Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day!

My father still walks this earth – a little more slowly than he used to, but still going. He's no stranger to challenges, having lived through the Great Depression, been a soldier in World War II, married for over 50 years, helped to raise a family of four children, and weathered some very tough times in his career. Through all of it that I can bear witness to, he's been steadfast, optimistic, and reliable – and full of imaginative stories, nearly always cheerful, blessed with a wonderful sense of humor, curious (and respectful of curiousity), and unreasonably encouraging to his kids.

I love him more than I can find the words to say...

My father lives some 2,500 miles away from me, so I don't get to see him as often as I'd like to. For the past few years he's been coming out to California each summer, so that he and I can take a two or three week trip together. We've had some memorable hiking and four-wheeling trips in search of wildflowers, a passion that he and I share. Several of these trips I've blogged about (to the San Juan Mountains, Big Sur, and Mt. Lassen). We'd planned a trip this year, but some medical treatments he's taking forced us to postpone it. We're hoping that either this fall or next summer he'll be well enough to take another one...

Meanwhile, today is Father's Day – a day for all children to honor and cherish their dad. In my dad's honor this year, here's one of my favorite poems about fathers:
Only A Dad

Only a dad with a tired face,
Coming home from the daily race,
Bringing little of gold or fame
To show how well he has played the game;
But glad in his heart that his own rejoice
To see him come and to hear his voice.

Only a dad with a brood of four,
One of ten million men or more
Plodding along in the daily strife,
Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,
With never a whimper of pain or hate,
For the sake of those who at home await.

Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,
Merely one of the surging crowd,
Toiling, striving from day to day,
Facing whatever may come his way,
Silent whenever the harsh condemn,
And bearing it all for the love of them.

Only a dad but he gives his all,
To smooth the way for his children small,
Doing with courage stern and grim
The deeds that his father did for him.
This is the line that for him I pen:
Only a dad, but the best of men.

Edgar Guest, 1916
One of the best of men, indeed. Happy Father's Day, dad!

American Spirit...

Updated (again):

One of my commenters makes it clear I miscommunicated. When I talk below about the Iowa flooding being worse than the Katrina flooding, I don't mean the human toll (which was much worse in Katrina). I am instead talking about the actual amount of water – the flood itself.


Some excellent live flood-blogging (with video) here.

Original Post:

Unless you've been hiding under a rock somewhere, you know that Iowa is experiencing a massive flood. In fact, it's a “500 year flood” – of a size we'd expect to see only once every 500 years or so. Hundreds of square miles of land are flooded, and the flood waters are just starting to recede. Lots more photos here. The Cedar River was the worst; it crested at 32 feet over flood level. Thousands of homes were flooded, thousands of people evacuated, tens of thousands of acres of farmland were flooded and their crops ruined. By any reasonable measure, this flood was worse by far than the infamous flooding that Hurricane Katrina provoked in New Orleans, less than 1,000 miles to the south.

As if that wasn't enough, Iowa also suffered through a series of awful tornadoes in and near the flooded areas. The people of Iowa have been put through the wringer this week, that much is for certain.

Note the complete absence of whining, or reports of looting, or of screams for help from FEMA, or of complaints about inadequate federal assistance. The airwaves are not filled with pleas for donations. Not one squawk about how this is all Bush's fault. Instead (though there's little reporting of it in the mainstream lamestream media), there's a series of inspiring stories about people infused with what I'll call the “American Spirit” – the “can-do”, self-reliant attitude that launched these United States. There are many stories of people simply helping their neighbors in need, any way they can. I haven't heard a peep about Iowans believing they're victims – no crying out for help from these folks. They're just pitching in, administering first aid when needed, making sure that order prevails, and (already!) beginning the clean up and repairs. Farmers are already talking about replanting crops.

TigerHawk makes similar observations:
The thing is, though, the people of eastern Iowa seem to be stepping up in the Iowa stubborn way. I have seen any number of man-on-the-street interviews, and nobody is complaining. They all seem to be working to solve their problem, which is not surprising because Iowans do not complain about tragedy. They complain about hot weather and dry weather, but not tragedy. And I have looked for reports of looting and come up empty so far.

Katrina has become a metaphor for many things beyond natural disaster, including governmental and individual incompetence (depending on your point of view). In Iowa there is a 500 year flood, but the people are not paralyzed, whining, or looting. There will be no massive relief effort from around the world, and nobody will step up to help Iowans except for other Iowans. Yet years from now, there will be no Iowans still in FEMA camps.

The difference is not in the severity of the flood, but in the people who confront the flood.
Then over at Ace of Spades, Russ (from Winterset, Iowa – about a hundred miles from the flooding) writes this:

You may have heard that Iowa is experiencing catastrophic flooding this week. In addition to the flooding, we had a tornado on May 25 that wiped out more than half the town of Parkersburg and another tornado this last Wednesday that hit a Boy Scout campground along the Missouri River in Western Iowa, killing four scouts. The total body count of the tornados and flooding around the state has risen to 15, and we've got hundreds of millions of dollars in damage lying underneath the brown floodwaters. That's not even considering that we may lose 20% or more of the corn crop from delayed planting and some of the seeds that did manage to get planted drowning in the saturated soil. We'll soon be to the point where corn can't be replanted (it can only go so far into the fall before the frost kills it, and usually if you haven't gotten your corn in by now, you're gonna switch the ground to beans instead), and that'll throw a mother of a wrench into the corn price works.

The one thing I'm proud of right now is the absence of voices coming from my state cursing FEMA and President Bush for not "preventing" this tragedy. Compared to the opera we saw in Nawlins' in the aftermath of Katrina, it's nice to see people suck it up and get to work rebuilding their homes & businesses when Mother Nature takes a giant dump on them.


The one thing I'd like to address quickly is the NCAA track athletes who helped fill sandbags and try to save neighborhoods in Des Moines this week. Drake University in Des Moines is hosting the NCAA track & field championships this weekend, and there are literally hundreds of athletes who finished their events and immediately went down to the river to help anyway they could. We've got Northerners, Southerners, Easterners & Westerners (and Conservatives, Liberals & Libertarians, I'm sure) all pitching in to help Iowans save their homes and businesses. Next time you see some college athlete in a "revenue sport" acting like a horse's ass, remember these kids and know that not all athletes are self-centered and spoiled. I know that for every memory of a house or business befouled with floodwaters, there will be another warm memory of a stranger who showed up out of nowhere and asked "What can I do to help?" God bless 'em.

American Spirit in action. Finally, here's Kathy from the Cake Eaters Chronicles, writing about the Boy Scouts who immediately swung into action after their camp was devastated by a tornado:
While the whole thing is just horrible, I have to think that if it was a pottery camp organized by Kumbaya-singing hippies, things might have been much, much worse. They probably would have had the kids out on the front porch, to witness the awesomeness of Mother Nature, and there probably would have been more casualties and more deaths. If you go up to either of those news links, you will view interviews with many scouts who were there, and the common thread was yes, we found shelter, we prayed to God to spare us, then when the storm passed, we were on our feet with our First Aid kits at the ready and started applying pressure to bleeding wounds, and started digging out people who were crushed by walls, ceilings and debris. A few kids even broke into a shed where there was an ATV and chainsaws and went out to the main road and started clearing up the fallen trees so that the emergency vehicles could get in to help the wounded. How amazing is that? The majority of these kids are under the age of fifteen and they had the presence of mind to deliver first aid and to make sure that ambulances could get in? That's freakin' phenomenal. When most kids their age would be running around like headless chickens, crying and screaming for the benefit of the cameras, these young men were doing what needed to be done, and I have no doubt there would have been more fatalities if not for their swift action.
Her post is much longer and covers several related topics; read the whole thing here.

Unlike Michelle Obama, I've been proud of America for a long time. Unlike the aftermath of the Katrina disaster, the stories coming out of the American heartland's awful floods are a good example of the source of my pride.

I made a donation to the Boy Scouts of Cedar Rapids this morning. They are already at work, helping their neighbors. Though they haven't asked for any additional help, I'm certain they'll put it to good use. There won't be any stories of wanton waste and massively stupid relief efforts from that quarter...

A Day at the Flag Shop...

Never let it be said that the Germans can't poke a little fun at themselves – and the Palestinians at the same time...