6 September 2005

Leave Bush alone

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:18 am

bush2.jpgAs has been widely reported, when US President George W Bush was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on American’s ABC last week he made the following excuse for the appalling situation in New Orleans:

I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will.

Now some freedom-hating nit-pickers have argued that certain lunatic-fringe doom-and-gloom–merchants had in fact anticipated something vaguely reminiscent of the present disaster. For example, some socialist street-rag called National Geographic ran the following story in October 2004. I’ll extract this quite extensively so you can see how far off these guys were:

But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn’t—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

Way back in June 2002, regional daily The Times-Picayune ran a five-page special on various threats facing the Big Easy, and never came close to anticipating anything like we’re seeing now. All they said was:

[1998 Hurricane] Georges, a Category 2 storm that only grazed New Orleans, had pushed waves to within a foot of the top of the levees. A stronger storm on a slightly different course—such as the path Georges was on just 16 hours before landfall—could have realized emergency officials’ worst-case scenario: hundreds of billions of gallons of lake water pouring over the levees into an area averaging 5 feet below sea level with no natural means of drainage.

That would turn the city and the east bank of Jefferson Parish into a lake as much as 30 feet deep, fouled with chemicals and waste from ruined septic systems, businesses and homes. Such a flood could trap hundreds of thousands of people in buildings and in vehicles.

Like coastal Bangladesh, where typhoons killed 100,000 and 300,000 villagers, respectively, in two horrific storms in 1970 and 1991, the New Orleans area lies in a low, flat coastal area. Unlike Bangladesh, New Orleans has hurricane levees that create a bowl with the bottom dipping lower than the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain. Though providing protection from weaker storms, the levees also would trap any water that gets inside—by breach, overtopping or torrential downpour—in a catastrophic storm.

“Another scenario is that some part of the levee would fail,” [Louisiana State University engineer Joseph] Suhayda said. “It’s not something that’s expected. But erosion occurs, and as levees broke, the break will get wider and wider. The water will flow through the city and stop only when it reaches the next higher thing. The most continuous barrier is the south levee, along the river. That’s 25 feet high, so you’ll see the water pile up on the river levee.”

Now it might seem from these extracts that some people did in fact give some thought to a hurricane of around Katrina’s magnitude causing widespread flooding, destruction and even death in and around New Orleans, owing to the levees either overflowing or failing. But Bush is still right: nobody anticipated it.

Because of course everybody knows that, despite prevailing contemporary usage, “anticipate” doesn’t mean the same thing as “expect” or “predict”; to anticipate something is to expect or predict it and then to bloody well do something about it. Even the busted-arse dictionary that comes with Microsoft Word lists the following primary meaning for anticipate:

1. To imagine or consider something before it happens and make any necessary preparations or changes.

President Bush, as one of our most proficient users of English, knows exactly what “anticipate” means (although he sometimes pronounces it “ancipitate”), and so his explanation to Diane Sawyer was spot-on. Sure, some people knew that NOLA would go the way of Atlantis, but they didn’t anticipate it—they couldn’t, they were only scientists and such, they didn’t have any money. And Bush knew that because he’d taken all the money for the War on Terror.

I must say that when I first heard about Bush’s protestations I thought they were outrageous, but having consulted some old style and usage handbooks I now realise the President was exactly right. And now I’m convinced that all the other so-called Bushisms can be parsed into perfectly legitimate—nay, brilliant—truths. Though I’m still having a bit of trouble with:

“Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat…”

“You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.”

“I’m honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein.”

“We want results in every single classroom so that one single child is left behind.”

“It will take time to restore chaos and order—but we—order out of chaos.”

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says: Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… you can’t get fooled again.”

2 Responses to “Leave Bush alone”

  1. Andry Says:

    Autor, Respect!

  2. de1043 Says: