Thursday, September 28, 2017

What Makes You Think That?

There’s a question I’ve learned that can be helpful when someone is upset about something that you’re not ready to buy into—or maybe more likely, they’re upset about something you know is false. You have to be able to ask this without snark, without obvious skepticism. Ask to sincerely know where they are coming from:

“Really? What makes you think that?”

What I think is that most people want to be able to think of themselves as good. They’re trying to figure out what’s right and wrong, and they want to choose the better side, but maybe they have very little guidance about what that is. And that makes them vulnerable to manipulation. Sometimes what they think they know just isn’t true.

As Ronald Reagan used to say about his political opponents, “It isn't so much that liberals are ignorant. It's just that they know so many things that aren't so.”

There’s a clear example of this type of error going on in recent news cycles. NFL players have decided to protest our flag and country during the national anthem before football games. The purported reason? Racist cops killing unarmed black men and getting away with murder.

That’s the narrative. As Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.… There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Colin Kaepernick
Image from here
As David French wrote yesterday, 

Standing for the National Anthem is meaningless if it’s mandated, and such a mandate undermines the essential liberty of free speech.
In order to have a country with peaceful liberty, we need people who love the country and respect and revere it willingly. Those “taking a knee” are doing a lot that’s wrong, and it isn’t really about their First Amendment right to protest. They’re accusing their fans, who are innocent of the wrongs being protested, in a nation that can never meet their approval, because their accusations have no connection to reality.

For me, it’s no sacrifice to tune them out. Deciding not to watch NFL football is no loss. I can hardly get myself to pay enough attention to know who’s playing in the Super Bowl every year. But there have been plenty of instances when I’ve had to decide whether some entertainment was worth suffering through the hateful accusations from some entertainer using his/her celebrity to spread “so many things that aren’t so.”

We may have come to a point where it isn’t enough just to have NFL owners tell them what they have to do under contract of employment. We want them to choose not to protest the country that gives them greater freedom and opportunity than any society in their race’s history.

The symptom that our culture is seriously ill comes from a youth football league (ages 8 and under) that decided to do the “cool” trend and “take a knee.” Their coach, botching a teaching moment, made sure they knew why they were doing it. One third-grade boy answered, “Because black people are getting killed, and nobody’s going to jail.” So the coach joined them in disrespecting our flag and country.

screen shot from here

Did it not even occur to that coach to ask a kid that age, “What makes you think that?” Or, “Who told you that? Because, you know, that’s just not true.”

Because, in fact, black men being murdered by non-black police officers is not a trend. It is not something on the rise. It is a rarity, and it's inconceivable that such a murderer would be protected from prosecution.

Larry Elder (a black commentator, so he gets to say things without the knee-jerk racist label) listed some of the facts on his radio show a couple of days ago—all from reliable research. I found the facts repeated today in an article he wrote. I’ll summarize:  

·        Unarmed black men killed by police are extremely rare. An estimated 21 black males get hit by lightning in a given year. In 2015 (latest statistics) 17 unarmed (not necessarily nonthreatening) black men were killed by police, including those killed by black police officers.
·        Blacks are not more likely to be pulled over by police than whites. Whites have nearly as many encounters with police in a typical year as blacks do: whites 1.2 encounters, blacks 1.5. Any racial disparity in traffic stops is due to “differences in offending” in addition to “differences in exposure to the police” and “differences in driving patterns.”
·        Blacks who encounter police are not treated more harshly than whites. Bureau of Labor studies show, “Only 0.6 percent of black men experience physical force by the police in any given year, while approximately 0.2 percent of white men do. … Moreover, keep in mind that these tallies of police violence include violence that is legally justified.” And an earlier study of the 75 largest counties in the nation concluded there is “no evidence that, in the places where blacks in the United States have most of their contacts with the justice system, that system treats them more harshly than whites.”
As Larry Elder says,

Any death that results from police misconduct is one death too many, but the point is that police killing of a suspect is rare, no matter the race of the suspect or the cop. And a police shooting of an unarmed black male is still more rare.
Where the rare uncalled-for police shooting happens, we’re all in favor of prosecuting the offending officer, and improved training—and maybe even more cameras—to keep such incidents from happening ever again. The few high-profile cases meant to show the problem end up exonerating the police, but those cases get referred to anyway, and when someone is brought to the truth on such a case, the response tends to be, “Well, it’s still happening all over the place where we don’t hear about it.”

But what if they could learn that that’s a lie?

Every time the media repeats the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” lie, they are doing yeoman’s work as racial dividers. Any time an authority figure such as a football coach or manager doesn’t say, “That protest is for your own time; it’s bad for business if you disrespect the flag and country that the fans who pay our salary love and revere,” they’re countenancing the lies.

I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, the Emmett Till story, The Help, and others. I know those bad situations existed. But they’re decades in the past. Mostly before my lifetime, and certainly before my adulthood. The stories seem foreign to most Americans. There are 320 million of us; of course you can find a few outliers. But institutional racism is simply not an issue in this nation.

When blacks—particularly those who make millions of dollars playing a ball game—complain that this country is so bad, they need to be pinned down: “What makes you think that?”

If I were to guess, I think it might be some kind of leftover from their early life in a worse place—which they escaped from but not everyone else did. Something like survivor's guilt. I don’t know how we get a word in, when we’re not being listened to and the truth is substituted with some fabrication, but it would be good if the “oppressed” learned the secret formula for avoiding poverty in America:

1.       Don’t have sex before age 20.
2.       Don’t have sex until after marriage.
3.       Stay married.
4.       Obtain at least a high school diploma.
Only 3 out of 100 who follow this formula remain in poverty. Everyone else gets work with enough income for the family to eventually move up into the more comfortable middle class. This is true regardless of race.

That’s a pretty good guarantee. For those exceptional 3%, if that’s all we had to deal with, we could easily identify what more needed to be done to help them along. Unfortunately, we also have to deal with mounting numbers of people who don’t live the formula but then want to blame someone else for their unwise choices.

What we could use, as a people, is a way to identify what leads to the sense of oppression. Chances are it’s the untruths promulgated by people who gain power when they stir people up to anger. That’s a millennia-old tactic, tied to all those historic cultures living in tyranny.

If we want freedom, prosperity, and civilization, we could use a better combination of understanding and truth.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

One Month Later

Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi on August 25th, and made its way north to Houston August 26th, beginning the biggest flooding event in recorded US history. That was one month ago today. So I took a drive, camera in hand, to see how things look now, compared to that crazy day.

Today’s post is mostly a photo essay.

There aren’t any hills in Houston. We use overpasses and skyscrapers for views. So when you see a little hill like this one, you know it’s not natural. This is the Addicks Reservoir Dam, not far from the spillway. Most of the time, it’s just part of the road.

Clay Road runs over Addicks Reservoir Dam
Addicks Dam south of the spillway


Eldridge Parkway goes through the reservoir. During heavy rain, it floods, and they close it. This has happened maybe a dozen times in the nearly 20 years we’ve lived here. It’s part of the plan. It was closed until a few days ago. There’s still water in the reservoir that hasn’t drained yet.

Eldridge Parkway, running through the reservoir, is finally open,
but there's still a lot of water alongside the road.


Bear Creek Park is the alter ego of the reservoir. Our kids used to play baseball here. There are soccer fields, camping areas, playground equipment, a lot of forest primeval, and other things you’d expect in a park. That’s how we make use of the space between floods. It has probably been out of commission for an entire month several times. We don’t know how much longer it will still be water instead of playground.

The road through Bear Creek Park is closed
while the park is serving as the reservoir.


Bear Creek Village was one of the worst hit neighborhoods. For those who think people shouldn’t be building in flood zones, understand that this neighborhood is 40-60 years old. They probably thought they’d never flood. But it turns out, when the reservoir fills up with 800-year flood waters, they do flood.

It took quite a while to get the water out so the mucking out could be done. Finally now the debris removal is underway. You can see the heavy equipment at work, and some really big trucks.

Debris removal is underway in Bear Creek Villages



















There’s still a lot of debris to pick up.



Sometimes you see stacks of furniture, like this, that remind you there was a live family that lost all of this.




The post office I usually use is being rebuilt.

Bear Creek Post office before
(Photo from Melissa Willis)

Bear Creek Post Office
reconstruction underway


Closer to my house, you can see more lawn scars—the places where the debris sat before getting picked up. Some houses are marked with a C or an H. I believe those were put there by rescuers. I haven’t been able to learn what they stand for. Maybe “clear” and “hazard.” I’m not sure. I'm not sure how they remove them either. But that's a minor detail by comparison with rebuilding the home's interior.







In my neighborhood, I was able to do a few side-by-side comparisons.

After the mucking out.

Same corner after debris removal. Dusty, but looking near normal.




















The street the boats went down to rescue people is clear and dry again.

Where boats launched to do rescues into the neighborhood.

















Dry again, and looking pretty good.


This was our entrance underwater, and back to normal now.

Our entrance, once the heavy rains stopped. It was underwater
for about a week. That means those homes were underwater that long too.


















Back to serving as a road again. You can't even tell.

The Mormon Helping Hands were still out this past weekend, but we're reaching the end of mucking out. Unfortunately, homes that haven't been able to do that yet may be a total loss. The church where I play music with friends once a week is back to normal today; a week ago it still had refugees sleeping in the sanctuary, and a dog refugee room somewhere at the back (we could hear them). That was a long time for a church to be used. Schools are open, and students have been reassigned to new schools as needed.

So Houston lives on. The streets were designed to flood, as backup waterways when the bayous are too full. There’s a lot of engineering that helps this city handle massive amounts of rainfall. But when several feet (not just inches) come down all at once, even this system is overwhelmed.

What’s amazing, really, is how well the water was handled, how few lives were lost. And most important was how neighbors, from near and far, helped one another. Which needs to keep happening for some time yet.

There are a few areas that might not be rebuilt. And there are plenty of places still in the midst of cleanup—way before restoration. But what’s surprising is how much has returned to normal for most of Houston, and how much hope there is that most of us will have our lives rebuilt eventually.

We feel blessed here. So many people showed they cared about us.


Meanwhile, we’re watching the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria. We know a missionary there, who was flown out today, along with a hundred or so others. They had been working hard there, but  The island is in desperate need. there wasn't enough food, clean water, or housing for them. They had stayed in the mission office during the storm, packed in together. Most of them were unable to return to their apartments, so they lost all their belongings beyond the change of clothes with them.

There's no electricity. Spotty communication. Transportation difficulties. Prayers and aid need to go their direction next. That's what good people do for one another.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In the Mind-Changing Business

I was talking with son Political Sphere the other day, about Ben Shapiro’s speech last week at Berkeley. I watched it live-streamed, and he had watched it replayed later. We had both enjoyed it. We’re Ben Shapiro fans.

The Q&A following the speech was pretty epic. You may have seen a clip of him doing a little debate with an audience member on the issue of abortion. I’ll include it here, because it may be the clearest delineation of the two sides (and the obvious morality of one over the other) that you will see in two minutes.



Ben Shapiro isn’t someone you can safely disagree with; he will win in a debate. He will have the facts in his head, and be able to lay out the argument in a logical way. And, as Political Sphere was pointing out, he never uses an emotional argument.

I am a lover of truth. Sometimes finding truth requires not only laying out the facts and arguments, but also applying conscience, which can be emotional, but is trained toward truth—unless you have practiced overriding your conscience.

When someone uses an emotional appeal—“But what about the children?” “Shouldn’t everyone be allowed to love the person they choose?” “Do you want people to die without health care?”—the emotion is typically irrelevant to the issue.

Do we care about children? Of course. It may be that we care more; we actually want them to be raised in stable families and taught to become productive, civilized adults. A policy that doesn't bring about those results doesn't qualify as actual caring.

Are we against love? Of course not. We’re not even against people committing to the person they choose. What we’re against is being forced to give some other arrangement the imprimatur that God gives to actual marriage.

Do we want people to die without healthcare? Of course not. But forcing people to buy a type of insurance they don’t want and can’t afford, and which does not meet their particular needs, is not providing actual health care. What we see as a better way of getting care to everyone is free market plus philanthropy—both of which are hindered by government interventions.

Those are just examples. Emotional and logical people talk past each other, because one side rushes to place its ladder on the wrong wall and insists that we have to climb, while the other side looks around to determine where is the best wall to place the ladder against, and goes there instead—and then gets yelled at for not climbing the ladder on the wrong wall.

Earlier this week I listened to a Daily Wire Conversation with Ben Shapiro, a full hour of his conservative brand of fun, covering, at breakneck speed, political topics as well as music, movies, and religion. About ten minutes in, the host, Elisha Krauss, asks Shapiro about whether he intended to someday run for president. I’ve never heard him talk about any political aspirations before, and he wasn’t positive about any here either, but he didn’t rule it out. But he said something about his purpose—and the purpose of The Daily Wire, where he is editor-in-chief—that struck me:

Eisha Krauss: What would it take for you to run for president in 2020 or 2024?
Ben Shapiro: So, 2020 is not going to happen. I am old enough—like, right at the cusp. So I turn…  Let’s see, I was born in ’84. So, in 2020 I would turn 37. But the problem is that I wouldn’t want to divide the Republican Party, and whatever happens right now, President Trump is the titular leader of the Republican Party; there are a lot of people that are very loyal to him. The last thing you want to do is sink the candidate of the Republican Party in the primaries and destroy him for a general election. Or, alternatively, alienate half of the people who are big Trump supporters.
So I think it’s Trump of bust for the Republican Party in 2020.
Further down the line, yeah, we’ll see what happens. I don’t really have any intention of doing anything like that right now, but that’s because we’re focused, obviously, right now, on building the company, but in ensuring that the message gets out to the widest variety of people available.
And I’m actually not sure whether you do more good convincing people outside of government, or being in government, trying to convince people. Once you sort of have the patina of government stamped on you, I wonder how many ideas you can actually…how many minds you can change, as opposed to being in the mind-changing business, which is what we do here.
He’s in the mind-changing business. That’s very close to what I do. Maybe that’s why it struck a chord.

It’s an educational mission, changing minds. Mine is more refined as, “Let’s reframe the structure of the ideas, so we can see how they interrelate, and thereby make decisions that will lead us in the right direction—toward freedom, prosperity, and civilization.” Shapiro’s arguments fit well in my framework, but he’s doing more of the nitty-gritty details, issue-by-issue, comparing the two sides and showing clearly which side makes more sense, both morally and economically. While I try to do that too, on certain issues, I don’t tackle as many issues each and every day.

There’s a book I’ve been spending some time on—referred to it beforeThe Eden Conspiracy, by Joe Harless—that is education oriented, with the purpose of producing “graduates who have skills, knowledge, information, and attitudes to become accomplished citizens.” I agree with that goal, but then we have to define what an accomplished citizen is.

The author suggests that a society of accomplished citizens would have these characteristics [p. 47]:

·         Exists under a democratic form of government.
·         Is lawful, orderly, ethical, and safe.
·         Allows freedom for its citizens—within the law.
·         Allows freedom for enterprise—within the law.
·         Provides equal opportunity for its citizens.
·         Values the family as the basic unit of society.
·         In partnership with the family, provides protection and development of the young.
That’s not too different from how I describe civilization in the Spherical Model. But there’s some difficulty, not only in getting schools to teach these values, but even to agree on which values, and what those values mean.

Harless mentions an anecdote from his household: p. 148

This reminds me of the time our four-year-old son was going to a friend’s house. As usual, my wife admonished Be a good boy. With all sincerity he asked, Mom, what IS a good boy? I don’t recall what she then told him, but the question became our family’s response when any of us became too soft [ambiguous] in our speech.
This lack of precision in speech is part of why there is so much strife in society.

For example, can we agree that being tolerant of differences is a necessary value in a non-homogenous, free society? Yes. But what does tolerance mean? One side simultaneously screes, “Don’t shove your beliefs down my throat!” while using the force of dubious law, social shunning, economic boycotting, and even fascist violence to enforce their beliefs on those who disagree.

A non-slave should not be forced to use his artistic talents to portray a message that goes against his religion, for example. It’s not about a couple getting a cake for a gay wedding; they can get that elsewhere; forcing a particular baker to do it is the ultimate intolerance—beyond what slaveholders ever had the power to force their slaves to do.

Tolerance doesn’t mean we must believe or do all the same things; it means we ought to calmly agree to disagree.

Ben Shapiro’s speech at Berkeley is important for several reasons. One is that it became clear to anyone paying attention that his speech was not a threat; those trying to shut down his speech were a threat. Also, he spoke clearly, rationally, and calmly—even respectfully—toward those who disagreed with him. And that civilized decorum allows for an actual conversation.

If there is an actual conversation, in which terms are agreed on for common ground, then there can be mutual understanding. That may or may not lead to changing minds, but at least it gets rid of the hostile assumption that anyone who disagrees with some prevailing viewpoint is evil and must be eliminated.

If an idea is right, if it’s true, it stands up to scrutiny. If you feel so threatened by someone articulating an idea that you don’t agree with that you must resort to violence to forcibly shut down that speech, maybe your idea is weak. Maybe you’re wrong.

On the Spherical Model, shutting down free speech is a southern hemisphere tyrannical behavior. It could be in the statist tyranny quadrant, with government preventing the speech; or it could be in the anarchical tyranny quadrant, with mobs preventing the speech. Either way, it does not lead to the enlightenment necessary for civilization.

What I believe—what I trust about humanity—is that minds can be changed to come to see the truth. I believe that most people want to think of themselves as good and right, and so, if presented the truth clearly, without clouding emotional pressure, they will choose truth. I might be wrong. But I hope I am right.

Truth is worth seeking and finding. And it’s worth finding ways to express it so that minds—and lives—can be changed for the better.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Revering the Constitution

Constitution Day—the anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution—was September 17, yesterday. But I’m going to continue celebrating for a few days.
The US Constitution
from the National Archives


The Constitution is the basic law of the land. It is NOT what grants us rights; it is the tool we use to protect our rights, which God gave us. If we could identify that difference, it would make a huge difference in how people approach public policy.

The Constitution is a legal document, not a philosophical statement—after the preamble. So it’s not poetic or exciting. But it is profound. If you don’t admire it, you either don’t understand the Constitution’s meaning, or you don’t understand the principles that lead to freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

So let’s take this day to honor and better understand the Constitution.

Here’s the basic outline: Preamble, Articles, and Amendments.

The Preamble, which lays out the proper role of national government, is short, and beautiful, so here’s the whole thing:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The body of the Constitution is made up of seven articles, most of which are divided into several sections. Here’s a brief summary.

Article 1 lays out the powers of the legislative branch. There are 9 sections, vesting all legislative powers for our federal (national) government in Congress, which is divided into a Senate and House of Representatives, outlining who can serve in the House and Senate, and such things as elections, revenue bills, and other legal details.

Article 2 lays out the executive powers vested in the President. It has four sections, talking about how the president will be elected (the Electoral College), the president’s powers concerning the military, making treaties, and representing our country on the international stage; informing Congress of the State of the Union, and impeachment (removal from office) of the president or vice-president.

Article 3 lays out the judicial powers in the Supreme Court and inferior courts. There are three sections, detailing their powers and the kinds of cases they will cover.

Article 4 covers interstate rules, and guarantees for citizens going state to state. There are four sections, including information about how new states may be admitted, and how the federal government guarantees protection to each of the states.

Article 5 offers ways to amend the Constitution: amendments can be proposed by either two-thirds of both Houses, or two-thirds of the state legislatures can propose an amendment. This option has been talked of more in the past few years, and about a dozen states so far have voted to go ahead (including my state of Texas).

Article 6 talks about paying debts incurred by the national government, and that the federal government shall be the supreme law of the land.

Article 7 talks about ratification of the Constitution, and signatures from representative of the states at the Constitutional Convention, where the document was written and revised.

Then come the Amendments. There are 27. But the Constitution wasn’t ratified until the first ten were included. These are what we call the Bill of Rights. They weren’t originally included, because they were understood by all as a given. But there were those—Virginia led in this—who were afraid if at least some of these rights weren’t spelled out, later generations might try to abridge them (violate them, pretend they didn’t exist).

They were prescient. Not only did that forgetting happen, but even with these rights spelled out, people argue whether or not the government should grant those rights—forgetting that government doesn’t grant them; it only protects them. Think about current riots, from people claiming no one should be allowed to speak things they find offensive, or that they do not approve of. Or claims that religious freedom should be subjugated to popular beliefs about sexuality.

And there has been a great deal of government overreach—taking on authority that is not granted in the Constitution.

We need to return to our Constitution. That is the path back to freedom, prosperity, and civilization. We need all good people to learn the truths our founders knew, and then stand up as our founders did.
We’ll need to start with learning.

I came across a video (see it here) over the weekend, meant for students—probably aimed at upper elementary through middle school. But it’s worth a watch with the kids. The hosts, which include a 10-year-old girl, touring the capitol, and interviewing two senators from the judicial sub-committee on the Constitution: Ted Cruz and and Richard Blumenthal.

If you want something aimed at a little higher education level, try testing your knowledge with Hillsdale College’s quiz on the US Constitution: (here). 

And maybe that will lead you to take their Constitution 101 course, which I’ve recommended before. High school students shouldn’t be scared off by the college label; it’s what everyone graduating from high school should know and understand. In fact, every voter ought to know what’s in this course.

Hillsdale College also has an annual Constitution Day celebration going on, with live streaming on various topics, starting tonight and going through tomorrow. [Schedule here.] I’m especially interested in the “Roundtable on The Political Theory of the American Founding: Natural Rights, Public Policy, and the Moral Conditions of Freedom,” at 9:00 AM EDT Tuesday.
available here


If you’re not ready to dive into a college level course, but could handle something about the length of a movie, I recommend A More Perfect Union, produced by Brigham Young University. It’s a beautifully done dramatization of that hot summer of 1786, and the extraordinary men who came together to create our Constitution.


After you’ve done a bit of study, you might want to reward yourself with a bit of humor. Here is Studio C’s frat house version of the founders.





Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Lot of Broken Glass

There’s an economic example often used to illustrate, among other things, how government spending affects the economy. [See here and here.]
From Greg Mankiw's blog

In short, if a vandal breaks the glass display window of a bakery, it stimulates the economy: a glazier gets, say, $500 for the work and materials to replace the window. But what we don’t see is where that $500 would have been spent if the window had remained intact. Maybe the baker could have bought a new suit, and/or hired another worker in his shop. The suit tailor and/or the new employee are out that amount of money.

There is the seen and the unseen.

So, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, here in Houston, we’re looking at an estimated $30-40 billion in metaphorical broken glass, or property damage. What is going to happen next? A lot of renovation and rebuilding. In fact, it will be a boom town for renovators. If they’re mobile enough, it would be prudent for such workers to move to Houston and set up shop for the next year or so. The same is true for drywall and flooring suppliers. And furniture sales. There’s $30-40 billion here, above and beyond what the economy needed before the storm.

Jobs galore! Isn’t this great?

Ask one of those families how they feel about it. Are they better off economically by spending money on flooring, drywall, and furniture replacement—after possibly spending money on hotels or apartment rent during the rebuild, along with clothing replacement and the expense of eating out—or would they have preferred to use their money in ways they had intended before the storm? Things like a new car, education, retirement savings, a vacation?

from the southern section of my neighborhood


Even those with insurance are likely to prefer their own plans for their money, rather than the storm-caused new plans.

People who are charitably giving sense this. They wish to mitigate the damage by volunteering labor, materials, money, or other help so that the cost to the storm victims is less severe.

Let’s take a look at the volunteer labor. The professional cost for mucking out a house—removing flooring, drywall, ruined furniture, and other debris, and then cleaning, drying, and preparing the walls and floor for rebuilding—before any rebuilding is begun, so, separate from those costs—is an estimated $16,000 per house.

Does that charitable giving deprive the economy of money? Technically, it would deprive those particular professionals of money they might have made. But there is a time issue involved. Suddenly there is a shortage of companies that do this service, since in non-storm times such needs are limited to broken pipes or other hit-and-miss personal disasters. And it’s assumed that a home needs to be cleared and aired out as quickly as possible. Any home that remains waterlogged and growing mold for 30 days is likely to be a total loss.

We’re at day 19 today. Some houses are still underwater. But this time issue is why, anywhere the water has receded enough for homeowners to return, you see the debris piles along the streets. They want to give their home the best chance possible for a successful rebuild.

Volunteers are spending their time. But we’re assuming they’re spending out of their surplus. So they’re not short-changing the economy by failing to earn during those volunteer hours. Anyone who would prevent the volunteer neighbor-helping-neighbor work would be doing nothing for the available workers in that field, since they have more work than they can do already. But they would be condemning those homeowners to total loss.

So I think we can agree volunteer work after a disaster is a community good.

While we’re talking about giving, there are plenty of places to give to charity, for anyone who wishes to alleviate some of the pain. Among those that send all donations directly to those in need:

·         Rebuild Texas Fund, which Governor Abbott has endorsed.
·         J. J. Watt Foundation, which has raised $33.5 million, but will be ending fundraising Friday, September 15, at 5:00 PM.
·         LDS Humanitarian Services, which has already provided 22 truckloads of supplies in Houston, including equipment for all those Mormon Helping Hands to use. (We are still housing the generator they provided during Hurricane Ike, for use in our congregation. We shared it with neighbors on both sides during the eight days we were without power.)
Additionally, a number of people have set up GoFundMe sites, to raise money for specific people. In this kind of grassroots arrangement, you know the money you send goes directly to those who need it. I know the people involved in these two:

·         Derrick Campos Family in Houston 
·         Harvey Recovery—Tom Tidwell 
I’ve mentioned Derrick’s story and shared his photos in the past couple of weeks. He lives not far from me. Here'e Derrick talking about coming to be willing to accept this help:

   


The Tidwells live in Port Arthur. I’ve been friends of their extended family since my first year of college. Both families ended up being rescued by boat and face a long recovery. There are going to be many many others in similar situations. But I know any donation you can afford would be well spent on these families.

Back to our economic discussion. One of the reasons central planning is always a bad idea for economics is that the central planners can’t know what the needs of the individual are. They can’t make better decisions than the people earning the money and deciding how to spend it. They can’t see the unseen—the economic choices that are lost when one choice is made rather than another.

Government has its role: protection of life, liberty, and property. But its economic role is mainly to get out of the way. If only!

One way the private sector has managed disaster recovery in the past is insurance. I read this helpful note earlier today:

Most of the money from previous Texas hurricanes has come from private insurance. And, in some ways, this process of rebuilding restores a balance in the economy. For the past couple of decades, almost all homeowners have paid for insurance but few people make a claim. Most of that money sits on the balance sheet of big insurance companies to pay out future claims, and those companies often invest those dollars on Wall Street and real estate. That’s all fine—good, healthy commerce.
Now the time has come for the flow to go the other way. Big insurance companies will be paying out money to settle insurance claims, and most of that will go to working class Americans who will rebuild damaged property. Demand for labor will rise, as will wages, as the money starts to flow. The tilting of the economy away from physical labor toward the financial sector will reverse – maybe only temporarily, but it will still reverse.
In other words, insurance money has been in the economy all along; this disaster just changes where it is put to work for a while. It has given many homeowners and businesses a chance to get back to their previous economic track more quickly than if they hadn’t been putting money toward insurance all along.

What about government money? If it’s there, we’ll take it. But this same author says something that maybe ought to be obvious but isn’t:

Of course, if the federal government decides to give away money, I suppose people will sign up for it. But this madness eventually needs to end. The federal government is broke, and insisting that folks in Kansas or Vermont pay for a hurricane in Houston is silly on the face of it. This is not an invading army we’re talking about here. It’s a really bad storm. The Constitution doesn’t contain the words “storm,” “weather,” or “insurance.” Why are we continuing to twist its meaning to make Congress and the President look like heroes? If they want to help, let them help with their own time, talent, and treasure. Like the rest of us.
But we also don’t want to be suckers. If Washington DC decides not to help Houston, they should end it for everyone in the future. Which they should, in my opinion.
I’ve had good things to say about Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner during the past few weeks. But earlier this week, he kind of wiped out all that good will. He decided that now is a good time to add an 8.9% property tax hike to all Houston property owners. Rates will be charged at pre-storm property values—even though those values may have plummeted because of storm damage. Why? Because, to a Democrat, paying for government is paramount.

What will the citizens get for this? Not protection from this storm or future storms. Not greater fire and police protection. Not better roads or infrastructure. Nothing but the dubious satisfaction of getting city government fully funded before they even get back into their own damaged homes.

Was there a cost to the city caused by the storm? Yes. It was far less than it would have been without good engineering and planning, based on past storms. But shouldn’t the city economize, as the citizens have to, rather than burdening people who are already suffering financially?

Again, it’s that short-sighted economic view that sees only a chosen segment of society—in this case, city government. If we can get Houston back on its feet, and rebuilt, and economically humming along in its normal healthy way, wouldn’t that benefit the city well enough?

I’ll note that Harris County, a government entity that is larger than any local government entity in the US except possibly the City of Los Angeles, has decided to economize, rather than burden the people.
Fortunately, the mayor must go through the city council, with a final vote in mid-October. It may be that the people can be vocal enough to convince the city that now is not the time to force storm-weary citizens to cough up an additional $100 million in taxes.

So, when there’s proverbial broken glass, that temporarily helps the window repairman. That’s the seen benefit. But unseen are all the lost uses for that money. I hope we can soon get back to letting the people who earned it decide how to spend it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

We Will Rebuild

Sixteen years ago enemy-caused disaster happened on American soil. Our lives changed on that day. We dug through the rubble, and helped one another out of the ashes and debris. We were stunned. But we set our jaws and said, “We will rebuild.”

Sixteen days ago nature-caused disaster happened on Texas soil. Our lives changed on that day. We dug through the rubble, and helped one another out of the flood waters and debris. We were stunned. But we set our jaws and said, “We will rebuild.”

One of the images from 9/11/2001 is of an American flag being flown on a pole among the debris.

Raising the Flag at Ground Zero
image from Wikipedia

In honor of that, a friend who has a pile of debris outside his home, posted an American flag among the debris.

Derrick and Gloria Campos fly the American flag
on the debris in front of their flooded home

He is at the stage of mucking out where they could power wash the floors, which he describes as, “One step closer to being one step closer to being one step closer to being clean.” It’s not an easy process.

He’s had a good attitude about this, considering. This is their third flood: Memorial Day Flood 2015, Tax Day Flood 2016, and Hurricane Harvey 2017. All of these were rainfalls beyond expectation, beyond 100-year flood levels (way beyond). They hadn’t built in a foolish place—unless you expect these crazy storms. Odds are there won’t be another for half a millennium. Yet they’ve come three years in a row.

Derrick told their story on the walls. And they had people from each day’s work crew sign a wall. Here’s the collection.

Wall from Derrick Campos's flooded home
The collection was posted on Facebook by Amy Knight

All I can say is, I admire the good attitude and resilience. It’s exemplary of who we are as Texans and Americans. We get to work, and we rebuild.

I spent a week out of town, visiting my son and his family. This was the view of our entrance when I left.



It was still a few days later before water was down to make the roads passable, and people near us were able to get back to their homes and begin the mucking out process, so they can eventually rebuild. On Saturday I drove through those streets. And this was the common sight.


It’s not going to be easy. But the bones of these houses are still good. Sometimes the insides are back to where they were 25-30 years ago, during the original building process—bare concrete floors and wall studs. But a year from now, barring further disaster, the signs of the storm will be hard to see.

This is still my favorite image from 9-11-2001, “Out of the Ashes” by artist Ken Turner. It shows our indomitable America spirit.

"Out of the Ashes" by Ken Turner

There’s no painting or iconic image yet for Hurricane Harvey. But, as a comparison, I’ll use this group of nearly 500 Mormon Helping Hands gathered yesterday morning for a brief church service and then instructions before dividing up into work crews for yet another day of helping their neighbors dig out of the debris. The photo was posted on Facebook by Melissa Willis, and captioned, "Get on your knees and pray, then get on your feet and get to work," quoting Gordon B. Hinckley. 

Mormon Helping Hands from the Bear Creek Stake
Center is Stake President Scott Welch; at the podium
is his counselor, President Dave Hansen


As I’m writing this, we’re waiting for news about how Florida has survived Hurricane Irma. Early reports are that the storm was not as devastating as it might have been; it had been a category 5 hurricane, but by landfall last night was down to a category 1. But that’s still a dangerous storm. So our prayers are with them today. We’re with them in spirit.

I hope the fear of storms doesn’t interfere with our lives. Or the fear of loss. Or the sadness at lost treasures—photos, heirlooms, surroundings. I hope what lasts is the memory of helping one another, of being in this together, rebuilding together.

Because United We Stand.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Through the Deep Waters

I’ve been away from Houston the past several days, helping out family, as planned well before Hurricane Harvey. But I’ve been following much of the labor and service and heartache, and I’m so proud of my many friends who are reaching out and putting in one heavy-labor day after another, at no cost—simply because it has to be done, and we Texans have compassion for those in need.

Disaster relief comes in stages: preparation, getting through the storm, rescue, mucking out, and then rebuilding. We’re at the mucking out stage now. In some neighborhoods, enough of that has been done to get trucks in to pick up the debris. In other areas, houses still have standing water, and the owners are still waiting to get inside. The longer that takes, the more damage, sadly.

Anyway, as you might imagine, there’s no hiring enough workers to muck out that many homes, and many homeowners are unable to do the job themselves. That means, if it’s going to get done, it’s volunteers who will do it. And that’s what my friends are doing.

So I’ll just share a few of their images that I’ve borrowed from Facebook. I want to note that Mormon Helping Hands aren’t the only helpers. We’re two percent of the population, and no everyone has the right age and ability for this job. Catholic Charities is working with us, and there are many other organizations and ad hoc community groups doing this messy work. But my access to friends who are doing this is mostly Mormon Helping Hands.

This first group is from my ward (congregation) Monday. Similar groups (including many of the same people) have been mucking out homes since late last week. 

Mormon Helping Hands from Copperfield Ward on Monday
Several friends posted this photo, so I'm guessing and
giving photo credit to Janet Taylor


Here’s another crew coming from my church building. Their regular church building got a lot of water damage, so they'll be sharing our building for some time.

Mormon Helping Hands from Bear Creek and Westlake Wards on Monday.
Photo credit to Melissa Willis

And here’s another crew from a little way north. They were lucky to have President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the First Presidency (a counselor to the Prophet and President of our worldwide Church) show up for services on Sunday—which were short and followed by work crews heading out to assignments. In every way, it was a special Sunday service.

Cypress Stake Center, which had been a command center
for boat rescue, is now a command center for
Mormon Helping Hands. President Uchtdorf
showed up to join them this Sunday.
Photo credit to Mary Moellmer.

If you wonder what mucking out means, it’s tearing out flooring, moving damaged furniture and debris to the curb for pickup, and tearing out damaged drywall from above the flood line so the insides of the walls can dry out completely before rebuilding can be done.
It looks like this.

Photo credit to Derrick Campos, who hasn't been able to get back in
his own house yet, but has spent the waiting time helping other
people do the mucking out. This is the third time his home has
flooded in recent years. Sometimes life isn't fair.
Another photo from Derrick Campos
This is what's happening inside--cutting out drywall.
Another photo from Derrick Campos
Flooring gets removed inside as well.
Photo from Melissa Willis, who had water up
onto the driveway, but her house was spared.
  
Some friends of mine, the Siebert family, are very talented. Jim Siebert is the meteorologist for the local Fox television station, and he’s the one many of us tuned in to for constant updates during the storm week. His wife, Debbie, is a musician, with a particularly gorgeous voice. They have been doing short Sunday hymn videos for a while—the whole family. They did one this past Sunday. It’s a hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” It’s a common Christian hymn, although I think many churches use a different tune (“Old Hundredth,” I think it’s called). But they do the one from our LDS Hymns. The fourth verse, which we’ve sung all our lives, has taken on new meaning these past couple of weeks:

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
The Sieberts used photos from the disaster and cleanup as backdrop to their song. When they get to this verse, they change tempo and tone, which brought the tears when I heard it—for the sorrow of loss so many are feeling, because of literal deep waters; for the generosity and kindness of so many who are helping others in their need; and for the love that we feel from our Father in Heaven, who promises to be with us, our troubles to bless and sanctify.




We’ve said for more than a decade now, when the Lord wants His people to turn to him, He sends a hurricane to the Gulf Coast. Mormon Helping Hands have been active here since 2005, the year of Katrina and Rita. Would that we would all turn to Him without these painful reminders. But bad things happen even to very good people. When they do, our job is to serve God by serving one another.