Monday, August 28, 2006

Katrina: 1 Year Later

I am approaching the 1-year anniversary of the start of this blog, and at the 1-year anniversary of the event that brought this blog into being – the day that Hurricane Katrina struck land.

After Hurricane Katrina, day after day, I wanted to grab the nation by its figurative collar and shout at it, “Are you nuts! Do something constructive, will you!” It took a few days, but the pressure finally built to the point that I got up the nerve to set up a blog and started writing.

I was, at the time, too polite to shout, so I spoke calmly and rationally. Sometimes, I wonder if that is the right approach.

There were other factors pushing me in the direction of writing a blog. There were people commenting that I have yet to take my ideas on moral theory and apply them to anything in the real world. Hurricane Katrina exposed a real-world situation that cried for the reasoned application of moral principles.

Katrina and the War on Terror

Hurricane Katrina struck four years after the attacks of 9-11. This means that the government had 4 years to put together a plan on how to respond if any of our cities should ever suffer a devastating attack. If they had done their jobs the way they were supposed to, then they could handle Hurricane Katrina. After all, a terrorist attack would likely go off without a warning. Katrina gave us three days to prepare. Katrina, actually, gave us four years to prepare. Certainly, we were now ready.

Yeah, right.

Hurricane Katrina had made it clear that, in four years, the Bush Administration had done nothing to prepare a national response to a city in crisis.


We needed a national response. We got national excuses.

He wasted four years that he should have spent preparing for things that were far worse than what Hurricane Katrina delivered. Katrina gave his administration a slow pitch – one that he should have easily hit out of the ball park.

“It’s a swing and a miss, ladies and gentilemen. Strike . . .”


New Orleans could have been hit by a terrorist bomb. If a terrorist can rip a hole in the side of a military Destroyer, it can rip a hole in the side of a levy. Then, water would have poured into New Orleans without any warning at all. Nobody would have evacuated. Then, what would have happened?

“Don’t worry. George Bush and the Department of Homeland Security has been working on just this type of problem for four years now. We’re ready. We’re past ready.”

Um . . . I’m waiting.

People are still waiting.

I have an imagine of my mind of George Bush at the wheel of a pickup with the rear end up on jacks and the tires removed, pushing the gas pedal down as hard as he can, spinning his wheels, telling us that we have to “stay the course.”

You’re not going anywhere, George.

Can we please have a government willing to set up a system that is capable of responding to a major crisis in any major American city – regardless of whether it has a natural or a human cause?

Two Plans for Disaster Prevention

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we heard two responses to the event, and two sets of plans on how we could have prevented this destruction and prevent further destruction.

Plan A: One set of reactions told us that the destruction of Hurricane Katrina was punishment for our sins – a form of divine retribution for our wicked ways. What we should have done (and what would have prevented the loss of life if not the loss of property) was to outlaw abortion, outlaw gay marriage, force all gays back into the closet, demand prayer in school, and institute the Christian equivalent of Sharia Law throughout the land. Then, God will smile down on us and things such as Hurricane Katrina would not happen. (Or, if they happened anyway, it would be because we are incapable of understanding God’s divine plan.)

That’s Plan A. Now for Plan B.

Plan B: The other set of reactions told us that the destruction of Hurricane Katrina was punishment for our sins – a form of natural retribution for our wicked ways. What we should have done (and what would have prevented the loss of life if not the loss of property) was to build stronger levees around New Orleans. This reaction says that we should have put more effort into studying the science of hurricanes in specific and the climate in general, and then fed that information into computer models to predict what a hurricane would do. It says that we should have been inspecting the levees to make sure that they had not deteriorated and were still up to specifications, and prepared and tested an emergency response in the unlikely event that the levees should break, including well-equipped 2nd-floor shelters throughout the city that would have emergency teams assigned to them and that people could get to quickly in case of a breech. If we had done this, then the people of New Orleans, if not the property, would have survived.

All of those in favor of Plan B raise your hand.

There are not enough hands being raised. It is shocking and depressing that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina I heard a lot of people shouting that we needed to ban abortion and homosexuality and twist every school child’s arm to get him to pray to God.

Um . . . no, I don’t think that’s going to work.

One year ago today, science saved tens of thousands of American lives. It would have saved more, if the people would have forced their politicians to listen to the scientists and engineers.

Science gave us a satellite in space that captured photons bouncing off of the earth and turned them into an electromagnetic signal that was sent back to earth, where it was picked up by an antenna that fed those pulses into a computer that created an image of a hurricane heading towards Louisiana. That data was fed into another computer that held a computer model that predicted course and speed. That gave a million people who would not have otherwise known that a hurricane was coming time to leave, and a government time to set up emergency aid for those who could not leave.

The scientists did their job.

If Katrina had been a surprise, like the storm that struck Galveston Island, Texas in 1900, a lot of people alive today would have been dead.

Yet, these people went on to thank God for delivering them from this danger. President Bush called for a national day of prayer – while he continued his administration’s war on science.

“Hey, if God had anything to do with this at all (which He did not), He was the one that created the hurricane to start with. God was the one that almost got you killed. The scientist is the one who saved your life.”


Plan A will only have the effect of adding a lot of human-caused suffering to a lot of preventable nature-caused suffering. Plan A is like the tribal village sacrificing a virgin to the Volcano God in the hope that he will spare their village. The fate of the village is already sealed. The best hope for the villagers rested in studying volcanoes while they could, assessing the danger, and planning ways to respond to the forces of nature that were beyond their ability to change. If they have thrown away that opportunity, then they have already lost the battle. Throwing virgins at the problem is not going to help – it will only add a stack of dead virgins to the problems nature is already going to create.

I don't mind people of faith practicing their religion, except when they use the government to turn others into involuntary human sacrifices to their God, with is exactly what these people are doing.

We live in a village called America under a President who thinks that the best option he has is to collect the names of those who are to be sacrificed to his God to protect us from the forces of nature. His God does not demand virgins. Instead, He demands that the country sacrifice potential flag-burners, homosexuals, stem-cell researchers, and anybody who thinks that we can do more to protect the village called America with good science than we can through prayer. Bush thinks that his job is to line these people up for sacrifice, to keep his God happy. That’s his idea of protection.

These are the ideas that I felt compelled to start writing about a year ago, and they are ideas that too few people still grasp today. As a result, we face far greater risks than we need to – far greater risks than we should be facing.

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