Re: Take Two

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We are all Arlingtonians now.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:27 AM
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I think it was a good thing you did, restoring the post, even if only for the nebulous cause of "internet honesty".


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:38 AM
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That said, I don't find that much objectionable in the OP. What it was was someone being provincial, someone seeing enormous (in the old sense) violence in the heart of her neighborhood and failing to see the more abstract violence that the rest of us felt. Can't say that I blame her.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:51 AM
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Figuring out who has the best claim on tragedy isn't the right way to look at it. Tragedy sucks. Empathy is good. Phony identification with others' tragedies isn't empathy and isn't good, but that isn't what you seem to be talking about--this still reads like you're trying to figure out who "owns" the tragedy and who's first in line for sympathy and understanding.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:01 AM
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Phony identification with others' tragedies isn't empathy and isn't good, but that isn't what you seem to be talking about

Actually, that is kind of what I was talking about. Real empathy is always welcome, I've found. What really pisses people off and makes them draw the boundaries are those who think they understand what someone's going through, especially if they're making advice based on that. My reaction to phony identification was anger; I have a friend going through a medical problem who has gone as far as to permanently block people's emails if someone does that.

And, with 9/11, it was less about sympathy and understanding than feeling you needed to draw those walls because people were trying to exploit you to start a war or for political gain. What really set up the us/them divide for me was the RNC in 2004 and having people come into my neighborhood to tell me that they needed to advance a foreign policy none of us believed made us safer because of what happened to us. But that sidetracks the thread from my overarching theory...


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:11 AM
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And I'm off to bed now.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:11 AM
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5: That makes sense in relation to the politics of 9/11, but I'm not sure how well it generalizes. It's true that a lot of people react to others' tragedies in dumb ways, but that's because a lot of people react to pretty much anything in dumb ways. Generally, I don't think that getting hung up on others' dumb responses is good for one's ability to cope.

My 14-year-old nephew, who has reason to know, summarized it all pretty well: "Life is like a penis: sometimes it's hard."

(Please don't take that as flippant--a certain fatalism and a sense of humor are awfully useful.)


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:28 AM
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5: that's how I read the original post. SO many people wanted to be part of 9/11 event hought hey only watched it on tv or who were trying to co-opt it to cause 9/11s elsewhere.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 2:21 AM
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Huh. The whole distinction about 'getting it' is foreign to my experience. Then so is tragedy, mostly. [Knocks wood]

I am reminded of a film at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Pete Townsend observes that R&R is like a huge bonfire, and the fuel is human bodies. Speaking of prominent musicians who've died, he says "They may have been your fucking icons, but they were my fucking friends. And they're gone."


Posted by: NĂ¡pi | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 4:52 AM
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Semi-OT. I was living in DC from August 2003-November 2004. What really surprised me was how NY-centric much of the coverage of 9/11 was then.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:05 AM
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I should add that even some of the local media seemed to be covering it as a NY event.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:06 AM
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There's nothing wrong with the original post. I'm in Kuala Lumpur right now (in two giant twin towers, no less,) in a Muslim country, and talking about 9/11 to my co-workers on 9/11.

The entire time (and then emphasizing how America is very separate from Bush,) in the back of my head:

"Man, they just don't get it."

Cheery topic to stop lurking around on, but hi everybody. I'm Steve.


Posted by: ChurchillCigar | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:35 AM
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When I had an unexplained stillbirth, at term, I can recall someone saying, "My dog just died so I know how you feel." He didn't mean any harm; people without children really do think of their pets that way. But it was hard for me to respond.

There is a sort of hierarchy of grief, with the loss of a child after a long illness being seen as more significant than a neonatal loss, and a miscarriage being less, and infertility not even considered. Women grieving after a termination had better have had a "positive" amnio to even mention their pain.

Yet some women suffering from infertility say they experience every period as the death of their wanted child. For me it only happened once.

I'm not sure anyone "gets it." I try to occasionally walk down the street and remind myself that everyone I see over a certain age yearns for a lost love, mourns for a cherished person who died, and can pinpoint a moment when, if they knew then what they know now, and had the courage to act on it, their whole life would have been different.


Posted by: Shamhat | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:40 AM
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Huh. The whole distinction about 'getting it' is foreign to my experience.

Yeah, and also, 'getting it' can mean a couple of different things.

There can be an important event in my life that for me has a particular type of emotional resonance, and there's a `feltness' that that experience had that really only *I* can get [in that first-person sense of 'get']. Someone else who has had a very similar experience might also 'get' that event in the same first-person way and share a certain insight into how an event was experienced that others do not.

But, in the other sense of 'get', the sense where we talk about a particular person 'getting' the concept of global warming, or whatever, then really, no. Where 'getting' carries implications of understanding some phenomena, contextualising it, etc. The person who had the first person experience has no privileged perspective on that event. In this second sense, they may well get that event less than someone who didn't experience it.

I may know how a particular relationship break up felt to me, but a friend may well 'get' that event more than me; they may be able to place it in context, perceive the events that led up to it, the events that followed from it, etc. more than I can.

Ditto 9/11. Someone who had close personal experience of the events of the day has a very specific emotional connection to that event that other people just don't have, and it's easy to see why those people would get annoyed with other people who claim to share that connection. They clearly don't.

But, in the other sense ... no.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:48 AM
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I understand what Shamhat is saying about a hierarchy of grief, but I guess I just don't care enough about what people think. And it's not like comparing losses is a game that one can "win" -- like anyone else in downtown DC, I had a personal experience on 9/11.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:21 AM
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I think hierarchy is the wrong model to use in any case. We have incompletely overlapping shared experiences of grief and exposure to trauma, and the only way to understand where the intersections of that Venn diagram really are is to try to understand other people's perspectives. I think almost inevitably we will find that the ability to find empathetic connection trascends the boundaries of literal shared experience, and that this is a helpful thing. Even if it doesn't, thinking about things hierarchically is pernicious, because, yes, your experience is more important to you than to anybody else, but everybody else's experience is more important to them than yours, too. It's just a bad starting point, a way, as Becks says, to be very alone.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:24 AM
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I'll happily cop to not getting it, even though I had a college friend in one of the planes. I really don't feel any sort of emotional attachment to 9/11, any more than I do to the Oklahoma City bombing.* As far as they affected me, they were both just things that happened on the news, and I have plenty of intellectual reactions to them, (as we all do) but I don't feel anything viscerally about either. Also, I'm a commie with a tiny, shriveled heart.

*Katrina? Totally different story. Still makes me terribly sad. Probably because I have a lot of history with New Orleans and none whatsoever with NYC.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:31 AM
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One thing that sort of bothered me about the original post, and that is also present in Take Two, is the broad use of universal language to describe your own personal experiences and reactions, as if the way you've processed this event, or misfortunes in general, is the way everyone else necessarily does.

I kept thinking "That's not what I do. She just doesn't get it."


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:34 AM
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My 9/11 empathy was severely crimped by El Salvador empathy. During the late 70s and early 80s as much as 1% of the El Salvador population was killed, mostly on a piecemeal basis by American-supported troops and gangs. I spent about four years trying to convince people it was happening at all, or to care. Eventually things quieted down and Salvadorans put it behind them and went on with their lives. They had no choice.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:34 AM
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I think hierarchy is the wrong model to use in any case

I agree. If the "hierarchy" is overemphasized, you end up with it seeming like someone who was a POW has more right to public office than someone else, for instance. That said there is a huge difference on the scale of impact of events on different individuals and to avoid being a tool one does need to acknowledge and internalize that. After a neighbor's housed burned down, another (usually non-toolish) neighbor shockingly started a discussion of it by noting what a mess it had been with the road closed during it, then immediately caught himself and was clearly appalled with his own words. (And then years later another guy used the fire as a barely relevant anecdote on a blog thread!)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:41 AM
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Shamhat, a "positive" amnio is one which tests positive for what problems? Down's? Tay Sachs?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:46 AM
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17: Speaking of Oklahoma (here and in the other thread), this may be one of the most outrageous 9/11 items going. (Global War on Terrorism special plates showing the WTC. Offensive on so many fronts, and as if they did not have their own terrorist bombing to use.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:46 AM
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I made Becks repost this.

It was a major theme of the HBO series "Generatio Kill", both before and after Iraqi combat, that someone who wasn't a Marine, hadn't seen combat, hell, wasn't a Forward Recon Marine, wouldn't ever understand like anyrhing about their experiences and feelings. Constantly repeated.

I have found interesting the degree to which people understand (define?) themselves or their group by peak experiences:war, medical emergencies, personal tragedies, but also positive experiences like births, marriages, watching the graduations winning the champonships. I don't know that the peaks are who we are, but maybe it is what we remember most clearly.

Economist Mark Thoma is from a small town in Eastern Oregon, HS grad class 80. He has been working very hard on Elitism and Tribalism, Red & Blue, in some unusually personal posts.

Here's One about his Little League team beating the big city.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:55 AM
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16:Look, if y'all want to focus on grief experiences and tragedies, fine.

But for myself on this blog(s), I have noticed people sharing the joys of submitting dissertations or getting tenure.

I think it's broader than that.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:59 AM
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In a further attempt to show that I really "get it", I'll mention that combat experience is area where this manifests itself in spades. Over Labor Day, I revisted with my father an incident from my youth where he (uncharacteristically for him) nearly bit my head off in anger after I suggested that a very intense Labor Day fireworks show must be what it was like to be under bombardment.

Pwned on preview by Bob. Yes, these feelings are clearly ingrained and emotional and "authentic", but they grade into grievance trap quite when recast as the Red/Blue flyover bullshit propagated by the elitist Brooksian and mcmanusian babblers of the world.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:03 AM
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||

Breaking......

Kevin Drum is now as negativistic as I am

And what if Obama wins? The last time a Democrat won after a resurgence of the culture war right, we got eight years of madness, climaxing in an impeachment spectacle unlike anything we'd seen in a century. If it happens again, with the lunatic brigade newly empowered and shrieking for blood, Obama will be another Clinton and we'll be in for another eight years of near psychotic dementia.
Am I exaggerating? Sure. Am I exaggerating a lot? I don't think so. McCain, in his overwhelming desire for office, is unloosing forces that are likely to make the country only barely governable no matter who wins.

|>


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:04 AM
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23: The McArdle post quoted in that piece bugged me for the "coastal" shorthand. North Carolina is on the coast, dammit, and we've got plenty of southern drawls and we're Ground Zero for NASCAR and blah blah blah. Every time I hear someone start in on how liberals don't understand rural/small town/whatever America (particularly someone who grew up in New York, went to an Ivy for undergrad, UChicago for grad school, and now lives in DC writing for The Atlantic), I want to scream. No, as a matter of fact, I don't look down on my family and neighbors and the people I grew up with as a matter of course.

To be fair, she's vaguely including herself in the snobby cohort in that post, but if she thinks she hears her DC crowd talk down red states, I can guarantee her she ain't heard nothing compared to the way small-town folks here talk about San Francisco or Boston. Or Ivy League-educated DC journalists.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:09 AM
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I've written and deleted a bunch of thoughts on this because it hits home on a number of levels. One thing that does stand out, though: The problem seems to come at some level from the other person offering sympathy by making it about themselves. It's quite possible to offer sympathy and comfort without making the process about yourself, your own experiences and grief.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:17 AM
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It looks to me as though the "stabbed in the back" theme is going to be at least as intense after the Iraq War as it is after the Vietnam War. It's even possible that the military has been setting something like that up, telling the troops that they're being betrayed.

Against my nihilist custom I've been volunteering for the local Democrats, and two of the most committed workers are anti-war mothers of "troops", and their sons (one of whom is apparently disabled) almost refuse to speak to them about the war. The argument is "You don't know, you haven't been there". This has not caused the mothers to change their minds; it's almost intensified their commitment. (I believe that Spackerman has said that the troops almost all believe totally in their mission.)

The combination of a.) making young mostly-guys feel important and needed when they've never felt that way before, b.) putting them under such intense pressure that they fear for their physical and psychic survival, and c.) building intense group loyalties to their friends, their unit, the military, some abstract definition of the USA, and maybe The President -- this is a very powerful and effective way of remaking individuals entirely and welding them into an effective group.

But it doesn't produce people who return to civilian life very well. There are several guys my age around here who still are constantly angry because of their Vietnam War experiences.

Combat experience is more intense than almost anything, but it doesn't necessarily or even usually improve people. Military burderns are also always distributed completely unfairly, and there's really no way around that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:18 AM
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25,27:Why can't we all get along?

I thought part of this topic was to move past defensiveness and offense at tribalism and exclusion, and yes, even bigotry.

We all do it.

(I seem to manage to get under everybody's skin, usually with completely different causes.)


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:20 AM
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Semi-OT. I was living in DC from August 2003-November 2004. What really surprised me was how NY-centric much of the coverage of 9/11 was then.

I working within the Beltway in Northern Virginia on 9/11 -- trying to prevent the email for a major government agency from going down, IIRC, which led me to walk into a server room after the first plane struck, when I thought it was just some sort of terrible accident, and walk out cheerfully oblivious and proud of myself for preventing a disaster -- and it surprised me how NY-centric much of the coverage of 9/11 was then. I had coworkers -- nobody I actually knew, it was a big company -- in the Pentagon who didn't make it out, and they've been excised by history.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:21 AM
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27: the McArdle post bugged me with pretty much every word. How you can manage to alienate so many people in so few words is a mystery to me, but I guess that's why she was born into the big bucks.

Back on topic, I think another thing that can be caustic is to deny other people sympathy because you feel like you've had it worse. It is, in the moment, utterly excusable, but after you've had time to process, having some ability to say "okay, this person is acting this way because they want sympathy", and then processing that on its own terms (which, believe me, should include "...and fuck that.") should be something that's available to you.

I mean, really, the danger of this isn't that you end up unable to share your own experience: it's that you close yourself off to sharing other people's. If traumatic experiences don't make us more sympathetic to the traumas of others, no matter how tiresome and pedestrian they may outwardly present, then we're letting ourselves slip towards sociopathy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:23 AM
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But it doesn't produce people who return to civilian life very well.
...
Combat experience is more intense than almost anything, but it doesn't necessarily or even usually improve people. Military burderns are also always distributed completely unfairly, and there's really no way around that.

I think it's very specific to particular conflicts, though. And maybe certain places, too. This stuff doesn't seem to reflect the experiences of veterans of the various wars the UK has been in over the past 50 years.

Vietnam was quite unique in many ways in terms of recent experience: a deeply unpopular war with mass conscription.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:23 AM
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While I haven't been posting much, this weekend I was going to put up something about that ingroup-outgroup stuff and McArdle's post, and Tim Burke has something recent too on the same point. If I link to McArdle, can I ask that people not be personally unpleasant about her? Wrong, misguided, whatever, but could you (that is, the commenters collectively) react as if it were an unsigned post on a blog you never heard of?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:30 AM
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34: I think you should put up the post, but by that token I think what you're asking is impossible, since so much of what was irritating about her post is a specific product of her outlook and biases.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:31 AM
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By some token, anyhow.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:31 AM
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27, 32:Interesting that people are focussing on the snippet from McArdle rather the long text by Thoma. I found Thoma's thoughts on discussing economics with his family, and struggles with his own elitism or family's intransigence, more interesting.

I do things in the morning. Gone.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:32 AM
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25,27:Why can't we all get along?

Reason #17a:

Her speechwriter's strategy is clear -- to revive the "us" versus "them" storyline for the conservative base. "Us" is good rural, small-town folk and "them" is the dissipated urban elites, mostly domiciled on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:33 AM
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I might also add that making it about the feelings of "the troops" is an example of the kind of subjectivization and personalization pf reality that came out of the 60s, as if the only real truth of anything is the individual experience of it, and that the only one who really understands the Iraq War is the one who was walking down the street there carrying an M16. That's really totally incoherent, because it also sets one kind of experience (that of the troops) against all other kinds notably the Iraqis' experience.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:33 AM
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There are several guys my age around here who still are constantly angry because of their Vietnam War experiences.

Walter Sobchack. I supply this Slate link just because it's on topic and you would have found this article interesting had it been any good.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:34 AM
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Why can't we all get along?

It's Sarah Palin's fault.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:35 AM
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since so much of what was irritating about her post is a specific product of her outlook and biases.

Take some responsibility for your feelings, tweety. McArdle doesn't irritate me at all.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:35 AM
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Yeah, but her outlook and biases aren't particularly interesting to what I'd like to write about -- I'm interested in the relationship between two population groups (and the problems Apo mentions with defining them), rather than particularly with what McArdle thinks. Mostly, I want to talk about her commenters on that post, not the post.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:35 AM
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ttaM, it does fit the British military lifers I've met in bars a couple of times over 20 years.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:36 AM
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LB you know we're going to say what we're going to say regardless. C'mon, ride the dragon.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:37 AM
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Bob, in case you were confused, you can henceforth treat each of my comments as expressing my own views.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:37 AM
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"Us" is good rural, small-town folk and "them" is the dissipated urban elites, mostly domiciled on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Interesting that "them" is roughly 70% of the country.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:38 AM
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39: I think we should call it the Starship Troopers fallacy, wherein only military veterans were allowed to vote.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:39 AM
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I think we should call it the Starship Troopers fallacy, wherein only military veterans were allowed to vote.

That's the medieval political system, except that only the officers had the right to vote.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:42 AM
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Also I really would like to discuss the Thoma post and the larger issues and whathaveyou once I've licked my ad hominem bucket clean so c'mon LB, let's light this popstand.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:42 AM
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48: Was that in the movie or the book or both?

Verhoeven's movie was really screwy. Once critic called it "sarcastic fascism." Does anyone know if the sarcastic fascism was picked up in the straight to DVD sequels, or did they just descend into earnest fascism.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:45 AM
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49: well, and officers were taken from the landed gentry, so it's really not that similar.

Believing that only soldiers have a true understanding of what war means strikes me as a particularly pernicious fallacy, because there's almost nobody with direct experience of a war who's experience is more limited and proscribed (both by circumstance and (necessary) psychological design) than an active duty soldier.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:45 AM
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51: I don't remember if it was in the movie, but it was definitely in the book. The book is actually fascinating, because the sarcastic, subversive end of it is played much more subtly than it is in the movie, to the point that it's not immediately obvious that it's there at all (except, you know, Heinlein was a hardcore libertarian nutjob, not a weird, fascist authoritarian nutjob). The book is more like "lurid fascism".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:47 AM
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If I link to McArdle, can I ask that people not be personally unpleasant about her?

Only if you put up a second post next to it where we can. Oh, and also let us be sexist. Besides, I can't be personally unpleasant to her as I do not know the cunt.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:48 AM
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The landed gentry held their land in virtue of being military officer. They were both owners and sovereigns of their land, and their ownership was dependent on their military-political role. During that era wealth was mostly land, and the great majority of the rich were landed gentry.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:49 AM
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Oh, and also let us be sexist. Besides, I can't be personally unpleasant to her as I do not know the cunt.

Cut this crap out.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:49 AM
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re: 44

Not the ones I know. My father, both grandfathers, my brother's father, and quite a few friends and acquaintances over the years have been in the British Army.

That said, I'm sure there's a substantial chunk of people in any conflict, and even people who serve in peacetime, who come back scarred by the experience.

I'm just saying that the Vietnam conflict has specific 'structural' features that aren't widely shared in recent conflicts.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:50 AM
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I'll agree with 17, except for the part about having a friend on one of the planes. I don't get it. And in fact, what I wrote on the five-year anniversary seems relevant. Not much of a story or a personal connection. Unless you're one of the unfortunate few who lived or worked in two particular neighborhoods that day, 9/11 was a news story (albeit a big and scary and politically-charged one) and a flight delay.

People are saying that this will be my generation's version of JFK being shot or Pearl Harbor being bombed, and they're probably right, but mostly just because America wants it that way. For 90 percent of individuals, it was meaningful to their own lives because they knew within a day that in 2006 or 2011 you would be asked "Where were you?"

I don't mean to belittle the experience of people like Becks, for whom it obviously was important and horrible, but for a lot of people, 9/11 was a political football first and principally, I think.

And, like apo in 17, I'm a commie with a tiny, shriveled heart.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:52 AM
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The weird thing is, that kind of reductionist "getting it" doesn't just limit itself to "only active duty military personnel serving in a war zone 'get it'"; it's "only the grunts who carried the M16 on foot through the streets really get it," which, okay, but then you're ceding the ability to understand war to the tiniest slice of a tiny minority of participants.

Why not go further and paraphrase the famous quote "Only the dead know the nature of war."?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:53 AM
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53: Heinlein flirts with authoritarianism, if only in his lurid (exactly the right word) depiction of his antagonists. This is a variation of the closeted homophobe argument.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:53 AM
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I suppose that there's a special problem where the military is at odds with the greater society, as in the Vietnam War, WWI in Gemrany, and the present War.

However, over the years I have known several people whose WWII or Korean War experiences left them either wrecked or fascistic.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:53 AM
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43: This business of asking that people not be unpleasant towards the thoroughly unpleasant views of someone you're posting about is quite annoying. Having been told at length, on multiple occasions, you presumably already know that those who dislike her (online persona) here feel unapologetic about doing so, will say so unapologetically and have reasons beyond the "personal" for doing so. If your post is really not about her, but a sociological observation about her commenters, then presumably the ensuing thread would be less about her than it might otherwise be.

As McArdle posts go, I'd say the one in question is tiresome but not as obnoxious as her worst. Mostly it's just sloppy; she's describing metropolitan condescension toward the smaller city / town/ village (which does happen, as does unconscious classism -- a more unusual theme for McMegan -- reasonably frequently) but obscuring what would be a decent limited observation with broad-brushing and heavy hints of the usual red states = authenticity bullshit.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:54 AM
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I think 58 is as guilty of overgeneralizing as Becks's post was. Maybe you knew somebody who lived and work in those two blocks. Maybe you had some connection to the towers. Maybe it hit you hard for reasons that you can't really explain to anybody else. This is the problem with trying to define individual's experience of grief and loss externally. It applies a standard that really has nothing to do with how people feel.

If watching 9/11 on TV triggered in somebody a near-suicidal depression, such that seven years later they've lost their family and most of their friends, would that count as getting it?

Misery poker is an impossible game.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:55 AM
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When the arguments about "being there" start, people start talking about their own direct experience being more real than the other veteran's direct experience. Fussell does that against Glenn Gray, for example. Both saw WWII at more or less its worse, but Glenn Gray didn't have to watch maggots crawling in the body of a dead friend.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:56 AM
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47:Saying the prejudice and tribalism is all on one side is not gonna help get the dialogue going.

2) Rural/Urban is only one axis. I remember Archie Bunker & Fred Sanford, and assume there is still urban prejudice against foreign-born cabdrivers, for instance.

3) It could possibly be that the prejudice is all on one side, and the good guys are all cosmopolitan, acceptin', and empathetic. But I consider those to be themselves tribal exclusive values, the tribe that defines and commands universality. The Mormon doesn't need everyone to be Mormon, but the liberal needs everyone to be liberal.

4) Remember the 5 normative methods? I don't, hehe, umm justice, fairness, loyalty, purity, heirarchry. Well, yesterday I encountered the last three, with just a tiny variation, as defined by...Durkheim? Simmel? I read too much. Anyway, they are at least a century old.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:58 AM
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56: Will do. I was cringing in my head as I was hitting post, but then cringing the other way out of fear of cowardice.
That may be the first time in my life I've ever used the word "cunt" in a non-british sense. What is it about our dear McMegan that inspires such rancor?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:00 AM
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47:Saying the prejudice and tribalism is all on one side is not gonna help get the dialogue going.

Exactly the problem Apo was responding to.

The Mormon doesn't need everyone to be Mormon, but the liberal needs everyone to be liberal.

Which of these two groups makes each of its adherents go on worldwide missions to convert people, and indulges in large-scale posthumous reïmagining of people as adherents to its creed?

Just curious.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:01 AM
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What is it about our dear McMegan that inspires such rancor?

Oh dear lord read the archives before we go through this one again.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:02 AM
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The Mormon doesn't need everyone to be Mormon, but the liberal needs everyone to be liberal.

The Mormon doesn't think that non-Mormons force Mormons to go to hell, but liberals think that non-liberals will drag the all of us through hell.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:03 AM
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If you want an academic understanding of what happens I recommend you start with this.

If you want something shorter I recommend one of the pamphlets you can find in your church or psych ward.

They give some helpful tips like NOT saying "I know how you feel."

In a nutshell these theories claim the human responses to tragedy stem from the human response to the knowledge of death. Because death is universal this in one topic that applies to all of us.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:04 AM
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What is it about our dear McMegan that inspires such rancor?

Her views on almost everything are utterly vile?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:04 AM
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53 - I recently reread it after getting told off by Gary Farber over a comment at Obsidian wings in which I praised the movie. Heinlein's philosophy is pretty much that espoused by the authorities in the book. It's militaristic authoritarianism in the service of minarchism, sort of. It's bizarre and self contradictory, but there you have it.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:04 AM
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57: I'm just saying that the Vietnam conflict has specific 'structural' features that aren't widely shared in recent conflicts.

Yes, I think there is a distinction between the "scars", intense in-group feeling that it seems most everyone who has been in any combat has from the "adding insult to injury" stuff that comes from an F'ed up situation like Vietnam.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:05 AM
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McMegan grew up among liberals, and her schtick is baiting elite, hip liberals in a clever way while simultaneously being the fun kind of person they normally socialize with. She's like a niche parasite that can only feed on one particular kind of prey.

With any luck, in 2009 she'll find her schtick obsolete, because a lot of her leverage has come from the fact that she's been in alliance with Karl Rove's team. She's like David Brooks in this respect, and they're both scrambling at the moment.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:05 AM
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I guess my claim is that because death is universal then at some level all humans do 'get it.' Obviously beyond that basic statement there are differences in how one 'gets it' but if someone is trying to say "at my deepest level I empathize" then I think we should cut them some slack but that is easier said than done, especially when one is in the midst of grief.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:07 AM
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Why not go further and paraphrase the famous quote "Only the dead know the nature of war."?

Sifu

Misery poker is an impossible game.

Rocks


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:09 AM
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72: well, but it is and it isn't. The philosophy seemingly expressed in the Lazarus Long books is fairly different, from what I remember. I see Starship Troopers as a sort of long, sighing authoritarian fantasy on Heinlein's part. Both the book and the movie, seem, to me, to about exploring the allure of fascism while playing it extremely close to the vest, which I think is what makes them both effective. I suppose it's possible the book is actually agitating for that kind of worldview, but the movie surely isn't.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:11 AM
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It's just a bad starting point, a way, as Becks says, to be very alone.

This is something I had to work through after a major family tragedy a few years ago: that anger and "you don't get it"-ism was a way to keep The Event, whatever it was, fresh and current and to undo all that time that kept passing despite me not getting over it and putting it behind me. Anger is so much more active than grief, leaves us feeling (falsely) so much more empowered than grief, that I think a lot of people - myself definitely included - turn to it out of desperation in the face of being powerless to make The Event go away.

Unfortunately, that active anger needs an object so we take it out on people, we build little fences to mark off the ins and the outs, we constantly set up little tests for everyone around us and then we rig them to get the results we want and the results we want are having another excuse to get angry to prove to ourselves that we were right all along, that nobody gets it. Combining that belief that no one else had ever suffered like I had with a desire to make everyone else suffer a little bit to draw the distinction turned out to be pretty poisonous.

The thing is, of course, that no one does suffer exactly the same thing in exactly the same way so the deck is stacked in favor of anyone who wants to claim that their experience of grief is somehow more authentic because in fact no one else's experience will exactly match it. I don't fault Becks for her post at all. This sad habit of using personal hierarchies of tragedy and loss to define who's in and who's out has long been a part of the human experience and has lately been the Right's main way of trying to inflate their importance in issue after issue and people have to talk about it in order to expose it. That link from yesterday, the "no one understands war like my family does" one, and I say this not even having a clue who said it or why, is a classic example of this and there's no way to deflate that from within that discussion. It can only be defeated by stepping out of that conversation entirely and saying, "OK, yes, no one has suffered exactly the way whoever is making that argument has suffered because no one has suffered exactly like any other person," and trying to zoom out a little.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:13 AM
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If I link to McArdle, can I ask that people not be personally unpleasant about her?

She burned all her credibility years ago, given not just the combination of self-satisfaction, ignorance and higher trollerism that characterizes her writing, but the fact that she is perfectly comfortable being personally unpleasant to others in her posts, only to turn around crying "Uncivilly foul!" when she gets a response in kind.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:13 AM
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I found Thoma's thoughts on discussing economics with his family, and struggles with his own elitism or family's intransigence, more interesting.

Bob, I don't see it. The human dilemma always is: How do I convey my point of view to others. And the problem is, some views really are incompatible. A soldier regards his views on Iraq as the product of his own unique experience and insight, and is dismissive of me. I, likewise, value my own perspective, based on my own experiences. This is inevitable and human and really not especially interesting, though Thoma does a nice job of describing it.

I found McArdle and Crook (who was also linked in Thoma's piece) much more interesting, because they are so offensively wrong.

The rural and Southern folks that Crook is talking about are often folks who think: Well, I would be a Democrat, if only the Democrats were more racist. Or: I would be a Democrat if they stopped being so sympathetic to unions. Yeah, I'm for equality and fairness and equal rights for women and all that, but there's no need for those women and unionists and black people to be so pushy about it.

A good friend of mine - a Southern Republican who finds people like me annoying and elitist, but is a good sport about it - once told me after a long night of arguing about religion that she knew, deep down, that I believed in God.

I laughed and told her that she was being condescending and that, in fact, deep down I knew that she understood that God was a fiction. I was joking. She wasn't. Who is the elitist here?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:14 AM
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47:Saying the prejudice and tribalism is all on one side is not gonna help get the dialogue going.

Bob, what I meant was defining "regular American" as small-town/rural means that the 70% of the country that lives in towns with >50K people don't count. My point is that the very notion of a "regular American" is a wildly diverse nation of over 300 million people is insane.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:16 AM
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65: The five normative principles are supposed to be innate, I think, going back to the Stone Age.

IIRC Haidt (like most psychologists and economists) ignores the social, historical, and political aspects of this. If you look at history since about 1700, it has been a process of weakening or transforming the principles of hierarchy, solidarity, and purity, while strengthening the principles of fairness and harm.

When you talk about progress or modernity, that's what you're talking about. It requires the suppression of natural ethical principles: men's possessiveness about women, honor killing, feud and vendetta, expropriating of people who are too rich, killing the unclean.

Even American conservatives are mostly liberals who put competitive fairness (their version) above harm reduction.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:16 AM
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78: and I think, too, that to reject others because their sympathy is based on an inaccurate sense of empathy is to deny the role that offering solace to others can play in healing. Clearly they don't know what you've been through, but maybe you don't know what they've been through, either, and maybe focusing on that is a way to turn your pain from something gnawing and inward to something plausibly positive and outward, and maybe they're trying to do the same thing, albeit handicapped by the ham-handed incompetence exhibited by everybody who's not me.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:19 AM
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Analyzing the response to the 9/11 tragedy from a distance and using my layman's knowledge of Terror management theory I say the 'narrative' of the event started out as a mostly commonly agreed to narrative about what happened and what it meant. As time has gone on the narrative has splintered into many narratives and now we are seeing contention for who's narrative is the right one.

Shoot, we've got people in the middle east claiming it was a US CIA plot. We can't even agree on the facts. There is no way, at this time, we can agree on the meaning of the event. The narrative has gotten splintered as the result of many separate narratives being voiced.

Yeah, I'm a back to basics kind of guy but it seems to me we can connect to each other at only our deepest levels and after that we each have our own narratives, each one legitimate but only completely legitimate to us and no one else.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:19 AM
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I once infuriated my ex by saying that I knew how hard it would be to quit smoking, being a non-smoker myself.

The thing is, I have a deep conviction that I really do get this one. I have dreams where I'm a smoker. I've even had dreams where I'm trying to quit smoking. I've never had a cigarette, but I can't shake the belief that I really get it.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:22 AM
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78: Awesome. Great comment. Very powerful insight. (and no, this is most definitely not sarcasm. It is meant sincerely.)


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:23 AM
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As a Wobegonian who's lived elsewhere I'm fully aware that I'm sort of a freak. (My son figured it out when he was about 12, from family visits). But most people around here don't realize how different they are, and a lot of people who aren't small town people affiliate or identify with them in a sort of phony way, i.e. the exurbs.

Wobegon has three Nation subscriptions for 1500 people, btw. If the rest of the country kept pace, The Nation would have 600,000 subscribers.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:23 AM
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I once infuriated my ex by saying that I knew how hard it would be to quit smoking, being a non-smoker myself.

I know how painful childbirth is, being a man. I really get it.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:24 AM
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I had a dream in which I was on death row, waiting to be hanged. Another one in which I was pregnant, with a scheduled c-section the next day because I don't have a, you know. I don't think I "get it" regarding either situation, but the dreams gave me a bit of empathy (and gave me all sorts of shit to take to my therapist).


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:25 AM
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I actually try to avoid giving either condolences or congratulations, because on the one hand, hat do I know? -- and on the other, what good does it do?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:25 AM
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Get a c-section, apo.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:25 AM
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Another way to put it: much as it is impossible for somebody to understand what you've gone through, it is impossible for you to understand the ways they might understand what you've gone through, and impossible for them to understand how much you understand what they understand, and outwards and outwards, and probing the boundaries of this multidimensional, abstract, impossible structure is the definition of humanity.

No doubt I just recapitulated some basic philosophy text in fruitier language, but hey, that's what I do.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:25 AM
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I don't read McArdle. Commentary on cartoon characters isn't all that interesting, and the crowd/conversation she attracts is even less so.

My 9/11 comment above got truncated. My experience of it was about other people's fear. First, my wife was particularly emphatic that I leave my office (which is a couple blocks from the WH). Then, a colleague didn't want to ride the Metro, because she'd lived in Tokyo during the sarin attacks. So we walked about 5 miles. When it seemed we weren't going to get another attack right away, I worried a little about the value of the house I'd bought 2 days earlier. This got worse with the anthrax and sniper scares, which doesn't seem to have bothered anyone outside of the DC area all that much.

Nothing to compare with the tragedies others were suffering, obviously.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:27 AM
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I know how painful childbirth is, being a man. I really get it.

I bet you have a better idea than I do!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:27 AM
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Within your lifetime, Bave, you will be able to bear a child. Science!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:27 AM
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I had an incredibly vivid dream as a child where I got gutshot by the local news's entertainment reporter, so I definitely get what that would be like.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:27 AM
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I know what it's like to try to scream, but you can't make a sound.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:28 AM
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I bet you have a better idea than I do!

Don't worry, heebie. It doesn't hurt at all. That's just a bunch of whiny women angling for sympathy.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:28 AM
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Like trying to shit a watermelon.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:29 AM
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Kobe shits watermelons for breakfast.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:29 AM
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78 and 83 articulate much of what I'd been thrashing about trying to say in comments I deleted before posting.

Grief can be intense and there is something comforting and very real about intense emotions that makes their fading feel almost like a loss. Intense feelings also have a way of crowding out other emotions and of sucking up so much mental bandwidth that we can't process social interactions as effectively as we otherwise might. The combination helps to drive the "get it/don't get it" dynamic, IMO.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:30 AM
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Maybe your breakfast, Sifu.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:32 AM
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83: Absolutely, yes. Realizing that tragedy is a part of life and deciding that life is worth it anyway is aided by the knowledge that suffering is as much a shared state as joy. At the same time, acknowledging that and thus letting someone else have a little piece of "my" tragedy felt like... a lot of bad things: betraying the dead, giving up on feeling sad when I felt like I had to be really sad to do justice to my losses, dilution of my own emotions, negating severed relationships, I don't know how to phrase it. It's a necessary step, though, and I think in some instances the only way to make it happen is to say, "Wow, it's really hard to make this happen, isn't it?" It refocuses the conversation. You're absolutely right. The red mist that descends as a defense mechanism against that bleak sadness blinds us and a lot of times we'd rather just stay blind than accept that the universe defeated our hopes and plans.

An acquaintance recently was really, really open about a pending tragedy looming on the horizon and my response was to say explicitly, "I was in a pretty identical circumstance a while back so I know a little of what you're feeling, but no one knows exactly what you're feeling." What I didn't realize when I was busy being Angry Grieving Guy was that what I really wanted was for someone to say, "I can tell you're suffering and I'll never understand how it feels," I think in order to justify my feelings for me. I suspect one of the many possible causes for people turning to anger and tribalism in the face of grief is that genuine anguish is fairly rare in our lives and our reaction to it is to seek to justify it since it seems so out of place next to being happy our team won on Sunday or annoyed with the coffee guy on the way to work.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:33 AM
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That's just a bunch of whiny women angling for sympathy.

I understand what it must be like to helplessly watch from the sideline.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:34 AM
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101: you know, I'd never thought of it this exact way, but I wonder if grief is so comforting because it's empathy for the suffering of those who are gone; to stop thinking of their pain as the immediate suffering of a conspecific is to acknowledge that they no longer exist in that form. Whatever the pain of grief is, it is an emotion that you implicitly share with those you're grieving for.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:34 AM
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92 is also good.

It's entirely possible that heebie gets it about quitting smoking: I've done it three times and each time was different. Possibly one of those times was similar to what heebie imagines, or possibly heebie's sense of what it's like to quit smoking is actually what it's like to quit jenkem.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:34 AM
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85: You get all the things you expect: the shattering of routine, the intense awareness of all those smoking within a square mile, the ridiculously frustrating experience of alcohol. What I didn't expect was becoming a different and abusive person overnight. It's an ugly experience, and not one I care to repeat. It's one thing to fuck with me, nicotine, but it's quite another to fuck with those I love using my body like a houngan. I expect I'll be speaking through a box before 40. I can only hope they'll have the technology to make it sound like one of those vocoder voices in R&B songs.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:37 AM
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actually what it's like to quit jenkem

Pfff, nobody quits jenkem. Once you pop, you can't stop!


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:37 AM
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what it's like to quit jenkem

Someday I hope I can share with you what that's like.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:38 AM
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108: I hear it's pretty easy, no shit.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:38 AM
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What's so hard about quitting Gen Chem?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:38 AM
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The problem with subjective experiences is that they're subjective, so there's no shared framework for communication. Some people believe in intersubjectivity, but it's aways seemed a bit of a stretch to me. So of course, by definition, nobody gets it.

On the other hand, as everyone has pointed out, shared experiences are one basis not only for personal identity, but for partaking in a group identity (see, e.g., What9/11SurvivorsLike.com). Constructing meaning from events is what people do, and shared meanings are the essence of culture. On the gripping hand, defining a set of non-members, people who don't share the meanings, is also apparently necessary for groups. So, by definition, everyone in the group gets it.

So, as usual, I don't get it.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:40 AM
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Wow. I think this post (as the previous remembrance) is fabulous. I'm kind of surprised at what I am reading as many (though not exclusively!!!) angry responses, think maybe people just aren't getting what (I think... ) you are trying to say with this.

This, to me, is just such a spot on exposition of the experience of grieving. Feeling like no one really understands. Knowing, in fact, that no one really understands -- because your grief is as individual as you are and no one can get inside your head and really fully share the experience of the grief you are feeling.

If anyone is ever going to have a chance of "getting" someone else's grief (as best as humanly possible), it depends heavily on the grieving person being able to communicate that grief, to describe for those on the outside what is experienced on the inside. And when those on the outside purport to already "get it" but say really stupid shit ("my dog died, so I know how you feel) that strongly suggests they don't, it gets harder and harder to try to explain. You don't want to argue with someone who claims to understand but doesn't. You just want to be understood. And so the temptation grows to withdraw from those who you know don't "get it" because, while maybe they are capable of getting it, you don't really want to take the chance of going through the crap process of arguing with someone who refuses to admit that, no, they don't know what you are going through -- and, more importantly, aren't really willing to be open to hearing you tell it.

Sorry, over long comment, and the post said it much better. Just, really well said, Becks.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:40 AM
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I know for a fact that when my sister died at a young age I did NOT want to give up my grief because that would mean I accepted her death and I did not want to do that. Maybe people hold onto their anger for the same reason.

I also know for a fact that my 'normal' way of dealing with hurtful emotions is to intellectualize them and analyze them which is really just a way to distance myself from them and hide from them.

This is getting a little too close for home for me so I'm gonna bow out now.

Best wishes.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:41 AM
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I can only hope they'll have the technology to make it sound like one of those vocoder voices in R&B songs.

Totally doable.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:41 AM
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Private grief is one thing. (And by "private," I don't just mean individual and/or personal, I mean non-political or not in the public sphere ... so, there might be social or communal ways of expressing grief in private life).

Public ceremonies of grief are another thing. They should be performed rarely, I think, not only because they risk cheapening the experience of grief but also because they cannot avoid politicizing the experience in all sorts of troubling ways. The yearly commemoration at Ground Zero really irks me, I can't bear to watch it or even read to accounts about it. It's an annual "a noun and a verb and 9/11" moment.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:43 AM
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Public ceremonies of grief are another thing.

I'm not seeing the distinction. Many rituals, from cancer survivors' groups to funerals, are public celebrations of private grief.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:47 AM
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Grief can be intense and there is something comforting and very real about intense emotions that makes their fading feel almost like a loss.

This also applies to intense attractions/love feelings. Even an intense desier tto commit adultery with a certain person can be something you don't want to let go of, because it makes your life feel more eventful.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:50 AM
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Oh hey. I just realized the Arthur Bentley on my desktop is maybe pertinent. Umm, Bentley was an American who got a doctorate in Berlin, studied with Simmel and the gang. Returned to America, spent ten years as a newspaper reporter in Chicago, then wrote Process of Government, moved to rural Indiana. Great friend and collaborator with Dewey.

I don't know if his attitude is common to sociologists, but he spends his introduction utterly dismissive of psychology in the study of groups, politics, and governance. Motives, feelings, desires, emotions, instincts, impulses, mental states,elements qualities---ideas & ideals...have no place, are illusionary, and are actually counter-productive in an objective empirical analysis of group behavior.

I think his units of analysis are "interests & activities" Everything is activity. What do people do? Hardcore pragmatist, I suppose.

And I suppose this comment just shows my ignorance of sociology. See ya later.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:52 AM
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A group of people can all grieve an event even though their experiences of grief are not the same or of equal intensity. Funerals are organized to recognize this.

I don't know how general it is, but around here the custom is to bring gifts of ready to eat food to grieving families, pastries and casseroles and frozen meals. I only first learned this when I was 43 years old, when my dad died.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:53 AM
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But Di, you can't really say that the person who lost a dog doesn't 'get it' without understanding how the person felt about the dog. Unless you want to make the definition of "it" so narrow that you're willing to say that just because I lost my grandmother in sad circumstances, I don't get your grief about your grandmother. Because she was really different. And helped you through your childhood in special ways (or whatever).

Obviously, if the psychological point of defining "it" narrowly is to exclude other people's experiences, and thus underline and honor one's own grief all the more, then by all means go narrow. But that just makes the other person a prop in one's internal grief drama. Which is fine, but one would hope that the other person doesn't get it.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:54 AM
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117: I mean public in the sense of political, involving political actors (e.g., politicians), enacted on a political stage (if the presidential campaign is the backdrop to the televised coverage, that's political).


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:57 AM
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I think that a lot of economists, social engineers, socialists, etc. minimize psychology and subjectivity not merely as methodological tactic, or even because it really is unreal and illusory, because they believe that it is mostly harmful, though real, and should be repressed, stigmatized, and marginalized. Large social plans are easier to achieve if you have interchangeable units.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:58 AM
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Karen Armstrong, as a part of her talk to TED, has a moving description of Achilles and Priam grieving together.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:02 AM
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S/B or even because THEY THINK it really is unreal and illusory, BUT because

In other words, the theoretical bracketing-out of subjectivity is in alliance with the actual, real-world suppression of subjectivity.

This isn't always wrong. The suppression of the subjective desire for vengeance has been a wonderful thing. But there's a cost, because it's really there and does need to be repressed, contrary to the blank-slate theory.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:04 AM
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If watching 9/11 on TV triggered in somebody a near-suicidal depression, such that seven years later they've lost their family and most of their friends, would that count as getting it?

Seriously? That would counts as a medical condition.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:04 AM
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128: okay, so what if watching the towers fall from midtown did the same thing?

What if the referents parents had died in a building disaster? A plane crash?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:06 AM
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125:The epistemology of the extreme pragmatists James Pierce Dewey Rorty seems coherent to me.

I mean the topic here is about the difficulty of communicating using a language of feelings and mental states, and while not denying they exist, it might be the case that they can't really be shared across subjectivities, and are therefore counterproductive.

But's that some hardcore elitism, I suppose.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:07 AM
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Yeah, I'd say in this case that "getting it" doesn't seem to be defined by an actual sharing of events, so much as it's defined by the intensity and common style of grieving. And, well, I dunno, that seems foreign to me. I haven't had too much to grieve about in my life, but it's usually been done privately and my desire for community at the time mostly comes from just wanting to know that people care about me. I'm not sure anyone can ever really "understand" someone else's emotions at a deep sort of level, but pretty much everyone knows how it feels to be sad or vulnerable.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:07 AM
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Add an apostrophe in there, for laughs.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:07 AM
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123 somewhat puzzlingly totally failed to address sociologists, the presumed subject of bob's comment to which it was responding.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:09 AM
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123: Someone above made the point that there are few things more annoying than trying to make someone else's grief about you. So, maybe someone else did love their dog just the way I loved my grandmother -- telling me that when the grief for my grandmother is fresh is selfish and hurtful. I mean, unless your dog just died and you are telling me that because you are wrought with grief. It's still selfish, then, because you are exploiting my grandmother's death as a hook to fish for some comfort about your dog's death. But, in my value system, grieving people get to be selfish.

Grieving people aren't always fair to people who try, however bumblingly, to offer solace. But the person who is not in acute pain does not get to insist that the grieving person cut him slack. The one who is actually, presently hurting is the one who deserves slack. If the person who is grieving genuinely feels like you don't get it, it's that feeling that is important. It's the grieving person saying, "I feel really, really alone in this." Arguing that their feeling is "wrong" misses the mark completely. Who cares whether or not you "get it"? The more important issue is making the person who is hurting feel like you are trying to "get it."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:12 AM
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The saddest thing I've ever heard anyone say was from a Bosnian refugee I worked with:

Don't ever say things can't get any worse, because they can. I lost everything. Everything.

He was a very sweet, gentle guy who never inflicted his sadness on others.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:12 AM
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132 to 121....


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:13 AM
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The one who is actually, presently hurting is the one who deserves slack.

I envy the certainty you must have to apply this standard to mass trauma.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:14 AM
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I think that a lot of economists, social engineers, socialists, etc. mature individuals minimize psychology and subjectivity not merely as methodological tactic, or even because it really is unreal and illusory, because they believe that it is mostly harmful, though real, and should be repressed, stigmatized, and marginalized.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:14 AM
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||

Holy shit.

|>


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:16 AM
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124: Pretty much what you'd expect from someone who wore a dress to try to avoid the war, no?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:16 AM
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122: I mean public in the sense of political, involving political actors

But politics is, in some sense, the process of defining ourselves as a group; what it means to be a Murrican (which I'm sure people from elsewhere just don't get). Part of that definition is shared reaction to shared experience; shared meaning attributed to our history. Our forefathers 87 years ago, etc. So politicians must act out the shared meaning, shared grief from our shared tragedies.

I'm feeling overcome by semicolons this morning; I must find a supprt group, and a politicl party to give social meaning to this experience.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:19 AM
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Or as I tried to say in the other thread: It's good to recognize these feelings so one can do as much as possible to overcome them. Because they're not healthy.

And I agree that some slack should be given, as in 132, but only for a relatively short period of time. Otherwise, it can fester.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:19 AM
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137: Yeah, this is going to be, er, fun.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:19 AM
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135: I envy the certainty you must have to apply this standard to mass trauma.

Well, for one, my comment was in response to a comparison of dog and grandmother deaths, so...

But, geez, whether the tragedy is individual or collective, what's so hard about thinking that people who are hurting deserve a little slack?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:20 AM
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142: nothing. It's just that when you say "I'm hurting, I deserve a little slack", you have to be really careful about how long and how vehemently you repeat that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:23 AM
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137: Imagine how these guys must feel.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:23 AM
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142: agreed, but also with 140.last


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:24 AM
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132: Oh, man. I was just reading the NYT article that interviews a couple of people who said they planned to stay on Galveston Island. This does not look good for them.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:26 AM
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A friend of mine is apparently already watching his family's beach house on TV as it gets inundated.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:26 AM
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132 s/b 137.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:27 AM
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140, 143, 145: So what exactly is the statute of limitations on grief?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:27 AM
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Fuck a fucking bunch of cnn asking people who are staying to submit video. "Sure, you could evacuate. Or, you could be famous!"

# iReport.com: Will you stare down Ike?

Irresponsible shithead cable news fuckfaces.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:28 AM
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re: 149

It's vague isn't it? But some people clearly take it too far.

I'm sure we all know people who have taken personal misfortune and grief in ways that are, by non-callous standards, not good.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:29 AM
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146: Now that's just stupid. We're in the next-over zone from the mandatory evacuations, and getting on the roads wouldn't help anyone (they're already pretty bad). So that's fine. I really can't understand staying on the Island though. It's not like people don't have a perfectly good idea how bad it can be there. They're flooding already and the storm is hours away.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:30 AM
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149: crappy, Di.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:30 AM
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152: yeesh. Stay, um, elevated.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:31 AM
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149: It's tricky, sure. But ttaM's got it in 151.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:31 AM
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Stay, um, elevated.

Yeah, you should get high as a kite.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:32 AM
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131: insert "sociologist" into the series. Durkheim was a socialist. Many sociologists before 1960 or so were blank-slaters and/or socialists and/or advocates of social engineering.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:32 AM
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152: Yes, it really is stupid. Also, it's eerie to read dopey optimistic comments from people who are likely to be dead the day after tomorrow.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:32 AM
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136: I'm against subjectification in many respects, but not to the point that I deny the reality of subjective experience. Many of the politicized ways of bracketing out subjectivity are just justifications for technocratic authoritarianism, including free-marketer authoritarianism.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:37 AM
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153: Yes, it is crappy. I've been in the position of hurting, and being told that my grief is taking too long and to just "get over it." And if I had known how to stop hurting I certainly would have, but grief isn't some switch you can just flip on and off.

Anyway, this discussion is starting to push some personal buttons, so I'm out.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:37 AM
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Three day weekend!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:37 AM
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137: Aren't great big diffuse hurricanes less deadly?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:38 AM
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149: I believe it's an exponential decay curve, though the exact half-life varies from case to case.

151 is right, though.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:39 AM
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162: in this particular case, it's not that it's diffuse, just huge, and the storm surge is predicted to be vastly bigger than you'd normally expect with a Category 2.

See Dr. Jeff Masters! for more.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:40 AM
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140: Some feelings shouldn't be repressed. Free marketers think all egalitarian feelings should be repressed. Geopolitical game planners think all merciful feelings should be repressed. And so on.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:41 AM
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That's one of the things about adopting the 'stiff upper lip': it's an altruistic act.

We cut people a fair bit of slack because they are hurting, and because none of us can be perfectly stoic all the time, nor would we want to be. But, there's a point where other people have the right to demand a certain level of stoicism.

Of course, it may be pragmatically by the far best thing not to actually say anything about it. Telling people to pull their socks up and 'suck it up' doesn't sound like the best strategy.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:43 AM
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140, 143, 145: So what exactly is the statute of limitations on grief?

Judging by Southern Gothic novels, there is none. You can even keep the loved one's remains around forever and talk to them as though they were alive.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:44 AM
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164: "Terajoules" should be Word of the Day.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:46 AM
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160: I think this is what ttaM meant by non-callus.

Nobody gets to decide when you're `done' with your grief (if that even makes sense). But the slack allowed does reduce over time. Personal tragedies don't go away, and sure, they become part of who you are. But everybody has them (in different degrees); it's just part of life. So while I don't think anyone should try and tell others they're `taking too long', they are also under no obligation to make slack and excuses for someone indefinitely --- and shouldn't be expected to.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:48 AM
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Telling people to pull their socks up and 'suck it up' doesn't sound like the best strategy.

Certainly not. That's a prime dick move. Which is why my comments above were self-directed, but whatever.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:48 AM
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Well, it's a balancing act. There are absolutely people who use suffering as a crutch or a justification - I have - and there are people whose opinion that enough is enough comes too soon or at the wrong time. If someone insists on suffering there's no way to make them stop; if someone insists that it's been long enough then one of them needs to leave the room. I don't think there's a universally right answer to that. The process of recovering from grief or suffering or trying to coexist with it are not easy or fun and no one has written a manual.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:48 AM
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I believe it's an exponential decay curve, though the exact half-life varies from case to case.

With major discontinuous jumps if you meet someone hot.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:48 AM
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164: But in that entry, he keeps comparing it to Katrina, which is misleading, since Katrina wasn't that bad a hurricane, (it being the failure of the levees that caused the tragedy).


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:50 AM
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Another quote on Ike:

On the hurricane's present path the surge will certainly top the Galveston sea wall, and he estimates that if the path holds your chances of living through the night if you're still on Galveston island are probably less than 50%.

Versus:

"I've been praying a lot, I'm scared, but I'm never going in that traffic again, not after Rita, it was 17 hours of hell," she said, as she stood on the deck of the bar, with her mother Nancy.

Totally. Traffic's hell.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:50 AM
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My point being, it's never OK to tell someone to stop suffering - which is not what Sifu did or suggested - but it is absolutely OK to decide that if someone insists on suffering in ways or for lengths of time one deems inappropriate or bothersome or counterproductive then it's absolutely OK to wish them well and get some space.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:51 AM
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So while I don't think anyone should try and tell others they're `taking too long', they are also under no obligation to make slack and excuses for someone indefinitely --- and shouldn't be expected to./i>

Yes, exactly.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:52 AM
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The Bosnian refugee I spoke of was amazingly considerate about not inflicting his terrible sadness on people. I believe that tragedy was routine enough in traditional Balkan life that there was a strict etiquette for managing it. (Waiting for a chance to take revenge was part of it, of course.)


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:53 AM
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173: the storm surge from Katrina was quite destructive indeed. His point, I think, is that the Category system of measuring hurricane strength has been shown (in the wake of Katrina, particularly) to be flawed, which is why he's talking about that IKE metric.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:53 AM
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At Mt. St. Helens there was a guy, memorably named Harry Truman, who became a celebrity by refusing to leave. He was about 80 years old, though, and pretty well knew what he was doing.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:55 AM
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174: Were you ever in a 17-hour traffic jam?

You just don't get it, Sifu.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:57 AM
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Category system of measuring hurricane strength has been shown (in the wake of Katrina, particularly) to be flawed, which is why he's talking about that IKE metric.

I'll buy that the category measurements are flawed and that the kinetic energy is a better measurement to use. But it flies in the face of what I've come to believe to assert that the strength of Katrina was what did New Orleans in.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:58 AM
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178 continued: the issue, especially as it relates to the NOLA levees, being that there's no such thing as a "typical" storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane; would the levees there have survived if built as designed? Well, I suppose it's possible, but the Katrina storm surge was dangerous not just because of how high it was but because it lasted for so long, thus undermining the earth in the levees. That's not something they thought about when they put together the standard hurricane model they designed against.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:58 AM
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would the levees there have survived if built as designed?

But they were also disastrously un-maintained.

Were you ever in a 17-hour traffic jam?

Now I'm totally just being contrary, but I've lived through so many hurricane duds (in Florida), and the horror stories of traffic around Rita were so appalling, that I can sympathize with this. (Of course, hurricanes have been strengthening and one of the prices of living on the coast is taking every damn one seriously, so I still think these people should evacuate.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:01 AM
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179: I really don't see a problem with that, as long as someone is saying: hey, I'm not leaving. I know what this means, and I don't want anyone to try and rescue me if it comes to that.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:02 AM
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But it flies in the face of what I've come to believe to assert that the strength of Katrina was what did New Orleans in.

Well, look, clearly there were unanticipated problems. But if you want to know my particular hobby-horse on this (which would make you the first, but anyhow), engineering water control systems is a very difficult proposition, especially when you get to the margins of their designed capacity. Modelling the interaction of huge quantities of water and huge quantities of Earth is simply an extremely difficult problem, and if the Corps didn't do a good job of that (and they definitely didn't), well, that's not really that surprising. Most engineering happens with a standard of safety two or three times what's expected to be necessary, because there's already uncertainty. When you're talking about civil engineering on a massive scale and a destructive force with as much power as a hurricane, your level of uncertainty goes through the roof. Whether it would even be possible to build the levees to a safety standard more in line with that used in, say, elevator construction is, to my mind, very much an open question. So yes, the Corps fucked up, but they fucked up trying to solve an extraordinarily difficult problem with likely insufficient resources.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:04 AM
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185: None of that makes Katrina a particularly big hurricane.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:07 AM
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While we're at it, why have the Dutch been able to do it? As I understand, they had a disaster 50 or so years ago and did what they had to do. Why couldn't NOLA?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:07 AM
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186: right, but it was, in terms of total energy. Which is what that metric IKE was designed to measure, because -- post-Katrina -- they realized that any metric that would call Katrina "not particularly big" (the area of hurricane force winds was over two hundred miles across, just like Ike) was a bad metric.

Look at his previous post, where he defines IKE; Category measures maximum intensity, IKE measures total storm energy. The latter can be much more important for understanding potential damage from storm surge.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:09 AM
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187: among other things, the Dutch aren't protecting against hurricanes.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:10 AM
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And, since the Dutch system hasn't been tested against the 10,000 year storm it was designed for, we don't actually know if it works as designed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:11 AM
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I guess my problem is that the only two hurricanes we're tossing around with respect to using IKE measurements are Katrina and Ike. It'd be helpful to know how a handful of regular hurricanes from the past year or two stack up.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:17 AM
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187: Yeah, the Dutch have got a much easier row to hoe. Quite simply, from a full-costs standpoint, we should not be building expensive shit on the Gulf coast. Some high-ground areas inland are fine, since they take relatively little damage, but floodplains and a lot of coastal land in Texas and Florida are currently protected by insane insurance regulation that stops those property owners from shouldering their full costs even ignoring the costs of the levees and storm walls that protect them.

I keep hoping that one day people will learn to just build like a mile away from the beach and walk to the damn thing, or be willing to pay like 1/4 of your property value each year since that's the true underwriting cost.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:20 AM
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And a few other points, because what the hey: first, the Dutch built their system, at incredible cost over a period of years, because the previous system (which they had figured was good enough) failed dramatically. Failure is endemic to engineering. Second, building a Dutch-style system in New Orleans would require a more-or-less massive shift of population away from low-lying areas which, not coincidentally, are the neighborhoods that people want to save. Third, the political situation in the Netherlands (a central government working in a unified way to protect the main commercial centers of a nation) is so vastly different from the situation in NOLA (a patchwork of corrupt levee boards working to protect a city of great moral and cultural value but with economic problems that have been worsening for decades) as to be incomparable.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:20 AM
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191: I'm pretty sure there's a link to historical data somewhere at my link. He compares it to Hurricane Carla in that very post, I believe.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:22 AM
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Here's a chart of a bunch of storms.

A relevant quote:

Ike earned a 5.2 on this scale, the second highest kinetic energy of any Atlantic storm in the past 40 years. Hurricane Isabel of 2003 had the highest.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:24 AM
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The North Sea coast doesn't get regular hurricanes, but it gets pretty big storms regularly.

The key thing, I think, is more the political and economic factors in 193.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:25 AM
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194: I know, but if I'm inactive enough, you'll find it for me. Like 192!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:26 AM
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I mean 195.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:26 AM
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Can you find a graph which is IKE by damage incurred?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:27 AM
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Hurricane Isabel, however, ranked second behind Ike on the ISABEL scale.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:30 AM
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The North Sea coast doesn't get regular hurricanes, but it gets pretty big storms regularly.

No doubt. It's an infamous shipwrecker. But I've never heard of semi-regular wipeouts of coastal property in Scotland, Northern Germany or Scandanavia like you see in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. It really only seems to be the areas that are below sea level which need to severely worry about the North Sea storms, and that would suggest it's not as bad as the Gulf hurricanes.

Not exactly peaceful, I'd definitely prefer somewhere on the Mediterranean, but still...


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:34 AM
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heebie's mostly right.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:40 AM
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Which, I know, represents a steep decline for her on the RS (rightness scale). But still.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:41 AM
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re: 201

But I've never heard of semi-regular wipeouts of coastal property in Scotland, Northern Germany or Scandinavia

It happens, but on a smaller scale. Also, remember, people having been living in these places for thousands of years: this tends to lead to a fair bit of 'learning from mistakes'.* The bits that regularly get trashed by storms don't tend to have people living on them. There are, historically, towns that have been lost to the sea. You just wouldn't hear about regular wipe-outs even if really huge storms were more regular, I suspect, because there wouldn't be dense population centres there to be wiped out.

The storms aren't as bad when they impact land -- the actual weather out in the middle of the North Sea is bad-ass -- as the big Gulf hurricanes of course, and really huge storms are much less regular than those hurricanes. It'd be silly to claim otherwise.

But the engineering problems are of the same fundamental type.

* this is much harder to do in more recently settled areas like the US gulf coast because massive investment in infrastructure and a high population density builds up really quickly and by the time a really huge storm hits, it may be already quite late.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:41 AM
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204: All true.

Europe also has a less hamstrung P&C insurance market, so there are probably much clearer "Don't Build Here" signals when someone tries to get insurance for a house in the storm wash.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:52 AM
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Re: living in a hurricane zone
One thing to remember when discussing living in a possible hurricane landfall area is that until relatively recently no one lived on the beach except fishermen and bums. The Florida coast was relatively unsettled until the railroad came. In Holland, two castles sank into the swamp, but the third stayed up.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:58 AM
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After 9/11, an Arlingtonian tried to tell me that people on the west coast just didn't understand.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:07 AM
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207: I figure that if you weren't at the site of one of the attacks you're pretty much all in the same boat. I was not far from the Pentagon on 9/11 and had some knock-on effects, but my experience wasn't that different from people on the west coast. The sniper thing was different, since they were active right in my neck of the woods, including killing people at a gas station I'd occasionally used. That was quite disconcerting.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:19 AM
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We are all Shanksvillians now.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:22 AM
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209: Only Americans are Shanksvillains.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:24 AM
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Robust's comments have been really wonderful, especially 78. 103 was quite good too.

I do think that there's something to the idea of not trying to get caught up in the uniqueness of our own suffering. Of course nobody experiences things quite the way that I do, but we all have stuff in common. Snowflakes are rather similar in a lot of ways. There's a wonderful line in one of T.S. Eliot's plays where a psychiatrist says, "Each case is unique and similar to others."

I've certainly felt at times that nobody could understand my particular pain or that people couldn't offer suggestions from their own lives unless they had a nearly identical experience. I've also found that expressing this tends to alienate people, making oneself feel even more alone. I think it might go over better to say, "I feel so alone with my grief" instead of "Other people don't understand."


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:35 AM
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Dutch levees: We had some Dutch guys come and tell us how to build levees. It was pretty cool. The very first thing they told us to change was our cost/benefit analyses. I forget the details, but apparently theirs are much more inclusive of secondary effects. Counting more indirect costs than the Corps formula allows gives you a lot more money to work with. I mostly remember the guy saying that if you count the costs of interrupting Los Angeles's water supply, you could patch the Delta levees with gold.

Getting it: I am fully on-board with the notion that people in close proximity to the catastrophe have a collective and similar emotional experience that others who perceive it through a screen don't share. That seems pretty basic to me.

But the part I think may vary from Beck's OP is that I think that the close view, the one that leads people to "get it" may itself lead people to think about the situation wrong. From my distant perspective, it looks like "getting" the tragedy of Katrina means an intense bonding to the location and town, as the place where you and your neighbors lived so vividly for those days and worked so incredibly hard to survive. Bonding to a doomed location is the wrong response, even if the people there truly "get it", and I can't.

"Getting" the tragedy can align with a reasonable response or oppose it. That would be fact-specific. But I don't like the notion that it gives a greater validity to a response (although I don't know if anyone here offered that idea).


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:37 AM
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doomed location

Sigh. For the millionth time, what does this even mean? You really need to define your terms -- near-term, long-term, economically, culturally, environmentally, something else? -- if you want to sound credible when you tell me that a place that has existed for nearly three hundred years is suddenly doomed after one storm that, as heebie notes, wasn't even the cause of the short-term disaster. It would make much more sense to say that the Army Corps is doomed. Or that poorly constructed and maintained floodwalls are doomed. Or that flood-control paradigms more broadly are doomed.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:43 AM
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There was a serial killer in my town when I was in 7th grade. Last year I was talking to a psychologist, and mentioned where I'd grown up, and he asked if I'd had a lot of stuff to work through related to the serial killer. I said no, it was kind of an exciting novelty at the time, and it never occurred to me that it might be traumatizing to other people. He said he'd met quite a lot of people who were in Gainesville at that time, and were traumatized by it.

Just being contrary on the shared experience stuff.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:44 AM
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Robust's comments have been really wonderful, especially 78. 103 was quite good too.

Agreed


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:47 AM
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My sister lived in Wichita during the BTK era. After her sociopath husband, nothing fazed her. She doesn't mention thinking of it as an exciting novelty, though, but she was old and jaded, without the joyful freshness of young Heebie.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:47 AM
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210. I'm sure that will be a surprise to those in the English southwest. "Taunton has always been a part of Minehead"


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:48 AM
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sniper killing people at a gas station

togolosh, we are apparently neighbors.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:49 AM
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Robust has been right on with respect to experience of tragedy and how others might best respond to it.

This from 171 is worth remembering:

The process of recovering from grief or suffering or trying to coexist with it are not easy or fun and no one has written a manual.

Some of this thread, and the OP as well, sounds as though people believe there's a correct perspective on these things, if only we could puzzle it out. But not, not really. That's probably one reason words fail us, as rightly they should at times.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:53 AM
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I suspect one of the many possible causes for people turning to anger and tribalism in the face of grief is that genuine anguish is fairly rare in our lives and our reaction to it is to seek to justify it since it seems so out of place next to being happy our team won on Sunday or annoyed with the coffee guy on the way to work.

I know as a first worlder we are sheltered from death and disease, but third worlders who deal with this every day have the same if not more anger and tribalism, so there has to more to it than that. Maybe we notice it more because it is so alien to our everyday lives.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:55 AM
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213: well, so, what if you redefined "doomed location" as "those portions of New Orleans most susceptible to flooding, such as Lakeview and much of the lower 9th Ward"?

Or "doomed" as "doomed, like Galveston, to exist as a largely tourism-driven shadow of its formerly economically vital self".

Let's work together, here!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:55 AM
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218 - hi there neighbor! I've since moved over the river to Vienna, VA, though. This is going to be my first election in a swing state. Yippee!


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:55 AM
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what does this even mean

To me, it means that it is predicted to get storms that cause enough destruction frequently enough that it is not economically feasible to repair between times. (Although I imagine we'll try about three times.)

For the record, I don't just think this about New Orleans. I also think it of Marysville, just north of us. I think the Delta is gonna go. The firelands in Southern California are the same, and a lot of the southern deserts will empty when the groundwater is gone.

It isn't that any place is impossible to live it. I just don't think we'll be able to afford to live in them in the predicted climate.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:57 AM
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We lived in a yellow house in suburban Los Angeles County at the time of Richard Ramirez. It was exciting/scary at the time, although I remember my mom being more genuinely afraid. She still keeps all the doors locked on her house, even during the daytime, and even when she's inside.

Some years later, the identical twin sister of the school board president married Richard Ramirez in prison! So, there's a silver lining to every cloud. Love conquers all!


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:00 PM
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224 I dated a girl whose mom was friends with Ramirez. He babysat her. Needless to say it was a little traumatic when he later turned out to be not a very nice man. Still, that family was sufficiently fup duck that Ramirez was sort of par for the course.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:06 PM
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My 14-year-old nephew, who has reason to know, summarized it all pretty well: "Life is like a penis: sometimes it's hard."

It's always hard when you're 14.

A great song about not wanting the intense emotion of grief to fade, even as it does fade.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:08 PM
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221: To a very great extent, the future of New Orleans, like every other city in the United States, will be dictated by public policy. The Port of New Orleans remains one of the world's busiest. Does it require hundreds of thousands of people to work it? No, not in an age of automated supercontainer shipping. But it requires thousands. As does the petrochemical industry, which makes New Orleans one of its hubs. Not to mention the financial markets that are still there. And if we're going to disparage tourism and other service sectors of the economy, well, we'd better plan to shutter pretty big swaths of the nation.

As to the question of low ground, I've said before that it's insoluble. The immediate social justice dimension pretty directly conflicts with issues of future public safety. That said, let's close MRGO and the IHNC , build levees instead of floodwalls, revive the coastal wetlands, do away with slab construction throughout the city, and address global warming. After that, most of Mid City and the Lower Nine would be just fine. Or, better yet, let's do all of the things I just said and contract New Orleans to its late-nineteenth-century footprint. Make the new New Orleans the old New Orleans, in other words. Of course, we lack the leadership to accomplish any of these goals. And so the status quo will reign. And the market will sort out the bodies the next time there's a particularly horrible disaster.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:09 PM
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Or, better yet, let's do all of the things I just said and contract New Orleans to its late-nineteenth-century footprint. Make the new New Orleans the old New Orleans, in other words. Of course, we lack the leadership to accomplish any of these goals. And so the status quo will reign. And the market will sort out the bodies the next time there's a particularly horrible disaster.

See? I knew we were on the same page. With the caveat that the current footprint of New Orleans has very little to do with the market and very much to do with Congress's painfully wrong-headed approach to coastal flood insurance.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:11 PM
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With the caveat that the current footprint of New Orleans has very little to do with the market and very much to do with Congress's painfully wrong-headed approach to coastal flood insurance.

I repeat: To a very great extent, the future of New Orleans, like every other city in the United States, will be dictated by public policy.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:13 PM
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I repeat: I knew we were on the same page!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:14 PM
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Ari, I believe your neighborhood-scale look at what parts of New Orleans would do fine, because you know about that system and I don't.

My big fear, because I see it lots, is that the eventual footprint of New Orleans will be the same whether there is leadership and policy decisions or not. The question that worries me at nights is whether we'll get there in a planned fashion, or whether people and neighborhoods will get culled in successive storms (or fires, here).

To get back to my original point, I am afraid that a local sense of "getting it" may mean the latter.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:19 PM
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It's always hard when you're 14.

This particular 14-year-old has been through some really nasty shit, which you would never know if you met him. He just comes across as a happy, funny, well-adjusted kid.

Re the discussion upthread of who's entitled to slack and for how long: figuring out who deserves how much slack when is a fool's game. Any basically decent person needs and deserves a lot of slack all the time, and it's not unreasonable even for someone who's grieving to recognize the stress they're putting on others and try, to the extent they can, to cut them slack. And while it's true that telling someone who's hurting to suck it up and deal is an asshole move, "suck it up and deal" is in fact a pretty damn good coping strategy.

But if you're on a ship dead in the water in the path of a big-ass hurricane, you can grieve all you want to. If they succeed in getting those guys off, my already very high regard for Coast Guard SAR will go up another couple of notches.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:24 PM
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At this point, Megan, given that none of the prescriptions that I suggest above have been implemented, it does seem possible that the "successive storms" scenario you outline will come to pass. A lot depends on who wins the election and whether that person decides that global warming and storms like Ike are more of an imminent threat than Islamic extremism.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:25 PM
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233: This is a real problem. Possible solutions vs. plausible solutions, given the political state and a finite pie to chop up.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:26 PM
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This particular 14-year-old has been through some really nasty shit, which you would never know if you met him. He just comes across as a happy, funny, well-adjusted kid.

It's still always hard if he's 14. (There were two possible referents of "it" in the sentence referred to).


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:27 PM
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And while it's true that telling someone who's hurting to suck it up and deal is an asshole move, "suck it up and deal" is in fact a pretty damn good coping strategy.

What I was trying to say upthread.

But if you're on a ship dead in the water in the path of a big-ass hurricane, you can grieve all you want to. If they succeed in getting those guys off, my already very high regard for Coast Guard SAR will go up another couple of notches.

I think the current strategy is to hope they drift close enough to shore to set anchor, so, yeah, not a great sign.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:30 PM
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226: A great song about not wanting the intense emotion of grief to fade, even as it does fade.

A really affecting performance, too.


Posted by: NickFranklin | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:31 PM
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it does seem possible most likely that the "successive storms" scenario you outline will come to pass

Not to fuck up the same pageness too badly.

I think one problem is that, even given good national leadership, the distrust between neighborhood and city, city and parish, parish and state, state and region are all too high to make anything happen proactively.

Besides, Americans humans have time and time again proved themselves catastrophically bad at evaluating the risks of staying put vs. making a radical change.

The only thing I can imagine would really work was a combination of massive reforms to the coastal insurance program and resettlement money for low-income residents of at-risk communities. Neither of these seems remotely likely to happen.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:34 PM
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What I was trying to say upthread.

And doing so very well, but that doesn't mean the rest of us grieving snowflakes don't get to have our say.

It's still always hard if he's 14.

Can't argue with that.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:38 PM
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One of my side hobbies is trying to figure out from newspaper articles how many times humans go back after being wiped out. My current low estimate is about 2.5. I dread it may be more like 4. I cheer every time I read some guy saying "We got burned down twice, and this time I'm moving to my sister's place in Los Angeles."


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:39 PM
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I've talked to a Chinese woman who had dealt with an enormous family disaster during the Cultural Revolution (her standord-educated father's career was destroyed, and she lost 6 or so years of education). She said that the Chinese way of dealing with that is to "compartmentalize" it (her word, and the ethnic stereotyping was hers): put it in the past, consider it over and done with, and go on with life. It seems to have been a survival mechanism, and a way of being considerate of others. It's not denial and it doesn't mean pretending everything's OK.

I heard something similar about Cambodian refugees who were encouraged to relive their disasters in order to "get it out" and "work through it" as part of therapy. The therapy was discontinued because such a high proportion of the subjects deteriorated greatly during the program.

At the least, this shows a cultural difference, but I really believe that the East Asian way is just plain better.

One disadvantage Americans have in dealing with disasters is reflexive optimism. Disasters seem abnormal, or even seem like personal failures. This belief is not widely shared globally.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:42 PM
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The other frustrating thing Americans do is treat disasters like a round of a boxing match, like if you just stick it out long enough you can defeat nature.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:44 PM
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this shows a cultural difference, but I really believe that the East Asian way is just plain better.

I don't think there is anything particularly `East Asian' about it. This describes many, many european families I know that have dealt with tragedies just fine.

Perhaps Americans are just whiners? Seriously though, it may have something to do with expectations, reflexive optimism and backlash from the irrational American cultural standards of success and failure (If something is messed up in your life, the root cause is you. If you were a better person, you'd be successful)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:46 PM
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Um, that was ambiguous in 243.2. I meant that the description was just fine, not that the families necessarily were.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:47 PM
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As I understand, in the Chinese view there's no expectation that you can or should ever recover completely. People who carry their grief gracefully are admired, but not because they're thought to have overcome their grief. Pretty much the opposite.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:50 PM
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I have noticed, in reading Chinese folktales, that generally things end up somewhat -- but only somewhat -- worse than they started.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:52 PM
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One disadvantage Americans have in dealing with disasters is reflexive optimism. Disasters seem abnormal, or even seem like personal failures.

the irrational American cultural standards of success and failure (If something is messed up in your life, the root cause is you. If you were a better person, you'd be successful)

Two ways of saying the same correct thing.

Who do I blame? Milton Friedman, or Megan McArdle, or one of those people like that.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:52 PM
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I heard something similar about Cambodian refugees who were encouraged to relive their disasters in order to "get it out" and "work through it" as part of therapy.

Yeah, similar research on PTSD counselling for military veterans in the UK, I believe, has led to new guidelines that deliberately don't offer counselling initially.*

Letting people work things through on their own and with family seems to work better.

* I may have misremembered the article I read, but that was the gist, I'm pretty sure.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:53 PM
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The other frustrating thing Americans do is treat disasters like a round of a boxing match, like if you just stick it out long enough you can defeat nature.

Exactly. And what's really frustrating is that, if we were playing international rules, we'd know that a knockout is unlikely and the hurricanes' point lead is pretty much insurmountable.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 12:53 PM
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Letting people work things through on their own and with family seems to work better.

Anecdotally, it feels like this often works pretty disastrously.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:00 PM
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I may have misremembered the article I read, but that was the gist, I'm pretty sure.

I think I read something similar about the US after the 9/11 attacks. People who go into crisis counseling are obviously going to believe it works, and it superficially sounds like it should work, but people are tough.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:04 PM
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250: well, but I think this is one of those situations where anecdata fails us, since you're not going to hear nearly so much about the successes.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:04 PM
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re: 250

The policy wasn't to deny care. If people sought it, they got it, and if people showed signs of being significantly traumatised, they were offered it. But the policy of offering it as a matter of routine to people who'd been in potentially traumatising situations, was being changed.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:05 PM
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And you all are nuts. American optimism is awesome.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:06 PM
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The criticisms of "work it out" counseling were based on disasters too. If someone has big problems, they have big problems.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:07 PM
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254: I feel like American optimism has failed us before, but we've learned from it, and from here on out American optimism will be an unalloyed good.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:07 PM
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The policy wasn't to deny care. If people sought it, they got it, and if people showed signs of being significantly traumatised, they were offered it.

This is a statement I can get behind much more easily than:

I believe, has led to new guidelines that deliberately don't offer counselling initially.* Letting people work things through on their own and with family seems to work better.

I was definitely picturing someone showing signs of PTSD, and sending them home to work it out with their family. Which is what we have done with scores of Iraq vets here, and maybe NPR only airs the bad cases, but they certainly paint a dismal picture for untreated vets.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:18 PM
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In two or three cases I know a little about, a lot of the returning vets' problems come from thinking completely differently about the war than most people. This is politically pretty neutral. In two cases pro-war veterans had antiwar parents, and in one case pro war parents had a son who could no longer affirm their support of the war. (He wasn't anti-war, but their kind of support angered him).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:22 PM
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"Look, either get over it, or take it out on your wife. I don't give a crap if you're waking up screaming. I'm a psychiatrist! I have better things to do than help you with your stupid bad dreams."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:24 PM
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The gist of the conclusion was that certain specific kinds of therapy ("work through it" therapy) did more harm than good.

As I said, though, going back to your family can be problematic if the family isn't sympathetic or if the family and the individual have diverged widely.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:31 PM
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A really affecting performance, too.

Willie brings out the best in people. From the same concert, even Shania Twain works hard to pull out a good performance.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:33 PM
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whoops, here's the link for 261 properly formatted.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:34 PM
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Okay so say you're a traumatized Iraq vet, and you go to see a counselor. The counselor offers three treatment options: 1) extensive therapy, 2) short-course VR therapy, or 3) going home and going about your life. The counselor says that for every patient, exactly one of these treatments will work and the other two will result in a lifetime of misery, addiction, and violent lashing out. You select treatment number three, and the counselor says "well, that's good, because you would have been fucked for sure if you'd picked extensive therapy." Assuming that each treatment is the best course of action for exactly 1/3 of PTSD sufferers, should you do the VR or go home?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:37 PM
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There's a catch. After you make your selection, the counselor via Christmas Future shows you how you might end up committing suicide down one of the paths you didn't select. Should you switch to the remaining path?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:39 PM
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I think the Delta is gonna go.

In what respect?


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:45 PM
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263, 264: Wait, I think I've seen this episode. Sam goes through with the group therapy and the little annoying guy with the PDA keeps telling him some chick back in 1987 thinks he's fucking things up until at the end Sam stumbles into Jack Ruby from behind and the gun goes off, right?


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:48 PM
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There's a catch. After you make your selection, the counselor via Christmas Future shows you how you might end up committing suicide down one of the paths you didn't select. Should you switch to the remaining path?

Heebie at the pitch meeting: It would be "The Best Years of Our Lives" meets "It's a Wonderful Life" except with less Christmas and more sex.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:52 PM
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221: To a very great extent, the future of New Orleans, like every other city in the United States, will be dictated by public policy.

Sure, as it has been for some time. The Mississippi no longer wants to flow past Baton Rouge and New Orleans and has been thwarted from changing course, which has worked out badly.

The Port of New Orleans remains one of the world's busiest. Does it require hundreds of thousands of people to work it? No, not in an age of automated supercontainer shipping. But it requires thousands.

The thing is, is that in the age in which we leave in which people are desperately concerned with terror attacks (for good and bad reasons), you should (yes! as a matter of public policy!) deeply desire for cities themselves to cease to be ports; cities are too valuable to risk for the sake of a few thousand jobs, when the cargo can be be just as easily unloaded nearby; besides which people get all freaked out and vote to do dumb things.

As does the petrochemical industry, which makes New Orleans one of its hubs. Not to mention the financial markets that are still there. And if we're going to disparage tourism and other service sectors of the economy, well, we'd better plan to shutter pretty big swaths of the nation.

The only people, as far as I can tell, who want to see New Orleans as a city (located where it is or somewhere else) simply go away are Republicans who hate black people. I don't think you can include anybody here in that descriptor.

As to the question of low ground, I've said before that it's insoluble. The immediate social justice dimension pretty directly conflicts with issues of future public safety.

After Katrina, a great many black people from New Orleans moved in where I lived. As far as I know they never really went back. Social justice is toes up here. And trying simply to shove poor black people back into crappy houses that are going to sink beneath the waves/muck/storm surge strikes me as... cruel. At any rate, the New Orleans that once was, is on a ventilator and that isn't any good for anybody.

That said, let's close MRGO and the IHNC , build levees instead of floodwalls, revive the coastal wetlands, do away with slab construction throughout the city, and address global warming. After that, most of Mid City and the Lower Nine would be just fine. Or, better yet, let's do all of the things I just said and contract New Orleans to its late-nineteenth-century footprint. Make the new New Orleans the old New Orleans, in other words.

That's what I've wanted to do along. Pull back from the 20th century expansion to the more easily defended areas of higher ground around the old city and build a new city (and center of economic activity) nearby.

Of course, we lack the leadership to accomplish any of these goals. And so the status quo will reign.

We lack to the leadership to even have a goal, except the goal of keeping the things however they are, no matter how expensive/stupid/destructive that might be.

And the market will sort out the bodies the next time there's a particularly horrible disaster.

It's a race! Will the nukes get us before the neglect does?

max
['Um, yes?']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 1:54 PM
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265 - I'm referring to the Delta in California, at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. The most likely option is the collapse of several of the western islands, introducing a large open water section. Here.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 2:25 PM
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That was me.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 2:25 PM
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the Delta in California

Right; I'm in Sac. Thanks for the link.


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 3:04 PM
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227

"To a very great extent, the future of New Orleans, like every other city in the United States, will be dictated by public policy. ..."

And it is stupid public policy to encourage people to build in vulnerable areas.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 3:33 PM
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Wooo Sac. Represent!


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 3:34 PM
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Oh, I just saw this. It isa quicker look at that study.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 3:37 PM
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Well, there were actually excellent reasons to encourage people to build in New Orleans, James. But I'm not sure there are any more. Which presents us with a dilemma. A city is sited in a location because it will serve the nation's interests. Said city does that, in this case for approximately a century and a half. But then, new technologies allow commerce to travel more efficient paths to market, rendering said city less significant to the national project. So, do we then say to the people who live there, "well, we don't really need you here any more. And all that infrastructure required to keep you safe is now a waste. Time for you to move on."


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 3:42 PM
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Thanks for the post and the thoughtful comments on grief and responses to it. My (very close, kind of large) family had a sudden tragedy occur six months ago. As close as we are, it's sometimes difficult to grasp that others may be in a different place with their grief than where I am at that moment. One of the kindest comments I heard was "I have no idea what you're feeling, but I care about you and how you're feeling," which reflects a comment upthread.

Publicly, I'm sucking it up and getting on with things, but letting my grief out as well, more privately. Seems to be working okay, for me, so far.


Posted by: honigessig | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 3:43 PM
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275. There are ghost towns all over, ari. Detroit will be one soon, without any help from a natural disaster. Cities that outlive their economic usefulness will cease to be.


Posted by: Tassled loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 3:54 PM
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So, do we then say to the people who live there, "well, we don't really need you here any more. And all that infrastructure required to keep you safe is now a waste. Time for you to move on."

Well, that is middle ground between:

"It is OK for you to live in the path of likely disaster, so go ahead, the levees will hold and we have a plan to save you. We love to visit your colorful culture, so just keep being you." if that is not in fact true.

and:

You cannot afford to internalize the full cost of the (increasing) risks of living here and we choose not to subsidize you any further. We are sorry about that, so sorry that we will help you relocate with as little discomfort as such a wrenching move must require.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 3:58 PM
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It's still not intuitive to me why artificially maintained, largely unpopulated islands in the Delta being inundated would be a catastrophe for the Delta as a whole, as opposed to a bummer for the island owners. But my being upstream likely inhibits my fully getting it.


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 4:19 PM
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So there's no social contract, then, because I don't know how else to read you, Megan and TLL. Many people born in New Orleans were born behind levees constructed and maintained by the federal government. They have been told that those levees would keep them safe. They have been told that MRGO, a channel dug to speed commerce to the Gulf, would not imperil them. But now, in the wake of an inundation caused by neglected levees and floodwalls, an inundation rushed to the city by channels like MRGO, the federal government should say, "Sorry, we can't afford to keep our promises to you." Again, tell me there's another way to read what you're saying. Because absent another reading, you guys are like the poster children for the Libertarian Party.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 4:30 PM
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The big reason it matters to the rest of California is that the Delta islands collapsing will pull saltwater into whatever is left of the Delta. We send the southern state's drinking water through the sloughs that are there now. We won't be able to do that, because we'd be mixing fresh and salt water if the Delta fails. A Peripheral Canal solves that.

Without that the problem would be primarily local, unless you have a emotional attachment to Delta farming (you might, if you like local asparagus and pears). There's some thought that it would create a deep water body and the native fishes would prefer marshes.

But if you live north of the Delta, your day to day life would not change because of a Delta collapse. Bay Area and south of the Delta, that is not true for you.

(Oh, and one island failing would likely create surges that would change pressures on other islands. A chain of collapses is only slightly less likely than a single collapse.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 4:30 PM
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The only, perhaps mildly better, other way to read what I'm saying is:

The social contract works until it is prohibitively expensive for the collective*. There's a fair amount of slack in there, depending on people's emotional responses, but there's also a threshold effect. Once you're over that threshold, if we can muster the will, the civilized thing to do is to get people out of danger in an orderly and planned way and help them transition to a different life.

It all sorta depends on what you think the alternative is. If you believe the alternative is that the system cannot be fixed for the amount everyone else can afford, and people will continue to die there with every single storm until the Joads individually pile their stuff into a car and hope to find work in California, then planned resettlement is a good deal.

If you think that spending the money will fix some version of it for once and for all, then re-building is the right thing.

(I don't know New Orleans, but I'm getting pretty current on climate change. I'm betting that we can't engineer solutions of the magnitude required AND that people aren't accurately predicting the resiliency of the system. Would we really pay for New Orleans if you are also seeing huge floods along the whole Mississippi, heat waves in Chicago, drought that takes out three years of southern agriculture and a drought throughout the southwest. This on top of the creeping costs of sealevel rise? You only need three or four disasters in a decade before you can't afford the conspicuously vulnerable parts of a social contract.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 4:43 PM
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280 -

The other appropriate thing to say is "We didn't predict climate change." We intended to keep you safe (and did a fucking crappy job of it), but now we are in something we didn't predict and is really fucking dangerous.

We made you promises and those may or may not have been wrong then. But they are certainly wrong now.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 4:48 PM
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So you're seeing we should draw up a list of places that are doomed (your word, right?) because of the inevitable onset of climate-change-related catastrophes. And after we've got our list, we'll begin to move people, en masse, from those places. Well, I'll say this for your idea: it should hasten the revolution.

How about, as an alternative, we decide to combat climate change and recommit ourselves to building safe and reliable public works? And how about we start with NOLA? The highest estimates I've seen for a flood control system that will keep the city safe during a Cat 5 hurricane are about $15 b. Let's say those are quite low and triple that number. And then let's add another $100 b. for reversing coastal erosion in the Gulf. Now we're at approximately $150 b. That's a lot of money. Oh wait, it's a tiny fraction of the cost of the Iraq War. More war? Or renewed faith in your government's ability to keep you and your fellow citizens safe? The choice seems pretty clear to me.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 4:57 PM
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seeing s/b saying


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:05 PM
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"... So, do we then say to the people who live there, "well, we don't really need you here any more. And all that infrastructure required to keep you safe is now a waste. Time for you to move on.""

The people don't live there any more, their houses have been destroyed. Perhaps you can argue the goverment owes them new houses but it is insane to construct those new houses where they are likely to be destroyed again (or at least will cost many times what houses in a safer location would cost).


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:09 PM
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"... Or renewed faith in your government's ability to keep you and your fellow citizens safe? ..."

How about renewed faith in my governments ability to spend money wisely? Spending 150 billion dollars on New Orleans is likely just throwing it away.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:12 PM
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James, do you know how many houses were destroyed? And in what neighborhoods? Because my understanding is that you (and Megan and maybe TLL) are talking about cutting off reconstruction funding to the whole city. But only a fraction of the city was destroyed.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:14 PM
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The parts that weren't destroyed don't need to be reconstructed.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:16 PM
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And also, different parts of the city were destroyed because of the failures of different kinds of public works. The parts of the Lower Nine that were wiped out -- not all of the neighborhood was hit, by the way -- were destroyed because a crappy floodwall wasn't built to spec and then wasn't maintained. And that floodwall was supposed to hold back the water in an unnecessary canal that activists have, for more than a decade, been clamoring to have closed. But the Corps has assured these people that the channel is perfectly safe.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:17 PM
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the Delta islands collapsing will pull saltwater into whatever is left of the Delta

OK, that makes more sense. It wasn't clear how flooded islands equated to higher salinity.

We send the southern state's drinking water through the sloughs that are there now. We won't be able to do that ...

Ah, this is where I've been indoctrinated to think, let them drink their swimming-pool water. Which is mean and dumb, but still and all, some conservation would be cool while we're waiting for that Peripheral Canal.


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:17 PM
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I definitely think that it would be worth it to spend extra money on New Orleans for heritage reasons, the way we might spend money to save the Washington Monument, Yellowstone, and so on. Especially because a lot of it would be pump-priming money. Everybody's talking about budgeting, etc., but the feds haven't budgeted for decades. They just talk about frugality whenever they want to stop some program they don't like.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:17 PM
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James, you have no idea what you're talking about. Most of the city needs to have its flood control works rebuilt or repaired, or new parts of NOLA will be imperiled if a slightly different storm hits in the future.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:18 PM
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So perhaps they are entitled to compensation. It is still stupid to rebuild in the danger zone.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:20 PM
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That's one argument, John, and it's not a bad one. But there's also the issue, as I've noted above, that citizens need to trust that their government, especially in a pinch, will keep them safe. Otherwise, why have a government? I'm not kidding around here; tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people lost their faith in the social contract during and after Katrina. Megan and TLL seem to be suggesting that we should extend that cynicism to millions of others.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:20 PM
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294: Well, then we'd really better get people out of San Francisco and Los Angeles --- and maybe Seattle as well. Also: Miami, Houston, Charleston, and bunches of other places. Because if that's your metric, James, there are a lot of people in the line of fire in this country. And since we can't guarantee their safety -- I mean absolutely guarantee it -- we'd better settle them somewhere else.

Where do you live, James? Are you ready to move?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:23 PM
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"James, you have no idea what you're talking about. Most of the city needs to have its flood control works rebuilt or repaired, or new parts of NOLA will be imperiled if a slightly different storm hits in the future."

I am talking about the below sea level residential neighborhoods that were flooded. These areas should not be rebuilt.

And improving the flood control works should have to pass a cost benefit analysis.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:23 PM
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Yes. That would be the responsible, civilized way to approach this. But we won't.

Further, the level of catastrophe I predict is in the good scenario, the one with mitigation. It isn't like I'm leaping straight to adaption without accounting for mitigation first.

Ari, that's awesome and all, but I can't get behind that either. I sit in the CA water plan meetings all day long, and sometimes for fun I add up the costs of each thing we recommend. My running tally so far, for California between now and 2050, just for drinking water, is $100B. That's only the third of the strategies.

And this is the least of it. We have to do this at the same time we pay for fire, moving infrastructure, ag yields go down, hydropower goes down, we pay back the Iraq War, we build for flood, we pay for sea level rise ($940M in the Bay Area alone), that everything becomes more expensive simultaneously. Air quality? Groundwater clean up? This is just to keep the physical system habitable. I don't even know what luxuries like public education cost. I have no idea to scale this to the entire country. But I think it is really bad.

With that as the backdrop, you're looking at a situation where putting money into a city that is likely to be taken out down again within your son's lifetime, is irresponsible. We're going to need that money for places that can be saved.

One more time: My hopes right now are to plan to minimize the hurt I predict. I am afraid the alternative is that we don't plan and poorer people than me live with that more hurt than necessary. But in either scenario, returning to doomed areas is wrong.

(This then opens the question of what is and isn't doomed and at what populations. But I'm sure lowlying places in the path of hurricanes are on the doomed list.)

Incidentally, gloom and doom as I am, it was still really bracing for me to hear the guy from State Park say casually that the Parks dept has written off all beaches south of Torrey Pines, and will no longer be builing or maintaining any structures in those parks. That was so concrete. They have re-written their maintenance plans.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:24 PM
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"Well, then we'd really better get people out of San Francisco and Los Angeles --- and maybe Seattle as well. Also: Miami, Houston, Charleston, and bunches of other places. Because if that's your metric, James, there are a lot of people in the line of fire in this country. And since we can't guarantee their safety -- I mean absolutely guarantee it -- we'd better settle them somewhere else."

Most of these places are much safer than New Orleans. And I don't think they should get subsidized insurance.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:28 PM
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It's one thing to write off a park, Megan, and another entirely to write off one of the oldest cities in the United States. If your vision of the future, and the role of government, dictates that we have to write off places like New Orleans, there is very little hope indeed. I say this not only because the fabric of the social contract will then surely unravel entirely (it's pretty frayed right now, I think) but also because your predictive models are meaningless to me. I'm not saying that climate change isn't going to have profound implications for all of us, especially those of us who live on low-lying land. But I am saying that we don't yet know with any degree of certainty -- or at least enough certainty that we should start abandoning cities, and with them the social contract -- what those implications will be.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:30 PM
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some conservation would be cool

SoCal water users have been conserving for a couple decades. Their per capita water use is about 40% of NoCal users. That may be appropriate and that can also be improved, but they do a much better job of conservation than we do up here.

****
need to trust that their government, especially in a pinch, will keep them safe. ... should extend that cynicism to millions of others.

That's a false promise, so we shouldn't make it. I truly believe that we cannot afford to keep people safe in the distribution they are now.

And since we can't guarantee their safety -- I mean absolutely guarantee it --

There are probabilities, you know. And the probabilities for Natomas and Marysville and Florida New Orleans REALLY FUCKING SUCK. The probabilities for other places are better. Some places are even moderately safe. We can prioritize. It sucks to prioritize, but when you can't afford the whole, that's what you do.

Also, the people saying to prioritize are not creating the situtation. The situation is being forced by climate change. Blaming the people who make the trade-off's explicit (and I don't think you are doing that, but others seem to) is misplaced.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:32 PM
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"... But there's also the issue, as I've noted above, that citizens need to trust that their government, especially in a pinch, will keep them safe. ..."

You can use this to argue for anything. Bush claimed going into Iraq was keeping us safe. The best way to keep the people who used to live in New Orleans safe is to resettle them elsewhere.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:33 PM
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James, every predictive model in the world suggests that there will be a massive earthquake along the SA fault some time in the next 30-50 years. We have no way of knowing when that quake will hit, which means that we won't be able to evacuate people in advance. And yet you say that SF and LA are safer than NOLA. Um, right, sure. Or, snark aside, what do you mean by safe?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:33 PM
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See, James, 302 is exactly the point: Bush lied us into a war of choice, further undercutting people's faith in their government. And then he allowed a major American city to drown on his watch. Which is precisely why we need to invest in restoring people's faith in government. Seriously, this isn't an abstraction. We either do it, or we need to decide that we'll move toward increasingly authoritarian models of governance to keep citizens in line. Wait, that's what the Republican Party has been doing. I wonder if that's a coincidence...


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:36 PM
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The best way to keep the people who used to live in New Orleans safe is to resettle them elsewhere.

There are approximately 300,000 people living in NOLA now, James, and more are arriving there all the time. What do you want to do about those 300,000 people?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:38 PM
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Okay, I have to go pick my dog up from the vet. She just got spayed. I'll check back in later.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:39 PM
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300 - Aw Ari. The models are good enough to say that the really extreme cases are obvious. The Delta will collapse. It is time to abandon a whole bunch of endangered species. Sea level rise will be three or four feet, and if we're lucky that'll be a smooth rise. CA will lose 10% of it's precip and the remainder will arrive in early spring. And hurricanes will be more frequent and more severe.

There is a border where we can't make decisions, but the models are good enough to say what is well outside that border.

My vision of the future really does have very little hope. My best hopes are for huge voluntary lifestyle changes combined with ruthless planning so that we get to a much smaller population in safe places as kindly as possible. That's what I hope for out of a new social contract. I am well past regretting abandoning beautiful old cities. I only hope it happens smoothly.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:42 PM
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300: I can't judge the facts here, because I don't know them. But Ari -- isn't it clear that your disagreement with Megan is one of fact rather than of moral principle? If her facts are right, that given the other costs that we're going to have to meet in the near future, that we're simply going to be unable to afford to save New Orleans long term, isn't her solution, to pull back from it in an organized way rather than to make a doomed effort to save the whole thing, clearly the right thing to do?

If she's wrong, she's wrong on the facts: that either we can save N.O. longterm or we at least don't know we can't. And under those circumstances there's a good argument that we're obliged to save it. But we can't be morally obliged to make efforts if we know beforehand that they're going to be fruitless (because we're going to run out of resources to follow them up).


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:42 PM
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"... And then he allowed a major American city to drown on his watch. ..."

This is silly. Bush can be faulted for an ineffective and politically tone deaf response. But there is little reason to believe the initial damge would have been any different with a President Gore.

"... Which is precisely why we need to invest in restoring people's faith in government. ..."

Thinking we can make New Orleans safe at reasonable cost is exactly the same sort of magical thinking that led the US into Iraq. Our powers are not infinite.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:55 PM
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305 - With the real, actual people who are there?

Confront them with the risks, often. (One of my favorite parts of the Delta Vision plan was that every structure should have lines on it showing the water level in case of a levee break. That'd be twenty feet up and people living there should have to look at it every single day.)

Tell them not to come.

Don't give them money to come. (If you say there are places where they can live safely, then that part is OK.)

Refuse to subsidize their risk. (They shouldn't be subsidizing my risk, either.)

Pay them to resettle somewhere higher. (I would expect this out of a decent society.)

Have building codes that can withstand the forces expected for the area. (This would probably make buildings either very cheap if we move to a disposable or floating model or prohibitively expensive if we move to an armored model.)


Look, I want a social contract too. But it has to be a social contract that fits our collective resources. A social contract that offers more than that (like the illusion that we can sustain places in places we can't) is cruel to them and endangers the whole. Our duty is only the best that we can do, and starting in 2040-2050, things look BAD under the best of cases.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 5:55 PM
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If she's wrong, she's wrong on the facts: that either we can save N.O. longterm or we at least don't know we can't. And under those circumstances there's a good argument that we're obliged to save it.

I definitely agree that if we could save N.O. (for reasonable money) longterm then we patch up the broken parts of our country and we fix it. Not because of anything special about N.O., but because that's what we do. But like LB suggests, those aren't the facts I predict.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:03 PM
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"None of that makes Katrina a particularly big hurricane."

What's this all about? Katrina was an extremely dangerous storm. From wikipedia "Among recorded hurricanes, it was the sixth strongest overall and the third strongest to make a landfall in the United States.". It killed over 200 people in Mississippi which by itself is the most since Camille in 1969. And it wiped out New Orleans without even hitting it head on.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:05 PM
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"At the least, this shows a cultural difference, but I really believe that the East Asian way is just plain better."

I agree with this. I think there is a cultural tendency in the United States today that encourages people to relive bad parts of their lives which they would be better off trying to forget.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:08 PM
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Megan, although I'm not remotely an expert, I have some indirect familiarity with the issues you're discussing, and, without minimizing the severe consequences of global warming or the need to implement restrictions now, your extremely gloomy outlook doesn't match up with what I've been hearing from others with expertise (including other folk who directly or indirectly work on these issues for the same government that I think is your boss).

That's not to say that massive costs won't need to be incurred, it's just that the costs fall within a somewhat-more normal world of public policy making and, as Ari seems to point out, can be made in ordinary terms of shifting public policies. In other words, maybe I'm misreading you or being unfair, but you literally seem to be suggesting that tens or hundreds of millions of people will need to be evacuated from their homes within the United States and large numbers of major American cities will be abandoned by 2050. That just doesn't match up with the kinds of consequences predicted elsewhere -- it's more like consequences that, for California, can be mitigated with expensive, but possible, spending on sea walls, energy consumption reductions, and changes in our agricultural plans. If we're talking Armageddon, maybe it does make sense to tell a city like NO not to rebuild at all, but if we're not at the Armageddon point, taking more moderate measures to shore up a great American city (while removing some of the perverse incentives to destroy wetlands/avoid the costs of insurance) start to look like they make a lot more sense. In other words, Lizardbreath is right, this is a dispute about empirical consequences and probabilities. And Megan, if the probability analysis you seem to be describing is correct, which it may be, the government (state and federal) is doing a criminally culpable job of undertaking preparations or preparing the public, which I'm sure is possible, but is a lot to take based on assertion alone.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:17 PM
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314 the government (state and federal) is doing a criminally culpable job of undertaking preparations or preparing the public

Is there any doubt that this is true of global warming? I don't know about having to abandon major cities by 2050. But by 2100, I think it's almost guaranteed.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:26 PM
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But Ari -- isn't it clear that your disagreement with Megan is one of fact rather than of moral principle?

That's not clear to me, actually. Ari seems to be arguing from the premise that citizens have claims on their fellow citizens and their government by virtue of their actual existence as citizens, whereas Megan seems to be suggesting that predictions of future exigencies are enough to negate the terms of the present social contract. Megan's position I find quite troubling. But I may be misreading everything (not knowing anything about hurricanes and etc).


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:33 PM
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One could also say that Megan is suggesting that the present social contract is impossible to fulfill and inevitably will not be fulfilled, while ari is suggesting that the present social contract is not impossible to fulfill and therefore there is a small probability that it will be fulfilled.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:35 PM
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Not trying to get governments off the hook. But I haven't seen anything suggesting that it is realistic to assume that we are "guaranteed" to be forced to abandon major US cities by 2100. Again, this is a hard conversation to be having without plugging in actual numbers, thinking about mitigation measures, and the like. In general, though, in my non-expert way, I don't think that predictions of certain catastrophe (as opposed to, say, change managed by public policy) are particularly realistic or helpful.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:37 PM
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"... Ari seems to be arguing from the premise that citizens have claims on their fellow citizens and their government by virtue of their actual existence as citizens, ..."

No, he is arguing that these claims take a particular form, that government is obligated to keep you safe no matter where you live. It can't just offer to help Harry Truman relocate, it must keep him safe where he is even though he is living on the side of an active volcano.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:44 PM
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"... If I link to McArdle, can I ask that people not be personally unpleasant about her? ..."

Surely the kind and gentle commenters here would never be so mean.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:50 PM
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Ari seems to be arguing from the premise that citizens have claims on their fellow citizens and their government by virtue of their actual existence as citizens, whereas Megan seems to be suggesting that predictions of future exigencies are enough to negate the terms of the present social contract.

Or ... Ari seems to be arguing from the premise that the social contract is a suicide pact to protect the sanctity of levees, whereas Megan seems to be suggesting that wait, what?


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 6:58 PM
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I think the disagreement is just over whether or not protection of the levees is a suicide pact. In other words, is this a reasonably feasible task within a range of predictable governmental priorities, or not? My inclination and understanding of the evidence suggests that rebuilding and protection of certain portions of the cities is a reasonably feasible and non-insane thing to do, but these questions are hard and require expert knowledge, which is why talking about them in blog posts is hard.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:02 PM
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319: Leave it the ueber-rationalist Shearer to come up with the most ludicrous comparison of the day. It stands with his assertion that optimistically trying to save NOLA is the same thing as optimistically trying to subjugate Iraq.

I am highly sympathetic to Ari because "we can't afford it" arguments and cost-benefit arguments are so often made by fake economizers and fake rationalists who are otherwise destructively insane and wasteful, and whose numbers are often cooked, and is being proposed at the end of an orgy of pointless wastefulness. Furthermore everyone seems to assume a continued disastrous political failure, and on top of that claiming that the way out of the disaster starts with abandoning NOLA to its fate. This is too much like the same-old same-old The Age of Big Government is Over defeatist/sabotage cliche.

With all due respect to Megan, a lot of pessimistic environmentalists have an unpleasant anti-humanist streak which seems to exempt themselves. (I remember Edward Abbey writing about driving around drunk in his pickup truck and asking myself why he thought he was one of the saved. It also reminds me of the hardy, down to earth Alaskans who really are parasites on the rest of the world, and about as self-sufficient as your average defense contractor.

I don't rule out the possibility that Megan is right on the facts. Shearer is beyond redemption, though.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:13 PM
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Maybe I'm overly pessimistic. But given that we've done almost precisely nothing about global warming in the last three decades, and the science gets progressively more frightening all the time, I think it's not a bad idea to be worried and pessimistic. If gloom spreads far enough, maybe more people will be inclined to do something about it. I admit I have a kneejerk reaction against optimistic assessments just because I fear they will lead to complacency.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:20 PM
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Can't afford it arguments are also often made in situations where we really, honestly can't afford it. The numbers ari pulled out of his ass upthread come to $500 per American just for New Orleans. I'm all in favor of the social contract, but $500 for one city when there are hundreds of cities that can make some kind of social contract-based claim puts me in the poorhouse in pretty fucking short order.

Under the assumption of competent bureaucracy and rational allocation of resources, perhaps New Orleans can make its case based on a reasonable cost-benefit analysis. Competent bureaucracy is perhaps within reach, but reasonable allocation of resources simply will not happen as long as we have the current system of appropriations, and the prospects for reform look pretty dim to me.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:35 PM
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Yeah, I don't know. $100 billion is not that large a percentage, at all, of the federal budget (the $x/American calculation as a way of thinking about how much a gov't project is costing is pretty misleading). It's less than the annual profit alone for one year for one oil company. I think we're a pretty long way off from shrugging our shoulders and writing off whole historic cities on the scale of NO, although that's not an excuse for inaction. Again, to really figure this out requires a level of technical expertise that is far, far beyond my ability but the calls for despair strike me as very premature indeed.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 7:54 PM
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I have to say, merits of both positions aside, that I'm a bit disturbed to watch the frontman of Judas Priest tell a virtuous naturist not to worry so much just now because things are better than they seem. Maybe this really is the end of times.


Posted by: NickFranklin | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:05 PM
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Emerson:
With all due respect to Megan, a lot of pessimistic environmentalists have an unpleasant anti-humanist streak which seems to exempt themselves.

Megan:

ruthless planning so that we get to a much smaller population in safe places as kindly as possible.

Ruthlessly planned population decreases aren't very nice things usually. Why will yours be any better?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:15 PM
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In reverse order:

"Pulled from my ass," togolosh? Why assume bad faith? Anyway, the figure I cited is from the NSF principal investigator's outside predictions. And then, you'll note, I tripled it. I'm sorry that you don't want to pay taxes. That sucks. But you know what, you already do. It's just that your money goes to Iraq and defense spending rather than to rebuilding New Orleans or infrastructure near you.

essear and others, I agree that we've done perilously little to combat global warming. My suggestion is that this doesn't need to be the case. The federal government can move mountains -- literally -- when it wants to. It may be that it's too late to reverse or even halt global warming. I've read studies suggesting as much. But if that's the case, this whole argument really is a moot point. We've got bigger problems on our hands. In the meantime, though, shouldn't we try?

John, you'll be unsurprised to hear that I agree. The way that even progressives have accepted the right's framing of government's ability accomplish big things is one of the great tragedies for the nation and probably the GOP's greatest recent triumph. I can't know that the nation is still up to things like the New Deal or the mobilization for WWII. But I suspect that with the proper leadership and the proper crisis, the answer is yes.

Robert and Margarita, I'm really not the most pro-levee guy you'll find. I just think that abandoning New Orleans, which was the direct point I responded to, is socially unconsionable and politically counterproductive. For a more detailed picture of my perspective on New Orleans, you can go here.

James, I tried to respond to you in good faith. But as often happens when you find yourself on the losing end of an argument, you moved the goalposts. You said that New Orleans should be abandoned. I tried to say that it's not that simple, that huge swaths of the city sit on relatively high ground but still need some protection, and then you started putting words in my mouth (as did Margarita and others). There's no point arguing with people like you, James. You're a troll: no more, no less. And a dull one at that. I should have long since learned that lesson.

LB, I'm not sure that you read the thread. James and Megan (and earlier TLL) all advocated abandoning New Orleans. I responded to them. If you look upthread, Jetpack and I talked about what a new New Orleans might look like. But I'm not sure that will satisfy you. So let's try this: after Hurricane Betsy, the federal government promised New Orleanians that the city would be safe from a Cat 3 hurricane. The feds didn't make good on their promise. Indeed, they didn't even keep up the levees. And, in the wake of Katrina's flood, it turned out that the Corps cut corners on levee construction from the get-go. So, when I talk about a social contract between the government and governed, in this instance at least, I'm talking about something very specific. More broadly than that, I'd like people to be able to trust that their government will keep them safe when it promises to do so.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 8:53 PM
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I was so sure we were on the same page. But now a hot girl wants to drink beer in bed with me, so I'll just say you're all wrong.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:01 PM
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Pithy.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:04 PM
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329

"James, I tried to respond to you in good faith. But as often happens when you find yourself on the losing end of an argument, you moved the goalposts. You said that New Orleans should be abandoned. ..."

Good faith? Where did I say New Orleans should be abandoned?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:09 PM
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Read your comments, James.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:11 PM
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333

"Read your comments, James."

Another bad faith response.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:14 PM
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In Shearer's defense, he did specifically say "I am talking about the below sea level residential neighborhoods that were flooded."


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:15 PM
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Should Ozymandiasburgh be abandoned?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:16 PM
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339 The federal government can move mountains -- literally -- when it wants to. It may be that it's too late to reverse or even halt global warming. I've read studies suggesting as much. But if that's the case, this whole argument really is a moot point. We've got bigger problems on our hands. In the meantime, though, shouldn't we try?

I believe the right phrasing is "hells yes". It's certainly not a moot point; the choice facing us now is to have a major global problem on our hands, or an unmitigated global disaster. Obama might be able to help set us on a path to leveling off at 550 ppm, if he can overcome massive inertia. The goal is more like 350 ppm, if we want to be out of danger. McCain/Palin would aim us at 1000 ppm, which is essentially hell on earth.

I am all for trying to tackle this problem. It's just that when we, as a nation, can't even get our act together to do obviously good easy things like electing Obama over McCain, how are we going to handle something orders of magnitude more difficult? It's not just that I blame others. I think global warming is the most serious problem in the world right now, but am I ready to quit my job and work full-time to do something about it? I'm not. Part of me keeps trying to prod all of me in that direction.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:16 PM
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In 337, 339 should read 329.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:17 PM
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The federal government can move mountains -- literally -- when it wants to. It may be that it's too late to reverse or even halt global warming. I've read studies suggesting as much. But if that's the case, this whole argument really is a moot point. We've got bigger problems on our hands. In the meantime, though, shouldn't we try?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:18 PM
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338: Not necessarily.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:19 PM
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335: That's not really a fair point. Because he also insists that the federal government shouldn't subsidize reconstruction efforts, which is the same thing as saying that the city should be abandoned (as I noted upthread). He wants to have it both ways, in other words, which isn't good faith. And really, I don't mean to be rude to you, DS, but I'm not engaging with him or his ideas any more.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:20 PM
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341: I hear you.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:22 PM
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A big part of me, essear, wonders if people won't quit their jobs to combat global warming because the idea of civic virtue has been so fundamentally polluted by the GOP. In other words, why would you make a massive sacrifice to try to save the planet if the Republican Party, for political gain, will sabotage your efforts at every turn?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:24 PM
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341

"That's not really a fair point. Because he also insists that the federal government shouldn't subsidize reconstruction efforts, which is the same thing as saying that the city should be abandoned (as I noted upthread). ..."

It is not the same thing. Even with no federal reconstruction money at all, New Orleans would not have been abandoned. There is no reason to abandon the parts that were not badly damaged. And I don't object to all federal money anyway, I object to using federal money to rebuild the neighborhoods in high risk areas which were largely total losses after Katrina.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 9:56 PM
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Megan, ... your extremely gloomy outlook doesn't match up with what I've been hearing from others with expertise (including other folk who directly or indirectly work on these issues for the same government that I think is your boss).

My two immediate bosses, both working on long range plans for the state, are both more optimistic than I am.

... it's just that the costs fall within a somewhat-more normal world of public policy making and, as Ari seems to point out, can be made in ordinary terms of shifting public policies.

I do wonder if I just don't understand how hugely big the economy is, so that my pessimistic predictions fall inside the scale of what is do-able. But then I wonder back again the other way, because a bad-luck cluster of disasters is possible.

you literally seem to be suggesting that tens or hundreds of millions of people will need to be evacuated from their homes within the United States and large numbers of major American cities will be abandoned by 2050.

Naw, the graphs get really ugly starting in 2050 (if there aren't perturbations). 2050 to 2100 is where I expect to lose several major American cities. This is with mitigation.

But if the second half of the century is as bad as the models predict, how much do we pay to give N.O. another sixty years? (I honestly don't know the hurricane information and if N.O. is too pointed a topic to be the subject of this, I'll change it. But then - how much do we pay to give west coast salmon an extra three decades? Or Marysville?)

for California, can be mitigated with expensive, but possible, spending on sea walls, energy consumption reductions, and changes in our agricultural plans.

So I was talking to a (cute) guy at the conference this week, and he was telling me that PG&E is trying to figure out the new specs for their transformers. Apparently the ones we have now can't handle running for three days without cooling down at night. They melt when they have to run at peak load for that long. But with new hot spells and increased night time temperature, people run their air conditioners all night (this is without plugging in their hybrids). I asked him how much that costs and he said $50M per transformer, at least. PG&E is trying how to figure out how to phase in replacing all off their transformers in the state.

That's the part that I just don't get. I am sure that we can handle one piece, water or fire or energy or infrastructure. I even understand that we have decades to get this done. But everyone I talk to tells me stories of billions of dollars to change over their little piece, and I can't see how that happens.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 10:44 PM
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... and then you started putting words in my mouth (as did Margarita and others).

I claim poetic truth, in the sense that my intentionally skewed summary was rhetorically directed at the skewed summary that I quoted rather than your actual position, which I probably haven't the moral authority to genuinely get.

I tend to think, for example, that the "social contract" has no direct relationship with infrastructure. I view that as being more in the nature of garden-variety public policy (until such time as the levee that is three blocks away from here breaks, and then I doubt you'd understand.)


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:17 PM
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Margarita, you aren't in the Pocket, are you?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-12-08 11:22 PM
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I tend to think, for example, that the "social contract" has no direct relationship with infrastructure.

Really? Well, here's how I see it: the basic bonds between the government and the governed are embodied by public policy -- or, in this case, the levees that grow out of public policy. In other words, if the government promises the people that the levees will hold, and the levees don't hold, and they don't hold because they were poorly constructed and maintained by government entities, the people will then lose faith in the contract that binds them to their government. And so, if the government wishes to revive the faith of the people, it really needs to do a better job building levees the next time around.

And this matters not just for the people who live behind the levees, but for all the citizens of the republic. Because if enough people watch the government abdicate its responsibilities one too many times, those people will decide that the social contract isn't worth very much at all. Which is when, as I said above, the government will have to turn to increasingly authoritarian methods of maintaining order.

In addition to the long-term prospect of an increasingly frayed social fabric, and the chaos or oppression or both that will likely ensue at that time, there are also the short-term political costs of letting the levees crumble: it serves the interests of the Republican Party. Every time the levees fail, even on the GOP's watch, it deepens the right's root argument: that government is a net negative for the nation.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 12:48 AM
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Torrey Pines is just north of San Diego--all the parks south of Torrey Pines are being abandoned? 30 miles of coastline? the state ends, very soon--I don't understand this claim...


Posted by: lurker | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 1:25 AM
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329: I don't intend to suggest bad faith, just rather crude estimation.

Your point about not wanting to pay taxes completely misses my point. I'll pay $500 for New Orleans. How much am I on the hook for to cover all the other cities similarly threatened? More to the point, why is keeping those cities where they are at their current size more important than the other uses to which that money could be put, such as health care, education and other good things?

As it stands there's a lot that could be done to improve the situation for New Orleans. To my admittedly untrained eye, it looks like the cost benefit analysis begins to get quite sketchy when measures are taken to bring back all of the low lying areas.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 6:54 AM
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Continuing in substantial agreement with Ari, the immediate American response to New Orleans was disgraceful and shocked even me. A large proportion of the right wing and some of the center reacted by blaming the victims, who were assumed to be all black and spoken of in overtly racist terms. The federal response was disgracefully weak, and a fair part of the media dealt with that by trying to shift as much as possible of the blame to the state and local officials (Democrats). And as Ari keeps saying, the idea was put on the table that this time, the formerly routine responses to natural disasters should be abandoned, and the victims should be told to suck it up.

Many of the things said by Sifu and Katherine (and even Shearer) deserve to be taken seriously, but for now and in the immediate future they're going to be a part of the same old Republican "Government Does More Harm Than Good" line, with big twists of racism and contempt for the underclass. And that happens to be one of the two or three big fights we're fighting today.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:34 AM
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... the basic bonds between the government and the governed are embodied by public policy -- or, in this case, the levees that grow out of public policy.

And I would associate "the basic bonds between the government and the governed" more with human rights, due process of law, and civil justice than with levees.

you aren't in the Pocket, are you?

Alas.


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:02 AM
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the immediate American response to New Orleans was disgraceful and shocked even me

Yeah, to an outsider it was shocking. Just hard to believe, tbh.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:11 AM
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Margarita, what you say could be said by any libertarian or free-market ideologue. That's the point that Ari and I are arguing here, that the contract involves more than just that. What you assume just puts you into the other camp.

There are specific questions about New Orleans, climate change, and the environment here, but some of the things that are being said are tone-deaf and (unknowingly and thoughtlessly, it seems) concede too much to the anti-government free marketers.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:28 AM
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What you assume just puts you into the other camp. [any libertarian or free-market ideologue ... anti-government free marketers]

Right. Up until the part where I profoundly disagree with them on every issue of public policy. But other than that ...


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:28 AM
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Because if enough people watch the government abdicate its responsibilities one too many times, those people will decide that the social contract isn't worth very much at all.

To me, this depends on what the exact nature of the responsibilities and promise are. If the promise is to build a safe levee and that can be done, then it should be. If the promise is to keep its citizens alive and a levee that could do that is prohibitively expensive given everything else that must be done because it has to be super designed, then keeping people safe has to be the choice. (Also, Ari, I do understand that we're using levee as a shorthand and you've mentioned other techniques that would do a lot for N.O..) If we're at the point where the choice is to keep people safe, then I would say so out loud. "We made a promise to you that we can't keep. Given the hurricanes we expect now, we can't protect N.O.. We'll help you leave."

N.O. may be lucky. They're coming first, when people might still have the will for that (although not under a Republican administration). Five or six cities down the line (what if the drought in Atlanta had lasted another eight months?), I don't think we'll still be making those offers. I foresee the same thing for places like Palm Springs in CA, and I don't expect them to get much sympathy when they announce that they can't live in the desert without water any longer.

I'm all for the social contract. But changed circumstances change what we can deliver. If the things we promised before aren't possible, then the promise has to yield.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:35 AM
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Torrey Pines is just north of San Diego--all the parks south of Torrey Pines are being abandoned? 30 miles of coastline? the state ends, very soon--I don't understand this claim...

State Parks was saying that they will no longer maintain any structures on the beach property they own in the south state; they expect it to be inundated when sea level rises. I don't know why Torrey Pines was the divider. Different planning district? Different model cell? Different predictions for that region? But it was a shock to me to hear that much acceptance and a tangible change mentioned so casually. Even the believers still hedge, and they weren't.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:39 AM
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And I would associate "the basic bonds between the government and the governed" more with human rights, due process of law, and civil justice than with levees.

That's what a libertarian would say, right down to the snark. When Ari was talking about the social contract he meant something different than you do, and to me that's the issue here.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:48 AM
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357: south of Torrey Pines the state beaches are a lot flatter; dunno if that has anything to do with it.

So, incidentally, I so don't want to read this, but if the "social contract" cannot be renegotiated when the original terms have been found to be impossible to meet, that's a bad contract.

I firmly believe people who live in unsustainable parts of New Orleans should be paid as much as it takes to get them to move, and then those parts should be allowed to revert to storm-eating wetlands, as part of an effort to restore NOLA to, as Ari has put it, its 19th century footprint.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:52 AM
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And I would associate "the basic bonds between the government and the governed" more with human rights, due process of law, and civil justice than with levees.

What about roads, highways, bridges, waterworks, electricity, waste and recycling, flood and fire management, telecommunications ... ? What about infrastructure, in other words, of which the levees are a regionally/geographically specific example. You don't think the government has a role and responsibility to help maintain the infrastructure? The bonds between government and governed have more to do with due process and abstract equality (human rights? what does that mean, really, in terms of various levels of municipal, state and federal government?) than with the provision of the basic amenities that are required for the common safety and general welfare of the citizenry? Yes, that does sound libertarian to me.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:52 AM
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And I think, too, there is tremendous danger in saying that the social contract means that we will supply you with roads, highways, bridges, waterworks, electricity, waste and recycling, flood and fire management, telecommunications, wherever you might choose to live; population density is a pretty big net positive, but should the social contract forbid us enacting policies that encourage it?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:54 AM
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My guess is that Ari would say that it isn't a broad "wherever you live, we'll follow you with infrastructure", but specific promises to a city that got terribly screwed when they were broken.

But I definitely agree with you that the broad promise you describe is a terrible one, and I likely think that even the specific narrow promise to N.O. is unsustainable.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:26 AM
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John says: the idea was put on the table that this time, the formerly routine responses to natural disasters should be abandoned, and the victims should be told to suck it up.

This, unfortunately, looks to be right. I think it's important to try to separate the idea of what is an appropriate response in the short term from what is an appropriate response in the long term. It may be right in the long term that a city gets relocated. In the short term, should people happen to be living there - and something bad happens - then they should be helped. This probably means keeping the infrastructure up for as long as is necessary. To do otherwise suggests a slum landlord mentality: you want the tenants out so you cut the water off, etc.


Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:40 AM
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Sifu, we're all talking about different things. You're talking about New Orleans, which for some reason is your baby. Megan is talking about the next 50 years of environmental history.

Ari, MC, and I are talking about the role of government, the social contract, etc., and how the response to New Orleans fits into that. We've spent that last 30 years living with talk about how government's no good and can't do anything right, and Bush has done his best to prove it by doing things wrong.

We're worried that the decision about what happens to New Orleans will be made in the context of this anti-government, anti-services, hopeless, fatalistic, defeatist frame, and in such a way as to conform that message. And while you and Megan don't endorse that framing, you don't separate yourself from it either.

As far as I know, the response to Katrina was significantly different, and worse, than the response to other natural disaster over the last 50-60 years. It's not coincidental that it was a mostly black city. So I'm reluctant to make this the test case for some of the objective issues involved. (Isn't it entirely a different thing than upper middle class homes newly built in brush-fire areas of California?)


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:43 AM
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I personally, and don't want Sifu to be tarred by this, am talking about a far more activist government than even re-building New Orleans would be. I'm talking about a government that makes strategic unpopular decisions and carries them out methodically. If we have any decency, those would be accompanied by relocation aid and acknowledgment of error and attempts to make people whole. I even think the federal government should do this because I think it is impossible for local governments to make decisions like the ones I foresee, because of the local biases that the original post talks about.

I fully believe that government can be done well. I'm way happy to pay taxes for that.

I am afraid of a defeatist mindset, but think the outcome will be close either way. I worry primarily about the hurt caused by the path we take. That hurt won't be to me, I'm fairly insulated. But it'll be awful for poor people.

(As for Katrina response in particular, I am as appalled as any. I don't know how to separate the willingness to let brown people drown from Bush administration willingness to let government be inept and run emergency response by cronies who don't care about it. I'm sure they overlap. But we can have good emergency response and strong governance and still think that much of N.O. (or Sacramento) should retreat.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 12:06 PM
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It just occurred to me. I wonder if I'll be sent to Galveston. Probably not. I'm on the 'trained to go to disasters' list, but not in the Flood branch.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 12:10 PM
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As far as I know, the response to Katrina was significantly different, and worse, than the response to other natural disaster over the last 50-60 years.

Has anyone looked into this? I kind of wonder to what extent size of incident, control of government, and region might play into this.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 12:20 PM
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I saw Cloverfield last night, so now I really do get 9-11.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 12:34 PM
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367

Some comments.
1. Katrina was a very bad storm.
2. New Orleans is very vulnerable to hurricanes.
3. All three levels of government involved (federal, state and city) were under unusually incompetent (bottom 10%) administrations.
4. Bush, Blanco and Nagin were not on good terms. Although Nagin and Blanco were both Democrats, Nagin had endorsed Blanco's Republican opponent in the previous election.
5. The response was not really that bad. In terms of reasonably preventable deaths and damage the vast majority was due to poor planning and preparation not the poor post storm response. Few people actually died because aid did not arrive quicker.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 3:53 PM
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You don't think the government has a role and responsibility to help maintain the infrastructure?

Yes I do think it does, as a matter of sound public policy made possible by, but which is not the same thing as, the social contract. (For those assigning camps, that makes me not a libertarian.)


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:23 PM
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1. I agree with 369 in all points, pretty much.
2. What the fuck is with that?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:13 PM
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I don't want this to be construed as an answer to James's ill-informed points, as I really have decided no longer to interact with him, but there have been several people who have said that Katrina was a very bad storm. It was. A very bad storm.

But that's not why the city flooded. Levees were only overtopped in two locations, that I know of, and in both of those spots, had the levees been constructed properly, they would have held. There would have, then, been bad but not catastrophic flooding. Floodwalls, by contrast, simply failed. And they did so, typically, because water was rushed from the Gulf through the Rigolets into artificial channels that experts, including me, have been saying for years should be closed. And also because the floowalls were built on crappy soil and piles were not sunk as deep as the Corps claimed. I'm not making any of this up; all of it is available in the NSF's report on the levee failures. And watered down versions are available in the state's report and even in the Corps's.

Katrina was, in other words, our first libertarian catastrophe. But it won't be our last. Unless, that is, we begin to attend to the social contract, as embodied by levees (and all the other public works mentioned by Mary Catherine).

Really, it boggles my mind that people don't realize that New Orleans should not have suffered so, that it only did so because warnings about lousy infrastructure/engineering and coastal erosion were not heeded. That this myth won't die, that people still think that Katrina was in any way a "natural disaster", even leaving aside the question of whether we can talk about nature in a climate-change context, is simply beyond me.

Finally, as to the question of whether the response was worse than in past disasters, anyone who claims the answer is no is lying. Again, there are countless reports on this. But the best was prepared by Brookings, which found that FEMA simply could not fulfill its mandate. That Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco don't like each other was largely irrelevant, at least after the storm hit, and very much a Bush administration talking point that was furthered by Doug Brinkley, who's a hack and a fraud.

Again, the horrible response was a byproduct of the single most incompetent presidential administration ever, an administration openly hostile to the idea of governing.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:59 PM
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I should also add: I'm not sure, Jetpack, why you think we're arguing. If you're willing to allow that contracting the city is basically an impossible sell, and that such a decision would represent a massive blow to the most deeply entrenched middle-class African-American community in the United States, I'm willing to say that the 19th-century footprint is certainly the best way to go from a planning perspective.

My fight here is with people who believe that we should abandon New Orleans because the city is somehow "doomed". Nobody can make this case without either extrapolating wildly from glorified weather reports that attempt to predict conditions fifty years from now or Republican talking points. Neither piece of evidence is even slightly convincing to me. And that those pieces of evidence are leading people to support a position that is entirely hostile to the idea of government services and the social contract is unsurprising but depressing as hell.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:03 PM
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Again, the horrible response was a byproduct of the single most incompetent presidential administration ever, an administration openly hostile to the idea of governing.

I don't disagree with this. I remain shocked that FEMA didn't have a plan in place, since I know for a fact they did have a plan in place for many years; that they managed to throw it away is disgusting and astonishing.

It is also unquestionably true that the primary duty for response to this disaster, on this scale, lay with the federal government, and blame for the failure of the response should lay (basically) entirely with them.

Floodwalls, by contrast, simply failed. And they did so, typically, because water was rushed from the Gulf through the Rigolets into artificial channels that experts, including me, have been saying for years should be closed. And also because the floowalls were built on crappy soil and piles were not sunk as deep as the Corps claimed. I'm not making any of this up; all of it is available in the NSF's report on the levee failures. And watered down versions are available in the state's report and even in the Corps's.

I thought the levee failed in the Industrial canal as well? In any case, I of course agree that you have your facts at hand, here, but I think it's not as strong a case as you make it that -- given a little more TLC and a little more budget -- the system would have worked. I would argue that (even with hindsight) the level of investment required to be confident that the levees would have held vastly exceeds the amounts that would have been needed to keep it maintained as-designed: they were simply underbuilt, and operating too close to capacity, for their to be any real confidence that failures were avoidable. And people knew this! Remember, they were talking about building a wall around the French Quarter so it would be an unflooded area of last resort 10 or 15 years before Katrina hit.

Also undiscussed so far is the fact that you are quite correct that Katrina was nowhere near the worst storm we can expect to hit New Orleans; that the levees failed under this relatively mild test, in addition to being a shameful failure on the part of engineers and politicians, should also be a deafening warning that the preparations necessary to avoid "another Katrina" vastly, vastly exceed those necessary to avoid another literal Katrina-size event.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:08 PM
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If you're willing to allow that contracting the city is basically an impossible sell, and that such a decision would represent a massive blow to the most deeply entrenched middle-class African-American community in the United States, I'm willing to say that the 19th-century footprint is certainly the best way to go from a planning perspective.

I say that it's an impossible sell with a deeply heavy heart, because if that sale cannot be made, that deeply entrenched, middle-class African-American community is doomed to see all the gains they've made from decades of social networking and home-ownership and all the other things that obtain from having a stable world to operate in wiped out, probably soon. If you're asking whether it's better to keep on supporting the people who are given no other choice but to move back into their bowl perched below the great coming deluge or to cut them adrift that they might eventually land someplace more firmly identified with the fully-habitable surface of the Earth, I honestly don't fucking know, because I feel like running roads and services out to some of the neighborhoods in New Orleans -- and I should probably say, for the umpteenth time, that I include Lakeview, NO East and the other subdivisions east of the city and south of the lake in this -- is basically subsidizing people to hold a gun to their heads.

Really, honestly, what I wish would happen -- and again, this is untenable as any other result, which is why I don't see how another apocalpyse in that city is anything other than inevitable -- is that we would pay people handsomely to get the fuck out of dodge, where dodge is defined as the set of low-lying areas that you me and everybody who's stared agape at maps of the flooding know would better serve that city's populations as parks and surge-breaks.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:14 PM
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Jetpack


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:14 PM
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376: they built that model on Mythbusters, I b'lieve. Didn't work.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:17 PM
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Fixing the coastal wetlands would have sapped something like 30-40% of the storm surge. Closing MRGO, the IHNC, and IC would have saved entire neighborhoods. Fixing the levees would have meant that houses would have flooded, badly, but almost nobody would have died. None of these things are pie in the sky. But yes, you're right, should the perfect storm hit NOLA, a Cat 5 that roars right up the river mouth or over Lake Pontchatrain, well that's game over. The chances of that happening, as I understand it, are something like 2 million to 1.*

* This is from memory, based on an interview I did for this piece, which is also linked above. In other words, I'm not sure of my facts here.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:18 PM
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World's First Practical Jetpack


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:19 PM
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Fixing the coastal wetlands would have sapped something like 30-40% of the storm surge.

Which is, if I remember right, a 10 year, $15 billion dollar project, talking optimistically? And you have to talk optimistically, because the only similar thing that's ever been tried is the restoration of the Everglades, which as far as I know is less than an unalloyed success so far.

Which doesn't even get into the question of how you explain to the downstream parishes that they have to be flooded for the good of New Orleans.

Closing MRGO would have helped, yes. Closing the IC would have helped, yes. Both should happen immediately. But what are the other failure points? Do we even know them? How many miles of levees are we talking about? Who are the civil engineers that have so firmly grasped this master plan?

And those 2 million to 1 odds: what climate change forecasting do they take into account? Are they based on the same models that produced the "model hurricane" the post-Betsy levees were tested against? The one that's built to run on like fifty year old computer hardware? Do we really have an even plausible sense of what the increasing intensity and size of hurricanes is going to do to those odds?

None of which is taking into account questions about the fundamental ability of earthen levees to handle water without liquefaction, or the question of where all this good soil is going to come from -- not from beneath New Orleans, that's for sure.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:26 PM
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Good soil's easy. Do what people in NOLA have always done: bring it down from John's backyard on barges. Levees work, friend, when they're built right. When they're built wrong, they fail. We know this from literally hundreds of hundreds of years of testing. The river has not flooded New Orleans since the mid nineteenth century. Will that last? Who the fuck knows? As to the numbers, I, like John, find the use of global warming predictions to justify abandoning parts or all of New Orleans perverse. There really is an anti-urban quality to the environmental movement; that's why I no longer consider myself an environmentalist. I know you're not in that camp. Which is why I say, again, that you and I agree on almost everything.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:32 PM
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The downstream parishes are a bit of a problem, I suppose, but not nearly as much as you'd think, as there are now like 46 people living there. And they all live in houses that are elevated above grade on stilts.

Still, this is one area that we don't seem to agree on: you think that spending $15 billion to fix the Louisiana coastline is expensive. Unless I'm reading you wrong. As I noted in my first or second comment, let's say that the whole thing, making NOLA and the surrounding areas relatively safe, is going to cost $150 b. And? What's the problem?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:36 PM
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I don't think we disagree on much, no.

Levees working to keep a flooding river in its channel are a completely different thing than levees working to prevent a storm surge from breaching into a city. Even still, the Old River Control Structure has almost failed more than once, hasn't it? I mean, for all the flaws of the Netherlands example, wasn't one of their primary conclusions in designing the new system that levees per se were not particularly well suited to keeping the ocean out? So, yeah, you need to rebuild the wetlands, but you need to do that as a massive, ongoing engineering project, because the channelization of the Mississippi -- and the general drying out of the delta -- means that you're never going to get natural silt depositing where you need it. So that's one massive, massive project you need to do just to get to the point that, with large amounts of yearly investment in a permanent engineering project, you can have some level of protection against storms not rising to the level of a Category 5. Then you decide whether or not you're going to figure in the unassailably inevitable fact of rising sea levels, then you decide if you're going to factor in the utterly unpredictable but -- so far -- obviously bad effects of warmer seas on hurricane formation.

I agree with you that there are transcendantly important reasons to preserve New Orleans the functioning community completely outside of its economic productivity. I further agree that they way the people of New Orleans have been treated is one of the great disgraces in our nation's history (well, recent history, anyhow. There's a lot to choose from.) I just don't think it's possible to achieve that goal without reducing the city's footprint, and doing that in spite of the well-intentioned and fundamentally reasonable objections of people who we owe our respect and ideological loyalty.

I further think that they way we think about New Orleans -- especially the way we do or don't allow our thinking about it to descend into ideological rigid side-taking -- is importantly evocative of the way our country generally responds to natural disaster, and, if we can't figure out a way to maintain the social contract that doesn't involve every person having the chance to rebuild in place every time some landmass gets destroyed, we're going to be as fucked as a nation of Venices when the sea levels, inevitably, rise.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:47 PM
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Comity. Or something very close to it.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:50 PM
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Still, this is one area that we don't seem to agree on: you think that spending $15 billion to fix the Louisiana coastline is expensive.

But there's no "fixing" the coastline! There's "temporarily increasing the ability of the coastline to protect New Orleans against hurricanes", and there's "stopping, briefly, the coastal erosion that is a harbinger of what we're going to be dealing with in an escalating way over the next one hundred years."

I definitely understand what you mean when you say there are antisocial aspects to the modern environmentalist mindset as generally expressed. And I agree that railing against the insults man makes against nature in our attempt to have, you know, cities full of people and all that stuff can devolve quite quickly into misanthropic, antitechnological hand-waving. But the idea that we will never be faced with hard choices about where we can live and where we aren't is -- while appeallingly optimistic -- just not supported historically, or even presently globally.

At a certain point, when you're talking about things that consume resources, cost/benefit analysis has to come into play. There just isn't any way around it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:53 PM
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Oh. If 385 messes the comity up, please ignore it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:54 PM
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There really is an anti-urban quality to the environmental movement; that's why I no longer consider myself an environmentalist

Really? I suppose I haven't had much contact with the environmental movement, but this surprises me. It seems to me that a large part of the answer to our environmental woes is more and better urbanization (and fewer suburbs).


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:02 PM
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Ignoring it. Except for this: your cost-benefit analysis misses several things. First, the hidden costs of shredding the social contract. Two, that the destruction of the coastline in Louisiana was sponsored, almost entirely, by petrochemical companies. Make them pay for the fix. Three, that if we're going to have to abandon cities, abandoning the one that was ruined because of libertarian public policy is not the place to start.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:04 PM
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388: well, again, I'm not suggesting abandoning the city. More like... pulling in some far flung outposts and reinforcing its historical defenses against it's besieger.

I'm sympathetic to the sense that we shouldn't let those fucks get away with proving the failure of government by inducing catastrophic failure, but I wish it didn't necessarily have to be seen as hostile (I understand, historically and with the background of race, why this is probably impossible) to treat catastrophe as an attempt to correct a series of fundamental blunders of planning. I feel like there was a glimpse of a path -- near the beginning of the rebuilding process -- that would have led to a more sustainable outcome, but at this point that horse is well out of the sight of any conceivable barn.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:10 PM
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at this point that horse is well out of the sight of any conceivable barn

It was even when I was doing the reporting for that article linked above.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:15 PM
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Comity. Again.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:16 PM
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As I said above indirectly twice, but will spell out here, I think that there are multiple reasons to make restoring New Orleans a project like the space program rather than folding it into normal activities through cost-benefit analyses.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:17 AM
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378

"Fixing the coastal wetlands would have sapped something like 30-40% of the storm surge. Closing MRGO, the IHNC, and IC would have saved entire neighborhoods. Fixing the levees would have meant that houses would have flooded, badly, but almost nobody would have died. None of these things are pie in the sky. But yes, you're right, should the perfect storm hit NOLA, a Cat 5 that roars right up the river mouth or over Lake Pontchatrain, well that's game over. The chances of that happening, as I understand it, are something like 2 million to 1.*"

This 2002 story says 1 in 300 per year. This (pdf, top p. 5) 2004 story says 1 in 500 per year.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:01 PM
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A moral dilemma: respond to a troll or allow his misreading of the facts to stand? Well, let's do it this way: for those of you out in radio land, the issue isn't just a Cat 5 storm, it's a Cat 5 that travels directly up the river mouth or directly over Lake Pontchartrain. Those are the scenarios that, Bob Bea says, are so unlikely.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:22 PM
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394

A reference would be helpful. A recent Newsweek story says $15 billion will only protect against a hundred year storm:

'Indeed, that's part of the corps's future plans. Among the remaining projects it envisions to help shield New Orleans: the closure of Mr. Go, the construction of a two-mile-long barrier at the confluence of Mr. Go and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to impede a storm surge, and the erection of a barrier where the Industrial Canal meets Lake Pontchartrain. To complete all of these plans and others, the corps has secured funding of about $14.6 billion. The result, it assures, will be to protect New Orleans against a so-called 100-year flood event--one with a 1 percent chance of occurring in a given year. The government currently estimates that it will finish all of this by 2011, though the end date has been repeatedly pushed back."


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-15-08 1:16 AM
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372

"I don't want this to be construed as an answer to James's ill-informed points, as I really have decided no longer to interact with him, but there have been several people who have said that Katrina was a very bad storm. It was. A very bad storm."

Not including heebie-jeebie in 173, 181 and 186 or you in 202: "heebie's mostly right."


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-15-08 2:24 AM
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