another day

So, as I write this, it is December 25th which we celebrate as Christmas, but 2020 is very different.

I haven’t been able to post much this month, in large part because we have been dealing with some health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He spent five days in the hospital and, earlier this week, was admitted to the skilled nursing and rehabilitation unit in the senior community where he lives.

Because of COVID restrictions, no visitors are allowed but we have been in touch by phone. Before he went to rehab, we did have a family early-Christmas celebration, but we sent a couple of small gifts to his room so he would have something to open today.

We hope to videochat with daughter E and family in London UK this afternoon, which will be evening there. They have already posted photos of granddaughters ABC and JG in their holiday attire. Last night, we were able to watch the Christmas Eve mass from their church. While it is sad that we were not able to see them at all in 2020, technology does help.

Spouse B, daughter T, and I are spending the day at home with scaled-back gift exchange and lots of our family favorite foods, fresh-baked date nut and cranberry breads for breakfast and lasagna from Nana’s recipe with homemade braided herb bread for dinner and apple-blackberry and an outrageously good brown-sugar and maple pecan pie for dessert. B enjoys cooking and baking special meals, so he is taking the lead with all this while I act assitant. It’s nice to have familiar things in such a topsy-turvy year.

Unfortunately, the huge snowstorm we had last week that dropped forty inches (one meter) of snow on us has set us up for flood warnings today. We got about three inches (8 cm) of rain yesterday and overnight, which, coupled with at least another couple of inches from snowmelt, has led to flooding. The Susquehanna is expected to crest tonight at major flood stage level in our town. While our home should be okay, we are concerned for our neighbors who live closer to the river.

I know for many Christians around the world, this Christmas is very different than the usual celebrations, but the underlying message of peace and good will to all is still there to bring comfort to us in these troubled times. I share wishes for peace and good will, for good health and love with all of you; whatever your personal faith or philosophy might be, these gifts are universal.

September 11

Nineteen years ago today, terrorists, most of whom were from Saudi Arabia, attacked the United States, killing thousands of people and destroying airplanes and buildings in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I remember those killed, the many who acted valiantly to try to save lives, often at the cost of their own, those who worked in the aftermath of the disaster, many of whom suffered illness as a result, and the many thousands, both military and civilian, who were impacted by the wars in Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East that sprang from the 9/11 attacks.

Nine years ago, my area was suffering from a record flood of the Susquehanna River, brought on by the remnants of tropical storm Lee. What many people don’t realize is how long it takes to recover from such an event – and that some things aren’t recoverable. It took years to repair homes that could be and tear down those that couldn’t. There are neighborhoods with patches of grassland where homes once stood, interspersed with homes that managed to survive. Those neighborhoods have changed character, with fewer older folks in them as they were the most likely to move to higher ground or leave the area after the flood. Our own home was not flooded, but there was standing water three blocks away and significant basement flooding one block away. We had long carried flood insurance on our house, although it isn’t required by the (still outdated) flood maps; we will continue to do so, hoping that we never have to use it while realizing that the increased strength of weather systems and changes to the upper-level wind patterns brought on by global warming may someday send us another record-breaking flood that will reach our home.

Despite these prior events, September 11, 2020 feels even more fraught. The global pandemic has exacted a terrible toll on the United States. We are over six million cases and closing in on 200,000 fatalities. The economic impact, especially on those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, has been severe, with rising rates of hunger and housing crisis. The pandemic also made more prominent existing problems with the health care system, racism, environmental degradation, education, infrastructure, jobs, wealth, taxation, and social programs. While some of the effects have been buffered by living in New York State, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has been leading an effective response to the crisis, I am appalled by the lack of leadership from the president and the callous intransigence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which are prolonging and deepening the suffering in the country as a whole. Because the Senate hasn’t passed the HEROES Act which the House passed in May, additional federal assistance to households, state and local governments, the post office, and the election system isn’t available. As a result of the national inaction, states are going to have to lay off front-line personnel and the vote count in November’s elections will take a long time.

To make matters worse, this week has seen new evidence that the president’s failure to address the pandemic was not due to lack of understanding the crisis. A just-released recorded interview on February 7 with Bob Woodward makes clear that the president knew that the virus was highly contagious, deadly, and spread through the air, yet he continued to intentionally downplay the threat rather than mount an effective and protective response. If the president had lead the nation in the kind of efforts that Governor Cuomo did in New York, there would have been millions fewer cases of the virus and thousands upon thousands fewer deaths. There would be widespread testing and contact tracing. The test positivity rate would be below one percent, as it has been in New York State for over a month. Businesses and schools would be thoughtfully and carefully re-opening, ready to re-adjust if cases start to rise. Instead, Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, is telling the United States to “hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy.” I only hope that people take the advice to heart in their own lives and at the state and local level, because Trump and McConnell are still not helping us mount a national response.

The Trump/Bob Woodward interview I mentioned above was just released because Woodward has a book coming out, part of a spate of books about Donald Trump being published with less than two months to go before the presidential election. These books reveal information that, while perhaps suspected, had not previously been confirmed about the president and his staff. The picture isn’t pretty. While there is some straight-up incompetence and inexperience at play, there is even more corruption, selfishness, greed, and disregard for the Constitution and laws, morals, ethics, and the common good.

Time for the pitch. Make a plan and vote! We need there to be a President Biden in January 2021 in order to have any hope of reclaiming our democracy.

Which brings me to another fear. While there is widespread and credible polling both nationally and in battleground states showing that Biden is leading Trump by several percentage points, the election process itself is under threat. The most frightening is that the Russians, along with several other countries, are once again attempting to interfere with election. This week, a whistleblower came forward with evidence that the administration is knowingly tamping down revealing the extent of the Russian interference, in particular. At the same time, the administration and the Republicans are filing lawsuits to disrupt mail-in voting. The postal service is slowing mail delivery, which could make ballots arrive too late to be counted. The president keeps saying that mail-in ballots lead to widespread fraud, which is absolutely a lie; states and local election boards have numerous, proven safeguards in place to prevent fraud. It is true that the final vote tally will take longer, especially in states that don’t count mail-in votes until days after Election Day. (Of course, some of the delays could have been averted if the Senate had acted on the HEROES Act which would have provided more training, machinery, and personnel to count ballots more quickly.) People need to be aware that we may not have final election results for a couple of weeks. This does not mean there is fraud; it means that election bureaus are diligently following their procedures to report an accurate tally.

Nineteen years ago, despite sorrow and shock, the people of the United States pulled together to help us get through the crisis. Nine years ago, our local community drew together to assist those impacted by the flood. Unfortunately, I don’t see that same sense of solidarity in the country as we face the pandemic, government corruption, and economic catastrophe, along with the long-standing problems of racism, lack of equal access to good-quality education and health care, environmental ruin, and other injustices. Granted, it’s a lot, but we can improve our lives and our nation if we act together. When we say in the Pledge of Allegiance “with liberty and justice for all”, we have to mean it.

Congratulations, Astros!

Congratulations to the Houston Astros, the 2017 World Series champions!

As a native New Englander, I am a Boston Red Sox fan, so I didn’t have a particular affinity for either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Houston Astros, but I was hoping that Houston would win because of the boost it will give to the people of the Houston area, beleaguered by the historic flooding caused by Harvey.

It reminds me of the Boston Red Sox win in 2013 after the Marathon bombing when “Boston Strong” was a common sentiment.

The Astros wore patches for “Houston Strong” on their uniforms. It is heartening that the people of the Houston area have a reason to take a break from flood recovery efforts to celebrate their hometown baseball champions.

Harvey

I join with the millions of people in the US and around the world in sending thoughts, prayers, and charitable donations to those affected by tropical system Harvey. The amount of damage from the winds and historic amount of rainfall is mind-boggling. Recovery will take years and some locations will not recover at all.

When my area suffered two record floods of the Susquehanna River, I learned a lot of lessons that, while our geographic and demographic situations differ, applies to Texas and Louisiana now:
– There is no way to adequately prepare for a flood of that magnitude. No amount of prepositioning of supplies and personnel could cover such a vast area with so much destruction over some many days. Yes, lessons can be learned for the future, but don’t waste time now casting aspersions. There is too much work to do.
– Accept help! I volunteered in a flood relief center in my town after the 2011 flood. We sometimes had problems getting people to accept the food, cleaning supplies, and other help we had available. They wanted to forgo it in order to leave it for someone worse off than they. We had to gently explain that everything had been donated to help those affected by the flood and that that included them; there was plenty to go around. On a larger scale, this goes to the question of whether the states accept help from other states and countries. They should graciously accept offers to help, in the same spirit in which they have offered help in past disasters. Obviously, there needs to be coordination so that donations mesh well. I know that the New York governor has offered the services of our Air National Guard because the need is so great and Texas has already mobilized all its available forces.
– Don’t argue about whether it is a 500-year flood or a 1000-year flood. Those probabilities were based on historic records that no longer apply due to climate changes. My area suffered two record floods in five years. Areas flooded that had never flooded before. A number of lots that had had homes on them have now been bought out and converted to green space because the flooding threat is too high to have people continue to live there. If you are going to rebuild in flood-prone areas, you have to be smart and elevate homes, build protective wetlands, and minimize impermeable surfaces. Which brings me to my last point…

– Accept the science about how storm strength and mobility are affected by global warming. Michael Mann helps to explain the factors that made Harvey so destructive. (More information and links can be found here.) Yes, there have always been category 4 hurricanes, but the warmer surface temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico and the higher sea level made the rainfall and storm surge higher than they would have been in years past. The lack of steering currents kept the storm spinning in the same area, dropping over three feet (one meter) of rain over a large area. This same mechanism had a hand in the first record flood here in 2006, which was caused by a stationary front, as was a flood a few years ago in the Boulder, Colorado area.

Part of what we all need to do going forward is pay attention to preparing for increasingly severe weather. We need to think about resiliency in our building, zoning, and planning. We need to look at restoring natural aids, like barrier islands, dunes, and wetlands. We can place offshore wind turbines strategically to help blunt high winds. We can move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible so that warming does not cross over into the catastrophic category. We can’t afford wishful thinking about the latest severe storm being once-in-a-lifetime. We need to work together to help each other recover and prepare for the future.

 

three anniversaries

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the the terrorist attacks by plane which cost over 3,000 lives in New York City, Arlington, Virginia and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attacks have cost additional lives as those who were exposed to debris and air pollution in the following months went on to develop serious health issues.

Many, many more lives were destroyed  – and continue to be destroyed – by the fifteen years of war which have followed.

On Friday at Binghamton University, there was a presentation on the aftermath of the attacks entitled “9/11: What have we learned? Where do we go from here?” Featured speakers were Ray McGovern and Donna Marsh O’Connor. Video is available here. The theme was building peace, not war. Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her daughter who was pregnant with her grandchild, spoke movingly about not wanting the death of her daughter to be an excuse for violence and war. Ray McGovern, who was once a CIA analyst, recounted the way that the situation after the attacks was manipuated to spread the war to Iraq. Mr. McGovern is now a peace activist.

Peace.

Something that I want desperately.

For all of us.

Wherever we are.

Whoever we are.

At church on Sunday, we sang, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I cried.

Adding to the emotion is a local anniversary. Five years ago, we were suffering from a historic flood after the remnants of tropical storm Lee dropped about ten inches of rain. Parts of my town were underwater, as were other nearby towns along the Susquehanna River. At my home, we had no power and only avoided a flooded basement because we had a generator to keep our sump pump operating. There were flooded homes and standing water three blocks away. In the five years since, we have seen some neighborhoods decmiated as homes were torn down, unable to be replaced as the land was considered too high-risk to inhabit.

Every time there is a flood in the news, we have a good idea what those people are going to go through and how long the process is.

As we watch coverage of floods, blizzards, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and other weather-related disasters, we are painfully aware that their increased frequency and severity is related to global comate change. There is a new website that shows how much impact global warming has on weather events. It does a good job showing how particular events are tied to changes in the atmosphere brought on by global warming.

It is sobering but a good tool to help explain the science.

Which leads to a third – and significantly happier – anniversary.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek. There have been marathons of episodes of the original series and interviews about it and its cultural impact as a franchise that spawned many television shows and movies. In their version of the future, earth is a peaceful place with a thriving natural environment. Poverty has been eliminated. There is racial and ethnic equality, although, while improved from the 1960’s reality, they still have a ways to go on sexual and gender issues.

In an odd way, though it is fiction, it does highlight that we can improve lives and health through science, knowledge, learning from past mistakes, ingenuity, co-operation, and good will.

Let’s get to work on that.

Binghamton Poetry Project – Spring 2016

On April 15, as I was preparing for dress rehearsal for the Binghamton Philharmonic concert (https://topofjcsmind.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/brahms-beethoven-and-binghamton/), the Binghamton Poetry Project was holding the Spring 2016 reading and anthology release. I was not available to read due to rehearsal, but here are my poems from the anthology. Enjoy!

*****
After May, 1982
by Joanne Corey

At baccalaureate, we
Smith women were instructed
to hire good help.
It was the only way,
we were told,
to “have it all.”

I didn’t do it,
didn’t want to “have it all” –
at least, not all at once.

I gave up paid work
for the unpaid work
of caretaking
          of a younger generation
          and an older generation
          of a school
          of a church
          of a community.

Feeling judged
for not making money
gaining promotions
being an example
of a modern
educated woman
for my daughters

Deflecting comments
about wasting my education
          my brain
wearing my Phi Beta Kappa key
for courage in challenging times

Taking years to come
to see my choice
was right for me…

How different would it have been
had our college president said,
“Here is your life,
now what will you do with it?”

*****
Tanka: Hundred-Year Flood
by Joanne Corey

The red house crouches
behind a wall of sandbags
as the water sneaks
forward like a thief to steal
all that the family owns.

*****
Vestal
by Joanne Corey

Names tend to stick.
It’s Five Corners,
even though now
it is only four.
It’s the Old Junior High
even though it hasn’t
been used as a school
for decades.
It’s Main Street
even though it isn’t
filled with shops.

Vesta is goddess
of home and hearth.
Our one-and-a-half story
cedar-shake Cape, tucked
near Choconut Creek,
is what matters,
what makes a home-
town.

disaster preparedness and the radio

Four years ago, my hometown was among those affected by record flooding caused by the remnants of tropical storm Lee adding ten inches of rain to ground already saturated by Irene a few days prior. We were grateful that no one in our area was killed by the flood, largely due to the fact that people followed evacuation orders. However, there was a lot of damage with some homes and businesses lost permanently.

Since then, emergency preparedness has gotten more attention from government and the media, especially in September which is designated as disaster preparedness month.

One of the most important things to maintain during a crisis is effective communication. This is an area, though, where sometimes lower tech is more vital than high-tech.

Although our home did not flood, we were without electrical service for four days, which also meant no telephone or internet service. We would listen to the radio for information and it was very frustrating to get only very limited information on-air with the directive to go to their website for complete information.  Those of us who most needed that information did not have internet available. I can hear some people saying that we should just use our cell phones, but a)  the majority of people in our area don’t have cell phones with internet access, b)  with no electricity, it’s difficult to keep cell phones charged, and c)  during emergencies, cell networks often fail due to increased traffic.

Battery-operated, hand-cranked, or car radios are a better tool than the internet for reaching people who are affected by floods, ice storms, and other emergencies that result in loss of electrical service. Disaster preparedness plans should reflect this.

lake effect snow update

Yesterday, I posted about the lake effect snow storms afflicting several areas in the US, including western New York State just south of Buffalo. Sadly, there have been twelve deaths attributed to the storm so far. Because so many feet of snow are very heavy, there have been some roof collapses with more feared to come.

Some areas are still receiving additional snowfall. The forecast predicts a warm front with some rain arriving over the weekend. This has only heightened worries of more roof collapses as the rain adds weight to the feet of accumulated snow. People are trying to clean snow off roofs as quickly as possible, but the area is quite densely populated and many roads are still inaccessible for help and equipment to arrive.

The other very real threat is flooding. With temperatures predicted to climb to 60 degrees F. (15 degrees C.), the snow will melt rapidly and street and small stream flooding is most likely unavoidable.

All brought to you by global warming. Remember, even though this is a cold weather event, it was started by a tropical typhoon.

Three years later…

Three years ago, our home was still without power after the flooding caused by the ten inches of rain from tropical storm Lee, falling on ground already saturated by hurricane Irene a few days before.  Standing water from the flooding was two blocks away.  Flooded basements were a block away. If we had not had a generator to keep our sump pump going, we would have wound up with at least several inches of water in our basement. It was a record flood of the Susquehanna in our town and the tributary creek behind our house nearly overtopped the flood wall that is designed to direct the water to the undeveloped flood plain on the other bank.

There are segments on the local news about the anniversary and saying that the area is almost recovered, glossing over the fact that property buyouts only became available to people in local towns after hurricane Sandy devastated the coast. Demolitions only began in earnest this spring and are still continuing.

There will be no recovery for those who left the area permanently after longtime homes were destroyed. Some businesses closed permanently in the aftermath.  Only some of the infrastructure repairs hae been completed.

One of the more disturbing elements of the situation is that there has been little to no preparation for the next severe flooding event which is sure to come with the increased threat of heavy rain that goes along with global warming.  We should be restoring wetlands along the river and its tributaries and re-designing our storm drainage and sewage systems which caused so much trouble in the last two record floods that have occurred in the last ten years. Work also needs to be done with our water system and electrical system to make them more robust in emergencies.

Yes, it is expensive to do these things, but more expensive not to do them and to be cleaning up and rebuilding – again – after the next flood.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Personal note:  I haven’t been posting much lately because I managed to get pretty sick. I’m finally bouncing back and hope to have a few more posts out over the next week. Fingers crossed.