Oklahoma. Bad Weather. Same Credit Grabbing.

First Greg Swann; with a post quotable in its entirety. There will be more on this next week.

We walk our dogs late at night at Rio Vista Park in suburban Phoenix. I love to go past the skate park, because the boys are such amazingly hard workers — toiling away at ten at night, and some of them will have been there for twelve hours.

The culture at large has nothing but contempt for exclusively-male pursuits, with skateboarding standing in as the cypher for the whole. But the boys who work at things like skateboarding or softball or skeet shooting or homebrew electronics or ceaseless home-improvement, these guys are amazing in their skill and dedication, their willingness to keep working and working and working until they get it just right.

No one notices their efforts, no one admires their perseverance, no one cares. But if you want to know where all the good men have gone, look for them in places where being a good man is honored and revered, instead of always being denounced or ridiculed.

The position of modern American women puts me in mind of prideful retailer standing under a huge sign that reads “The Customer Is Always Wrong!” Emotionally satisfying, perhaps, but clearly bad for business. Where are all the good men? They’re off doing things they’re appreciated for with people wise enough to appreciate them for what they are.

Burt Folsom, who kinda specializes in surprising you with actual history—such as how truly great and revolutionary the “Robber Barons” really were; like, if you actually know the, like, actual history & shit (but who bothers with that?): What is the Difference Between a Tornado and a Fire?

What are the two major differences between these two natural disasters: the Oklahoma tornado of 2013 and the Michigan fire of 1881?

The first difference is that, bad as the tornado in Oklahoma this week was, the Michigan fire of 1881 was more devastating. Raging flames swept through eastern Michigan, killing almost 200 people and destroying over one million acres of timberland and much property in four counties.

A second difference is seen in the prevailing attitudes toward private charity and the role of government. True, in the Oklahoma tornado we have seen heroic work by teachers, citizens, and local church members. Those groups have saved lives and mitigated damage. Oklahomans tend to be resilient and self-reliant. But more emphasis in the media has been focused on high-profile politicians, who are promising to give other people’s tax dollars to victims of the tornado.

At the time of the Michigan fire, Americans looked inward to themselves, not outward to the federal government to assist victims. They became the most generous people on earth, partly because they knew government had nothing to give except what it taxed away in the first place, and partly because they saw it as a personal responsibility to help their fellow citizens in need.

In fact, the Michigan fire of 1881 became one of the catalysts for starting the American Red Cross. Clara Barton led the way in promoting relief for Michigan fire victims from her home town of Dansville, New York. According to locals there, Clara Barton “rallied us to our work,” which meant sending food, clothing, and other gifts to Michiganders who were victims of the fire. Railroads provided the shipping. New Yorkers left jobs and homes to rush to Michigan and help the people there rebuild.

No presidential summit on voluntarism was needed because the volunteers simply showed up. And they did so in San Francisco 25 years later when that city was ravaged by a huge earthquake.

Robin Lampson, who lived through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, has described how the not-so-prosperous people nearby all pitched in to help the earthquake recovery. “So it was,” Lampson said, “that farmers and their wives, even from the most distant farms in that section of the valley, brought in their contributions—more sacks of potatoes and dried fruits, plus hundreds of quarts of canned fruits and vegetables. Dressed and roasted chickens were hauled in by the dozens. . . . This went on for many days.” The San Francisco area recovered rapidly.

Our nation’s Founders limited government because they wanted people to help people in time of need. Giving one-on-one establishes habits of trust and friendship that create a blessing for the giver as well as for the receiver. Writing government checks does not do that, and, given the corruption and incompetence of many government officials, the Founders believed money would likely be wasted if Washington was given the task of providing relief.

The heroes of the 1881 Michigan fire were thousands of private citizens, whose names rarely made headlines and whose selfless devotion has since been forgotten. Likewise, the heroes of the Oklahoma tornado today are those who are helping with their own resources, not the politicians who come to distribute other people’s money.

Finally, I have thankfully never felt mistaken in my firm belief that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is anything but a stupid doofus with a cool name.

That is all.

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  1. Karen on May 22, 2013 at 15:41

    The second stupid doofus award for reporters goes to the reporter interviewing the strong woman who thought she lost her dog.

    Reporter: “Are you able to comprehend yet what happened here?”
    Woman: “I know exactly what happened here! Exactly!”

    Reporter: “What do you think of all this?”
    Woman: “This is life in the big city.”

    And then when the dog is spotted in the rubble and the owner is trying to get it out, the poor woman has to ask the dweeb for help! What a moron.

  2. […] The Animal / Posted on: May 22, 2013 Free The Animal – First Greg Swann; with a post quotable in its entirety. There will be more on this next […]

  3. Greg Swann on May 22, 2013 at 13:46

    Folsom’s reflections are wonderful. I’m proud to keep his company and yours, Richard.

    On Facebook, I posted a photo from Oklahoma City with this poem:

    A little bit of swagger, not too much.
    A little bit of strut, just a touch.
    A little bit of courtliness, rough around the edges.
    A little bit of mischief, creeping through the hedges.
    A man rolls up his sleeves and gets to work,
    and you can say it with a smile if you can’t say it with a smirk.

    I think the smirk is the perfect expression of a male human being’s recognition of his own worthiness to be alive, and one of the many things I admire about you is that the default state of your face, the resting state, is a solemn, serene smirk.

  4. Phil Parsons on May 23, 2013 at 04:54

    Great essay Richard, and thank you for the links, especially Burt Folsom’s site, which I am devouring.

    @Karen – I was thinking the same thing! “Put down that fucking camera and help her, dammit!!”

  5. Richard Nikoley on May 23, 2013 at 06:54

    Phil, grab The Myth of the Robber Barons on Kindle. Prepare to be blown away. I was first introduced to Folsom in 1990 while living in France and I read a long essay about the US Railway pioneer JJ Hill who built the Great Northern without a penny of Government aid or subsidy, and not even using Eminent Domain. The essay heavily sourced Folsom’s older work, Entrepreneurs Vs The State which I believe is basically the same as the newer one under a different title.

  6. Paul C on May 23, 2013 at 07:13

    Michigan had another far more disastrous fire 10 years earlier in 1871 that killed over 1500 people, also burning over 1 million acres of old-growth pine, an estimate of 1 billion trees, and that fire didn’t receive the help described in this post. The museum for that fire is about a 45 minute drive from my house. It’s a fascinating story, in part because of how it was mostly ignored by the country as it happened the same day as the great Chicago fire.

  7. Richard Nikoley on May 23, 2013 at 10:11

    So redstate/bluestate political dynamics were already in full swing in 1871. Interesting.

  8. phreebie on May 23, 2013 at 14:07

    I agree with much of this post, and I would like to comment on one aspect of it. While not from the US, I believe that the government has ingrained itself so much into people’s lives, and taxed and charged people into isolation.

    Self reliance has been all but legislated away. That San Francisco chicken farmer now would have any number of taxes, levies and inspections to endure before ever getting a dressed or roasted chicken anywhere near the place. They most likely need to apply for planning permission and have comliance checks before being allowed to build a barn.

    Imagine the litigation, again encouraged by the state, if a couple of displaced families succumbed to salmonella from a donated chicken. I was somewhat surprised by photos of large stacks of bottled water in shrink wrap on the back of pickups destined for Moore City. When I think of donating water, I think of filling clean recycled containers from my tap.

  9. LXV on May 23, 2013 at 16:11

    “The culture at large has nothing but contempt for exclusively-male pursuits….. like skateboarding or softball or skeet shooting or homebrew electronics or ceaseless home-improvement,…..

    No one notices their efforts, no one admires their perseverance, no one cares. ”

    Maybe this is one of those Boomer/ Millenial differences or maybe it’s just because I tend to travel more in geek circles than the “culture at large” or maybe it’s because I’m a woman, but I don’t see what Greg sees. I see televised X-Games, hacked Kinects and Raspberry Pi, a returning interest in craft work, a resurgence in comic books, and a golden age for the independent game developer. All generally considered “male” pursuits, all considered cool.

    Granted I don’t know much about the skeet shooting world, but I haven’t seen in slagged anymore than I’ve seen it praised. Tony Hawk is still a celebrity, there’s a Steeler bar in practically every city in America, and DIY tiny houses are gaining popularity exponentially.

    Whining about being victimized is not a good look for either gender.

  10. Paul C on May 23, 2013 at 19:19

    Richard the earlier fire was in a remote part of Michigan, news traveled by horseback then (slowly) and the story was rather unbelievable — a fire that killed 1500 out of population of around 3000, a wall of fire a mile high and 5 miles wide traveling at 100 mph. The ground and air were made of fire. It jumped a 17 mile wide body of water (Green Bay) and began burning on the other side. A fire that was later studied by our wonderful government as a model of how to create a firestorm in Dresden and Tokyo in WWII. The Chicago fire didn’t have those problems.

    I’m wondering if the huge response described by Folsom was in some way society attempting to redeem itself for the lack of response to the earlier Michigan fire.

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