Friday, September 02, 2005

New Orleans : When Batman Becomes Prescient

I wasn't planning to blog about Hurricane Katrina. Honest, there's a ton of Blogging Tories in Canada (not to mention lots of others on CanConv) who're covering the topic (not to mention the big blog mobilization that Hugh Hewitt, Glenn Reynolds & Co. are doing), so I figure anything I gotta say is overkill.

Except for one aspect that's starting to bother me. People are starting to talk about the rebuilding of New Orleans, once they get over this present crisis. Which is good, but there's this one nagging thread that's starting to be bandied about, summed up by Damian Brooks:

"Is there a point where we are allowed to stop feeling sympathy for these people, seal off the borders and just let nature take its course?"

I could chalk this up to a blogger who's been oversaturated by the pessimistic coverage coming out of New Orleans, but he's hardly alone. Jeff Jarvis asked the question:

Does it make sense to rebuild homes and offices in a place that can be destroyed all too easily, putting thousands of lives at risk? Is that the right thing to do?

And ... Is that the best use of our tax and insurance dollars? Everytime the Mississippi floods up river, there are those who say that we should stop paying to rebuild that which has been destroyed before. And, in fact, we have invested government money in moving people away from certain danger so we can stop paying to rebuild. It’s an investment in their safety.

And check out some of the responses:

"It’s insane to flush more money into this bowl of futility. Let’s cut our losses and relocate the population, rather than perpetuate the French Folly with limitless tax and disaster subsidies."

And there's at least one major U.S. politician who's sympathetic to that point of view:

It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said of federal assistance for hurricane-devastated New Orleans.

"It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed," the Illinois Republican said in an interview Wednesday with the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill.

Much of the argument against has to do with engineering concerns, rather than the despair coming out of years of ineffective law enforcement that Damian's commenting on.

But I can't help look at this thread, and think about something similar that happened a few years ago. When a natural disaster struck a major metropolitan city, where corrupt politics and rotten police wound up fomenting anarchy in the streets. And as a result, national officials ordered the city abandoned ...

... in effect, declared a No Man's Land.

One of the reasons I stopped reading the Batman comics on a regular basis was because of this storyline's premise. I argued that there was no way a government would give up on a major metropolitan centre (and incidentally, a strategic asset and major source of tax revenue) like that. And certainly the people wouldn't stand for such a decision.

And now I look at the despair coming out of New Orleans, the rioting, the armed looting, the cowardice of the police. And I'm not so sure anymore.