New Orleans and bowling pins


Imagine a bowling lane with the pins set up in the usual pattern. Bowling balls come down the lane haphazardly and knock down some of the pins. The pinboy sets the pins back up again, the balls roll again, the pins are knocked down and reset, over and over again. Eventually, the pinboy* tires of this and changes the rules; from now on, the objective is to avoid knocking down the pins. But how?

We have been playing this game in the Caribbean for endless years. The pins are of course the Atlantic and Gulf Coast communities, the bowling balls are hurricanes and the pinboys are us. The question remains: how are we to avoid the pins being knocked down again and again?

A methodological analysis would yield at least nine solutions, most of which are infeasible. We are not going to abandon our Gulf and East Coasts, we can't stop hurricanes from being born, and deflecting or cushioning hurricanes is probably beyond our ability. Other solutions, such as weakening hurricanes, are theoretically possible but a long way beyond our present technology. We are therefore left with four possibilities: 

Impose a barrier between balls and pins: As James Lewis pointed out in The American Thinker, such a hurricane barrier was actually proposed in the 1970's and defeated by environmentalists and local interests. It's probably too late for that now; the damage has been done and there's little left that's worth protecting.

Strengthen pins so they can't be knocked down: This is the way we've handled earthquake—prone cities—and it has been surprisingly effective. Hurricane—resistant construction has been used along parts of the Florida Coast, where every house is mounted on a steel and concrete tower at least twenty feet high and has heavy duty covers for every door and window. These precautions generally work, at the price of having a rather grotesque community on stilts. We might apply this technique to New Orleans, rebuilding it as a heavy duty version of Venice, with waterways where the streets were and bomb—bunker building codes. But I don't think that's what the survivors want.

Remove pins from path of balls: This is the solution no one wanted to talk about until one brave columnist, Joel Garreau , finally said it. A below—sea—level mudflat is no place to build a hurricane—resistant city. Let's preserve a small historical town on high ground and spend the proposed reconstruction money to relocate the survivors elsewhere. The present site might make excellent farm land.

Get used to it: This is what we don't want to allow ourselves to be bullied into doing. It will be very difficult to resist the pleadings of Katrina's victims, who, impelled by sentiment, financial loss, and a desire to beat Nature at her own game, will want to rebuild New Orleans just as it was. But we must harden our hearts and remember that other Katrinas, an infinite line of them, are waiting in the future to come and do what she did all over again. The next one might be next year, for all we know.   So let's not throw good money after bad and set up a shaky bowling pin, just to have it knocked down again.

*Until the 1950s bowling pins were set in place by young men called pinboys.

Paul Shlichta   9 13 05