Monday, June 16, 2008

Floods, Tornadoes and Sandbags

Recently, I have been in the Northwest US and the temperatures have been very unseasonably cold. I remember several snow storms in the plains of South Dakota as late as the second week of May. When I was traveling through the mountains of Wyoming during the first week of June, I got caught in a blizzard and had to turn around because the road was closed due to snow and Ice. I was in the countryside of Oregon during the second week of June and the temperature was in the 40s and 50s. During this period of unseasonably cold weather in the northwest, I heard of a heat wave in NY and in the eastern US. During this period of cold in the northwest and heat in the east-coast, there were many tornadoes and floods in the mid-west. I can only assume that the extreme weather in the Midwest was caused by the cold air from the west meeting the warm air from the east.

The news media reported that 20% of Iowa's corn crop will be wiped out this year. Also, when I was in South Dakota, they were urging farmers to delay planting their corn due to very wet weather. I guess the result will be even higher food prices later in the year. I haven't heard any news reports blaming this unusual weather and related disasters to global warming yet, but I am sure they will soon follow.

Reports say that this was the biggest flood on the Cedar River in Iowa's history. However, the greatest weather related disaster in the U.S. occurred in the 30s, when the Midwest was turned into "the great dust-bowl". A ten year drought, coupled with poor farming techniques, caused massive black clouds of dust to blow as far as the east coast, striping soil from 5 Midwestern states and making them un-farmable due to the dessert like conditions. Over a million people were displaced in that weather related disaster which lasted a decade in the aftermath of the great depression.

Anyhow, I got sidetracked, the main point that I wanted to make is about sandbagging. Today I saw a news-clip of Barack Obama helping fill sand bags in an effort to stave off the flood waters in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The question that comes to mind is: Do sandbags actually hold back flood waters? Sand is not waterproof. The bags are not waterproof. When you pile up the bags to make a damn, the damn cannot possibly be watertight. There are spaces between the bags and the bags are permeable to water.

Today I heard on the news that over 15 million sandbags were filled and placed in Iowa in an effort to save property. The news showed the flood-waters in residential neighborhoods that was waist deep and covered hundreds of blocks. I would like to know if any property was saved by sandbags. I did not see a lone house or business that was in the middle of the flooded area that was kept dry because of sandbags. No matter how good of a job they could do surrounding a house with sandbags, the water would surely leak in over the course of the hours and days, until the flood waters recede. Maybe, just maybe there was one house on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids, at the periphery of the flood waters, where the rising water had touched a sandbag just as the flood waters crested and the flood-waters began to recede. But I have not even seen that kind of an image on TV. Out of the 15 million sandbags filled and deployed, I have not heard of 1 success story where sandbagging saved a property.

The next question that comes to mind is: Why do people organize and fill and place sandbags during every flood, even though sandbagging has never saved a property? The TV news likes to show people working hard in the process of sandbagging, but I have never seen them show a positive result from the sandbagging. Quite to the contrary, they show people in rowboats navigating the streets, but you never see a dry area protected by sandbags. Maybe they do it for the same reason as Barack Obama did during his photo-op today. Maybe they want to demonstrate how hard they are willing to work and how much they care. Maybe, they can't sit idly by and watch their homes and community get flooded, so sand-bagging is used as an occupational therapy that keeps their minds and body occupied, rather than dwelling on the coming devastation. If they feel that they are doing everything possible to save their property, they wont feel so bad if it is lost to the flood. It doesn't matter if sandbagging has never been an effective method of saving property from being overcome by floodwater. The effort is noble regardless of the inevitable result.

Come to think of it, sandbagging is like many well intentioned liberal ideas. It looks and sounds like a good idea, but it doesn't work in practice. The idea is never condemned as a failure, because the intentions were so noble. This type of thinking can be compared to giving single moms welfare, day-care, job-training, food stamps and many other givaway programs. That is a very noble cause, but it has unintended consequences. By giving single moms welfare, we are rewarding bad behavior and encouraging dead-beat dads, un-wed mothers and subsistence living which is dependent on government. Records show that when more welfare is given out, higher numbers of people require welfare. But to liberals, the results are unimportant, the liberals feel good because they are giving money (not their own) to needy people. The un-intended consequences are irrelevant. It doesn't have to work to be considered a noble idea.

Or, maybe sandbagging is designed to make people feel good about themselves because they are working hard in an effort to help the community. Even though the idea of sandbagging has never helped any community anywhere to my knowledge. This reason is similar to people who "walk" for a cause, in order to raise money. Lets say they are having an "AIDS WALK" to raise money for AIDS research. The participants must get sponsors to pledge a certain amount of money for each mile that they walk in this event. For example, a student might have her boss pledge ten dollars for each mile she walks. If the walk was 5 miles long, the boss will be asked for a 50 dollar donation. When the girl walks the 5 miles she feels good about herself because her physical effort has raised money for AIDS research.

For argument sake, let us say that the girl got sick on the day of the AIDS walk and wasn't able to participate. Would her boss refuse to donate the 50 dollars that he pledged because she didn't keep her part of the bargain and walk? I doubt it. The walking has nothing to do with the charitable donations. In reality, they actually raised the money before the walk even took place, because that is when they recruited their sponsors and secured their pledges. The collection of the pledged donations is not dependant on the actual walk itself, but on the good hearts of the sponsors. Usually the sponsors actually donate more than they had pledged. But the walk makes the walker feel better about herself because she exerted physical effort for her cause.

Thank you for reading my disjointed comments that came to mind because of the recent disasters caused by the weather.

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