Monday, September 15, 2008
With this post, I'll end my blogging focus on Hurricane Ike and start easing myself back into a more normal routine, at least in terms of subject matter....
I'm sitting here at the edge of the bed in Mom's guest bedroom to keep the cats company after not spending much time with them yesterday. I wrote from in here Saturday to avoid waking Mom, but she's up today. I was about to move into the kitchen, when I came back for my power cord only to find Jerome racing straight towards me, purring up a storm, and Miss Maple waddling up behind. They normally like to hang around while I'm typing, so that sealed the deal.
I am not happy about leaving them in a strange place for a week, but taking them back home seemed risky. Through the web site of The Houston Chronicle (which I highly recommend to any fellow evacuees who happen by), I learned that in more than fifty places, the highway system had lane closures due to flooding as of yesterday. All major freeways were affected at one point or another with closure of all main lanes. On top of that, debris in the streets would have made my cat sitter's trip difficult, if not impossible. And it's hard to find gas. And there's a curfew. What a mess!
On top of that, I couldn't get a straight answer from my airline on whether they'd resume operations in time for me to fly out Tuesday. The drive back is nine hours long, so by about noon yesterday, I was on the phone with Hertz for over half an hour to extend my car lease. (I could have done this on the web in about two minutes if their web site were more clear about what number I needed to punch in to identify my car.) I then changed my airline tickets to depart from and return to Jackson. The changes shortened my time in Boston by about half a day and caused the price of my trip to quadruple, but if this leads to my being able to move there sooner, it will have been more than worth it.
This report from the Wall Street Journal would appear to offer the best executive summary of the consequences of the storm for Houston generally: "Damage appeared to be widespread, but far from catastrophic." That's my sense from Internet news coverage, blogs, and several successful phone calls to neighbors, friends, and coworkers.
I stopped watching the cable news coverage after seeing the blown-out east-side windows of the JP Morgan Chase building for the fiftieth time. (I want that particular shot and, now that I do, I can't find it anywhere!) The first thing I noticed about that picture and the journalists' perseveration on the damage was that the surrounding buildings all looked fine. Why didn't that merit a word?
Shortly after the storm, there were reports that the lights were out for more than 95% of Houston's electricity customers. This morning, the Houston Chronicle reports that they're back for "only" a quarter. Somebody needs to think about all the downed utility towers and lines snapped by flying debris and rewrite that one! I'm impressed.
In terms of property losses, I got lucky, and perhaps exceptionally so. I recall a report of one woman dying due to a tree falling on her house, and there are some pretty good pictures of what a tree can do to a house if you look for them. However, none of the pine trees I was concerned about at the house did anything but drop branches, according to a neighbor who stayed behind. In fact, the power is already back on there. If I don't return to find windows in the back blown out or learn that our storage unit took damage, I will have escaped with only the inconvenience and higher traveling expenses incurred by my decision to evacuate.
No complaints here: I get to see my wife and continue the job hunt, rather than sit on my hands (or wait in gas and grocery lines) for a week. By the time I come back, things will probably be under control enough that I can get useful work done again. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the unplanned visit to Mississippi this evening in Meridian, where one of my brothers will be firing up his grill.
Returning for a moment to that picture of the JP Morgan Chase Tower, the tallest in Texas. I find the iconic status of a financial institution's offices as a symbol of nature's wrath ironic, given that that there has been more ominous news from that sector over the weekend (HT: Alan Sullivan).
... Hank Paulson, the treasury secretary, decided to draw a line and refuse such help. After the Fed had bailed out Bear Stearns in March and the Treasury had taken over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac last weekend, expectations were high that they would do the same for Lehman. And that was precisely the problem: it would have confirmed that the federal government stood behind all risk-taking in the financial system, creating moral hazard that would take years to undo and expanding taxpayers’ liability almost without limit. Conceivably, Congress could have denied Mr Paulson the money he needed even if he had been inclined to bail Lehman out. [bold added]Sullivan also links to another story that indicates the degree of peril that government interference in the economy really presents.
The government, because of its nature, can force men to take actions (and assume risks) they would not take if free to consider the consequences. Hurricane Ike merely blew out windows on one side of a bank tower. The government, through bailout crack, has encouraged an enormous degree of recklessness in the financial sector and unjustly incurred liability on millions of innocent citizens.
As I always say, "At least you can run from a hurricane." Too bad an improper government is capable of doing far greater damage, and making it impossible for us to avoid.