Thursday, September 22

Baby kissers, corporate whiz kids and courtroom orators need not apply

Recently Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye put together a chart that lists occupations of US senators and shows the percentage of each occupation represented in the Senate. Not surprisingly, 58% percent of the occupations are attorney.

Dave notes: "Many of the lawyers are actually lifelong politicians who’ve never done anything else. Note that more than [two-thirds] of the Senators are lawyers or people who’ve never worked in anything other than government."

He goes on to make thought provoking observations about the Senate's top-heavy representation of the legal profession and America's extremely adversarial political climate.

There are additional observations that could be drawn from Dave's chart. Please take a look at the chart. Then tell me whether you don't agree there is something very odd about the fact that scientists and engineers are not represented in this day and age.

The professions most needed for a grasp of efficiently managing large, complex systems are simply not represented in today's Senate. On one level that's understandable; after all, the Senate is a legislative body so of course it would attract legal minds. Yet legal minds are geared to analyzing situations after the fact of their occurrence. That kind of analysis is not geared to preventing disaster situations.

We can't expect every governor, every mayor, to have a degree in systems analysis or to come into office with experience managing a large city. Yet just because of this, Americans need to take a hard look at the makeup of the Congress and think about diversification of professional background. And think about upgrading the diversification to include the sciences and engineering -- and also a larger representation of high-level military command experience.

If you tell me you can't fight City Hall; that voters will always be swayed by emotion and promises of pork for their community -- all right, then how about a compromise between human nature and the challenges of the 21st Century?

Why not make it a law that US senators must take night courses on (1) managing large-scale social systems and (2) the worst problems affecting the largest urban areas in the United States -- and their course grades be published?

For readers who need a gentle reminder about why it's really very important to get the thinking of our elected leaders into the present day, consider the following situations:

"On 9/11 the cloak of competence was pulled off the City of New York. Safety codes treated a 100-story high-rise with the same guidelines as a ten-story building."
-- Sally Regenhard, mother of firefighter killed along with most of his company while trying to rescue people trapped inside the World Trade Tower on 9/11.(1)

"The Bonnet Carre Spillway [in New Orleans] is surrounded by oil refineries, chemical plants and a couple of nuclear reactors...And now it is being [proposed by Mayor Ray Nagin] as a site for a brand-new airport."
-- Save Our Wetlands commentary(2)

"Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said the storm surge from Hurricane Rita could reach 50 feet. Galveston is protected by a seawall that is only 17 feet tall. ... The coastal city of 58,000 [sits] on an island 8 feet above sea level..."
-- Associated Press, September 22

About 22-million Californians depend on the water that flows from its delta. There are hundreds of thousands of people living on low land who could be flooded by levee overflows or breaks...." Much of the delta was filled in a century ago for farming." Since, much of that farmland has been turned into housing tracts. “The state looks after 1,600 miles of levees that protect at least a half-million people.” For example, “in 1997, more than 50 California levees broke on rain-choked rivers and killed eight people, forced the evacuation of 100,000 and damaged or destroyed 24,000 homes.” Yet, last January’s report by the State Department of Water Resources says levee maintenance funds have declined from Washington and Sacramento.
-- Bruce Kesler, You ain't seen nothing yet

Blanco finished second in the [gubernatorial] primary. Three days before the runoff election, she was trailing the front-runner, 32-year-old Republican whiz kid Bobby Jindal, when they met for a final debate. More polished and quick on his feet, Jindal seemed to have strengthened his standing that night. Then the two candidates were asked to name a defining moment in their lives. Jindal stayed on message, discussing his conversion to Christianity and the birth of his daughter.

"Blanco immediately knew she would have to address her rawest moment. Listening to Jindal speak, she says, she tried to summon a less painful memory, but she could not avoid it. "The most defining moment came when I lost a child," she told the statewide television audience. ...

"It's very hard for me to talk about it," Kathleen Blanco said as the debate wound up, looking into the camera and fighting tears. "I guess that's what makes me who I am today -- knowing that one of the worst things that can happen to a person happened to me, and we were able to protect our family, and the rest of my children have been strong as a result of it." ...

Commentators said her heart-felt response during the debate may have spelled the difference with voters. She overcame Jindal, defeating him 52 percent to 48 percent."
-- Tyler Bridges, Blanco's Bid

When he arrived in Baton Rouge on Sunday evening, [Michael] Brown said, he was concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Governor Blanco and Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.

"What do you need? Help me help you," Mr. Brown said he asked them. "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing."

The most responsive person he could find, Mr. Brown said, was Governor Blanco's husband, Raymond. "He would try to go find stuff out for me," Mr. Brown said.
-- The New York Times, September 15: Ex-FEMA Chief Tells of Frustration and Chaos

1) Quote from Shortcuts to Safety by Matthew Reiss for Metropolis Magazine. If you haven't yet read about why the World Trade towers collapsed, and the New York-New Jersey port authority's exemption from building and safety codes, you should.

2) You'll have to scroll about halfway down the Save Our Wetlands page -- past the rambling rants against corporate greed and some of Mayor Ray Nagin's other decisions -- to get to the letters from New Orleanians about the airport idea. (Perhaps it should also be a law that citizens trying to light a fire under elected officials take a course in how to commit their central point to writing.)

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