Letters to the EditorKatrina: Ravaging Logic
Sept. 13’s Tech treats us to an entire page of op-eds trying to make us feel bad for not doing more to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. In an abstract sense, I pity the victims of the hurricane and think that everything should be done to ensure their physical safety, but I do not intend to support any rebuilding efforts. I thus put myself squarely in the callous and selfish demographic the authors condemn. Here’s why:
The location of New Orleans doesn’t make much sense. The city is below sea level, and periodic flooding, occasionally of catastrophic magnitude, is inevitable. America needs a few “party cities” famous for their debauchery, cheap alcohol, and great food, and New Orleans should be rebuilt — just perhaps somewhere else. Paying for the city to be rebuilt in place will simply encourage the same caution-to-the-wind disregard for Mother Nature that caused this tragedy in the first place. My response to a hurricane hitting Detroit would be quite different, as it would be unexpected. (People have known for 100 years that a big hurricane would eventually devastate New Orleans.)
The federal government will spend between $100 and $150 billion on relief efforts, which would amount to $500 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Now that Uncle Sam has opened my wallet and taken out $500, I am loath to open it again.
Reputable charities like the American Red Cross burn a tremendous amount of money in overhead. Smaller charities are hard to track and remain largely unaccountable for their activities. There is no good way to donate money and have all of it put to good use.
MIT students can go down and help directly if they feel like they gain some personal benefit from it, but in the big-picture analysis this is inefficient. Spindly nerds wearing Slashdot T-shirts are more productive in the lab then they are knee-deep in muck; a single trained rescuer, nurse, or social worker will probably be 10 times as useful as an average MIT student.
I have heard that the thousands of people who stayed in New Orleans during a mandatory evacuation order were too poor to have the means to get out of the city. In most cases, these poorest residents work labor-intensive service and manufacturing jobs, and if New Orleans is depopulated and Baton Rouge doubles in size, most of them will be able to follow this population shift and find jobs in the new fast food restaurants, garment factories, etc. that are likely to follow. It is in fact the highest-paid jobs (medical practices, law firms, universities) that are hardest to relocate.
—Amal K. Dorai G
Building a New
I think many people realize that Katrina is likely to be the norm for hurricanes to come, partly because of cyclical patterns, and partly because of global warming. Either way, there should be only one option: learn from the past; plan and build for the future. If we look at the recent history of the U.S. (everything from outsourcing job loss, massive federal deficits, trade deficits, foreign energy dependence, the greenhouse effect, too many poor unemployed people, $500 billion spent in Afghanistan and Iraq), then it seems logical for us to try something different for a change.
We must make it desirable to sign up for national service. We need to convince people that the government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Most people do not have large guaranteed incomes; it’s time we trickle up.
New positive laws must be passed. First of all, the U.S. should not run a trade deficit of more than one percent of the GNP per year, and the total accumulated deficit should not be more than 10 percent. The “free market” only leaves the door open for free pillaging. Secondly, the National Guard should only be deployed on U.S. soil. Third, as part of their training, the National Guard should organize citizens in projects that teach teamwork and community service. Nationwide, it’s time a massive network of bike and walking paths be built to help solve the problems of energy consumption and obesity.
Like any good hypothesis, we need an experiment to test it: the new national Guard should coordinate rebuilding New Orleans as a model city of the future. The emphasis should be on walkways, bike paths, and trolley cars. Motorways for cars should be highly discouraged. All structures should have rooftop hot water solar collectors and green roofs (rooftop gardens) to reduce energy consumption. Structures in flood zones need to be built on stilts and clustered together. This will leave more open space between buildings for gardens. The space underneath can used for recreation. Trash would be collected, recycled, and composted to generate natural gas barrier islands that must be rebuilt. If we help nature, nature will help us.
Casting blame will get us nowhere. Let us use the New Orleans tragedy for positive change before we are all flooded with debt and swept away into the annals of history. Everyone should write their congressman, senator and president and ask for positive change!
—Alexander H. Slocum ’82
Professor of Mechanical Engineering