kottke.org posts about Hurricane Katrina
In 2009, Dave Eggers published a book called Zeitoun, the story of a man and his family experiencing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
Through the story of one man’s experience after Hurricane Katrina, Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament.
The story has taken an unexpected turn since its publication. The protagonist of the story, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, is currently on trial for the attempted first-degree murder of his wife.
Zeitoun made an offer: $20,000 to kill his ex-wife, Kathy, according to Pugh’s testimony. Zeitoun instructed Pugh, who was to be released soon from jail, to call Kathy Zeitoun — Zeitoun allegedly wrote her phone number on an envelope, which was introduced as evidence — and ask to see one of the family’s rental properties. When she took him to a certain property in Algiers, he could kill her there, he allegedly said. Zeitoun also allegedly told Pugh to buy a “throwaway phone” and take pictures to confirm she was dead.
Update: Zeitoun was found not guilty.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun was found not guilty Tuesday of trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife.
The verdict came from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo. Zeitoun, 55, had waived his right to a jury trial. He had been charged with solicitation of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder of his ex-wife. He was acquitted on both counts.
Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Blind Side, etc, has moved back to his native New Orleans to work on a book “that will center on the restoration of New Orleans”. Back in Aug 2007, Lewis wrote an article for the NY Times Magazine about Hurricane Katrina and the economics of catastrophe. (thx, brian)
Michael Lewis on a new way in which insurance companies are evaluating risk with respect to natural catastrophes.
The logic of catastrophe is very different: either no one is affected or vast numbers of people are. After an earthquake flattens Tokyo, a Japanese earthquake insurer is in deep trouble: millions of customers file claims. If there were a great number of rich cities scattered across the planet that might plausibly be destroyed by an earthquake, the insurer could spread its exposure to the losses by selling earthquake insurance to all of them. The losses it suffered in Tokyo would be offset by the gains it made from the cities not destroyed by an earthquake. But the financial risk from earthquakes — and hurricanes — is highly concentrated in a few places. There were insurance problems that were beyond the insurance industry’s means. Yet insurers continued to cover them, sometimes unenthusiastically, sometimes recklessly.
Regarding Eve Mosher’s project to draw a flood line around Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, here are a couple of related projects. Ledia Carroll’s Restore Mission Lake Project outlined the shore of an historical lake which used to sit in the midst of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. Under The Level explores the possibility and consequences of Katrina-level flooding in NYC. (thx, kayte and dens)
Short Rolling Stone interview with The Wire’s David Simon, part of a longer interview from the magazine. “I thought Katrina was literally America having to pause for a moment and contemplate the other America that somehow, tragically, Americans forgot. It’s like America looking across the chasm saying, ‘Oh, are you still here? Oh, and you’re wet. And you’re angry.’”
In the 1960s, a young Al Gore had the good fortune to study under Roger Revelle at Harvard University. Revelle was one of the first scientists to claim that the earth may not be able to effectively deal with all of the carbon dioxide generated by the earth’s rapidly increasing human population. The American Institute of Physics called Revelle’s 1957 paper with Hans Suess “the opening shot in the global warming debates”. Gore took Revelle’s lessons to heart, becoming a keen supporter of the environment during his government service.
Since losing the 2000 Presidential election to George W. Bush, Al Gore has focused his efforts on things other than politics; among other things, he’s been crisscrossing the world delivering a presentation on global warming. Gore’s presentation now forms the foundation of a new film, An Inconvenient Truth (view the trailer).
In organizing my thoughts about the film, I found I couldn’t improve upon David Remnick’s review in the New Yorker. In particular:
It is, to be perfectly honest (and there is no way of getting around this), a documentary film about a possibly retired politician giving a slide show about the dangers of melting ice sheets and rising sea levels. It has a few lapses of mise en scene. Sometimes we see Gore gravely talking on his cell phone—or gravely staring out an airplane window, or gravely tapping away on his laptop in a lonely hotel room—for a little longer than is absolutely necessary. And yet, as a means of education, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a brilliantly lucid, often riveting attempt to warn Americans off our hellbent path to global suicide. “An Inconvenient Truth” is not the most entertaining film of the year. But it might be the most important.
Watching the film, I realized — far too late to move to Florida and vote for him in 2000 — that I’m a fan of Al Gore. He’s smart & intellectually curious (the latter doesn’t always follow from the former), understands science enough to explain it to the layperson without needlessly oversimplifying, and despite his reputation as somewhat of a robot, seems to be more of a real person than many politicians. As Remnick says:
One can imagine him as an intelligent and decent President, capable of making serious decisions and explaining them in the language of a confident adult.
The film has some small problems; many of the asides about Gore’s life (particularly the 2000 election stuff) don’t seem to fit cleanly into the main narrative, the connection it makes between global warming and Katrina is stronger than it should be, and the trailer is a little silly; this is a documentary about Al Gore and global warming after all, not The Day After Tomorrow or Armageddon. But the film really shines when it focuses on the presentation and Gore methodically and lucidly making the case for us needing to take action on global warming. An Inconvenient Truth opens in the US on May 24…do yourself a favor and seek it out when it comes to your local theater.
A collection of pre-Katrina obituaries from New Orleans of people with distinctive nicknames. “New Orleans in the pre-Katrina world was full of characters that you’d sooner expect to read about in a Flannery O’conner short story than meet in real life. ” (thx, sara)
Suroweicki on gas prices and Katrina: “Americans are happy with the free market when it allows them to buy cheap T-shirts and twenty-nine-dollar DVD players, but they tend to like it less when they have to pay fifty dollars to fill up their gas tanks.”
In preparation for the AIGA design conference, I’m looking over the session descriptions and speaker list. The theme for this year is “Design”, which seems a little broad but somehow appropriate given how much design has been taken up by the press (especially the business and tech press) recently as something Important and the design profession may be in need of a little wagon circling to figure out how to effectively explain design to someone who is all fired up about incorporating it into their business process because they read a blurb in Fast Company about Jonathan Ive and the iPod.
My knowledge of and involvement with the AIGA up to this point has been fairly minimal, which either makes me the ideal person (fresh eyes!) or a horrible choice (head up ass!) to cover their design conference. I’m particularly interested in learning how they’ve incorporated the fast-changing disciplines of Web and digital design into the mix. When I was working in Minneapolis as a Web designer in the late 90s, my company got me an AIGA membership, but I never used it because although they were trying to be more relevant to those of us working on the Web, my perception is that the AIGA was still largely a graphic design organization and I was finding more of what I was looking for on Web design sites like A List Apart. Now that the Web design profession has matured (and Web design practitioners along with it), it seems to fit better with where the AIGA is going (and vice versa). After all, design is design, no matter what word you stick in front of it.
So, back to the speakers list, I’m looking forward to hearing from Michael Bierut, Lella and Massimo Vignelli, Steven Heller, Matthew Carter, John Maeda, Peter Merholz and Jesse James Garrett from Adaptive Path, Ze Frank, Stefan Sagmeister, Steff Geissbuhler, Caterina Fake, and Milton Glaser (but no Malcolm Gladwell or Errol Morris, both of whom I swear were on earlier speaker lists), some of whom you may recognize from past mentions on kottke.org. They’ve also added some sessions in response to Hurricane Katrina on design, safety, risk, and disaster management, which is an excellent use of the opportunity of having a bunch of designers in the same place.
If you want to follow along with the complete conference coverage here on kottke.org, here’s the AIGA 2005 page. As I mentioned previously, I’ll be opening up comments on most posts (incl. this one), but will be active in gardening off-topic and trolling comments.
 I just realized all these URLs are going to break when the next conference rolls around in two years or so, which is disappointing. Would be nice to have something like http://designconference.aiga.org/2005 that would permanently point to this year’s festivities. Bloggers like permanent links (well, this one does anyway).
Elizabeth Kolbert (who wrote three articles for the NYer on global warming earlier in the year) discusses global warming as a possible cause for Hurricane Katrina. Like the climate scientists on RealClimate contend, Kolbert notes that no particular storm can be caused by global warming, but that the long-term patterns don’t look good…increased greenhouse gases = warmer oceans = more destructive hurricanes. Paul Recer downplays the connection as well and cautions environmental groups who want to make political hay with scientific evidence that doesn’t support their claims.
Sorry for the extensive quote, but this paragraph (along with the following one) in Malcolm Gladwell’s article about health care in America does a fine job in laying out why it’s failing:
The U. S. health-care system, according to “Uninsured in America,” has created a group of people who increasingly look different from others and suffer in ways that others do not. The leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States is unpaid medical bills. Half of the uninsured owe money to hospitals, and a third are being pursued by collection agencies. Children without health insurance are less likely to receive medical attention for serious injuries, for recurrent ear infections, or for asthma. Lung-cancer patients without insurance are less likely to receive surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment. Heart-attack victims without health insurance are less likely to receive angioplasty. People with pneumonia who don’t have health insurance are less likely to receive X rays or consultations. The death rate in any given year for someone without health insurance is twenty-five per cent higher than for someone with insurance. Because the uninsured are sicker than the rest of us, they can’t get better jobs, and because they can’t get better jobs they can’t afford health insurance, and because they can’t afford health insurance they get even sicker. John, the manager of a bar in Idaho, tells Sered and Fernandopulle that as a result of various workplace injuries over the years he takes eight ibuprofen, waits two hours, then takes eight more—and tries to cadge as much prescription pain medication as he can from friends. “There are times when I should’ve gone to the doctor, but I couldn’t afford to go because I don’t have insurance,” he says. “Like when my back messed up, I should’ve gone. If I had insurance, I would’ve went, because I know I could get treatment, but when you can’t afford it you don’t go. Because the harder the hole you get into in terms of bills, then you’ll never get out. So you just say, ‘I can deal with the pain.’”
You can point fingers at what’s wrong or who’s responsible all day long, but the facts remain, America’s health care system sucks…well, unless you’re rich, in which case nothing really sucks. The BBC put it well earlier this week in writing about the crisis in New Orleans:
The uneasy paradox which so many live with in this country - of being first-and-foremost rugged individuals, out to plunder what they can and paying as little tax as they can get away with, while at the same time believing that America is a robust, model society - has reached a crisis point this week.
According to this chart, the price of a gallon of gasoline in NYC rose about 70 cents in the 5 days after Katrina…that’s one of the steepest increases I could find.
I’m taking a few days off from the site, publicly anyway. I’m still going to be working on some upcoming posts and such, but there won’t be any posts or links to the site. I was going to write about why, but it got to be too long and I just scrapped the whole thing. Something about the crappiness of online communication and the faceless, nameless, hugless, merciless place the blogosphere can be sometimes…along with my desire to not post much more about Katrina or to post much of anything else that seems trivial in comparison.
So yeah, back after the long weekend.
A reader inquires:
When the tsunami struck Asia last year, Amazon.com was quick to post a donation link on its front page. Don’t you think they should do the same for the victims of Katrina? How about using that platform of yours to apply some leverage to Jeff and the crew to get a link up there?
Amazon’s lack of a donation link was noted in our household this morning as well. How about it, Amazon? (thx scott)
In the meantime, you can donate directly to the Red Cross (the site seems a little slow right now, so be patient).
Update: Please stop emailing me about the tsunami/Katrina comparison thing. I don’t wish to debate the relative scale of natural disasters or who deserves more attention and aid when bad stuff happens. Individuals and corporations alike need to determine who they wish to aid on their own terms. In the past, Amazon has been a place to go to give aid…it’s the first place I thought of going when I heard of the escalating problems in the Gulf states (and I don’t think I’m alone here) because if they had a donation mechanism, it would be a fast link and easy for people to donate. That Amazon has chosen to not to set up a donation mechanism in this case is their choice and I certainly don’t fault them for it.
Update #2: InternetWeek is reporting that Amazon has decided not to add a donation mechanism to their site. (thx, julio)
Update #3: Amazon now has a donation link on the front page which goes to this donation page. (thx to several who wrote in, including those at Amazon.)
Katrina Check-In is “place to connect people affected by Hurricane Katrina to those their loved ones”. If you’re out of danger or looking for someone in the affected area, you may want to check-in here.