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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.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Myth of the 2,000 School Buses

No sooner had I spoken of those on the conservative side of things who use nonsense as gospel just because it sounds good, than the Al Franken show examined a perfect example of this.

Yesterday Franken had as one of his guests David Brock, of Media Matters for America (to see its interesting site, click the title of this post), and they discussed how for days now, one after the other, pundits and others of the right wing have repeatedly said that New Orleans officials failed to use their 2,000 school buses to evacuate the city's poor people in time to escape the terrible effects of the levee breaches. Instead they supposedly left all those vehicles to the mercy of the flood waters, as shown by aerial photos.

There are such pictures -- though not of 2,000 buses. Instead, Brock revealed, a local New Orleans paper says that actually the city owns only 324 school buses, of which, when the hurricane struck, 70 were inoperative. That left 254 available, quite a far cry from the 2,000 so deliriously bruited about so as to direct all the fire away from the Bush Administration and toward the local officials. And, Brock said, those 254 couldn't have done the job of evacuating over 100,000 people.

I think it's worse than that. I think it would have been a big strain even for the mythical 2,000 buses. That judicious evacuation presupposes that 100,000 city dwellers would have gladly and obediently left their homes behind, along with their pets and all their hard-gained precious possessions that they couldn't carry, to line up in an orderly manner, bring their children and all the possessions that they could carry aboard a school bus, and allow themselves to be transported to higher ground ...where? New Orleans is surrounded by a host of rural parishes and the state of Mississippi, whose populations and ruling elites are mostly of different persuasions and do not look on the inhabitants of the big city with all the approval in the world. In addition they were about to have problems of their own from the same storm. So places would have had to be prepared in distant venues far ahead of time, in preparation for a calamity that hadn't happened yet and, going by all previous experience in recent memory, might yet be dodged.

Taking also into account the difficult nature of people of any stripe, I have trouble seeing that sort of clean, orderly evacuation from a city of that size happening in the best of times even with however many school buses. I am trying to think of when in history such a thing has ever been done, and so far I'm drawing a complete blank. Definitely not in the U.S. Also that figure of 100,000 seems low to me, in a city of over 500,000.

Brock wasn't sure of how the 2,000 school bus number got started. He thought that it might have come from a New York Times article that theorized that 2,000 buses would have been needed. He said the first time that the New Orleans officials were charged with leaving 2,000 buses to the floods appears to have occurred in a column written by Wesley Pruden, the editor-in-chief of the far right newspaper, the Washington Times. Brock used to work there, and he said that Pruden had a policy of giving news items a rightist slant that was so pronounced that his name gave rise among writers there to a term denoting that practice: prudenize. And those on Pruden's side of things, with the disgraced former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich in the forefront, just picked up that highly specious ball of the 2000 school buses and ran with it.

In the face of learning that the city had considerably fewer buses, and in the light of recognizing that evacuating a big city cannot ever be a simple matter, I wonder how quickly those pundits and others will drop that ball and pick up another. Since veracity isn't a factor in their tactics, they should have no trouble in finding other claptrap to fling around in the faces of the unconscious.


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