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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Levees

The figure who is thought to be at the head of the current regime in Washington asked, "Who could have known that those levees in New Orleans would break?"

Of course he was right to some degree. Until they actually occur, no one really knows such things for absolutely dead on sure. But that can be said about any event before it happens. To have any meaning, then, that question has to cover more ground, and in this case that means assessments of risk, and from that point of view, plenty of people "knew." But they didn't have access to the levers. As is often pointed out now, people have been worrying about those levees from the beginning, and a regime that originated in Louisiana's neighboring state, Texas, should've been more aware of the danger than most.

Two or three years ago, after the latest in a series of near misses, I heard or read a very graphic and chilling foretelling of just what would happen should a strong enough hurricane strike just "right" in or near new Orleans. Many details were given but the main impression I had was that, should water break through or over the levees into the city, the pumps would be overwhelmed and the waters wouldn't be able to flow back out any time soon. Thus New Orleans would become a deathtrap, a huge soupbowl filled with misery and destruction. To me it all looked so possible and even so imminent -- there had been some powerful hurricanes lately -- that I wondered why there wasn't more alarm. This postulation described exactly what did happen soon enough with Katrina.

You would think therefore that those in power would know more about the conditions and the likelihoods in the country whose governing reins they hold. But if they have grabbed hold of those reins improperly, it only follows that they wouldn't. So, for instance, obviously no one among them keeps his eyes peeled on the Weather Channel.

This year's hurricane season was only a few weeks old when it set a record for the earliest date when there had been so many named storms. That increased the probability of storms with a force of 4 or 5, enough to do in New Orleans, and, mind-numbing though it can be at times, the Weather Channel duly reported that record. So much for those, then, who guffaw and point to the rarity of force 5's.

The storms of many kinds that attack the U.S. from every direction throughout the year affect its people much more often and more drastically than anything that happens in Iraq, or in the White House, the U.S. Capitol, or the Supreme Court for that matter, and for that reason such seemingly mundane things as the weather need to be watched, constantly. Otherwise no one can "know" anything.


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