Sunday, November 05, 2006

Editorials

I gotta say, since arriving in New Orleans and starting to read the Times-Picayune paper edition, I've become something of a Jarvis DeBerry fan.

This cat is on point.

My favorite, so far, was his excoriation of USA Today's editorial page by starting with a Mark Twain quote: "I tell you I have been in the editorial business going on fourteen years, and it's the first time I ever heard of a man's having to know anything in order to edit a newspaper. . . . Sir, I have been through it from Alpha to Omaha, and I tell you that the less a man knows the bigger noise he makes and the higher salary he commands."

Heh heh.

7 comments:

dadvocate said...

I love the Mark Twain quote but I tend to agree with USA Today. I'm not opposed to rebuilding New Orleans but it will flood again, sometime. Man can keep nature at bay temporarily but it is folly to believe we can conquer nature.

Nature's protection of New Orleans is being destroyed by man's protection of New Orleans.

If you do a little research, you will find plenty of examples to deem this statement inaccurate, " In the history of the United States, there has never been another engineering failure like this one." Here's one. Here's another. Both are floods in which preparation was inadequate and levees and dikes didn't hold.

It would make sense to restrict rebuilding of NOLA to certain areas.

Dante said...

"If you do a little research, you will find plenty of examples to deem this statement inaccurate"

Shhh. Don't tell that to the folks in New Orleans. They want to believe that their flood is somehow specialer than every other flood we've had in our nation's history.

Patrick Armstrong said...

Contrary to prevailing opinion back East, not many folks are looking to rebuild a flood prone house, either. It comes from the whole 'self preservation' aspect of the human psyche to protect oneself and one's things.

I guess it is one thing to know that a few of those tax dollars go to rebuild an American city, it is quite another to worry that your house and all your possessions will be washed away in the next rain. No one moves back into houses that may be washed away in the next rain.

But the shocking thing about this time is that places above sea level flooded. Places below sea level flooded well above where the sea level should have stopped.

These weren't just ramshackle housing for poor people, these were hundred year old churches, substantial structures like the Dixie Brewery and ranch style homes in Lakeview that were built without the fear of being completely innundated. Built without fear because stuff like this doesn't normally happen.

Right now, folks down here are busy raising houses, many of which were already built on stilts or raised foundations in the first place. You know, the kind of stilts or raised foundations that you require in your building codes in areas that may flood a bit in a heavy spring rain. Kinda like those homes in Florida and the Carolinas that we rebuild, without question, every two or three years.

As to the specialistness of the New Orleans Deluge, I'm sure DeBerry has his reasons for singling this one out. The Great Mississippi Flood is a part of the canon, especially in Post-Katrina eras. Fact is, the river levees didn't fail for the Deluge. Fact is, technology has risen a few ticks since 1927 in the areas of flood control.

I mean, if you look at it as "man tires to defend self from nature and fails," yeah, there are a whole lot of similarities from Adam and Eve all the way to California's wildfires today. But in the same vein, all such failures are unique in some way.

You can't really tell how this is different from the stand alone text of DeBerry's editorial, but I guess when you drive down Robert E. Lee Boulevard through Lakeview, your perspective may be a little different regarding such statements.

Dante said...

Pat: "But the shocking thing about this time is that places above sea level flooded."

How is that shocking? Most floods occur above sea level.

Pat: "I mean, if you look at it as "man tires to defend self from nature and fails," yeah, there are a whole lot of similarities from Adam and Eve all the way to California's wildfires today."

But that's not what DeBerry is doing. He is being far more specific.

DeBerry: "To pull out Benjamin Franklin on us, to accuse us of insanity, "of doing the same thing over and over" is to miss the uniqueness of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. In the history of the United States, there has never been another engineering failure like this one."

He's not saying there has never been a flood like this. He's saying there's never been an engineering failure like this. And there very much has been without getting so vague a subitem as Adam and Eve.

And not to be spell check imaginary words but I'm pretty sure that would be "specialestness"

dadvocate said...

"technology has risen a few ticks since 1927 in the areas of flood control."

In some ways this is what worries me. We put too much trust in technology. We are so enthralled by what we do know that we forget that there is a lot we don't know.

Maysville, KY has flood walls and levees built in the 1950s that are 1" higher than the Flood of 1937. (Seems silly.) No one I've talked too believes those walls would actually hold.

Hopefully NOLA can be protected well enough to preserve its historic value and to be a thriving city but limited in size.

Also, from what I've read the levees did break in Mississippi in 1927.

Patrick Armstrong said...

In 1927, the Mississippi River levees failed in spectacular fashion (elsewhere, they were blown up in New Orleans - thus giving rise to the 'blow up the levees urban mythology that so infuriated people after Katrina), during the 2005 Deluge, the River levees held.

Apologies if I wasn't clear on that particular piece. After the books named for the particular catastrophes, I call 1927 "The Flood" and the 2005 "The Deluge."

And yeah, Dante, I'd reckon most floods do occur above sea level. And, yeah, most places where rivers overtop their levees are due to engineering failures of some kind. Perhaps DeBerry meant this one was unique among engineering failures because this particular failure occured in a very specific urban area, perhaps he meant that this one was unique because of the death toll, perhaps he meant this was unique because this was the first time in New Orleans 288 year history 'flooding' was ever this bad.

Perhaps it was just hyperbole, from someone who lives here speaking to others who live here. I don't know, I haven't been here very long.

I can think of reasons off the top of my head that I personally think it was unique, but those would be my opinions. But I'm glad you added the Franklin quote for reference.

You see, New Orleans can flood, just like anywhere else in America. There are parts that are prone to collect water. People still live in these places because they are generally dry enough to support habitation. But, because such smaller scale flooding can occur, many homes in these areas are built up, in direct defernce to man's inability to control nature or develop overreaching technology.

The engineering failure associated with Katrina put twenty feet of water in places not designed to handle twenty feet of water because those places don't often recieve twenty feet of water. And by 'often' I'm talking about 'darn near close to never'.

We built back in the flooded Midwest. After 1927, after the 1990's, after almost every flood. Sometimes folks move, because if it happens too often, you don't want to live there. Ditto Florida & the Carolinas, California and fires and earthquakes and mudslides, and all places that are not safe from nature which might just be 'everywhere.'

But I swear, and I follow weather news awful closely throughout the last 14 some odd years, this is the first time there has been a national debate about the wisdom of building back. I remember some talk after the Midwest in the 1990's and the initiative to move some towns away from the rivers that innundated them. I remember some talk after Floyd that some guy on Cape Hatteras had his $300K home knocked over like 7 times in 9 years, and had recieved something like three million in Federal disaster aid, and folks were going to ask him not to rebuild, because his property lines were underwater at high tide. I remember comedians talking about folks who rebuild in various places after a disaster.

But never did I hear the symphony of folks coming out and questioning the wisdom of rebuilding a major US metro area.

I mean, you cats read this blog, you know I've felt that way for a loooong time (and I've been well aware of our standing disagreements).

In many ways, rebuilding NOLA is being restricted, and the most 'disaster prone' areas won't come all the way back precisely because people don't want to rebuild in a place that is particularly prone to disaster. Flood insurance rates and homeowners are murder (from what I've been told), and many thousands of residents will end up taking the buyout option and not coming back.

But there isn't one logical reason that the whole footprint of Old New Orleans cannot be reinhabited. Levees can be built stronger, the MR GO can be filled in, coastal restoration can reverse the dangerous trends. New construction and home restoration can be done in such a way to minimize impact of flooding.

But, if twenty more feet of water shows up, a big if to be sure, yeah, we might be in a lot of trouble. But Coastal Anywhere, USA is in a heap of trouble if twenty feet of water shows up, Anywhere. Just ask rebuilt Pensacola, Apilachicola, Panama City, Miami, Tampa Bay, St Augustine, Charleston, & Wilmington.

Dante said...

"Perhaps DeBerry meant this one was unique among engineering failures because this particular failure occured in a very specific urban area, perhaps he meant that this one was unique because of the death toll, perhaps he meant this was unique because this was the first time in New Orleans 288 year history 'flooding' was ever this bad."

And those are all valid reasoning but if he's going to make the argument that New Orleans is not "doing the same thing over and over" because "there has never been another engineering failure like this one" then he needs to be explicit on why that is the case. If not, then it is a very poor argument.

And I know I can be a bit caustic, especially when I'm taking the far less popular side on an issue. Howver, what happened in New Orleans was a great tragedy and I really hope the people involved do get their lives back together. I don't agree with the original USA Today editorial but at the same time, I don't like the reasoning behind this one either. I for one in no way think "This cat is on point." and that's really the only reason I've put my embargo on New Orleans-related postings on temporary hiatus to weigh in here.