The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

You Do Need a Weatherman

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My Mistake, My Apology, Mea Culpa, and My Excuse

I admit it. I was wrong about Hurricane Sandy, very, very wrong, so wrong that I should be made to do penance, and that’s just what happened. We lost power with a small bang, an explosion at the Con Ed station just a few blocks away on the East River, and the lights blinked several times, until they blinked off for real. The electric company had threatened to turn the power off to protect their equipment if the flood materialized. The company flacks said the explosion only made restoration more complicated. The lights were off, and off they stayed for four days.

Maybe it doesn’t matter why we in the lower third of Manhattan were powerless for four days, since we got power back Friday night. Personally, when we lose power, we lose heat and light, but we don’t lose water or gas, so we manage quite well. People who live up above the sixth floor in big buildings, lose their water, and, of course, their elevators. We don’t have all the subways back yet because they flooded in places. Traffic is bad.

But still, we in Manhattan got off easy. If you live around here, you already know that most of the damage was near the water, since it was largely caused by the storm surge. The water came up a block or two in spots in Manhattan but extensively flooded parts of Brooklyn and Queens as well as shore spots in New Jersey and Long Island. Those hard hit are hurting and have days of cold and dark to go. Plus, the people in the suburbs can’t get gasoline.

The wind and the rain? No big deal here, but the normal chaos for a hurricane in the suburbs was unusually severe because of the size of the storm and the fact that it was a full moon. I’ve heard stories of houses on the New Jersey beaches that were washed away and whole neighborhoods on Long Island under water.

But there’s no sense going through the catalog of damage. There are legions of television reporters doing that. What I have to say is this:

— I can be excused for mocking the grave warnings, because the politicians and the media hand them out all the time. Last year, the city evacuated some buildings by the water at the very moment the storm was running out of strength hundreds of miles to the south in the Carolinas. This one was bigger and closer, much closer. Every boy who cries wolf will eventually be right.

— If you don’t wonder whether climate change is beginning to make itself apparent, and at the same time whether our societies are feeding climate change, then you are as dumb as a cult follower, and you deserve your glass of Kool-Aid. (I said wonder because I do not say that one event such as Hurricane Sandy) is proof of anything. But it is plausible to think that there may be a link.)

— I am stunned by the extent of our dependence on electronics. We saw this in the big Northeast blackout in 2003. It’s grown much worse. Many people no longer have land lines, no longer have a way to obtain outside information without power. It’s been clear for a long time that stores can no longer operate unless their employees have electronic calculators. Now, people pay with plastic that must be read by a device that communicates over the internet with the banks that are nearly all electronic. Our whole lives depend on these devices and digital communication.

— The damaging hurricane also gave us a glimpse of the future under the regime of unregulated businesses. I’m talking about our cell phones. They failed. A third of Manhattan was blacked out. Some of the carriers provided intermittent service, while most provided no signal south of 39th Street. The electric company failed to provide power, and the wireless companies had no backup worth a damn. Perhaps you think that big government is a terrible evil that is holding back your ascension to the ranks of the rich and powerful. Think again about it. Say, for example, you’re having a heart attack. Are you pleased with your vote against big government or would you prefer a do-over so you have a chance of survival by calling an ambulance with a working telephone? (See the article in the bastion of capitalism, the Wall Street Journal on how hard the wireless carriers fight regulation that would make them accountable for reliability.)

The hurricane itself was a natural disaster brought to us by Mother Nature, or if you prefer, an act of god. But somehow, coming a week before the election, it demonstrates the importance of very important issues.

Like storms seem to be getting more intense, so is choice. In recent years, politics are more polarized because of one thing alone: there is a real difference. They are no longer all the same.

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Written by theunbiasedeye

November 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

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