Thoughts on bad weather

Aside from winds and water last night my area of North Carolina has escaped any of the bad effects of Hurricane Sandy, but I feel for those further north who are experiencing the worst of it. I grew up at the coast, much of the time living across street from the ocean, so I know what a hurricane is. If you're dealing with the storm or its aftermath or you have friends and family who are, my best wishes to you, for what little they're worth.

I remember on at least two occasions returning home after a hurricane and finding the street in front of our house covered with sand to the height of the porch. The adults were staggered by the property damage, but we kids were delighted to discover that the beach had come to our front door. There's something to be said for that attitude. I remember a news program many years ago that closed with a series of funny signs disaster victims had put around their severely damaged property. I still remember what the news anchor said at the end of the segment and the broadcast: "These brave Americans have lost everything but their sense of humor."

Eventually the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleared away the tons and tons of sand from the street in front of our home. (I didn't know this as a small child, of course, but my father mentioned it to me years later.) In fact, going back at least to ancient Egypt, armies have been involved in civil engineering projects and disaster relief. Kingdoms, empires, and modern nation-states developed in part to defend their inhabitants from all sorts of disasters, from foreign invasions to severe storms and floods.

Some conservatives, including Mitt Romney during one of the endless series of primary debates, have suggested that it makes sense to cut spending on disaster relief even though it's only a microscopic fraction of the federal budget, and hand the responsibility over to the states. Obviously states have to be involved, but it's ridiculous not to have a national response capability, among other things to have the expertise to deal with catastrophes that are, we hope, rare in any one location, and to spread the costs of dealing with disasters rather than dumping them all on the states affected. We are one nation.

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