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September 7, 2017

Hijacked by Hurricanes (But Also Politics)

So here’s a fun fact about me: I was born in Houston.

Yep.  It’s gonna be one of those posts.

I’m wary of writing this, because in case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t exactly a blog dedicated to tackling the hard-hitting issues of our modern world.  I’m not equipped for it in the slightest, given that I barely even trust myself to make a grilled cheese sandwich.  Plus, considering the content that’s long since been archived here -- content about all sorts of silly, seemingly-frivolous things -- this one will stick out like a toucan in a chicken coop.  Also, I’m pretty sure the tone is going to be…problematic, but whatever.  Let’s go for it.

So like I said, I was born in Houston, Texas.  I don’t live there, though.  I haven’t even been there since I was about eight years old.  So in terms of my heart bleeding for my precious hometown, I generally don’t.  Houston, up until the last couple of weeks, hasn’t really taken a space in my mind.  There are three points of interest about it locked in my brain: 1) it’s where my parents met, 2) it has some NASA stuff, and 3) the hotel I went to when I was eight had a really nice fountain.  That’s not to say it’s a terrible place to live or anything.  It just never really crossed my mind -- except for the occasional mention that it’s at risk for flooding because of environmental layouts and conditions (a lack of trees well among them).

Nowadays?  It crosses my mind all the time.

Hurricane Harvey has done incredible damage to the city and the areas around it.  I’d call the damage immeasurable, but last I checked experts had penned the total costs at about $190 billion -- AKA a full 1% of America’s total GDP.  It’s a grisly, sobering, horrifying sight, having to watch news broadcasts that showed blocks and blocks of neighborhoods buried underwater.  And it would be one thing if we only had to worry about biblical rain, but reports have come in that the water is contaminated with insane amounts of bacteria and fecal matter -- alongside toxic chemicals from adjacent plants.

This would be the part where I’d say “it goes without saying,” but it needs to be said  Lives have been ruined by this -- not to mention lost -- and my heart goes out to them.  It’s painful to know that there are people who have suffered, and will continue to suffer, for years on end because of Harvey.  And as meaningless as it may be in the long run -- as ineffectual as words and well-wishes might be to restore what was lost -- I sincerely hope that all those affected can recover, stay strong, and see brighter days very soon.  God bless.

I’m a firm believer in the power of hope -- of justice, of virtue, and of the shining future we can all create with our own two hands.  Sometimes, though, I can’t help but feel hopeless.  Powerless in the wake of reality, if not common sense.  There are other times when I feel emboldened; so, knowing and hearing and seeing that there are recovery efforts at work warms my soul.  And to that -- to professionals, volunteers, donators, and incidental travelers who grabbed their boats and sailed into the deep -- I want to say thank you for all you’ve done.  Even if you’ll never read these words, I hope that my feelings can reach you as well as the myriad victims of this storm.  It’s the sort of thing that makes me want to help out, even if it’s only a slight amount.  I may not be able to go down there myself, but I hear that it’s more than possible to contribute money or supplies.  (Though from what I’ve heard, it’s better to send money thanks to logistical concerns.  I’ll need to read up on that.)

I’d say that Harvey didn’t affect me personally, but that’s not entirely true.  On one hand?  Even though I don’t live in Houston, my family -- on my mom’s side, at least -- still has some roots in the surrounding areas of southeast Texas.  Up until her passing a few years ago, my grandma was still down there.  My living godparents are still down there, not to mention a good chunk of my mom’s friends.  From what I can gather, they’re all right -- I did talk with a few of them recently -- but there are some major issues and inconveniences.  Power outages and shutdown water plants make me nervous, even if the worst (relatively speaking) has passed.

But on the other, more important hand?  You don’t need to have a personal stake in the area or the people in it to have Harvey affect you personally.  People have suffered and will suffer because of this.  Any normal person with a working heart would feel something, anything in the wake of a national tragedy on a catastrophic scale.

Remember this for later.

It is reassuring to hear good news about the situation, though.  Having seen the flooding on TV -- not to mention bits of the storm in general -- I thought that Houston would be a wasteland for months to come.  Imagine my surprise, then, when the mayor announces that the city is 95% dry (barring a still-flooded area in the western reaches), with shops opening up on 9/5/17.  It legitimately left me flabbergasted.  But I suppose that’s why I do believe in hope and all that schmaltzy stuff: even in the darkest of hours, people won’t just wallow in despair.  They’ll work and fight to reclaim the lives they want.  If they didn’t, New Orleans would still be a disaster zone.  Houston, even with nightmarish amounts of rain, shouldn’t be an exception.

I hope that there aren’t any exceptions for years to come, because no one should have to endure the devastation of their precious hometowns.  Of course, I say as much -- but I’m typing this with full knowledge that Hurricane Irma is creeping up on us, and has recently been upgraded to Category 5.  I’m not too keen on meteorology, but apparently reports have come in of winds that range from 175 MPH to gusts that have hit 212.  Someone’s gonna be in for a rough time.

I’m hoping for the best -- and that anyone in its path stays safe -- but we may all have to brace for the worst yet again.  With that said?  Given Harvey and the response it’s gotten (here and abroad), it fills me with pride and joy to know that even a catastrophe can’t crush the human spirit.  Effort and passion can, over time, undo even monumental damage.  We just need willing parties to work hard for the good of the world…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s where the problems start.

There’s no other way to put it: I don’t trust the Trump administration to handle this situation well.  Honestly, I don’t trust them to handle any situation well; I feel like, if I asked them to go to the store to get me a box of Band-Aids, they would come back with a plastic bag full of used syringes and then blame Obama for it.  The constant lies are one thing; the constant failures are another; the constant, underhanded schemes pile on the scorn; I’d like to say that they’ve accomplished something positive in the past seven or eight months, but even if they did I’m more likely to remember their screw-ups.  And they should be remembered, because their screw-ups kept up to 33 million people on life-saving healthcare.

I would think that the world is one full of nuance -- that things aren’t as black and white as a lot of stories out there.  But these days, it seems like it’s literally a case of heroes and villains, good and evil.  Democrats up and down the ladder have done their best to do what’s right, which they’re forced to do (with varying levels of success) because Republicans seem content with either doing the wrong thing or doing nothing…which means they’re enabling the wrong thing.  There’s already been talk of them looking to defund (or at least pull funding from) disaster relief to pay for The Great Wall of Racism, which I fucking hope they run back in the wake of Harvey and presumably Irma.

I would ask “How did we get here?”  But I know the answer already.  So do you.

To be fair -- which is probably one of the few times I’ll write that on this subject -- we can’t blame Trump for absolutely everything in every instance.  Even though he’s the face of the government and the administration by virtue of the executive office, he’s not doing everything alone.  Through malice or cowardice, avarice or incompetence, his comrades in the government are pushing ahead with policies (or lack thereof) that would stop the Rushmore-mounted presidents dead in their tracks. 

With that said?  I think at this point, it’s entirely fair to lay a not-insignificant chunk of the blame at Trump’s feet.  Just as an example, it’s his job to fill the empty positions of the government -- but at one point 85% of them, including positions that would help FEMA and disaster relief, are gathering dust.  Because “it’ll save money to have a smaller government”, even though that’s not how that works.

As the face of the nation, we look to the president to lead us.  Offer comfort, light the way, all of that and more; it’s not a pipe dream, given that we’re still hot off of former president -- and unequivocal, true hero -- Barack Obama doing his best to make the world a better place.  But what have we had to deal with since Trump seized (and likely stole) the title for himself?  A guy who won’t denounce Nazis because they‘re nice to him.  A guy who randomly decided to ban transgender folks from serving in the military due to “health costs”, even though a big chunk of cash is spent on troops’ Viagra, not just health costs. 

A guy who’s almost singlehandedly stoking tensions with North Korea because “tough guy” (and refusing to post any ambassadors to try and smooth things over).  A guy who, as if to twist the knife, would rather threaten to have a trade war with our allies in South Korea -- a long-standing U.S. ally -- than learn how trade deficits work.  And now he’s willing to put the lives of 800,000 American citizens in jeopardy just because their parents were immigrants.  And pretty much all of that is within the last month or two, all without a decent explanation or reasoning behind “the best plans”.

You know, I don’t want to take a cheap shot, but…you would think that a for a guy who usually looks like he got gene spliced with a decade-old bag of Doritos, Trump would have more sympathy for people with different skin colors.   

It would be fine -- well, less bad if every action and decision was the result of Trump’s business acumen [citation needed].  As in, maybe his policies aren’t the most humane or socially gracious, but he made rational choices that would truly benefit and generate wealth throughout the country.  But that’s not the case.  So not only do we have a president whose every third move is set to hamstring America, but we also have a president who can’t properly offer any sympathy to the suffering peoples of the cities he’s in charge of nurturing. 

To wit: he had to have a do-over conference for the Charlottesville incident because he couldn’t bring himself to speak out against white supremacists, only to run back his do-over in about a day.  And he went to Texas in the wake of Harvey, only to boast about the crowd size and the magnitude of the storm (the first time around), only to get a do-over later where he hardly seemed interested in the anguish of the people.  Selling ugly hats and telling tone-deaf jokes was a higher priority, I guess.  Because America.

Again, Harvey is a disaster.  Recovery efforts from noble and determined citizens -- at home and abroad -- have helped ease the sting, but there’s an insane amount of work to be done.  Even if I packed up and drove down there to lend a hand right now, it still wouldn’t amount to that much -- at least in the face of what major organizations could do.  Fiction tends to put big groups like corporations, organizations, and the government in the crosshairs, but in the real world we depend on them to have impacts that singular people can’t.  So in that sense, we need well-oiled machines to do the heavy lifting for us.  Or, to be more precise: we needed well-oiled machines before Harvey even had its name.

My initial thoughts on Harvey boiled down to two points.  First off: “How are we going to fix this?”  And, more importantly: “How are we going to prevent something like this in the future?”  One would think that some efforts toward smarter, more stable construction -- safeguards against disasters that areas like the Gulf Coast are highly vulnerable to -- would have been a higher priority back when Katrina rocked Louisiana.  Or, alternatively, when storms like Rita, Wilma, and Ike moved on through.  Alternatively (again), we should have taken climate change a lot more seriously than we should have before this point.  I would hope that now people, especially people in power, are starting to sweat over humanity’s carbon footprint.  But I have my doubts.

I thought that the government was supposed to represent the will of the people, since said people can’t have a hand in every facet of life.  That presumption -- if not that ideal belief in the system -- has long since been betrayed.  Trump isn’t trying to represent the people; it’s becoming clearer by the day that he’s only in it for himself, his shrinking circle of “pals”, and the occasional Russian overlord.  Because of him steering the ship, his cohorts in the administration and Congress are forced (and/or willing) to come along for the ride.  We’re counting on them to fight on our behalf, and for our safety.

And that’s exactly why they’re still talking about that dumbass wall when FEMA is days away from running out of money.  With another hurricane possibly breathing down our necks.  So as praiseworthy as it is for heroes on all walks of life to do their best to fix problems as they come, steps need to be taken to prevent more tragedies like this, not just react to them.  It’s one thing for Trump and crew to inevitably mishandle the latter, but at this stage?  It’s downright irresponsible to ignore the former.  If the past half-year plus has proven anything, though, it’s that irresponsibility is exactly what we’re in for.


So.  I have a confession to make.  I want to go to space.

The great star ocean.  The big blue marble.  All of that and more, in every direction, as far as the eye can see.  I hope that someday, I get to see it for myself one day in the flesh.  To be more precise?  I hope that, in my lifetime -- however late it may arrive -- technology advances enough so that a trip to space is as easy as turning on a toaster oven.  Admittedly that would take some of the majesty out of it, but given that you can find true beauty just by walking through a patch of nature, I don’t think ease of access makes for a complete wash.

In any case, my wish to go to space represents more than some childish whim.  It’s a symbol.  If we can all make trips to space, then it’ll be proof of the advance of science and technology -- proof of what the human spirit can accomplish.  But dreams don’t come true just because you wish really hard; you have to work for them, sometimes to the point where you want to break.  A large endeavor like going to space isn’t something most normal people can achieve on their own; that’s exactly why you need larger organizations to offer their support.  Ideally, that’s where a good government would come in: they serve as the foundation so that intrepid men and women can build a brighter future.

That’s not the case with the Trump cadre.  Instead of marching bravely toward the future, he’s having us cower in fear of the infinite possibilities -- of a brighter tomorrow -- and veering the ship back into a version of the past that didn’t exist.  Whether it’s by conscious effort or unrelenting ignorance, he’s forced us down a path that’s taking us further and further away from the future we want and need.  Maybe the worst part about him -- what’s at once pitiable, baffling, hilarious, infuriating, and terrifying -- is that he’s proven conclusively by this point that he doesn’t have anything in the way of ideals.  The infinity of tomorrow means nothing to him.  The future means nothing to him.  And because of it?  America, and possibly the world, is in danger of believing the same thing.

But I won’t.  And you won’t.  None of us can.  None of us will.

Tragedy has struck our country, and it will again -- and again, and again, and again.  We all need to have the strength to face those challenges head-on; but even so, it’s been decisively shown that we don’t necessarily need a governing power to dictate our every move and thought.  The fear born from unknown challenges; the anger arisen from injustices and powerlessness; sorrow in the face of disaster; joy made eternal through dreams of better days; they’re what make us stronger.  They’re what we all hold in our hearts deep down.  And as long as we believe in that -- as long as we do what we can, when we can, to reach for the future -- we’ll weather any storm.

Keep the faith.  The stars are waiting for us all.

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