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August 28, 2006


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It is the year 40006 BC and the Corp of Engineers is again hard at work saving Chicago from Tioga, the latest glaciation sometimes know as the Wisconsin glaciation. A billion here and a billion there. Surely we can save Chicago from the glacier. The politicians take a poll to find out what to say to keep them in power. The talking heads pontificate about this and that. Even the University of Chicago Law School asks people to opine. Al Gore claims that there are not enough large animals creating methane gas.

Spending billions to rebuild a town that is below sea level, still sinking, and guaranteed some day to have another direct hit from a hurricane is not unlike spending billions to stop the movement of the glacier. It took about 60,000 years for the Wisconsin glacier to go down to the Ohio River and then retreat. It will not be that long before New Orleans takes another hit.

Baghdad is slightly different. General Frank obviously learned well from General Howe. Remember? All we have to do is capture Philadelphia and the Rebels will be defeated. Washington saved what little army he had left and let Howe have Philadelphia. The rest, as they say, is history.

This very weekend the army trained and equipped by us was badly whipped by a mullah who equipped and trained his own army.

We set a new world record in capturing a nation's capital, at least according to Frank and Bush. [I guess they forgot about Howe who did it without the motor vehicle a little quicker.] The members of the army took their arms and went home only to fight a holy war another day.

"Failure is never rewarded with a massive investment." I beg to differ

Frederick Hamilton

A pearl of great price is not had for the asking. It will take determination and sacrifice to succeed in New Orleans and Iraq. Both will be successful.

Fortunately America is a can do country with the freedom necessary to accomplish a great deal. How New Orleans develops over time is up to the people of New Orleans themselves. How Iraq develops over time is ultimately up to the Iraqi's with help from us as needed over time.

The nay sayers on both New Orleans and Iraq won't get much space in the history books a hundred years from now.

Certainly there is massive investment in failure at times. Those massive investments with time also fail. The corporate graveyard of America is strewn with billions of todays dollars in failure: Anaconda Copper, TWA, Studebaker, Enron, et al. Alas the beauty of a free country and a free market. Pretty much the same with nations.


Saul's characterization of the propositions as "pessimistic" is certainly correct.

But at least part of that feeling surely must arise from the stark incompatibilities that appear to be involved: the present level of (conceded?) underinvestment is either a cruel neglect of suffering humanity or an unromantic but realistic prudence.

I believe the latter predicate to be entertained with at least some sadness by most people who see things that way (leaving aside Frederick's apparent ability to distill joy from the Tragedy of the Markets). But my point is that it is very difficult to see the two conclusions as anything but incompatible.

This brings me to consider whether there is there not some way that the "incremental" vision touched on by Saul might be developed so as to have some appeal.

For example, could we not somehow be induced to see that the activities in New Orleans and/or Iraq are (at least potentially) noble experiments in the course of which we expect, as with other experiments, to find out some things we did not already know and to attain levels of accomplishment never before reached?

It seems that such an approach could harness some additional energy and flexibility for these situations, which both appear to be sinks of fury and despair.

I am all too cognizant of the problem with my suggestion. Contemporary serious academic discourse, particularly the "rational choice" species thereof, banishes the types of aesthetic notions I am speaking of here to the category of romance (Buchanan) and purports to replace them with the steely application of a small group of ideas that (it purports) can stand in for an adequate epistemology.

The influence of this sort of discourse results, I submit, the sort of sulking in our various tents that leaves us lamentably unable to get anything creative going, even in the face of what (almost) everyone recognizes as catastrophes, like Katrina and Iraq.

I think Saul is right, that an incremental, recursive, fallible but corrigible, constructive process is called for as policy in both the cited examples. It is foolish to keep insisting that we know what we are doing, we have known all along and if we just keep doing it or do something else, all will be well.

But I doubt that either of the dominant views will be able to summon the expressive resources to come off its respective commitment to being eternally right, whatever the evidence may suggest, to forge a creative contrast to break the entrenched pessimism to which Saul calls our attention.

r. gambel

The View from Here: Metairie LA

I live within walking distance of one of the levee breeches and I'd like to say:

The Corp has admitted massive and systemic flaws in the system they set out (tried to) build. In a sense, there were 2 Katrinas. Katrina the hurricane missed New Orleans by a hair and devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast. New Orleans was flooded by "Corptrina," as a result of massive malfeasance by the federal government. What New Orleans is suffering from is more like if the Hoover Dam broke for no good reason and flooded about 600,000 people.

Of course, no administration wants "the evil that they do to live after them," so it will be a challenge to rebuild Louisiana. My suggestion would be to have a constitutional amendment to give Louisiana the Electoral College votes of Florida and weigh the state's election results so we were always "in play" for Presidential elections.

Eric Rasmusen

It is worth noting that the Bush Administration has taken the "liberal" position on New Orleans. It has accepted the idea that it is the responsibility of the government-- and the federal government in particular-- to deal with natural disasters, using federal money for projects with purely local benefits. I wish Bush had just said, "Why should the rest of the taxpayers pay for levees that benefit only New Orleans and for repairs that benefit only people who live in New Orleans and didn't bother to buy insurance?"

Political Grind

I am not sure we learned as much as or implemented to the degree the Dutch did after their disaster back in the day. The new levee system that New Orleans will use will certainly be an improvement. Ref:http://politicalgrind.com/article.php/the-dutch-uncle-katrina



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