Risk: An Allegory

Here’s an interesting article on CNBC’s website: Katrina anniversary: Will New Orleans levees hold next time?

The 100-year threshold is also a statistical guess based on data on past storms and assessments of whether they’ll occur in the future. That means the models change every time a new hurricane strikes. The numbers being used as guidelines for construction are changing as time passes.
The standard also does not mean—can’t possibly mean—that a 100-year storm will occur only once per century. It means that such a storm has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year. So for example, it’s technically possible for several 100-year floods to occur in just a few years, although it’s highly unlikely.

One way to look at it is that the engineers need to estimate how high a wall New Orleans needs to protect itself against a reasonably unlikely flood — say, a 1-in-1000-year event. This is the line of discussion pursued in the CNBC article.

Another way to look at it is to observe that the odds of another Katrina, or worse, within a specified period are highly uncertain. In this case a radical course of action might be called for. You do something like: take the best estimate for the wall height needed to protect against a 1000-year flood and then double it. Building such a levee would probably be extremely expensive but at least the costs would be out in the open. Or you might decide that it’s not the best idea to have a coastal city that’s below sea level, and so you would discourage people from moving back to New Orleans, rather than encourage them by subsidizing a new and stronger system of walls.

In this kind of situation the political incentives are usually going to encourage public decisionmakers to ignore radical solutions with high obvious costs, in favor of the minimum acceptable incremental solution with hidden costs: probably subsidies to rebuild the levees to, or perhaps a bit beyond, the standard needed to protect the city in the event of another Katrina. And it’s unlikely that any local pol is going to advise residents to move out and depopulate his constituency. Thus, eventually, a worst case will probably happen again.

Nagin Set To Go To Jail

Much has been written both here and elsewhere about Hurricane Katrina, and one of the last chapters was written in court yesterday.

Ray Nagin, the ex mayor of New Orleans, who we saw pointing fingers, yelling, cursing, and giving us the “woe is us” routine for days and weeks on end after Katrina, was convicted on seven million counts of bribery, wire fraud, filing false income tax returns, and setting fire to children. Well, not that last part.

Many of the crimes were from his pre-Katrina days as the standard, run of the mill mayor scam in New Orleans. I imagine these crimes are the tip of the iceburg but I will take it. He will be spending the next 15 plus years in jail.

The Barbarians within the Gates

“Scholarship, which is meant to be a bulwark of civilization against barbarism, is ever more frequently turned into an instrument of rebarbarization,” wrote Leo Strauss. Here, drawn from the MLA International Bibliography, are a few recent examples of that well-established trend:

Chaudhri, Amina. “ ‘Straighten up and Fly Right’: HeteroMasculinity in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 36 (Summer 2011): 147-63.

Holcombe, Heather E.  “Faulkner on Feminine Hygiene, or, How Margaret Sanger Sold Dewey Dell a Bad Abortion.” Modern Fiction Studies 57 (Summer 2011): 203-29.

O’Bryan, C. Jill. “Ontology and Autobiographical Performance: Joanna Frueh’s Aesthetics of Orgasm.” Drama Review 55 (Summer 2011): 126-36.

Stobie, Cheryl. “Indecent Theology, Trans-Theology, and the Transgendered Madonna in Chris Abani’s The Virgin of the Flames.” Research in African Literatures 42 (Summer 2011): 170-83.

Cole, Lucinda, et al. “Speciesism, Identity Politics, and Ecocriticism: A Conversation with Humanists and Posthumanists,” in “Animal, All Too Animal,” special issue, Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 52 (Spring 2011): 87-106.

Christ, Carol P.  “The Last Dualism: Life and Death in Goddess  Feminist Thealogy [sic].”  Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 27 (Spring 2011): 129-45.

Schuyler, Michael T. “He ‘coulda been a contender’ for Miss America: Feminizing Brando in On the Waterfront.” Canadian Review of American Studies 41 (Mar. 2011): 97-113.

Bradshaw, G.A. “An Ape among Many: Co-Authorship and Trans-Species Epistemic Authority,” in “Ecocriticism and Biology,” special issue, Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology 18 (Winter 2010): 15-30.

Kim, Kwang Soon. “Queering Narrative, Desire, and Body: Reading of Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body as a Queer Text.” Journal of English Language and Literature  56 (Winter 2010): 1281-94.

Maxwell, Anne. “Postcolonial Criticism, Ecocriticism and Climate Change: A Tale of Melbourne under Water in 2035.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 45 (Mar. 2009): 15-26.

And finally, hegemonic, white, masculine speech in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina apparently has emerged as a sub-specialization of victimology:

Macomber, Kris, Christine Mallinson, and Elizabeth Searle. “ ‘Katrina That Bitch!’: Hegemonic Representations of Women’s Sexuality on Hurricane Katrina Souvenir T-Shirts.” Journal of Popular Culture 44 (June 2011): 525-44.

Harris, Kate Lockwood. “ ‘Compassion’ and Katrina: Reasserting Violent White Masculinity after the Storm.” Women and Language  34 (Spring 2011): 11-27.

I would welcome additional submissions.

About Freakin’ Time!

Most people who are not firearm enthusiasts are surprised when I mention that the city of New Orleans enacted a campaign of illegally seizing privately owned firearms in the aftermath of Katrina.

Think about that for a moment. With the looting, the breakdown of order, and the sheer overwhelming job that the police and authorities faced when it came to providing aid to those who needed it, disarming law abiding citizens who needed their guns to protect their homes and loved ones was still deemed top priority.

It was conducted like a military campaign. National Guard troops were under orders to break into homes to find guns, and they were ready to shoot any who resisted.

Sounds like some paranoid right wing conspiracy novel, doesn’t it? But all you have to do is watch this video to hear them freely admit it. Note the images of innocent home owners, flex cuffed and lined up by the side of the road like they were terrorists.

One of the most egregious example of police overstepping their authority was caught on video.

Do you think that cop needed to tackle an old woman, in her own kitchen? God only knows what they would have done to her if the cameras weren’t rolling, considering how she is such a terror and all.

This was all three years ago. Why am I bringing up this ancient history?

Because New Orleans has finally agreed to return the guns they seized illegally. It seems that the city has been extremely reluctant to return the private property of the residents, even requiring a sales receipt. Considering that it takes more than a century for regularly maintained firearms to wear out, and many firearms are family heirlooms passed from one generation to the next, this is a ridiculous burden that was enacted by the city to avoid obeying the law.

It has been a long time coming. Let us hope it doesn’t happen again.