Saturday, December 22, 2007

This one is from August 31, 2005.

“We haven't even buried the dead yet, and they're trying to pin the untold lives and livelihoods lost on an opponent for political gain.”

In what would, once, have been a surprise, the ever-decent Left is attempting to use another human tragedy as a club in their unending holy war against Chimpy McBushitlerCo. (One supposes that they need a new weapon with their cheap use of a now-gone grieving mother at an end.) As the Left long ago abandoned the pretense of original thought, they’re apparently relying on this piece to do so, to the effect that recent budget cuts for the levee projects are to blame for this disaster.

As one of the two Louisiana sons among the Editorial staff here, my two cents:

This is not unlike peeing on a grave. And, worse, it's stupid and factually incorrect to boot.

Let's count all of the ways that this is simply wrong. But first, some useful background information for those carping from the sidelines.

I address this next especially to the highly sensitive Left, most of whom have never been to Louisiana, and think of it as That state where Mississippi Burning happened, or maybe it was In the Heat of the Night?

If you're from that state, you simply know the levees are a sinking project. For most people, the words "Army Corps of Engineers" are not part of everyday conversation. If you live there, or trace your family there within a generation, it's stamped on you at birth. You know that they're fighting a losing battle, or if you don't, you're deluding yourself. If you've ever seen any of the relevant bodies of water up close, you have an instinctive understanding that the ACE is fighting a rearguard action.

One might also benefit from knowing things like the fact that the levees are fifteen feet high. When the storm surge is, oh, say, 22 feet, just to refresh your basic math, the water will be carried past the levees. Ponder that for a moment.

Or consider that the pumping stations are maintained by the City of New Orleans, with assistance from the ACE.

Most of these geniuses are also blissfully insulated from what a hurricane is, and have no idea what storm surge is, or exactly how much water and wind is poured onto an area before, during, and in the wake of a Category 4 Hurricane.

Let me share. I live in Florida. Part -- most -- of my job this last year has revolved around the wreckage of the four hurricanes that slammed into my State last year. You don't actually appreciate the power of these things unless you see things like the Escambia Bay Bridge (you know, part of I-10) simply missing in places, or the wreckage that has been Punta Gorda for the last year. Buildings blown up. Parts of streets missing. Trees smashed all the way through houses. Much of Florida is still a set of blue tarp roofs, when seen from the sky.

And those were in areas above sea level.

With the facts nicely out of the way, the Left has decided to use the bodies floating in the streets as a perverse sort of political ammunition, so let's put this little meme into the ground now. With a stake in its heart.

The Left would have us believe that the Bush Administration purposefully underfunded the levees, and that this underfunding directly caused (or at minimum, contributed to) the catastrophe in New Orleans. This is wholly false.

The idea that the White House and Congress should have magically foreseen a Cat4-5 coming down almost head-on onto New Orleans, and should have therefore increased funding for the levees, and that doing so would somehow have stopped this tragedy, is absurd. It wouldn't last five minutes in even the most Plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions in the Union.

Even accepting this idiocy on its own terms, and we'll get to the core of this shortly, from the E&P article that these ghasts are relying on, we learn that they spent $450,000,000 on the levees over ten years, "[b]ut at least $250,000,000 in crucial projects remained." At the rate they'd been going (about $45,000,000 per year) that's almost six years' worth of "crucial" projects yet to be done. The money was reduced starting in FY 2004, so in fact no more than 1.5 years of the remaining six years' worth of projects was incomplete due to funding cuts. All the rest wouldn't have been done yet anyway. But somehow, finishing 25% of the "crucial" projects remaining would have saved the city. Of course, we don't know what those "crucial" projects are, but hey, this is still all about Iraq, so who cares?

Now, if we're going to lay blame at the hands of the Federal government -- and why not? They're Republicans -- let's not forget that there were other governments, shall we say, nearer to the scene.

If we're going to get into the politics of this (and they haven't even found all of the bodies yet, so why not?), let's not skew any of the blame from the highly efficient, corruption free government of Louisiana. Their preparation for a disaster they've feared for decades should have them lined up in the street and shot, if we're gonna go this route. That's one hell of a lot of dead Democrats. In New Orleans, they don't bury their dead in the ground; instead, the dead are placed in mausoleums. Why? Well, it can't be religion, as that old Catholic town would have no reason not to place the dead in the Earth. It's actually because they fear more or less precisely what happened here: Massive flooding washing coffins -- wooden air bubbles, essentially -- into the streets.

As the Weather Channel adroitly puts it:

Florence added, "So, what you can only imagine happening is that they're burying on the levee, you've got flood levels coming over the banks of the river. You've got floating caskets that are pushed up above the ground. And you can only imagine. These levees sloped down into the city. If there was enough water, you could have caskets floating through the streets of the city."

After experiencing this enough times, residents decided to do something about it, according to Florence. The solution was to begin burying loved ones in tombs above ground. ...

Today, the city owns seven cemeteries that house such tombs, but there are many others in which caskets have been buried underground.

Engineering now allows underground burial in the sub-sea level city, and floating caskets are a thing of the past. "That no longer really never happens in New Orleans because the land has been drained since the turn of the century. A system of water pumps... drains water out from under the city 24 hours a day."

And don't get me started on the hurricane evacuation routes. The city of New Orleans lies below sea level; if they want to live there, why couldn't they just raise the $45,000,000 a year locally to maintain their own dikes? They could have covered that with a hotel bed tax and a property tax hike of less than $50 a year. The city's budget is already a half-billion per year. Which $45 million out of that was more important than the levees?

But of course, we shouldn't take them on their own terms, because their terms are simply wrong. From Popular Science in May 2005:

Today, parts of New Orleans lie up to 20 feet below sea level, and the city is sinking at a rate of about nine millimeters a year. "This makes New Orleans the most vulnerable major city to hurricanes," says John Hall of the Army Corps of Engineers. "That's because the water has to go down, not up, to reach it."

The Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale defines a category-5 storm as one with "winds greater than 155 miles per hour and storm surge generally greater than 18 feet." Although hurricanes of this magnitude slamming directly into New Orleans are extremely rare—occurring perhaps every 500 to 1,000 years—should one come ashore, the resulting storm surge would swell Lake Pontchartrain (a brackish sea adjoining the Gulf of Mexico), overtop the levees, and submerge the city under up to 40 feet of water. Once this happened, the levees would "serve as a bathtub," explains Harley Winer, chief of coastal engineering for the Army Corps's New Orleans District. The water would get trapped between the Mississippi levees and the hurricane-protection levees. "This is a highly improbable event," Winer points out, "but within the realm of possibility."

New Orleans has nearly completed its Hurricane Protection Project, a $740-million plan led by Naomi to ring the city with levees that could shield residents from up to category-3 storm surges. Meanwhile, Winer and others at the Army Corps are considering a new levee system capable of holding back a surge from a category-5 hurricane like Ivan, which threatened the city last year.

To determine exactly where and how high to build these levees, the engineers have enlisted the aid of a 3-D computer-simulation program called ADCIRC (Advanced Circulation Model). ADCIRC incorporates dozens of data points—including seabed and coastal topography, wind speed, tidal variation, ocean depth and water temperature—and charts a precise map of where the storm surge would inundate New Orleans. The category-5 levee idea, though, is still in the early planning stages; it may be decades before the new barriers are completed. Until then, locals had better keep praying to Helios.

And that is from May 2005 -- when they were looking at bringing the levees past their ability to withstand a Category Three hurricane.

Of course, if the gibbering yard apes would read their own links instead of trying to throw human corpses at their opponents, they'd note that the budget cut is for a study to examine a future levee to upgrade from Cat3 protection to Cat5 protection.

Katrina was a Cat4-5.

Of course, in the ever-maddening need to lay human bodies at George Bush’s feet, the ghouls can’t be bothered with the facts:

Engineers developed several possible scenarios for what might have caused the catastrophic breach in a levee, which is essentially an earthen berm topped by several feet of concrete.

Corps of Engineers officials said their analysis indicated that a limited amount of water washed over the top of the levee in waves, scouring and weakening the foundation on the levee's dry side.

Suhayda said that's possible. But another possibility is that, during the half-day floodwaters built up in Lake Pontchartrain and the canal, water may have percolated through the earthen part of the berm, undermining it.

That effect, combined with the cumulative pressure over time, may have caused a breakthrough.

"There's no question that those kind of conditions might have just reached the limit of what that particular levee could handle," said James "Bob" Bailey, a flood and wind hazard risk expert with ABS consulting in Houston.

It's also possible the levee was older and had degraded as all earthen and concrete structures do, he said.

A final possibility is that an unknown, massive chunk of debris struck the levee at some point during the night, causing a breach.

Today's breach came after New Orleans had, almost miraculously, survived a hurricane many engineers feared would send water gushing over the long, 15-foot levee that protects the city's north shore from Lake Pontchartrain."

In other words, even if the Federal government had sent trillions of dollars, it wouldn't have made a difference. A 15-foot wall doesn't contain a 22-foot surge. Once the water is over the levee in any quantity, it starts scouring the levee from the face of the earth.

And then of course there’s this, from that arm of the VRWC, the Times-Picayune:

A large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new "hurricane proof" Old Hammond Highway bridge, gave way late Monday morning in Bucktown after Katrina's fiercest winds were well north. The breach sent a churning sea of water from Lake Pontchartrain coursing across Lakeview and into Mid-City, Carrollton, Gentilly, City Park and neighborhoods farther south and east.

Or this, from NeoUltraFascistConCentral, the New York Times:

The levees, which provide a tenuous barrier between the city and the waters that surround most of it, have long had many weak spots and were not designed to withstand the full force of a storm like Hurricane Katrina.

Both major breaches took place along canals built in decades past as conduits for commerce, Army Corps officials said.

The other failure occurred along the Industrial Canal, an 80-year-old channel that had been identified as a weak spot in computer simulations of storm surges from hypothetical hurricanes.

Mr. Hall said that as the surge from the storm swept in through Lake Pontchartrain - actually a broad inlet off the gulf - it began sloshing over the vertical steel and concrete wall and the earthen berm behind it.

"Once it got over, it began to scour down at the base of that flood wall on the protected side," he said.

The rising waters in the canal pushed in on the high part of the retaining wall while water cascading over the top ate away at the base, Mr. Hall said, adding: "The effect is like a high-low tackle in football. You hit the head and feet at the same time from opposite directions, and it goes down."

In other words:

In the rational world -- which the "reality-based" community increasingly does not inhabit -- governance is an exercise in prioritization. Was it rational and defensible to shift funding from any source toward defense- and war-related activities in the aftermath of 9/11? Of course. Did that shift leave the levees unready to handle Katrina's deadly burden? No. The levees were inherently unready: even at maximum proposed funding, their design was only for a Cat3 storm, not the Cat4/5 that Katrina was. It is true that in 2004, proposals were floated to upgrade to a Cat4/5-capable levee system; it is also true that even in an ideal situation, the studies -- not the construction! -- necessary to assess what that would entail would not be finished before 2008.

This madness is all of a piece with the "Bush was on vacation when this happened" idiocy. Yes, we could have used his heat vision to seal some of the levees at weak points, and his superhuman strength might have been enough to save some collapsing concrete. But what we really needed was for him to get the rest of the Justice League out there, especially Green Lantern. Or at least to reverse the Earth's rotation and save us from this disaster.

This is obscene. It's actually worse than obscene, because not all of those bodies floating down there right now are from the mausoleums. How distorted is our political discourse -- excuse me, their political discourse -- that they start pointing fingers before the bodies are in the damned ground? We haven't even buried the dead yet, and they're trying to pin the untold lives and livelihoods lost on an opponent for political gain. I'd say something about shame, but the Left long ago forgot that.

Gee, guys, if you have the courage of your convictions, join the National Guard. They could use a few, ahem, bodies right now. Or at least act out your more lurid dreams and head down to New Orleans or Gulfport. Grab a body floating by. Reporters are thick on the ground -- scream at Bush and shake the body in front of the camera to good effect.

I no longer see the Left as a set of political opponents. I understand them now to be what they are: An uncompromising, barely human mass of malignancy, that exists only to be crushed electorally and culturally once and for all. Or, as a wiser man than I put it, The Evil Party.

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