Friday, September 02, 2005

A few thoughts on Katrina

According to David Vitter, a Harvard alumnus and the second Republican Louisiana's senator in history after John Harris who was elected in 1867, the final number of casualties in Louisiana itself will probably exceed 10,000.

Katrina has been a nasty bitch. My packets of compassion go to all who have been really affected - especially those whose relatives have died (not the casualties themselves because I doubt that it is allowed to read my blog in the Heaven or the Hell); those who have stayed in the critical area; and finally to the CEOs and CFOs of insurance and re-insurance companies who will have to make sure that most of the people in the area will actually benefit at the end.

My thanks go to those who have helped the victims and who decided to sacrifice themselves for the common good. No doubt, this includes the people of all races and ethnicities and supporters of all parties. Whom do I mean?

For example, I mean the cops who did not quit their jobs in New Orleans and who have been working in the streets despite the obvious risks - especially from the thugs and looters - and despite the minimal amount of thanks that they will receive for their work. In my opinion, these cops should get at least one extra monthly salary for their work: for their courage, and for the risk they have taken. Similar statements apply to the rescue workers who often help even if guns are used to welcome their choppers.

I also mean the citizens of Texas and other states around the unlucky region. In particular, those in Houston have done everything they could. The Louisiana Supersymmetric Dome is undoubtedly the only supersymmetric object in the world that really sucks (and stinks). The Houston Astronomical Dome turned out to be a much better place to live for the people who have tried the concentration camp called the Superdome (although it is 10 years older).

I also mean the local politicians - such as Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, who has shown an incredible amount of realism and honesty. Frankly, I also mean the president George W. Bush who not only went to the region and responded almost as much as he could (and the aid is already flowing to the region), but who will undoubtedly be blamed for nearly everything wrong that has occured and will occur in the Gulf Coast. Some people will even blame Bush's ability to play the guitarre. If Mr. president prays to God every day for an easier life, I guess that he may start to have some doubts whether God is actually working properly because Bush's presidency is a pretty tough one.

How can they blame Bush for this event? The reason was pointed by Einstein: two things are infinite - the universe and human stupidity - and I am not sure about the universe. Many people will say that the disaster is actually a consequence of the war in Iraq. Let me say that the soldiers are not paid for being sleeping men and women who just wait for a hurricane to be useful. Soldiers are supposed to fight with an enemy; while their job in a disordered city such as New Orleans is a natural one, it is not their primary task. Moreover, many troops are coming to New Orleans, but it does not mean that everything will be smooth.

The current (or yesterday's) situation in New Orleans is, unfortunately, an example of the ideal communist dreams that have come true. It's a society where everyone only works as much as he or she wants, and where everyone can take whatever he or she needs. We can see how such a system "works": the basic premises may be satisfied but there is often nothing that they can take - and the people have a very small motivation to do anything because such a system is about permanent despair.

Also, it was mostly the wrong people who had the guns; many of them have stolen them in the stores such as Wal-Mart. You may say that what I say about communism disagrees with the official wisdom of Marx. But it actually agrees very well: he argued in favor of the "spiral" analogy: communism is exactly like the society in the pre-historic era but on a higher level (that includes some skyscrapers).

More seriously, the streets of New Orleans are also an example how the life of our ancestors looked like in the ancient times when they actually had to struggle to survive and when no modern laws could have been enforced (it is apparently not sufficient that they're written somewhere). This is how the authentic life in Nature looks like; it does not look like in the romantic dreams of the environmentalists who believe that it is only the human being who has interrupted the nice co-existence of all other species who used to love each other. ;-)

Also, when one looks at the stores in New Orleans, it is hard not to realize that giving some material help to the third world is probably not quite a sufficient act that will necessarily help them. As Feynman liked to emphasize, it is not the material assets themselves but rather the ability (and know-how) to produce them that distinguishes the first world from the third world.

(The second world has been gone since 1989, except for Fidel and a few friends.)

Most of the civilization achievements must be constructed for the society to work along the modern lines: the law, including the economic rights, must be enforced; the right people with the right (and intelligent) plans and ideas must be in charge and must be able to become influential; the individuals must have some motivation (mostly but not exclusively economic motivation) to make some progress.

Do I think that this particular hurricane will and should affect some quantitative ideas about the policies? Yes, I do. Next time, the insurance companies (well, FEMA itself in the case of the U.S. - thanks, CIP) should think more carefully how high the insurance costs should be in places that are as dangerous as New Orleans has apparently been. The prices of various things will naturally shift, at least temporarily. The American engineers may think that the levees should be stronger after all; maybe they should learn something from those Dutchmen who also live below the sea level.

Do I think that global warming should be blamed for Katrina? No, really no. The hurricanes were always occuring. Their maximal intensity has apparently decreased. There have been roughly five comparable hurricanes in the U.S. during the 20th century; their frequency used to be larger than today during the previous tropical cycle. Even if you imagine - and I am being very "generous" - that global warming may contribute one extra Katrina every century, you will only justify a fraction of one percent that our civilization spends on the global warming.

All these problems must be solved with the focus on the local concerns; it is about the insurance costs, the levees, and the process to choose a place for a new city. The rational approach is not about the attempts to cool down the whole planet and about the hope that such a cooling may help us in average.

Is there global warming behind the fact that the hurricane chose New Orleans this time - exactly when the climate change hysteria became extremely powerful? No. Who says "Yes" is endorsing medieval superstitions. A scientifically oriented person may be emotionally touched; but her rational thinking can't undergo a conceptual revolution because of an event that simply has to happen at some moment, by the very rules of statistics. A hypothetical functional dependence of the distance between the hurricanes and the cities on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions is such a bizarre link that a rationally thinking person must simply reject it.

What is the damage caused by a hurricane as a function of time? Clearly, as the population grows, the total number of lives that are lost would grow if the technology were stagnating. Also, because we are getting richer, the total costs are guaranteed to grow, too. We know from the history classes that there have been many disasters like this one in the past. In some sense, we got used to the idea that these things avoid us. But a more accurate comment is that only the disasters that our technologies can prevent are expected to diminish. While we know antibiotics and many other cool things to eliminate many tragedies that used to ruin the humankind in the past, we can't yet control the weather.

Until we learn how to do it, we must be ready that the hurricanes will be able to destroy the whole regions as much as they could in the past. But I am sure that America will recover from this tragedy much like it has recovered so many times.

No comments:

Post a Comment