I see everything through flood control. The world. Why? You become what you do. If you take a guy like me and make him a flood-control reporter his whole life, he's going to come out with a flood-control point of view. Or drainage. Take your pick.
No wonder nobody ever tells me stuff like, "My daughter's getting married to a really nice young guy." They're afraid I'll come up with something tying it to the issue of runoff.
So two things were on television at the same time last week. Hurricane Isaac and Paul Ryan. First I see 14 feet of water rampaging through Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, a place I know a little bit and love a lot. And it's heartbreaking. Absolutely devastating to watch.
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Next I'm watching Paul Ryan's big speech in Tampa, and I hear the Republicans' pick for vice president going after President Obama as "... the kind of politician who puts promises on the record and then calls that the record."
Speaking to an enthusiastic audience at the Republican National Convention, Ryan paints Obama and by implication all liberal types as empty-promising do-nothings who keep themselves in office by telling people what they want to hear. Not him and Romney.
"We will not duck the tough issues," he vows to a tsunami of applause. "We will lead. ... We will not spend four years blaming others. We will take responsibility."
So I find myself sitting there in front of the television at home with this unsettling sense of having just heard something that isn't just a little bit off. It isn't merely a matter of emphasis or something like that. I feel I have just listened to a series of emphatic, cleverly phrased statements that are, in fact, the exact contrary of the truth.
It's not the liberals and the Democrats who take the easy path, flattering people with lies and seductive sweet nothings, at least not here on my patch. It's much more often the Republican business types who do the slippery business.
As I say, for me this is about flood control. No, really. That's actually how I see it. You might choose to look at Republicans through some other lens, like the fascinating question of whether or not women really are capable of crushing unwanted sperm to death with their vaginas following rape. I'm better off sticking with flood control.
The point is the same. Republicans in Texas and Republicans nationally have made a profession of lying to voters about science in order to lull us away from hard but important choices we really need to make if we want to preserve civilization as we know it. We're right in the middle of all that here in Dallas. And for us it's about flood control.
The day after the Ryan speech, reporter Randy Lee Loftis had a piece in The Dallas Morning News quoting a guy at Rice University about the role of human activity in causing the kind of terrible devastation I had just watched the night before in Plaquemines Parish. John B. Anderson, a Rice oceanographer, wasn't talking to Loftis about villains with handlebar mustaches.
For the most part the things Anderson was talking about were strategies adopted with all the best intentions and a good deal of scientific and engineering support based on knowledge at the time that have turned out nevertheless to cause disastrous, largely unanticipated consequences in the physical world.
Dams in rivers, for example. In the 1930s everybody from one end of the spectrum to the other loved dams in rivers, from Calvin Coolidge to Woody Guthrie. Dams put people to work. Dams made real estate developers and agriculture companies rich. And best of all, dams were good flood control.
Our own physical fates in Dallas, not to mention our own physical butts, are dependent on the concept of dams as the solution to everything. The old doctrine of dams says you can pave every single inch of ground to the horizon, you can forget about the issue of runoff and every other little water problem, because we have it all handled with dams.
Anderson is part of a consortium of scientists who have been talking about, among other things, the growing potential for disaster posed by the depletion of coastal wetlands, an unintended side effect of holding all that silt behind dams, silt that used to come downriver and help build barrier marshes between dry land and the sea.
That's only one aspect of the dam problem. On Unfair Park last July I wrote about floods that had taken 170 lives in the southern Russian city of Krymsk, a disaster that was followed by a lot of transparent teeth-lying by Russian officials about secret dead-of-night water releases from the Neberdzhayevskoye Reservoir.
The situation of Krymsk is not fundamentally unlike the situation of Dallas, where the safety of lives and property has come to be totally dependent on a complicated man-made contraption of multiple reservoirs, rivers, creeks and pipes, and, yeah, if it all works right and the rains fall in the right place at the proper rate, it'll keep us safe.
But just as in Russia we have little idea who runs it. We have no idea how it works. We haven't even thought about Plan B if the rains fall in the wrong place at the wrong rate and a wall of water shows up at the window at 4 a.m. someday. Our complete negligence in dealing with runoff has pushed the whole system to its absolute maximum edge of instability. And if the big dam does look like it might blow one night and somebody does pull the plug on us, lots of luck ever finding out who did it. Or why.
So why is this about Republicans? I had forgotten about Anderson the oceanographer at Rice until I saw him again in Loftis' piece, but he's the scientist who raised a cry in October 2011 when the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality censored a report he had coauthored, removing all references to global warming or human activity as contributing factors to these and other environmental risks.
As he and other scientists pointed out at the time, the factors they were pointing to in the report were broadly accepted by science across the board, no longer even in the same neighborhood with controversial theory. But TCEQ, ruled over by Governor Rick Perry's appointees, went through the report with a dull knife, hacking flesh and bone from it to eliminate any science that might get in the way of the Perry party line.
Then, as we know, our governor ran for president on a platform painting global warming as a godless lie fomented by people against bid'ness and freedumb. I think it's safe to say our nation saw through Perry and his approach to vote-getting, saw him for what he was, and the results were satisfyingly definitive.
But the approach we're hearing now from Ryan is only barely more clever — because it is a bit more vague — rendition of the Perry anthem. Ryan falls back on the East Anglia canard, taking a bunch of stolen emails from a British university, which proved some scientists have the social skills of 15-year-old emos, and using those emails to deny the legitimacy of science itself as a means toward knowledge.
Ryan has written of the emails, "... these revelations undermine confidence in the scientific data driving the climate change debates."
No they don't. They prove scientists can be assholes. But they prove nothing about science. Letter grades in science are not based on deportment. But Ryan also has written that, "there is growing disagreement among scientists about climate change and its causes."
No there's not. That's the exact opposite of the truth. There is growing, damn near overwhelming consensus that global warming is real, that human activity is a significant factor, and, may I mention, that the flood control strategies of the early 20th century are responsible for worsening flood problems and disasters in the 21st century.
Denying it is the sweet nothing, the wet little lie tongued softly into the ears of voters so they won't think they have to worry their little heads, let alone make any sacrifices to help the nation and the world get to effective new strategies.
Romney, who has been flip-flopping on earlier statements about global warming and human activity, joins Ryan, the so-called intellectual heavyweight of the pair who doesn't believe in science, and together they form the exact opposite of what they pose to be — tough realists not afraid of the truth.
We get this same stuff here at home. Dare to mention flood control and the city's leaders will accuse you of being against bid'ness and freedumb. And then they'll say there's no such thing as floods anymore.
Why would things divide up this way at this particular moment in history? Could it be we have arrived at a kind of physical and existential crossroads?
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One way, the sign says, "Keep on Keepin' On." More cheap stuff from China, more chemicals, don't worry about it. The other way the sign says, "Whole New Deal." New morality taking personal responsibility for the planet, new concept of fulfillment, less cheap stuff from China, fewer chemicals.
Some people make their money off Keep On Keepin' On. They do not want people taking that other path in any significant numbers. Their problem is that science is more and more dead set against them, so they must set their chins dead against science.
That's crazy. Right? It's insane. But they either can't admit it's crazy, or they don't want us to notice it's crazy, or, very worst case, they don't know it's crazy.
I get all this via flood control. Like I say, you can choose your own window. Any way you look at it, Isaac in Plaquemines Parish and Paul Ryan in Tampa, all on television on the same night: That amounts to one very big nightmare for us all.