commentary (2005-36)

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A reason isn’t automatically an excuse


by Steve Dupree

For every thing that happens, there’s a physical reason, or a sequence of physical reasons,

For some things that happen—things that aren’t necessarily desirable—there are excuses for their occurrence. If, for instance, a package arrives late from the shipper, it might be that an atypical snowstorm dumped more snow than the local government was able to clear expeditiously, and the shipping company’s trucks were unable to get through. That would excuse the lateness, would it not?

It appears that many Americans don’t understand that there can be a significant difference between a reason and an excuse. If, in the previous example, the reason for the delay was that the company, in an effort to increase profits, decided to increase the interval between scheduled maintenance on their trucks and that led to a breakdown delaying your package’s arrival, it would not excuse the lateness. It would adequately explain why it happened, and it would give the shipping company information that it could use to decrease the likelihood of it happening again, but it wouldn’t excuse the malfeasance.

Like so many of my fellow citizens, I’ve been following the stream of tragic news coming from New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile and more. I’ve been appalled and aghast that this was happening in my nation. The images and stories seem much more suited to be describing some Third-World country with one percent or less of the infrastructure and wealth of this nation. But no. My Country, ‘tis of Thee we speak.

Now that rescue operations appear to have begun in earnest, we can cease asking where and where else? However, now we must inevitably ask why? There have already been some feeble feelers put forth to ascertain which answers might fly. Several have already been shot down. That will likely not stop the media punditocracy from repeating them as long as the administration requires/requests them to, but even they know they’re only preaching to their choir. (They do so to stop the choir from hearing any other sermons. Rather effectively, I might add.)

There have been scenarios discussed at FEMA in the not-too-distant past wherein a Category 5 hurricane hit New Orleans. The projections they made about the consequences and damage were extremely accurate. One would think that having made those projections, a natural extension would be to develop a plan to address the specific consequences that were outlined. Essentially, we were not caught by surprise at the damage a storm of this fury could or would cause in that area of the nation, and saying we were won’t make it so.

I’m told that weather reporters in Florida were predicting that Katrina was on her way to New Orleans within hours of the storm passing over them. I heard numerous predictions that the storm would gain significant strength over the warm waters of the Gulf. (Waters that, if I’m not mistaken, are currently warmer than they historically are, which would lead to the conclusion that a storm that gains strength from the warmth of the water would likely be an even stronger storm.) Essentially, neither the strength nor destination of this particular storm caught us by surprise, and saying it did will not make it so.

That the National Guard and their equipment are otherwise occupied is no excuse. This is what we have them for. That the levee system broke down is no excuse. That failure was predicted in a storm of this magnitude. It’s true that the storm changed direction shortly prior to making landfall.

That did catch some of the other Gulf Coast communities by surprise. I would consider that to be a valid excuse for a number of the tragic deaths in Mississippi caused directly by the high wind and coastal flooding. It appears, though, that the lion’s share of the death that will eventually be attributed to this storm simply cannot be excused as the will of nature. There is a sequence of physical decisions that led to many of the deaths.

When the evacuation order for New Orleans came, apparently everyone in power chose to ignore the fact that the city is very urban, with a significant percentage of the population dependent on public transportation. And not just the poor, but also tourists, the elderly, infirm, and those who simply do not choose to structure their lives and living situation around the automobile. None of those situations in and of themselves are deserving of the death penalty, but, in the absence of a plan and aggressive action to evacuate those folk, it became a death penalty for many of them. For that, there can be no excuse.

In the absence of an excuse for the untold number of deaths due to incompetence, we deserve, and we demand, accountability.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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