Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti

I've been following the developments in Haiti over the last few days and all I can really say is that my heart goes out to those poor bastards. What a mess. The country is in an absolute shambles (even more so now than before the quake).
I've seen the reports about rising anger and machete-gangfights over food and I'm not at all surprised, nor do I think less of the folks there for it, as some may. I've read somewhere that civilization is just 3 days away from anarchy no matter where you live, and I think I believe that. Cut off food, water and medical services to any population , anywhere, and I believe you'd see the same behaviors, within the same time frame. One of the reasons we here in the kingdom try to prepare. Don't count on government to help you. At some point, you may have to man up and look after yourself.

On that note, however, I'm proud of our government's response to this, and to our guys in the military. They do much more good out there in the world than just kill people and break things, despite what the lefties think. The US military is usually first on the scene to these sort of things, and do the lion's share of the relief work. They're even sorting out the airport over there, so more relief flights can get in. Most everywhere in the world, people know damn well that their best bet is to run to the guys in the American uniforms, and I hope that never changes. My heartfelt thanks to you all out there.

As a Christian, I have to say I cringed when Pat Robertson showed his ass once again - not because I think he represents Christianity as a whole, but the soapbox he commands may give non-Christians that impression, and I may have to do some explaining to some of my non-Christian friends about this in the near future. I certainly don't agree with his take. On a side note, Danny Glover's recent comments about this being a consequence of the failed climate talks in Copenhagen show me that asshattery is not necessarily limited to just my religion...

One other thought really is sticking in my mind about this whole mess, and I have to admit that I'm having a bit of a hard time with it. I think of myself as a pretty die-hard libertarian for the most part and tend to view government involvement in daily life with a very jaundiced eye, being distrustful and unconvinced of the necessity of government regulation in pretty all aspects of my life. HOWEVER, having now seen the results of an earthquake in the complete absence of any government-enforced building codes whatsoever, and the ensuing carnage (in this case in the tens if not hundreds of thousands) and with a similar-sized quake in a similarly dense population center, but with enforced building codes - the Loma Prieta quake in the Bay Area, 1989 (death toll 63) - same magnitude for both, by the way - I can't say that all government regulation is a bad thing. How many lives would have been lost here in CA if everyone had just built as they pleased? I don't know, but likely many more than actually did. I'm going to have to give this a lot more thought.

3 comments:

Julie said...

True true...we must have a fine balance. Something to ponder.

Larry said...

You couldn't enforce US building codes in Haiti if you tried. It's a luxury they literally cannot afford. If everybody had to build to our codes or not build at all, how many people would have been without shelter all these years? You can die of exposure in pretty mild temperatures...

On the other hand, many US building codes are not about safety at all, but about environmental concerns, and more problematically, about barriers to entry for competition. If you published a standard for electrical work, and anybody who wanted to could do that work, I would have less problem than a government-enforced union of electricians with mandatory time spent in aprenticeships leading to inevitable pay raises due to seniority and nothing else.

There's also the problem of government solutions not being flexible in the face of error or innovation.

In the quake of 1906 in San Francisco, the fires that destroyed the city in the aftermath were from gas lines, mostly- not from individual construction problems.

I do take exception to your idea that any disaster anywhere has the same effect on people and civilization. Haiti is a disaster precisely because it has always been a disaster. There is no civil society to speak of- destroyed in a death of a thousand cuts for various reasons.

We don't see machete-wielding gangs being the norm here after a natural disaster, be it flood or earthquake, because we have a stable society to begin with. It helps that geographically, the limits of any natural disaster are a small part of our country in almost all cases, no doubt. But people here don't start turning on their neighbours like wild dogs for small provocations. It *could* happen, with a widespread-enough, long-enough collapse of our technological safety net, but it's unlikely in the face of anything less than a long and drawn-out civil war with no conceivable end in sight.

Certainly we have our share of looters and other criminals taking advantage during crises, but these are a small enough percentage to be an annoying problem on a macro level, hardly worth bothering about in the trade-off of fixing the problem. It goes away when you address the disaster, really. (Personally confronting looters and criminals in a disaster is another issue, but no worse than being confronted by them in a dark alley on any Saturday night.)

When the disaster response becomes stalled because of security concerns of the aid workers and normal citizens can't help themselves because rape-gangs and criminals are more numerous than the good guys, that's a whole different issue.

Kevin said...

I see what you're saying, Larry. A similar event here would be much less disastrous because of the size of our country and the infrastructure/institutions we have in place, unlike Haiti. I stand by my point, though, that if all that were removed, and the population began to starve - which really doesn't take all that long in the absence of supplies - that one might observe similar behavior anywhere. It would just take a much larger disastrous event for that to happen here, like your example of a protracted civil war. Because of the Haiti's small size, relative isolation and the poor infrastructure and services available, that one earthquake essentially brought the entire country down. Countries like Haiti are vulnerable in a way that we are not, not least because of what passes as politics in such places.