Saturday, September 17, 2005

Hurricane notes

Just this once I have to post something very negative about the administration to get it off my chest. I try my best to be patriotic, supportive of leadership and extend the benefit of the doubt to those in high places. I know from personal experience how easy it is to become the target of frustrations that derive from situations over which one has little or no control. Anyone who has dealt with the public knows what I am talking about.

But any informed retrospective look at the New Orleans disaster must include some very harsh evaluations of leadership at every level, local, state and national. Sorry to have to say it, but in the same way that you-know-what always runs downhill, the responsibility for dumping it will always lead to the top. In this case the "top" isn't any state capital. The "top" has an address in Washington, D.C. It includes the President, Congress, and a federal bureaucracy behind they all hide. No amount of smoke-blowing will ever hide the fact that in times of threats so big that they include several states, the biggest burden of dealing with that threat falls clearly on the Federal Government.

The framing of the event by the Bush administration was that it was the nation’s largest and worst natural disaster, designed to excuse the administration’s neglect and incompetence. Better framing is: Hurricane Katrina did not destroy New Orleans as much as bad politicians and bureaucratic bungling did. Nature throws us hazards; people turn them into disasters.

I forgot where I read it, but the remark that caught my attention most in the last three weeks was this:

Man-made disasters are a possibility, but natural disasters are a certainty.

We can speculate about the timing or odds of natural events, but informed people know that there will be floods, volcano eruptions, earthquakes, severe weather and a host of other threats to human safety and comfort. How we prepare and cope with those facts is up to us as a human (if you will excuse the reference) tribe.
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I feel better.
Hat tip to 3Qd for the link.
Later...but not much later...
Dang! I haven't even finished my reading this morning and already I come across another presumably unrelated site that flashes back to Katrina. The H5N1 blog, which is keeping up with the progress of that virulent flu strain that was identified a few years ago, has this challenging post.
The predicament of teachers and learners on the Gulf Coast is appalling, and it would likely be even worse—worldwide—during and after a pandemic. People will scatter across the country. Some will die. Even a mild social breakdown could snap the continuity the our education system takes for granted.
With the economy in disarray, how will departments and ministries of education pay for salaries and maintenance and capital spending? President Bush seems prepared to go another hundred billion in the hole to rebuild New Orleans, but how long could the post-pandemic US (and Canada, and Mexico, and everywhere else) live on credit while we all rebuild the infrastructure the economy needs?
Is it my imagination, or are we still living in a post-911 world? I came across a grotesque comment in an anti-American thread that said "Osama is kicking himself that he didn't think about blowing up a levee." Just this morning I have come across another source indicating that similarly obscene creative thinking is brewing at the Pentagon, with the notion of using a very dirty nuclear weapon to take out Mecca as a retaliatory measure in response to terrorist strike. This is not a stretch. I have spoken personally with ordinary people who would not flinch at the idea...who would, in fact, take satisfaction from the thought.
When one looks at the aftermath of the hurricane -- which is still going on, incidentally (Has anyone seen that photo from sixteen days after the disaster, a graphic commentary on how America cares for citizens who are old, poor, and without means?) -- does anyone imagine that discussions about principles and theories are going to substitute for actions when the time comes for action.
Elsewhere on the same blog there is an update recapping the mortality rate of the H5N1 virus. If there is any bright spot, so far, it is that "human to human" transmission still does not appear to be one of the developments. That's like saying that the nitro-glycerine so far has not been shaken hard enough to explode.

Of the official 113 cases, 58 have resulted in death, for a mortality rate of 51.3%. Unofficially, we've had 121 cases with 63 deaths, for a mortality rate of 52%.
Reassuring, right?
Sleep well, America.

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