Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A New Orleans post!

Sorry Nola, I've been a little neglectful...

On August 30th, I went to the Prytania Theater to see Harry Shearer's documentary "The Big Uneasy." Considering it started at 9:30pm on a work day, I struggled with watching two hours of engineers talking about levee failure. But Shearer really hit his point home, and it's an extremely important film for New Orleanians to watch. People came to this showing to see Harry Shearer do a Q&A sesh afterwords, and I know that hundreds of others attended later showings because the first was so well-reviewed, but it wasn't really the subject matter that brought us there. It was Harry Shearer. So kudos to him for getting over-saturated New Orleanians to hear a scientific explanation for how their tax dollars were misspent and their safety and well-being were compromised for half a century. Like I said, not easy, but necessary.

Huffington Post-Q&A with Harry Shearer: Voice of the Simpsons Speaking Up for New Orleans
Shearer: So often, I think, the media condescends to its viewers, like they're too dumb to care about all that "science," all those "details." But I think people want to know this information. They want to know why the levees broke, why this city flooded. It may not be sexy, but it's settled science. It's what happened.

What it boiled down to is that our government's relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers is so cozy and entrenched that they have little room to do anything from embrace mediocrity and say "yeahhhhh that wall looks solid." I was astounded that none of the Army Corps representatives in the film seemed to realize the implications of mediocrity in the engineering world. No one seemed to exude that "well, let's double check because lives are on the line" mentality.

NYTimes-Army Builders Accept Blame Over Flooding
"The investigators found no evidence of negligence or malfeasance by the corps or its contractors, but said the corps had failed to take into account the tendency of the local soil to sink over time, leaving some sections of levee lower than they should have been."

The Army Corps of Engineers failed to take into account...erosion?

When our "best and brightest" ignore a problem that could be modeled in a first-year engineering class for decades and their mistake destroys a whole city...when is negligence a strong enough word?

The documentary ended by looking at the lives of engineers who were part of outside investigative teams and how their attempts to reveal the Corps' negligence and question its standards were silenced. LSU professor Ivor van Heerden's lawsuit asserts right to speak out on corps errors
"'They [LSU] charged that his criticisms of the corps jeopoardized LSU's prospects for federal funding," the lawsuit said. "In addition, they accused him of lacking the expertise needed to comment on the corps' engineering of the breached levees, notwithstanding the fact that his statements reflected the input of Team Louisiana engineers.'

"I was reminded by one of the vice chancellors that my salary, my hard money, actually came through his office," van Heerden said Wednesday.

The suit said the vice chancellors warned van Heerden "that LSU did not want to be associated with 'placing blame' on the corps."

What really stuck with me was when Dr. Bob Bea, an engineering expert from UC Berkeley, said that some of his friends and colleagues refused to speak to him after the investigations. Apparently their paychecks also came from the Army Corps.

Touchy issue. Kinda reminds me of our government's relationship with the Israel Lobby. Entrenched. Intransigent. With so much money and so little introspection. But I digress! This post is about New Orleans.

Option 1: Build the levees back the way their were
Option 2: Ask for more money and build them better
Option 3: Ask the Dutch for help because their waterway system is second to NONE!!

Considering all the foreign aid we rejected after Katrina, it would take a lot of time and money to convince our government that the Army Corps doesn't have to fix their mistake (never mind that they aren't qualified to) but the Dutch are able and willing!

Maybe they can teach us how to play soccer while they're at it...