Monday, 23 April 2007

Teaching moments

Free Exchange notes New York Times reporter Erik Eckholm playing fast and loose with infant mortality statistics to extrapolate ominous trends from what appear to be random year-to-year fluctuations in infant death rates (and a downward-sloping overall trend, to boot).

One might also wonder what effect—if any—Hurricane Katrina had on the 2005 mortality rate. That is, if one weren’t Eckholm, who doesn’t even mention the possibility of a relationship with the largest natural disaster in Mississippi history.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

There goes one reason to avoid moving to Louisiana

Louisiana governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, whose response to Hurricane Katrina made fellow Peter Principle exemplars Ray Nagin and Mike Brown look positively competent by comparison, won’t be seeking a second term in the wake of polls that showed Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal wiping the floor with her in a potential November contest.

The smart money for the Democrats is on former senator John Breaux, last seen on K Street. Whether he can complete the Haley Barbour impression by successfully imitating Barbour’s transition from hobnobbing in Gucci Gulch to appealing to the Earl Hickey set remains to be seen.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

A tale of two Katrina-ravaged cities

Since I only had a two-hour drive today from Mobile to New Orleans, I decided to take a detour via what used to be known as the scenic route along the coast. Not that today was likely to be good for sightseeing in any event—it was foggy all day.

Driving along US 90 from Gulfport to Pass Christian was probably the most surreal experience of my life, an experience heightened by the fog on all sides that kept the merely damaged buildings out of sight. Every half-mile or so you could see some effort at rebuilding along the highway, with living quarters usually (but not always) elevated above ground-level garages, but the gaps in between were completely desolate save for “for sale” signs, as if the Hand of God came down and just scooped everything within sight off the planet, leaving a few scrawny trees and eerily empty streets behind. Here are the two photos I took, which if anything understate the devastation.

Driving through eastern New Orleans on I-10 was an altogether different experience, like what one imagines Beirut or Mogadishu would currently look like if either city had previously been American suburbia. On my previous visit, I’d left and arrived via the closer-to-normal western suburbs; the contrast is quite stark.

Sunday, 23 October 2005

The New Orleans Saints of Los Angeles (by way of San Antonio) reports that, according to NFL sources, the only way the Saints are likely to come back to New Orleans is if they play in a Super Bowl. Given the team’s history of threats to leave town for greener pastures (most recently—and, in retrospect, ironically—for the Mississippi Gulf Coast), nobody should be particularly surprised.

If Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco are smart (admittedly a dubious proposition), they’ll shake down Saints owner Tom Benson for as much buyout money as possible—and then spend it on something other than luring another NFL franchise to town.

þ: OTB.

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Defending Nagin from the right

For what it’s worth: a counterpoint to my cheap shot at Ray Nagin comes from Cobb (þ: Xrlq).

Friday, 9 September 2005

Group work

I made my intro class do a group discussion exercise today; I had intended it as a debate over Beard’s “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution” thesis, but I guess my questions were general enough to become a debate over non-economic self-interest too. The kids seemed to enjoy it—for the first time, they seemed as engaged as the methods kids—and it saved me from having to lecture as much.

The class also picked up one of our 50-or-so refugees from New Orleans today, a student from Tulane. I had planned to get the class to discuss the Katrina situation next week—we’re covering federalism and state/local government, so it seemed pretty apropos—but maybe that would be a bit insensitive. Thoughts?


Michael Brown is apparently being pushed aside at FEMA in favor of his deputy. There’s more thoughts from James Joyner at OTB, who points out the lack of experimental control here:

One presumes Brown has put in incredibly hard hours and done his best here. Clearly, he wasn’t particularly well trained for the position; it’s not knowable whether someone with better credentials could have done any better, though.

Nominally, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has better credentials… let’s go to the tape on her handling of the situation. Shall we say pas bien? And let’s not forget Ray “Underwater Schoolbusses” Nagin either. A pretty shameful showing all-around, methinks.

þ: Glenn Reynolds. I really don’t get the Norman Mineta vitriol, though…

Saturday, 3 September 2005

What little I have to say about Katrina

Randy Barnett explaining why faith in government is a dangerous thing:

[G]overnment at all levels has obviously not lived up to its promise of being able to anticipate and react to disasters and other social calamities better than nongovernmental institutions. This should not be surprising. Governments are comprised of ordinary human beings with the same limitations of vision and self-interests as those in the private sector (and often, but not always, with far worse incentives)—that is, these human beings confront pervasive problems of knowledge, interest, and power. I have the same reaction every time there are calls for increased government oversight in the aftermath of some failure in the private sector. What gives anyone confidence that government institutions will act with any more prescience? Moreover, it seems often the case that the core functions that are most often used to justify the existence of governments—such as public safety, national defense, and public infrastructure—are often the very tasks that are given short shrift by real world politicians in search of more “elevated,” seemingly less pedestrian goals than these. This seems especially the case when the failure to provide these “essential social services” can so often be obscured from public view or, when revealed, responsibility for failure can be shifted to others.

Incidentally, anyone who can’t acknowledge that the fuck-ups that led to tens of thousands of New Orleans residents are the combined fault of a Republican-controlled federal government and Democrat-controlled state and local governments is responding in a fundamentally unserious manner. See, for example, Eric Muller and Glenn Reynolds, two smart men who (a) I didn’t previously believe were fundamentally unserious (hence why I am not calling out nitwits like Kos and Atrios—their behavior is par for the course) and (b) should know better.

Oh, and brava to Sela Ward for laying the smackdown on Kanye West’s idiotic "FEMA hates blacks" meme (speaking of the fundamentally unserious) on Larry King Live tonight.

Sunday, 28 August 2005

À dieu, New Orleans

Well, I suppose that city was nice enough while it lasted. Here’s my photos from my last visit, back in March; there’s a very good chance that my next visit, scheduled for January, won’t be happening if this bulletin is to be believed.