Saturday, November 3, 2012

Not My First Troubles from a Sandy

“I need power!” complained a neighbor yesterday. Don’t we all?

She meant electric power specifically which has been out at my house since Monday (October 29) courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. It will be out quite a bit longer by the looks of the dangling telephone wires, snapped poles, and trees hung up in electric lines along the surrounding roadways. Some local homes have generators, but these are sputtering to a halt as gasoline runs dry – few area stations have functioning fuel pumps, and those that do have long lines of cars stretching down the road. The power at my office, located on a main route, came back on last night, which offers me some private refuge from the cold and dark. At 946 millibars, Sandy tied the 1938 record for the most severe hurricane on record north of Cape Hatteras. Utility crews have lots of work.

My damage wasn’t severe in the way such things are measured. At the office, one tall pine tree came down in the parking lot, my sign blew down (two 6 x 6 inch posts snapped), and shingles stripped off the roof. At home, one pine hangs precariously over the garage and another one fell across the driveway. Otherwise the trees missed anything important, though fallen ones litter the yard. I've already cut up the trees in the driveway and parking lot.

Hurricanes, like earthquakes and other forces of nature, remind us of historian/philosopher Will Durant’s line: “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.” Oh, we can prepare and fortify, and many of those efforts pay off, especially in more modest events. Sometimes they don’t. I remember an acquaintance in Lower Matecumbe Key in Florida who once had lost his furniture to flooding. So, when a hurricane was forecast he lashed his furniture to the ceiling; there was no flooding but the wind took off the roof. Ultimately, some things are bigger than we are. Sometimes all we can do is pick up the pieces as best we can afterward.

Much the same goes for many man-made disasters. Much as we like to believe that, in social matters at least, every problem must have a solution and that good intentions are all we need to find it, history provides us with no reassurance. Humans are full of their own forces of nature which run amok. Not all of the disasters involve bloodshed, though there are plenty of those types, too. Consider, instead, economic turmoil of the sort documented in This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Princeton economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. This was published soon after the 2008 financial crisis and is still one of the best analyses of that event and others like it. Their conclusion is that these crises are recurrent “equal opportunity” events that occur in all types of economies. One inevitably will happen again despite any measures we put in place, because “a financial system can collapse under the pressure of greed, politics, and profits no matter how well regulated it seems to be.” Ultimately, there simply are limits to the human capacity for self-governance – limits which grow ever more evident as I grow older and more cynical – and sometimes there is little to do but pick up the pieces after our follies lead to smash-ups.

Nothing we do to ourselves, however, can match what Earth can do to us when she gets cranky. Let’s hope her mood is pleasant for a while.

Clip from Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)


  1. Glad to hear you missed the worst of it. Still being without power is a real pain. That happened out here during one of our wild fire ravages a few years ago. Hope everything gets restored soon.

    1. Thanks. The scary part is that temperatures are hovering right around freezing, dipping a bit below at night -- just enough to raise worries about frozen pipes.

  2. “…some things are bigger than we are. Sometimes all we can do is pick up the pieces as best we can afterward.” - That was a very meaningful statement. And I think that is apt for the situation. Natural disasters like hurricanes are unavoidable. It happens and there is no way that we can prevent it from happening. Prepping can help to a certain extent, but we must also be prepared to rebuild not just our properties, but also our lives.

    1. Thanks for the comment post Joanne.

      It helps us keep better spirits to believe we can. Robert Heinlein: "a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun--and neither can stop the march of events."