The Talking Dog

June 15, 2008, Recurring nightmares

While fear of terrorism has, mostly thanks to the political needs of our current ruling party , become a national obsession, the reality is that Americans have much more sensible reasons to fear natural disasters, and of such disasters, the only ones I am aware of that consistently inflict death and destruction in all fifty states... are floods. And currently, there is a doozy of a flood that has resulted in the evacuation of much of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Mahablog's Barb has more.)

Cedar Rapids was the venue of the first trial I handled as an attorney, back in 1987, when I was then working for the U.S. Justice Department. Cedar Rapids was a pleasant enough place; its municipal center was on an island in the middle of a river, but I didn't (just as doubtless the urban planners who put it there didn't) anticipate that the Cedar River was likely to swell its banks and swallow up a well-developed downtown area of about 400 city blocks. There seemed to be plenty of flat land in all directions, and the Cedar just didn't seem capable of that kind of volume. But to quote Forrest Gump... "stuff happens."

As Barb notes, the usual suspects are reasserting the usual self-reliance myths, comparing "self-reliant" Iowans (read "White people") favorably to the New Orleaneans (read "Black people") who insisted on hanging around for a government hand-out.

Obviously, anyone can read anything they want into anything they want (in the internet context, we call that "blogging"), but the point is something like this. Given population densities and sprawl and climate change and overall pressure on the environment, we can be reasonably sure that as regularly as natural disaster scenarios have occurred, they will recur at least as regularly for the foreseeable future, and anyone with a brain will realize that future disaster scenarios will almost certainly be worse.

And as those scenarios are coming, we pretty much are down to two ideologies: "rugged individualism", in which, I suppose, those who can afford their own helicopters, boats, levies, etc., may (or may not) do o.k. and everyone else "should've prepared themselves better"... or dare I say it, the sensible "collectivist response", of building appropriate collective approaches (adequately funded and engineered levies, low density, if any, development in likely floodplain areas, well-stocked rescue facilities, constantly updated evacuation plans, etc.)

We seem (or do we?) capable of understanding that there are functions that individuals cannot handle on their own, thanks to the structure of the "free" market; these include, of course, national defense, the police, and the courts, but should also include infrastructure (highways, canals, bridges, airports, national defense, the police and the courts, for example). And one of those functions will be adjusting to ever more prevalent flooding. The choices are to be prepared for these events by spending adequate money to prepare for them, or to back the ideology that wants to "starve the beast" of government and "drown it in a bathtub"... will enough of us realize that "the beast" is us... and the drowning is a tad too literal?

Update: Speaking of starving, this Grey Lady follow-up reminds us of a detail of Iowa that I forgot to mention: a good part of our food is grown there. Flooding throughout the state means that in a time of already sky-high food prices, expect them to rise some more as one of America's premier agriculture regions just had a bumper crop of woe...


anyone can read anything they want into anything they want (in the internet context, we call that "blogging") . . . Well done, Dog.

Posted by The Heretik at June 17, 2008 11:52 AM