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THIS OLD MAN AND THE SEA AREN'T FRIENDS

Even with the winds still howling and the residue of Ugly Boy Floyd still beaded on my windows, I cannot totally curse the ocean from which that hurricane sprang.

I know how much life is sustained by the seas.

I also know that nothing is more beautiful than a sunset on a balmy day when you sit on a hill overlooking the ocean with a crab-and-cheese canape in one hand and your favorite drink in the other. No poet or painter has ever captured fully the rapture of such a moment.

Still, I confess that this old man and the sea are not friends. Because I know that the seas are more fickle and treacherous than any drop-dead beautiful woman.

So even if someone gave me the land, I would not build a fine home on the Outer Banks of the Carolinas, or in the Caribbean Islands, in defiance of the Atlantic storms that come snarling, as Hurricane Floyd did, with such regularity.

No, not any more than I would build a vacation place in Izmit, Turkey, astride the deadly North Anatolian Fault. Nor any more than I would build, except under economic distress, on top of the San Andreas fault in California.

But, as they say, everybody's got to be somewhere! And that's why such an ugly debate goes on and on about what the building codes ought to be for those who value the ocean sunsets and romps along a beach so highly that they choose to reside in at-risk locations.

The Wall Street Journal had a very enlightening article Thursday about how that debate is impacted by economic self-interest, if not greed, on the part of competing forces, namely the builders and the real estate interests on one side, and the insurance companies on the other.

The discussion is not about people who cheat on concrete and other materials, or otherwise profit from shoddy construction, but about what ought to be required of honest people.

The builders charge that the insurers want laws forcing people to build places that are akin to bomb shelters in hurricane zones so as to virtually guarantee that insurance companies will never have to pay a major claim. The insurers charge that the builders don't mind having hurricanes devastate houses, because they get to build them again.

Wipe away the accusations of ill-intentioned profit motives, and it remains an argument that probably will never be resolved.

If I were building a house on the Outer Banks, would I spend an extra $20,000 or more for shutters, reinforced concrete, bolts to secure the roof to the foundation, impact-resistant windows and other features to buttress it against all tropical storms and hurricanes? I'm not sure.

I might conclude that I could flee quite a few storms safely for less than that amount of money. And, of course, I might not have enough money even to consider making my house storm-proof, so the debate would be academic.

In the wake of recent natural disasters, lawmakers everywhere have faced feverish lobbying over what new building codes to enact. No legislature anywhere has managed to satisfy everybody, or hardly even anybody.

Meanwhile, souls braver than I am continue to build in the most perilous places because of the beauty and the lure of the seashores and hills that also hold the lurking threats of tidal waves, temblors and other outbursts of sudden death.

This chicken wishes them good luck!

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