September 11, 2005


The fetid aroma of hindsight: Recriminations are all the rage today. But really, does anyone ever pay attention to the prophets of doom until it's too late? (Michael Kinsley, September 11, 2005, LA Times)

AS A GOOD AMERICAN, you no doubt have been worried sick for years about the levees around New Orleans. Or you've been worried at least since you read that official report in August 2001 — the one that ranked a biblical flood of the Big Easy as one of our top three potential national emergencies. No? You didn't read that report in 2001? You just read about it in the newspapers this last week?

Well, how about that prescient New Orleans Times-Picayune series in 2002 that laid out the whole likely catastrophe? Everybody read that one. Or at least it sure seems that way now. I was not aware that the Times-Picayune had such a large readership in places like Washington, D.C., and California. And surely you have been badgering public officials at every level of government to spend whatever it takes to reinforce those levees — and to raise your taxes if necessary to pay for it.

No? You never gave five seconds of thought to the risk of flooding in New Orleans until it became impossible to think about anything else? Me neither. Nor have I given much thought to the risk of a big earthquake along the West Coast — the only one of the top three catastrophes that hasn't happened yet — even though I live and work in the earthquake zone.

Of course, my job isn't to predict and prepare for disasters. My job is to recriminate when they occur. It's not easy. These days the recriminations business is overrun with amateurs, who are squatting on all the high ground. The fetid aroma of hindsight is everywhere.

It nearly masks the stench from folks who "knew" the WMD were gone.

No shame: The federal response to Katrina was not as portrayed (Jack Kelly, September 11, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

It is settled wisdom among journalists that the federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was unconscionably slow.

"Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever during a dire national emergency," wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in a somewhat more strident expression of the conventional wisdom.

But the conventional wisdom is the opposite of the truth.

Jason van Steenwyk is a Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that:

"The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne."

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2005 11:36 PM

That's some good writing.

Posted by: Jason Johnson at September 11, 2005 11:45 PM

Every once in a while Kinsley has a flash of lucidity.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 12:27 AM

And faster than Bob Herbert's single-track intellect (though to be fair, he's a bit quicker than Modo).

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 12, 2005 2:13 AM

Michael is only worrying because he knows that eventually people will begin comparing Florida to Louisiana and then it will become a nice, simple Republicans are good and Democrats are bad argument -- he knows very well that is something the Democrats haven't been winning lately.

If Louisiana were run by Republicans, his column would smell like vomit, just like the rest.

Posted by: Randall Voth at September 12, 2005 4:09 AM

For an alternative viewpoint, Read Brad DeLong's post:

In short - Brad starts to sound like Pauline Kael regarding the election of Nixon.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at September 12, 2005 7:20 AM

Some eventualities are just too overwhelming to accept, even when they are obvious. Everyone I ever talked to about New Orleans agreed that it was just a matter of time before it was swamped by a hurricane. But denial sets in. If the cost of prevention becomes too high, people will rationalize the problem away.

Noone here can accept that we will encounter a very significant oil crisis in the near future, but the facts pointing to it are obvious. Growing worldwide demand, diminishing supply growth. Do the math.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 12, 2005 10:21 AM

Some of us are old enough to remember when we were about to run out of coal for the same reasons. Oil will be supplanted before we run out.

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 10:25 AM

But not before it reaches an astronomical price.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 12, 2005 10:53 AM

How expensive did coal get?

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 11:01 AM

Well, in the event oil gets too expensive to buy, we'll just have to seize it.

Posted by: Bob at September 12, 2005 11:51 AM

Robert Duquette:


"Diminishing supply growth" my spleen.

Please re-read the comments here, and tell me where I've gone wrong.

Come '07, you're going to owe me a book or two.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 2:41 PM

Yeah Robert, all it takes to get at all that untapped oil at 20,000', or locked in sand or shale deposits, or under the permafrost of Siberia or wherever is money, blood and nuclear power plants. No problemo.

Posted by: Genecis at September 14, 2005 12:29 PM