May 8, 2006

13 Ghosts

Hatched by Dafydd

I had to go to the doctor for my annual checkup a few days ago; and for the first time in I don't know how long, I completely forgot to bring a book. Thus thrown upon the mercy of Dr.'s magazine rack, I skipped over People, Highlights, and Oprah Winfrey's O! and reluctantly grabbed Popular Mechanics.

Not that there's anything wrong with that; I just don't read magazines, usually. I prefer books, where the author has the leisure to develop his thesis. For short articles, I prefer the web.

Yet there, in Popular Mechanics, of all unlikely places, I read a wonderful article "debunking" thirteen myths of Hurricane Katrina:

Accusations began to fly even before floodwaters receded. But facts take longer to surface. In the months since the storm, many of the first impressions conveyed by the media have turned out to be mistaken.

Let's be clearer here about the politics than PM is; they're more concerned with the truth of the accusations than they are with the truth about them (that's my job!) There were three types of egregious -- er -- untruthfulism:

  • Political lies trying to pin the destruction of Hurricane Katrina on President Bush and his administration;
  • Lies to deflect blame from one person to another -- no, it wasn't my fault... blame that fellow behind the tree!
  • Media lies to sensationalize the story and sell newspapers.

There is clearly a lot of overlap; one lie can serve many masters. For example, saying that there was no federal response at all for days both attacks Bush and also lifts blame from Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. And perhaps PM's approach is best: simply correcting the record.

But I don't buy it. Behind every deliberate lie lurks a calculating liar, and the liars should be exposed for what they are: men (and women) without honor, whose word cannot be trusted.

These lies stand in contradistinction to the ersatz "lies" about WMD -- where "lie" is given a special redefinition to mean any statement that turns out to be mistaken, or even true but not to the degree expected, even if the chap making the statement completely believed it at the time. By contrast, the Katrina lies were deliberate, reckless, and malicious.

Some examples (some of the emphasis is PM's, some is BL's):

MYTH: "The aftermath of Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history."--Aaron Broussard, president, Jefferson Parish, La., Meet the Press, NBC, Sept. 4, 2005

REALITY: Bumbling by top disaster-management officials fueled a perception of general inaction, one that was compounded by impassioned news anchors. In fact, the response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest--and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall.

Dozens of National Guard and Coast Guard helicopters flew rescue operations that first day--some just 2 hours after Katrina hit the coast. Hoistless Army helicopters improvised rescues, carefully hovering on rooftops to pick up survivors. On the ground, "guardsmen had to chop their way through, moving trees and recreating roadways," says Jack Harrison of the National Guard. By the end of the week, 50,000 National Guard troops in the Gulf Coast region had saved 17,000 people; 4000 Coast Guard personnel saved more than 33,000.

That adds up to more than 50,000 people who would likely be dead today, were it not for the incredibly rapid reaction by federal responders and the National Guard.

This is the primary lie pushed by the Democrats: that the response of Mayor Nagin (a Democrat, however recently) and Gov. Blanco (another Democrat) was exemplary, but their efforts were thwarted by the lethargic, almost somnambulant non-response of the feds. The purpose is obvious: blame Bush for all the death and destruction and deflect attention from the complete collapse at the Louisiana state and New Orleans city levels.

Alas, it's a lie that stuck and stuck hard, fueled by people's belief that the federal government is the "first responder" to every disaster, clueless that the actual chain of responsibility begins at the local level then progresses to the state... and pushed also by the weird idea people have that the federal government has infinite resources at every location and at all times. Some drunk falls down a well, and many people immediately demand, "where's the president? why doesn't he do something?"

MYTH: "They have people ... been in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."--New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Sept. 6, 2005

REALITY: Both public officials and the press passed along lurid tales of post-Katrina mayhem: shootouts in the Superdome, bodies stacked in a convention center freezer, snipers firing on rescue helicopters. And those accounts appear to have affected rescue efforts as first responders shifted resources from saving lives to protecting rescuers. In reality, although looting and other property crimes were widespread after the flooding on Monday, Aug. 29, almost none of the stories about violent crime turned out to be true....

When the Superdome was finally cleared, six bodies were found--not the 200 speculated. Four people had died of natural causes; one was ruled a suicide, and another a drug overdose. Of the four bodies recovered at the convention center, three had died of natural causes; the fourth had sustained stab wounds.

Popular Mechanics -- perhaps trying to be apolitical -- didn't quote the rest of Nagin's diatribe all over various news and talk shows: he went on to blame FEMA, the Army, and other federal agencies, though he also spared some bile for Gov. Blanco. Everyone, that is, but the person most responsible for such calamities, had they actually occurred: the mayor of New Orleans.

  • The Grand Nagus was the man who decided to stack people in the Superdome (publicly calling it a "refuge of last resort") and the convention center, rather than forcing evacuation;
  • It was the New Orleans city police who deserted, and who should have maintained order there;
  • It was Nagin who left hundreds of school buses sitting on land below sea level, where they were swamped, instead of moving them to high ground as the New Orleans emergency plan requires;
  • It was the mayor who refused to issue a mandatory evacuation order until August 28th;
  • And Nagin was one of the prime culprits in spreading lurid rumors of murder and mayhem that, as PM grimly notes, likely delayed rescue and may have cost lives.
  • (It was, however, Gov. Blanco's Louisiana State Department of Homeland Security that refused the Red Cross permission to pre-stage in New Orleans; so that's one stupidity that cannot be laid at Mayor Nagin's feet.)

I sincerely hope he is defeated for a second term by Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu in the runoff, a week from Saturday. But I haven't seen any polls, and I have no idea who's ahead.

But we don't want to follow the biased example of the antique media; let's confront an argument PM makes in Nagin's favor:

MYTH: "The failure to evacuate was the tipping point for all the other things that ... went wrong."--Michael Brown, former FEMA director, Sept. 27, 2005

REALITY: When Nagin issued his voluntary evacuation order, a contraflow plan that turned inbound interstate lanes into outbound lanes enabled 1.2 million people to leave New Orleans out of a metro population of 1.5 million. "The Corps estimated we would need 72 hours [to evacuate that many people]," says Brian Wolshon, an LSU civil engineer. "Instead, it took 38 hours." Later investigations indicated that many who stayed did so by choice. "Most people had transportation," says Col. Joe Spraggins, director of emergency management in Harrison County, Ala. "Many didn't want to leave." Tragic exceptions: hospital patients and nursing home residents.

There is no question that virtually everybody did evacuate in response to the voluntary call by the mayor. But I think Popular Mechanics is overreaching here -- and again, probably because they don't want to be perceived as partisan and biased: the reality is that the vast majority of the lies were from the Left against the Right, and therefore any fair ennumeration will appear to lean right.

The purpose of a mandatory evacuation is precisely to empower the police to evacuate the inevitable cadre of people who don't believe the danger is real. There will always be people who think they can "weather the storm," who don't believe the experts, who are too lazy to evacuate, who hope to take advantage of the evacuation to loot the abandoned stores and homes, and those who are too ill, weak, or old to evacuate themselves.

Those are exactly the people who need to be forced to leave. Not only are they are grave risk of death themselves, but they put emergency responders at risk trying to rescue them.

Of course the vast majority will leave in the face of a huge hurricane (though Katrina turned out not to be as big or powerful as at first believed; see the myth on page 4). Obviously. But so what? The mayor needed to issue a mandatory evacuation order... and he didn't for several days.

Anyway, read the article; there's lots of cool stuff in here -- including a diagrams of a levee on pages 5 and 6, which I'd never seen before. Excellent... and a lot of grist for the political mill here, for all that PM by and large chooses not to see it.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 8, 2006, at the time of 4:00 PM

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The following hissed in response by: XB234C

I read a column from the New Orleans Times Picayune Online written by a doctor who was heading to the Superdome with two refrigerated semi-trailers just to collect the "hundreds dead" that he had been hearing about and seeing on the news. When he arrived and entered the Superdome instead of hundreds of bodies stacked like cordwood he found....6. Two heart attacks, a suicide and a couple of them who couldn't get their medications. Clearly the media were trying to give the impression of a Road Warrior atmosphere to further stoke the flames. As you said any fair enumeration will appear to lean right. Why though, doesn't an unfair enumeration appear to lean left?

The above hissed in response by: XB234C [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2006 6:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


As you said any fair enumeration will appear to lean right. Why though, doesn't an unfair enumeration appear to lean left?

Because of what I have dubbed the "fairness indoctrine."

Many people have been indoctrinated to believe that for any two divergent positions, the "fairest" path is to split the difference.

Hence: Johnny thinks the pie should be divided equally, but Bob wants the whole thing for himself. So to be fair, we'll split the difference: Bob gets 3/4ths of the pie.

In reality, if there is an objective truth to be found, then nearly always, one side will be closer to that objective truth than the other. If I say that Mt. Everest is 30,000 feet high and somebody else says it's only 20,000, then I am more correct than he.

Rather than saying "let's split the difference and say that Everest is 25,000 feet high," we should look up the actual altitude -- 29,035 feet above mean sea level -- and use that... even though it means that the other guy has to adjust his estimate by 45%, while I only have to adjust mine by 3% (in the other direction). Pleasing or not to the other guy -- that is the "fair" thing to do.

Back to Katrina. Suppose somebody hears that there were, say, 13 lies told about Katrina, some from both sides. Then if a magazine comes along and writes that the Left told 11 lies and the Right told 2... the knee-jerk reaction from many folks is to assume that magazine must be biased towards the Right.

Contrariwise, if another magazine said "the Left told 6 lies and the Right told 7," that comports better with the Fairness Indoctrine... and people will assume that the second magazine is just being fair about it.

This is irrespective of the actual count of lies on each side. The first magazine may be absolutely correct, which makes the second magazine grossly unfair. So it goes.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2006 7:47 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

13 Ghosts

Toss in the Democrat Party, and my sweet 'Madine'...and, lets just make it 15 Ghosts.

Then again, we could just sit by, and let Iran or France or China or North Korea or the UN or even America's Democrat Party decide what is best for America.

Personally, humble gentle me thinks that Vice Premier Shimon Peres said it best today:

'Iran can also be wiped off the map'

Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...America is *RIPE* for 'Da Kill, so let Americans put the Democrat Party back into more time, just to make sure that talk doesn't work.

America needs to be pruned...

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2006 8:47 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles


The Popular Mechanics article cited here has an error. There is no Harrison Co, AL. There is a Harrison Co, MS. Keesler AFB (where the USAAF Weather Reconnaisance Squad is stationed and one of their members who works for the Weather Channel flew missions from) is in Harrison County, MS. Harrison County, MS, took the direct hit from Hurricane Camille in 1969. The H counties in AL are Hale, Henry, and Houston :).

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 20, 2006 1:23 AM

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