Negative Positives

Midwest America is viewed by many as pretty boring territory.  Flyover country.  Farmland.  Flat as a pancake, without soaring mountains, beautiful beaches, or other natural scenic wonders.

hurricane-irma-puerto-rico-01-rtr-jc-170906_4x3_992But boy!  Reading this morning about a killer storm like Hurricane Irma, which has left the Caribbean battered and Floridians panicked as it bears down on places like Naples and Tampa, from the quiet comfort of my kitchen here in Columbus, makes me reflect on what we don’t get here in the Midwest — like hurricanes.  Or tsunamis.  Or deadly earthquakes that stretch the Richter scale.  Or raging wildfires sweeping across dried-out hillsides, avalanches, and colossal mudslides.  Here in America’s heartland we get a bad thunderstorm now and then, a river might flood here and there, and tornadoes are always a risk, but when it comes to bad weather and natural disasters that’s about it.  We’re shielded from the worst by hundreds of miles of non-coastal buffer zone and natural topography.

It all depends on how you look at the risk-reward calculus, I suppose.  We might not get the stirring vistas — unless, like me, you think that well-tended rolling farms and barns have their own special appeal — but the angry weather and natural disasters that we don’t get here are definitely a positive when the killer storms come calling.

Our thoughts are with the folks down in Florida and the south, many of whom are transplanted Midwesterners, as they ride out the storm.  Here’s hoping that everyone was able to get out of harm’s way.

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A New Approach To Hurricane Names

The hurricane that struck Houston this week has been uniquely, historically devastating.  It has made landfall twice, dumped enormous amounts of rain in Texas and western Louisiana, produced death and destruction, caused massive flooding and millions of dollars in property damage, wreaked havoc with infrastructure, and thrown hundreds, if not thousands, of people out of their homes.  It will take Houston months, if not years, to fully recover from its effects.

All of this from a storm called . . . Harvey?

harveyDon’t get me wrong, Harvey is a perfectly good name — if you’re an 8 1/2 foot tall invisible rabbit who befriends Jimmy Stewart.  It’s a quaint, somewhat old-fashioned name that is well-suited to a meek, nebbishy guy who wears wire-rimmed glasses and a bow tie.  But as a name for an ultra-powerful, cataclysmic storm, it leaves a lot to be desired.  Isn’t the name Hurricane Harvey just a little bit . . . jarring?  You’re reading an article about the catastrophe and stop in your tracks and think:  “Really?  Hurricane Harvey?”

We need to come up with a new approach to naming hurricanes that properly recognizes their devastating impact and uses names that appropriately capture their power.  We need to make sure that next year we’re not reading about Hurricane Tiffany, or Hurricane Jerry, or Hurricane Tim.  All fine names, to be sure, but nevertheless totally discordant when applied to hurricanes.

I suggest that we ditch the use of current names for hurricanes and opt for a new hurricane naming convention that uses the names of ancient gods from cultures across the world.  The ancient gods typically combined the attributes of tremendous power, unpredictability, cruelty, and whimsical, unaccountable meddling in human affairs — all characteristics that also can be applied to colossal hurricanes.

The storm that struck Houston should have been called something like Hurricane Thor, or Hurricane Hephaestus, or Hurricane Hoth.  Not Hurricane Harvey.

Profiting From Others’ Misfortune

I’m a big fan of capitalism.  it’s by far the best, fairest, most rational, most efficient economic system — in normal times.  But when disaster strikes, and the “Invisible Hand” and the law of supply and demand entice some businesses to engage in rampant price-gouging, it makes capitalism look bad.

price-gouging-2That’s what’s happening in Texas right now.  Hurricane Harvey has proven so devastating, and the likelihood of continuing devastation and economic disruption is so great, that supply and demand, which together are supposed to regulate pricing, are completely out of whack.  As a result, some people in Texas are charging the people trapped in the hurricane zone outrageous, grossly inflated prices — like $99 for a case of bottled water, gas for sale at $10 per gallon, which is about three times as much as it sold for prior to the hurricane, and marginal hotel rooms rented at Ritz-quality rates.

Texas, like other states, has laws against price-gouging in times of emergency or natural disaster, but it’s hard for the price police to keep up with the businessmen who see a catastrophe as a way to make an easy buck and pad their profits.  For every gouger who is caught, there undoubtedly are many others who make a lot of money selling at exorbitant prices to people who don’t know enough to raise an issue about it.  It’s an old, time-honored story, because price-gouging is as old as economic activity itself.

Natural disasters like hurricanes often bring out the best in people.  We’re seeing a lot of that in Texas, with people selflessly heading out to try to rescue those who are stranded, or opening their homes and their wallets to help those who have suffered terrible losses.  It just makes you sick to your stomach that, mixed in with the many Good Samaritans, are greedy people who take advantage of the unfortunate and put money ahead of simple human kindness and decency.  How do the gougers sleep at night, knowing that they are profiting from the misery of others?

The Physical Cues Around Us

I woke up this morning, prepared to take my morning walk, looked out at our patio, and noticed it is pitch black outside — when only a few weeks ago, at this same time of day, I was walking accompanied by the rising sun.  Thus was I gobsmacked with the reality that the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer.

We live each day so focused on the immediate demands of our lives that we often miss the gradual changes that are happening around us — until the physical cues provided by the world break through and make it clear.  The relative snugness of clothing alerts us to weight gain or loss.  Falling leaves tell us that September is only days away.  And the ever-lengthening night reminds us that the seasons are changing whether we notice it or not.

I’m not ready for summer to end — it seems like it just got here! — but the darkness this morning tells me I’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

In The City Of Trees

I’m on a quick visit to Boise, Idaho.  It’s my first visit to a place that, according to a big signs at the airport, bills itself as the “City of Trees.”  The airport signs also make it clear that Idahoans are proud of their beef and their potatoes — so I savored some of each at dinner.

Although I didn’t notice anything remarkable about the trees of Boise, I did think the state capitol building, pictured above, was pretty cool, and I was really struck by what you see in the distance behind the capitol — i.e., cloudless blue sky.  Boise gets sunshine at least part of the day for a ridiculously large percentage of the year.  We could us some of that during our Columbus winters.

High Summer Coneys

I’ve always thought of the period between the Fourth of July and Labor Day as “high summer” — when it’s bright and hot and time to consume all of the great summer foods.  Like corn on the cob, and root beer floats . . . and coneys.  So today, on our way to the library, Kish and I stopped off at Village Coney, on Whittier, for lunch.  I ordered two coneys with cheese, fries, and a Diet Pepsi and got a cookie as a bonus.  

Although I ordered two coneys, I consumed three of them when Kish decided one was enough for her.  I initially declined the extra coney, but with the lingering taste of the cheese and chili sauce of the first two coneys, which were excellent, the lure of the third coney proved to be irresistible.  The fries were really good, too.

Bring on the High Summer!

Summer Beer Selections

So, it’s July, and tonight it’s a perfect summer evening for sitting outside.  Not too hot, a little sultry . . . the kind of night where fireflies circle about lazily and a cold beer tastes mighty good against the lingering heat.

And speaking of cold beer . . . what to choose?  The local convenience store offers a surprisingly wide and diverse selection that is a far cry from the shelves of Budweiser, Schultz, and Stroh’s that I remember from my childhood.

Tonight, it’s going to be an alternation of goses and brown ales, the better to appreciate a near-perfect summer evening.