Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More on the New Orleans situation

New Orleans has been continuously inhabited since 1718. In that time it has endured storms, fires, wars, and floods. However, the current flood is unprecedented, and, it appears, is directly related to cuts in funding to maintain the levees.

This is not a new issue. The New Orleans newspaper has been warning that New Orleans may have to be abandoned if the current situation persists. The basic problem is that New Orleans sits on the Mississippi Plate. Think of a large dinner plate floating on top of a tub of molten lava. Now take a bunch of mud, carry it down the Mississippi River, and dump it on one end of the plate. What happens? That end sinks, and the other end rises. Thus Louisiana is sinking, and Arkansas and Missouri are rising. This, BTW, is a probable cause for the New Madrid earthquake, which may have been the largest earthquake to ever hit the United States. (Luckily the area of the earthquake was largely uninhabited at the time). Add in the fact that New Orleans is sitting on mud -- mud that is increasingly drying up due to the levees built around it. What does mud do when it dries? It shrinks, of course. The end result is that in some areas New Orleans is sinking at a rate of 5 inches per decade. And as New Orleans sinks, the levees do too. In fact, because the levees are heavy and are sitting on mud, they probably are sinking faster than the rest of the city.

Now, back during the Big Easy's prime, in the decade 1945-1955, that was not a big deal. New Orleans reached a population of around 630,000 during that decade. It was a can-do era for America... the levees are sinking? Just build them back up! But then desegregation happened, and the white population fled to the suburbs, with entire neighborhoods turning into crumbling ruins that looked like a war zone. New Orleans prior to the Great Flood of 2005 only had 450,000 residents left, of whom a large percentage were brown and poor. So New Orleans was left to maintain a levee system intended to protect over 630,000 people with a tax base less than half of what was needed, and became dependent upon federal funding to help maintain the levees. And furthermore, the times changed. We went from being "can-do America" to being "can't-do America". We went from a can-do era where we could do anything -- send a man to the moon in a decade? No problemo! -- to a can't-do era where we can't even get men into space reliably, much less to the moon. Both of these trends, the declining tax base, the cutoff of Federal money to the levee district in 2003 in order to fund the Mess in Mesopotamia, and the can't-do attitude of modern day America where an America sunk into cynicism and despair believes that positive change is now impossible -- collided in New Orleans today as the levees crumbled.

It now appears that I was optimistic about whether New Orleans will ever be inhabitable again. Even if this particular break is fixed and the city pumped dry again, the levees are continuing to sink -- and there is no money to fix them. All that will happen is that the levees will break again at the next storm. And that will be the last time. As with the last days of Rome, there will be no more money to dry the city out. It will be abandoned, like Rome was, other than a few thousand huddled survivors in the ruins. 20 years from now a small village on stilts in the Mississippi Delta will peek above the waters as you travel by cruise ship to Baton Rouge (the first high ground you'll hit), and that will be New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Nero fiddled -- Bush strummed a guitar. What a miserable failure...

-- Badtux the "In 20 years, will we recall a legend named New Orleans?" Penguin

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