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How High’s the Water, Momma? Hurricane Dispatches from Brooklyn

October 29, 2012, 1:27 pm

Red Hook, Brooklyn as of this morning.

How high’s the water, mama?
Two feet high and risin’.
How high’s the water, papa?
Two feet high and risin’.

We can make it to the road in a homemade boat
That’s the only thing we got left that’ll float
It’s already over all the wheat and the oats,
Two feet high and risin’.

Johnny Cash, “Five Feet High and Risin’,” published 1974

Dateline Brooklyn, 1:30 PM. The flooding started this morning with a morning storm surge in Brooklyn; Hurricane Sandy has not even made landfall yet.  Parts of Red Hook and Gowanus are already under (see the picture above) and the city has evacuated all of people in public housing south of us. Last night school buses full of people headed to the shelters came up our street, whether they wanted to go or not.

There are many people who refused to leave, as there always are, a choice the staff at Tenured Radical hopes that it would be wise enough not to make (we are in evacuation zone C which is on higher ground.) While living in a public school gymnasium isn’t great, the people not in public housing who chose not leave are now in water up to their knees and will have to wade out (with the assistance of city workers and Red Cross folks who are, I am sure, already exhausted.)

We at Tenured Radical are getting to be old hands at navigating the modern extreme weather event. (True: I have been in three times as many hurricanes in the last twenty years as I rode out in my first thirty-five). We had a hurricane last year, of course, and we are wondering: how has this has gotten to be an annual occurrence if climate change is really a hoax, Paul Ryan? We are also wondering whether Mitt wants to close down FEMA as president — as he has said — or not? as he has also said. Jordan Weissman of The Atlantic makes a case that we should give Mittens “the benefit of the doubt” on this one. Romney, Weissman argues, would never do anything so flamingly dumb as to turn disaster relief  ”over to the private sector” as he suggested in an interview quoted in the article.

Or would he? Because who ever imagined that large parts of our national security apparatus would be turned over to private contractors? But they were. Climate change may be a great opportunity for you budding entrepeneurs out there if Romney wins, and the GOP may then begin to tell us (without admitting that they were wrong) that the earth is warming. Colleges will want to begin planning Departments of Disaster if they don’t have them already, with faculty formerly employed as Republican Congressmen hired at high salaries.  I mean, who ever thought, fifteen years ago, that a person would be able to major in Homeland Security?  But you can.

Of course, hurricanes are different in Brooklyn than they are in Connecticut, requiring different sorts of preparation and relief. In that more northerly state, the state government has only really begun to function well in the last two years, and government services in the large Connecticut cities are truly awful. New York City, a far more complex place, also has a better grip on things.

There are cultural differences as well. As one of us pointed out last night while we were getting our final supplies in place, people prepare for calamitous weather here by going to the liquor store as well as the hardware store. Last night as I stopped off to refill the vodka supply, I mentioned to the owner that he seemed to be doing a brisk business.  ”Yeah,” he chuckled,”You’d think the Apocalypse was coming.”

Other things that seemed to be absent from store shelves, other than bread, peanut butter, batteries and water? Twinkies, Ho-Hos, and other mass produced snacks. When the Apocalypse comes, it will have icing on it!

Clearly we don’t have much to blog about today, except to wish all of our friends in the path of the storm well and to promote our most recent collaboration with Renee Romano at the History News Network.  Depending on the power situation, blogging may — or may not — be suspended for the near future.

As a closer, here’s some footage I found on YouTube of Johnny Cash being interviewed by Pete Seeger about the origins of his musical career and the song he wrote about being flooded out as a child. He seems to be high as a kite, which is perhaps why June Carter is just sitting there staring at him and not speaking.

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