I Wish for an Intellectual and Calm Polite Discourse

“Teach me, and I will be quiet;
    show me where I have been wrong.
How painful are honest words!
    But what do your arguments prove?
Do you mean to correct what I say,
    and treat my desperate words as wind?
You would even cast lots for the fatherless
    and barter away your friend.

  • Job 6:24-27

By the time this gets posted, some in the deep South who had major damage to their homes could be on the way to getting back to something near normal, but is anything what we used to call normal? Most may still be boiling water, if they even have water in the worst areas. It will take time and patience.

I had a lot of mixed feelings over the media coverage of the winter storm and deep freeze.  I could say my reaction to other people’s reaction, but I only saw what the news wanted me to see.

That is among the many things that will never be the old normal.  For me, I will never be able to trust the media.

Yet, you hear some things by means of live announcements and you get those “shake my head” moments.

A city official from Houston, Texas announced before the temperatures dropped that she did not want people to drip their faucets.  It put too much of a strain on the city water supply.  Besides, the water mains are underground.

My reaction was rage, for a moment.  As a result of what happened, it would not have mattered when the power went out and the entire house was below freezing.  But I got angry because this person was talking about the Houston water supply system and what was good for it and ignoring what was good for the people, the people this person supposedly served.  If the power had not gone out and the water was stopped, the pipes would have burst between where the pipes left the underground water mains and before they got into the middle of the house proper.  Sure, some people have houses on concrete slabs and the pipes are underground until they are far from the cold outside temperatures in the middle of the house.  Those people should know that dripping water is not necessary.  But to tell the public – pardon how I desanitize the official statement – “Do not do something that saves you trouble.  We care nothing about how much you suffer.  We just want to make sure the city system still works.”  In the end, it failed anyway.  You drip the water on water lines near the outside walls that may not be well insulated for the extremely cold days.  This year, I have done that twice.  Flowing water is less likely to freeze and the opening allows for some water to keep moving as it begins to freeze, hopefully not shutting off all flow and bursting the pipes.

And if people did not leave in a panic, would anyone think to shut off the water entering the home?  All homes should have two main valves: one for the utility company that may not be accessible, but one for the homeowner or plumber, easily accessible.  If that valve were shut off when the power was out and the in-house temperatures started dropping, the homeowner could open the faucets, showers, and such, to drain some water off, leaving an air gap and to provide a path for the water to expand without bursting the pipes.  This would not be foolproof.  Depending on the location and the uneven heat loss throughout the house, the ice could create the same thing as a shut valve.  But in every case, there would be less damage and when the electricity was restored and the house was heated above the freezing point, there would be a limited amount of water that did a limited amount of damage, almost no water damage, even if the pipes froze.  As it is now, the water damage will lead to mildew and mold, and escalated repair costs.

Then again, you would not get the video of icicles hanging from your ceiling fan on national television.

I know that is a silly thing in hindsight.  We lived in Mississippi during the January/February Ice Storm of 1994.  Since we were on a small road that was sparsely populated, we waited three weeks before power was restored.  The saving grace on the water pipes was that the storm only kept things below freezing for a couple of days.  I did some things that were not the right thing to do, but we kept the house above freezing for those days, horribly cold, but above freezing.  The bad thing is that due to the duration of the electrical outage and the fact that the temperatures came back up, we lost several hundred dollars of frozen foods.  We had just stocked the freezer with frozen fish and meats.  I was out of work, so while I had money, I bought in bulk to lower costs, but lost it all.

And while we are on the subject of that ice storm, I substituted for teachers who did not go to work because they had no electricity, but we did not have electricity either.  And my wife never missed a day of work in the surgical wing of the hospital in the neighboring county.  I opened the windows of the house and brought in the gas grill.  WARNING:  If you do not ventilate properly, you will die of carbon monoxide poisoning.  I am an engineer and I worked out the dangers and accounted for them.  For my limited time of having heat, I heated water for bathing and washing the dishes, heated the living room, and cooked the evening meal (usually my wife’s contribution).  We took the grill back outside, closed the windows, bathed using a pot of warm water for each of us, and then hopped into sleeping bags in the living room.  It was like camping out inside our own home.  While it was above freezing in the day after the first two days, it was below freezing each night.

My point in adding this trip down memory lane here is that on our wedding anniversary, we splurged and went to a restaurant far enough away to have electricity – Florence, Alabama.  When we returned, every light in the house was on.  You simply do not think of such things at the moment.  When most people left their homes in Texas, Arkansas, and other states with no power, they knew everything would freeze, but did they think it through?  Most people go into panic mode or the common mode these days is to blame their woes on someone else, especially the government.  Few go into survival mode and disaster response mode.  Many people have no clue what those modes are, especially in the deep South where those things often never occur in a person’s lifetime.  Let’s not talk of 100-year storms.  Let’s talk about a storm that your parents or your grandparents never saw in their lifetime.  That brings this tragedy into better focus.

Of course, no one was prepared.  There was an interview between a national weather channel’s meteorologist who had gotten his undergraduate degree in Texas.  He was interviewing a city official from Houston, Texas.  I doubt if many people heard his comment under his breath.  The city official said that they were prepared.  Mind you, this was before everything went horribly wrong.  The meteorologist ended the conversation with polite words, and then muttered something along the lines of “You are not prepared, because you don’t have a clue what is coming.”  Maybe I dreamed him saying that, but the words were prophetic.

But then, there have been media personalities, celebrities, politicians, and the general public through social media saying the same thing “There is no excuse…”

Granted, there should be no excuse for the gas pumps freezing, shutting off the fuel supplies to the power stations.  There should be no excuse for the turbines on the wind farms from freezing, but I am an engineer who has made such decisions, many years ago.  You use the grease or oil that is best suited for the average lows or highs that are expected.  No grease or oil is good for all those temperatures.  So, when you get temperatures lower than any temperature that Texas has seen since those gas pumps and wind farms were designed and installed, those greases and oils were not selected for those temperatures.  If they had been, you would be shutting down every 3-4 months to change the lubricants from cold weather lubricants to moderate weather lubricants to “slap yo’ Mama it is blazing HOT”.  And who is to say that it will not be blazing HOT in 2-3 weeks?  That’s what we faced in that ice storm in Mississippi, only after a few days.  Everything frozen to “Let’s go swimming in the lake” within a couple of weeks.

Sorry, this idea that millions can make uninformed statements on social media, like “there is no excuse,” and then have the professional media repeat those statements is one of the biggest dangers that the world faces.  It leads to anarchy, chaos, and distrust due to rampant misinformation.

And I do not think that I would even be writing this if a celebrity had not claimed that God was punishing Texas because one of their politicians supported Trump.  God does not take orders from politicians or celebrities.  And if this was God’s judgment, it would have had nothing to do with a political alliance or decision.  A total disregard of God being ultimately in charge, maybe.  Yet, God will use this winter storm to test everyone’s faith.

And while the media shoves the camera in the faces of the complainers who are ill informed, an unknown man walks through the grocery store line, handing each person a $20 bill, knowing that without power, the means of using your plastic cards is now gone.  While the media might interview a pastor or a leader of an organization that feeds thousands of people, the countless volunteers that do the cooking and serving are rarely seen on camera and they would be too busy to answer questions.

Times like this test everyone’s faith.  Some complain and blame everyone and everything.  Some quietly resolve to deal with the hardship as it comes.  And some observe and see where they are needed.  No sense wasting an opportunity to help someone else, and it is the best way to take your mind off the fact that you might just be more needy than the ones you are helping.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

2 Comments

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  1. According to my son, who currently lives in Texas and is an engineer, the power companies could have produced enough power burning fossil fuels on existing equipment to compensate for the power lost from frozen wind turbines, solar panels, and natural gas lines… but they were barred from doing so because of federal regulations related to climate change and carbon footprints. The suffering of people did not matter as much to those with decision-making power to compromise even a little regarding their own beliefs about the climate. J.

    Liked by 1 person

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