Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Act of God?

Obviously, when we say that, we mean it in the legal sense: an act beyond the control or responsibility of any person or persons. An act for which, truly, no negligence to human agency (much less intent), can be ascribed.

Of course, as we have learned (and may learn again with Hurricane Wilma), it is much less the "act of God" itself that is the problem: it is the man-made structures in the way. Earthquakes are the simplest example. Earthquakes themselves are not necessarily deadly: it is, by and large, the falling buildings that kill people. Obviously, you say. But do the buildings have to fall? Can they be built to withstand most expected quakes, and sustain less damage in serious tremors? Can they, in other words, be prepared for the inevitable?

The same can be asked of hurricane prone areas. I seem to recall a story (apocryphal?) of a house in Florida that withstood Andrew (if I recall correctly, the hurricane that marched twice across Florida, from first one side and then the ohter, and obliterated trailer parks on the way). It was an old house, built to withstand hurricanes, and by George, it did.

As Michael Lewis observed in the NYT Magazine, parts of New Orleans were not, in fact, below sea level. Earlier generations knew that, because the oldest houses, and much of the French Quarter and Garden District, stayed dry. Disasters do not always have to be disastrous. "Acts of God" are a given. It is how we, the human agents, prepare for and respond to them, that determines the fate of those affected by the storm, the tornado, the earthquake (and why do tornadoes like trailer parks so much?)

Which brings me, circuitously, to Holden's observation. It seems that "No Child Left Behind" has been a complete failure:

Despite a new federal educational testing law championed by the Bush administration, scores among fourth and eighth graders failed to show any improvements in reading, and showed only slow gains in math nationally during the past two years, according to a study released today.

There is no rationale on eighth-grade reading other than we are not making progress," said Darvin M. Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the testing.
But according to our President?

This is an encouraging report....It shows that a system that measures and focuses on every child is a system that can help us, and achieve a goal that we really want in America, and that is every child learning to read and no child -- and add and subtract, and no child being left behind.....No Child Left Behind is working.
Now, before you bang your head against a wall, consider: the article leads with that opening paragraph. It later gives the President's response, one so clearly at odds with reality as to be ludicrous.

But that might not have been the case only a few months ago.

Hurricane Katrina changed everything. It took an "Act of God" to do it, but the truth about our government and those who lead it, may finally be undeniable to all but the most partisan supporters of the President.

Ironic, no?

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