Tag Archives: Sandy

The Cinch Review

Washed away but holding on

There’s a single vignette from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in a piece by Corey Kilgannon of the NY Times about a 68 year-old musician named Kenny Vance, who lived on Beach 137th Street in the Rockaway section of Queens, New York. He’d gradually built his home into a veritable museum of his decades in music, intersecting with the careers of many others. He’d had no serious problem in previous storms—never even getting water in his basement. Then Sandy came along and pulverized everything in a matter of hours. Kenny Vance (who was traveling at sea when the storm hit) lost prized musical instruments, photographs, and many irreplaceable original recordings and master tapes. In fact, he lost his entire house and everything in it but a few scraps and shreds he’s managed to dig out of the sand.

Reading the story, I think it’s fair to say that he never saw it coming. And why would he? We build up our homes and collect our memories, our souvenirs and our treasured possessions, and they look safe in our cabinets and on our shelves. We don’t do it with the thought that one day they will be turned to ruin or swept out in the surf. In the case of a lot of us, the grim reaper that claims our possessions will be rather less dramatic, but maybe even more depressing: it will be the garbage truck that takes away the accumulations of our lifetime from the curbside where our next-of-kin deposited them. Not a cheerful thought, but at least we don’t expect to be there to see it, as opposed to when you lose it all in a disaster.

The whole thing brought to my mind some verses from a psalm recently encountered in a Bible study. The very first part is quite famous; the succeeding lines are heard less often. It’s Psalm 146, verses 3 and 4:

Put not your trust in princes,
nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth;
in that very day his thoughts perish.

That last statement is one to pause on because of its surpassing finality and grimness: “in that very day his thoughts perish.” It’s bad enough to think about dying without being reminded that your thoughts will perish too. Every plan and dream, every intention, every cherished belief and affection: gone. It’s merely echoed by the fate of our possessions, which likely had such meaning for us in life, yet are destined for their own destruction. So, the psalmist says, don’t put your trust in a man, “in whom there is no salvation,” but in God, “who made heaven and earth … who keeps faith forever,” and in whom there presumably then is salvation.

Salvation is not the easiest word to define. Different religious orthodoxies have different thoughts on it. But perhaps at least this much could be said about salvation: you know what it is when you need it. Continue reading Washed away but holding on

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Sandy: The political parade of mutual congratulation

In 2005, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush was caught on a microphone saying “Heckuva job, Brownie,” to the then-Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown. This quick bit of positive reinforcement for his FEMA head was subsequently (and is to this day) hung around Dubya’s neck and juxtaposed with every iota of human hardship associated with Katrina and New Orleans. How could Bush compliment Brown when so many people were still suffering?

That was then. Consider what we’ve been witnessing since last Tuesday, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, in terms of political leaders and bureaucrats praising one another in a non-stop cavalcade of love and affection. You can’t tune into any of these press conferences, by Bloomberg, Cuomo or Christie, without hearing a great litany of how happy the various leaders and governments and agencies are with one another. “Unprecedented cooperation.” “FEMA is doing everything we ask.” “Couldn’t be happier.” “So grateful.” It has all been crowned, of-course, by the outpouring of gratitude and appreciation on Wednesday between Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and President Barack Obama. Continue reading Sandy: The political parade of mutual congratulation

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Post-Sandy: Weather, perception and public policy

ViewThere’s a famous cartoon by Saul Steinberg, called “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” which was a cover for the New Yorker magazine in 1976. It shows 9th and 10th Avenues in Manhattan in detail with cars and people, and then the rest of the world receding in size and significance, with bare rocks designating esoteric places like Texas, Los Angeles and Nebraska, and China, Japan and Russia featured as gray shores beyond a Pacific Ocean which isn’t much bigger than the Hudson River. The concept has been imitated many times for other locales, and it’s amusing because it contains a truth about human nature: That which is going on closest to us seems most important, and we’re generally satisifed to have the vaguest notions about people and places farther away.

I believe that the same kind of distorted lens affects our perception of weather events. The storm that just occurred is so much worse than storms previously recorded in history (even if it’s not). There is a much greater number of storms and much more damaging weather these days in general than there ever has been before (even if there is not). And even the really, really smart people who are in charge of us seem to be susceptible to this “View of the World from New York on Halloween of 2012.” Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the other day that: “What is clear is that the storms we’ve experienced in the last year or so around this country and around the world are much more severe than before.” Governor Andrew Cuomo is quoted as saying: “There has been a series of extreme weather incidents … Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality.” Well, indeed, what’s reality? Is it our immediate and emotional perception in the wake of a particular weather disaster or historical facts and numbers taken from a long period of time? Roger Pielke (professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado) has pulled out some of the latter:

In studying hurricanes, we can make rough comparisons over time by adjusting past losses to account for inflation and the growth of coastal communities. If Sandy causes $20 billion in damage (in 2012 dollars), it would rank as the 17th most damaging hurricane or tropical storm (out of 242) to hit the U.S. since 1900 – a significant event, but not close to the top 10. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 tops the list (according to estimates by the catastrophe-insurance provider ICAT), as it would cause $180 billion in damage if it were to strike today. Hurricane Katrina ranks fourth at $85 billion.

To put things into even starker perspective, consider that from August 1954 through August 1955, the East Coast saw three different storms make landfall – Carol, Hazel and Diane – that in 2012 each would have caused about twice as much damage as Sandy.

While it’s hardly mentioned in the media, the U.S. is currently in an extended and intense hurricane “drought.” The last Category 3 or stronger storm to make landfall was Wilma in 2005. The more than seven years since then is the longest such span in over a century.

Another and broader point made by Pielke is one I will make in my own way: Since the beginning of time, the weather has been killing us. It’s been blowing us away, drowning us, and parching us. It’s destroyed our houses, wrecked our crops, and even forced us at times in large numbers to migrate. The occurrence of extreme weather events on a periodic basis is one of the most reliable features of the climate across much of planet earth. If such events stopped occurring, then that would be “climate change” indeed. Our tendency—all the more so in the modern age when we feel so relatively invincible—to want to live in places that are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, like right on the edge of huge bodies of water, only increases the potential for damage and loss. Continue reading Post-Sandy: Weather, perception and public policy

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Sandy: aftermath of the tempest

Clearly this storm has been a disaster for many who badly need assistance and prayers. Here at Cinch HQ in NYC we can only be grateful not to have lost power or suffered any other significant damage. Were it not for seeing it on the news, we wouldn’t even know it had been such a damaging storm. Would that everyone could say the same thing.

In terms of New York City at large, it seems the damage to the subway system is the biggest single issue hanging over the recovery effort. Shutting down the system was meant to avoid serious flooding by salt water, but it occurred anyway, and that’s a very big deal which will impact service for quite some time and cost plenty to fix. Continue reading Sandy: aftermath of the tempest