Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What Happened?

Messy Christian is looking at what has happened in New Orleans and is asking the question: "Is it bad governance or human nature?"

My answer? Yes.

New Orleans is not a city of a high moral reputation. Historically, Storyville may have been America's first Red Light district. In more recent times, being the home of Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street has left New Orleans with a large substance-abusing population. Most of these people are hooked on alcohol as their substance of choice, but a few others are into harder drugs. Normally this isn't too much of a problem, but when supply lines are cut and the addicts go cold turkey, things go from bad to worse very quickly. Junkies start shooting up hospitals because it is the only place they can find a fix, etc.

So much of what is going on in New Orleans is human nature at its worst. Screw you, I'm in it for me and mine. The strong feeding on the weak. This is unbridled and unchecked human nature and it should scare us because it is within all of us. Geek with a .45 noted that being a decent human being isn't intellectually demanding. It does require a certain amount of restraint and moral fortitude. Some people just don't have that and honestly our society doesn't place a priority on instilling it anymore.

As for the governance, that was a shambles too. The first boots on the ground should have been police and emergency workers from New Orleans itself, they should have taken a strong stand against looting and violence. As Feeble Knees points out, they didn't. Many deserted their posts and others joined into the violence. The best laid plans amount to nothing when you don't have anyone willing to carry them out.

On the upper levels, calling something poor governance is tougher. The group most responsible for reacting to this crisis is the state of Louisiana and they have done a poor poor job. As QandO noted, once this scale of damage is done, getting anything in is a nightmare.

Civil authorities really can't. Transportation systems are shut down. The roads are out, the rivers and waterways are dangerous, the airports are under water. The distribution system needed to get fuel to all this stuff was knocked out by the storm. Even if you could get the boats and whatever else to New Orleans, if you don't have gas to run it, so what? So we need the military, who have the capabilities to overcome all this and still get the job done.

But even they need time, the military can respond to anything anywhere on the planet in four days. The flipside is that they really can't respond to something on the other side of the country in less than three. Most of their deployment time is getting things organized on the ground, so the transport mileage really doesn't matter. And to deploy like that they still need things like airfields, which are in short supply.

So yes it is human nature, it is bad governance, but above all it is just a bad situation. The best laid plans of mice and men are humbled by the laws of physics.

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