August 31, 2005

Hurricane Over. Now Let's Get Straight to the Blame.

Hey, here's a novel idea--let's not.

I'm not interested in theories blaming global warming, zionist conspiracies, or a laser blast from planet Zabox for the hurricane.

I'm also not interested in people standing around wagging fingers, saying, "Well, they knew this would happen eventually. Why didn't they plan better?" Or, "Why aren't they getting HELLLP?!? It must be because no one cares!!!" Uh-huh. Or it could be because a major natural disaster makes things like transportation and resource mobilization a tad difficult.

Yeah, you bloggers and reporters on dry land with electricity, ac, and, oh, your lives--I'm talking to you.

How about we do something radically different, like shut up and help? The Monday morning quarterbacking can wait a few months; at least until the city's dry. Then you can cavil all you want without fear of being backhanded.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at August 31, 2005 10:57 AM
Comments

Fixing blame is just one genre of economizing disaster, meaning arranging to get something out of it, be it as little as ability to issue Important Statements.

My own important statement is that the media will never report any analysis that contradicts the laws of soap opera, either before or after hurricanes ; so it's a pretty unreliable touchstone for sanity fans.

If you want the actual mood, most of the Eastern US can hear WWL 870 New Orleans at night. They seem pretty level-headed about it.

Of course they're not trying to hold audience at the moment.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at August 31, 2005 02:38 PM

Having spent way more of my life than I'd've preferred in the aftermath of various hurricanes, I think I'm qualified to comment.

Look, we all know there's gonna be an earthquake again in Los Angeles or San Francisco ... someday. We are pretty sure there'll be another terrorist attack of some kind, somewhere in the U.S. ... probably.

But hurricanes have been hitting North American coastlines every year since before European colonization, and I don't think it's too much to expect that we might have -- oh, I don't know, *learned* a little?

[Utterly nonpartisan, or bipartisan, rant follows.]

Major hurricane in an urban area? Hell, yeah, there'll be looting; put an armed National Guardsman on every corner so the local civilian emergency workers can do their freakin' jobs without having to worry about catching -- or being shot by -- looters. You KNOW you're going to need ice, water, oxygen tanks, insulin, helicopters, flat-bottom boats -- why not have stashes accessible and ready to go, say, 24 hours BEFORE the storm makes landfall? We do, after all, have the technology ...

Certainly, the size of this catastrophe would have dwarfed almost all advance planning, but there are things we could have been, and should have been, doing, and if a blogger can't help any other way and already has contributed money to help, then it's absolutely OK to point out RIGHT NOW that things could've been better handled. In fact, pointing it out right now might have more impact than waiting a few months until things settle down.

[/rant]

Posted by: Lex at August 31, 2005 04:29 PM

BAW, I'm going to see what I can do to help, and I'll wait for some of the finger pointing until much later, but I'm also going to put some blame where it's due: http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,372455,00.html

Posted by: Michael at August 31, 2005 10:40 PM

Jesus Christ. No sooner does BAW request that you DON'T start finger pointing and wagging and whatever, what do Lex and Michael do? Yep, you got it. Help me out here, is it a guy thing, to do the exact thing a woman asks you to please not do? Or is it just congenital assholery? You know, I'm trying to understand the nuanced, root causes of your stupidity. Michael's especially.

No, on second thought, I don't give a good goddamn. Live with yourselves, my pets. What a hell that must be.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at August 31, 2005 10:53 PM

Update on WWL - it may be too late now. They've joined Clear Channel's disaster patter coverage, so the mood has gone corporate. The idea is to bore the survivors to death now.

Well it was great coverage for a couple of nights anyway. Their hosts must have burned out, or needed food or something.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at September 1, 2005 07:04 AM

Here's the thing, folks. We seem to have this idea that we're in control, and we're not. We can make our little plans, and then they can be completely overwhelmed by reality.

I mean, what, when half of California falls off after the San Andreas fault gives way, are we gonna sit around kvetching that really they should have known better, and that if only the right people were in charge we would have found a way to stitch those tectonic plates together--oh, and solve world hunger and get lions to lie down with lambs in the process?

I know what you're supposed to do to prepare for a hurricane, and any normal preparations would have been laughably inadequate for this one. A hurricane, btw, whose path went something like:

- Oh, look! A hurricane, and it's fairly strong! Brace yourselves, Florida!

- Oh, it went back out to sea!

- Oh, shit! It's gaining strength!

- Double Oh Shit! It's coming back! You have 48 hours to evacuate the city!

- Woah! Last minute left turn! Guess we should have told more people to evacuate!

I'm not saying that there should never be any criticism with an eye to trying to avoid this happening ever again. But if you're going to use this tragedy as an excuse to vent your political spleen of whatever stripe, then just. save. it.

Because politics don't cause hurricanes, regardless of what some dipshit in Germany thinks. Shit happens, and we're NOT always in control.

Posted by: BAW at September 1, 2005 08:38 AM

For the record, my rant wasn't political and wasn't intended to be. And I guess I ranted because, unfortunately, there's not a helluva lot else I can do right now. I just really thought that after Andrew in '92 we'd learned some important lessons about hurricanes, and I'm extremely disappointed (to put it mildly) that apparently we haven't. No, we couldn't possibly have prepared perfectly for this particular disaster. But we could have prepared for and responded to it better than we have so far, and our failure has cost lives.

I have to live with this stuff and, more often than I'd like, go out and work/volunteer in it, so it's something I feel rather strongly about. I can live comfortably with that.

Posted by: Lex at September 1, 2005 12:15 PM

It's a particularly male form of ass-hattery, but never fear, the ladies more than make up with their own variety.

On the "I can follow directions note" may I recommend this? "Pompeii on the Mississippi:" http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,372455,00.html

It splices BAW's voice of civic decency with Andrea's can-do attitude: salutory reading.

Posted by: Carbonel at September 1, 2005 12:38 PM

Uh, Carbonel? That's the same article Michael linked to. And yes I read it, and I didn't see anything "can do" about it, just a lot of "shouldn'ta been done." Yep, that's a real help. So you can bite me.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at September 1, 2005 02:14 PM

Lex -

I wasn't calling you out; you were explicitly non-partisan, and that's fine.

I've been through a couple of hurricanes, and had a tiny taste of inconvenience post-Fran, living without power for 9 days. But I still had my stuff and food and transportation. I sweated and read Jane Austen by candlelight--no big deal.

So I understand your frustration. But I also understand that doomsday planning is usually based on hoping that some factors fall your way--you should see the scenarios we've run here for the "train full of toxic waste wrecks on campus and floods dorms" situation. Yeah, we've got a "plan," but a real wreck could very easily blow it out of the water.

I just don't think that finger pointing is helpful until you can actually figure out what went right and wrong with the emergency response, which you generally cannot do until the emergency stops emerging, so to speak, and you can get the facts.

And we certainly aren't getting help in that regard from the media. If I have to look at Soledad O'Brien's faux-concerned face or listen to her saying, "I know it isn't appropriate to point fingers at a time like this, BUT..." one more time, I swear to God I will fly to CNN headquarters and slap that feathered hairdo right off of her head.

Posted by: BAW at September 1, 2005 02:25 PM

Andrea,

This began "I beg your pardon?" in the tone that means "I have know idea why you are reacting as you are," but I soon realized that needed to be "I beg your pardon" in the tone of sincere contrition.

I screwed the link to "Pompeii on Old Miss". It should be: http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/007432.php.

Again, my apologies, and I should add, by "and the ladies" I was merely making concession to the fact that *females* can be capable of asshatery as much as *men* whichever happens to be on display at the moment.

These are the lines, by the way, that reminded me of your posts:

"Three hundred million American people are going to fix this, or else it isn't going to get fixed.

So for all the sidewalk superintendents, all the finger pointers, all those who would grab political power over this, I have one very simple question.

Do you stand with us, or are you going to just stand in the way?"

--Kirsten

Posted by: Carbonel at September 2, 2005 02:34 AM

OK, Carbonel, that was a good article. You don't have to bite me anymore.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at September 2, 2005 10:02 AM

Great rant lex.

But let me introduce something totally off the radar screen. Here 'tis:

"Can we all take a moment to thank the people who designed, launched, and maintain the weather satellites?"

Those were just about the only think that actually worked as designed in this disaster.

There, it's off my chest now. Goodnight.

Posted by: snopercod at September 3, 2005 07:48 PM

I read the article too. At the risk of exciting BAW's considerable wrath, I'd like to point out that evacuation plans do not have to be made when the hurricane is bearing down on the city. They actually can be made at any time so that they can be pulled out and implemented at a moment's notice. That's what mayors and things are expected to do. Heck, that's why we have them. Does our own mayor have a plan if the New Madrid fault lets go? Pardon me while I pick myself up off the floor where I have been laughing my butt off. Then I have to think where I can go buy myself a nice pair of walking shoes, because if anything like that happens here, I will have to plan to walk out.

In the spirit of BAW's post, though, I have to say that I know and have spoken to people who would be disappointed if they could not find a way to blame Pres. Bush for this disaster. Disappointed. That's a heck of an attitude to have toward a fellow American, let alone the President.

Posted by: Laura at September 4, 2005 09:11 PM

BAW,
you're one in a million. What a breath of fresh air in this overheated, I-hate (fill in the blank with appropriate usually republican politician), short-sighted time of ours! What a break that there was so little of this during 9/11, but I guess then we had terrorists to hate. We are good at hating, aren't we? I guess we're hateful.

Posted by: Webfoot at September 5, 2005 01:12 PM

It depends on what the specific charges are. If you hear someone blaming a conspiracy theory, obviously they're wrong. If you hear someone blaming global warming, though, there is some scientific evidence that it has worsened hurricanes in the Gulf.

And in a situation like this a lot of people (including me) are too livid to wait until a few weeks later to talk about the blame.

Here are some things that are clear at this point:

1. The last and current directors of FEMA, both Bush appointees, had virtually no experience in disaster management. Michael Brown, in fact, was fired from his previous job for mismanagement.

2. The director of Homeland Security claims that he knew less about the hurricane than the average television news watcher.

3. As Atrios pointed out, here is a brief timeline of the Berlin airlift:
June 24, 1948: Blockade of Berlin begins.
June 25, 1948: Berlin airlift begins.
May 12, 1949: Blockade ends.
September 30, 1949: Airlift ends.
And that was done fifty years ago.

4. FEMA kept the Red Cross and other rescue/charity workers out of New Orleans. They are refusing help from other cities. And they are declining help from other countries.

There's plenty of other information about the various responsible parties, mostly but not all Republicans, on washingtonmonthly.com, atrios, mediamatters, billmon.org, and thinkprogress that you might find informative.

There is so much damning evidence at this point, that it would be immoral to hold back for fear of seeming "partisan." And there's no reason you can't help and criticize at the same time.

Posted by: CM at September 5, 2005 06:18 PM

FEMA is keeping Red Cross, etc. out of NO because they are trying to evacuate the city. They aren't trying to make it more possible for people to survive there, they are trying to get them out. Believe it or not, some are still resisting evacuation.

Posted by: Laura at September 5, 2005 07:48 PM

Chris -

I'm not entirely certain what the Berlin airlift has to do with anything, but I have had experience in crisis planning (see the Train of Toxic Waste Overturns on Campus mention above), and I know what I've been told by crisis planning authorities:

1. Best case scenario - meaning damage isn't catastrophic and the local first responders actually, you know, can respond: you're still on your own, meaning the campus and local cops have to handle relocation and supply for 48 hours. (Our best case scenario? Hoping that all the students will stay in their dorms with the windows closed. Or that we can somehow move 7500 students to the gym. Or hotels. Say it with me--yeah, right. I forget the projected "real body count" for that scenario--I have a feeling the crisis planners didn't want to freak out the lawyers.)

2. After 48 hours, other state agencies can be expected to respond. At that time, the Governor should have requested federal assistance. Important note: if a state's Governor does NOT request such assistance, it will not be given. In this case according to what I've heard, the govs of each state were offered the ability to request such assistance prior to the storm. They didn't. Federalism, you know.

3. Again, best case scenario, federal assistance may start arriving in the form of National Guard ANOTHER 48 hours AFTER the request. This is if everything goes perfectly.

4. Bottom line - in any crisis, you--meaning the folks in your immediate area--have to be able to hold your own for at least 96 hours. In real time, that's 4-5 days. What was the federal response time here again? Okay, then.

I imagine that after all this dies down we'll have hearings complete with FEMA heads a' rollin', to satisfy the sophisticates who like to compare one of the largest natural disasters in history to a 1948 military operation undertaken co-incident with an occupation where infrastructure was in place. Perhaps if you ask nicely, they'll even decapitate the evil Republican scum and display their heads on spikes outside the rotunda.

Would THAT make you happy? 'Cause, you know, God forbid something happen that might prove we're not necessarily capable of controlling NATURE, or anything. I mean, when bad things happen it has to be someone's FAULT, right? And human beings acting like human beings and screwing up--like, for instance Governors not requesting aid beforehand just in case, or moving buses to higher ground so they could be used to evacuate citizens, or even hesitating to call for a mandatory evacuation when they have very short notice about a hurricane that suddenly decided to Eat the Gulf Coast--well, that's just inexcusable!

Damn humans. Always screwing up, refusing to believe that catastrophes can and do happen to them. Someone should DO something. Especially about those Republicans, who obviously invented cronyism, bureaucracy, global warming, and introduced every other imaginable evil into the world.

Christ. I'm done here. The Salvation Army and Red Cross are taking donations. Give.

Posted by: BAW at September 5, 2005 10:13 PM

There are so many things to respond to I can't even begin to fit them all into a blog comment. And forget even trying to use straw-man arguments, because I don't have the patience for them right now. Just go to any major liberal blog and read the recent posts on Chertoff and Brown and Blanco. There are a few things we already know very clearly, even though much will have to wait until further investigation.
And why do you assume that I haven't already made a donation?

Posted by: CM at September 5, 2005 11:06 PM

And re federal assistance, check this out:
www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/08/20050827-1.html

Posted by: CM at September 5, 2005 11:08 PM

CM, how many conservative blogs have you read?

And if your patience is running low, maybe you need to back off on your quest to police other people's blogs in order to straighten them out. Just a thought.

Posted by: Laura at September 6, 2005 08:11 AM

Thanks, Laura.

Chris, I've been polite. I'm done. You're not going to straighten me out with your reams of links. I could do the same damn thing, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. What would it prove, besides the fact that we don't agree? Nothing.

Is that what bothers you--that someone, somewhere, doesn't see the light? That this must mean that the person in question is somehow in need of saving? And that if the person in question, after being bombarded by reams of URLs, STILL manages to disagree, all that is needed is that One. Last. Magic. Link. that will cause her to say, "Of course! How could I have been so blind?"

And before you get all huffy and "don't take it personally," and "strawman arguments," ask yourself this: if someone decided to hang around your blog for the opportunity to pontificate on every single post, even after it became apparent that reasonable people on either side of the issues being addressed could back up their arguments, wouldn't you wonder why that person was so compelled to constantly respond? After a while, it starts to seem a bit shrill. And after that, it becomes much easier to ignore every single thing they have to say.

Posted by: BAW at September 6, 2005 08:35 AM

Reasonable people disagree about these two points?

1. The last and current directors of FEMA, both Bush appointees, had virtually no experience in disaster management. Michael Brown, in fact, was fired from his previous job for mismanagement.

2. The director of Homeland Security claims that he knew less about the hurricane than the average television news watcher.

Posted by: Chris at September 6, 2005 09:52 AM

What happened in New Orleans sucks big time!

What happened in MS sucks big time!

We wish, as a country, that we could put LA and MS back together overnight, but know in reality that a hurricane just turned a great deal of real estate into a junk yard.

Think everyone can agree on that.

Wasting time blaming others even in the the blogsphere is exactly that - a waste of time. Pointing out what should have been done differently is of no use now to the people who are trying to help and those who need assistance.

If all someone can contribute to this mess is words, please let them be prayers. Those words might actually help.

And Webfoot - I think the big difference in the reactions/reporting between Katrina and 9/11 is who took control once the fecal material hit the fan.

Rudy and 343 firefighters set the tone - that we're all in this together. To bitch and complain about 9/11 the way people are now after 343 people sacrificed their lives for strangers and after Rudy walked toward the wreckage would be seen as sour grapes.

Posted by: di at September 6, 2005 11:35 AM

He can't help it, BAW. It's sad.

Posted by: Laura at September 6, 2005 01:47 PM