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Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 02:04 pm:   

Here's what a friend of mine wrote about Katrina. Make of it what you will:

Years ago I lived on Esplanade, across Rampart Street and beyond the I-10, a dozen blocks from the Quarter in a neighborhood that was never gonna be gentified. There was a laundry across the street, and the House of Joy Liqour Store, a place with the best collection of pornographic playing cards I have ever seen. It was an old house with a pecan tree in the yard, and the children next door, barefoot mostly, with corned hair would sit on the steps and crack nuts between their teeth before going up to the levee to check their crab traps. A old woman named Sophia Lefevre lived upstairs. Once a week I would walk the rent on her television set to place downtown and when I came home she would feed me gumbo and tell me about her mother, who had been a fine whore whom all the white men loved.
I remember how in winter the blue flames from the little cast iron gas heater threw shadows across the tall ceiling of my bedroom and how I would watch my girlfriend by the light of the fire asleep in our bed.
When I was married to XXXX we were arrested two days before we were to move to Louisiana.
After Clarion West I was going back New Orleans.
I was delayed.
Twelve years is nothing in New Orleans. It never occurred to me that the city itself might run out of time.
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Dave G.
Posted on Wednesday, September 07, 2005 - 06:13 am:   

This is an email sent around our office last week by my then-Republican, very conservative and very professional boss after hearing from his brother, a Katrina aid worker. He was really shaken up...


As some of you may know, my brother Tom is a Red Cross volunteer and is now working in what is called an "extreme disaster zone" in Covington, Louisiana. Tom is in charge of twelve shelters, which are housing over 5,000 people. The shelters are beyond capacity and cannot take any more refugees, but the people keep coming.

Tom has told our family first-hand that people are dying needlessly in the shelters -- right before his own eyes. The shelters are short of food, water, and medicine. A Budweiser plant is bottling water instead of beer and that is all there is to drink. Yesterday, Tom's team served 15,000 meals to the refugees (mostly MRE's or other Meals Ready To Eat). There are essentially no homes standing and some parts are still under water. There is no electricity, no running water, no toilet facilities. Tom sleeps on a floor or in a cot and, like everyone else, cannot take a shower and uses a bucket as a bathroom.

My parents spoke to Tom last night (for a 60 second call from a special satellite hook-up) and Tom told them that there is still no sign of the National Guard, no FEMA officials and no deployment of any other federal personnel. Apparently, FEMA did drop off some supplies but then left with no one to unload them; the local mayor had to employ prisoners to unpack the goods.

Only the local police guard the shelters and they are stretched thin Ė which means no one is safe. There is no hospital facility or doctors to treat the very sick. As of last night, there was no insulin for the diabetics, no heart medicine for the cardiac patients, little help for anyone. Tom has requested 450 more Red Cross volunteers (he has 150) and they have none to send into this type of danger zone. Like the other volunteers on site, Tom signed up for a 10-14 day commitment but is not sure when he can leave.

Tom has always felt the need to give back to his country, a country that has given him the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular success that he has achieved. I am not asking that any of you even attempt to mimic the sacrifice that my brother is making Ė leaving his wife and my two young nephews behind, and risking his own life to save the lives of people he has never even met. But I do have a few requests.

First, please consider Tomís struggle when you watch the devastation and tragedies on the news and give to the American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org).

Second, like most Americans, though proud of the spirit and courage of so many of Hurricane Katrina's victims and aid-workers, I want our federal government to do even more to contribute to Hurricane Katrina's relief efforts. Please call your Congressman, Senator and anyone else you think can help and demand that our government to do more.

For instance: We have so many bright and inspired government employees right here in Washington and all over the country who want to help . . .

Why isnít someone mobilizing every available federal worker, at least to help out with relief efforts in their area (even loading a truck or making phone calls)? Why canít every federal agency dedicate a day, a week or even a month to orchestrate some initiatives and pitch in to help with this catastrophe? Why not grant administrative leave to any federal employee who volunteers for the Red Cross (or any other federal relief organization)?

Finally, please get creative. You are some of the best and sharpest -- and also some of the most accomplished -- folks I know. I am asking you to think of other ways you can help and I am asking you to take action. Please help get Tomís desperate message out. The shocking frontline news reports are already prodding our government into doing more. Keep the pressure on. If there is anyone you know who has the power to take action, call them, email them, forward this note to them. Implore them to act.

Most of you know I am not much of an activist or rabble-rouser. But I am not only saddened by the heartache and despair of the news accounts, I also want to help Tom help these poor people. And though proud of my big brother, I am also very worried about him.

Thanks in advance for anything you can to do to help Tom help those victims in dire need.



Postscript: This week, after hearing about the death of an infant at his brother's facility, my boss dumped the Republicans and registered as a Democrat. No lie.

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Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005 - 05:38 am:   

The first member of the media to declare bs on the government was Bill McCaffery of CNN, one of the hosts of their morning show. Early in the week he said, "I've been alive for sixty-two years and I never seen anything bungled like this." And he was the first person to mention that we "have to look at the racial component." I haven't seen him on TV since that moment.

It's wonderful the way people are rising to the occasion by giving their time and making donations. The trouble is, Katrina and comparable disasters aren't really anomalies. Disasters simply speed things up and make the way American society (and, basically, every society) functions more visible. The bureaucratic snafus; the ineptitude of government to deal efficiently with problems; the indifference to the crushing plight of the poor; the violences, etc. These things are always there. They are our shame. Most of the time, we don't have to look at them, but when a disaster occurs, they're pushed forward and we're forced to confront them. People can be very compassionate. But, except in few strong hearts, the giving and the compassion never last.

Dogs are beginning to run in packs through the deserted streets of New Orleans. Rescue workers tie dead bodies to the street signs to prevent them from floating away, and these posthumous lynchings turn (if only momentarily) our focus to a past inherent in our present that reflects the ugliest of truths, the ancient and unyielding rule of a vast indifference that pervades the world, blurring party lines and racial divides,an indifference that permits our common history to consist of one atrocity or disaster following hard upon another. Relief efforts, the reflex to help, which our smirking President has described as "a tsunami of compassion," come after the fact. This is the dark side of human nature, our capacity to ignore a problem until it becomes too great to solve easily, to be blind to the crucial concerns of other people until those concerns impinge upon our own.

Improvements will be made. It may happen that the wetlands will be nourished to grow, the levees improved, and New Orleans rendered hurricane-proof. More likely, despite stiffened building codes, a few short-cuts will be taken during construction, a few compromises will be made, and the city will merely have the illusion of security. One way or another, a new disaster will come to occupy the attention of the world, a disaster we will treat as we have treated this one. Superficially. Well-intendedly. Inadequately. The government of the people, by the people, and for the people will remain the adversary of the people whom it purportedly consists, whom it sustains for no other reason than that we continue to support it with our blood, our sweat, our monies, placated by the promise of cars, by products unimaginable to our forebearers, by the seductive pleasures of television, the movies, by comforts without real sustenance that lull us to sleep, and thus we fail to notice the impalpable hurricanes that herd us along, the secret political storms that conduct our fates and doom us to repeating history. We don't need new buildings, new infra-structure, as much as we do new brains, new souls.

This would all seem a fait accomplis, unless...Hurricane season has two months to go, and it's possible we may have as many as five more major storms. Suppose a couple more big ones hit this year, three or four next year, three or four the year after that, and so on and so on. In Flannery O'Conner's short story, one character, the Misfit, says about another (I paraphrase), she'd have been a good woman if someone had been there to shoot her every second of her life. It occurs to me that we might be a good species if we were getting slapped around by a hurricane every month or so. It's an awful thing to hope for, that we be forced to live in perpetual state of disaster, but maybe that's what it will take to raise the human consciousness to the level at which our compassion is always operative.

The pretty news sluts of CNN, MSNBC, and FOX will orchestrate the presentation of the story into a melody constituted of heroic and tragic incidents, of spiritual survivors (Everything Happens For A Reason), determined rebuilders, soothing the public mind with their vapid sexuality, until what is remembered of Katrina will be a John Williams-like theme music overdubbing a montage of generic devastation, tearful faces, people being lifted off rooftops, banners yet waving, this planing away into images of new construction, of rebirth and resettlement, all ending glorioso with a conjuring of the people of New Orleans, recasting them as indomitable, colorful, tougher than beachvine, salted here and there with compassionate pleas from the celebrity community (doubtless well-intended; like ordinary people, most of them don't know when they are being used), and summed up by the face of Celine Dion, plain as a scrawny collie-mix, howling some plaintive gush. There will be no shots of a 79-year-old woman coughing up her last breath in a basketball gyn, of bodies covered with insulation lying on a beach. There will be no mention of the grotesque, eccentric stories that were played out in the dying city, the mutant seeds of the storm, the core events of its leavings. It will be condensed into a DVD, a tribute to the American character, reforged in Katrina's crucible. The past buries everything, even the greatest pain, only now, its process accelerated by the media, burial takes much less time. If the Civil War were fought today, it would become a theme park while it was still winding down.

A scapegoat will be necessary and one will surely be provided. I like Michael Brown for the role. As opposed to Michael Chertikoff, the on-scene rep of Homeland Security, who resembles an old Arab hitman, Brown has a fleshy, weak-chinned loser's look, he conforms to the prevailing image of bureaucratic inadequacy...and that's how we will characterize his failure. By judging him more harshly, we might force ourselves to examine the chains of penury, usury, raw greed and corruption that led us (and him) to this pass, and we would see that these chains wound back through time, through every corner of our lives and our mother-and-father's lives and the lives of institutions born long-ago, and that, blameworthy as they are, we cannot blame a freak storm or Michael Brown or a freak presidency for this apocalyptic result--blame cannot be assigned, blame is in the air, and will be for so long as we refuse to confront our human inadequacy.
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Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005 - 07:24 am:   

With political appointee, Mike Brown ("Brownie"), in the crosshairs, Bush makes another egregious political appointment -- PR Hack, Karen Huges, has been made Undersecretary of Public Something or Other. Her job -- to reshape America's image abroad. It's gonna take more than a fucking spin doctor.
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Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005 - 11:20 am:   

I think what you're saying is good. But, I've noticed is your view of humanity is, in part, very Catholic, or lapsed Catholic. Do you really think man in his natural state is so bad? Isn't all that Western sociotal conditioning a factor in shaping the hearts and minds of man? The darkness is certainly there...
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scott b
Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005 - 11:29 am:   


You often disparage your profession; which maybe keeps you grounded enough not to get lost in words or lose sight of reality, whatever. "Just fucking words, man." But as history and our hearts make clear, words imbue true power.

If we're talking about raising human consciousness, and maintaining strong hearts of compassion, words might be limited, but they infuse our thinking, which ultimately influences our actions.

I have also thought about having perpetual states of disaster to bring us back down to what is truly important in life, morbid as that might be, but then I wonder if war would become more pervasive than it already is. Yet maybe on a global scale evolution will kick in and accelerate our development of new minds, new souls. Yes, I'm fucking optimistic!

And it has plagued me why funerals are so sudden after a person dies. Is there some psychological mechanism in immediate mass grieving that alleviates the pain faster? It seems more repression to me.

Your desription of this is truly harrowing, utterly right-on.

Thanks for speaking it like it is.

Scott B
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Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005 - 12:11 pm:   

Thanks Scott -- I rather think that the reason funerals happen so quickly after death is a hangover from the days when the problems with decay and corruption were less soluble than today, but there's probably something in what you say.

Stephen, it's not a view point, it's what happens. Disasters like Katrina bring to light the way our society works. Period. The great indifference that we as a people show, under ordinary circumstances, to the problems of others is a fact. Show me how it's not. I've been in every corner of the world and, though there are slight differences in the way it manifests, the indifference to human suffering is there. In certain parts of the world, it's worse. When people can't afford compassion they tend to compensate with cruelty
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Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005 - 01:23 pm:   

Like you say, though. We find this in society.
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Lisa Goldstein
Posted on Saturday, September 17, 2005 - 07:36 pm:   

Re: Karen Hughes -- I saw her interviewed once and she was so eager to get to her talking points that she drooled. I'm not kidding -- she actually sucked back spit. I'm hoping people in other countries won't get taken in by her, but then I thought people in the US wouldn't either.
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Posted on Saturday, September 17, 2005 - 07:44 pm:   

Bush sacrifices a child every day so people won't notice....
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Posted on Sunday, September 18, 2005 - 08:55 am:   

I don't think people in other parts of the world will be taken in by Hughes -- they're not taken by Bush, and only in a cartoon America is Hughes more palatble than Bush. The people in other countries have tne benefit of an objective distance-- their decisions will be based on pragmatic criteria, and not on whether Hughes or anybody else is spouting neo-con cant. If Hughes message consists of a Bush stump speech. If her message is a cogent threat, she'll be somewhat effective.
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Posted on Sunday, September 18, 2005 - 08:58 am:   

Oops. If Huges message is based on a Bush stump speech, she won't get over.
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Sunday, September 18, 2005 - 04:20 pm:   

"Bush sacrifices a child every day so people won't notice...."

Ah...just another horrible misapplication of the often quoted adage, "Sacrifice your darlings."
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Posted on Sunday, September 18, 2005 - 04:28 pm:   

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Dave G.
Posted on Monday, September 19, 2005 - 06:43 am:   

I would give my eye teeth to know the real reason Karen Hughes fled DC to "spend time with her family" during the first term. People like that normally couldn't be separated from power with a hydrogen bomb. Bet there's a dandy little tale.
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Posted on Monday, September 19, 2005 - 06:51 am:   

Send eye teeth to...

Yeah, I bet you're right. Perhaps she took some corporate gig that she couldn't handle, but more likely the husband fell off his chair and landed on a hooker.

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