Tag Archives: storm systems

We Could Have Had Beto

Texas, we could have had Beto O’Rourke as U.S. Senator.  Instead, a slight majority voted to keep Ted Cruz in office in 2018.  I emphasize “slight majority” because – unlike his 2012 victory over Paul Sadler – Cruz didn’t well…cruise to a reelection win.

In the summer of 2018, O’Rourke, then a U.S. House Representative, shocked the Texas Republican Party and political observers alike when he raised several million dollars in a very short time.  It was no minor feat; accomplished by literally cold-calling people and pounding the pavement all over the state, gathering small amount donations from average citizens.  O’Rourke also did something no other Texas candidate for the U.S. Senate had done: he visited every single county in the state.  Some residents were stunned upon his arrival, as their county had no record of such a candidate stopping by.  Again, this was no minor task.  Texas boasts 267 counties in roughly 268,597 square miles (695,663 sq. km).  It’s half the size of Alaska and as big as some of Europe’s largest countries, such as Spain and France.  So, O’Rourke disturbed the evangelical conservative force that’s dominated Texas politics for generations; first as Democrats and now as Republicans.

For many Texas Hispanics – especially someone like me whose ancestry in this state goes back before there was a United States – Cruz’s win in 2012 was a distinct insult.  Cruz, a Canadian-born Cuban-Italian, was lauded as the state’s first Hispanic senator.  Cruz is to Hispanics what I am to Nigerians.

More significantly, though, Cruz is known for his antagonistic approach to political navigations once he got to Washington, as well as his failed 2016 presidential bid.  He and Donald Trump ended up battling for the final nomination.  In what I considered a case of choosing the lesser of two evils, Cruz would have been that lesser one.  But, I’ve only voted Republican once in my life and have let myself live to regret it; thus I don’t know what shenanigans rumbled through the brains of Trump acolytes.  The animosity between Cruz and Trump became even more palpable during the 2016 Republican National Convention, when the Texan gave his speech and did everything he could NOT to say the name Donald Trump, as the crowd booed and jeered.  The tension was so high that Secret Service agents removed Cruz’s wife, Heidi, from the convention floor.

By 2018, though, Cruz had done little to advance a pro-citizen agenda.  In all fairness, O’Rourke had no significant legislative achievements during his tenure either.  I guess I was mistaken in believing we elect people to such prestigious positions to actually…you know, do something.  I must be a damn fool!  But that year I eagerly jumped on the O’Rourke train, donating money and proudly voting for him.

Alas, it was for naught.  Cruz squeezed into another term, sweating and hyperventilating all the way.  It was enough to upset that right-wing force in Texas politics, but Cruz made it back to Washington anyway.

Then came the ice.  Like a herd of Central American immigrants carrying loads of bananas stuffed with cocaine (a conservative’s second worst nightmare after queer marriage), Winter Storm Uri ambushed Texas.  Meteorologists had warned state and energy industry officials about its strength.  When most Texans think of hurricanes, they conjure images of Katrina and Harvey, not a snow-laden monstrosity from the Pacific or (hah-ha) Canada.

As millions of Texans found themselves without power – and, in some cases, water – state leaders began blaming liberals and their green energy ideas for the catastrophe.  And Ted Cruz left his comfortable Houston abode to jet to Cancun because his 2 daughters wanted to go.  He was there for all of one day before the angry heat from his constituents melted his margarita and his resolve and he scurried back to Houston; hoping no one would notice.

We noticed.  We also noticed that at least 80 Texans died last week directly as a result of the ice storm.

Cruz hopscotched across the stage of excuses to explain his sudden departure and miraculous return.  Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke began raising money for Texans stranded in their darkened homes and even made calls to some of them.  He got help from one of the most demonized figures among conservatives in American politics: New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, as Texas state leaders continue blaming everyone else for the catastrophe, Ted Cruz left Texas again and headed for Orlando, Florida to attend the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC).  In summation it’s a yearly festival where right-wingers trash anyone even slightly to the left of their narrow-minded ideology.  At this year’s escapade, a gold-colored figure of Trump has taken center stage.

And so has Cruz.  Making light of his Cancun trip, he quipped: “I’ve got to say, Orlando is awesome.  It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice.”

Oh, ha-ha!  HURK!

Fuck you, Cruz.  Fuck you and your conservative philosophies.  Fuck you and the Texas Republican “leaders” who can’t admit their pro-business, anti-regulation antics over the past decades put us into this quagmire.  People suffered and people died during this mess!  One of the wealthiest states in the richest nation on Earth in the third decade of the 21st century should not have experienced such a calamity!

But I’m just venting.  Texas, we could’ve had Beto.

Image: Mike Luckovich

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The Texas state capital building in Austin

The memo was clear.  Everyone should make a concerted effort to get into the office, no matter what the weather is like.  That included winter storms.  It was the mid-1990s, and the manager of the department where I worked in a bank in downtown Dallas insisted that business was paramount.  This was seemingly light years before the Internet and telecommuting became dependable and functional.  And every time ice and snow paralyzed the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area I managed to make it into work.  One week day I awoke to sleet falling outside of my apartment bedroom window; it was about 4 in the morning.  I knew the weather would only worsen, so I shut off my alarm clock and readied for work.  Travel time from my far North Dallas abode into downtown took almost 2 hours by navigating ice-laden streets.  When I arrived just before 8 a.m., I literally had to turn on the lights in the department.

When I went to work for an engineering company shortly after the turn of the century, I ended up back in downtown Dallas, laboring on a contract for a government agency.  I learned quickly the federal outfit had a phobia of snow and ice.  They’d literally shut down when snow began descending upon the city.  As contractors, my colleagues and I had to vacate the premises as well.  One afternoon a monstrous rainstorm attacked, and – in a faux frenzy – I asked loudly if we had to leave the building.  Rain, I declared, was just liquid snow.  No such luck.  We had to continue laboring over our strained keyboards.  Everyone laughed.

Last weekend Winter Storm Uri catapulted into North America from the Pacific, generating ice storms that blanketed the state of Texas this week and inducing an even more paralyzing effect: our power grid shut down.  Literally millions of people have lived without power (and in some cases, without water) since this past weekend.  As of this moment, most homes have their power back.  But a lack of water is now the problem.  Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Texas related to the event has risenDallas-Fort Worth International Airport led the world in the number of flight cancellations this week.

This has been a cataclysm of unimaginable proportions.  I have experienced a slew of serious weather events and witnessed plenty of incidents of government incompetence, but I have NEVER seen anything like this!

What has occurred here in Texas this week is a prime example of the ineptness of conservative ideology and intense deregulation.  Texas is an energy island; producing its own energy and relying upon no one else.  The exception is far West Texas, where El Paso and its immediate surrounding communities experienced the same weather event, yet had no power outages.  That strong sense of independence and individual reliability looks great in political campaigns, but doesn’t always turn out well in real life.  Since the mid-1990s, Texas has had the habit of electing the biggest morons to public office.  And they’ve come to dominate state government.  Texas conservatives have done more to protect gun rights than basic human rights.

Now many of those same conservatives who always espouse the concept of personal responsibility are pointing their gnarly fingers at everyone and everything except themselves and their own disjointed attitudes.  Even though President Joe Biden approved emergency relief for Texas, some Republicans are accusing him of indifference.  They somehow missed Ted Cruz running off to Cancun, México this week because his kids wanted to go.  Governor Greg Abbott has blamed green energy and the Green New Deal for the crisis.  Green energy, however, only makes up about 10% of energy sources in Texas, and the Green New Deal hasn’t even gone into effect yet.  But they’re liberal programs, so of course, Republicans consider them demonic and will trash their mere presence whenever they get the chance.  Abbott also blames the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for mishandling the event, but still hasn’t looked in the mirror.

A ceiling fan in a Dallas apartment building sprouted icicles.

This debacle points to the vulnerability of modern societies that have come to rely upon optic fibers and wires; a weakness that would both appall and humor our hardy ancestors.  In March of 1888, a massive winter storm assaulted the Northeastern U.S., downing power lines and disabling even modest commutes in the region’s largest cities.  People in rural areas, however, lived through the storm and its effects without much trouble.  They were accustomed to such weather anyway and prepared for it.

Preparedness – the word of 2021.

Consider this irony.  Earlier on Thursday, the 18th, NASA was able to land a vehicle on Mars.  The endeavor cost millions of dollars and is an epic triumph in the name of science and technology.  But we can’t get power and water to millions of human beings here in Texas – on planet Earth – for several days.

That’s not just sad; it’s unbelievably outrageous.

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10 After 20

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie

Here we are!  It’s 2020 – the start of a new year and a new decade.  Forty years ago I was excited about the prospect of witnessing and understanding the birth of a new decade.  I had just turned 16 and couldn’t remember 1970.  But this was different.  A whole new decade!  As my parents and I often did, we staged a New Year’s party in 1979; inviting family, friends and neighbors.  I had taken the time to cut up strips of multi-colored paper into literally thousands of squares, which I then tossed into the air from a large brown paper bag at the stroke of midnight.

I was considerably more excited ten years later, as we welcomed the 1990s, which – even now – remains the best decade of my life.  I was a young adult by then, working for a major bank in Dallas; a small personal accomplishment that made me feel I was finally a part of society and not some frustrated observer on the outside looking into a seemingly untouchable world.  During that time I began making concerted attempts to become a published writer and even contemplated returning to college.  These latter two dreams each wouldn’t materialize for more than another decade later.

The turn of the century – and the millennium – was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever experienced.  Like the dawn of the 1990s, it remains a high point of my life.  Twenty years ago the world looked more hopeful and inviting.  I wasn’t nearly as excited about the 2010s.  Things had grown kind of awkward for me by then.  But it’s come and gone.

So alas, we are at the threshold of the third decade of the 21st century.  Every New Year’s bears the excitement of a renewal; a chance to alter our priorities and improve our stations in life.  Yet, it’s different with the start of a new decade.  Since the early 1900s, societal changes have occurred rapidly.  For millennia, time periods were designated by century; now they’re often designated by decade.  Each ten-year interval boasts its own cultural shifts; fashion and music trends; and political dynamics.  As our life expectancy increases, so does our concept of time.

I’m approaching this decade with more caution, however.  As I tend to do, I maintain a safe distance and analyze the universe around me and wonder what more can be done to improve not just my life, but everyone’s lives.

These last two decades have seen an explosion of technological and cultural advances, both here in the United States and across the globe.  But, in many ways, things haven’t changed much.  I’ve focused my concern on how dismal our political and economic well-being have become.  The pathetic presidency of George W. Bush and the ever-increasing disorientation of the Donald Trump administration have set us back on many levels.  Unlike 20 years ago we now have the greatest wealth gap in over a century.  The first decade of the present century should have been an extraordinary time of progressive social and technological advancement.  Yes, everyone seemingly has a cell phone and a personal computer.  But so many promising visions of the future were lost to Middle East conflicts and an extreme level of corporate deregulation.  The “Great Recession” squashed hope for many people across the nation.  While many of my fellow Americans wonder if Bitcoin will make a resounding return to the financial sphere or what latest cell phone apps will be available in the coming months, I’m contemplating the grander picture.

In the 19th century, the U.S. built the world’s first transcontinental railroad system and helped create telephones and electric lighting.  At the start of the 20th century, we sent men into the air and then constructed the world’s largest highway system.  In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation; wanting us “to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things; not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  And, we did just that!  Just seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface.

The 1960s and 70s saw the birth of various civil rights movements: women, non-Whites, and gays and lesbians.  That forced America to live up to its promise to be a land of equality and prosperity.  We finally began seeing the fruits of those movements in the 1990s.

Yet here stands the U.S. – still mired in Middle East conflicts and dealing with an economy that, on the surface, looks extraordinary.  But those of us struggling with medical bills and increasingly high costs of basic living aren’t exactly thrilled that the U.S. stock market is functioning wonderfully for large corporations that don’t often pay their taxes and feel they have the unquestionable right to contaminate the environment in the name of profit.

Although I’m an introvert, I remain optimistic and would like to see society achieve some grand accomplishment over the next 10 years.

Infrastructure – As of 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a grade of D+ for infrastructure.  That’s an overall assessment of everything from bridges to railroads.  To say they’re falling apart is dismissively juvenile.  A grade is just a letter, but the implications are dire.  In 2007, a section of Interstate 35 through Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145.  But, nearly 13 years later, the U.S. is still spending more on military intervention in the perpetually-chaotic Middle East than making serious efforts to rebuild, or even refurbish, highways like I35.  The ASCE estimates the nation will need up to 4.5 trillion USD to repair or rebuild much of our infrastructure by 2025.  It’s one critical issue on which elected officials of all political stripes might agree.  Instead, we have a president who wants to spend even more money to build a wall along the nation’s southern border with México.  I can’t even contemplate how much that would cost.  Knowing the U.S. federal government, though, it would be much more than initial estimates.  Still, as I move around my own local area, I notice roads that have been under construction since the start of the last decade!

Subterranean Power and Telecommunication Lines – In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria rolled over Puerto Rico as a borderline category 5 storm.  With an estimated cost of 94 billion USD, it stands as one of the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history.  And Maria didn’t even reach the American mainland.  As with most such calamities, residents in the impact zones lived without power, which includes clean water.  Like Andrew did to Florida in 1992, and Katrina to the Gulf Coast in 2005, Maria destroyed a substantial number of power and telecommunication lines across Puerto Rico.  Our government’s response?  USD 5 billion in aid and a president tossing paper towels into a raucous crowd.

Tropical storm systems aren’t our only nemesis.  Currently, the U.S. is dealing with yet another round of powerful winter weather, with strong winds flipping vehicles and blizzard conditions hampering travel.  It’s not uncommon for massive weather phenomena to impact more than 100 million people.  Last October the Dallas, Texas area experienced a rash of tornado outbreaks.  But that’s just in one city in one state.  Other areas across the country have been struck by these meteorological vortexes.  And, of course, power and telecommunication lines are among the casualties.

The same happens after floods, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes.  Humans can never control Earth’s natural elements.  Every time we’ve tried, those elements remind us who holds the true power.  Still, we can lessen the severity of unruly weather by burying as many of our power and telecommunication lines underground as possible.  It’s nothing new.  People have been pushing this concept for years.  And there are the usual detractors.  Although a number of power and telecommunication lines have already been interred, opponents claim they’re not always more reliable than overhead lines.  While overhead lines experience more outages, subterranean lines are generally more difficult to access and repair when problems with them do arise.  Another obstacle, of course, is funding.  There are greater costs associated with the installation of subterranean lines.  The costs would have to be passed down to consumers somehow.  But, I feel it’s all worth the financial burden.  Ultimately, it costs people more to go without power – both in actual money and lives lost.  The expenses incurred with the initial installations and ongoing maintenance will more than pay for themselves in the ensuing years.

Space – Since humans first looked up to the sky and began studying the stars, we’ve wondered what it would be like to fly and visit another celestial body.  Now, we’ve taken flight and ventured onto the moon.  The next logical step would be Mars.  Plenty of people – from Elon Musk to Mars One – are making a concerted effort to get there.  In the 1970s, the U.S. became the first nation to reach Mars with the Viking I and II voyages.  We’ve done it again recently with the Curiosity mission.  The U.S. space program was good for the country and the world, as it spurred a number of technological developments; mainly with telecommunications, but also with engineering and robotics.

Sadly, if the U.S. wants to send humans to the moon now, we couldn’t do it.  We’ve let that go.  Again, it’s the war factor – more money spent on Middle East conflicts than on things that really matter.  But I would like to see the U.S. rejuvenate its space program and begin establishing a lunar colony; thus making interplanetary travel materialize from the pages of science fiction into reality.  And, of course, we should make a concerted effort to send a craft with humans to Mars by the end of this decade.  There’s more technology in a single Smart Phone than there was in all of the Apollo 11 lunar module.  We can make this happen.

Thousands of years ago humans thought Earth was the only place in the universe that harbored any semblance of life.  We’re starting to realize that’s not true.  We exist on this third rock from the sun, but I’m certain we have never been alone.  And, even if we are (by some odd fluke of nature), what’s to say we can’t venture outward and make our world more hospitable?  If we rise above our own political and social distractions, we’ll understand we can do better than this.  We have to do better.  I can’t imagine us living in a world of such chaos and uneasiness.  Throughout this next decade, we have to move forward.  Time will.  We have to follow it.

Photo by Josh Sorenson.

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Pictures of the Day

A massive storm system that originated off the Pacific Northwest coast several days ago finally made its way to Texas late Monday afternoon.  Heavy rains fell all night Monday into Tuesday morning; strong winds caused extensive damage in some locations.  Some people are terrified of such weather, but I find it fascinating.  It just puts humanity into its place.  Here are some photos taken in the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area of the storm and its aftermath.

 

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