The coronavirus has killed some who my friends know, but hasn’t hurt anyone I myself actually know. Yet the political response has hurt just about everybody. Hardworking people who were gainfully employed have been abruptly unemployed, as small businesses have been ruined. Those of us who have been lucky enough to keep our small businesses functioning have had to do what we can, to help the less fortunate.
You may ask, “Why bother?” After all, it is not my problem. If the government wants to destroy the middle class, and make them all dependent on government assistance, is it not the government’s job to provide welfare? Why should I help, if the government is so determined to destroy self-resiliency and create a welfare state?
The answer seems to be that governments stink, when it comes to caring. I’m not exactly sure why they stink, but it seems to have something to do with actually caring for the people they claim they care for. I have a suspicion many bureaucrats are more selfish than selfless, and care more for themselves than those they are suppose to help, but, for whatever reason, it always takes me around ten phone-calls to find that rare and wonderful individual who works for the public and actually cares for the public, which suggests 90% don’t. What this means is that eventually you find yourself faced with a person the government is suppose to care for, but has failed to care for. At that point it is up to you. You, and not the government, must provide the welfare.
It would be easy to refuse to care if, like the government, you didn’t know the people you were dealing with, but we do know people. Some aspect of knowing a person involves caring. This is most obvious when it is an actual family member.
Some in government like to say we should be equal, and should care for all equally, but in fact many of them care more for their job than the people they supposedly serve. They may look down a long nose and say that if you care for your family you are guilty of nepotism, but they themselves are guilty of selfism. Their selfism is why you, and not the government, must provide the welfare.
This is not to say a person can’t exhaust even their own family’s patience, if they mooch too much. I know this because I did it. When in my twenties I was so dedicated to poetry that I put writing before working, and people got fed up with funding a person who wanted to sit about nibbling an eraser all the time. They wouldn’t loan me a single penny more, which forced me to compromise and get a Real Job. It was humiliating for a great, 29-year-old poet like myself to go work with teenagers in a California burger joint, but I was out of cigarettes, and it is amazing what an addict will do for a smoke.
It turned out to be great fun to work with teenagers, and my poetry benefitted rather than being crushed, (which would have been a self-fulfilling fate, the demolition of poetry, a “burying of talents”, which I dreaded and I warned against.) Not that I had time to write much, but in actual fact rather than dried up I was like an old-fashioned pen sucking up ink from an inkwell. I sponged up information for future tales (including this one).
I could make you laugh with tales about the antics of California teenagers, but the person I worked with at the burger joint, who I choose to use for this essay, was seventy-six years old. He was fat, had a bulbous nose, a rather expressionless face (most of the time), pale blue eyes which were usually non-committal but could abruptly twinkle, wisps of thinning gray hair swept back in a comb-over, had to wear the same silly, checkered shirt and hat of the fast-food place that I wore, and looked as ridiculous as I looked. I imagined some sad tale must lie behind an old man like him landing himself in such a humiliating situation, and like a good reporter I started questioning, to see if I could dig up the details of what I assumed must be a tragedy.
He was a retired steel worker from Pittsburg, from a large Polish family that immigrated to the United States in 1908 when he was two. He started working at the steel mills at age sixteen in 1922, and retired in 1972 after fifty years, at age sixty-six. He had savings and a healthy pension, and he and his wife had spent the last decade doing all the things they dreamed of, until they were all done and just wanted to stay “home”, which they had moved from Pittsburg to California, but then he got bored, and his restlessness was driving his wife nuts, so he decided to get a job at a burger joint for the fun of it.
I was incredulous, for a number of reasons. For one thing, I could not imagine getting a job for the fun of it, because, even though I enjoyed the teenagers at the burger joint, walking through the door each day was like walking through the door of a dentist’s office to have a tooth pulled. Fun? After the eternity of six weeks I felt like I was at my limit. I was gasping for escape. The idea of working the same job for fifty years was utterly beyond my comprehension.
Usually I try to flatter the people I interview, but some of my incredulity must have leaked out. Perhaps I said something like, “Fifty years! That’s amazing! Didn’t you ever get bored?” The old man’s answer surprised me.
He told me his hard-working Polish family didn’t approve of him sticking with a blue collar job, though his steel-worker’s pay was decent for 1922. They felt he should show more initiative. One brother had started picking rags and selling second-hand clothes, and now owned a store that sold fine jackets to the rich. Another began by banging nails and now was a house builder with an entire crew of workers. A sister began as a waitress and now owned her own coffee shop and bakery. Three other siblings began as tellers and a janitor at a bank but proved so honest, intelligent and trustworthy they had climbed to positions in offices of the bank. But he liked the steel work. He said the molten steel was like being in a fireworks display inside a volcano, and he just plain liked the grit and grime of it all, and knowing he was part of what built battleships and skyscrapers.
Then the year 1929 came around, and the market crashed. Banks closed and businesses went under, and one by one his siblings lost their businesses and jobs, until he was the only one left working. The bank repossessed houses, and his siblings moved in with him, until his house was a crowded Polish commune, with many looking for work, and some finding brief jobs, but him as the central pillar. For almost a decade he was the rock that held the rest up. The unemployment rate in Pittsburg rose past 25%, but he kept right on working at the steel mill right through the Great Depression. Then World War Two came, and steel became very important, and he got many in his family jobs at the mill for the duration. Then the war was over, and the family spread out and moved away, but no one ever mocked him ever again, for being the one who worked in a mill.
I remember looking at his face as he told me this tale, as we mass-produced several hundred hamburgers and cheeseburgers, side by side during a lunch rush. His gnarled hands worked swiftly, on a sort of automatic pilot, as his blue eyes looked far away, but what struck me most was the serenity in his face. It was the look of a man who knows he has done good.
As I slouched home from work that day I had the feeling God put that unlikely old man into a burger joint full of teenager’s, just to humble me. After all, formerly I felt people who worked for a pension were “selling out.” They lacked the nerve I imagined I had, when I sacrificed the security of a steady paycheck for “art”. However, when I came right down to it, could I say I had done good, like the old Polish steel worker had done good? How had I helped my family, by mooching off them?
The best I could do was grumble, “Some day I’ll be famous, and then they’ll be sorry.” But what about the old man? Was he ever famous? Not beyond his own home. But he had something I lacked.
Now it is thirty-eight years later, and, unless that steelworker has lived to a robust age of one-hundred-fourteen, he is long gone, but he has come ghosting back through my mind because I’m getting a hint of his serenity. Due to the financial ruin caused by the coronavirus I find myself put in shoes where I must supply the caring. I give to three churches, and also to two daughters, a son-in-law, three grandchildren, and a mother-in-law, who are in need. At a time when I thought my house would be getting quiet with everyone moving out, everyone seems to be moving back in. I remember the old Polish steel worker, and a smile twitches irony on the corners of my lips, because of something he forgot to tell me: Sometimes serenity can get pretty noisy.
Irony has a delicious aspect, when karma is involved. There is something downright hilarious about a notorious moocher like myself finding himself mooched-upon in his old age. Turn-about is fair play.
I keep telling myself there is something very cool about having four generations in the same house, but at times it is something like saying “I don’t believe in ghosts” while walking through a graveyard at midnight. The racket can reach ridiculous levels. (Did I mention that my mother-in-law brought her dog. A small dog. A talkative dog.)
Because I run a Childcare, and work with small children, a normal day can involve distractions which make it hard to have a train-of-thought more than fifteen seconds long. I have a need for peace when I get home, and once upon a time I was able to sit in quiet and enjoy trains-of-thought hours long. No longer. They say a man’s home is his castle, but coronavirus has made my home a refugee camp.
Some wonder why I do not post as much about arctic sea-ice. It boils down to the ability to concentrate. When I have a map of sea-ice-thickness on my computer screen, and am sagely stroking my chin contemplating the map, a six-year-old is prone to come bounding in and plop herself in my lap and state, “I want to see the YouTube about the elephants saving the wildebeest from the crocodile.” It does little good to say, in such situations, “Wouldn’t you rather see some arctic sea-ice?” Concentration on the topic you planned to focus on is impossible.
The Good Lord helps us, when it comes to suffering the slings and arrows of small children, with a wonderful defense children have. It is difficult to strangle them even when they deserve it, for they are cute. Sadly, a little girl has no such defense when she is eighty-two.
My mother-in-law is only fifteen years older than me, because my wife is so young, which makes her close enough to being-a-peer to be interesting. Part of my concentration is displaced into wondering, “Not many years from now I may be in her shoes; how will I behave?”
She has always been a very independent and active woman, which has its bad side. She tends to do what she wants without deeply considering the feelings of other. In a sort of reaction, my wife is amazing, when it comes to considering the feelings of others. If you punch your fist into your palm, my mother-in-law is the fist and my wife is the palm.
Not that the two don’t share some attributes. My wife can be a bulldozer, when it comes to being independent and active in a caring way. And my mother-in-law is caring in that she never forgot to send a family member a card on their birthday, often from some exotic place where she was hiking or kayaking.
She was definitely enjoying her retirement to the hilt. How active was she? Well, she didn’t just wear out her hips and require two hip replacements, but she wore out her hip replacements and had to have them replaced as well. (She had excellent health insurance that paid for it all). She never actually paddled a kayak up Niagara Falls, but she was having a grand old time with her retirement, asking us to be amazed over all the wonderful fun she was having, but never expressing much interest in my struggles. (Part of being independent and active involved minding your own business).
Then fate became cruel, and something broke down which cannot be replaced like a hip (yet). It was her eyesight, due to what is called “macular degeneration”. She was just as strong, and just as vigorous, and just as independent and active, but was less and less able to see what she what she was doing. Against her own will, this independent woman had to depend on others for more and more. Could fate be more cruel?
Of course, a fiercely independent woman fights such dependence. She drove long after it was wise, one time describing to me how driving down a shady avenue was mostly blackness with a few light places she could see. But eventually even she had to admit she should give up her driver’s license, and lose all the independence involved with such a privilege.
Skipping soap-operatic details, eventually this old lady arrived at my doorstep. I attempt to display the fruits of the spirit, but it is difficult, and I have to fight the urge to be crabby.
For example, as an active woman my mother in law likes to go for a walk with her yappy dog, even though she can barely see. She thinks she is walking along the line at the side of the highway. It is actually the line down the middle of the highway. In a small town, such news gets back to me. What am I to say?
I say nothing. I don’t want trouble. I work behind the scenes, and it is my daughter, who has the knack of being forthright with her grandmother, who tells the old woman townsfolk are talking about her walking down the middle of the state highway with her dog, and that perhaps she should stick to the side roads. After much grumbling, the old matriarch concedes.
But even though I say nothing to her face, I get they feeling I am part of a ruthless Gestapo the poor old lady is up against, called “reality”. It is reality that is oppressing her independence, and telling her she can’t even walk her dog as she’d like.
I resent being associated with the Gestapo. I am far more tollerant than the Gestapo was prone to be. I am just an old fellow who is trying to concentrate on arctic sea-ice, distracted by an old lady in the background who is having long conversations with her yappy dog.
She also has conversations with herself, which I try not to listen to. It is rude to eavesdrop. But it is hard not to hear. Especially when she is talking to herself about my shortcomings. For example, because she finds it harder and harder to see, she tends to crash-into and trip-over things, and may mutter, “What a stupid place to leave boots.”
Those boots are my boots. I become indignant, because I am not a wicked Gestapo snickering as he leaves boots about to trip up old matriarchs with. In fact I take off my boots and leave them beside the door because I am considerate towards my wife. But I bite my tongue and resolve to find a better place for boots. Then I wonder, “Where was I? Oh, yes. Arctic sea-ice.” But just then I hear a loud splanging sound, and she says, “What a stupid place for a piano.”
I keep telling myself to have compassion, because it must be a living hell to go blind, but being compassionate makes it hard to sit and concentrate. Sometimes I’ve even heard breaking glass in the distance. At that point I have to leave the subject of arctic sea-ice and go to see what is going on.
Sometimes her coffee cup gets pushed from where it usually is, beside her personal coffee maker, to a point eighteen inches back. But she can’t find it. Rather than asking for help she walks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, rummaging with her hands and occasionally knocking things over, muttering to herself, until I helpfully ask, “Looking for something?” and then find her coffee cup for her. But in some ways I am the Gestapo even then, because I am embarrassing her by finding the cup eighteen inches from where she thought she left it.
At some point I am pushed past my breaking point, and tire of being tolerant. After all, it is my house, and a man should not be be accused of being the Gestapo for wanting to be at home. A man’s home is his castle. And, in the madness of an election year, I don’t even want to hear pro-Trump propaganda, (though I’ll vote for him), especially when I am trying to concentrate on arctic sea-ice. I want silence, and peace, and quiet.
My mother-in-law wants noise in the background. Maybe she’s lonely. But she likes her TV blaring, and usually has it on programs (CNN or “The View”) which spew anti-Trump election-year propaganda, which (in my humble opinion) contain such immoral misinformation and rot they seem designed to reduce minds to cesspools. How am I to concentrate on arctic sea-ice?
If I was the Gestapo I’d shoot her TV. (In actual fact I helped her set up the accursed TV, because I quit watching such rot ten years ago.) But I am so rude as to politely ask her to turn it down, and close the door. I do so over and over, because she forgets, and opens the door, walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, restlessly looking for something.
I suppose I come across as intolerant. And a nag. She has long been free and independent, and is unaccustomed to anyone assuming they have power over her TV. So, like it or not, I am oppressive, and the Gestapo.
My granddaughter also deems me the Gestapo, though she does not know the word. She scowls at me when I lay down the law. For example, one rule I have stated, as autocratic patriarch of the household, is, “Thou shalt play in the yard, and never in the house”. (Admittedly dogma, but it avoids broken vases.) When I state this decree, I get pouted at.
Now, If I was respected, such a rule would be respected, and you might think my mother-in-law would approve of a elder, a grandfather, such as I am, being respected. However, apparently because she herself in some ways sees me as the Gestapo, my mother-in-law decided it would be noble behavior, like the French Underground’s, to break such an oppressive rule, and she set about corrupting my granddaughter, by getting her to play in the house.
At this point it gets very hard to concentrate on arctic sea-ice. Instead it becomes very interesting to just sit back and listen to the conspiracy to undermine my authority, going on in a way I can overhear.
Mind you, my mother-in-law should know better. She already undermined my authority by seducing my dog. My dog is quite spoiled to begin with, (fed more than people in Africa with two meals a day), but my mother in law decided I was abusing her and my dog needed extra treats. My dog agreed. Soon my dog wouldn’t leave her alone. In the background, as I tried to write about arctic sea-ice, I could hear her tell my dog to leave her alone, and quit stealing her little, yappy dog’s food. Only when my dog snarled at her little yappy dog did I arise from my serenity of arctic sea-ice and become the Gestapo, (in my dog’s opinion), by exiling the faithful cur to a chain in the back yard. She gave me a very hurt look. After all, it was her house first.
So of course I was interested when I overheard the same corruption of my authority begin with my granddaughter. I knew from the start the results would not be good, but sometimes you need to allow others the freedom to learn for themselves.
As I attempted to concentrate on arctic sea-ice I overheard my mother-in-law inform her great-granddaughter, “Did you know you can make a hula hoop be a jump rope”?
This is a wonderful transmission of information between generations, when done outside. But within a cramped cottage it is less than wise. I found it interesting to sit back and, rather than concentrating on arctic sea-ice, to concentrate how my mother-in-law saw the rot setting in.
It happened like this: When my granddaughter made a hula hoop be jump rope, my dog found it exciting, and began barking. This prompted my mother-in-law to order my dog to be silent, which caused her little cur to start yapping, at which point my granddaughter decided a hula hoop could also be a lasso to control dogs with. The dogs did not approve, nor did my mother-in-law, at which point my granddaughter decided a hula hoop could be a lasso used to control great-grandmothers. Deciding enough was enough, I, as patriarch, arose from my view of arctic sea-ice, took three steps to the next room, and cleared my throat with the great word, “Ahem.”
All involved immediately looked very guilty. I wondered, why should they, when all I said was, “Ahem”? I was not wearing my Halloween wig, nor my best look of outrage:
Come to think of it, my granddaughter’s expression was similar, even though I had caught her red-handed lassoing her great-grandmother with a hula hoop. But most amusing to me was how my mother-in-law responded. Even though she herself had created the chaos, she, with a hula hoop behind her neck tugging her forward, and making her hunchback, seemed to think she could pretend she played no part in the ruination they had made of the room. She turned to her great-granddaughter, raised her index finger, and scolded, “No rough housing! You should only play with hula hoops outside.”
I hope this fully explains why I haven’t concentrated on sea-ice in a while. I blame the coronavirus, and think back to the old Polish steel worker I worked with in the burger joint in California. If he looked back to his chaotic household in Pittsburg with serenity, I can imagine looking back the same way, at my current situation. In some ways the coronavirus is a modern version of the Great Depression, (albeit far more artificial, and likely to end with the election.)
When we first married my wife and I shared a coffee cup with a cartoon on it that portrayed two sad-looking kittens sharing an umbrella in pouring rain, with the motto, “This too will pass.” A day will come when my house is quiet once more.
In fact it may come sooner than I expect, for I notice a young (to me) man seems interested in my daughter, and she has a certain smile on the corner of her lips, and a softer light in her eyes.
This morning the first thing I thought about Was the way I’d chuckled in the corner Of a dream of a daughter. “I should shout, Or at the very least I should warn her” I yawned to myself, but instead was happy. Just let others live lives that are free. If I must slap, my fingers should slap me, For I’m not being the way I could be. The first thing I should do, waking from sleep, Is to worship the Lord, but my mind drifts To a dream’s corner, and into some deep Contemplation about how chuckling shifts My glacial heart. My eyes lift above And pray for God’s grace; my daughter’s in love.
When your house gets noisy, be careful about praying for silence. Your prayer may get answered. The young (to me) man swooped in and took my daughter and granddaughter north to pick apples and carve pumpkins and listen to a band play in the crisp autumn air.
My granddaughter’s gone. Now I get quiet I yearned for, but find I miss the imp. How often we desire, but soon sigh it Wasn’t what we thought. Logic seems to skimp Concerning essentials. Our foolish brains Are no good handling matters of the heart. I want the imp back. What old fart complains When given such bounding laughter to start A day with? Disruption’s a good thing. Being annoyed is actually a tonic. What poet wants a dawn where no birds sing? Such silence can make even sweet dawn sick. A poet’s most sad when he faces a dawn Missing the noise that he wished would be gone.
Also, at age 82, my mother-in-law is at a point where on any given morning she might not be down for breakfast. The fact of the matter is my situation of having four generations living in the same household is very tenuous. Therefore I try to see all the chaos as a rarity, and something to be cherished rather than loathed.
The coronavirus is apparently causing similar domestic chaos all over the country. The media like to focus on increases in domestic abuse and drunkenness, but I wonder if there might also be an increase in family bonding. While I will confess a slight uptick in my consumption of beer, and in my fits of crotchety behavior, I also notice a certain softening of my heart. Who knows? Perhaps the coronavirus may prove a blessing in disguise, in certain ways.
(At the very least it has increased my appreciation of peace and quiet, and the maxim, “Silence is golden.”)
Nothing gets your attention like an abrupt fall of snow in October, when, as you can see, the oaks haven’t dropped their leaves, so you sure as heck haven’t put your rakes away, if you have even started your raking.
Election? Possible Civil War? Who the heck cares about piffling details like that? There are a hundred details to be done before winter, but here winter is, arriving early and uninvited!
October snow is like someone slapping you in the face. It gets your attention in a way intellectual arguments can’t.
Of course, I’m old enough to avoid completely panicing. If I was going to do that I would have done it in during the “Halloween Storm” of 2011. (Photo credit “Fellows Family”).
On that occasion our east-facing slopes were perfectly placed to catch the moisture, and we got an amazing three feet of snow. Out of sheer stubbornness I managed to snow-blow the drive of the Childcare, and we retained our record of being open when schools are closed (as we have done during the coronavirus), but as I recall only a single child showed up the next day.
I figured I was in big trouble, in 2011, because I had a lot more than leaf-raking undone. I had firewood out in the woods and not on the front porch, and three feet of snow makes the job of moving the wood about thirty-seven times harder. Other undone tasks I could ignore: You can ignore the potatoes and carrots undug in the garden, but heating is pretty important in these hills, where temperatures drop below zero (-17 Celsius.) It might prove so hard getting the firewood that I might even have to resort to fossil fuels, and that can get expensive.
However the old lady who directed the church choir I was part of back then, (when I say “old”, I mean roughly my age), told me not to worry. She raised an index finger and stated, “Snow before Thanksgiving never lasts.”
Boy! Was she ever right! All three feet were gone by Thanksgiving, and what’s more, we hardly had any more snow all that winter. At my Childcare, the snow was so thin we destroyed many cheap, plastic sleds scouring over acorns and gravel. It was a bad year for sledding, (but, as I recall, a good year for skating, once the cold set in after Christmas). And I did get the firewood from the woods without needing to mine it and sledge it.
If three feet was nothing to worry about back then, I probably shouldn’t fret about four inches now. While it is suppose to remain cold for four days, (and the rain on Sunday could turn to snow), by the end of next week it suppose to hit sixty, and the snow will vanish.
In other words, I’ll get another chance to check off things on my list; to rake leaves, dig potatoes and carrots, and build winter quarters for the Childcare’s duck. But one thing I cannot do, and am glad I can’t do it. I can’t worry incessantly about the election, because “incessant” means “non-stop”, and the snow stopped me.
Have I fallen or risen? Once the snow Was my joy, but now it’s my nemesis. I’m made hypocrite. The older I grow The more I growl at what was my bliss. Poor God! From eternity he hears my prayers, And my entire life’s the blink of His eye, Yet He hears my blisses become despairs And opposite pleadings from the same guy. But one thing stays the same. Snow’s sweep of white Erases all that I had planned to do, And faces me with a new page to write. Life knows a pause. You cannot continue. And within that pause, when routine must cease, The hubbub must halt at a hint of God’s peace.
I confess I’d heard so many bad things about California that it came as something of a shock to miss all the ugliness (so far) and be struck by the beauty.
I am reminded of a tale I heard of a drunk who was cheerfully staggering down a street. All the people were pointing at him and laughing, but just then there was an earthquake, which caused all the people to stagger about. The people were all weeping and cursing about the situation, but the drunk found things completely normal, so he was the only one who remained relatively calm, helping others up when they fell down, as cheerful as ever, as others wailed.
In like manner, to those who have come through many a calamity, the California calamity does not looks as hopeless as it does to those experiencing the crashing of pot-headed idealism for the first time. One knows such travesties can be learning experiences, and one can pick up the pieces and do better than before. And in California the pieces seem to be beautiful pieces.
I was struck by the care that has long gone into the gardens in front of houses in the “old” part of San Diego. We were only there long enough to catch our breath after a cramped and crowded flight. (So much for “social distancing”; perhaps due to the indifference of congress, the airline decided to make some money and combined two flights into one.) At the hotel people did obey and wear their masks, but the masks were loose, and many seemed to disbelieve they did a lick of good.
We had to try the Mexican food at places recommended to us, (both for dinner and breakfast), and it truly was so much better than so-called “Mexican” restaurants in New Hampshire that it was ridiculous. We stretched our legs, walking to the shore for the sunset.
But what really fascinated me, as a old farmer, were the arid gardens. In front of one abode was a prickly pear which must have been decades old, with a trunk bigger than most east-coast trees. My Brazilian son-in-law was stopped by passion fruit plopping down from a tree into the street, and told us this was unlike the fruit bought in stores, and like how the fruit was suppose to taste. Then my oldest grandson scrambled up a chain link fence to pluck a ripe pomegranate from an overhanging branch, as his grandmother scolded that he’d get us arrested. We made no bones about the fact we were a bunch of rubes from far away, marveling over all that the locals likely found ho-hum and everyday.
All too soon we had to rush to an Air B&B we had rented for the wedding, northeast in Temecula.
Temecula is a place that has grown from a population of 1500 in 1980 to over 50,000 in 2020, which is a growth I would have called “cancerous” as a young man. However it is funny how the years can change you. When young I had no idea of the work that goes into building a dream house and creating a home, and was far more critical of people doing so. Now I am far more aware of the sweat and sacrifice that goes into even a shack. But this place was no shack. It was completely out of my league.
We set to work, lugging around tables and chairs to prepare for a wedding against a beautiful backdrop of a valley below.
I’m not as young as I used to be, and while I could help move the chairs I accepted the truth that I was more in the way than helpful when it came to the heavy tables, so I began snooping about the place, in a sort of Sherlock Holmes manner. I wanted to see if I could figure out the abode’s history, and find any clues as to why a millionaire would turn his place over to a peon like me, for even two days.
My wife likes to poke fun at the way I “make things up”. When two people walk by us on the street I may write a short verbal novelette about why their faces are grumpy. And in the case of this lovely house I concocted several good tales, about millionaires falling into deep debt due to California taxes, or fleeing the state due to riots, but the only real evidence had been traced into the concrete of the patio, when it was poured. The year was 2001, and the couple had five young children, and the children’s little handprints were in the concrete.
Now twenty years have flown by, and those little hands have grown up. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, I cannot know. But it does seem nice to me that, rather than mothballed, the lovely place can be shared with others just getting started in life.
Someone must have prayed well, for temperatures were up over ninety just before we arrived, and forecast to soar nearly to a hundred just after we left, but a merciful wind shifted to the west and temperatures dropped to the seventies as we prepared for the wedding.
The morning of the wedding dawned misty and cool.
In the distance not only the sun was rising.
I suppose I could wax morose about California’s problems, but that simply won’t do, the day of a wedding. Hope springs eternal, like a phoenix from the ashes, and should I see homeless in miserable tents of blue plastic, I’ll remember I was homeless once, and look at me now. God is great.
Sometimes my thinking is led, or perhaps bungles, into the Light.
I was despairing the other day, upset about the polarized nature of American politics, pained by how divided my homeland seems to be, and my mind thought how ironic it is that within the United States “Pledge of Allegiance” we state that, (even if you remove the “under God” added in 1954), we are one nation, indivisible.
I got to thinking about the concept. What is actually indivisible? In an age when people vow to remain married “until death do we part”, and then divorce so swiftly they make romance resemble the play-acting of children, it is hard to escape cynicism. Some treat a vow as a meaningless genuflection, committing terrible hypocrisy. For example, some politicians place their hands on the Bible and pledge to serve their fellow citizens, when they are in fact Atheist’s and the pledge has no meaning to them. It is gesture done by rote, devoid of earnestness and honesty.
But times seem so dark I decided to be earnest and honest with myself, and to take a hard look at the concept of “indivisible.” I was surprised by the Light which flooded into my thinking.
It involves a Simplicity which is ambiguously difficult to explain, perhaps because It is outside our everyday experience. Ordinarily we divide things into good and evil, and that which attracts and that which repels. We live within limitations, but indivisibility involves an Infinity.
Tolkien symbolizes this difference when, in his creation “Lord Of The Rings“, he has the fallen wizard Saruman brag to the good wizard Gandalf, while showing off his new cloak, that he is no longer Saruman-the-White but rather is Saruman-the-Many-Colored. Gandalf states he preferred white. Saruman sneers white light can be broken (as by a prism). Gandalf’s simple reply is, “In which case it is no longer white.”
My own meditation pondered whether infinity can be really be broken. By definition infinity is limitlessness, and therefore, if you cut it in half, each half would theoretically also be limitlessness. You cannot have such a thing as half of infinity. Infinity is indivisible.
If this is true of even the mathematical concept of infinity, think how powerful the spiritual concept of infinity is. It is a power which cannot be diminished, or “shared”, for it is truly omnipotent, and cannot be cut in half. Likewise it is omnipresence which cannot be cut in half. It is indivisible. Most wonderful of all, it is Love which cannot be cut in half, can never know divorce, or even be parted by death, existing beyond time from everlasting to everlasting, “indivisible”.
I likely have failed to describe the Light which came into my dark mood, contemplating the word “indivisible.” It seems one of those things which prove words are fairly useless. Silence is golden, and I glimpsed the gold of a single candle more powerful than a vast cave of political darkness. I became aware there is hope.
Here are a couple of sonnets I wrote trying to find words for the yoyo of my heartaches.
Sometimes honesty commands I crumple In some corner where I won’t upset the kids And bawl to God. I’m s’pose to be thankful, But, to be honest, I’m brought to the skids. I can’t believe the level of the lies This election’s manufacturing. O God, you are the fairest of blue skies And You supply the real reason to sing. You bubble joy, and make us want to dance, But politicians depress. Things they’ve said Prove they’re desperate gamblers, seizing a chance To make feathery light of dark, dense lead. O lord, they bray on and on, non-stop, Till I stagger away and before You I drop.
In the ruins of myself lies a treasure You will never find in great palaces. It’s not found in work, nor in leisure, But within a wonderland like Alice’s. My gold is glimpsed by a penniless child While a billionaire cannot afford it. My riches make sanest bankers get wild For they cannot see how to aim toward it. Seek ye my ruins; my sad, toppled stones; Cross dusty streets that have gone uncrossed For centuries; see life come to old bones; Hear echoes of music which shut taverns lost, For, within ruins which poetry’s chosen Dwells warmth for the hearts this cruel world has frozen.
Time flies when you’ve just begun. Thirty years Ago I paused Poet’s Purgatory: (Bleeding-lip loneliness sleeping with fears I’d die young in my car). I’d marry A woman with three children, three brothers, And a mother. Camping involved just eight. But things happen, when you include mothers. This year forty-three camped, and it was great! But the campground owner asked us if we Could find somewhere else, next year. Our loud joy Disturbed peace, he said, though what caused our glee Wasn’t booze, nor looter’s wish to destroy. Ringers at horseshoes just made us yell a lot. Funny how some think that joy is a plot.
Yes this did happen. The campground owner did state my family had “grown too large.” It’s just another crazy event in a crazy year.
Oddly, in some ways I agree with the man. As I sat watching 42 people have all sorts of happy fun, I (now the official “patriarch” of the bunch), had the sense things had gotten out of control. This was not what I intended.
What did I intend? Well, this involves looking at preconceptions. I don’t much like doing this, because it is embarrassing confessing how seldom anything in life has worked out as I planned. However within the obscurity of this website I’ll expose my dunderheadedness, by wondering what my preconceptions were, when I married thirty years ago.
I think I assumed that by now my kids would be raised and out of the nest, and I’d be in a quiet house. When my job as father was done, I could spend my declining years thinking, simply thinking. My house would become a sort of monastery, and I’d be the monk, deeply engrossed in thought. If any of my children were about, it would only to be to hear me deliver some sage wisdom in a reedy, old voice.
As usual, my preconception was utterly, completely wrong. Being a grandfather is not the same as being a monk. If you really want to be a monk, remain celibate, and then there is no danger of ever being a grandfather.
Yesterday I was trying to write and there were three grandchildren from three separate children making a racket in the background, aged six, two and one. My wife loves such rackets, and I love my wife, but I confess there are times I mutter nonspiritual things like, “Shakespeare never had to put up with this shit.” And usually it is just then one, or two, or sometimes all three small children are not willing to rest content with being background noise. They are not the slightest bit interested in the profundity I am gritting my teeth to stay focused on, but rather are interested in me. (Odd. No one else is.) And then I am confronted by these innocent eyes and wonderfully clean minds, and I am ashamed I called them “shit.”
To be a grandfather involves sacrifice. There is no pension, where you are rewarded for your years of service, and are freed from further service. Rather your reward is to sacrifice further. Not a good selling point. But the strange thing about such sacrifice is that the more you give the more you get.
What you get is beyond the comprehension of greed. Let me put it this way:
Mother Theresa only wanted to help a few dying children experience compassion as they died. Yes, a few were saved and survived, but mostly she attended to the dying innocent. And her reward was to be given more and more dying children, until she had to also deal with a whole nunnery of nuns who also attended to dying children. What the heck kind of reward is that?
I can’t say. I’m not Mother Theresa. But I assume she saw something in the eyes of dying children that made her kindness worthwhile.
In like manner, on a far lesser level, I see something in the eyes of grandchildren (and over a decade’s worth of kids at my Childcare), that makes sacrifice worthwhile.
In order to explain such sacrifice to the greedy, you must put it in terms the greedy can understand. It’s hard. But perhaps I can do it.
When you start out small, for some reason you are given more. You start out camping with eight, but it becomes forty-three. It becomes such big thing that people start to notice. A campground owner feels uncomfortable. Basically he is saying, “Stop. Something is going on here which is out of my control.” (The word for that is “sacrifice.”)
I’m scheduled to return to that campground at the end of summer, but not as part of a mob. It will just be me, my wife, and two close friends. (Oldsters need time to relax and be refreshed). But while I’m there I hope to engage the elderly campground-owner in a good conversion. If I can figure out how to break the ice, there is much to wonder about.
After all, in 1987 I was the sort of ruined drifter, basically homeless, who campground-owners did not want to see arriving at their campground in a battered, brown 1974 Toyota. Who could imagine the same dude would now be a “patriarch”, still pitching a tent but with 42 others, including four driving motor-homes?
This being Sunday, it likely would be a good thing to confess. I’d rather confess about all the things you do wrong, but apparently it is better to confess about my own spiritual blunders. So I’ll get on with it.
It might be fun to sheepishly admit some of my behavior as a lusty young man was not entirely ethical, but the problem with that is: I am not what I once was, so such confession is no longer very applicable. Also you might become suspicious that rather than feeling remorse I was bragging.
Instead I’ll confess a couple of events which recently confronted me with how I put things of this world ahead of That Which Is Lasting. The first was that my yearly chest X-ray, delayed six months due to the corona virus, reveled a suspicious “spot”, (actually a shaded area), and I was advised to immediately schedule an MRI. If I thought I might be able to milk some sympathy from my wife (and I confess I was playing the violin’s of self-pity a bit) such thinking came to an abrupt, screeCHing halt. She too had a virus-delayed physical, a lump was discovered in her right breast, and she was told to schedule an immediate mammogram.
We looked each other in disbelief. Could we be at our end?
As much as I’d like to draw out the suspense and make a good story of this event, I’ll cut the fortnight of anxiety short and state the tests came back negative for both of us.
We could go right back to our ordinary fretting about incidental concerns, but in a way it was difficult to do. It was like walking from a church after a funeral. One wants to forget all about the confrontation with mortality they have just experienced, (and one usually does a fairly good job of developing amnesia), however one can’t quite do it; one pauses, at least briefly, and considers the fact all the material stuff we think matters is stuff we can’t take with us, and that, embarrassing as it may be, we depart this veil of tears as butt naked as we entered it.
So I did some considering. It was rather good fun, as I could do it with a wife who was equally considerate. Also we are not Atheists, and are able to wonder about an afterlife poor Atheists can’t. And then I felt thankful, in a strange way, that we had our socks scared off by the prospect of cancer, and grateful I was made aware of how I am perhaps too attached to some things of this world, and too neglectful of That Which Will Last.
But wouldn’t you know it? I went and got a little bit smug about how I had learned my lesson, and was now a new and improved version of myself. Maybe I wasn’t detached two weeks ago, but I had made the right adjustments. And then?
And then I misplaced my wallet during a family camping trip. I’ll cut this long story short by stating I found it in the pocket of a sweatshirt I’d worn briefly during the morning chill, but that was only after three hours searching everywhere else. (I’d forgotten I wore that sweatshirt briefly, and then hung it over the back of a camp-chair.) The areas under the seats of both my and my wife’s vehicles are now far cleaner than usual. I discovered my memory still works, as I retraced every step I took. And during those three hours I discovered there are some mutterings and curses I am capable of, which seldom escape the lips of true saints.
After I had looked everywhere I was forced to contemplate the unthinkable, and that there was the possibility an unscrupulous person had taken advantage of my idiotic carelessness. I didn’t mind the loss of thirty dollars in cash as much as minded the loss of my license and credit cards. It would be such a (-bleeping-) nuisance to report their loss and replace them. And there was nothing I could do until Monday. What sort of mess could be made of my credit rating before then? Was there someone I should call immediately?
Another question drifted across my mind. Was I going to ruin the weekend for everyone else, just because I had been a careless dunderhead? No. I sucked in my gut and decided to be merry.
Interestingly, as soon as I made that decision I felt calmer. I suppose I was in some way refusing to allow things of this world to rule me, and was to some degree behaving in a manner more faithful to That Which Is Lasting.
It was only then, as I sat by the campfire and joking and laughing, that a thought drifted to the tip of my tongue, “You can feel the coming heat wave starting to build. We won’t need our sweatshirts tonight….sweatshirts…hey!”
I’ll conclude this Sunday Sermon by simply saying the same sort of fears and worries are applicable to the Corona Virus. Some have died; some have lost money; but in the case of many death and poverty were sheer imagination.
Panics occur to many all at once. People come to their senses one by one.
I want to share a happiness. I didn’t expect it, for I played hooky from church. I had all sorts of concerns I felt I likely should be diligently praying about: Political concerns, health concerns, business concerns, worries about a hurricane coming up the coast, and others. But instead of church I went to the beach. Basically I took a hard look at responsibility and “blew it off”. I wasn’t even properly responsible about packing forty pound coolers and hampers of towels. And rather than guilt, much to my surprise I felt blessed. I heard no deep booming voice, but if such a voice had spoken it might have said, “Sometimes ‘Day Of Rest’ means ‘Blow It Off.'”
Two sonnets resulted:
Sometimes the best thing you can do is wade Out where the surf surges about your thighs, And quit thinking about what you have made Or haven’t made, what is true and what is lies, And instead watch surf’s incredible dance With sky, and understand you are part Of that dance: A gull, sliding through the trance Like incremental glitter, yet your heart Is so glad to be included you laugh In a way you had forgotten that you Knew how to do. Quit the grit. Quit the math. Quit the grouch, stoic, and see this is true: We don’t make the surf; don’t make the skies; So don’t make the bliss seem like sucha surprise.
Rejoicing with my family in the surf Of foaming pewter, with the haze and heat Transformed, as if a long-endured, dragging curse Was lifted, I praised God, seeing how very sweet Simple things can be: Granddaughter’s eyes wide And then feet twinkling as she nimbly flees A charging wave; my son watching gulls glide With his face smiling, serene with sweet ease; My daughter, heavy with approaching birth, Cooled and refreshed for the first time in weeks, Laughing with her sister as the surf drenches; My wife’s eyes full of beaming that speaks. I saw how life can work without wrenches And how “happy” is a word that needs no tool. It’s when I deny that, I’m truly the fool.
I like to post pictures like this when the heat and humidity is hard to take, up here in New Hampshire. A hurricane may come up the coast and clout us in two days, so I have a lot to hurry about making ready, and I need to stay cool despite the heat.
For the most part my father was extremely logical, even to a point where I felt his pragmatism was excessive. As a dreamy poet-to-be I often deemed logic a drag. But every now and then my father held views I found insane, and one such view was that he preferred sailboats to powerboats. I didn’t see the sense in being dependent on anything so fickle as the wind. When the wind wasn’t capsizing you it was leaving you becalmed. However his dislike of motorboats approached racism. Even when we were helplessly becalmed he would look down a sneering nose at a cabin cruiser puttering cheerfully past, and contemptuously mutter, “stinkpot.”
I had to admit he had a point, for when a boat passed upwind it really did stink. Also it made a racket, and spoiled the experience of being amidst all the sloshing and gurgling sounds of winds and waves. However I disliked all the ropes and knots involved with sailing, and especially all the jargon. It seemed silly to say “ready about” rather “get ready to turn”, and “now we’re turning” made far more sense than “hard to lee”, but my father insisted on my learning a whole new vocabulary. It didn’t seem fair, for school was suppose to be over for the summer, and I preferred fishing in my happy harbor to that harbor becoming a classroom, and I pouted when I should have been grateful my father was doting on me. I was eventually faced with a dilemma, for I loved the ocean, but wound up disliking both sailboats and stinkpots.
My solution to this dilemma was a row boat. It wasn’t a loud stinkpot, yet I could go straight upwind like a stinkpot. I rowed all over the place, and, being a boy, eventually discovered a rowboat was like a stinkpot in another way. I could run out of gas. This occurred when both wind and tide were against me, and I extracted myself from a few dilemmas my mother never heard about, for I knew how she fretted when my father and brothers bragged about their exploits aboard various small sailboats.
In the years since none of us drowned, and I have learned that even aboard stinkpots people have exploits. In fact danger seems to be the one thing which rowboats, sailboats and stinkpots have in common.
My mother could never understand why anyone would expose themselves to such danger when they could sit in the sun safely ashore, happily chain-smoking dangerous cigarettes and reading an Agatha Christie novel about people in danger. I thought to myself she was a hypocrite, but never recall attempting to explain to her what was so wonderful about going to sea. (She may have eventually learned, for her third marriage was with a career Navy man, and her ashes were eventually buried at sea.) But this is about my father.
As I now sit ashore by lakes far from the sea, an old man without the stamina to row I once had, I like to recall my father when I see a sailboat becalmed out on the water, going nowhere as people driving jet-skis rocket joyously past. I just know, if he was aboard such a becalmed boat (and could imagine the phenomenon of jet-skis), he’d be muttering, “stinkpot”.
I find myself wondering what he found so virtuous about being dependent upon something you couldn’t control: The fickle wind. Within the answer to that question is a sonnet:
. STINKPOT SONNET
Long ago men knew, when pirates seized a ship And raised its sails, the boat went nowhere Without the wind: Wind no pirate could grip With greedy hands. But now men do not care So much for wind, and weak minds fail to grasp Power still comes from beyond their control. Stalin saw it, when the stroke made him gasp With bulging eyes. Deep down in mankind’s soul Is knowledge our sails are our mortal lungs, And without wind in those lungs we go nowhere, Yet ignorance lifts ladders without rungs Towards their tops; fools cruise upstream unaware They’ll be in rapids when gas tanks empty. I shake my head. Such a fate doesn’t tempt me.
The famous “Watts Up With That” website is being “deplatformed” by its current provider, which I suspect is part of the civil-cold-war currently occurring in the United States. I thought I’d better grab an article I wrote back in 2012 from that site, (before I even had this blog), in case that site, or the archives of the site, were “disappeared”.
I have three three reasons for retrieving this musty, old document from the spiderwebs of the past.
The first is that it is an example of Freedom Of Speech, which is the antithesis of “Cancel Culture”. Although we were to some degree concerned about falsified data eight years ago, I doubt we foresaw “Fake News” reaching its current epidemic proportions. Looking back, it was a kinder and gentler time, when an old nobody like me could get his writing published for the first time in his life by a kindly person like Anthony Watts.
Second, the article I wrote below in 2012 contains warnings I wrote in 2006, which Eliot Abrams published in his blog on the Accuweather Site, for I’d been wary of a bad hurricane pummeling the east coast for most of my life. I had studied history, and my Alarmism had nothing to do with CO2.
Lastly, I have a superstitious side, in that I feel if you mess with Truth you are messing with our Creator, and this seems unwise. Truth created us, sustains us, and can destroy us. People scoff at the idea of bad weather being brought about by bad behavior, but I worry.
People theorizing at their computers have little idea how swiftly life can become brutal. The computers can go dark, and then where will we be? If we can’t even handle the sniffles of a virus, how will we handle a force five hurricane coming up the east coast? Or how would Silicon Valley handle their “Big One”, which would be a force 8.5 earthquake; then it wouldn’t just be poor folk in California who were homeless and living on the streets. It would be the big shots as well. How long would Silicon Valley remain sensible with every computer dark?
Practical people don’t think much about ghosts until their car gets a flat tire by a graveyard at midnight. In like manner, tycoons are not concerned about churches being burned and holy statues defaced until that which they thought was firm and solid is shaken. Then they start praying like blue blazes. It is said, “There are no Atheists on the battlefield.”
In any case, here is the reprint of an article I wrote nearly a decade ago:
Hurricane Warning; McKibben Alert
(First published on the “Watts Up With That” website on August 21, 2012)
(Prelude🙂 With Joe Bastardi stating an opening for an east coast hurricane is possible the next three weeks, it might be timely to submit this semi-humorous look at the dangers of an east coast hurricane versus the dangers of heeding Bill McKibben’s Alarmism, from the view of a writer criticizing a writer, rather than a scientist criticizing a scientist.
Guest post by Caleb Shaw
I would like to venture two predictions which I believe have a, (as they say,) “high degree of probability” of proving true.
The first is that a terrible hurricane, as bad as the ferocious 1938 “Long Island Express,” will roar north and bisect New England. True, it might not happen for over a hundred years, but it also might happen this September. The fact is, 1938 showed us what could happen. 1938 set the precedent.
My second prediction is that if such a storm happens this September, it will not matter if it a Xerox copy of the 1938 storm; Bill McKibben will call it “Unprecedented.”
It really makes me wonder: Why on earth would such a seemingly smart person want to make such a total fool of himself? How can McKibben call so many events “unprecedented’ when all you need to do is open a history book, and you can see so many other prior storms set precedents?
It leaves the poor fellow, despite his Harvard education and obvious altruistic impulses, wide open for attack from people far less educated. I could have made mincemeat of his arguments when I was only twelve, (and had very few altruistic bones in my body.)
At age twelve my interest in hurricanes was largely motivated by two things: First, hurricanes made things go crash, smash and boom, and I was the sort of kid who could endure “The Bridge Over The River Kwai,” (including the intermission,) just for the train wreck at the end. (I was not alone. It might not be politically correct, but the entire theater burst into wild cheering and applause, when that train finally, finally wrecked.)
The second reason was that a hurricane might cancel school. I hated school. McKibben apparently loved what I loathed, for he went to Harvard, and there became ignorant where I became wise, for he doesn’t even know what I knew at age twelve: The precedent has already been set. Wicked awesome hurricanes have hit New England in the past.
I hoped they’d happen again, but they never did. When I wondered why not, and studied the subject, (which McKibben seemingly has failed to do,) I ran across books by a meteorologist-historian named David Ludlum, who spoke of the time after 1960 as the “quiescent present.” This suggested there were lulls in the activity of hurricanes in New England, and also active times. In other words, long before I had heard of such things as the AMO or PDO or sunspot minimums, I grasped the concept of “cycles.”
I was disappointed to learn that New England might be spared force-three hurricanes for periods of time so long that people actually forgot major hurricanes ever did more than clip Cape Cod. During such long lulls an amnesia set in: Authorities stated, “New England is never hit by hurricanes,” shortly before the 1938 monster hit. But that was only because they didn’t study the past as David Ludlum did, didn’t know of Saxby’s Gale in 1815, or the Great Colonial Hurricanes of the 1600’s. Those long-ago hurricanes set the precedent, and in many ways 1938 was just a copy.
Because hurricanes refused to happen after 1960, and refused to let me observe disaster first hand, at first I could only quench my boyish thirst for mayhem by reading boring books. I studied how the most powerful hurricanes had wrecked things in the past, and discovered a second thing that McKibben seems oblivious of. It is the simple fact that one of the ways the ecology of an area can be seriously damaged has nothing to do with man: Mother Nature does it.
McKibben seems to feel Nature exists in a steady state, and man is a thug who walks about wrecking things: Nature is balanced, and man is unbalanced. In actual fact the so-called “balance of nature” takes some very wild swings, often at mankind’s jaw, and also at ecology’s. Either Mother Nature is not the prissy twinkle-toes McKibben envisions, or else she has a Brother Nature who loves to splash and crash and smash, just as joyfully as a schoolboy.
McKibben can lecture all he wants about the proper maintenance and care of a forest, but a hurricane can come along and flatten the whole thing in an hour. Thick pines get snapped like match sticks, as anyone who saw what Hugo did north of Charleston can attest to. The same sort of blow-downs have happened, and can happen, in New England. When they happen the so-called “delicate ecology” of a forest gets hammered. The populations of some bugs, birds and beasts crash, as others soar. However this is not “unprecedented.” This is reality.
Perhaps McKibben can be forgiven for failing to understand reality. He grew up in one of those unreal, sheltered places called a “suburb,” where you are protected from nasty inner-city stuff. I grew up in a similar suburb, around eight miles away, and can attest to the fact Boston’s suburbs can bore a boy to tears. Fortunately I grew up eight years before McKibben, and could escape suburbs due to a wonderful form of public transportation that existed back then, called “hitchhiking.” You could go anywhere for free, and it was surprisingly safe (back then,) and all that was asked of you was that you tell tales, and listen to tales.
This enabled me to skip the bother of books. If the ride was long enough, (and I wandered from Montreal to Florida,) I could usually work the subject around to hurricanes, and get first hand accounts, not merely of hurricanes, but of Pacific typhoons. It makes me feel sorry for McKibben, for he got stuck in the rarefied armchairs of Harvard and the New Yorker Magazine, and seemingly missed meeting the real salt-of-the-earth people who have been on boats in the bowels of a hurricane, or have fought the floods, or have battled to survive the jackstraw aftermaths. It is from such first-hand-accounts you learn the most, and see the precedent that has been set, and know something of what to expect.
I was, of course, green with envy hearing about all the crashing and smashing and splashing I missed (or was too young to remember,) but right then a grizzled old timer would use a word you don’t hear any more, “’Pshaw.” He’d say Esther’s pounding surf “t’weren’t nothing, compared to 1893.”
Look up the hurricane season of 1893, when there were four full-fledged hurricanes prowling the Atlantic at the same time, with a fifth that barely missed making the quartet a quintet. It matched the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, when 4 Atlantic hurricanes were active on the same day. Then imagine the total fit McKibben would have, if the exact same season happened today. He would insist it was “unprecedented,” and even if it was a carbon copy he would say it was all due to carbon dioxide.
However McKibben would likely then go even further.
It turns out shorelines are mobile things, and that the vast estuaries of salt marsh behind dunes are very vulnerable to the dramatic changes hurricanes bring about. Not only can dunes be shoved inland and smother marshes, but inlets get filled in as new inlets are abruptly gouged, and the brackish water behind the dunes can be made poisonously salty by inrushes of ocean, or poisonously fresh by feet of rainfall, and the ecology of the marsh gets hammered, with crashes in the populations of clams, bay scallops, oysters, and blue claw crabs. But would McKibben blame nature, if such a population-crash happened today? Not likely. He would likely jump to the conclusion man was the culprit.
Actually it turns out that, (once man outgrows his boyish delight in mayhem,) man is not all that fond of disaster, nor of the ruin of ecosystems that his livelihood depends upon. Man actually tries to built dikes and stop the sea. And here is where a real bad entity, according to McKibben, appears: The US Army Corp of Engineers.
(I don’t know where McKibben gets off bad-mouthing engineers, especially when he himself is trying to engineer the entire planet’s climate.)
The simple fact of the matter is engineers are given a thankless and fairly hopeless task: They are asked to control the awesome powers of nature. They, more than anyone else, know how rivers want to meander and shorelines want to shift. Their geologists often write the best papers about the forces of Nature, the power of Nature, the wrath of Nature, and the whimsical ways Nature wants to go the opposite way of ways that makes life easier for man. Unlike McKibben, engineers have first hand experience with how fine-sounding plans and altruistic desires go awry. Rather than “The Law of Unintended Consequences,” they tend to simply call it “Murphy’s Law.” The amazing thing is not that, despite their best efforts, shorelines do shift and rivers do meander, but rather that so many disasters are averted.
One disaster they have managed to prevent (so far) involves the fact that the Mississippi River dumps 406 million tons of dirt at its mouth every year. (I’m not sure how many Manhattans that is.) As the water slows nearing the sea, the dirt settles out, not only building up the delta, but also building up the river’s bed and the floodplains, until the mouth of the river gets to be higher than the river upstream, whereupon the river decides not to flow uphill, but rather to take a new route to the sea. In the case of the Mississippi the new route would be the Atchafalaya River. The Mississippi likely wanted to take that new route seventy years ago, which would have been an economic and ecological disaster for New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the Delta. You don’t just stop delivering 406 million tons of dirt a year, and expect a delta to not wash away, (even as a new delta grows to the west.)
In essence Mother Nature wants everyone to pack up and move. Not merely humans, but entire ecosystems. In the process it will not matter to her if historic districts vanish, along with the habitat of various endangered critters. A few creatures might even be unable to make the shift west, and go extinct, (in which case Mother Nature might get a tongue lashing from McKibben.)
In the face of this perhaps inevitable shift in the course of the Mississippi stand a group of puny engineers, who seem to catch hell no matter what they do. People upstream get mad if they allow erosion to occur, while people in the delta want more than the allotted 406 million tons of eroded dirt delivered each year, and get mad if shorelines wash away. The entire city of New Orleans is settling down into the dirt. Even as attempts to keep it a viable port involve dredging away dirt, dirt needs to be added. Engineers face delightful examples of Murphy’s Law such as the MRGO channel, which was 650 feet wide when dug, but rapidly eroded to 1500 feet wide. Then the very same people who demanded engineers build that channel accused the poor engineers of contributing to Katrina’s flooding.
Before Katrina, politicians demanded more money for levees, but the money strangely vanished in “administering” the levees, and the engineers didn’t get enough to build with. Even more money needed to be spent on lawsuits with environmentalists who didn’t like levees. Prior to Katrina the engineers were pointing out the precedent set by the 1947 hurricane, (and three earlier storms,) and the dangers New Orleans faced if levees weren’t strengthened, but guess who got the blame, when the levees failed during Katrina?
Then along comes McKibben, after the fact, and he states the Katrina was “unprecedented.” She wasn’t. She was only force-three, and a force-four storm had hit New Orleans in earlier times. If anything was unprecedented, it was the bureaucratic bungling of people who were entrusted with preparing for the storm, and also McKibben’s post-storm audacity.
Perhaps McKibben can be excused for using the word “unprecedented” so frequently, because no two snowflakes are alike, and this mean every snowflake is unprecedented, and unlike any snowflake that ever came before. However it is how he uses the word that irks me. He uses it like a bludgeon, to threaten people with, always ignoring factors that might allow people to relax. For example, while discussing Katrina he never mentions that other storms may have been as powerful, when they were as far out to sea as Katrina was when she reached level-five, but back when earlier storms blew up there were no satellites or storm-hunter aircraft to measure such storms with. He often follows his spiel about Katrina with a mention that Wilma, that same season, set “an Atlantic Ocean record for barometric lows,” failing to mention that a sailing ship of the old days could not possibly measure such a storm, because they were destroyed.
None of us wants to be destroyed by a storm, but none of us wants to be panicked into a purchase either, which is what McKibben’s railings often strike me as doing. Over and over he works himself up into a tizzy, promoting a sales-pitch he insists we must accept because “the offer expires soon,” but I’ve endured too many commercials in my time to fall for that, especially when his evidence includes stuff I knew was false when I was twelve.
Part of the sales-pitch seems extremely ungrateful to me. In order to heap up the grotesquely one-sided and inaccurate evidence he employs, he need to get the evidence from somewhere, and often he gets the evidence from papers writen by, or including references to, the very same engineer-geologists he later scorns and derides as being know-nothings.
No engineer wants the humiliation of building something that falls down, and therefore they are constantly seeking how Murphy’s Law might ruin what they build. This involves imagining their constructs being exposed to a worse-case-scenario, and in New England this involves hurricanes. In fact, if you want to become alarmed by what could possibly go wrong, engineers are often the people you should consult. It is due to engineers that much of our knowledge of coastal erosion and other geologies-in-flux exist. It was engineers who first had the need for the core samples from marshes, which show us layers of sand in the peat, which hint of monster hurricanes that occurred before history was written.
New England has a written history longer than other parts of the United States, including a record of floods along the Connecticut River clear back to the 1600’s. Such floods had never exceeded 30 feet, until the 1938 hurricane, whose flood was truly “unprecedented,” for its flood crested at 35 feet above normal.
A simple-minded conclusion would be that floods were getting worse, and levees must be built higher. (Another would be that the 1938 hurricane was a rare, once-every-400-year event, and nothing needed to be done for 399 years.) However the engineers looked into the problem, and came up with an amazing reason for the unprecedented floods. The reason the 1938 floods were worse had to do with the changing fashions of men’s hats.
In the early 1800’s men decided powdered wigs were no longer hip, and stove-pipe hats (such as the one Abraham Lincoln is often pictured wearing) were wicked groovy. These hats were made of the fur of beavers, which were then hunted nearly to extinction in the tributaries and headwaters of the Connecticut River. Thousands of beaver dams, which had formerly held back flood waters, no longer existed, and floods became worse.
Now, where do you suppose McKibben would go with that? Would he suggest engineers build flood-control reservoirs to replace the missing beaver dams? Or would he gnash his teeth about how mankind screws everything up, and how people should be moved out, and their towns be demolished as beavers were reintroduced?
Actually engineers suggested some older dams in New England should be torn down. Water power was no longer as economical as it had been, many old mills had gone bankrupt, and their mill ponds stood behind dams that were not maintained and were crumbling. Some dams had barely held through the 1938 storm. Unfortunately funds were not available, due to a major wars keeping engineers occupied overseas until the Korean War wound down in 1954. By then it was too little too late, as Connie and Dianne hit in 1955.
In parts of Southern New England Connie and Dianne’s rainfall approached two feet, (which was “unprecedented,”) and some old dams collapsed. Forty percent of Worchester was under water, and in places where the Blackstone River usually is seventy feet wide it grew to a width of a mile and a half. Despite the fact the rain was not as heavy to the north, the Connecticut River crested above thirty feet for the second time in its history. Even the meek Charles River reached “unprecedented” levels, and one of my earliest memories is of my mother looking out the window at that river in the back yard as the rain poured and poured and poured, and of her murmuring to herself, “What a rain!”
That got the engineers cracking, and, over the next decade and a half, New England’s system of flood-control reservoirs appeared. I know a little about it, as my grandfather was an engineer, though he was more focused on Boston’s storm drains. I know for a fact he was concerned about the environment, and was downright apologetic about a design flaw in Boston’s system. When the storm drains originally were put in, it was quite normal for sewerage to flow into rivers, and when storm drains were overwhelmed by excessive rainfall the overflow went through the sewer systems, which was a good way of flushing the sewers out, until people started thinking sewerage should be kept separate and be treated. Murphy’s Law had reared its head, and a design which once had been elegant and efficient now had to be reengineered, at great expense to the tax-payer. Mistakes like that made my grandfather cringe.
The new system of flood control reservoirs didn’t make him cringe, because before the man died it had been tested by heavy rains, (which in localized areas were “unprecedented.”) They work. It is highly unlikely the Connecticut will ever crest over thirty feet again. This is not only due to the engineer’s dams, but also due to the fact that beavers, (without asking McKibben’s permission,) have reintroduced themselves in New England, even to a degree where they cause flooding and are a nuisance in the very suburb McKibben grew up in. Also white tailed deer have returned to become a nuisance, eating people’s flowering crabs, and, because hunting them is difficult in such close proximity to picture windows, coyote have returned to eat deer, and also to eat cats and small dogs, and occasionally to snarl at joggers. All in all, suburbs sound a lot more exciting than they were when I grew up, and when McKibben learned to detest them.
Besides controlling floods, engineers have worked with the more reasonable environmentalists to improve New England’s rivers. The tidal basin of the Charles River used to hold dyes from factories up stream, and I can recall, during a long drought that afflicted New England in the 1960’s, that the water in the Charles River’s tidal basin was actually purple. It also reeked. It took guts to be a member of the Harvard crew, and row in that sludge. Now it is clean and the fish are returning. In other rivers salmon are returning, and engineers are working to remove older dams, and to design fish-ladders around dams that remain.
It seems clear to me that we are better off when we work with engineers to foresee what the future’s threats might be, and to allow engineers to take steps that remove the threats, and enhance that which we enjoy.
If a hurricane as powerful as the 1938 monster returns this September, the wisdom of some of our developments will be tested. We have, after all, built cottages on dunes that tend to shift, despite breakwaters, and we have built neighborhoods on floodplains that are called floodplains because they flood, even with flood-control reservoirs upstream. Now that I am too old to enjoy the mayhem I yearned to see as a youth, I’d see it, and also see all sorts of examples of Murphy’s Law.
It is important to consider Murphy’s Law, when preparing for a storm. You prepare for the worst even while (if you are old) you hope no mayhem occurs. There are some things I think New Englanders should consider, but, before I go one word further I should do something McKibben fails to do, and state I am not an engineer. I don’t truly know what I’m talking about.
One thing you’re told over and over, as a writer, is that “you should write about what you know.” It is close to being a Commandment.
Thinking about this, look at the start of McKibben’s essay, “A Deeper Shade Of Green,” which appeared in the August, 2006 National Geographic (which had the tabloid headlines: “No End In Sight.” “KILLER HURRICANES,” and “New Orleans: Home No More.”) McKibben begins with:
“This is the year we finally started to understand what we are in for. Exactly 12 months ago, an MIT professor named Kerry Emanuel published a paper in Nature showing hurricanes had slowly but steadily been gaining in strength and duration for a generation. It didn’t gain widespread attention for a few weeks — not until Katrina roared across the Gulf of Mexico and…”
It may be a splendid introduction and demonstrate McKibben’s skill at writing, but it annoyed the heck out of me at the time, because I’d been expecting, (due to my belief in “cycles,”) the 2005 season to be like the 1933 season, which set the old record of 20 hurricanes in a year. McKibben’s intro gave the impression of being precise, “Exactly 12 months ago,” even while blurring things, “for a generation,” and he failed to mention the precedent of 1933 at all.
However I now notice something else. In his intro McKibben is breaking the commandment, “Write about what you know about.” He obviously hasn’t studied the history of hurricanes, and is only repeating what others have told him. He uses the “appeal to authority,” unaware that if you only repeat what Kerry Emanuel tells you, you are little more than a parrot, and, if Kerry is merely using you, you are in danger of being a puppet. To put it most bluntly, when a writer, even a gifted writer, relies on others rather than himself, he is in grave danger of being nothing but a dupe.
I was already aware of McKibben’s alarmism before that article appeared. After all, the suggestion that Katrina proved that CO2 caused hurricanes was being spoken by Kerry Emanuel before Katrina even hit. It seemed a lie to me for anyone to state that hurricanes had become different, when there were so many examples of precedents in history books. It also seemed, due to my belief in “cycles,” that, if the 1938 hurricane hit five years after the 1933 season, we should prepare for 1938-like monster to bisect New England exactly 5 years after 2005, in 2010. (FAIL.) However what aggravated me most was McKibben’s absurd assertion that the way to prepare for a hurricane was to buy curly light bulbs, wobble about on bicycles, and live crunched cheek-to-jowl like students in a Harvard dorm (even as he himself enjoyed his gentleman-farmer, Vermont country-life.)
Therefore, back in 2006, I decided to out-McKibben Mckibben, and to incite a riot, (or at least alarm,) by yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, but by doing so in a way that didn’t mention CO2 at all. Part of my essay was as follows, (and engineers will have to excuse me for writing about what I don’t know about.)
“…Next time you drive down our shady streets, look up at the electrical wires, and imagine 10% of our beautiful trees blown onto those wires. (On some hills, imagine 100%.) Also understand there are far more trees in New England now than in 1938, (and far fewer roadside elms, which withstood wind better.) We tend to gripe when the electricity is off for six hours. Can you handle six days? How about sixteen? Or even six weeks?
Our builders have displayed amnesia for fifty years, and have built on riversides that were under twenty feet of water, and on dunes that were below raging storm tides, and atop hills that were scoured by winds over a hundred miles an hour. Add some shade trees crashing onto roofs, and we are likely to have some homeless neighbors, if we are not homeless ourselves.
We have also become far more dependant on computers and cell phones. Look carefully at the flat receivers up in cell-phone towers, and imagine them stressed as winds rise past a hundred. (In 1954 the WBZ radio tower was blown over by Carol, resulting in new building codes for such towers.) Will we be able to telephone anyone, after a storm?
Cell phone companies go through great efforts to keep their receivers firmly anchored atop sturdy towers. Receivers must be able to withstand stresses such as thick, heavy, winter ice, for the receivers must be very carefully aimed to transmit correctly. The companies are aware of the power of wind, and competition forces them to try to be better than each other at repairing receivers bent ever-so-slightly out-of-line by hurricane-force winds. After storms their crews race each other to be back-on-line first, transporting mobile generators, and even mobile receivers, however repairs can be slowed if fallen trees and flooding make roads impassable. After a major hurricane one should therefore expect to have no phones for a while, besides having no electricity.
This sort of alarmist talk worries some, if only because they figure insurance companies may raise rates, if they hear about risks. However insurance companies should perhaps worry less about our barking dogs, and instead focus more on the integrity of their own high-rises. Both the Prudential Building and John Hancock Tower in Boston were built after the last major hurricane and before building codes became as strict as they now are. Both structures had design flaws that were exposed after construction, and old-timers can remember the windows popping out of the John Hancock Tower at such an alarming rate that the sky-scraper was more or less sheathed in plywood. Lastly, due to the experience of “The Big Dig,” Bostonians are not entirely confident builders obey codes, even when codes exist and engineers respect them. Alarmists can therefore gloat about the situation insurance companies now find themselves in; after all, one of their skyscrapers falling down does a lot more damage than a barking dog.
Anyone who has been up in high-rises during a gale knows they do sway in a most alarming manner. One then hopes the engineers knew what they were doing, and also wonders what fatigue occurs to the metal and concrete which form a high-rise’s trunk and roots, especially as decades of winter gales blast it, and the swaying building ages. (The 1978 blizzard’s peak winds gusted to 125 mph on Cape Cod.) Lastly, one knows the codes have become more strict, and one then wonders if this means the older buildings are suspect; after all, codes are made more stringent for definite reasons.
In actual fact no engineer wants his name attached to a building which comes crashing down, and the engineering that goes into such massive structures is amazing and, to some degree, reassuring. A building like the John Hancock Tower sticks up like a huge, flat sail, and therefore must have a huge keel, and it turns out high-rises are embedded into astounding amounts of reinforced concrete. Such buildings are designed to withstand winds 25% higher than the worst ever recorded, in the area they are built.
However, if you are a true alarmist, you hesitate at those words: “The worst ever recorded.” The worst winds recorded in Boston are recorded at Logan Airport, down at sea level. The tops of high-rises thrust up into winds which are far higher. Considering the force exerted by wind increases roughly 100% with every ten mph, construction costs also increase greatly if one builds a structure to withstand a wind only ten mph higher. Besides the pressure of wind, engineers also face the pressure of budgets, and therefore must decide “what they can get away with.” Their decisions have been excellent so far, for wind has never toppled a high-rise, however a true alarmist notes no high-rise has yet been truly tested, especially in the north, where codes are not as demanding. No high-rise has yet faced a direct hit from a F-5 tornado, and Boston’s have never been tested by a major hurricane.
Recalling the words, “the worst ever recorded,” one hurries back to the data, and discovers there is no data involving a worst-case-scenario. A worst-case-scenario would take a major hurricane through Boston’s western suburbs; when Donna took that route in 1960 it had been downgraded to tropical-storm status. The next closest pass was the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, however it passed to the east, with its most devastating east-side winds away from Boston, over Cape Cod. The worst hurricanes of the last 30-year-stormy-cycle, the 1938 storm and Carol in 1954, both passed west of Worchester; however the 1938 storm, even with its center over the Connecticut River, was still able to sustain winds of 73 miles per hour, with gusts to 87, at Boston’s Logan Airport. One wonders what it’s winds were like at the altitude of Boston’s high-rises, and a true alarmist glances south to the summit of the Blue Hills, just south of Boston. At an altitude of 681 feet, on September 21, 1938, the Blue Hills anemometer registered steady winds of 121 mph, with gusts to 186.
If one transposes the tracks of Carol or the 1938 hurricane east, so they pass through the western suburbs of Boston, the city’s high-rises would be exposed to tremendous stresses. When I asked an engineer whether such buildings were designed to withstand winds of 186 miles per hour, his reply was, flatly, “No.” He did add that it was likely a high-rise’s windows would give out before the steel beams, and stress would be greatly reduced once the wind could pass through the structure, rather than around it. I found this reassuring. It is much better to have glass, copiers, office desks, computers and filing cabinets raining down onto the streets of Boston, than to have it be entire buildings….”
Well? Does my writing out-McKibben McKibben? Are you alarmed? Should I be selling insurance?
At the very least my essay should provoke a response. Hopefully it will provoke preparations other than buying curly light bulbs, if a hurricane starts up the coast and, unlike Irene, doesn’t dawdle over cold shelf waters, but rather stays out over the warm Gulf Stream, accelerates northward to over 50 mph, and only hooks inland at the last minute, like the 1938 monster.
However my writing likely also deserves the response of a good slap-down from engineers, and I deserve to be told to practice what I preach, and to “stick with writing what I know about.”
If McKibben would only write what he knows about, he might avoid saying foolish things, like he did last year when he stated Irene had Global Warming at her core. The joke of it was that, due to dawdling over cold shelf waters and ingesting drier air from inland, Irene’s eye wall collapsed and she soon didn’t even have a core. Was McKibben subconsciously stating Global Warming’s core was a nothing, like Irene’s was?
If McKibben wrote what he knows about one thing he would write about is what growing up in the suburbs of Boston was like. I actually strongly agree with a lot of his views on that subject. Suburbs were suppose to be a green paradise, but always struck me as a hollow vacuum. However just because I don’t like them, and moved on, gives me no reason to outlaw others from choosing to build them and live in them, should they desire to do so. Instead I should state what I find objectionable, and describe an alternative. McKibben does this rather well, but doesn’t seem to like the fact people ignore him, and do what they please. It’s a free country, but at times he seems to disapprove of freedom.
McKibben should also write autobiographical books, one describing Harvard when he attended it, and another describing the New Yorker Magazine and the changes it went through when he worked there. Those were two weird worlds, and I’m sure people would be fascinated.
Of considerable interest would be another book about the world of environmentalists. He wouldn’t have to say whether he feels his trust was misplaced, or whether he feels his considerable talents were misused, or whether Emanuel played him for a dupe. A simple description of the world where some scientists got rich as others went hungry, and some writers got fame, fortune and flattery as others knew poverty, would suffice.
However one thing McKibben absolutely should not write about is the subject of hurricanes. It only makes him look odd, like Paul Revere galloping down the streets in the dead of night shouting, “Buy curly light bulbs! Buy curly light bulbs!”
64 thoughts on “Hurricane Warning; McKibben Alert”
Luther Wu Your scenario proves once again that it’s Bush’s fault. / <sarc tag, ok?
David Ross The only thing that is “unprecedented” is the alarmists’ wilful ignorance/air-brushing of past weather events. My personal favourite to counter such lunacy is the great Paris flood of 1910. You can view some good pics here. http://www.retronaut.co/2011/08/the-great-flood-of-paris-1910/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1910_Great_Flood_of_Paris By the way. Who is “News Staff”? Oddly anonymous for an article written in the first person. REPLY: It is a generic author account. Sometime used for guest posts or other news articles. As shown clearly in bold, this article is by Caleb Shaw but he doesn’t have a WUWT author account. We’ll fix that and get him one. – Anthony
AJB Shock Troops of Disaster, eh? What of the “Great Flood of 1936 mentioned in the news reel? Nice article Caleb. Out-McKibbens McKibben to be sure. For now anyway 🙂
Bob Tisdale Caleb Shaw: It was a pleasure to read. Thanks.
son of mulder If it doesn’t happen then it will be a travesty that we can’t account for the missing hurricane.
Pull My Finger The guy in the newsreel has a really bizzare accent. Like Irish-Canadian.
Owen Weldon “That’s Unprecedented!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
AnonyMoose Xerox copy? Carbon copy? What be this bizarre terminology? This is unprecedented!
Richard Keen I know several meteorologists out here in Colorado whose careers began when the likes of Carol and Hazel excited their lives back in ’54; like me, they are now retiring. I was summering in Wildwood, NJ, that summer, and as Carol skipped by some 50 miles offshore I frolicked in the flooded streets with the other kids. It was just like the scene in that great book, “Isaac’s Storm”, with the kids playing in the swamped streets of Galveston a few hours before the eyewall came in. Unlike 1900’s Galveston storm, Carol missed a direct hit on Wildwood, and I and the other kids continued to play the next day. Back in 1815 a similar storm did make a direct hit on the same location, but there was no Wildwood then. A few weeks later Hazel enthralled me by trashing half the trees in my neighborhood in Philadelphia, halfway between destroying coastal towns in the Carolinas and passing through Toronto to become Canada’s greatest ever natural disaster. A few years later I read Isaac Cline’s “Tropical Cyclones” in the school library; Cline himself – the Isaac of the Galveston storm – died on August 3, 1955, the day Hurricane Connie formed in the Atlantic on its way to Pennsylvania. There have been no storms the likes of Hazel, Carol, Connie, 1938, 1815, et al. since. When inevitably there are, they will, of course, be “unprecedented”. That’s why in the eyes of the believers, aka the warmers, the history of the earth begins in 1970. No dust bowl, no 50’s hurricanes, no Galveston hurricane, no Jeffersonian warm spell in Virginia, no Medieval warm period, no Holocene optimum, no Eemian interglacial, no Carboniferous. For them, the Creation was in 1970, probably on April 22 (Earth Day).
Roger Sowell Decision-makers should listen to us, the engineers. They don’t. The price for such folly will be paid. We now have high rise buildings along the US gulf coast where hurricanes will most assuredly wash them away. The good news is that hurricane frequency is declining as carbon dioxide increases. One can only wonder if that inverse relationship will continue.
Richard Keen Correction… The early Wildwood hurricane was 1821, not 1815. The 1815 storm was more like the 1938 Long Island hurricane.
tadchem “Open a history book?” Now THAT’S ‘unprecedented’!
Ric Werme AJB says: August 21, 2012 at 9:42 am > Shock Troops of Disaster, eh? What of the “Great Flood of 1936 mentioned in the news reel? I was going to jump on Caleb about that miss, I needed to go back to my copy of Ludlum’s “The Country Journal New England Weather Book”. We can also get some pretty serious summer rains not related to tropical storms. Some twenty years or so ago there was an event that threatened to fill some of the smaller flood control reservoirs. Suffice it to say, 1938 provided the convincing data that flood control dams would be important enough to sacrifice a few towns. They’re important enough so that Massachusetts usually remembers to pay for part of the system as they are a major beneficiary in their part of the Merrimack river valley. Also, I think the most remarkable aspect of the heightened hurricane activity that started in 1995 is that the New England Coast has not been clobbered by a major storm. It may be unprecedented. D’Aleo and Bastardi may agree with me about that.
Dave I am an engineer and all I have to say is… well said!
jayhd It’s nice to read a well researched article. Maybe if the CAGW “scientists” did a little more research about past weather events, they would have a better perspective.
Ric Werme > Considering the force exerted by wind increases roughly 100% with every ten mph, construction costs also increase greatly if one builds a structure to withstand a wind only ten mph higher. Nope. This varies with the square of the wind speed (modulo various confounding factors). So the wind force (drag is the better term) increases 100% with every 40% increase of wind speed. From 25 mph to 75 is 9X the force, 25 to 100 is 16X the force. See http://k7nv.com/notebook/topics/windload.html for good notes foucused on antenna design.
Louis Hooffstetter Miss Cleo, my psychic friend just told me that McKibben and others are already rehearsing their “unprecedented hurricane disaster caused by AGW” stories. They only need the name of the next storm and the damage estimate$ to fill in the blanks. She also tells me they’re praying for the ‘as yet unnamed’ tropical depression east of Guadeloupe to reach Category 5 and smite Florida (like the hand of Gaia) during the Republican National Convention.
Keith AB As my son might say . . . Kewl. Thanks Caleb.
Paul Marko What a well contructed (“killing me softly with his song”) critique. Total enjoyable read.
Fred Such a refreshing blast of common sense balanced with a razor sharp evisceration of one of the leading buffoons of the “Global Warming, We All Gonna Die, Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” cabal. A most enjoyable read, many thanks sir.
Julian Flood Re Esther: She went strange at the point where she hit the coastal current which runs along the eastern seaboard of NA. Interesting. Now what could have caused that? JF
John Garrett Mr. Caleb Shaw: It’s always a pleasure to read something written by someone who knows how to write.
Jeff L Thoroughly entertaining! Hope to see you post again on WUWT
Auto Fred says: August 21, 2012 at 11:56 am Such a refreshing blast of common sense balanced with a razor sharp evisceration of one of the leading buffoons of the “Global Warming, We All Gonna Die, Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” cabal. A most enjoyable read, many thanks sir. —————- I respectfully concur. No stranger to litotes – or vitriol – I wish I had written an article (for anywhere, anything; Net or print) half as good. Hugely appreciated. Auto
Dan in California Thanks for the excellent essay. I was in southeastern PA in the summer of 1972 when hurricane Agnes dropped by. Lots of local flooded creeks with some houses under water. The Susquehanna river went from a mile wide and a foot deep to a mile wide and 8 feet deep. In upstate NY, the Chemung river swelled and flooded major portions of Elmira and Corning. But back then, it was just weather. You ask: “(I don’t know where McKibben gets off bad-mouthing engineers, especially when he himself is trying to engineer the entire planet’s climate.)” A possible answer is that he is tired of being ridiculed by engineers and took this opportunity to strike back – poorly. I’m an engineer and I know many others. As a group, we are good at seeing through baloney and getting to the truth in things natural. I know not a single engineer who buys into the AGW hoax. And, unlike scientists, engineers are less afraid to voice our disdain for the warmers. (one reason I hide behind a pseudonym is because I work for a NASA contractor and could get my employer into trouble. It’s either that or don’t post here at all)
Otter If mcfibben read this all the way thru AND If mcfibben understood even half of it THEN That would be Ùnprescedented!
Doug Proctor “… the deniers of climate change are among the most scientifically literate members of the general population…. This is not so much because they reckon they are smarter than the experts, but because they are able to pick the experts who agree with them.” See Climate Depot on the blog about us having to have a religious type attitude to “save the planet”. How does McKibben write what he does? The above quote (not by him, but related) sheds light on the answer. The warmists are able to recognize confirmation and belief bias in us skeptics without realising it applies as equally to them. The warmists come from a fixed position of moral right that guarantees their technical truths (or at least truthiness). They are like the priests of armies facing each other on the battlefield who tell both sets of combatants that God and Right are on their side. Whatever McKibben believes in the moment has been sanctified by his sense of moral righteousness. He can say “unprecedented” because what is today is different from what was. Comparisons are invalid: in the past lightning caused forest fires, yes, but today Satan (or his fossil fuel Imps) set them, so THESE fires are unprecedented. Without Satan these would not have happened, for the natural problems of yesterday were statistical flukes, while those of today are certainties based on the actions of the devil. I have read of similar arguments against the “deniers” of witchcraft in the 15th to 17th century: those outside the mainstream view are self-serving and selfish it’s-not-my-problem types, self-delusional, dupes of rhetoric and intellectualism, or in league with the Devil himself. For McKibben CAGW is a fact, as witchcraft was for James Ist of Scotland.
MAtthew Epp I too am an engineer and I thank you for your writing which gives just a glimpse into the engineers world. We are always asked to build a Taj Kahall with a dog house budget and in the end, the owner is never satisfied. We had a storm 3 summers ago, a 500 yr event, for our town, that flooded streets and overwhelmed the storm sewer system. The system ws designed for the 100 yr event. Home owners complained that the city should have built better storm sewers, and how their money was wasted and squandered. Truth is we can design and build a system for a 1000 yr event, but who wants to pay for it? And when the system is never fully utilized, homeowners will complain that we wasted their money on a system that was too big. Either way the thought always ends with comments such as “stupid engineers, I could tell you that wouldn’t work” or some such simile. Although we live a thankless unappreciated life, we know our value and our worth to society as a whole. Thanks for the praise, we appreciate it. On a side note (and not at all weather related) one of my favorite movies is Apollo 13, because the heroes were engineers, working behind the scenes, doing their jobs and the boys made it home safely. Matthew R. Epp P.E.
Jack Denial It’s unprecedented .. CO2 makes hurricanes turn clockwise …
Gunga Din I’m not sure if that was a writing lesson, a history lesson, an engineering lesson or a meteorological lesson. But it was a lesson that needs to be heeded. (PS “Man actually tries to built dikes and stop the sea.” Should be, “Man actually tries to BUILD dikes and stop the sea.”)
clipe clipe says: Your comment is awaiting moderation. August 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm Any British bookies taking bets on Isaac this far out? Apologies for not considering the plight of those who may be imminently or shortly endangered by Isaac.
David A. Evans Nice essay Caleb. Perhaps mother nature has a 12 year old son circa every 120 years? DaveE.
Chuck Nolan Is this a southern hemisphere hurricane? Are the bands are going the wrong way in McKibben’s pic?
John F. Hultquist Very interesting. Thanks. “At age twelve my interest in hurricanes was largely motivated by two things: First, hurricanes made things go crash, smash and boom, and I was the sort of kid who could endure “The Bridge Over The River Kwai,” (including the intermission,) . . . ” At the age of about 10 (mid 1950s) my cousin and I were sitting on a ridge of over-burden from a western PA strip mine. We were watching his dad, my uncle, run the dragline and uncovering the coal seam. In the distance, beyond the machine we saw trees falling over and seconds later we felt the wind. We headed for the house about a half-mile away. I ran down the slag heap and across the front yard, my cousin about 100 feet ahead of me as we passed under a large tree in the front yard. The tree began to fall as I passed its trunk and it followed my path as I ran out from under it. Since then I have not been fond of being near things that go “crash, smash and boom. ~~~~~~ For the record, the movie you mention in the above quote uses the word “on” while the book used the word “over.” One of life’s little mysteries is why do I know that? — And I have no idea.
Rodger This article states “No high-rise has yet faced a direct hit from a F-5 tornado.” The Lubbock Tornado (1970) was an F5 tornado. It made a direct strike on the Great Plains Life Building. This 20 story building was heavily damaged. It’s structure was twisted as a result. One man, I forgot his name, figured out how to straighten the structure. He bought it for a song, removed bricks in the right place and the building straightened out. After renovation he re-opened it as Metro Tower. It is still occupied today. The Lubbock Tornado was one of several that Ted Fujita used to establish his F scale for tornado intensity. I went to one of his lectures while I was at Texas Tech in the mid 70’s. I was fascinated by his discovery of sub-vertices within a large tornado. I do not know if one of these struck the Great Plains Life Building. Another interesting outcome of the Lubbock Tornado was the establishment of a program to study the structural damage a tornado would have on buildings. They did this by building a gun to shoot 2×4’s into brick walls. This was originally located in the Civil Engineering Building on the Tech campus. It is now located in a research park where Reese Air Force Base was.
Mr Lynn Wonderful essay, Caleb Shaw, just a stunning rebuke to the ahistorical alarmists who hysterically proclaim the ending of the World that apparently began only thirty years ago. Bravo! I assume, by the way, that by ‘Worchester’ you mean the city of Worcester, just 20 miles west of where I am right now—in the suburbs, unfortunately (but on a canoe-able river, the Sudbury). /Mr Lynn
eyesonu Thank you for the interesting essay. There sure seem to be a lot of engineers commenting. 😉
Caleb What a blast to come home and see the article I submitted this morning actually got published! Whenever I get the itch to write I tend to get in trouble, because the lawn goes uncut, and other responsibilities get neglected. Therefore I’ve been rushing about today trying to make up for the fact I’ve been hiding out in my study way too much, the past week. My wife, who has to put up with my fits of irresponsibility, was glad to see me come to my senses, glad the lawn got mowed, glad an urgent bit of book-keeping got attended to, and glad to see me charge off to do other chores involving the upkeep of our small business. I confess I slowed down a bit, once I was out of her view, but she herself slowed her usual efficient pace, doing something unusual for her, which was to check out WUWT. She was surprised by how swiftly my submission appeared in print, and delighted by the flattering comments. I am very grateful to everyone, for the kind comments are helping me get out of the dog house. I’ve only had time to glance through the comments, and doubt I’ll have time to properly address a lot of them, but will try to do justice to a couple of old friends. RE: Ric Werme says: August 21, 2012 at 10:54 am Hi, Ric. You never can resist anything involving New England history, can you? Hope people check out your website, which is wonderful. I’d forgotten the name of Ludlum’s, book, “The Country Journal New England Weather Book.” My large, paperback copy fell apart years ago, but if you find your copy you’ll see a lot of my facts came from that source. I’m pretty sure you’ll also see that 1936 flood was a “spring freshet,” and involved heavy snow-cover being melted by warm and heavy spring rains. I got Ludlum’s book because I subscribed to his magazine “Weatherwise,” back in the early 1970’s. Back then it was the only way you could get the sort of information we get so easily on the web today. Each issue had, at the back, the day-by-day weather maps of the prior month. It was like the Weather Channel was when the Weather Channel first came on the air. If you had the geeky desire to obsess about weather, it soothed your craving. I’m not sure what became of my Weatherwise magazines. Maybe they are still in my attic, or maybe they fell apart, like Ludlum’s book. But at least they lasted longer than my computer, which occasionally crashes and deletes all the links I so carefully save. All that I am left with is a clutter of trivia in my brain, some of which is fact and some of which is urban myth. Thanks for setting me straight about how the force of wind increases with the speed of the wind. In the unlikely case I’m ever rich, I’ll hire you to fact-check what I write. Newspapers used to fact-check every article before it saw the light of day. Sadly, that seems to be a lost art. RE: Bob Tisdale says: August 21, 2012 at 9:56 am Thanks, Bob. Praise from the praiseworthy is praise indeed. I hope people check out your site and your book. You have used the years wisely, since I first noticed your name, which I think was on the Accuweather site, back before WUWT existed. I don’t know what happened to that site. It has been moderated into a boring echo-chamber. I doubt Brett Anderson is to blame, because he was always too polite, too kind, and perhaps too timid, to moderate at all. Therefore that site, back then, always struck me as a sort of barroom brawl. It was the only place where Alarmists and Skeptics could really duke it out. The true moderation was the fact you had to wait hours, or until the next day, to see your comment appear. In many ways the moderation, in the end, was often supplied by the people doing the commenting. I found it great fun, and spent half of my time offending people, and half of my time soothing the people I had offended. You were one of the few quiet and sane voices, as I recall. I really enjoyed all the debate which Accuweather encouraged. Part of my day was to check out the “Weather Warriors,” and watch Joe Bastardi and the late Ken Reeves go nose to nose. It didn’t seem to matter if they were arguing about some blip on a map that likely wouldn’t even happen, because it was on day nine of a ten-day-forecast, Joe would insist it would pump-a-ridge that would dig-a-trough, and Ken would insist it would dig-a-trough that would pump-a-ridge. I enjoy debate, and think it would be fun if Bill McKibben would comment here, and do his best to kick my butt for saying what I’ve said. It would be healthy, because I’m not perfect, and he would help me see where I am mistaken. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t expect he will comment. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t expect Bill or any of his group will respond to your excellent work either. You use their data, and produce observations rather than theory, but will likely get a no-response. You deserve better.
Don Penim Great article. I have no doubt that the Climate Alarmists and media will feed upon the next hurricane that heads towards the U.S. shores claiming it to be a sure sign of climate change “just as predicted” and the “new normal”. This despite the longest break ever between Catagory 3+ hurricanes hitting the U.S. Tropical Storm Isaac is the next candidate as it is currently heading towards Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It is forecast to become a hurricane and possibly head blow through southern Florida. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/graphics_at4.shtml?5-daynl#contents Predictable headlines and media attention to follow…
Lonnie E. Schubert Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented: Long article, but well worth your time. The movie is absolutely worth your time, all of it. Puts a lot in perspective. The move is a news reel made in the 30s right after the 1938 New England hurricane. It talks about the WPA in rather glowing terms, as might be expected of a prewar news piece in depression era USA. Though perhaps propaganda, there is an honesty and respect in the commentator’s voice. Again, the movie is something you owe to yourself to watch.
Dan in California “Thanks for setting me straight about how the force of wind increases with the speed of the wind.” ——————————— Sorry about being anal retentive, but the force of the wind goes with the square of the speed. Drag = 1/2 rho * v2 * Area * drag coefficient. Engineers….. sheesh.
johnmcguire Thank you Caleb , some of the best writing I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Thank you Anthony for having him here .
Mike Bromley the Kurd Brilliant. Sure to silence the Pepperazzi and close the Gates. Speaking of which, I seem to have noticed a paucity of those kinds of posts lately.
Yngvar 406 million tons of dirt is about 1.7 times the amount of trash produced in the US each year. Says Wolfram Alpha.
MostlyHarmless Entertainment, truth, observation, whimsy and cutting satire (not necessarily in that order) rolled into one. Thanks for your essay, Caleb – it lightened my morning. Your writing style is unique, nay unprecedented, and while somewhat rambling, draws the reader on to find out what you’re going to say next, which is what good writing does. Perhaps you’d consider volunteering to write the “Summary for Policymakers” in the next IPCC report? It might go on a bit, but at least it would mention everything relevant, be balanced, and only use the word “unprecedented” in the right context (if at all)..
rogerknights But at least they lasted longer than my computer, which occasionally crashes and deletes all the links I so carefully save. All that I am left with is a clutter of trivia in my brain, some of which is fact and some of which is urban myth. Sign up for DropBox, which backs up your data to the cloud in real time in the background, here: http://db.tt/5ld6LvJF It also allows private data to be selectively revealed to others, and for collaborative editing and composition to be done. And it syncs your files among your devices.
rogerknights PS: The first few Gigabytes are free.
MostlyHarmless Boston’s in for it – “Boston Plans For ‘Near-Term Risk’ Of Rising Tides” http://www.wbur.org/npr/159551828/boston-plans-for-near-term-risk-of-rising-tides “Regardless of the ongoing national debate about climate change, Boston is calling the projected sea level rise a near-term risk. Projections range from 2 to 6 feet here by the end of the century, depending on how fast polar ice melts. Add to that a hurricane storm surge, and some models show parts of Boston under 10 feet of water. Researchers have told the city that by 2050, that could happen as often as every two to three years.” A hurricane every two to three years? Now that would be unprecedented.
Mr Lynn I sent a link to this post around, as a ‘must read’, to some friends and relations, with this comment: If you don’t know, Bill McKibben is a very public spokesman for ‘global warming’ alarmism. You’ll hear him on places like NPR. In this wonderfully-written essay, Caleb Shaw neatly demonstrates how misuse of the word ‘unprecedented’, coupled with a naive view of ‘Nature’ as calm and balanced unless disturbed by Man, has led to a complete misunderstanding of climatic history and man’s place in it. It’s also a paean to engineers, long overdue in my view. The monster hurricane of 1938, by the way, completely flooded downtown Providence. At some point, there will be another like it, and it won’t be ‘unprecedented’. /Mr Lynn
Ric Werme Caleb says: August 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm Hi, Ric. You never can resist anything involving New England history, can you? Hope people check out your website, which is wonderful. Thanks. The older I get I become more fond of history I was in. And missed. I’d forgotten the name of Ludlum’s, book, “The Country Journal New England Weather Book.” My large, paperback copy fell apart years ago, but if you find your copy you’ll see a lot of my facts came from that source. I’m pretty sure you’ll also see that 1936 flood was a “spring freshet,” and involved heavy snow-cover being melted by warm and heavy spring rains. Well remembered. From “The Book” (btw, mine is still in good condition), a sidebar lists the crests of floods at Hartford CT greater than 25 feet starting in 1683. None in the 18th century, 10 in the 19th, 7 in the 20th. Those greater than 29 feet: 1854 May 1: 29.8 feet 1927 November 6: 29.0 feet (tropical feed overrunning cold air, worst flood in VT history) 1936 March 21: 37.6 feet (heavy rain on snowpack – “The Great All-New England Flood”) 1938 September 23: 35.4 feet (Hurricane of ’38, of course) 1955 August 20: 30.6 feet (Hurricanes Connie and Diane) While the flood control dams I’m familiar with are in the Merrimack River watershed, it’s adjacent to the Connecticut River watershed. The description of the 1927 flood in Vermont sounded much like that from Irene, but comparisons says 1927 was worse. There was also a 26 foot crest in 1933. That decade must have quite an impetus for the flood control system. It looks like some dams were finished around 1960. I got Ludlum’s book because I subscribed to his magazine “Weatherwise,” back in the early 1970′s. Back then it was the only way you could get the sort of information we get so easily on the web today. That must be how I got it. Copyright 1976, I wrote in some key events like the Blizzard of ’78. I’d buy a 2nd edition.
Caleb .”A hurricane every two to three years? Now that would be unprecedented.” Ha! Very unlikely. As I recall, Ludlum described only a few such super-tides, searching all the way back to the 1600’s. Boston is lucky, because it is sheltered by the protecting arm of Cape Cod. Also the tides are around 10-12 feet, so a storm has to hit at high tide, or else some of the storm surge is subtracted. If a storm surge hits at dead low tide it can be less than a normal high tide. I actually saw this, up in Maine, during hurricane Belle in 1976. I lived in a clammer’s shack right on a dock in South Freeport harbor, but was visiting friends in Vermont. On July 9th Belle had winds of 120 mph, and I thought to myself, as it started up the coast, “Oh -bleep-. This might be the Big One.” So I hopped in my tiny car and headed to Maine early on July 10. That storm wasn’t the “Big One,” as it wasn’t big enough to begin with, and weakened over cold shelf waters. However I was impressed by how the winds remained strong up in high places. Coming down a steep hill against the south wind in New Hampshire I had to step on the gas, which is a very strange sensation. Then, after all that worry and fret, I got to Maine and saw the surge wasn’t that big, and it was low tide. The only thing flooded was the clam flats and mussel shoals. It would take a perfect set-up to flood Boston. Also NYC. But if it happened, the infrastructure would be stressed to the extreme. I think the tunnels and subways in NYC would flood, simply because they go underground in places below the level of the worst-case storm surge. I have heard whispers and murmurs Boston’s “Big Dig” has some serious flaws, but I’m not sure how true the gossip is. One story states the roof may cave in due to the extra weight, as the cement was sub-standard and so on and so forth. Another rumor states the ventilation shafts are badly placed. A smart bureaucrat (and there is such a thing, strange as it sounds,) checks out such rumors before the fact. The worst flooding happens is in the bays that face south in New England. Even though Bob in 1991 was not “The Big One,” it piled a mighty impressive surge up into Buzzard’s Bay. One interesting thing that seems to happen as the bigger storms rush north is that the surge weakens less quickly than the winds. I recall reading that when Katrina hit it had force-3 winds but force-5 tides. I think this was one thing that made the 1938 storm so bad. It was huge, and may have been force-five to the south, and it brought that huge surge north with it.
Robert Cherba I’m another engineer — retired — who read and loved this article. In addition to putting the lie to the overuse of “unprecedented” by warmists, it does an excellent job of explaining what engineers do. My wife used to kid me about always using words like “might,” “could,” “maybe,” “should,” etc., but it didn’t take many years in the real world to find out that few of our ideas work out exactly as planned, and that some of the most brilliant ideas don’t work at all.
Myron Mesecke It makes me feel sorry for McKibben, for he got stuck in the rarified armchairs of Harvard and the New Yorker Magazine, and seemingly missed meeting the real salt-of-the-earth people who have been on boats in the bowels of a hurricane, or have fought the floods, or have battled to survive the jackstraw aftermaths. It is from such first-hand-accounts you learn the most, and see the precedent that has been set, and know something of what to expect. Central Texas doesn’t experience those type of conditions but I still think it important to listen to the first hand accounts of anyone that has lived in one area for a long period of time. All of my 50 years in the same city. What I can say about the last 30 years is that central Texas has not experienced the dust storms that were common during my first 20 years of life. Those cooler 20 years. I would not be surprised if dust storms were to return soon.
Brian D Finch #Doug Proctor: ‘For McKibben CAGW is a fact, as witchcraft was for James Ist of Scotland.’ Er…James 6th of Scotland [Jamie Saxt], 1st of England.
David L. Excellent essay. I loved every line and was only disappointed that it ended too soon. I sent links to all my friends. Well written with many excellent points!
Bryant MacDonald My mother who was about 10 when this storm hit West Hartford, Connecticut used to tell me about seeing people’s prized furniture floating down the street. Growing up in the area even 20 years later you could still see debris from the remains of homes washed into the woods. That newsreel really brought to life the memories she related to me.
H.R. Both thumbs up from another engineer, Caleb. I’d cut and paste my favorite parts of your essay but it’s considered bad form to copy and paste entire articles in a comment thread ;o)