Friday, September 16, 2005

The Cost of Hurricane Recovery and Other Random Thoughts

Well, Bush's speechwriters should get a bonus for that speech last night. All the right notes were hit, and Bush even seemed to take responsibility for the delay in getting aid to the Gulf coast!

But did he really? And what was all that about mobilizing the military? Personally, I want the active-duty military (Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy) used for combat. And am I mistaken, or isn't the governor of the state the only one who can call out the state's National Guard? In other words, the governor should call out the National Guard, as needed. I wouldn't want to have the president sending federal troops into my state, under any pretext, because the governor doesn't command them. There's a parallel chain of command, and that, as any military strategist will tell you, is dangerous. The soldier (or airman or sailor) theoretically has several people telling him or her what to do. Call me reactionary, but I get nervous when the president starts talking about using the active duty military in a peace-time situation.

My other issue has to do with the funding. Where in the world are we going to come with the $30 some billion he says the federal government will supply? Not from the war in Iraq, I'm sure. No, it'll come from the schools and the health research and the agricultural research--all those places where the federal government invests in the future and uses science--things this president doesn't seem to understand or see as important. It's an old saw that most advances in science come when the researcher is looking for something else. You cannot direct research tightly to get only the results you want--that's the point of research, to test your thinking, your hypothesis. If you're right, you find out more about a disease (for example) that will help towards a cure. But you cannot say, "I will do X study and that will give me a vaccine," because science doesn't work that way. I am very worried about where that money is coming from. At the same time, the funding is clearly needed desperately--if the Gulf coast is going to be habitable, and viable for business (let alone tourism), they are going to need help rebuilding, getting supplies, getting restarted. Not only businesses, but churches, daycare centers, schools, governments, the whole infrastructure.

When I was in elementary school, our class did a unit on cities. They are incredibly complex, as we found when we had to each create our own city. We had a checklist of what we had to include--roads, schools, electrical lines, police, fire, government, homes, business districts, industries, natural resources, waste disposal, and so on. Anyone who's taken a whirl at Sim City has done much the same thing! (I guess my fourth grade teacher was ahead of her time!) All of that has been damaged, some of it beyond repair, in the Gulf states. It will require massive amounts of time and energy to get things back in order. At the same time, this is a great opportunity.

When the wall came down between East and West Germany, and they reunited, back in 1992, East Germany took a huge leap forward. They didn't have to spend a lot of time catching up to the west in terms of, say, fiber-optic cable. Because they had had little to nothing that was even close to 1992 vintage in their infrastructure, it was all put in new. New construction simply had the specifications for fiber optic--they didn't remodel old buildings.

The Gulf Coast can do somewhat the same thing. When the homes and businesses are rebuilt, they can be rebuilt to new standards from the ground up--they'll be ahead of the game before they start. And that includes building codes and zones to reduce damage from the next big (or small) hurricane.

If, of course, they are allowed to do so by politicians who (many of them) can't seem to see beyond their next re-election campaign.

With all the talk of "looking into things" and "investigating what happened," and "waiting for a better time," and "taking care of the people first," I can't help built think of the Titanic. No, I'm not talking about rearranging the deck chairs. When the Titanic sank, Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan convened hearings in New York City within the week to find out what had happened, why the supposedly unsinkable ship had sunk, why more people hadn't been saved, and who was culpable. The results were released by the end of May (the Titanic sank on April 14, 1912). Six weeks... And as a result, enough lifeboats for all the passengers a ship can carry are now required on all ships of US registry. Granted, the event was a bit more confined in time and space, and one of the reasons for Smith's speed was his concern that witnesses would be scattered to the four corners of the world before their testimony could be taken. We can find people more easily these days. But why isn't there one politician, one member of Congress, to stand up and say, "We want to start this investigation now; we'll start with people who aren't directly involved in the rescue efforts, who can give us a few hours, and get the others later." Personally, I would be favorably inclined to a member of Congress who insisted on starting the hearings and investigations about now. More delay = more prevarication, "I don't recall"s and lost paperwork... Or am I too cynical?

I've noticed that folks in North Carolina and the Atlantic coast are getting out of town as Ophelia approaches (very slowly....). The TV coverage of the storm on the Outer Banks is interesting to me, as I spent a great vacation down there about 8 years ago, in a wonderful house right by the ocean at Nag's Head...wonder what kind of damage it sustained? My favorite spot was up on the widow's walk at the very top of the house, on the roof. Wouldn't want to have been there recently!

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