Saturday, September 03, 2005

If American can't handle a natural disaster, how will it cope with a man made one?

In all the news reports covering hurricane katrina, the same question arises again and again. How could the richest country in the world allow such a disaster to happen?

The hurricane could not have been prevented, but in the run up to and in the aftermath following the disaster, the city's poor and needy residents were left behind. Lots of questions are being asked...

1. Why was there no investment in stronger flood defences?
2. Why was no provision made to get those without transport out of the city?
3. Why did help take so long to arrive?
4. How could a city in such a highly developed country descend into such lawlessness?

I don't live in America but have visited several times, and what has struck me the most is what an individualistic country America is. Americans don't expect the Government to do things for them, they take the initiative and do it themselves. That's what the American dream is all about. Whether it's going to University or requiring healthcare, Americans prefer to pay less tax and get through life under their own steam.

The problem is the (not so small) minority who fall through the safety net: the elderly and infirm who cannot afford healthcare and the poor who cannot afford transport or to insure their homes. In a society where it's each and every person for himself, the result of this disaster has been anarchy. Without any central government co-ordination, no one knew how to respond. Overlapping relief agencies got in each other's way, and the national guard stayed in their barracks whilst looters, rapists and murderers took over the city.

There may be a lot of soul searching (as there was after the 1992 LA riots), but once everything has returned to normal, will anything change? If anything, Americans will have even less faith in their Government being able to solve their problems, and will be less willing to subsidise the poor people of a state that most of them don't live in.

The one group that will take encouragement from recent events are the Islamists, but if they think this makes America an easy target, they're mistaken. The events of 9/11 were seen as an attack on all Americans, and it led to the rallying of Americans round their president and a co-ordinated disaster response. Unfortunately, hurricane katrina was an attack on a remote and often unseen part of american society and the result was indifference.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What planet do these people live on?

The Daily Mail has reported that a secondary school in Northamptonshire is going to allow its pupils to swear in class, but only 5 times.

Although there has been an outcry from just about everyone, it seems the local parents aren't too bothered, none of them have complained. I'm not surprised, swearing is probably part of their everyday language. But even if it is, surely the school could set an example, rather than taking the "they all do it anyway" attitude. You often hear that it's impossible to control unruly kids "because our hands are tied". But more often than not, we choose to tie our own hands. Maybe if schools started believing in themselves, kids would take them more seriously.

I never thought the 21st century would turn out like this!

Today's Times reports that airlines have given up the drive for faster flight and have instead focused on fuel efficient but slower airlines. Airbus, the European aircaft manufacturer, is leading a European Commission research project on the new aircraft. It is working with more than 30 companies on the four-year project, entitled New Aircraft Concepts Research.

The new aircraft will look different to existing jets. The wings will be longer and straighter. The engines will sit on top of the fuselage rather than under the wings to reduce noise disturbance. There will be two tail-fins rather than one to prevent noise being deflected downwards. The aircraft will fly at about 430mph compared with more than 500mph flown by existing jets.

How depressing! I grew up in the 1970s and 80s believing that the rapid technological progress we took for granted would continue unabated. If man could land on the moon just 66 years after the wright brothers made their first flight, why was it unrealistic to assume that by the 21st century, cars would fly and that a flight from London to Sydney would take just an hour!

Sadly, it appears that this era is over. Here we are in 2005, still driving on roads, still travelling (in theory) at 70mph (a limit set by Labour in 1965), still flying to New York at the same speed as we did 45 years ago! It seems that as long as there was a cold war, there was competition between the East and West for technological supremacy. Now that era is gone, the bean counter has taken over and technological progress has taken a back seat.

But this isn't the whole story. It's also the fact that the establishment (at least in Europe) have become luddites. Whilst medical progress and information technology have been championed, driving and flying have become politically incorrect, and seen as a danger to the environment. It's sad that technological progress has become an "either / or" issue. Surely if we could do something as "unthinkable" as putting man on the moon, we could also, 36 years later, develop a faster plane that uses less fuel. Unfortunately, we no longer have the willpower.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Back after a three week absence

I'm back.
It's been a very busy summer at Brainstorm Design, leaving me with little or no time to blog. Anyway, I plan to resume blogging over the next couple of weeks.

We just got back from a long weekend. We've been touring Oxford (not forgetting the Chabad house) and the peak district. Whilst in the peak district, we visited the heights of Abraham (Matlock Bath), Buxton (which has its own opera house), Chatsworth House and even Manchester. It's hard to believe we've been away for only three days!