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September 2, 2005

New Orleans funeral

Posted by Phil on September 2, 2005 11:39 AM

That sounds pretty morose (OK, and cliched; at least it gets "Wade in the Water" off the top), but remember that when the parade turns around, the party starts. Which also sounds more optimistic than I feel. New Orleans will come back; maybe as just a memorial to jazz, cuisine, and culture, since that's all on the high ground--but that will be better than never having it at all.

This is mostly a public archive for myself--clipped from e-mails to various people through the week. This is the closest I can come to summing things up. Along with all the links to the right (and click the LinkLog header, because it's overflowed the front page), it'll have to do for now.

Mon, 8/29, 9:23am: My fingers are crossed for your beloved New Orleans.

Tue, 8/30, 5:07pm: I can't imagine the scene inside the Superdome. Tonight is going to be a weird, bad, dangerous night.

No pun intended, but given the scope of the disaster and the broader national ramifications, one begins to wonder if Katrina won't in many ways turn out to be a watershed.

Wed, 8/31, 11:09am: Looking at CNN this morning, I thought, "It's like a dead, drifting ship. I feel like I'm looking at a dead city." And it's not getting better, it's getting worse.

The leaders and politicians are saying what they have to say, but I don't know. It was folly that it was ever built and sustained there, and it's only been compounded by the things they've done to protect it in the long-but-finite term.

I suppose they'll say, "It can't happen like this AGAIN," and they'll do whatever it takes. I can't pretend I don't want them to--I mean, it's New Orleans. And, almost certainly, almost without a doubt, something will endure there. But whatever happens, I'm already kicking myself for not making it back there again, "before."

I feel dumb and awestruck, to see an entire major American city just...adrift.

Here's my shame: Listening to NPR yesterday morning before the levee(s) broke, I thought, "Well, it sounds like it was catastrophic, but not Biblical." And a part of me that is very small was let down, the way you are when, say, a promised blizzard doesn't materialize. Something big was going to happen but, well, it didn't, so today's pretty much just another day. I don't feel like that now.

Wed, 8/31, 11:35am: I don't want to overdo the guilt talk--I'm not beating myself up about it or anything. It's normal. I think it's comparable to the gravity that crashes lend to auto-racing. It's not as simple (or craven) as "people like to see cars crash and drivers die." (For that matter, you could liken it to punk fans wanting to see blood.)

I think we all want to feel the delicious thrill and shiver from the notion that the stakes are high; life is death; to survive is a triumph of balls, will, and luck; and luck is fucking good enough. We praise the lucky, we mourn the unfortunate, but most of all, when we witness the significant, we are elevated.

Wed, 8/31, 11:55am: But, jeez, what I wouldn't give for a more coolly measured tone. I'm tired of hysterics.

For that matter, what I wouldn't give for Peter Jennings right now. I know it's a cliched observation, but watching the cable anchors (not the actual "show" talent like King, Blitzer, Olbermann) over the last three nights, I just keep thinking, "Where are the grown-ups?" All of them are air-brained spokesmodels promoted--after a baseline pre-sort for elocution and ability to emote "gravity" and "concern"--on the basis of good hair, perfect skin, and symmetrical features.

Back to the looters: watching a lot of the footage from yesterday was disorienting, because we were seeing, for the first time in awhile, the Third World component of American demographics, risen to the top now that every other layer, including Authority, has fled or been overwhelmed. There's sometimes a "tsk--you were warned" aspect to talk about people who "thought they could ride it out," but these were people with nowhere to go and no way to get there. And now they're looting, some of them, so we can all be satisfied that their cancerous morals are the cause of their plight.

Sean Hannity is shocked, SHOCKED that people too poor to escape from a hurricane are getting a little something back--in a lot of cases just diapers and food--but I'll bet he hasn't said one fucking word about corrupt contractors grafting millions off the Iraq war.

Wed, 8/31, 3:41pm: I almost think you have to go back to the New York Draft Riots to find anarchy like this; I don't think L.A. '92 or Watts quite compare. I don't think anything does, with natural disaster compounded by civil disorder.

Wed, 8/31, 3:52pm: You'd have to think that if terrorists were capable of opportunism, our soft underbelly will never be more exposed.

Wed, 8/31, 4:38pm: Maybe if the Draft Riots had happened immediately after the Great Chicago Fire.

The whole city has to be abandoned. It's astounding. How do you completely evacuate a city of half a million? What's that look like? Who's going to come back? I keep picturing "Escape from New York." How does a skeleton authority force keep armed gangs from setting up urban fiefdoms?

And even though New Orleans is getting all the attention, it's maybe just a third of the disaster.

And over 700 Iraqis killed themselves today.


Thu, 9/1, 2:07pm: I was home with a sick Tommy until just now, watching CNN almost all day, and there are hundreds of people marooned outside the New Orleans convention center, some of them dead or dying, all of them lacking food, water, and sanitation, and it is THURSDAY. If a CNN crew could get there, WHERE are the police, Nat'l Guard, Army, Coast Guard--SOMEBODY?

The scale of the disaster notwithstanding, I defy anyone to say it's "partisan" to call this a national disgrace.

Thu, 9/1, 2:51pm: CNN: "New Orleans hospital halts patient evacuations after coming under sniper fire, a doctor who witnessed the incident says."

What in the hell is going on?

Thu, 9/1, 3:36pm: Stopping mere looting [instead of getting on with evacuations] I don't understand--and I don't consider anyone taking food, fluids, or any essentials to be "looters"--but what I was initially reacting to was those shots apparently being fired at evacuation efforts. There's some dead-end gangsta element there, up to something that I don't understand. The city is washing out from under them: where are they going with their TVs and guns?

I don't know what to make of it. I've never seen anything like it. This is America?

Thu, 9/1, 5:30pm: I'm just totally preoccupied with the disaster in New Orleans. I'm shocked, ashamed, depressed, baffled, and outraged.

As I was WRITING that, I heard an NPR reporter describing the scene (which I'd also seen a report on CNN several hours ago) in and around the Convention Center--NOT the Superdome--with around 2,000 people, some of them dead, some of them dying, all of them desperate, with no food, no water, no aid, no one in charge, no one coming; and then Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, whom they talked with immediately after, called that a RUMOR he hadn't heard, and had no information about when those people might see some relief. (The second time the report aired, the host added that an aide to Mr. Chertoff had called and said that after speaking to NPR, Chertoff had gotten a report and was doing something about it. CNN knew about this SIX HOURS AGO.)

The Bush administration and the GOP Congress will pay a steep price, I hope, for what they've done to FEMA and to the New Orleans flood-control/levee projects. It's not their fault New Orleans was built on a swamp between a river, a lake, and a gulf, and it's not their fault the hurricane struck--and it's not their fault New Orleans had such poor evacuation/relief plans--but almost everything else this week is their fault.

Fri, 9/2, 12:53pm: I continue to be in utter disbelief. For some reason, I think some kind of corner will be turned today; too late for many people, and perhaps too late for Bush.

Surely, when the attack gave three days' warning, allowing three-quarters of the citizenry to escape, and the response is still a failure and a disgrace, no one can believe he is "protecting" them, from anyone or anything.

This is only beginning.

Fri, 9/2, 12:59pm: Because I couldn't think of a fancy--or maybe just new--or maybe just composed--way to say it, I didn't, but I'm really, really angry.

Fri, 9/2, 1:20pm: Maybe I'm naïve, but I don't think I'll ever believe, even with the hurricane and the levee failures, that the worst of this couldn't have been eased, eased much earlier, or prevented entirely. And I make that particular statement with the responsibility directed at everyone in authority, from mayor to president.

I keep thinking of the way "Natural Born Killers" climaxed in a prison riot. That's what this feels like. The entrenched policy failures, the illusions and myopia, the demonization of the Other, the class conditions and conflicts, the war's tapped resources, the guns: This feels like the climax of our national orgy of hysteria and violence since September 11.

Fri, 9/2, 1:38pm: Although I've been thinking about it a lot, I of course left out "race." I think I did so because racism is a nasty thing to go unpacking, and I prefer to think about it from a class perspective, which is easy to do when you see all the elderly white people outside the convention center.

But of course they are a minority, and you see even fewer able-bodied white folks, male or female. And what would a culminating American reckoning be without our Original Sin represented?

Setting aside the easy observation that loads of armchair pigs are denouncing all the thieving jigs, I think that the race of the majority of the victims is disorienting. (As well as the fact that they speak with heavy Cajun-Creole-N'awlins accents.) It makes it harder, for those not willing to make an effort (and I have to consciously do so), to see the victims as AMERICANS, to feel this happening on AMERICAN SIDEWALKS, and to be outraged that this has been allowed to happen in AMERICA.

Because, honestly, a lot of the time the pictures look like Mogadishu.

Fri, 9/2, 9:32pm: The "Mogadishu" line--I guess that could be read like a suburban white kid going downtown and saying, "Whoa, it's like AFRICA down here," when he hits the first "urban" neighborhood. I'm meaning a lot of things: The shame that there is an America so thoroughly--and now literally--left behind. The shock that America could so thoroughly unravel as to look like one of the countries we're so proud to not be like. An admitted projection onto presumed American observers to whom the Other (at home or abroad) is just the Other--no more, and, often, less. A slightly milder projection onto presumed American observers who just don't make much of an effort one way or the other. And, finally, just the simple, superficial observation that this kind of societal collapse and refugee crisis doesn't LOOK like anything that could happen in America.

Which is really an observation that--in addition to all the OTHER forms of reality that Katrina showed we weren't in touch with--we are obviously just as out of touch with the Other America as we are with Haiti, or Rwanda, or Nigeria. How did this happen? Who are those people? Why didn't they leave? How could we not know?

How could we not know the fault line between the First World and the Third runs right through our country? Well, how indeed? And what do we do now that we know? Do we even admit it?

Finally, on this day, PT!, 9/2/03: "I hope the President had a very nice vacation."

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