Universal Translator

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene and the Cassandra Effect

I am bracing for the onset of Hurricane Irene.  Local TeeVee has worked my fellow locals into quite a pitch over the course of the past week or so, but I only started paying attention as her expected landfall became more and more imminent and the last thing I’ve seen – from just three and half hours ago – is that our latest estimation is that she will land right on top of my home at around 2:00 pm on Saturday.

Last year some other hurricane was promised to be the great scourge we’ve all been expecting, but I was paying attention not to the TeeVee but to the internet and the radio and knew that it wouldn’t be.  When my local beach was issued a “mandatory” evacuation notice I ignored it and, indeed, I was right to do so – we never even lost power, we never had more than a few flurries of wind and rain.

But I’m not an idiot.  I still remember staring at the TeeVee image of Hurricane Katrina barreling right toward New Orleans back in 2005 and saying to my best friend and (then) roommate:  “Dude, this looks bad.”  The fact that it could look so “bad” to some vague guy who just happened to glance at CNN before heading out to go surfing is one of the reasons that I – to this day – cannot forgive the people in charge for not being prepared for how bad that situation turned out to be. 

As soon as I heard Bush Administration officials utter the phrase (turned time-worn and hackneyed by its constant repetition during the eight long years of their governance) “nobody could have predicted . . . ”  I lost my mind.   I predicted it!  I wanted to scream at them, based on nothing more than a 5 second screen-shot on CNN!  The fact that so many Americans were left to fend for themselves, papered over with that weak-assed “nobody could have predicted” bullshit had me seeing red. 

And I’m pretty sure that is what led the Democrats to the first of the wave elections they got to enjoy one year later in 2006.  And then enjoy again in 2008.  Today it is considered gauche to remind anyone that back in 2005 the Bush Administration left a major United States city to fucking drown – now we are supposed to pretend that people kicked the Republicans out of office because they “were spending too much,” or “had abandoned Real Conservative Principles” . . . but that is just bullshit. 

One of the – if perhaps not the only – real reasons the American public turned against the Republican Party is because its response to Hurricane Katrina was the definitive nail in the coffin proving that the Republican Party is a feckless, useless, incompetent bunch of boobs.  Bush the Lesser appointed a show-horse lawyer to be the man in charge of FEMA, and did so simply because the show-horse lawyer happened to have been the college roommate of someone else important in the Bush Administration.  Then, when the entire world had seen how badly this fucking horse lawyer had screwed the situation up . . . Bush the Dumber told him he was doing “a heckuva job.”

It is simply amazing to me that the Conservative Wurlitzer has so managed to capture the mainstream spin that almost nobody talks about how important Katrina was to damaging the Republican brand and how incompetent these bastards were proved to be.  Talk to any bloviator, listen to any pundit, and all you hear is that the Republicans lost their way by not being conservative enough.  Nobody, nobody ever points out that they lost the election by proving themselves to be blisteringly incompetent.

* * *

But back to my point.

As I indicated before, I tend to disregard most major panic attacks brought about by mainstream TeeVee, which tends to push the “Be Afraid” button quite a bit.  On the other hand . . . I try my best not to be an idiot.  Irene is coming right at my home, and unlike so many of those poor people who ended up trapped in New Orleans I have the means to leave and seek shelter with family members in a brick home some 50 miles inland.  Plus, I am responsible for two English Bulldogs who depend on me to keep them safe.

I’m pretty sure that – even were I to stay and somehow make it through this sucker – I would deserve to be tarred and feathered anyway for placing myself and my dogs in jeopardy.  Staying here seems like a really, really bad idea.  Tomorrow, I pack up the dogs and leave the island.

* * *

Just an hour or so ago I snapped the leash on the youngest bulldog – Homer – and walked him down to the beach to see what the waves looked like at night with a major storm barreling toward us.  (My older dog, Napoleon, is too old to move much these days, and so spends 23 ½ hours on the couch; but that’s okay, ‘cause he’s happy and ‘cause he’s earned it.)

I don’t know what I was expecting, really, but I wasn’t expecting anything as mundane as what I saw.  East Coast Surfers don’t have the advantage that those lucky bastards living on the West Coast have.  Since weather patterns tend to move from the West to the East those living in, say, California get the benefit of storms off of the coast pushing toward them all of the time, building swell and waves.  East Coast Surfers don’t get that.  We have to hope for some momentary low-pressure anomaly to kick up waves for us.

Except for Hurricane Season.  Every Hurricane Season we hope and pray that many, many hurricanes form in the Atlantic and then sweep up the Eastern Seaboard but remain at least several hundred miles off of the coast.  It is a tricky little needle-eye of Hope to thread.  The massive storms during these months kick up large waves and – if the storms stand far enough off of the coast – you don’t have to feel bad about other people getting the shit kicked out of them by these terribly destructive events.

So I was expecting to see something impressive when Homer and I got to the beach, but . . . I didn’t.  In the moonlight, it looked like a regular day at the beach.  A bit windier, maybe, but the storm swell still hadn’t arrived.  In fact, sitting on the bench built into the public accessway and talking to my dog, I decided that the only thing that felt at all different about this night – as opposed to all the hundreds of nights before when I have walked down to this beach where I grew up – is that the air felt a little stickier than usual, and warmer than usual, and that the gusts were unsettling to some degree.

But these feelings, of course, are easily explained by the fact that I already know what is out there and is (right now, at least) thundering my way.  As someone who grew up on this beach and who has spent the past seven years (ever since I moved back) here, I wondered if I would have been able to sense that something big was on its way if I didn’t already know so because our new technology had shown it to me.  I wondered if I might have sensed that there is a storm on the way that might, in fact, destroy my home.

I decided that I would not have, and that kind of bummed me out.  It seems to me that, having spent so much of my time in the water and tracking storms, and especially being so sensitive to this beach – to my beach – I should be able to know things like that.  But I don’t, ‘cause I’m just as much of a clueless bastard as the next guy.  And then that thought made me stop and start thinking about what it means to be a clueless bastard in the first place and – conversely – what it means to have a clue about what is going on. 

It occurred to me that, now I am in my 40s, I know a whole lot more about how the world and its institutions work than I ever thought I would.  And that I also know a whole lot more about how people work than I ever thought I would.  Don’t get me wrong . . . other people are and always will be the greatest puzzle presented us; I’m just saying that – after a coupla decades – you tend to recognize some recurring patterns. 

And then it occurred to me that, in this way, I can claim to be wiser now than I was 20 years or so ago.

But it also seems to me that one of the biggest lessons you learn about how the world works, and – especially – about how people work, is that just because you understand how they work doesn’t mean you can change them, affect them or help them.  Many, many times I’ve been confronted with people I love and care about who were angry or upset about something, and I’ve been able to understand exactly what it was upsetting them and making them angry but absolutely incapable of doing anything to help them. 

Age brings with it the knowledge that understanding a problem doesn’t necessarily lead to a solution.  This is a hard lesson to learn because, ultimately, it is a lesson of impotence.  Call it the Cassandra Effect:  to understand what is wrong without having the power to make it better.

I often feel that way about the politics that I follow.  In a comment, elsewhere, I mentioned that – as a religious agnostic – maybe the closest thing I have to a faith is my belief that we humans can govern ourselves.  I feel that way about political activism, or writing Diaries, or blogging, or simply talking to the people around me every day and trying to explain to them the things that I see are not right, but how we can work to make them better.  And each time, if anyone were to ask me, do I really believe that doing XYZ will do anything to make it better . . . . ?

. . . . .   Nope.  But then, I am a cynical bastard and I could always be wrong.  So I argue it anyway.

And, tomorrow, I will spend some time battening down my house and doing what I can to ensure that the few treasures I have here will not get blown away – although if the storm hits, I can’t control that.  Then I will pack up Homer and Napoleon, and we will drive a few hours inland to stay with family and watch the TeeVee until the power goes out and then the three of us will fret about what might be happening to our home.  (Well, I will.  The dogs won’t care much.)

And on Sunday – or maybe Monday – we’ll show up and see what damage has been done and start the repair work that will be necessary.

I don’t know that there is any kind of lesson in that, other than that we all end up losing things and saving things and working hard for the things we care about even if we can never finally keep them.

Because what else would we do?

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