The Family Weather Differential

It’s cold in Columbus this morning.  It’s not really cold by absolute standards — at 32 degrees, it’s just at freezing, and a mere chilly precursor of the truly icy days that inevitably are coming this winter — but it’s an arctic blast by relative measurements, since only a few days ago the temperature was pleasantly in the 60s.

ios_weather_icons_1xWhen I checked my weather app to see exactly what the temperature was, I noticed that it’s a heck of a lot warmer in San Antonio, where Richard and Julianne and their dog Pretty make their home.  Down there in south central Texas it’s a fine 66 degrees right now, and I can imagine walking out into the San Antonio surroundings, clad in t-shirt and shorts, and thinking that 66 degrees is a nice cool start to the day — good for a stroll on the Riverwalk or, in Richard’s case, a jog.  Up in Detroit, Russell’s waking up to 36 degrees and a forecast of snow flurries.  And if you add in siblings and uncles and aunts, we’ve got Heidi out in Huntington Beach, California where it’s 54 degrees and the forecast is for partly cloudy skies and a high of 67, and Aunt Corinne and Uncle Mack down in Savannah, Georgia, where its 50 degrees and the week ahead on the weather app features temperatures around 70 and lots of those bright, unclouded sun icons that you always like to see.

So, right now, Columbus is the coldest place in the family, a solid 34 degrees more frigid than San Antonio.  That’s why the weather app offers both the bitter and the sweet.  It’s not great to be here at the coldest location, but one advantage of having a trusty weather app and a a family that is spread out from coast to coast and from north to south is we can live vicariously through whoever is getting the best weather right now.  Later today, I think I’ll take an imaginary walk on Huntington Beach.

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Fall Come, Fall Gone

I was treated to this beautiful autumn scene of fallen, and falling, leaves on my way to work this morning. Unfortunately, it was about 26 freaking degrees and a bone-chilling arctic gale was blowing, too.

This illustrates the hard reality of our modern “seasons.” There is no fall anymore, not the kind that we remember — when the sky was clear and bright and dry, the temperatures were in the 50s, leaves crunched underfoot, and sweaters were the apparel of choice. There’s no spring, either. Just hot summer and cold winter, with about a week separating them on each end.

Too bad . . . I liked autumn.

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.

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.