Saturday, September 10, 2005

To those who post comments

I’ve been starting to get a lot of auto-generated spam in the comments section.  In order to avoid this, I have turned on word verification, which simply means that, before posting a comment, you will be prompted to re-type in a word that is shown on the screen.  My apologies for this.  I don’t think it should be too cumbersome, but if it turns out to be a real hassle, let me know and maybe I’ll have a rethink.


Along came Polly

I am not generally one for engaging in armchair-psychology, but surely there must be some clinical explanation for the type of frenzied and incoherent analysis of the US consistently offered by The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, especially as exemplified by her column today. It is clear that she despises American culture in general and particularly the government and economy which it has spawned, and that this hate drives much of her bile. But she has somehow convinced herself that hurricane Katrina has once and for all exposed the US as the morally empty shell that, presumably, she has always known it to be. Is there a clinical term for this kind of desperate, I don’t know, wishful thinking?

Not one to mince words, Toynbee describes the US as an illusory “Oz” where “the Wizard is a small man with no magic power at all”, a “fearsome robotic dinosaur stomping across the landscape”, “a gigantic Power Ranger toy, all bright gadgets and display but no power and nothing inside,” a “Buzz Lightyear” which “can't actually do anything useful after all”, and finally as a “hollow superpower.” All that comes in the span of 3 sentences. I think it’s safe to say she’s got a problem with the US.

Naturally, as with any lefty rant against the US, Iraq must feature, and Toynbee follows the script, even to the point of ingeniously invoking the image of Vietnam. Toynbee is nothing if not original. But her real purpose is to spin Katrina, and she gets to it quickly. Exposing her inclination to use a human tragedy in order to prop up her political ideology, she writes:
But it took Hurricane Katrina to expose the real emptiness under the US carapace. No wonder governing Iraq was far beyond the competence of a nation so feebly governed within its own borders.
Even if we are to accept the questionable presumption that the government’s response to Katrina was “feeble”, it is clearly ridiculous to conflate its management of a calamitous natural disaster with every day governance. Surely Toynbee knows this, which, as I said, shows exactly her purpose…to exploit the tragedy of Katrina in order to advance her preconceived prejudices against American governing principles.

Mistaking cause for effect, Toynbee asks:
How does a state where half the voters don't believe in government, run anything well?
A more interesting question might be how Toynbee can believe in so much government when the one she has runs hardly anything well. But we’ll leave that for another day, for her own question is built upon a fallacious caricature. There are virtually no voters, not even in Louisiana, who “don’t believe in government”. What many voters do believe in, however, is limited, decentralized government. But of course it’s a lot easier to rail against a straw man than an actual, substantive argument, so Toynbee, displaying a certain intellectual dishonesty, takes the path of least resistance.

Not content to mischaracterize the thoughts of people who aren’t in a position to set her straight, Toynbee takes on the very founding principles of America. In what seems more an expression of desire about the fate of American than an observation she says:
A nation ideologically and constitutionally committed to non-government is bound to crumble at the core. Rome had no doubts about governance.
It is, of course, manifestly idiotic to assert that a nation the founding ideology of which not only expressly endorses government but even goes on to explain its purpose – “…that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men” – is committed to “non-government”. But I am at a loss for words to describe the kind of bizarre thinking which concludes that a nation can be “constitutionally” committed to non-government, a constitution being the very laws and principles which define the functions and powers of, well, government.

(Toynbee’s remark about Rome seems to indicate that she thinks the Roman Empire has not yet “crumbled”, but even she can’t be that daft, so perhaps I am missing something.)

In addition to having exposed the inadequacies of American governing principles, Toynbee thinks that “above all [Katrina] shows how the rich don't acknowledge shared nationhood with the rest.”
What the great Louisiana catastrophe has revealed is a country that is not a country at all, but atomised, segmented individuals living parallel lives as far apart as possible, with nothing to unite them beyond the idea of a flag.
How strange, then, that people from as far away as Connecticut are banning together to help out their fellow “atomized, segmented individuals” who have lost their homes. And that evacuees from New Orleans are currently being housed and cared for by people from as far north as Minnesota and Michigan, as far west as Arizona, and as far east as Florida and North Carolina. And that Massachusetts has budgeted $25m for relief of the victims of Katrina. And that California has deployed all kinds of resources to the disaster area. And that even a small township in New Jersey has set up its own relief fund. (This is not, obviously, an exhaustive list.) Not to mention the huge amounts of private funds that have been donated or relief.

Living as far apart from each other as possible? Nothing to unite us beyond the idea of a flag? What utter rubbish. That Toynbee can look at how Americans have responded to Katrina and conclude as she does shows just how utterly blind her ideology, or perhaps simply her hatred for American culture, has made her. Her thinking, if it can be so characterized, is simply beyond rational understanding.

Perhaps sensing herself getting into uncharted territory, Toynbee quickly retreats to safe, well-trodden left-wing ground.
The 40 million with no health insurance show the social dysfunction corroding US capacity. For the poor at the bottom of the New Orleans mud heap, there never was even the American dream to cling to.
What is she talking about? Does Toynbee think that health insurance would have spared those who drowned in the flooding, or provided clean water for those stuck in the Superdome? Does she imagine that an American NHS might have saved those stuck on the roofs of their houses sooner? I’ve puzzled over this for some time now, and I am still at a loss as to its relevance, apart from as a generic denunciation of American free-market economics. What it has to do with Katrina is beyond me. Indeed, even taken on its own, the reference to insurance is incoherent. What “social dysfunction” is shown by those who lack health insurance? US capacity to do what? Does even Toynbee have the slightest clue what she is talking about?

Getting into full, class warfare, high dudgeon, she procliams that:
…to talk of "average" incomes or GDP per capita in the US is meaningless: there is no "average", only first world and third world, with virtually no mobility between the two.

The “US-as-third-world” theme has become all the rage among the anti-American left since the disturbing scenes of last week were broadcast, so it is no surprise that Toynbee raises it here. And while it may be true that the images we saw from New Orleans brought to mind images of the third world, or that it was indeed much like a third world country for the few days it took for the relief operation to gain steam after Katrina hit, the notion that the poor in the US regularly live in third world conditions is patently absurd. The poverty experienced in the US is primarily a first world kind of poverty.

46% of all poor households actually own their own homes.

76% of poor households have air conditioning. (By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning)

97% of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

78% have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

As for the lack of mobility, that’s bunk too. This is not to belittle the hardships suffered by the poor in America, or even to suggest that serious poverty does not exist there. But for Toynbee to imply that third world conditions are a staple of life for America’s poor is simply beyond the pale.

Providing a particularly inapt metaphor (and not just because of the outdated understanding of economics it betrays), Toynbee says:

Who has what defines a nation, not how much is in the pot from which only the well-off feed.

Considering that we are increasingly seeing reports about America’s obesity problems, and that the rates of obesity are highest among both blacks and the poor, the suggestion that the less “well-off” are having a hard time “feeding” out of the “pot” in America rings a bit hollow. Certainly, in any event, the suggestion that Americans are suffering from actual third world conditions is at least a tiny bit overwrought, don’t you think?

Segueing into a critique of her own country, Toynbee says:

But before we get too piously smug about America, just imagine a flood crashing through the Thames barrier and drowning London and Essex.

An interesting admonition, that, considering the piety and smugness she's shown throughout.

Given the righteous indignation with which she's entertained us so far, Toynbee does at least have the style to provide us with a little levity as a conclusion. Having condemned the UK for being a bit too much like dreadful, “atomized” America, and not quite enough like gloriously socialist Scandinavia, she hilariously leaves us with her desire to “…bring the share of wealth closer to the way we were before Mrs Thatcher.”

Ah yes, those halcyon days of the pre-Thatcher era, when unemployment, growing piles of rubbish, and the inability to bury the dead were equitably distributed to everyone across the country.

Surely she was joking. Wasn’t she?

Friday, September 09, 2005

The way forward

Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal initiates a more level-headed, less politicized, and ultimately forward looking discussion of the Katrina situation than we have seen to date.
The question raised by the Katrina fiasco--and by the Pentagon's new Homeland Defense Strategy to protect against WMD attack--is whether the threat from madmen and nature is now sufficiently huge in its potential horror and unacceptable loss that we should modify existing jurisdictional authority to give the Pentagon functional first-responder status. Should we repeal or modify the Posse Comitatus Act so homicidal thugs have more to fear than the Keystone Kops? Should a governor be able to phone the Defense Secretary direct, creating a kind of "yellow-light authority" and cutting out the Homeland Security or FEMA middleman? Should presidential initiative extend beyond the Insurrection Act?

Instinct says the answer is forever no. Survival suggests we had better talk about it.

The al-Dura myth?

With the John Simpson "Blame the media?" piece on which I commented last night in mind, I should note that Commentary magazine has a very interesting article this month by Nidra Poller, titled Myth, Fact, and the al-Dura Affair. The al-Dura affair refers to the apparent killing of a young Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Dura, in the summer of 2000, filmed by the French state-owned television station France-2. The images, claimed to be the result of Israeli soldiers targeting the boy and his father, were beamed around the world, sparking anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish violence, and have been cited by some as justification for suicide bombing.

Trouble is, according to Poller’s convincing research, the story told by France-2 is a fraud that is only now coming to light.

Read the article. It is fascinating.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Check out this photo of New Orleans from two days ago. Color me surprised.

(tip to media thrust)

UPDATE: I'm told the photo has been moved, and can now be found here.

Respected authority?

In an article that got a bit obscured by coverage of Katrina and its aftermath, the BBC’s John Simpson questioned whether it was the media’s fault for stirring up violent emotions across the world with stories that, ultimately, turn out to be less than fully true. He centered his piece on the infamous Newsweek article which erroneously claimed that a US investigation had confirmed an allegation that guards at the Guantanamo camp had flushed at Koran down a toilet. The Newsweek piece ended up sparking violent anti-US protests across the Islamic world.

Of course Simpson absolves the media of any responsibility, instead blaming those whose actions have made the stories believable, even if they're not true. Oddly, he never actually acknowledges that the story was, indeed, false, allowing that Newsweek’s source couldn’t be sure of which report he had seen, although he was sure he saw the allegations somewhere. Ultimately Simpson seems to excuse Newsweek’s failure to be sure of its facts because, after all, since this wasn’t the first time such allegations had been raised, Newsweek was probably not as concerned as it might otherwise have been. Besides, it “did not try to deceive its readers.” Well, that’s OK then.

But beyond Simpson’s seeming lack of concern for holding journalists responsible for filing inaccurate or false stories, his off-hand reference to Juan Cole is equally, if less obviously, instructive. Simpson describes Cole as the "respected US authority on the Middle East", which raises an interesting question: Respected by whom, and why?

Given that Cole, on his blog Informed Comment, claims that About half of the American public is terminally stupid”, I have no doubt that he is widely respected amongst the BBC’s anti-American staff. But beyond that?

Certainly one person who doesn’t respect Cole is Steven Vincent’s wife. Vincent, you might recall, was the US freelancer who was recently executed in Iraq, prompting Cole to speculate and pontificate on how Vincent’s own ignorance was to blame. Vincent’s wife was not amused.

The New Republic, itself a rather respectable institution, doesn’t seem to think much of Cole either, noting his tendency to engage in “conspiratorial anti-Semitism” and his belief that US foreign policy is controlled by a malicious Zionist force from Israel. Says Cole, “The Founding Fathers of the United States deeply feared that a foreign government might gain this level of control over a branch of the United States government, and their fears have been vindicated.”

One of Cole’s explanations for the war in Iraq was that “The Neocons wanted to knock down Saddam, Khamenei and al-Asad in hopes that those countries would be so weakened and preoccupied with internal power struggles that Sharon would have an unimpeded opportunity to pursue his dreams of Greater Israel and the final destruction of the Oslo Peace Accords.” I see.

And while Cole has no problem speaking of the “proto-fascist Likud coalition” in Israel, he takes great offense at the term Islamo-fascist, calling it a “desecration and a form of hate speech.” In one particularly fascinating display of his deep thinking, he asked “Are there Muslims who are fascists? Sure. But there is no Islamic fascism, since "Islam" has to do with the highest ideals of the religion.” I’m still trying to work that one out.

Following the London bombings in July, Cole dazzled his readers by proclaiming with the utmost authority that “Britain's South Asian Muslim community is almost certainly not the origin of this attack.” Whoops.

Cole has been caught out at various times misrepresenting people, from falsely accusing a former Reagan official of “urging the nuking of Mecca” to claiming that the 9/11 commission had implicated Ariel Sharon's policies as an impetus to the 9/11 attacks. He's even gone so far as to misrepresent himself, altering his pre-war position on Iraq after the fact.

Just recently Cole has labelled Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "notorious Christian terrorists." Now, I'm no fan of either, but notorious terrorists? And his penchant for the ad hominem is not limited just to notorious Christians. Demonstrating the wit of a Bugs Bunny-watching 8-year old, he incisively cut Jonah Goldberg down to size during an on-line spat by calling him "a maroon".

He's also been known to call upon left-wing bloggers to do "oppo-research" into the backgrounds of his critics, requesting information about where the critic is from, who pays him, and whether he has links to "shadowy", "Zionist" think tanks. Just out of curiousity, I'm sure. The sort of thing that all "respected" university professors engage in.

Does all this sound to you like the makings of a man whom the BBC ought to be citing as a "respected authority" on anything?

Granted, Simpson's use of Cole was peripheral and non-essential to his piece. But it is instructive, I think, to know just what type of person is considered by the BBC's renowned World Affairs editor to be a "respected authority". Keep this in mind the next time the BBC invokes a "respected authority" in order to lend credibility to whatever agenda it is pressing at the moment.

UPDATE: A few of the above links were originally pointing to the wrong places. They have now been fixed.

Not quite the full story

In a report about the finger-pointing over the response to Katrina, the BBC says:

Mr Bush and Mr Chertoff have not escaped blame for the crisis in the Gulf states.

A CNN/USA Today Gallup poll published on Wednesday said that 42% of Americans rated the president's response as "bad" or "terrible".

Just 35% described his reaction as "good".

That’s fair enough, although strictly speaking it is inaccurate. The 35% was made up of those who described it as “good” (25%) or “great” (10%), not just “good”. The bad/terrible breakdown was 18% bad, 24% terrible. Whether this was just a simple oversight (probably) or a deliberate slight (well, this is the BBC we are talking about), I leave it to you to judge.

But what the BBC hides from its audience is that the very same poll asked people directly who was “most responsible for the problems in New Orleans after the hurricane,” and that, of the 4 possible responses, Bush ranked lowest at 13%. Federal agencies were blamed by 18%, while state and local officials were blamed by 25%. Far and away the clear winner in the blame game, coming in at 38%, was….no one.

Perhaps the American people are sensible after all.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Plumbing the muck that is the BBC

As I type, there is a show being broadcast on the BBC called "Hurricane Katrina: The Real Story". Yes that's right. One single week after the hurricane, and with the rescue and relief operation is still going on, the BBC claims to have "the real story". Right.

I'd like to tell you about it all, but about 15 minutes into it, I simply couldn't watch anymore. The BBC's descent into sensationalism, tabloid journalism, and cheap propaganda simply disgusted me too much to continue watching it.

Going through "the real story" day by day, the show got to Tuesday, the day after Katrina hit and the point at which the degree of flooding and destruction started to become known. At this point, up came a picture of a smiling Bush with a guitar in hand, and a graphic which said (something like) "While people struggle for survival in New Orleans, President Bush is on holiday."

The combination of the photo and the words represents a complete lie, and I use that word advisedly. The picture of Bush with the guitar was taken backstage after a speech Bush had just delivered at Naval Air Station North Island in California on Tuesday morning. (The guitar had just been presented to him by country singer Mark Wills). So, contrary to what the BBC said, Bush was not "on holiday" but was in fact at an official function performing official duties. Again, what the BBC said was an out and out lie.

Now, one might reasonably argue that, presuming the extent of the problems in New Orleans was known at the time (the speech was delivered at 9am PST), Bush should have cancelled the speech, in order to attend to matters in New Orleans. One might also argue that, having given the speech, Bush should have dashed off immediately without stopping for the customary backstage gladhanding. But this was not what the BBC was suggesting. It did not say that while the people of New Orleans struggle for survival, Bush was giving a pre-scheduled speech at a Naval Station. It claimed he was "on holiday".

And the BBC did not go so far as to simply show a photograph in the absence of context, insinuating something that wasn't true, which would be bad enough. It deliberately and specifically added a false context to the photo - "Bush on holiday" - and then juxtaposed that against the disaster unfolding in New Orleans, in order to make Bush appear as inept and out of touch as possible.

I would like to report on what the rest of the program was like, but, as I said, I was simply too disgusted to carry on. I had to switch it off. If this is not yellow journalism, I don't know what is. The BBC sinks to lower and lower depths each day. How the British people can continue to endorse this kind of tabloid trash with their tax dollars is quite beyond me.

Past predictions

I received a link to this very interesting article today in an e-mail. It is a paper that was written last year by Shirley Laska from the Center for Hazards Assessment at the University of New Orleans, and is an assessment of the evacuation of New Orleans during hurricane Ivan in September last year, along with the implications for the city had Ivan hit New Orleans rather than veering away as it did.

Some notable points, worth keeping in mind as the recriminations over Katrina fly back and forth (all emphasis added):

Evacuation challenges

Residents who did not have personal transportation were unable to evacuate even if they wanted to. Approximately 120,000 residents (51,000 housing units x 2.4 persons/unit) do not have cars. A proposal made after the evacuation for Hurricane Georges to use public transit buses to assist in their evacuation out of the city was not implemented for Ivan. If Ivan had struck New Orleans directly it is estimated that 40-60,000 residents of the area would have perished

To the Rescue

If a hurricane of a magnitude similar to Ivan does strike New Orleans, the challenges surrounding rescue efforts for those who have not evacuated will be different from other coastal areas….Regional and national rescue resources would have to respond as rapidly as possible and would require augmentation by local private vessels (assuming some survived). And, even with this help, federal and state governments have estimated that it would take 10 days to rescue all those stranded within the city…

Accepting the reality

Should this disaster become a reality, it would undoubtedly be one of the greatest disasters, if not the greatest, to hit the United States, with estimated costs exceeding 100 billion dollars. According to the American Red Cross, such an event could be even more devastating than a major earthquake in California. Survivors would have to endure conditions never before experienced in a North American disaster.

And so they have.

More credit given

The Guardian’s Gary Younge, whose coverage of Cindy Sheehan has been criticized more than once by TAE, deserves credit for today’s piece which casts some doubt on some of the more wild stories that had been swirling around in the wake of Katrina last week.

There were two babies who had their throats slit. The seven-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in the Superdome. And the corpses laid out amid the excrement in the convention centre.

In a week filled with dreadful scenes of desperation and anger from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina some stories stood out.

But as time goes on many remain unsubstantiated and may yet prove to be apocryphal.

New Orleans police have been unable to confirm the tale of the raped child, or indeed any of the reports of rapes, in the Superdome and convention centre.

I suppose the rampant propagation of rumors is inevitable in chaotic circumstances like last week, but it would be nice if journalists did not help them gain currency by credulously printing them as facts. Younge does credit the rumors, true or not, with having expedited the relief process, although he provides virtually no evidence to suggest that is so nor any reason to assume that it is. Still, he deserves credit for at least attempting to provide some truth and perspective to the wild stories rather than simply repeating them.

BTW, as the situation in New Orleans continues to calm down and more information is available, expect to see even more of the emotional reporting being done last week to become discredited in one way or another.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Well done, Paul...seriously

The BBC's Paul Reynolds' take on the failures surrounding the New Orleans pre- and post- Katrina planning is the best and most reasonable yet to find its way on to the BBC. I am tempted to say it is the only reasonable analysis the BBC has done, but perhaps there is something out there I have not yet seen.

While certainly not letting the federal government off the hook, Reynolds does a good job in pointing out the responsibilities of other officials, including the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor, and the questions that they face as well. For example, pointing out an AP photo of tens of flooded out school buses still lined up in their parking lot, Reynolds wonders "how much city transport was actually used" in the evacuation. Of particular note to me was this line, which seemed to me to be a deliberate (and deserved), if mild, swipe at Reynolds' BBC colleague Matt Wells:
There are questions for the mayor, dubbed heroic by some, to answer.
Wells, you will recall, is the BBC reporter who breathlessly called the mayor "genuinely heroic" as he scathingly ripped into Bush.

With regard to the charges about Bush having slashed federal funds for flood control in New Orleans, Reynolds presents the charges, but also points out that there were no plans for any strengthening of the levees, and that, just as I noted the other day, any such plan would have taken many years to be implemented, and would not have been in place in any event.

Reynolds concludes that, with regard to the problems made evident by Katrina, "It is a long and complex chain of responsibility." That is the single most sensible and reasonable sentence regarding the disaster that has been written at the BBC yet. Let's hope Reynolds gets through to the rest of his overwrought colleagues at the Beeb.


The Washington Post (no favorite of mine, for sure) provides the type of calm and restrained reflection on the New Orleans disaster that the British press, most notably the BBC and The Guardian, seem to be incapable of providing.
THE LACK OF National Guard troops because of the war in Iraq; the Bush administration's failure to protect coastal wetlands; the reorganization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: All have been blamed, somewhat rbitrarily, for the stunning scenes of chaos at the New Orleans Superdome and convention center, for the unprecedented floodwaters in the city, and for the huge numbers of people without food or water. But if blame is to be laid and lessons are to be drawn, one point stands out as irrefutable: Emergency planners must focus much more on the fate of that part of the population that -- for reasons of poverty, infirmity, distrust of officialdom, lack of transportation or lack of information -- cannot be counted on to leave their homes after an evacuation order.

A look to India

Following on Matt Wells' suggestion that third world dictators were better at disaster recovery operations than the US and Paul Reynolds' more specific suggestion that Fidel Castro was a good example of such, yet another BBC reporter, Daniel Lak, has decided to weigh in with a suggestion that US relief efforts compare unfavorably with yet another place, namely India. Lak says that:

…I hesitate to say this at such an early stage of the relief effort here, but the authorities in India at least, and some other countries in the region, have become quite good at dealing with severe flooding, or earthquakes, catastrophic events on a tsunami scale, if you will.

Certainly quicker with both material and political comfort to survivors.

It did not take long for huge field hospitals and vast camps of toilets and clean water tanks to be set up in southern India for example, after the tsunami hit there last year, whereas here in Mississippi, the authorities are still begging people to boil their water and watch where they go to the toilet, lest they give or receive some
water-borne disease.

Lak doesn’t tell us exactly how long “not long” means, but in any event he should probably have hesitated a bit more, and not just because of the foolishness in taking a single disaster relief operation (out of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, that have been undertaken by the US, both domestically and internationally) as defining the capabilities of the US. He should have at least hesitated long enough to research the BBC’s very own website to see how the Indian relief operation was being reported at the time.

The tsunami hit on December 26. Three days later, BBC reporter Geeta Pandey was in the Andaman Islands, the worst hit portion of India, and was reporting that “rescue teams are yet to reach some of the islands” and that at the relief camps that had been set up (by NGOs, notably) “water supply has been a problem.”

The next day, four days after the tsunami had hit, Pandey reported that victims who had made their way to relief stations “…say the government claim that food and water is being airdropped to those still stranded is false.”

Six days after the disaster hit, on January 1, 2005, Jonathon Charles was reporting that:
The Indian military now appears to be taking over the prime responsibility for the relief effort, removing overall control from the civilian authorities in what seems to be a sign that the operation to bring help to the stricken Andaman and Nicobar islands is struggling.

The regional military commander-in-chief, General BS Thakur, acknowledged that his troops were facing huge logistical problems in getting aid to the people who desperately needed it.
The BBC later did a whole treatment on the political recriminations going on in India surrounding the handling of the relief operations during the tsunami crisis. One Indian commentary cited by the BBC said:
While the chief minister was surrounded by fish workers accusing the government of failing to organise relief activities the tsunami-hit simply asked Achuthanandan to stop making speeches and go away.
The BBC noted that:
A commentator in the daily Eenadu agrees that the plight of the survivors did not seem to be uppermost in the minds of Indian politicians.
It also noted that:

Another writer in the same paper believes that the authorities' errors began even before the tsunami hit.

"It is the fault of the official machinery for its failure to alert people about the impending disaster of the tsunami, in spite of having a full 150 minutes from when the earthquake occurred."

"The authorities cannot escape responsibility by saying that it was a holiday," the article, entitled "Human error causes great havoc", adds.

And still more:

A commentary in Malayala Manorama puts the blame on the relief agencies for the slow arrival of aid.

"While the local administration and state government undoubtedly mounted a massive effort after an initial slow start," it says, "there was little coordination among the agencies involved in relief operations."

Hmmm. The “slow arrival of aid”? Accusations of being on “holiday”? Failure to take pre-disaster measures? An uncaring political class? Does all this sound, perhaps, just a little bit familiar?

Lak concludes by suggesting that the US look to India for the “best way to deal with disaster” (although he disdainfully adds that he doubts anyone will take his advice.) There are indeed lessons to be learned by looking at India, although it is not clear to me that it has much to do with dealing with disaster. The lesson is twofold: First, that political opportunism, finger-pointing, and blame seeking for the unavoidable difficulties in dealing with disaster are not unique to the US; and second, that the BBC’s “From Our Own Correspondent” series is a gigantic waste of journalistic airtime…and hence taxpayer monies.

Keeping one's head

A letter sent to National Review Online this weekend:


I am seeing and reading all the commentary about the "slow" Federal response to Katrina and, perhaps its my background as a military logistician (retired now for a number of years), but I'd like to offer a few observations. As we say in the military, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. We plan, pre-position and prepare and then have to adapt to the chaos of battle Clausewitz dubbed the "fog of war." While the shameless mayor of NewOrleans sounds off like an aggrieved pimp on the radio, a military operation, involving both Guard and active duty, that dwarfs our invasion of Panama has been gathering and underway since Tuesday. I saw the first alert orders go out Tuesday. (The President, BTW, issued disaster emergency declarations even before Katrina made landfall.) The first order of business for any operation, relief or military, is assess needs, routes of ingress and egress, etc. We're looking at a disaster area covering 90,000 square miles--this is not just New Orleans. Moving the right supplies and people to the right area in the right order is complex, even with a fully functioning communications net and an intact road network. Here we are, 96 hours after landfall, and thousands of troops, tons and tons of supplies, and a fleet of warships are there or due to arrive shortly. This is no small feat.

It should be noted that Gov Blanco was slow to ramp up the LA Guard--you don't simply call a Guardsman and tell him to report in two hours. By law, they can take as much as 72 hours to report so that they can get their affairs in order. If they show up sooner, great, but the point is, while all media--and some at the Corner--obsess over the Fed's performance, the flaccid response of local and state authorities in Louisiana made a daunting task even tougher. The Guard and military, for example, rely on local authorities to provide some idea of where victims are, and, as we have heard, Nagin's office didn't bother telling FEMA that Nagin had directed people to the NO Convention Center. Likewise, CSAR and medical units are not combat outfits. Having to bring in more troops to quell the animalistic behavior of some (and that behavior, BTW, broke out before the rains even stopped, though Blanco and Nagin didn't seem to care) means the flow of supplies and evacuees is slowed.

In any event, I hear a lot of people talking about the unprecedented scope and scale of the disaster, and, in the next breath, wonder what's taking so long. There is always room for improvement and this is not to say the Feds shouldn't take their share of knocks, but I've spoken with a number of military officers from other nations, including Third World states, who are studying here, and they are bemused by the spectacle of hand wringing and media panic.

As the subject line says, just my two cents' worth.


(Emphasis added by me) This strikes me as a voice of sanity amidst a sea of media hysteria.

I personally have no idea what is involved in tending to the needs of tens of thousands of people trapped in a city that is under 20 feet of water, (nor do, I am sure, the journalists who are pontificating on the level of incompetence being shown by those who are charged with doing it) so maybe I am way off. But the above sounds sensible to me.