Tuesday Open Thread ~ When the Levee Breaks


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"…much of the conversation about Hurricane Dorian—including most media coverage—ignores climate change. That's a mistake. It's akin to talking about lung cancer and being afraid to mention smoking, or talking about traffic deaths and being afraid to talk about drunken driving." ~ David Leonhardt

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Welcome to Tuesday’s Open Thread. A few days ago there was a news article in Joe’s EB about the media's coverage of Hurricane Dorian. The concern voiced in the article was that the kind of storm-porn the media loves to feed us, negates any real discussion over how to prepare our cities in the face of these extreme storms. This type of reporting isn't new. I watched the same coverage when I was living in New York after Superstorm Sandy. What is new are the storms themselves. So why aren't we talking about them in a more relevant way?

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Lower Manhattan's blackout zone, November 1, 2012

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For those who can remember, Hurricane Gloria back in the mid-1980s was supposed to have been the Storm of the Century. Turns out, it wasn’t. But even with the warnings, my friends and I didn't take it seriously. Preparing for the storm consisted of taping Welcome Gloria! signs to our windows, belting out Laura Brannigan on our stereo, and throwing hurricane parties the night before. We were, you might say, feeling youthfully impervious to the possible dangers a hurricane might pose.

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South Ferry Station ~ October 30, 2012

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The memory of that came rushing back to me when Hurricane Sandy tore through New York City. The contrast between the certainty that nothing could penetrate our indestructible city and watching with disbelief as it did, was matched only by our collective shock. So unprecedented was the damage and scope of Superstorm Sandy, it left us utterly stunned. No heat, no electricity, no subways, no running water. Few had prepared. Flashlights, batteries, and ice all disappeared from stores the next day. Restaurants outside the blackout zone had lines so long it was hours before you could get food. No estimates were given of when the electricity would be restored; only statements from the Mayor's office detailing what had happened and the work that had to be done.

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Blacked Out City of Lower Manhattan

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I lived in what the media was calling the blackout zone. An area covering the Battery up to 30th Street. Not only was my neighborhood without electricity, it was half empty as anyone who had the resources to leave, already did. My neighbor and I shared whatever we had those first few nights, including flashlights, batteries, and candles. But with no hot water or electricity, dinner out of a can was the best we could do. Maneuvering in and out of the blackout zone had a surreal quality to it. North of 30th Street it was as if nothing had happened. City life hummed along as it always had. But for those of us living in the dark, going home meant taking an uneasy trip through a canyon of hulking tombstones. Once familiar buildings loomed pitch black and empty. Stores were closed, stop lights weren't working, and silhouetted strangers passed by holding flashlights that looked like miniature spotlights spanning across the sidewalk.

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The Streets in Lower Manhattan ~ October 30, 2012

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Truth is many of us approached Hurricane Sandy feeling brazenly immune, which made the reality of Sandy so profoundly disturbing. There is a certain controlled chaos to New York, but because everything is so tightly interwoven and dependent on the other, when one part is dismantled, the domino effect that follows is catastrophic. Over 95,000 customers in Manhattan alone were without electricity. 46 miles of subway tracks were under water and 5.5 million commuters had to find alternative transportation. For the elderly who were stranded in buildings without electricity it was a life threatening situation. Electric pumps that fueled the plumbing in high rise buildings meant no running water. Extensive flooding, frightening evacuations, and the nightmare of not having a place to live, were but a few of the casualties.

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Near Battery Park ~ Monday Night, October 29, 2012,

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Superstorm Sandy hit the New York area with winds of 110 mph, ripping through buildings and piers like they were matchsticks. Four blocks from where I lived, the entire front façade of an apartment building crumbled to the ground leaving the tenant’s belongings nakedly exposed like some bizarre dollhouse of Jack-in-the-Beanstalk proportions. I have no idea if anyone was in the apartment when the wall collapsed but can scarcely imagine what the experience must have been like. My own sense of panic hit me during the storm when the electricity went off in my apartment. Wind gusts the likes of which I had never heard before, pounded the windows, and the mile or so I lived from the Hudson River hadn't worried me earlier in the day until I saw the East River flooding Stuyvesant Town on my twitter feed. A neighbor of mine showed up at my door in her own panic and together we huddled around a candle lit coffee table listening to the sounds of flying objects knocking against our building.

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8th Avenue & 16th Street, Chelsea ~ November 1, 2012

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Living in the blackout zone had an apocalyptic feel to it at 3:00 am in the morning. A kind of desolate nothingness. No visible lights. No visible life. Just impenetrable darkness, building after building, block after block. It was a jarring reminder of how precarious the framework of our everyday life actually is. The first few days after the storm, life revolved around the latest announcements from the Mayor's office. Word quickly spread that we were going to get help from other Electrical Companies across state lines. In fact over 4,000 trucks from around the country came to our rescue. In some cases, trucks, equipment, and the necessary manpower, were loaded onto air force jets and flown to New York to help speed up the repair work.

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Flooding in Queens, October 30, 2012

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In the days leading up to Superstorm Sandy, the Mayor warned us that we should brace ourselves for 11 foot surges of seawater. Authorities advised 370,000 people in low lying areas to evacuate over the weekend. By late morning on Monday, October 29, 2012, rolling waves were already pounding the promenade wall in Battery Park in Manhattan. Along the streets across New York, police cars were broadcasting warnings in evacuation zones that people should leave. By early afternoon, the Mayor’s office decided to shut down the tunnels that connect Manhattan to Brooklyn and New Jersey. Subways, buses, trains and schools were shut, as well as the New York stock exchange, a first since the Blizzard of 1888.

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Evacuation Map for the City

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Three days before the storm made landfall, evacuation maps appeared in all the newspapers, as well as online. I lived on the cusp of Zone B & C in Chelsea. My decision to stay was informed partly because I was inured to the media's propensity to hype up the nature of impending storms, and partly because I thought the Mayor's office was being overly cautious. The previous winter, Mayor Bloomberg had been vacationing in some tropical paradise during one of the worst blizzards we'd had in recent memory, contributing, some said, to the inadequate response in the outer boroughs. Consequently, he got his ass handed to him from his constituents. I therefore assumed that the Mayor's office didn’t want to look unprepared again with this storm. As it turned out, Superstorm Sandy surpassed all predictions with devastating effect. Some had heeded the warning and evacuated, but most did not. Over 100 people were killed, 40 alone in Staten Island, and the damage was estimated to be upwards of $60 billion.

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William Street Downtown Manhattan ~ October 30, 2012

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When the electricity finally came back on in Manhattan, I remember hearing my neighbor yell "I'm going to microwave something!". We were all so relieved. People in the streets started clapping and shouting. Cars honked their horns like they did when the Yankees won the World Series. In an instant life was back to normal. I put some Steely Dan on the stereo, poured myself a glass of Cabernet from a bottle a co-worker gave me, took a long hot bath, and went to bed leaving every light on in my apartment. A gesture that might've been the adult equivalent of making sure there were no monsters under the bed after a week of not being sure.

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Seaside Heights, N.J.~ Storm destroys Pier

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While I was grateful for the restoration of electricity in my neighborhood, the same could not be said for thousands of fellow New Yorkers in the outer boroughs. Weeks later, New York City was still a muddy mess and thousands of residents were without electricity and heat. What many of us learned from Hurricane Sandy was that our crumbling infrastructure was woefully insufficient against the storms of the future.

Scientific studies and models showed that the majority of the city’s largest power plants were built at an elevation less than 16 feet above sea level making them highly vulnerable to flooding. In 2009, The US Global Change Research Program found that “the number of [grid outage] incidents caused by extreme weather has increased tenfold since 1992. The portion of all events that are caused by weather-related phenomena has more than tripled from about 20 percent in the early 1990’s to about 65 percent in recent years. The weather-related events are more severe, with an average of about 180,000 customers affected per event compared to about 100,000 for non-weather-related events.” More recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a D on its report card for infrastructure.

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86th Street Station ~ October 30, 2012

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Seven years later, New York City has mostly nibbled at the edges in terms of addressing those problems. This is not good news. Our entire country needs to re-think how we will invest our time and resources to survive the extreme weather patterns that are already here. Unfortunately, our political leaders do not seem to see the urgency as clearly as the experts. Which brings me to why I found the news coverage of Hurricane Dorian especially infuriating. A crisis is looming. The condition of our infrastructures will not withstand repeated assaults like hurricane Dorian and Sandy. The times call for bold action. So what do we get instead? Some jolly joker wearing a rain slicker in the middle of a hurricane telling us the wind is blowing. Tragically farcical, it was a shameful example of our Fourth Estate's dereliction of duty.

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If it keeps on raining, the levee's gonna break
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Well, that about wraps things up for this week's edition.
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Now it's your turn.
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IIRC, among the first people to help victims of Hurricane Sandy were Occupy Wall Street participants. I am so sorry that movement faded away. Then again, it received almost zero support from media, Republicans and Democrats. And the reason for that is the same reason that we don't talk about global disaster in a way intended to be effective.

It's about

Well, about the Benjamins and our feckless politicians and media. All on their own, the Benjamins are not inherently evil. To the contrary, they have potential to do great good. But, lust for money and power combines with corruption, the Benjamimins are, alas, the reason for many ills.

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Anja Geitz's picture

@HenryAWallace

Ah, yes. OWS. No big surprise the media went to the trouble of portraying OWS as a hippie brigade of weirdos. My favorite portrayal of OWS was when Fox News sent a reporter down there to "interview" protestors, hoping I'm sure, to get some great hippie sound bites for their viewer's pleasure. What they got instead was Jesse LaGreica, who as it happened, was a DKos alum at the time with a lot to say about the media bias. Not surprisingly, Fox News never aired this interview.

Hope you're doing well this morning.

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger

dervish's picture

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"Obama promised transparency, but Assange is the one who brought it."

Wally's picture

It seems that all previous posts on C99% with twitter embeds have had those imbeds disappeared.
Wondering and just testing if the one below will show up:

Edit/Add:

Seems not. Anybody know what's going on?

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TheOtherMaven's picture

She missed you, and hit us in New Haven. Whole streets clogged with downed trees, no power for a week, the whole nine yards. Problems all the way from Greenwich to New London. You dodged the bullet, we didn't.

That's as much hurricane as I ever want to experience. And now that I'm way up in the Virginia boonies, it'd take a pretty weird storm path to come after me.

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

Anja Geitz's picture

@TheOtherMaven

So, I guess you weren't belting out Laura Brannigan, eh? Sorry to hear about Gloria wrecking your neighborhood. My friends and I were suffering from terrible hangovers the day after our hurricane party, so we never knew Gloria hit Connecticut. Ah, youth. Such a short attention span.

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger

Lookout's picture

...so don't expect honest reporting about climate collapse.

Enjoyed your story of Sandy, and you are so right about this:

our crumbling infrastructure was woefully insufficient against the storms of the future.

We are in denial on so many levels....and the weather will get wilder. Willful ignorance I think. Now you're on the left coast threatened more by fire than storm....both stemming from the same root cause.

Take care friends. Thanks for the OT.

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Anja Geitz's picture

@Lookout

Yes, it is difficult to tell the truth when you are essentially being paid not to. Hope all those fossil fuel guys have an answer for their grandkids when they leave their mess behind. Must be nice not to have a conscious.

I am glad I'm not living in New York for the next Superstorm. Had quite my fill with the last one. Don't like the fires here, though. Very scary but in a different way. Two years ago, the fires were so bad here in the San Gabriel Valley, ashes dusted the garden, and poor air quality gave me a sore throat.

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger

ggersh's picture

@Lookout no worries lookout, Gates is on it! Besides the
fact he's admitting w/out admitting that global warming
is upon, what gives this asshole the right to forge
ahead unilaterally on this, one would think the people
might have a say in this.....Nah

https://interestingengineering.com/bill-gates-is-funding-a-chemical-clou...

Now you might be scratching your head a bit as solar geoengineering sounds like a plot point from a disaster movie. However, it is both a radical but potentially effective means of stopping global warming. For the uninitiated, this technology would go on to mimic the effects of a massive volcanic eruption.

Andy Parker, project director at the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, told CNBC, “Modeling studies have found that it could reduce the intensity of heatwaves, for instance, apparently it could reduce the rate of sea-level rise. It could reduce the intensity of tropical storms.”

Basically, planes would fly at high altitudes, spraying millions of tons of particles around the planet to create a massive chemical cloud that would cool the surface. However, do not get too excited yet. The technology is not officially ready but is coming close. Even more so, the process could go on to affect regional weather patterns. Even more so, it could potentially eradicate the blue sky.

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trump will be amerika's last president

ameriKa's been crapified and yes that
has trickled down

Anja Geitz's picture

@ggersh

What could go wrong?

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger

Lily O Lady's picture

@Anja Geitz

a cascade of stupid decisions brings about global winter causing mass extinction. Of course the dinosaurs were Henson puppets, but it is a perfect illustration of the foolish arrogance of “deciders.”

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"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

enhydra lutris's picture

@ggersh

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

enhydra lutris's picture

@Lookout @Lookout @Lookout
Yorker.

Now you're on the left coast threatened more by fire than storm.

Jokes aside, there are many Californias, and floods are a bit of a perennial problem, and if a couple of the right levees blow, about half of the nation's fruits, nuts and veggies go bye-bye.

Luckily, we don't rely upon he corps of engineers to maintain them.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

enhydra lutris's picture

harrowing experience. As a lifelong camper, I'm lucky in that I've always had a stash of stuff that could double as "emergency supplies", though I've rarely ever used any for such purposes. Glad you had a bottle of cab for the aftermath, it makes everything so much better. Wink

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7 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Anja Geitz's picture

@enhydra lutris

Campers are always so organized. Smile

I guess I was lucky enough to have batteries and candles. Neighbor supplied flashlight. Living in New York you don't think about such things. Until you do. Which up to that point was rare.

Yeah, the Cab really warmed the bones. I even drank it in my good Crystal that night.

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger

smiley7's picture

~ Kunst zur Klimakonferenz in Paris | BIORAMA

Enjoyed your morning narrative. Wondering today if it's in coffee cup conversations of personal stories where change resonates.

Thanks for the thoughtful read and hope you've a good California day.

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Anja Geitz's picture

@smiley7

I'm one of those people who believe sharing our personal stories with each other can be a very powerful ally in breaking down the walls. Change can't happen until we see each other as human beings. So I guess my answer to your question is, yes. I do think coffee cup conversation can initiate change. I am curious what prompted the question though.

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger

smiley7's picture

@Anja Geitz

plus a look back at visiting old small-town restaurant and seeing multiple groups having coffee and lunch.

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Anja Geitz's picture

@smiley7

how your mind works, Smiley Smile

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger

mhagle's picture

I have not been online much the past couple of weeks as full-time study for the GED is in place. And I am still watering and planting trying to keep things alive. Busy making math practice tests.

Thank you for telling your Sandy story. Yep. The media watering down the story is the worst thing. Except for this OPED in The New Yorker . . . https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/what-if-we-stopped-pr...

Someone has probably already shared this on c99, I just haven't seen it.

I lurk as much as I can but it's not much. Still love all you guys though.

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Marilyn

"Make dirt, not war." eyo

Anja Geitz's picture

@mhagle

Glad you stopped by, and hopefully you'll successfully get through teaching your GED students very soon. I used to tutor adults in the building management industry who needed a high school diploma (or GED equivalent) for various certifications. This was very important to them because it meant a boost in their salaries. I remember one student who was very anxious about the math. The word problems in particular. Since teaching math wasn't my strongest skill (I was a writing coach), I figured out a way to break down the word problems into algebraic equations. He took to that method immediately and passed his GED with the highest score of his class!

Very, very rewarding endeavor, I must say. What are the ages of your GED students?

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger

snoopydawg's picture

our crumbling infrastructure was woefully insufficient against the storms of the future

When was the last time anyone talked about our failing infrastructure and how it's inadequately prepared for climate disasters? Pelosi tweeted something out about it months ago and since then she and everyone else have been silent.

Disaster porn from the media gets great ratings for them until they move on to Trump's next tweet or action. The latest is he wants to do something about homelessness in California. But from the tweets I've read it's not something good. SLC found that it is cheaper to house the homeless than it is to have them on the streets. The family that owns the Utah Jazz just helped build a huge homeless shelter, but is also building some new apartments for them.

Your writing keeps getting better with each essay. This one is very good and I felt like I was in NYC with you.

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America is a pathetic nation; a fascist state fueled by the greed, malice, and stupidity of her own people.
- strife delivery

Anja Geitz's picture

@snoopydawg

didn't have enough problems. They gotta deal with Der Pumpkinstilkin putting his fat finger in the pot. oy vey. Yeah, the disaster porn. Shameful. But plenty people watch it. It's like when customers come to my register and comment how awful it is that I have to work on a holiday, completely oblivious to the irony of them being in the store saying that.

Btw, thank you for the nice visit from the ego fairy Smile

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Play me another broken record Joe. Maybe then I'll learn why we pay twice as much for healthcare as everybody else in the world. ~ Not Henry Kissinger