Beirut Blast: Ammonium Nitrate and Human Nature

Update (August 12, 2020)

Beirut port resumes partial operations a week after explosion
Al Jazeera (August 12, 2020)
“…According to Lebanon’s caretaker economy minister, the port is now operating to unload vessels for merchants.
“‘There are 12 cranes out of 16 operating at Beirut port,’ Raoul Nehme said in a Twitter post on Wednesday….”

Last Tuesday, August 4, 2020, something exploded in Beirut. It was around 6:00 p.m., Beirut time, 15:00 UTC.

By Wednesday afternoon, I’d read that the blast killed at least 100 folks and hurt some 4,000. Upwards of 100 people were missing. My guess was that the body count would increase.

I was right about that, sadly. By Monday, August 10, the acknowledged death toll had passed 200.

I don’t know how likely it is that search and rescue teams will find more survivors.

Some of the good news is that there were search and rescue teams. And that many folks in Beirut “…rushed to the blast location … to offer support and assistance….”

Beirut explosion: Frantic search for survivors of deadly blast
BBC News (August 5, 2020)

“…President Aoun declared three days of mourning which started on Wednesday. Opening an emergency cabinet meeting, he said: ‘No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city’.

“‘Amid last night’s smoke, flames and destruction, I would like to laud the zeal of the Lebanese who rushed to the blast location and perimeter and the hospitals to offer support and assistance,’ he added….”

I’ll be talking about:

News, Views and Speculation

Beirut explosion: footage shows massive blast shaking Lebanon’s capital
The Guardian/YouTube (August 4, 2020)

“Video circulating on social media shows a massive explosion rocking central Beirut – shattering windows, knocking down doors and shaking buildings several hundred feet away. Lebanon’s health minister told journalists a ship carrying fireworks had blown up in the port, though the size of the blast heard across the country raised suspicions it might have resulted from a rocket strike or detonation of explosives – deliberate or otherwise. The source of the blast has not been confirmed….”

Minnesota is eight hours behind Beirut, so I started noticing headlines about a big Beirut explosion Tuesday afternoon.

An early set said that it happened in a fireworks warehouse or factory.

Given Lebanon’s lively political debates, I wondered if maybe the explosion was deliberate.

Some reports played up the “mushroom cloud” angle.

Wondering if maybe the explosion was deliberate wasn’t unreasonable, though.

Back in 2005, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafic Al Hariri died when a truck exploded. The incident was obviously not an accident.

A UN-backed tribunal fingered four Hezbollah members. They’ve been tried in absentia, with a verdict due this week.

Maybe they were involved. Maybe Iran’s rulers sponsored the attack. Maybe someone else arranged for Al Hariri’s demise. Syria’s a front-runner in that scenario.

Whatever the tribunal says, someone’s going to be upset.

Crisis-weary Lebanon braces for Hariri tribunal verdict
Tom Perry, Reuters (August 4, 2020)

“Fifteen years after a truck bomb killed Lebanon’s former Sunni leader Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, triggering regional upheaval, a U.N.-backed court trying four suspects from Shi’ite Hezbollah delivers a verdict on Friday that could shake the country again….”

Fireworks? Nukes?!

From Bomb ‘Attack’ to Nukes: Netizens, Politicians Speculate About Cause of Deadly Beirut Blast
Tim Korso, Sputnik International (August 5, 2020)

“The explosion that tore through the Lebanese capital on 4 August claimed the lives of at least 80 people, injuring thousands, destroying numerous buildings, and practically leveling the city’s port….”

WATCH huge mushroom-like cloud cover Beirut’s docks area after ‘fireworks depot’ explodes
RT News (August 4, 2020)

“Terrifying footage has emerged, showing a huge mushroom cloud of fire and smoke covering much of Beirut’s port area, blowing out windows and destroying nearby buildings, as a warehouse in the Lebanese capital’s docks explodes….”

Industry Global News 24 (August 4, 2020)


“• According to the health minister of Lebanon Hamad Hassan, hundreds are wounded in the explosions

“• The port zone was immediately cordoned off by the security forces and the access is only allowed to fire trucks, ambulances and relatives of people inside the site of explosion

“• The reason behind these explosions remain unclear as of now….”

I don’t know why reporters and editors told us that fireworks caused the blast.

My guess is that we’re looking at what happens in a telephone game. Player one whispers something to player two, who relays it to player three, and so on. In this case, maybe player one said something akin to what BBC News reported the next day:

Beirut explosion: What we know so far
BBC News (August 5, 2020)

“…There was reportedly an initial explosion in the port area around about 18:00 (15:00 GMT) followed by a fire and small blasts that some witnesses said sounded like fireworks going off….”

Confirmation and Conspiracy Theories

Map of Beirut's districts.The folks at BBC News can make mistakes, and have done so.

But I’ve seen evidence that they often do a little fact-checking and confirmation before releasing their articles.

That’s also, I figure, why BBC News is almost always a few hours to a day or so behind news media’s sprinters. And that’s another topic.

I gather that the current consensus says ammonium nitrate interacting with a fire caused the the big explosion.

That seems likely enough. But we’re getting conspiracy theories offering alternative explanations. I’ll get back to that.

Maybe someone will do free association: linking the letters in Beirut’s name, August 4, America’s presidential election and selections from Revelation — and enjoy fleeting fame as a wannabe prophet.

Or maybe not. I hope not. Craziness is not something we need more of. My opinion.

“Lebanon’s Main Grain Silo”

Beirut Survivors.

Lebanon to place Beirut port officials under house arrest: Live
Ted Regencia, Linah Alsaafin, Farah Najjar; Al Jazeera (August 5, 2020)

“Information minister says army will oversee house arrest of those responsible for storage and guarding at Beirut port.

“Lebanon’s cabinet declared a two-week state of emergency in the capital city and handed control of security in the capital to the military following a massive explosion in Beirut that killed at least 135 people and injured 5,000 others….

“…11:30 GMT – After blast, Lebanon has less than a month’s grain reserves

“Lebanon’s main grain silo at Beirut port was destroyed in a blast, leaving the nation with less than a month’s reserves of the grain but still with enough flour to avoid a crisis, the economy minister said….”

Many Lebanese officials have been displaying refreshing levels of common sense and enlightened self-interest.

None of them, apparently, have officially declared that there was no explosion in Beirut. Or that it was the fault of the Jews. Or Americans. Or shape-shifting, space-alien lizard men.

Now that I think about it, maybe ‘Reptilians’ weirdness is limited mostly to the British Isles and former English colonies. And that’s yet another topic.

I’m not sure what to make of the house arrest of port officials. I hope that it’s not revenge disguised as law enforcement.

More likely, I suspect, Lebanon’s powers that be realize that something went catastrophically wrong: and don’t want those responsible to escape.

Or, perhaps just as likely, they want the port officials to live long enough to tell their side of the story.

How and why someone thought storing so much of Lebanon’s grain supply near roughly 2,750 tonnes (metric tons), 3,000 US tons, of ammonium nitrate was a good idea is — a good question.

Ammonium Nitrate

Structural formula: ammonium cation (left) and nitrate anion (right),Ammonium nitrate was discovered, or synthesized, by Johann R. Glauber in 1659.

Which verb applies varies, depending on who you listen to.

I’ve read that there’s no such thing as naturally-occurring ammonium nitrate.

And that naturally-occurring ammonium nitrate is rare, found only in very dry places like the Atacama Desert.

I’ve also read that a mineral called gwihabaite contains ammonium nitrate. Maybe.

I could begin a quest, burrowing through obscure and esoteric sources, seeking lore relating to ammonium nitrate and its history.

That might be fun.

Probably would be. It’s the sort of thing I enjoy doing. But I won’t. Not now, anyway.

Oklahoma City Bombing

Oklahoma City bombing survivors.
(From Shutterstock, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Oklahoma City bombing, 1995: 168 killed, more than 680 injured.)

Most Americans lived in urban areas in 1995, and may not have heard of ammonium nitrate before the Oklahoma City bombing.

That may help explain why some American lawmakers tried to make manufacture, sale and possession of ammonium nitrate illegal.

Their efforts were newsworthy at the time, but now are well under the radar. India’s leadership seems to have been much more effective at protecting their citizens:

Or, arguably, throwing a spanner into India’s food producers’ efforts.

Here in America, happily, someone seems to have gotten the attention of enough politicos to stop their (I trust) well-intentioned efforts.

Among other things, ammonium nitrate is an effective fertilizer.

And, when handled by folks who know what they’re doing, safer than many substances we use. Like anhydrous ammonia or gasoline. Or water, which can be lethal if inhaled.

Ammonium nitrate isn’t an explosive by itself. Not in the form we’d use as fertilizer. Not if it’s fresh, or stored by someone who’s competent.

Mixed with fuel oil, aluminum powder or azides, it’s an explosive.1

As an explosive, it’s useful or harmful: depending on how someone decides to use it. And dangerous, particularly for folks who don’t pay attention.

“What We Have Here is Failure to Communicate”

'...Destruction by Enemy in U.S. - Nitrate explosion in Du Pont works....'
(From National Archives Catalog, used w/o permission.)
(‘After’ photo of Repauno Works, Gibbstown, New Jersey. (1916))

Disastrous explosions involving ammonium nitrate go back at least to 1916. Du Pont’s Repauno Works in Gibbstown, New Jersey, had around 4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate in a drying pan. The January, 1916, explosion killed one man, injured 12.

World War I was in progress, so folks assumed that America’s enemy’s set off the blast. Pretty much the same thing happened that year in Faversham, Kent and Oakdale, Pennsylvania.

Fast-forward to 1921. Germans were being punished for losing a war. And for being Germans. My opinion. Maybe crushing Germany seemed like a good idea at the time.

'Reparations' cartoon.I think the chap who called what the Allies were doing the “Peace to end Peace” was right. (November 10, 2017)

At any rate, someone in or around Kriewald (German Silesia) let ammonium nitrate fertilizer aggregate in some wagons.

Instead of a manageable mass of crumbled ammonium nitrate, each wagon contained a single whacking great lump of the stuff.

Breaking up the lumps with explosives detonated the cargo, killing 19 folks.

Another 561 died, less than two months later, when pretty much the same thing happened in Germany’s Oppau plant. Twenty years later, folks working in Belgium used explosives to break up an aggregated pile of ammonium nitrate. Hundreds died.2

Several more-or-less-avoidable explosions later, the SS Grandcamp and High Flyer docked in Texas City. The cargo ships were loaded with, among other items, ammonium nitrate; which should have been used as fertilizer in Europe.

Maybe, if folks had passed along knowledge from previous disasters, and others had paid attention, the Grandcamp’s cargo wouldn’t have exploded.

Texas City, 1947

Longhorn II cargo ship, after the Texas City Disaster.
(From Moore Memorial Public Library, Texas City; used w/o permission.)
(What’s left of the Longhorn II cargo ship, after the Texas City Disaster.)

Memorial service at Urakami Cathedral.The “Peace to end Peace” became World War II in 1939. I see it more as the second phase of a conflict that boiled over in 1914. (December 24, 2018; November 10, 2017)

From one viewpoint, everybody lost. Some more than others.

But a remarkable number of us survived. Many, digging out from occasionally-radioactive rubble, decided that we’d had enough.

Even more remarkable, many surviving bosses cobbled together an alternative to the old empire-collapse-rebuild cycle. I don’t think the United Nations is perfect, and I’ve talked about that before. (April 15, 2018; November 3, 2017)

Wesel, Germany, 1945.In 1947, Europeans were still rebuilding their cities and restoring farm land.

Oversimplifying the situation, they needed more of everything.

On the ‘up’ side, America wasn’t in nearly as bad shape, and had materials to trade.

Ammonium nitrate made and packaged in Iowa and Nebraska had been shipped to the Port of Texas City, a deepwater port on Galveston Bay.

It was being loaded onto the Grandchamp and High Flyer in mid-April, 1947.

The 2,300 tons, 2,086.5 metric tons, of fertilizer being loaded onto the Grandchamp was in 100-pound paper sacks. Surviving longshoremen said the bags felt warm. They also said they figured the fertilizer was like cement, in terms of safety issues.3

Besides, the Port of Texas City had already handled some 75,000 tons of the stuff. What could possibly go wrong?

Smoke, Fire and Exploding Fertilizer

A five-story building after the 1947 Texas City Disaster.Longshoremen opened the Grandchamp’s cargo hold on the morning of April 16, 1947. About 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate were already on board.

They smelled smoke. Removing a few bags, they found a small fire.

Putting it out with jugs of drinking water and a small fire extinguisher didn’t work.

At that point, the folks in charge saw small-arms ammunition the Grandchamp had picked up in Belgium as the biggest threat.

Meanwhile, the captain ordered his ship’s cargo hatches closed and covered. Then he had the ship’s steam fire-smothering system activated.

“…He hoped this would put out the fire without damaging the cargo on the ship….”
(“Fire on the Grandcamp,” Moore Memorial Public Library, Texas City)

We’re not sure exactly what happened below decks. Tanks of fuel oil may have burst, leaking into the ammonium nitrate. What’s more certain is that temperatures in the hold reached 850 degrees Fahrenheit.

By that time, some 200 folks had arrived at Texas City docks to see the fire. And the Grandchamp’s ammonium nitrate cargo exploded.

Everyone on the ship, the firefighters and most of the bystanders died. Flaming bits and pieces of ship and cargo broke buildings, pipes and people, starting secondary explosions and fires.

A mushroom cloud rose some 2,000 feet over the site. Folks 150 miles away heard the blast.

One slip over from the Grandchamp, the explosion and (local) tidal wave broke the High Flyer’s moorings, lodging the ship against the Wilson B. Keene. The High Flyer’s ammonium nitrate cargo detonated 16 hours after the Grandchamp’s explosion.

At least 581 people were killed in the April 16-17 blasts and fires. Maybe more. The exact death toll is still debatable, and debated.4

Mushroom Clouds

Mount St. Helens mushroom cloud.
(From Rocky Kolberg, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Composite of photos taken 35 miles from Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.)

An inaccurate tweet, saying the Beirut blast was 'atomic.'Let’s give credit to folks who saw a mushroom cloud and said a nuclear bomb had gone off in Beirut.

Above-ground nuclear explosions do produce mushroom clouds.

So do industrial accidents and volcanic eruptions that abruptly release massive quantities of energy.

One clue that the Beirut mushroom cloud was non-nuclear was the absence of a blinding flash, and lack of severely-burned survivors.5

History and a Current Crisis

Port of Beirut panorama.
(From Reuters, via BBC News; used w/o permission.)
(Port of Beirut, as the smoke was clearing.)

Beirut, 2020, isn’t Texas City in 1947. Or Gibbstown, New Jersey, in 1916.

But we’re still human.

We can make mistakes. We can run towards danger to help others. And we can blame others for our problems.

We generally don’t it all at once, though.

Ancient City, New(ish) Nation

Satellite photo map of Beirut, before the blast.
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Beirut, Lebanon: as it was before the blast, with labels.)

Folks have called Lebanon home for quite a while.

One of its cities, Byblos, up the coast from Beirut, has been inhabited continuously for the last seven millennia. Apart, maybe, for a while after the Late Bronze Age collapse (LBAc).

Beirut is a comparative newcomer, with a history going back only five millennia. Unlike some cities, it’s kept it’s original (?) name, more or less: Be’rot. It’s a Canaanite and Phoenician word meaning “the wells.”

Be’rot apparently survived the LBAc: no small feat. Empires grew and faded. Centuries, millennia, passed.

Fakhr al-Din I was awarded, or seized, the Mount Lebanon Emirate: an autonomous region in the Ottoman Empire. That was about five centuries back.

Politics, wars and the Shihab dynasty came next, followed by the 1840 Lebanon conflict and Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate. Like almost all history, it’s complicated.

The current nation dates back to 1943, 1946, or thereabouts. Their government is a unitary parliamentary democracy and a confessionalist constitutional republic.

The President and Prime Minister must be, respectively, a Maronite Christian and a Sunni Muslim. The Speaker of the Parliament must be Shi’a Muslim. The Deputy Prime Minister and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament must be Eastern Orthodox.

I gather that the system’s intent is to make sure no one group gets too much power.

Whether it achieves that goal, or encourages backroom deals with a comfortable lack of accountability — is a matter of debate. And protest.6

Beirut’s Fixer-Upper Harbor

Port of Beirut: before and after the August 4, 2020 blast.
(From Airbus DS, BBC News; used w/o permission.)
(‘Before’ and ‘after’ aerial photos of the Port of Beirut.)

Beirut port ‘is no more’ after massive explosion rips through warehouse
Joe Peskett, Middle East Logistics (August 5, 2020)

“The Port of Beirut ‘is no more’ according to an official, after a huge explosion in Lebanon’s capital ripped through the port area….”

Even without pre-existing dissatisfaction with Lebanon’s politicos and the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday’s explosion would have been bad for Beirut.

However, I think saying that the Port of Beirut “is no more” isn’t accurate. Not quite.

The harbor is still there. Mostly. But I strongly suspect that it’ll require dredging before deep-water shipping can come in.

The explosion took a sizeable divot out of the bit that held grain silos. I haven’t read anything that discusses where the fill went, but figure much of it fell into the harbor. Hence the likely need for dredging.

On the other hand, the unnamed official had a point.

The breakwater and other (earthworks?) are more-or-less intact, but a real estate agent might call the Port of Beirut a ‘fixer-upper’ harbor.

Most of the buildings are obliterated or heavily damaged. Much of the port’s machinery is kaput, and many folks who worked there are dead or missing.

The Capsized Queen

Orient Queen cruise ship, after the Beirut explosion. © European Space imagingEven so, the situation could have been worse.

There apparently were survivors on the Orient Queen cruise ship, docked across the water from the epicenter.

The ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures leave out a few intermediate steps.

Seems that the blast damaged the Orient Queen, which started taking on water and eventually capsized.

Surviving crew members had time to evacuate. And that the ship wasn’t filled to capacity with 370 passengers.

And the situation could have been better.7

Loss, Grief and Grievances

Beirut Hospital: grief and waiting.
(From Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera, used w/o permission.)

‘I can’t believe I’m alive’: Survivors recount Beirut explosion
Al Jazeera (August 4, 2020)

“…‘People are going to sleep without windows’

“Habib Battah, a journalist and founder of the news site, described the incident as ‘a natural disaster’ because it caused widespread damage far beyond the explosion site.

“‘I have friends who live 10-15 minutes away who showed me their entire house was blown out. I am wondering how people are going to sleep tonight without windows,’ he said.

‘This country is not prepared for disasters,’ added Battah. ‘We always lived in the fear of a major catastrophe. A natural disaster, an earthquake … this country has no emergency readiness and no response. There are barely enough police to control highways which are extremely dangerous. In no place you will find the government trying to put regulations and safety for its citizens – so there are no highways patrols, no fire inspections of buildings.’…

“…‘Youssef, dad is in heaven’

“At Hotel-Dieu hospital, itself left damaged by the explosion, dozens of people trying to enter were told to go elsewhere.

“‘It’s a catastrophe, a catastrophe,’ a man said in disbelief.

“Inside the crowded lobby, a family got the news that their relative was dead. A young woman bent over in anguish, spread her arms open to an infant child and said ‘Youssef, dad is in heaven.’ An old man fell to his knees and smacked the ground, over and over….”

Disasters happen. Houses collapse. People die. We grieve our losses. That’s how life works.

When a disaster is preventable, folks often experience anger. Understandably, I think.

“Lebanon’s 9/11”

Faces of Beirut.
(From BBC News; used w/o permission.)

A day after the Beirut blast, BBC News asked three young adults about Lebanon, their lives and their future.

12:49 5 Aug | How young people in Lebanon are feeling: ‘This is the last straw’
BBC News (August 5, 2020)

“…Her school is now completely destroyed, and her university damaged. She graduated just a week ago, but now wants to leave Lebanon.

“‘The revolution was our last hope to get back our country. Now after the explosion, I’ve convinced myself to leave.’…”

“… ‘We have already gone through a lot this year – coronavirus, unemployment, the protests in November 2019. It was all accumulating, and this felt like the last straw.’

“He says the government should be doing more to give people hope during this time.

“‘This is Lebanon’s 9/11. When 9/11 took place in the USA, people came together. The president came down to the rubble, to give hope to people. None of our political class has done that so far…..”

“… ‘Leaving Lebanon goes through my head, because not having stable security and economy is worrying,’ she says. ‘We worry about our families, about our careers, about our friends. We don’t have hope any more.’…”

I don’t know what the first interviewee meant by “the revolution.”

Maybe it’s the 1978 Hundred Days’ War. Or the 1982 Lebanon War, the Mountain War or the War of the Camps.

Or all of the above, the “Lebanese Civil War” in today’s terminology.

Or maybe it was the 2011 Intifada of Dignity and/or the 2012 Syrian Civil War spillover.

Or, perhaps more likely, the October Revolution: the name many Lebanese give to their 2019-2020 protests.8

Lebanese Abroad

Lebanese residents as a percentage of each country's total population.A sample of three, taken 24 hours after a horrific shock, may not give a full picture of Lebanon’s present and future.

Probably doesn’t.

But I strongly suspect that many who’d rather stay in Lebanon are seriously considering moving somewhere with fewer explosions and more hope.

If they leave, they’ll join the millions of Lebanese who either fled Lebanon or were evicted.

Statistics on Lebanese expatriates are iffy. Or speculative, for folks who like big words. Low-end estimates say that someone who’s Lebanese is more likely to be outside Lebanon than still in the disaster area.9

Can’t say that I blame folks who got out while they could. But I also think it’s rough for the folks who didn’t want to leave. Or couldn’t.

On the whole, I’d rather live in a country folks are trying to break into — not out of. And that’s yet again another topic.

“Perceived Government Corruption and Incompetence”

Aerial view of Beirut.
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Beirut explosion: Donors pledge aid for Lebanon but want reform
(August 9, 2020)

International donors have pledged a quarter of a billion euros in aid for Lebanon five days after the explosion which devastated a swathe of Beirut.

“But an online donor summit arranged by France called at the same time for reforms to be made.

“The blast at a warehouse holding over 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate has focused local outrage on perceived government corruption and incompetence….”

Perception and reality don’t necessarily overlap.

However, an ex-premier’s and current president’s behavior strike me as regrettable. I’ll get to that in this post’s next section (“Contested Correspondence…“)

And a whole lot of Lebanese leaders are resigning. Including, at last count, seven Members of Parliament. (Al Jazeera (August 9, 2020))

Contested Correspondence, “The Judiciary Should be Swift…”

The Atlanta Georgian, April 29, 1913: Blaming Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan.
(From Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Swift justice — or blame, at any rate. Headlines from 1913.)

Second day of protests as anger over Beirut explosion grows: Live
Ted Regencia, Arwa Ibrahim, Farah Najjar; Al Jazeera (August 9, 2020)

“…Sunday, August 9

“…19:32 GMT – Environment minister steps down…

“…18:14 GMT – Aid summit raises $300m to be given ‘directly’ to people…

“…15:46 GMT – Michel Moawad becomes latest MP to resign from parliament

“…11:37 GMT – Ex-Lebanon premier denies knowledge of Beirut shipment

“Former Lebanese premier Tammam Salam has denied receiving correspondence or information about the arrival of a hazardous chemical materials shipment in Beirut, which caused the deadly blast in the capital on Tuesday….

“…10:56 GMT – Lebanese president condemns calls for international probe into blast

“Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said that demands for an international investigation into Tuesday’s deadly blast at the port of Beirut aimed at ‘wasting time’.

“‘The judiciary should be swift to confirm who is a criminal and who is innocent [with regards to the blast],’ said Aoun in a statement released by his office and shared over Twitter….”

Maybe Michel Aoun’s top priority is speedy justice. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Provided that the process is likely to deliver honest, ethical decisions.

Or maybe he has other reasons. I don’t, and can’t, know what’s happening inside his head.

His diffidence regarding an international investigation might be based on national pride, or concern over what outsiders might find. Again, I don’t know.

I do, however, know that I’m uneasy about what’s being said.

I hope I’m wrong, but I feel that who gets convicted of what may rely partly on who is best at finding and shredding documents. And dealing with witnesses.

“Endemic Corruption”

'Before' and 'after' at Beirut's Mohammad al-Amin mosque and St. George church.
(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Cleanup at a mosque and a church in Beirut.)

Calling the Lebanese Prime Minister’s resignation of his government good news sounds odd, at least.

But I think, and hope, that it may reflect an effort to start what he called “real change.”

Lebanon government resigns after deadly Beirut blast
Reuters (August 10, 2020)

“…[Lebanon’s Prime Minister] Diab, in a televised speech, said the detonation of highly-explosive material warehoused at the port in the capital for the last seven years was ‘the result of endemic corruption’.

“‘Today we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster that has been in hiding for seven years, and their desire for real change,’ he said. ‘In the face of this reality … I am announcing today the resignation of this government.’…”

I’m not sure what to make of Diab’s saying that the explosive material was warehoused “at the port in the capital for the last seven years….”

I gather that the MV Rhosus arrived at the Port of Beirut on September 20, 2013. Maybe the Prime Minister was rounding up.

MV Rhosus? That’s the cargo ship that carried 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. And, apparently, was declared unseaworthy. The ammonium nitrate was offloaded into Warehouse 12, assorted legal stuff happened and the Rhosus sank in February 2018.

Seems that customs officials sent letters to judges, asking for a decision about the increasingly-unstable stuff in Warehouse 12. The judges apparently had better things to do, and Warehouse 12 exploded last Tuesday.10

Small wonder folks in Lebanon are upset.

“It’s Much Bigger”

Beirut ARIA Damage Map. (August 7, 2020)
(From NASA ARIA team/Earth Observatory of Singapore/ESA, used w/o permission.)
(Moderate-to-heavy damage in Beirut. (August 7, 2020))

So far, Beirut has survived the 20th century global war(s), the Ottoman and Roman empires and the Late Bronze Age collapse.

I think the city, and the people, will pull through the current mess. Not comfortably, not easily: and not without problems.

But folks living in those parts seem to have at least their fair share of resilience.

And it looks like they’ll need it. The city and the nation were already in trouble when that warehouse blew up.

On the ‘up’ side, there’s at least one convent near Beirut that’s gotten involved in helping folks with immediate needs.

“…A convent outside Beirut has opened its doors to people left homeless.

“One of its members, Sister Jocelyne, told the BBC: ‘We are open in our guesthouse, we are supporting people in order to help them… we are providing food, water [and] clothes.’

“‘In that way we could help them to admit what’s happening because it is beyond what you see in the photos – it’s much bigger.’…”
(BBC News (August 10, 2020)

On the ‘down’ side, there will almost certainly be con artists posing as charitable organizations. And that’s still another topic.

Happily, there are also charitable outfits with good track records. Some more high-profile than others. No pressure, but Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was in Lebanon before the blast; and could use help with the latest uptick in trouble there.


Anti-Catholic Charitis billboard.CRS is a Catholic charity. Like other Catholic charities, they’re notoriously indiscriminate about who they help.

“…As part of the universal mission of the Catholic Church, we work with local, national and international Catholic institutions and structures, as well as other organizations, to assist people on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality….”
(CRS Mission Statement)

I see that as good news. Others, apparently, don’t. (September 20, 2016)

Charity, provided that it’s charitable, is a virtue. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1813, 18221829)

I figure that’s because I should love my neighbor. And see everyone as my neighbor. Everyone, no exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2537; Catechism, 1706, 1776, 1825, 18491851, 1955)


Lenten chaplet.Prayer is a good idea, too. (Catechism, 25582565, 25662567)

Prayer comes in five varieties: blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise. (Catechism, 26232643)

When I do petition- and intercession-type prayer, I’m asking God for something. Asking, not demanding. And I can’t make God do anything.

Prayer isn’t ‘magic.’ Uttering a predetermined sequence of words and making particular gestures is, at best, performance: not prayer. What I’m doing ‘on the inside’ matters. (Catechism, 2111)

Prayers, I’ve found, can be long or short. Some are very short. Like this one, recommended recently by Pope Francis:

“… ‘Lord, save me.’ …”
(“Pope at Angelus: Gospel calls us to trusting abandonment to God,” Pope Francis, Vatican News (August 9, 2020))

Headlines – – –

Beirut, Lebanon, after the August 4, 2020, explosion.
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Crushed cars, tattered buildings in Beirut. (August 2020))

Beirut and Lebanon are front-page news:

That will change. News agencies, having exhausted variations on the Beirut blast theme, will turn to another incident’s drama.

And maybe Lebanon’s politics will change. Maybe the powers that be will start focusing more on the common good of their country, and less on whatever they’re doing now.

I’m not entirely convinced that the Lebanese Prime Minister’s gesture of dismissing his government will guarantee change for the better.

Lebanon’s ‘powers that be’ seem to include local and regional leaders whose ‘business as usual’ has roots older than Abraham. That’s a tangle that won’t get unraveled for generations. Centuries. Maybe millennia.

– – – And the Long Haul

Jaime Jasso's 'Coppernica City.'
(“Coppernia city,” Jaime Jasso, used w/o permission.)

“…Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged….”
(Lincoln on the 1864 Election | November 10, 1864: In Response to a Serenade)

As I see it, the bad news is that Lincoln was right. Human nature hasn’t changed. We’re as weak, silly and bad as we were when Be’rot was a Phoenician port city. (June 13, 2018)

And the good news is that human nature hasn’t changed. We’re as strong and good as we ever were. (February 23, 2019)

Maybe even a little wiser. As I’ve said before, we do learn. Slowly. (November 10, 2017)

I think that we are, many of us, learning that working together is a good idea. And that fearing the future isn’t.

Maybe, eventually, if enough of us act as loving our neighbors and working together makes sense, we’ll build a reasonable facsimile of Pope John Paul II’s “civilization of love.”

I’ve talked about all this before:

1 Growing crops or killing people, it’s our choice:

2 Life and death on a learning curve:

3 Fertilizer in a port city:

4 Learning from past mistakes:

5 Perceptions:

6 Beirut background:

7 Capsized:

8 Lebanese wars and protests:

9 Lebanon and demographics:

10 A SNAFU’s possible paper trail:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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