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Katrina: Why?


Katrina: Variation of the Greek name “Aikaterini” or “Katerina”, of uncertain etymology.

Possibly: “Ekaterini”, meaning : “either of the two”. But, which two? Can one use the word in expressions such as: “Either of the two (e.g. W. Bush and Cheney, or Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, etc) should pay for his crimes?”

Let us examine the case: “For Athens has there ever such a map [showing the elevations of a possible flood] been drawn? So that any citizen, who plans to built his home, should know which is the position of his piece of land in relation to the limit-line of the flood.” (Passage found in a 1981 Greek technical and political book.)

If such a warning or recommendation could be proposed in Greece, a semi-third world country as I have mentioned in other Commentaries, it is reasonable to expect that this could hold also for New Orleans, one of the most important ports of the most “important” nation of the world. Of course, one does not expect that the 277 white people (with their 172 black slaves and 21 Indian slaves) who were present at the conception of New Orleans, around 1721, would think to draw a flood map, similar to the one proposed for Athens.

However, since 1945, after WWII, building houses at the bottom of a “bowl” surrounded by water was not very wise (but it was profitable). The “bowl” in which New Orleans is built has a depth of a maximum of about 5 feet below sea level. And at some parts of only 2 feet below sea level.

After WWII the US has build earth dams all over the earth. That is it has moved and compacted in layers of a few inches hundreds of millions of cubic yards of soil to built virtual small mountains. It seems that filling the “bowl” (or at least part of the “bowl”) with compacted soil was feasible. Naturally, to do that one needed money. And the money was there, in New Orleans, but was spent to built the Saturn rocket in New Orleans to send a man to the moon so that the Soviets should feel bad.

Also, the majority of the population was black, that is they were not worthy of living in a safe place. But, let us put aside any possible solution for the New Orleans “bowl” and ask why was the levee breached? The US is the most advanced country in the world in soil mechanics, a special field of civil engineering. As a matter of fact that scientific discipline was developed in the US since the 1930s by Karl Terzaghi (of Harvard), Arthur Casagrande (of Harvard), Ralph B. Peck (of the U. of Illinois) and later by other Americans.

In the advancement of soil mechanics a significant role was played by the US Army Corps of Engineers! Today all soil mechanics engineers, worldwide, respect the contributions and the competence of the US Army Corps of Engineers in the field of soil mechanics. The design of a levee is based on soil mechanics. Consequently, the failure of a levee is interpreted and investigated through soil mechanics. So, if the US Corps of Engineers is so advanced in soil mechanics why did the levee in New Orleans, which had a height of only 16 feet failed while similar earth-dam structures of a height of more than 500 feet do not? WHY?

The technical and POLITICAL answer should come from the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) and from the US National Academy of Sciences. It is about time that the American citizens who are part of these organizations stand up and speak out with honesty and integrity. Speak out about the black population of New Orleans, of New York, of Washington, D.C. About the prisons for blacks that they help build as engineers, and so on and on. During September 8-11, 1965, in Louisiana, hurricane “Betsy” killed 81 persons, caused about 250,000 persons to be evacuated, and caused damages estimated at $ 372,000,000 (in 1964 prices).

New Orleans was under water. The height of the wave above sea level was 10.1 to 15.7 feet. This was precious experience for the Corps to use in its dealing with the centuries old problem of the protection of New Orleans from hurricanes. Did it use it? Or better, was it given a chance to use it?

But these things are of no importance to George W. Bush. The first sentence that he uttered in his first speech six days after the catastrophe was about “law and order” (that is about shoot-to-kill orders). In 1936 I heard, for the first time, the “law and order” sentence by a British supported dictator in Greece. Then in 1941 the sentence was uttered by the Nazi occupiers. In 1967 “law and order” plus Christianity was the foundation of the US supported dictatorship in Athens. Now it is George W. Bush.

But, (according to the CNN news) it took a 3-star General to order his troops to lower their guns which aimed at women and kids! The President should punish the lawless General. Finally, Bush ended his speech with the wish: “May God continue to bless our country!” Did he mean the “blessing” of Katrina? Who knows?

What are the black people of New Orleans, people without education, employment, and housing, to do? Not what a woman did who, “screaming , went on the front steps of the convention center (in New Orleans) and lead the crowd in reciting the 23rd Psalm.” Which says: “The Lord is my shepherd;…he leadeth me beside the still waters…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Exactly!

Given that George W. Bush is in (daily?) contact with God he will see to it that “goodness and mercy” will follow the lady “all the days of [her] life” (if there are any left) and that she “will dwell in the house” that Bush will build for her. There is only one way for the black citizens of New Orleans to survive. They should organize and ask for the help of the black and white people of their country and of the world. Then, using the tools offered by a “pareconish” solution to their problems they should collectively stand up against the brutality of George W. Bush and his gang.

The Corps, the ASCE, and the National Academy of Sciences should not only help but should take the initiative. Does this sound naive? Maybe. But we have to wait and see.

[Note: If I may offer some advice: In any discussions, especially with the Corps, about the future protection of New Orleans from hurricanes, the citizens should not fall into the trap of notions such as: the "design hurricane" that offers a "reasonable" protection. Reasonable, according to whom? They should opt for the "probable maximum hurricane". Also, they should not sacrifice their lives by rejecting protective structures that "obstruct the ocean view and breeze". End of note.]

So, there are going to be a few hundred or even a few thousand dead blacks in New Orleans. So what, will Barbara Bush and her son give a shit about the dead. However, what if more than 12 million, mostly white and deeply Christian, people are buried in their homes? Again Barbara and her son won’t give a shit, but so many white dead constitute a dangerous mixture for a revolt.

About 450 miles upstream from New Orleans on the Mississippi River during the winter of 1811-1812 a series of earthquakes hit a quite extensive, sparsely inhabited area. The quakes are known as the “New Madrid quakes”. New Madrid being a small Missouri town, where the quakes seemed to have their center. These quakes are considered to be among the biggest, in historical times.

To this day there is much speculation as to why a quake happened in the middle of a plate and not at the edges (e.g. as in California). What if the benevolent (mostly) Christian God of the US has programmed a repeat- quake in the New Madrid area for sometime in the future? It is estimated that more than 12 million people will be dangerously affected.

It is said that George W. Bush has his “finest hours” during the management of a crisis (9/11, Iraq, etc). Again, having so close a relationship with that God why does not George W. Bush propose to his benevolent Father to hit New Madrid during his presidency so that he, being so capable in the management of crises, can protect his (white) fellow Americans?

Bush aside, why responsible people (mostly engineers) do not say or write a word about a possible New Madrid quake and what should be done now to save human lives? Let us hope that Katrina will force the ordinary Americans to free themselves of their apathy and make them start to act about Iraq, about the “shoot-to-kill” of New Orleans, about Ariel Sharon’s Israel, about Haiti, about the Kyoto Protocol, about the International Criminal Court, etc, etc.

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