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Tag: Ted Cruz

The Bryant family of Garland, TX huddled in front of the fireplace with their kids and their dog.

Surviving a Not-So-Natural Disaster


By G. S. Norwood

I grew up in Missouri, so I know about snow. I’ve been caught in a blizzard, snowed in over Christmas, and endured a January with fresh snow storms every three days. I know how to deal with natural disasters like those. So did the public utility companies of my native state. But I live in Texas now, and last week I only barely managed to survive a not-so-natural disaster. I credit my Missouri smarts, but I blame the government infrastructure that totally failed Texas.

It’s Not Like We Weren’t Warned

Weather forecasters in Texas tend to panic at the mere thought of ice. They’d been telling us for weeks that we were due for a dance with the Polar Vortex. We knew it was coming. Like any sensible person, I prepped my house, draining hoses and changing furnace filters. I stocked up on things like toilet paper and pet food. The Polar Vortex could bring it.

On Friday, February 12, I picked up my grocery order for the week, full of sandwich stuff and the ingredients for a big batch of chili. There had been a 133-car pileup to the west, in Fort Worth, that morning. Six people had died on an iced-over freeway ramp. We all shook our heads in dismay, but the roads were clear in my city. A few tiny flecks of very dry snow were starting to fall, and it was getting colder, but I was okay.

Cars, SUVs, trucks, and tractor-trailer units lie tumbled and smashed across several lanes of ice-shiny highway. On either side of the pileup, a dozen emergency vehicles, as well as police and firefighters scramble to help victims.
The debacle on I-35W near Fort Worth, TX. (Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor / via The Dallas Morning News)

The snow started in earnest on Saturday. I like snow, and I was indoors, warm and well-fed. My dogs wanted to go out and play. The cats wanted to sleep. My biggest concern was for the birds; I didn’t want my bird feeder to run out of safflower seed.

A Not-So-Natural Disaster

By Sunday morning the snow was about four inches deep, including in my driveway and street. A rabbit had hopped across my front lawn sometime overnight. The morning paper warned of possible “rolling blackouts” to protect the electrical grid from strain over excessive demand. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) promised these blackouts would last fifteen to 45 minutes each and be no big deal.

They lied. ERCOT and local energy providers had run cost/benefit analyses on winterizing the grid the way the rest of the country has done, and decided they’d rather save money than lives. That decision created a not-so-natural disaster.

The ERCOT control room has and extensive array of screens and futuristic-looking control desks.
The ERCOT control room looks a lot more advanced than its grid turned out to be. (@ERCOT_ISO / Twitter, via E&E News)

Timeline for a Not-So-Natural Disaster

On Monday, at 2:00 am, my power went out for the first time. It was out for about 30 minutes. We’d never had rolling blackouts back in Missouri, but if that was what they were like, I figured I could handle them.

At 3:30 am the power went off again. At 4:00 am, I woke up because the house was getting really cold.

That blackout lasted for eight hours. The indoor temperature got down to 40 degrees (F). I could see my breath. My house is all electric, so I couldn’t cook food, make tea, or shower. I had no light and, although I have a fireplace, I had no wood to burn in it. The internet was gone, but my phone was charged. Our local news kept repeating ERCOT’s lie about the 15 to 45-minute rolling blackouts. They recommended we drink hot beverages to stay warm, assuming everybody had a gas stove.

Nearby buildings are dark, but a few blocks over the lights remained on in downtown Dallas.
One deeply unpopular energy-saving strategy utilized partial blackouts like this one in Dallas. (Brandon Wade, via The Dallas Morning News)

Dark Night of the Soul

On Monday afternoon my power came back on for a couple of hours. I hurried to cook a serious meal and make myself hot tea. Every device went on a charger, while I closed off rooms and left drips on all my faucets to keep my pipes from freezing and breaking. Then the lights went off again.

Oncor, my local electric company, admitted that the rolling blackouts might last up to an hour. They told us to only make a report if the power was out for more than 60 minutes. I took grim satisfaction in reporting every hour on the hour as my power outage stretched into the evening.

Temperatures continued to drop, headed for a low of 2 degrees overnight. A friend reported it was 34 degrees in her kitchen. Around 9:00 pm an ambulance took away my next-door neighbor, an eighty-year-old stroke survivor.

I woke at 1:30 am on Tuesday. Fully dressed, buried in blankets, wrapped in jackets and coats and gloves, I was still cold. Wool boot socks did not keep my toes warm, even under the covers. I know about hypothermia, so when I began to shiver, I knew I was in trouble. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to get out of bed to find the tissues so I could blow my nose.

The Bryant family of Garland, TX huddled in front of the fireplace with their kids and their dog.
Weathering ERCOT’s blackouts challenged many families in Texas. The Bryant family cuddled by the fireplace in a pile of blankets with their kids and the family dog (wearing two doggie sweaters), in their home in Garland. (Smiley N. Pool, via The Dallas Morning News)

What’s A Woman to Do?

Frightened for my safety, alone except for my animals, I thought about calling 911. But what would I ask them to do? I didn’t need hospitalization, and my city hadn’t opened any warming centers. Who should I call? A mental health line?

Oncor got another outage report from me, and then I did what any pissed-off American citizen should do in such circumstances. Hunched over my tiny phone screen, I pounded out an angry e-mail to my state representative, demanding he introduce legislation to mandate modernization throughout the Texas electrical grid. Another angry screed went to ERCOT, pointing out what utter failures they were. Invoking images of frozen grannies, clutching their paid-up electric bills, I also referenced of frozen nuts. I didn’t mean pecans.

Then I burrowed deeper under my covers and resigned myself to the cold and the dark. I had my rage to keep me warm.

In this editorial cartoon a Texan in a cowboy hat, coat and muffler holds a mug under the frozen spigot of a container marked “Deregulation.”
Editorial Cartoon by Nick Anderson / Tribune Content Agency via Cleveland.com

A New Day

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I discovered I hadn’t been the only angry emailer, tweeter, or caller to communicate with our representatives overnight. Some mayor out in West Texas got so tired of the calls he told everybody the government owed them nothing. He quickly became an ex-mayor. Our United States Senator decided to fly to Cancun, where it was warm. The response he got from his constituents was even hotter.

But Texas’ let-business-regulate-itself governor actually called for new legislation to regulate ERCOT. It seemed like everybody (who didn’t fly to Cancun) agreed: this was a not-so-natural disaster, and we wanted those responsible to pay.

By Tuesday night—Oh! Look! Actual rolling blackouts began to happen. They were more like two hours on; six hours off, but they were sort of predictable, and cycled more quickly through the night. On Wednesday, around noon, my power came back on and has stayed on ever since. By Saturday, February 20, a solid week after things began to go bad, the temps in my part of Texas popped up into the 40s, and the snow melted away.

A low camera angle catches frost on the grass in a Texas field at dawn.
A frosty morning in Texas from an “ITAP” (I took a picture) thread on Reddit. (Alyssa J. Perez)

Fallout

It will take a while to get back to normal. The New York Times reports at least 58 people died as a result of this not-so-natural disaster. The Dallas Morning News reported that broken pipes and cold-related damage will cost insurance companies more than Hurricane Harvey did back in 2017. Politicians have called for investigations. People have called plumbers and lawyers, and started to look for someone to sue.

Me? I’m just happy I survived. I am safe and warm, and my house is undamaged. For just this quiet moment of time, that’s good enough for me.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to The Dallas Morning News for three of the photos in this post! First, for the “Debacle on I-35W,” with extra thanks to photographer Lawrence Jenkins. Second, for the “Partial Blackout in Downtown Dallas,” with a tip of the hat to photographer Brandon Wade. And thirdly for the “Family Survival Cuddle,” with gratitude to staff photographer Smiley N. Pool. The “ERCOT Control Room” photo is from ERCOT itself (on Twitter), via E&E News. We offer our deepest gratitude to Nick Anderson and Tribune Content Agency for the “Kool-Aid is Frozen” cartoon, via Cleveland.com. And we also appreciate the “Frosty Texas Morning” photo by Alyssa J. Perez, via an “I Took A Picture” thread on Reddit. We appreciate all of you!

G.’s Housemates:

For posts about the other living things that share G.’s home, you might enjoy “The Snow Witch Sisters” and “How Does Your Garden Grow?” about her gardens (we hope they survived), “The Texas Pack,” about her dogs, or “Cats in Space?” and “The Universe Gives Me a Cat,” about . . . we bet you can guess!

Rape culture

In preparing my recent post about the Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, I necessarily spent some time thinking about her experiences with rape and other forms of exploitation (and how she processed those experiences into her powerful paintings), including absolutely outrageous abuse at the hands of the court during her trial.

Artemesia Gentileschi’s 1610 painting Susanna and the Dirty Old Men (Okay, so officially it’s Susanna and the Elders) eloquently captures how if feels to be ogled as a lust-object.

That, in turn, led me back to “rape culture.” All the classic abuses present in Artemesia’s case–the minimization of the offense, the victim-blaming, the publicly abusive treatment of an already-traumatized young woman–can still all too often be found in rape or sexual harassment cases today.

What is “rape culture,” you might ask? There are variations on the definition, but it all boils down to a culture-wide normalization of violence against women. It’s a situation in which every encounter carries the potential for danger.

Cartoonist Matt Bors captured the dilemma in this 2014 panel.

“Normalization” means no one’s really that surprised when it happens . . . again. Or that it happens mostly to women, children, the mentally disabled, trans, or gender non-conforming individuals (perceived as “weaker”).

It means people make crude jokes about it, even while acknowledging “yeah, it’s bad to do that.” The asymmetrical balance of power and the pain inherent in the situation can also result in more “sane” humorous takes–with the emphasis on the pain.

Donald Glover offers humor for a moment when “If I can’t find a way to laugh I might go crazy.”

It means a cultural norm that allows adults to give children unwanted hugs or kisses and demand that they accept the treatment–thereby training them that boundaries may be transgressed when one party has more power than the other.

On the campaign trail last year Ted Cruz and his daughter Caroline gave us an unintentional example of how even a well-meaning adult can ignore a child’s signals. Cultural norms can be insidious when they teach that it’s okay to ignore boundaries (such as personal space).

Normalization is a climate in which sexual violence can frequently be portrayed in entertainment media, sometimes as “edgy.” All too often, rape-culture-inured audiences find it entertaining in a sexually provocative way.

A still from The Isle, a Korean film that explores some of the darker human passions.

The same line of thought minimizes the transgression and excuses the aggressor: “He couldn’t help himself.” “She led him on.”

Normalization places the onus on the victim to avoid the danger: “She shouldn’t have been drinking.” “She was asking for it.” “She shouldn’t dress like that,” or “She wore that short skirt.” The logical extension of “she should have dressed more modestly” is that we end up in a niqab. (Oh, but those eyes–so provocative! Surely she must be asking for it!) My point? You can never win that argument by giving in to the (il)logic.

Modesty, cultural norms, and a long history result in some women feeling much more comfortable when they are as hidden from others’ view as possible.

Another classic line: “She shouldn’t have been walking there.” Is it really acceptable for there to be some parts of one’s own hometown were one feels unsafe? More: is it acceptable for some to feel even more unsafe than others?

Would you  be afraid to walk down this alley by yourself? Or would you walk a much-farther distance to avoid it, even if you were in spike heels? Risk-evaluation is an everyday calculation for many of us.

After one of the all-too-frequent mass shootings in recent years, I remember reading a letter to the editor of my local paper. The author, a man, wrote about how terrible he thought it would be if (from fear of terrorists) he were afraid to go certain places or wear certain types of clothing (to avoid making himself a target).

“Ha!” I thought. “Welcome to every woman’s world!”

Both Margaret Atwood and Gavin deBecker have been credited with an observation that could be used as a chilling summation of how things work, in a rape culture. Certainly it echoes Donald Glover’s theme above. They said:

Rape culture: is it really acceptable to live like this?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia and the Web Gallery of Art for the photo of Artemesia’s wonderful painting, and to Matt Bors and The Nib for the cartoon about the hazards of dating. Many thanks to Donald Glover via Rasheeda Price’s “Being a Woman” Pinterest board, for the “crazy boyfriend” joke. For the full story about Ted Cruz and his daughter, I’m indebted to The Daily Caller. Many thanks to Yogesh P. Bhadja’s Tikdom.TK post “Cinema” for the still from The Isle. I appreciate the Australian ABC News “Explainer,” for the photo of three niqab-clad women (the article that went with it, about traditional types of clothing is also fascinating). Many thanks to The Huffington Post for the “scary alley” photo, from their thought-provoking article, “Visiting a Rough Neighborhood can Influence Trust, Paranoia,” and to Boldomatic for the graphic of the Atwood/DeBecker quote.

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