Finely tuned in to her surroundings, Tiny triangulates outside in the yard this morning. Note right ear curved back towards the house, keeping track of any comings or goings of interest, left ear cocked towards the camerawoman's "watch-the-birdie" cat whisperings, and muzzle facing south for information cues blowing her way off the Creek.
"A child born today receives as his birthright the past’s accumulated warehouse of technical knowledge, from reading and writing to the recipe for scones, penicillin, suspension bridges, internal combustion engines, and nuclear weapons," observes Roger Kimball in an elegantly dismissive review of Patrick Buchanan's new revisionist history of WWII — Churchill, Hitler and "The unnecessary War" — wherein "Brownshirt Buchanan" attempts to blame not Hitler but Churchill for the war and, by extension, the holocaust. But Paddy's history-challenged revisionism is only a pretext for a Kimballist cogitation on the human condition:
There is an important sense in which a clever 18-year-old knows more physics than Newton, more chemistry than Lavoissier, more mathematics than Euclid. But is he wiser about politics than Madison or Tocqueville? Does he know more about the question, “How should I live my life?” than Socrates?
It has often been observed that one of the distinctive achievements of the species homo sapiens sapiens is its ability to pass knowledge down from one generation to the next: the great repositories of technical know-how and scientific insight into the workings of nature are eloquent testaments to this awesome process. Unfortunately, the operation of tradition, of handing down, is less successful in the realm of morals and politics …
Every generation, it seems, has to recollect the vital, hard won lessons of the past. When it comes to political wisdom, forgetfulness is all-too-often mankind’s inheritance.
Eyes, ears and nose focus singlemindedly on things we don't see, hear or smell.
If "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," those who wilfully forget Kimball's "workings of nature" are condemned to lose their shirts. The devastating floods along the Mississippi and its tributaries are a case in point. The words of World Conservation Union Chief Scientist Jeff McNeely in the wake of the 2004 tsunami apply:
"What has made this a disaster is that people have started to occupy part of the landscape that they shouldn't have occupied."
His words resonate today as heavy spring floods threaten to overtop and undermine the levees downstream from earlier flooding in Iowa. Following a record flood in 1927, the Flood Control Act of 1928 authorized the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) Project to control the "project flood," that is, any flood larger than the record flood, according to the Army Corps of Engineers website. MR&TP includes levees, floodways, channel improvement and stabilization and tributary basin improvements. We shall see how well they work to stem the tide in the coming days.
Douglas Belkin in the WSJ explains why we can't really blame it all on Mother Nature in "Critics Say Building Near Rivers Is Cause Of Recent Problems":
Around St. Louis, where the Mississippi is expected to crest this weekend, a number of scientists and activists argue the floods aren't caused by heavy rainfall but by irresponsible development. There has been considerable building since 1993 in Greater St. Louis, where demand for accessible property is at a premium. New and expanding communities pushed for new, taller and stronger levees.
By building along the riverbanks and forcing the Mississippi into a bed that is less than half the width of where it ran a century ago, residents are displacing water and forcing the river to run faster and higher. That, in turn, increases demand for taller, broader levees.
But as those levees make way for development that paves over wetlands, more runoff water is channeled into the river. Critics said the result is a self-perpetuating cycle: The rivers rise higher, new levees are built bigger, the rivers rise again."
What's that? It bears further study.
Western Civ has codified such things at least as far back as Vitruvius, whose first-century BC The Ten Books of Architecture advised against building on floodplains. But, getting back to Roger Kimball's point, it's the politics, stupid, together with the can-do entrepreneurial spirit that made this country the productive powerhouse it is. A little Corps of Engineers official history sets the stage:
By the year 1879, the need for improvement of the Mississippi River had become widely recognized. The necessity for coordination of engineering operations through a centralized organization had finally been accepted.
Accordingly, in that year, the Congress established the Mississippi River Commission and assigned it the duties. . . " to take into consideration and mature such a plan or plans and estimates as will correct, permanently locate, and deepen the channel and protect the banks of the Mississippi River, improve and give safety and ease to navigation thereof, prevent destructive floods, promote and facilitate commerce, trade, and the postal service."
And, back a little further in history to put life on the Mississippi into perspective:
The Mississippi River always has been a threat to the security of the valley through which it flows.Garciliaso de la Vega, in his history of the expedition begun by DeSoto, described the first recorded flood of the Mississippi as severe and of prolonged duration, beginning about March 10, 1543, and cresting about 40 days later. By the end of May the river had returned to its banks, having been in flood for about 80 days.
Since that time, explorers, traders, farmers, men of commerce, and engineers have known — sometimes too well — the Mississippi in flood.
All is well. She switches to automatic pilot until something comes up.
"It's only human to forget — repress? — horrific experiences, to move on," we wrote with reference to the tsunami:
Those who were there and lived to tell the tale are scarred for life and will never forget. They know it in their bones and will try to warn the world — of what? Pay attention to your surroundings? Don't take anything for granted? Repent before it's too late? — with their stories. Locally it will enter the communal lore. But beyond the region, it won't stick. The rest of us out here in the larger world — who only hear of it, see media images and try in our mind's eye to imagine the horror but then can turn away to the comfort of our everyday lives — we are the ones in danger of forgetting.
"Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons." — Deuteronomy 4:9 (King James Version)
Update: Speaking of forgetting things which thine eyes have seen, we forgot to link last week's Friday Ark at Modulator. Better late than never?
Update II: Steve's latest Friday Ark at Modulator is under way.
Update III: Maggie's links.
Update IV: Dr. Sanity's Carnival of the Insanities is open for business.