A storm which with high and howling winds, crosses over the city, funnelling some trillions of gallons from the Gulf of Mexico, then pauses, and backs over it again, must really dislike Houston. That it now proposes to inundate New Orleans, reprising the track of Katrina, suggests animus of a very high order on the part of the gods. My instinct would be to appease them.

Our Chief Texas Correspondent found himself in Colorado when Harvey came ashore — five thousand feet above sea level. Noting the rise, he then proceeded to eleven thousand feet, “just to be on the safe side.” He may return to view the damage to his Montgomery County estate when the airports re-open. Meanwhile, give the water some time to drain. Please say a prayer for dear Ed and some millions of others displaced and dispossessed. I have an aunt and cousins in the flood zone, too, and notice news reports on the circulation of alligators.

Texas, of which I’ve seen too little, has impressed me as post-modern places go. A combination of historical circumstances have contributed to the character of a people who, more than most, can cope with life. I am not surprised to learn of backbone and enterprise, on the part of those disinclined to play victim. They do not blame politicians for the weather, and even the politicians seem to get their priorities right. For instance, the iron hand with looters is as important as the rescue efforts; and the refusal to compound the difficulties with political theatre such as mass evacuations speaks well of them. But Texas, too, becomes monstrously urbanized.

Of course, this is the Age of Media (a.k.a. the Age of Bullshit), and authorities from the governor down, who should have no time for such nonsense, spend much of it on the talk shows. Alas, this is probably necessary to limit the media storm that will greatly aggravate the natural one, as the usual demons of the Left, who “never waste a crisis,” use it to advance their political schemes. We have now had, for instance, forty years of the vastly incompetent FEMA bureaucracy (one of President Carter’s bright ideas), and sixteen of metastasizing Homeland Security (one of President Dubya’s).

The task of government, in the course of a natural catastrophe, is to maintain order and provide the simplest possible traffic directions to the response. For the most part this must necessarily be neighbour helping neighbour. Relief efforts on the national scale need some coordinating, too, but they should be drawn from military and other “fixed assets” — from organizations that should themselves be designed to respond, nimbly and flexibly, to any kind of trouble. A bureaucracy that does nothing but wait ghoulishly for the last widely-publicized disaster to repeat itself is merely a cash pyre.

With less technology but perhaps more science, public authorities in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus, north China, built canals and reservoirs for irrigation and transport, which also anticipated floods. They did not e.g. spread suburbs across flood plains, then invent insurance plans to recompense the stupid. An extraordinary event might still overwhelm them, but if survived it would provide hints for general improvement and reinforcement. Prudence anticipates the known, but sensibly leaves the unknown to propitiatory prayer.

This we might do again, some day, should we happen to recover our sanity. Build to withstand what can be withstood, whether the power holds or fails. Go with the grain of nature. Think like engineers, not social workers. Let the people make provisions for themselves, and let them, too, learn from experience.