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Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene--weather hysteria, hurricane obsession, God's judgment, and the moral distractions of hurricanes

[Editor's Note: In contrast to many of Bob's blogs, the following ruminations have a most serious tone, intention, and purpose.]


A news report this morning sums up the damage from Hurricane Irene: 


"As Irene churned over Canada Monday, residents along the battered U.S. East Coast began surveying damage and fretted over the next danger: treacherous flooding.
Downgraded from a hurricane as it lumbered up the coast Sunday, Irene left millions without power across much of the Eastern Seaboard, was blamed for at least 21 deaths and forced airlines to cancel about 12,000 flights. 
It never became the big-city nightmare forecasters and public officials had warned about, but it still had the ability to surprise.
And the danger was far from over for many."
Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44305129/ns/weather/?gt1=43001 


21 deaths; 12,000 cancelled flights; millions without power; treacherous flooding ahead.
Those are impressive numbers.  Twenty-one deaths too many.  Our third son, Jamie, had to cancel his flight from San Francisco and could not visit his mother in her time of misery.  Dis-empowered Americans (how horrible, the thought of "blessed" Americans without the power).  Fears of Flooding of Biblical Proportion.  Will Noah made a Rapturous Second Coming and re-build The Ark to save us over-fed, energy-hogging, privileged Eastern U.S. Seaboarders?  
No question, these are serious inconveniences, difficult problems, tragic situations, most of all, certainly, the 21 devastating losses of beloved family members.  But consider these facts:
Fact One: Drunk driving deaths


According to the Centers for Disease Control: "Every day, almost 30 people in the United States


die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death 


every 48 minutes.  The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion."


Source: http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html

More people died yesterday from drunk driving crashes (more than 24, since one dies every 48 minutes) than from Hurricane Irene (21 died).  Yet I did not read or hear one word in the newspaper about the more than 24 people who got killed by drunk drivers throughout the entire U.S.  What am I missing?
True, Hurricane Irene was "bearing down upon us" yesterday, and no drunk drivers were "bearing down upon us."  That's true, of course, except for the 24 people who did die when drunk drivers were "bearing down upon them" and snuffing out their lives.
Fact Two: Tobacco use deaths
"More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human 


immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and 


murders combined."


"Cigarette smoking causes about 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States each year.1,6 Cigarette smoking is estimated to cause the following:

  • 443,000 deaths annually (including deaths from secondhand smoke)
  • 49,400 deaths per year from secondhand smoke exposure
  • 269,655 deaths annually among men
  • 173,940 deaths annually among women"



Source: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/tobacco_related_mortality/



So 1,213 people died yesterday from cigarette smoking, 135 of them from secondhand smoke exposure.  And this was just in the U.S.  Honest Indian, now: Did ANY of you spend ANY time over the past few days worrying about the these deaths?  Did the media obsessively cover the international problem of deaths from tobacco use?  Did you lose any sleep over it?  Were you more at risk of dying from Hurricane Irene or your neighbor's secondhand smoke?


Fact Three: Unsafe Drinking Water Deaths


"The failure to provide safe drinking water and adequate sanitation services to all people is perhaps the greatest development failure of the 20th century. The most egregious consequence of this failure is the high rate of mortality among young children from preventable water-related diseases. This paper examines different scenarios of activities in the international water arena and provides three estimates of the overall water-related mortality likely to occur over the next two decades. 
 If no action is taken to address unmet basic human needs for water, as many as 135 million people will die from these diseases by 2020.  Even if the explicit Millennium Goals announced by the United Nations in 2000 are achieved– unlikely given current international commitments – between 34 and 76 million people will perish from water-related diseases by 2020.  This problem is one of the most serious public health crisis facing us, and deserves far more attention and resources than it has received so far."


Source:  "Dirty Water:  Estimated Deaths from Water-Related Diseases 2000-2020,"    
               http://www.pacinst.org/reports/water_related_deaths/water_related_deaths_report.pdf

Many of you on the East Coast are probably still without electric power because of Hurricane Irene.  But honestly, how many of you lost your clean water, for even one minute?  How about your clean toilet facilties or your clean shower for bathing your privileged, "blessed" American, well-nourished, perhaps even over-nourished, flesh?

How many of you gave any thought, if you were focusing most of your attention on Hurricane Irene the past few days, to the 135 million people around the world who will die by 2,020 of preventable, water-related diseases?  Once you regain your power, will you be focusing with equal attention, even part of the obsession, with which millions of us on the East Coast of the U.S. focused on Hurricane Irene?  Or will we return to our state of "self-satisfied somnolence" with respect to the upcoming slaughter by soiled water of these 135 million souls, these nameless, faceless, fellow human beings who were in no danger of losing the electricity which powers their TVs or their other appliances (well, to be honest, they probably don't have TVs, or toilets, or appliances, and certainly no clean water, and they're probably not well-nourished or over-fed).

So what's this have to do with God's judgment?  In Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address he said:

"The Almighty has his own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!' If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'"


As I seem to recall from high school history courses, Lincoln knew the bible well, but was not particularly religious.  Still, he viewed the Civil War as God's judgment on the culture of slavery which was tolerated by the North and the South until that war, and enshrined, even, in the original Constitution.  Lincoln may not have been claiming that there is a God who acts in human history, literally.  Or perhaps he was.  But one way of looking at the Civil War, and even, perhaps, Hurricane Irene, is this.  The way the world is, the way life is supposed to be, does not include slavery within the range of moral possibilities.  And when humans enslave other humans, a kind of "punishment" will eventually rain down upon a nation which tolerated such moral abominations.  This is the principle of "what goes around, comes around."  A belief in that principle, a psychological pre-disposition to see the world that way, may be an element of our collective moral unconscious.  


We Americans have a tendency to moral self-righteousness and moral obtuseness.  We sat by, mostly idly, while we went to war against a country which had nothing to do with 9/11, Iraq.  Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died as a result of our "holy" war there, and thousands of American soldiers, very few of them the sons and daughters of our politicians who, in our name, and with authority delegated to them by us, and with our tax money, decided to pursue that war.

Osama Bin Laden killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11.  And he was, appropriately, assassinated by our President's Navy Seal team, last May.

Harry Truman was a good father and husband, as far as I learned in high school history classes.  And Bill Clinton was, and is, I believe, a good father, but not a good husband, as far as anyone can know anything about anyone else's marriage, especially  if you don't know the couple personally and probably even if you do.  And some Americans wanted to run Bill Clinton out of the Oral Office because of what he was doing there with "that woman," with whom he claimed he "did not have sexual relations."

Osama (not to be confused, as some Americans do, with Obama), killed 3,000 innocent human beings.  But how many millions of innocent human beings were killed, or condemned to a lifetime of cancerous carnage, from Harry Truman's decision to order the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  And did that action not plant the seed of the future Nuclear Arms Race?  Had the Japanese won the war, would Hannah Arendt have written a book entitled "Truman in Tokyo," to go along with her classic "Eichmann in Jerusalem"?

Why does the U.S. do these kinds of things, starting morally unjustified wars of choice in Iraq and Vietnam, and dropping atomic bombs on innocent civilians?  To answer this moral conundrum, it's necessary to dig deep in my old philosophy books, from my undergraduate passion for the love of wisdom, where I've recently found this wonderful statement of the applicable principle which explains such "blessed" American interventions in the world:

     Why does a dog lick its balls?
                                                              Because it can.

So, to get back to the original idea behind this Bob's blog for today, why do we obsess over relatively minor disruptions to our privileged American lives as was imposed upon us by Hurricane Irene?  Because we can.

Very soon, your power will return.  You'll continue drinking your clean tap water, bathing daily in your clean, hot shower.  You'll forget the morally shocking, preventable human tragedies happening daily outside a bar near you, in the smoky confines of the new Hookah Shop in your community, and in the HIV-infested, clean-water deprived far-away societies outside our conscious awareness because of the distractions of transient weather events like Hurricane Irene and the extreme moral difficulty of actually living the ethical principle embodied in all the world's Great Religions--do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and love your neighbor as yourself.

And remember this interesting factoid.  Every hurricane is seen by non-surfers as a horrible, frightening event, full of petrifying possibility.  But surfers, board surfers, kayak surfers, stand-up board and paddle surfers, see hurricanes in a very different light.  When the hurricanes come up the coast towards Rhode Island, they batten down the hatches of their houses and then, as they take their families to high ground, they make sure they haven't forgotten their short-board wax or their bomb-proof Riot Boogie neoprene spray skirt, as they head for the beach to catch the 12-12 waves like we had in the August 23, 2009 Hurricane Bill.  See Hurricane Bill YouTube video clip in the Video Link of Bob's blog, below.   

Surf's Up.

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