Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Hurricane Katrina II: The Political and Societal Storm
United States of America---New Orleans, Louisiana
Disasters---Hurricane Katrina---Responses to
Any social commentary bloger, in his or her gut, just needs to comment on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And developing comments on the issue is extremely easy given the abundance of information both in the blogging community and in the mainstream media. But to be intelligent in one’s comments, that is a challenge but I shall try…
The obvious place to start is the response of the various relief agencies, emergency services, and various city, state, and federal officials. Now the debate on this subject varies from blame President Bush to the incompetence of municipal officials. But to the best that I can tell, there is agreement that, whoever is to blame, the response of officials at all levels was poor. The plight of Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky can serve as a case study.
A major criticism of how the evacuation of the US Gulf Coast went was that minimal consideration was given to how those without cars, those had no place to go, those that were extremely ill or disabled…in short the poor, were to be accommodated. I have a theory as to why that was the case based on my understanding of American values.
A basic aspect of American psychology (and I know that I may be oversimplifying here) is that everyone believes that he or she is part of the middle class (you know, the American Dream: two-story house, a car, 2.5 kids, 9 to 5 job, etc.); those who are not, whenever possible, acts as if they are. With that type of mentality, it is easy to forget about the needs of the poor. There is also a law and order mentality, which is part of the reason for law enforcement’s focus on stopping the looting. Note that this is just a theory, to be debated, proven or disproven.
The next popular topic of discussion is the issue of looting. The news, especially from the US newscasts, portrays the situation as lawless. Some news stories show black looters, stealing anything and everything. This brings charges of racism. Others point out that statistically, most of the people taking the non-necessities-of-life items are black. Other sources state that most of the looters are just searching for basic items such as water, juice, diapers, etc. The BBC World News showed a clip a few days ago with poor, black people with no place to go at one end of a street and a group of police officers at the other end of the street, with their guns out to stop a single looter. But what about the selfless looting, by this I mean did anyone borrow boats from local docs and boat shops to rescue people that were trapped?
Another issue is the fact that many of the major officials responsible for the rescue and response effort are primary concerned about how they look in the press. Firefighters (better suited to rescue efforts) were recruited as public relations officers. The blame game goes in circles between the federal, sate, and local governments. Everyone wants their photo-up; no one wants to take part in a media scrum. When the refugees (as Global National calls the victims and survivors) congregate in a location in view of the press, they are forced away. Groups of people trying to survive are broken up by the authorities to prevent rioting, destroying the critical mass necessary in order to improve one’s chances of survival.
Lastly, because if I continue then I will likely be writing this entry all night, I will address the issue of blame. Firstly the problems with the rescue and recovery effort are, in part, the result of the structure of the plans developed to address events such as hurricanes and the officials, no matter who they are, would not be able to address those flaws. Secondly, people make all the difference, and how individual officials responded can make or break any plan. The buck stops here read the sign on President Truman’s desk; however there is more then enough blame to go around.
So, how did I do?
Monday, September 05, 2005
What They Didn't Tell You on the Campus Tour
University Life --- Trent University
It is Labour Day here in Ontario, and if you are starting your first year of university, or even college for that matter, then today you most likely spent the morning moving in to your dorm room, and then, if you are a Trent University student, you have very little to do until Tuesday. So spend that time reading this blog entry. It is the accumulation of two years of Trent University experience, but many sections apply to other universities and colleges as well. You just might learn something useful.
Study Tips --- Learning at University
Yes, we are starting with the most important subject.
(1) You will be overwhelmed with essays, labs, reports, readings, etc. But this often is not the professors’ fault. For example a professor might have an assignment due just prior to reading break, under the belief that all the other professors have their assignments due right after reading break. But the other professors had the same thought so, all of your assignments are due before reading break. In situations such as this, always do the assignments over the readings, and if you can’t get all of your assignments done on time, always do the assignments for the courses that make up your major first.
(2) In situations like what was presented above, you may want to consult one or more of your university’s student support services such as the Disability Services Office (DSO), the Academic Skills Centre (ASC), the Counselling Centre, or even your senior tutor (at Trent University these services are “free”: you paid for them with your tuition and levy fees). Your student handbook will provide a brief description of these services, but there is no way the handbook can describe how friendly and approachable most of the people that work at these student services are. But be forewarned, practically every such service will have at least one person that will just rub you the wrong way. Just avoid that one person and you should be fine
(3) The best approach to a crisis is to be proactive, implying preventative action. The ASC offers some crash courses in essay writing, exam taking, etc. The library also offers some how to courses as well. DSO website has a Thinking Styles Profiler that, if you answered the questions honestly, should provide accurate and useful advice and tips in regards to how you should approach your academic work. Note that the profiler is not perfect and is likely to provide at least one tip that will not work for you.
(4) Trent University, even with its recent construction boom, still has a shortage of student study space, or so it seams. Every tutorial room and lecture hall at Trent University has a schedule of when the room is used and for what courses on its door. Often these rooms are left unlocked during the day when they are not in use. So feel free to use them as quite places to do reading, work on an essay outline, or hold a meeting for a group project. College pubs (when not open) also can be used as study space. Several academic departments at Trent University (Business Administration, Mathematics, Native Studies, International Development Studies, among others) as well as some of the research centres (such as the Trent International Political Economy Centre (TIPEC)) have their own resource rooms consisting of reference material, tables and chairs, and some even have computers.
(5) The Bata Library, where shall I start… You will eventually come to love on-line academic journal indexes such as J-STOR and Scholar’s Portal. The Bata Library, like any library of a small university has a limited book supply, and while new books are always arriving, often the only books you will find on the subject you are looking for are over 20 or 30 years old, and if a professor assigned everyone in his class an essay on the same topic, then it is possible that all the library’s books on that topic has been signed out. The journal indexes are an easy way to get recent information and research on practically any topic.
(6) While we are on the topic of the Bata Library, most of their computer labs are poorly designed. Some computers are located in the library atrium, where noise distractions are frequent. With the exception of one lab, there is no space to spread out one’s research and reference materials. Also, often all of the computers are taken. So I present this rule of thumb: have your essay outline and your jot-notes done before you start working at a Trent University computer lab.
University Costs --- Some Economic Tips
(1) The university is an inflation zone. With a few exceptions, it is always cheaper to buy items off campus. For example a chocolate bar at an on campus vending machine is $1.15. At a Peterborough corner store you can get a larger chocolate bar of the same brand for $1.00. You could dine at an all-you-can-eat buffet for less then what Aramark (the food service provider for Trent University) charges for some of their more elaborate one-course meals. Rumour has it that the University Bookstore charges more the recommended retail price for some textbooks. So whenever possible, buy off campus and buy used (and some times you don’t even need to buy: a Free Market operates out of Sadler House).
A Post-Secondary Social Life
(1) If you are a first year student living off campus then it will be more difficult to make new friends. So get connected with a few clubs or sports teams, and get noticed in tutorials. Make an impression and others will want to get to know you.
(2) Colleges and universities frequently organize guest lecturers; attend some that interest you. Often there will be a reception before or after the lecture with food (often free). These receptions offer some of the best opportunities to network with professors, fellow students, and other people. At some point in the future you will benefit from these connections
(3) If you do chose to engage in regular bar hopping, then party responsibly. Drinking is a very popular activity. Don’t get carried away.
(4) If you choose to skip the bar scene, then you will be lost in some of the conversations of your peers. The bar scene and getting drunk are frequent topics of conversation.
POST 101 --- Trent University Politics
(1) Trent University has a history of being an activist school. The Trent University student stereotype is often that of a leftist activist hippie. Why then is voter turnout for the student union elections so low? Often referendums do not attract enough voters to make their results binding. In every recent Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) election, no one ran for at least one position and several candidates ran uncontested. One could argue that the Trent University student is apathetic.
(2) A few issues do, however, bring out the activist spirit of Trent. It is a divide that divides university staff and students like the Otonabee River divides the main Trent University campus. On the right there are the Trent University president and her allies, pushing a university as a business model that has lead to the university becoming a conference centre during the summers and has lead to the DNA Cluster Project. On the left are the college cabinets and their allies, aiming to preserve the university as an ivory tower and protect from corporate influences. The issue that caused this rift to occur was the sale of Peter Robinson College, one of Trent University’s original campuses.
(3) The following two films are required viewing for those who wish to be involved in Trent University politics: Whose University Is It? © 2003, directed and produced by James E. Motluk and Mark Wright and My Student Loan © 2003, written, directed, and produced by Mike Johnston.
(4) The following items you should note if you wish to be involved in Trent University politics: firstly, all the popular positions will always be contested; secondly many senior offices (eg: TCSA President) are a full time job in and of themselves. On the other hand many university committees and boards such as the Committee on Academic Personnel or the Student Services Board have student seats that are not publicized. If you are interested in serving on one of these boards then just contact your student union and they can either point you in the right direction or they will set you up.
This concludes today’s blog entry. Don’t worry, most of my blog entries will be much shorter then this one. Good luck for this academic year!