Primary Sources

The road back from Katrina; Nigeria’s restive delta; the long arm of the blue law; tripping your way to sobriety

The Nation

The Year After

In the months since Hurricane Katrina, the Brookings Institution has been tracking reconstruction efforts with a “Katrina Index.” The group’s recent year-in-review report found some signs of life and hope in metropolitan New Orleans: the housing market seemed to be moving again, with home rehabilitation and demolition proceeding apace and rents on the rise; many hospitals and schools had reopened; tourists were returning. But there was also plenty of bad news. Fewer than half of all bus and streetcar routes were running, a proportion that hadn’t budged since January; only a third of the region’s restaurants and grocery stores had reopened, as had fewer than a quarter of child-care centers. Gas and electricity were flowing into 40 percent and 60 percent respectively of the homes and businesses that received those services before the hurricane struck. This mixed picture reflects not just the lack of power in large parts of the city, but also the failure of hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians to return. Six months after the hurricane, the city’s labor force had dropped by a third, from 633,759 to 429,469; as of August it stood at just 444,153, and the unemployment rate was rising faster than the growth of the labor force.


“Special Edition of the Katrina Index: A One-Year Review of Key Indicators of Recovery in Post-Storm New Orleans,” Brookings Institution


A Sport and a Pastime

College athletics may well offer a financial windfall for the Dukes and the USCs. But for most colleges, running a sports program is a money-losing proposition: of the 1,266 colleges and universities that were members of the NCAA in 2001, for instance, only forty-one had athletic departments that turned a profit. Now a new study sets out to determine what schools get for the money they shell out to run athletic programs, by measuring whether student athletes fare better in the workplace than their nonathlete peers. The researchers found that most professions show wage premiums for college athletes: ex-athletes in military, business, and manual-labor jobs outearn their competitors by anywhere from 1.5 percent to 9 percent. However, the wage premium doesn’t hold for every line of work: in particular, ex-athletes who go into teaching earn roughly 8 percent less than nonathletes. Regardless, college athletes are actually more likely than nonathletes to teach, with nearly 10 percent of ex-jocks finding their way to the classroom.

“Do Former College Athletes Earn More at Work?,” D. J. Henderson, A. Olbrecht, and S. W. Polachek, The Journal of Human Resources

Foreign Affairs

More Blood for Oil
From the archives:

"Worse Than Iraq?" (April 2006)
Nigeria's president and onetime hope for a stable future is leading his country toward implosion—and possible U.S. military intervention. By Jeffrey Tayler

Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa, the fifth-largest oil supplier for the United States, and the tenth-largest oil producer in the world—and, like most of the planet’s oil-rich nations, it is plagued by mounting violence, a new report from the International Crisis Group warns. Unrest in the country’s southern delta region has been growing for a quarter century, stoked by local residents’ conflicts with foreign oil companies and Nigeria’s famously corrupt central government, and now claims up to a thousand lives a year. According to the Crisis Group report, a “loose network” of local militant groups has formed under the umbrella of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which has succeeded in cutting oil production by 500,000 barrels a day since December 2005. The report praises the Nigerian government and the oil companies for attempting to respond to the violence by promoting development in the region, but notes that these proj­ects are often “hijacked by outsiders and local elites.” It isn’t enough, the authors warn, to spend generously “when there are unresolved questions about where much of that money goes—an opinion apparently shared by MEND’s spokesman, who recently informed a Crisis Group researcher, via e-mail, that the region is becoming Nigeria’s “Vietnam.”

“The Swamps of Insurgency: Nigeria’s Delta Unrest,” International Crisis Group


The Culture of Disbelief

The Bush era has changed how Americans relate to the news media, a new report from the Pew Research Center suggests, and these changes break down along partisan lines. During George W. Bush’s first term, Republicans became much more likely to distrust reports from mainstream outlets: between 2000 and 2004, for instance, the proportion of GOP voters reporting that they “believe all or most” of the news from CBS News fell from 27 percent to just 15 percent; the percentage who trusted CNN fell from 33 percent to 26 percent; and the percentage who had faith in their local newspaper fell from 21 percent to 16 percent. In the past two years, though, Democrats have come to resemble Republicans in their unwillingness to believe the news they get from networks and newspapers. (Even supposedly arch-liberal institutions like The New York Times and NPR have seen their credibility erode among Democrats since 2004.) Meanwhile, GOP voters seem to be increasingly tuning out the news entirely, at least when it’s reporting the latest dire tidings from the Middle East. Since 2004, fewer Americans overall report paying attention to international news (particularly from Iraq), but the drop-off in both categories is sharper among Republicans. In April 2004, 59 percent said they were following Iraq “very closely,” but by April 2006, that share had fallen to just 41 percent, compared with 50 percent of Democrats.


“Online Papers Modestly Boost Newspaper Readership,” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press


The Electric Cocktail Acid Test

Before there was medicinal marijuana for cancer patients, there was LSD for alcoholics. A new paper in the journal Social History of Medicine explores attempts by Canadian researchers, beginning in the 1950s, to wean drinkers off the bottle by giving them acid instead. Having noticed that bad acid trips resembled delirium tremens (the DTs), the sometimes-fatal shakes and nausea that accompany severe alcohol withdrawal, the researchers theorized that LSD could speed recovery by simulating the DTs without killing the patients. Of 700 alcoholics given large hits of acid, about half stayed sober for the next six months. The study won government support and endorsement from Alcoholics Anonymous, but opponents of the “psychedelic investigators” attacked their methodology and conducted a more controlled experiment, which involved feeding alcoholics LSD, blindfolding them, tying them up, and refusing to speak to them until after they had come down from the high. (These subjects responded less well.) The debate ended, unresolved, in the late 1960s, as the rise of the counterculture brought LSD into medical disrepute, and feeding alcoholics acid to see what happened ceased to be an acceptable research plan.

—Erika Dyck, “‘Hitting Highs at Rock Bottom’: LSD Treatment for Alcoholism, 1950–1970,” Social History of Medicine


Sunday Morning Coming Down

Churches may have God on their side, but they can easily lose parishioners to the lure of the shopping mall, the cubicle, or even demon rum, a new study suggests. Two economists examined the effect of repealing “blue laws”—regulations banning certain retail activity on Sundays—on church attendance in the sixteen states that have done away with such laws since 1955, and found that when the laws fall, so too do church attendance and church donations. The drop-off in church attendance was steepest among people who had previously attended weekly, while those who attended more than once a week were unaffected by the laws’ repeal. States that repealed their blue laws also saw a noticeable increase in the consumption of alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine, and this spike was concentrated among precisely the people whose churchgoing had dropped off.

“The Church vs. the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?,” Jonathan Gruber and Daniel M. Hungerman, National Bureau of Economic Research