief Tony Fernandes said.

Escalating costs: F1 bosses are worried about the future of the sport as costs rise

Escalating costs: F1 bosses are worried about the future of the sport as costs rise


Switch: The sport will swap to V6 turbo engines next year which could prove prohibitive

Switch: The sport will swap to V6 turbo engines next year which could prove prohibitive

‘When I came into Formula One, people talked to me about cost coming down, but I don’t think there’s been a single year it’s come down. Next year will be the highest year, so there’s something fundamentally wrong. 

‘The teams lost out an opportunity to get costs under control. Self-interest overrode the sport and we are as much to blame for this problem as a (new) engine. We screwed it up. It’s as simple as that.’

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost voted against the reintroduction of in-season testing, which was originally axed as a cost-saving measure but brought back in 2014 at the behest of the big teams. 

‘The teams are stupid enough to do tests during the season,’ Tost said. ‘On the one had they’re complaining they don’t have money, on the other hand they throw it through the window. 

‘And who wants the tests? The rich teams. As usual.’

Missing out: Small teams will suffer, according to Torro Rosso boss Franz Tost

Missing out: Small teams will suffer, according to Torro Rosso boss Franz Tost


On the move: Kimi Raikkonen in action in practice 3

On the move: Kimi Raikkonen in action in practice three

Lotus team principal Eric Boullier said costs had come down significantly since the manufacturer era of last decade when the likes of Renault, BMW, Toyota and Honda had their own teams. 

However he still urged more talks between teams, governing body FIA and the commercial rights holder headed by Bernie Ecclestone, to stabilize regulations to reduce compliance costs. 

Bob Fearnley, deputy principal of Force India, agreed regulation needs to be imposed from the top as there is too much competition between the teams for them to ever reach an agreement. 

‘The teams have demonstrated that they are not capable of being able to agree a cost control, so the answer is to take it outside of the teams’ control. It’s up to the FIA to decide a formula, bring that in and implement it.’

Arrival: Lewis Hamilton arrives in the paddock ahead of qualifying

Arrival: Lewis Hamilton arrives in the paddock ahead of qualifying

Aside from cost reduction, another means of sustaining the teams is for more of the money earned by the commercial rights holder to be passed on to the teams. 

‘We may have missed an opportunity to just sit down with the commercial rights holder and re-negotiate something which could have been more in favor of the teams, but we failed,’ Boullier said. 

Tost said getting more money flowing from TV rights and sponsorships to funnel down to the teams was not the answer. 

‘It’s easy to say we should get more money, but give the engineers one million and they ask for two. Give them four million and they ask for eight.’ 

Pastor Maldonado

Boullier agreed, saying increased revenue must work in concert with tighter regulations to control spending. 

‘The more money you get, the more money we will spend if you don’t have any safeguards around you,’ Boullier said.

‘The more open the regulations are, the more we will spend money and waste money.’




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