From Russia With Glub, a Warning About the Trinity Toll Road
Want to know what's really going on in Dallas? Keep an eye on Krymsk.
Last Saturday more than 170 people died in flash floods in this southern Russia city. Today The New York Times reports that angry survivors think the Putin government is lying to them about a big release of water upstream from them in the hours before the disaster from the Neberdzhayevskoye Reservoir.
Russian officials are doing everything possible to keep the conspiracy theories alive by making nonsensical assertions about how the flood happened and then admitting grudgingly that they knew it was coming hours ahead of time but sort of neglected to tell anybody.
Ask yourself this: why would officials who knew a flood was coming not do everything humanly possible to warn people, unless they had some dirty work to hide?
Or ask his: What, am I nuts? Am I actually telling you there's some kind of direct connection between stuff going on 25 miles from the Black Sea and stuff going on here? Yes. Please believe it.
In Russia, as in Dallas, the only source for unvarnished truth about things like this comes from Russian equivalent of the alternative press, because there, as here, when the rubber meets the road on local issues the mainstream press becomes one big house organ for the oligarchs.
So it was up to The Moscow Times, an English language newspaper edited by Andrew McChesney, an American, to point out some of the obvious teeth-lying bullshit in what Russian officials have been telling people -- for example that there simply is no underwater release gate at the bottom of the Neberdzhayevskoye dam, so a major release in the hours before the flood would have been impossible.
That's a lie. Yulia Latynina, writing in The Moscow Times, points out that reservoirs simply are not built without release gates at the bottoms of their dams. It would be suicide to do so -- a bathtub with no drain. "If your bathtub lacks such a drain, it increases the probability that you will flood your downstairs neighbors," Latynina writes.
The line struck my ear, because I talk about bathtubs a lot, too, every little chance I get. My point has been that we could all conduct scientific experiments in our own bathrooms that would reveal the big lie in what local authorities tell us about flood perils here.
The Trinity River toll road, for example, the highway they want to build out between the flood control levees along the Trinity River through downtown Dallas, we need to think of the flood control levees on both sides of it as a bathtub that fills up to the brim every few years.
I have urged people to obtain toy cars made of metal, put them on the bottoms of their own tubs, plug the drain and turn on both taps. The experiment is this: As the tub fills, what happens to the cars? That's what's going to happen to the Trinity River toll road.
There is a more sophisticated experiment where you cram a potato into the overflow drain at the top of the tub and let the water run, but we will leave that one for next semester's course, Obvious Shit 201.
So why watch Russia? Because what's going on there is only a slightly more bald and Russian version of what's happening here. There, the dam in question is actually owned by a bank. Here, the money steps back half a pace and allows the public to think it owns local flood works and water resources.
When I talk about the toys on the bottom of the tub here, I always get comments from people to the effect of, "Something that obviously stupid can't be happening, because everybody would know about it."
No. Everybody would not know about it. I notice that all of the professors and flood control experts in Russia are busy assuring the people of Krymsk that there is no human element in what happened to them. One of the proofs they have offered is that the reservoir is intact.
But the fact that the reservoir is intact could be evidence of the exact contrary. That it is intact in spite of the massive rains the scientists say assailed the region before the flood could be an indication that water was released from it to save the dam.
My column in this week's newspaper deals with the abject failure of the engineering and urban planning communities here to come forward with candor about the Trinity River project, their craven unwillingness to say a damned thing that could get it the way of future consultancy fees for them.
In general, civil engineers and so-called urban planners have about as much to do with true public safety as hairdressers do with health. They all want fees. That's really all you have to know about them.
The silence of the expert lambs leaves the way clear for politicians to lie through their long teeth, and in flood control the genius of that lie is always its sheer immensity. It seems impossible to most people that someone in power would deliberately subject his or her fellow human beings to disaster just to make money. It's an enormity most people can't even fathom. The proof that it isn't true, people always tell me, is that it's unthinkable.
That's one crappy proof. Crappy-and-a-half, as a matter of fact. Don't believe me? OK, I can take it. But meanwhile just do this for me, though, will you? Keep one good eye on Krymsk. Keep the other one on your ass.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.