On the 'naturalness' of hurricanes

On my 89th birthday, I ask indulgence to depart from customary journalistic detachment.

Into the long-running argument about creationism vs. evolution a new catchphrase has been added, a version of creationism called "intelligent design." President Bush has staked out a nonposition on the subject, which is that both sides ought to properly be taught in American schools in case there are some who haven't made up their minds.

But as the president cut short his vacation to deal with the effects of hurricane Katrina, he might well have reflected on the intelligence of this design.

Rarely in my lifetime can I remember, aside from world wars and plagues, so much trouble visited upon the human species by human beings or by forces beyond their control. Drought, flood, and famine. A deadly tsunami. War and insurrection. And the US, while fending off conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, set a record in sales of arms to developing countries, such as India and Saudi Arabia.

Hurricanes seem not to be equal-opportunity scourges. They strike with greater force at well-heeled occupants of beach homes than inland residents. On the other hand, as The Wall Street Journal noted, the evacuation of New Orleans was a model of efficiency for those with cars - 80 percent of the population - leaving the others to seek shelter in the Superdome.

Are hurricanes part of some mysterious design? The New York Times explains that the severity of hurricane season varies with cycles of natural changes in temperature over the Atlantic over several decades.

Did you say natural? But where does natural come from? Here we go again.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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