Posts Tagged ‘hurricane’

Help Haiti

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

I don’t have any personal knowledge specific to Haiti, but I do know this: These kinds of things are MUCH more urgent and extreme than they seem through the media filter. As hyperbolic as some of the coverage has been, I think it’s safe to assume that it isn’t capturing the scale and precariousness of what is going on.

If you didn’t hear Jason Beaubien’s on-air moment and the reaction to it on NPR, check out this story.

Partially because this blog started in response to the Katrina-Rita thing in the Gulf, I feel moved to use it to join the chorus of voices asking for help in Haiti.

We need to take these moments to not only reflect upon how fragile the systems that ensure our own physical security are, but to recognize that as people who CAN help, we MUST help.

I’m struck by the stymying of certain relief efforts by the destruction of critical infrastructure. All the high-tech aircraft in the world can’t help when the airports been destroyed. But at our end, far from the scene, technology actually helps us help. It makes sharing our own resources easier and (hopefully) more transparent.

There are tons of things you can do but the no-brainer, why-haven’t-you-already-done-it thing, if you have a cell phone in the US is to text “Haiti” to 90999. This donates $10 to the Red Cross, and as far as I can tell, this is on the up and up.

There are other ways to help. I won’t go on and on.

I’ve been appreciating the coverage on the Huffington Post.

The situation seems to be critical, dangerous and if not helped, headed towards something from Kormak McCarthy.


Saturday, September 6th, 2008

Tropical Storm Hanna is on it’s way up the East coast as I write this. We’re to expect some wind and rain here in NYC. We are not expecting people to die or for there to be power outages or anything ridiculous and third world like that.

Meanwhile, Ike is out there somewhere, and you can track all this stuff at this excellent web site.

But remember Gustav? It’s over right? No big deal right? Friend of this blogger (and blog), Tom Anderson wrote me from his iPhone in Baton Rouge last night (Friday night). With his permission I cross post:

Gustav update

Geaux away Gustav is what we say down here. It has now been day 5 without electricity. We are told to prepare for another 2 – 3 weeks before power will be restored. Have found myself stuck for a real response other than, “um, no really now… Stop kidding… How long did you say???”

Baton Rouge schools are closed until further notice. Un huh. Okay then. Never heard that before. And there are a few Parishes that are now closed until further notice. Excuse me? Whole counties? And what exactly do you mean by closed?

I guess we feel lucky since tonight our enforced curfew is now no longer 8pm but 10pm. Enforced meaning arrested and put in jail no questions. So we are camping out inside and the glamor is waning. National guard ice is a godsend making people emotional. And thankfully we are now able to get in and out of our road. It was closed for a day. There are many roads still quite impassable. Them live oak trees are mighty big when you lay them down in pieces.

Baton Rouge was just 5 mph shy of being hit directly by a Category 3 hurricane. We had many many touch and go tornados which really tore the he’ll out of things. We could hear the trademark oncoming train over and over again on top of the sustained 80 mph winds. Trees are all over the damn place. What a mess.

But on the plus side, we were able to find a generator and gas cans and gas. It took 10 hours but it was so worth it. I have never seen such a pretty machine as a Sycamore 7000e Professional Model with 12 gauge extension cords. Make ya wanna cry let me tell ya.

So now we have more of a post-apocolyptic kinda camping thing going on. But never and I mean never underestimate the value of electricity. God bless Ben frickin Franklin.

Biggest news I suppose for many down here was that Tiger Stadium suffered serious damage. The campus did too but let’s not lose perspective here people. The GAME was finally postponed. It is hilarious in some moments and then so very sad on others watching mothers fall apart in the streets. And then all if our neighbors all meet up together and bring all our food together and make Yankee Gumbo and for a moment it all seems that we will be fine. Now that we have a fan hooked up to a generator.”

There are a lot of places in the country where if this was the situation, we’d have little else in the media. National ADD made in the USA.

Mr. Obama replies! (Kind of)

Monday, September 1st, 2008

I just got a text message:

“Barack asks that you give to the Red Cross: give 5 dollars by texting GIVE to 24357 or give more by calling 1-800-435-7669 or at Please fwd”

So apparently it’s ok that I call him Barack.

I was going to make a bunch of jokes here about how he must have misread my last post etc, but given that I don’t take Gulf Coast Hurricanes lightly, I find that I mainly just want to get the word out. If you can help, please do. There’s still a lot of need even though Gustav wasn’t as bad as was feared.

For those readers of this blog who are down there: Hang tight. Looks like Gustav petered, but here comes Hanna.

In terms of the tone of the text from Obama, I have to say that there’s something about the “Barack asks that you…” that makes me think I drank some cool-aid somewhere along the line.

This is a weird post. Deal with it.


Monday, October 10th, 2005

This last Saturday morning, Chris & Derrick and Mark & Tara and I trundled into Chris’s little Kia Sportage and drove to Austin to see the Rude Mechs’ production of MATCH PLAY.

The first part of the 7 hour drive went right through the footprint of Rita. It really is kind of stunning. Still. There is SO MUCH damage.

-Every few miles there would be an abandoned car on the side of the road. Little piles of debris, often clothing, scattered over the landscape.

-The Atchafalaya swamp stunk like I’ve never smelled it stink before.

-We pulled off to grab some breakfast in this little place west of Lafayette across the street from a mangled Dairy Queen, and a smashed gas station with an even more smashed mini-van still parked at the pump.

-It got really intense around Lake Charles where there were long lines of boats of every description shattered and sunken along the shore.

-A trailer park, picturesquely located in a forest, so that almost every trailer was cut neatly in half by a tree.

-Buildings that had been stepped on.

-Churches wrapped in tarps and plastic sheeting.

-A big open field dotted with massive piles of broken trees, burning. Some sort of mythic bonfire ceremony with no people.

-Everything would look fine and then there would be a building like a corpse with no windows and that look you see in footage from war zones. I think it’s called rubble.

-The most fascinating thing to me is what it did to signage. You know those huge billboard weeds on the side of interstates everywhere they don’t have the wherewithal to pass ordinances against them? The ones with the large diameter steel mast supporting a framework for two billboards at angles to each other so they look like a big piece of cheese cake on a toilet paper tube? These things are like candy to a hurricane. It is the most convincing evidence I’ve seen to support the idea of intelligent design. These things were “played with”. It was like you gave the same material to 150 different artists and they each did something with them. The most common theme was to just strip the printed sign itself off the backing leaving an emphatic blank on the landscape, strenuously encouraging us to not do anything in particular. There would be shreds of the sign, but just enough to convey the violence with which Rita had shouted “SHUT UP!” at the advertising.
Others were mangled beyond recognition. Some of them were clear references to Anselm Kiefer, some were Claus Oldenburg some were like deconstructions of Alexander Calders.
Another favorite of mine were the tall thin poles toped with the delicate frame of the McDonalds logo. Just a hint of color around the edges. Obviously a statement about the emptiness of fast food. What it lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for in truth.

…all that plastic and other scary stuff that got blown away is out there somewhere…

On the way home on Sunday, it was dark by the time we got back into the Rita-zone, which was interesting. You would stare out at the darkness and wonder if there would normally be more lights out there. Then every once in awhile there would be a fully illuminated blank billboard. Or one of those elevated McDonald’s deals with little lines of naked light bulbs that were invisible by day. All very avant garde.

For the most part it looks better at night because rubble isn’t lit.

There were lots of trees blown down and broken limbs, but on the whole, nature deals better with this than the man-made stuff. Even in the most devastated areas, the grass was fine. Most of the bushes looked ok. We went by one stand of trees where you could tell which trees were dead because the dead ones had no bark. Rita blew the bark off of the trees. They looked funny and naked but I wanted to cry.

The thing that really gets me about all this is the way that you’ll drive by 7 wrecked billboards and then there’ll be one that’s pristine. A building with serious damage beside one with none. A town that’s normal and going about its business, just down the road from a ghost-town with no power or water or anything. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It is a clear evocation of something deeply real, and something that as humans we have trouble dealing with.

They’re letting people back into NO now (except for the ninth ward). One of my undergraduate students told me today about going into her house. The first floor is completely blackened with the gunk and the mold, and they had to wear masks to go into their own house. Up the stairs and everything is exactly the way they left it. Kacy’s own room was fine. Nothing out of place.

It’s this coexistence of devastation and normality that wrenches. It’s not fair. It never will be. There is no pattern. Gravity’s Rainbow. It’s easy to see and feel it in the aftermath of disaster, but it’s where we all live all the time. We are all in London during the blitz, and supersonic missiles are coming straight down at our heads. We won’t ever hear the one that hits us. This all causes a profound confusion about the nature of causality. It would be much easier to attribute which trailer park gets smeared and which boat survives to a will of some kind. Then at least the craziness can be traced back to a crazy personality of some sort, or vengeance, or benevolence. How can a life have meaning, if it can be taken away by something so devoid of it? If we say that we were “spared” when it misses us, then what are we when we are hit?

After the show (which was FANTABULOUS and liberating and cool and fun and [insert genuinely felt hyperbole]) Barney, some of the Rudes etc and I went to a Mexican place where the Margaritas had the burnt-orange color of the University of Texas football team. They tasted normal but they looked like Tabasco sauce. Our waitress told us that they were “victory margaritas.” Here’s the causality: Earlier that evening, the players of the UT football team managed, within the rules of collage football, to score more points (usually by transporting an inflated envelope of pig-skin over an arbitrary line) than their opponents. This caused food coloring to be put in our drinks… I don’t know. It doesn’t get much more random than that in my book.


Friday, October 7th, 2005

Ok, so you may have seen this before, cause it’s just a straight cross-post. The phrase “funny cause it’s true” comes to mind on a number of these:


You have FEMA’s number on your speed dial.

You have more than 300 C and D batteries in your kitchen drawer.

Your pantry contains more than 20 cans of Spaghetti Os.

You are thinking of repainting your house to match the plywood covering your windows.

When describing your house to a prospective buyer, you say it has three bedrooms, two baths and one safe hallway.

Your SSN isn’t a secret, it’s written in Sharpie on your arms.

You are on a first-name basis with the cashier at Home Depot.

You are delighted to pay only $3 for a gallon of regular unleaded.

The road leading to your house has been declared a No-Wake Zone.

You decide that your patio furniture looks better on the bottom of the pool.

You own more than three large coolers.

You can wish that other people get hit by a hurricane and not feel the least bit guilty about it.

Three months ago you couldn’t hang a shower curtain; today you can assemble a portable generator by candlelight.

You catch a 13-pound redfish in your driveway.

You can recite from memory whole portions of your homeowner’s and flood insurance policies.

You consider a “vacation” to stunning Tupelo, Mississippi.

At cocktail parties, women are attracted to the guy with the biggest chainsaw.

You have had tuna fish more than 5 days in a row.

There is a roll of tar paper in your garage (if you still have a garage).

You can rattle off the names of the meteorologists who work for the Weather Channel.

Someone comes to your door to tell you they found your roof.

Ice is a valid (and deeply interesting) topic of conversation.

Your “drive-thru” meal consists of MRE’s and bottled water.

Relocating to South Dakota does not seem like such a crazy idea.

You spend more time on your roof than in your living room.

You’ve been laughed at over the phone by a roofer, fence builder or a tree worker.

A battery powered TV is considered a home entertainment center.

You don’t worry about relatives wanting to visit during the summer.

Your child’s first words are “hunker down” and you didn’t go to UGA.

Having a tree in your living room does not necessarily mean it’s Christmas.

Toilet Paper is elevated to “coin of the realm” at the Red Cross shelter.

You know the difference between the “good side” of a storm and the “bad side.”

Your kids start school in August and finish in July.

You go to work early and stay late just to enjoy the air conditioning.

Hopefully my next post will be a bit more creative, but what’d you gonna do?


Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

So there are some things about the culture down here that drive me crazy.

One of the big ones in Baton Rouge, especially around LSU, is football. Football is a big deal here. Football is THE big deal here. When there is a game at Tiger Stadium here on Campus (right next to the building where the theatre department is) the entire campus basically shuts down. Just about every square yard of real-estate on campus is taken up by people in all sorts of sports team regalia, cooking, drinking, hoot-and-hollering, sitting in lawn chairs, etc. It’s called tailgating. I’ve seen it in other parts of the country, but never like this. People (private citizens) pull up with huge trailers emblazoned with the colors of their particular socially acceptable street-gang, they set up HUGE barbecue pits and have tents (some with air conditioning) so that they can sit in leather Lazee Boy recliners watching the game on large-screen televisions. All within earshot of the stadium. Coolers of every possible description stuffed with ice and really bad beer. It seems to be a game of seeing how much like being at home you can make being “at” the game.

I don’t even come close to understanding this. Admittedly I’m not a sports fan. Sports bars seem bizarre to me so tailgating is even stranger. The fact that it is done with such unbelievable gusto here is bewildering on a level that no oddity of Cajun culture even approaches. Mardi Gras I get. It’s stupid and inexplicable, but that’s obvious, and no one pretends that there’s anything more to it than inexplicable stupidity. What fun! And if nothing else, incredibly lavish, if tacky, floats eventually parade by, ridden by people in masks flinging plastic crap at you. What’s not to enjoy!
With tailgating there is the relationship to “the Game” that makes it all really strange to me. The tailgaters, don’t see the game unless they see it on TV. The closest thing to a parade is the little trucks that drive around collecting litter. People come to the same spot on campus, every game day, and have done so, in some cases, for generations. So there’s the tradition part of it. But there’s got to be better things to pass on than “this is were I always sit when the tigers play.”

Anyway, on game day. I go somewhere else.

The reason I bring this up is that classes at LSU were cancelled yesterday. The reason being that the clean-up from Hurricane Rita needed to happen. Of course what was actually going on, was that there was a football game (LSU vs Tennessee) scheduled for Saturday. This had to be postponed on account of the hurricane force winds during game time. It was played on Monday instead. Now there’s no way the NCAA would allow a school day to be called off because of a football game. On paper these people haven’t lost their minds. So Rita was the reason school was canceled so that we could turn the campus over to the game and the tailgaters.

This is something akin to invading Iraq because of 9-11.

Ok, so thousands of people didn’t die because they played football yesterday, but it’s not like the students didn’t get the message. Football is, in fact, the most important thing in life. It’s certainly more important than your education.

There has been some damage, but there’s no way we had to cancel classes. Not that I can see from the omniscient perspective afforded me.

Here’s the other thing. And people in this town have been noticing this a little. Because, thanks to Katrina, Tiger Stadium is now the home for not only LSU football, but Tulane and the NFL’s Saints (I don’t know if they can be from New Orleans any more) as well, there are all sorts of game days that have been added to the schedule. This means that all other events on campus (music, theatre, dance etc) scheduled for those days have to be cancelled. Now not only is there much communicated about an institutions values when they just schedule the game and let everyone else figure out their deals, but we all found out about these schedules by reading the paper! They didn’t even think to call and say, “Hey we need to make sure that these football games happen, and they are inherently more important than your play, so I’m sorry but that’s the way it goes.”
It’s not that football is more important than other cultural events… It’s that in the minds of these people the cultural events don’t even exist. So a woman called into the radio the other day and suggested that, for example, Operas be performed as half-time entertainment. “Bring the culture to the uncultured” She said… I think I actually let out a sigh that lasted 45 minutes.

Tulane and The Saints games must go on. But the shows that were scheduled to be in New Orleans… it’s just sad. Sad. But what can you do? It’s a disaster. Cancel football outright! That’s unthinkable.

I say, do the shows and let the football players run drills during intermission. Bring the popular entertainment to the snobs.

On a side note: Tiger stadium, in it’s present form, has it’s origins in the late great governor Huey Long. The Kingfish wanted a stadium for the Tigers, but he couldn’t get the money for it. So he got the funding to build some dormitories. These dorms happened to be arranged in such a way that if you put a football field in the middle of them and built some seating on top of them, presto chango, who-d a-thunk it! You’ve got a stadium. Now the interesting thing to me is that I actually like this story. I think it’s an example of creative thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blind to the many stupid things Long did, but this kind of graft seems fine to me.

I have to admit that football is important to many people who are smart and wise. I don’t, on balance, feel that there is anything at all wrong with football.
Tom has told me that for many first responders, working in emergency situations, the sense that normal life is going on outside of the disaster zone is incredibly important. To these people, hearing the score or seeing a bit of the game during a break can give them a sense that they are fighting a fight worth fighting. I don’t feel this way about sports myself (I would want to watch a Kubrick flick or the Simpsons) but I concede the point.

I just feel sad in my dark little corner trying to help nurse the flame in the flickering torch of artistic culture while the jocks are prancing around on the Jumbotron. It’s just that I know that if you fuel it, our light is brighter than theirs…


Saturday, September 24th, 2005

So we more or less dodged the Rita bullet.
Of course areas of Texas got it bad. The levy broke in NO and the 9th ward is back under water. There is certainly nothing good about Rita. Nevertheless:
The theme today is “things could have been much worse.” I don’t have a song. Sorry.

Just about the time I finished posting RITA I, Tom called and he had laid in some provisions to ride out the storm so to speak (“ride out the storm” being a figure of speech. There was no actual riding involved). Some steaks. Some things to drink. So at about 3 in the afternoon we were sitting on his porch like a couple of old coots watching the sky slowly rip itself apart. Occasionally there would be bursts of wind and rain that made it impossible to see across the street, but mostly it was blustery and enjoyably dramatic. We quoted some appropriate lines from King Lear, discussed matters of great and universal import and the afternoon passed.

As it got dark and intense we moved in, and decided to use whatever electrical power we had left on the DVD player, so we watched movies, ate, occasionally checked the weather radar on the internet, and eventually both fell asleep in our respective chairs during the second half of Lawrence Of Arabia. We both awoke to a blank TV screen (still with power) almost simultaneously and a bit disoriented at about 4 am, and although it was storming pretty heavily, I headed home.

Weaving my way through the fallen trees and other debris (almost identical to Katrina) I got home to discover that there was no power. Using my cell-phone as a flashlight (isn’t that what all Amish people do) I got some candles lit, and then blew them out and went to sleep.

Woke up to that distinct silence of no electricity. Power outages are not a unique experience by any stretch, but they are strange. The way the heat seems to slowly build up as the conditioned air slowly seeps out of the house. The way the silence seems so loud. Your relationship to familiar architecture is transformed as the connection between the inside and the outside of the house is recompiled. But the main thing that gets me about it is the fact that it could come back at any second. No warning, suddenly the computer monitor clicks and the ceiling fan starts to turn. Then it can go out just as suddenly without warning, and there’s nothing you can do.

So I get up and cook some eggs cause who knows how long the refrigerator will be out. And turning the gas knob to turn the burner off turns the power back on. Quick make coffee, sit down to eat and, bam, it’s gone again. And that’s how the day went. On for awhile off for awhile. It was different times for everybody. Different people on different rhythms.

There is definitely a different sense this time from Katrina. With Katrina people were much more willing to allow their lives to just stop. To not expect things to be working. With this one, there is a bit more of a sense that we want to get on with things. School has been cancelled for Monday, but whereas with Katrina there was surprise at the businesses that were open, today there was surprise at the places that are closed.

A couple grad students joined Tom and I in the evening to go looking for Mexican food (I had a hankering). Everywhere we went was unbelievably PACKED. Hour and a half wait etc. Tom said, “What is it about hurricanes that makes people want beans? You’d think it was windy enough!” Obviously we’ve reached a point of cultural transcendence. We ended up at a crowded rib joint.

I know that all over the region tonight are people holed up, trying to get through, but we saw an awful lot of people out who just wanted to get away from the fact that there was no power at home and spend some time where they could fool themselves into feeling normal. I hardly heard anyone talking about the hurricane.

Everyone knows there’s five more weeks of hurricane season…


Friday, September 23rd, 2005


So there’s this Japanese band from back in the ’80s called YMO (Yellow Magic Orchestra). It was fronted by Ryuichi Sakamoto who has some fame outside of Japan for film soundtracks that he’s done. Anyway the members of YMO started doing these little interstitial “skits” on their albums under the moniker Snakeman Show. Snakeman Show went on to have a life of it’s own and quite a cult following, but on the first YMO album that includes Snakeman Show material there is this rather catchy cover of “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells. A couple of times on the album when there’s a lull, there’s this heavily Japanese accented voice that says very low and slowly “Here we go again,” and the band swings into a reprise of “Tighten Up”. It’s really very funny.

So for the last 48 hours I cannot escape the sound of that voice saying “Here we go again” in my head.

I made a little MP3 so you could hear it in your head too:
[Click here to hear.]( “Here We Go Again”)

I’m lobbying to call it the meter-maid hurricane but that’s just a Beatles reference so… Lovely.

Rita seems like it is going to lose the distinction of being the first second Category 4 to make landfall in almost a century (I actually think that sentence is grammatically correct despite it’s appearance). A strong Category 3 they’re saying now. Of course it might stall and then just unload all it’s water onto whatever is under it at the time. The thing about it is that it’s just so freaking huge.

Texas looks like it will take the brunt of it. Port Arthur, which gave us our beloved Mr. Rauschenberg looks like it’s in big trouble. The last report I heard was that they were evacuating EVERYBODY out of Port Arthur. Galveston will take a good hit. Historical deja-vu. Talk about “Here we go again.” I’m not playing the blame game, but if you want evidence of how effective the evacuation of NO was before Katrina, take a look at Houston (home of Archie Bell and the Drells). 100 mile traffic jams. That sounds like fun. It’s the apocalypse folks!

Of course the big story down here is that an awful lot of the people who escaped Katrina were camped out in the path of Rita. Double evacuation. CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT THESE PEOPLE ARE FEELING? I can’t help but think of that Tom Waits lyric: there ain’t no devil, it’s just God when he’s drunk. I know of people from NO who spent the last couple of weeks in Texas who are back in Baton Rouge trying to get to Atlanta.

After my raquet-ball game this morning I went and got gas and groceries. I went early to beat the “We’re all gonna die” rush, but the feeling at the Albertson’s was already getting grim. It’s a bit like winter in Minnesota where there’s just this sort of stoic sense of you have to do the things you have to do and everyone deal with it. Outside in the parking lot there was a guy who just looked up at the sky and yelled in a hispanic accent “He’s coming”. Now that I think about it, I’m not really sure what he meant by that.

Here’s the deal for us here in BR. We are, most likely, going to get hit by more of Rita than Katrina. this is because we are being hit by the savage “east side” of the storm. More wind. More rain. Very possibly tornados. Under normal conditions this would not cause much of a problem for even NO but, the pumps and levies are not working. Too much rain or storm surge at this point and it’s “Here we go again.” That’s why the people they just let back into NO are now having to leave again. As for me, I live in a low-profile brick house on high land. I’m pretty secure. If a tree falls on us we’re in trouble but I think we’re sheltered enough (famous last words).

On the topic of people I wouldn’t loan my car to: LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe (those of you keeping score at home will remember him from his recent job presiding over the last time NASA lost astronauts… not to mention the shuttle they were riding) has cancelled all activities at the University after 2:30 today. In the meantime the buildings are already being locked down. This move by the Chancellor is widely being seen as late.

I am writing this from home. I hope we don’t lose power. That was a bummer. I know you’ve got to be pretty fortunate in these situations for that to be your main problem but I’m sorry. It sucks and I want to watch DVDs.

Katrina has definitely changed the way people evacuate. Apparently, before Katrina, you would pack up cloths and food and survival supplies. Now people are packing up photo albums and other non-replaceable objects of a personal nature. Also, officials are not having as hard a time convincing people to get going.

There’s already a lot of wind and rain outside my window…

So the joke for today is: This hurricane season is really blowing me away.

We’ll see how this turns out…

Katrina VII

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

Ok, so Tom (who corrects my introduction to him in a comment on Katrina I) told me this one:
Q: What did Bush say when asked about his position on Roe vs Wade?
A:”I don’t care how you get out of New Orleans.”

Tom also sent me this link:

I am led to understand that the politics and policies of the United States are covered in certain parts of the world much more carefully than they are here. There is good reason for this. I would also pay a lot of attention to what someone was saying, if they had all the weapons and I had something they might want, like oil or coffee etc. For example Al Jazeera broadcasts what are essentially transcripts of US policy statements rather than the sound-bites of American media. It is not difficult to argue that civilians in Iraq know more about the official reasons why American troops are killing and being killed in their country than the soldiers themselves or their loved ones. Not that I want to go out on any limbs about the ideological objectivity of Al Jazeera, but I think it’s clear that people all over the world actually have access to quite a bit of American “official” information. Given this, it is safe to assume that these people are listening in on our national conversation (again, we have the guns so it behooves you to watch us carefully). And it strikes me that it must seem strange that in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the people who drop bombs on their cities are arguing about the rescuing of cats and dogs and why weren’t pets part of the evacuation plan.
I am very sympathetic to the concerns of people who own animals and the attachment that they feel towards their pets. It just seems to me that people in Bagdad, many who haven’t had running water or electricity since Hurricane Shock and Awe, are looking at this conversation with the sinking feeling that the extremists are right and these people are immoral devils. Again, don’t get me wrong. I want to live in a country where we can mobilize our military to rescue the only friend someone might have. I think we should expend the energy necessary to make sure we don’t have to split that kid up from Snowball. I think our response to this situation should be that compassionate and touchy-feely. I really do. Sarcasm check… 0.0%…
I just can’t help but think that we’re doing such a lousy job… no, a criminally insane job, being compassionate on the world stage that people can be forgiven for feeling a bit of resentment towards our grieving for our pets.
Legally, pets are property. They don’t have rights, guaranteed and protected in our constitution. They have certain protections against egregious abuse, but for the most part they are seen, legally as below the threshold of deep consideration. In the human vs pet equation the humans always come out on top. This seems tacit, and we’re just lucky it doesn’t come up very often in most of our lives. But for those of you who think that the argument for rescuing pets is ridiculous, it’s interesting to remember that they occupy a legal status similar to Women and slaves of previous generations.
I say: Save the people. Save the pets. But follow that logic out to its conclusion. Save all the humans. Not just the rich ones. Not just the ones that you can relate to. Not just the ones that the media keeps in your concerns. That’s what I say.

We look with horror at what happened in NO. But look, for example, at Iraq. As far as I can tell, the situation is deplorable. It is getting worse. The infrastructure isn’t coming back on line with much speed. We Americans promised that once we took care of Saddam, the lives of the Iraqis would get much much better. These people have been putting up with more than most of us can imagine, and have been doing it for a long time now. News agencies are having trouble keeping correspondents in Baghdad, because even seasoned war reporters are saying it’s worse than anything they’ve seen. We caused this. Now the size of print that we announce our dead soldiers with is getting smaller, and the blurbs are getting shorter and they’re moving deeper and deeper into the depths of our newspapers. And that’s just one of a long lists of things… Life in the 21st. Century. It’s not for the faint of heart.

I’m reminded of Martin Luther King saying that we are a 10 day country. After that we’re on to something else.

I’d like to pass on a thought that Harry Shearer articulated so well in last week’s Le Show: Ladies and Gentlemen. If you want to see looting. Keep your eyes on the aftermath of Katrina. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Three words: No Bid Contracts. Bush and his buddies are going to make the organizers of post civil war reconstruction look like a bunch of amateurs. And it’ll look so compassionately conservative too.
One of the amazing things about Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans is that despite the fact that they are huge public events, there are no corporate sponsorships. The funding of the floats and their krewes (look it up) is a big deal but it’s done in such a way that the floats don’t end up being big beer commercials. Lots of corporations use Mardi Gras to advertise, but Mardi Gras itself doesn’t advertise. I think that’s cool. I don’t want some big brewery now to come in and fund Mardi Gras and want their logo everywhere.

It’s a hurricane. Not a hurri-can’t.(That one’s from Stephen LaVergne)

A reality that is happening in reference to the re-building of NO: Many of the corporations that poured money into facilities and people in the Gulf Coast did so in defiance of scientific reports that they had in their files speaking about the possibility of this happening. Now that it has happened the veracity of those reports is elevated to the point that they are affecting decisions. Many of these reports point out that we have been in a multi-decade lull, hurricane wise, and we are now exiting the lull. The next twenty years or so will bring many more hurricanes, and thanks to the temperature of the gulf being elevated by global warming and the progressive coastal erosion (we lose an area the size of Manhattan every year) the effects of the hurricanes will be worse. This isn’t new information. It’s just being taken seriously for the first time in many cases. The corporate world is going to act on this information with the time honored sentimentality for the bottom line for which they are known.

Here’s a huge problem and I don’t know how to parse it these days: We evaluate the veracity of information we hear on the basis of how much we agree with it. I am down on the Bush administration. Therefore if you tell me that the administration has done something stupid or immoral, I’m more likely to trust the source than if you tell me they’ve done something spectacular and nice. If I start reading an article about the country and it talks about the positive effects of Bush policies, I start to question the writer’s accuracy and motives. If it’s tearing things up, I start Xeroxing it and passing it out on the street.
I’m a great believer in the Scientific Method. I don’t claim to be good at it, but it is a basic governing principal of how I organize my perceptions of the world. In science, the possibility of being wrong is the most valuable thing a thinker can hang onto. For a topical example: Intelligent design (Creationism) isn’t bad science because it can’t be proved. It’s bad science because it can’t be DISPROVED. On the other hand, the theory of evolution makes predictions that can be disproved experimentally or observationally. Scientists put their faith in evolution because it passes tests that could disprove it. Solidity is gained by opening the door to being wrong. This is hard work. It’s just plain hard.
The problem with this country is that the political argument has been made religious by BOTH SIDES. Evidence one way or the other doesn’t make a dent because both sides are working on belief. This doesn’t mean that both side are right (or left). But it means that the conversation itself is dysfunctional and going nowhere.
People like me being right about the ineptitude of our government isn’t helping anyone. Standing at the banks of the new Lake New Orleans and deriding Bush is just as useful as these yahoos passing out flyers on campus here about how “God puts Sin-City under water” (They site Amos “…shall there be evil (calamity) in a city and the Lord hath not done it?” This stuff reminds me of the assertion made in Japan after the war that the nuking of Nagasaki was a consequence of it’s high Christian population.).
I don’t have an answer here, but I think people like me (inclusive of myself) often jump on ideological bandwagons of the left with just as much stupid fervor as our counterparts on the right, but we pretend like we’re being reasonable.

I don’t think it’s news to anybody that Katrina gets compared to 9-11. I’ve heard things like, this is 9-11 in slow motion. It’s bigger than 9-11. It’s worse than 9-11. It’s not as bad as 9-11. It’s just like 9-11. It’s nothing like 9-11.
One thing I have been thinking a lot about is how this Hurricane is not as useful to our government as terrorism. For one thing, it exposed a lot of ineptitude and bad management. The terrorism people saying “We have to get it right 100% of the time,” was a way to prepare us for that 1 time when they drop the ball. A way to prepare us to be sympathetic. There are really no public statements you can make to prepare the public to be sympathetic towards you standing on the tracks looking, slack-jawed, at the approaching train. An important hurricane to talk about in the context of all this is Pam. Hurricane Pam is the name of the computer generated, virtual hurricane that hit NO a year ago July, in a simulation participated in by FEMA and other administration officials. The results of Pam are so close to what happened with Katrina that it is really freaky to watch how Brownie flailed around doing “a heck of a job” while Bush told the nation that “No one could have predicted this devastation.”… but I digress.
One of the reasons why terrorism is so useful is that there is a human in the equation. Since it comes from a person, it can be tied to hatred. We can choose to deal with the confusion of 9/11 by hating Osama Bin Laden. Like some sort of two-way alchemical reaction, fear can be converted to hatred and back to fear again. This is VERY useful for a government. Fear and hatred are two of the sharpest tools in the shed. Our current government is very good at this trick. Very very good. We have a government capable of shifting the fear and hatred engendered by 9-11, to Sadam Hussein. This is advanced blame game. This is blame game extreme. The quote is not “I don’t play the blame game.” It’s “I play the game so well you don’t even see me playing it.”

Just wait. A couple months from now we’re going to mount an invasion of somewhere, cause they were actually behind Katrina. Cuba maybe? Maybe we’ll go all out and invade heaven. I hear we’ve got missiles that can do that, and the shuttle doesn’t seem to be good for much else.

The other night, PBS and NPR broadcast a concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center called Higher Ground. It was a sort of telethon style broadcast to raise money for hurricane relief. Laurence Fishburne was the MC. His opening comments can be heard on the NPR website. I recommend them despite the fact that he indulges the way way overused Gumbo metaphor as a way to describe NO culture. A theme that kept coming up over and over again, almost as much as the Gumbo thing was the way in which NO is the Soul of the United States, which just seems so tremendously hyperbolic, and wouldn’t we say the same thing about… oh I don’t know… Canton Ohio… if it was destroyed. But then they went on to make a pretty convincing case for it. The most compelling (along with quotes like Mark Twain’s “An American has not seen the United States until he as seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans”) being the fact that Jazz originated in New Orleans and that Jazz is the only indigenous American art form with any legs, sets up a kind of ipso-facto, ergo kind of check-mate it REALLY IS the soul of America thing.
Paul Simon performed “That Was Your Mother” with Buckwheat Zydeco. I started to think “Oh geeze. This whole Paul Simon world music thing is just so inauthentic.” But in the middle of the thought I realized that this was the song that made me first pay attention to Zydeco music. The fact that Clifton Chenier is in the Lyrics (He changed it to Buckwheat to honor the big guy with the squeeze-box standing behind him) is probably the reason I started listening to “The King of the Bayou.”

Riffing a bit more on the predictions theme:
The very first time I visited New Orleans, long before I ever though I would be here for any length of time, I saw the “Hurricane Evacuation Route” street signs, the “Sea Level” markings on the side of buildings and the above ground tombs and asked a cabbie who answered by basically describing Katrina. Actually what he described was worse because he described what would happen if a Category 5 actually hit the city dead on. Since then I have always known that NO was a city under Damocles sword. It actually was how I accounted for many things about the spirit of the town. It wasn’t a secret. People talked about it.
Mr. Bush has mentioned how he used to go to NO to revel in its Bacchanalian pleasures. Now even assuming a certain level of inebriation, I find it hard to accept that he never heard about this scenario. If he didn’t, that fact says something about his basic curiosity as a human being. If he did and it didn’t stick with him, that says something else about him as a human being. This guy is running our country? I wouldn’t lend him my car (maybe he can borrow my iPod but he has to give it right back).

…oh yeah… Almost forgot. Here comes RITA!!

Katrina VI

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005


Ok. Let’s start right off with some of my current jokes…

What’s the difference between Ray Nagin and George W. Bush? One has a constituency in dire need of rescue from a terrible situation. The other is the Mayor of New Orleans.

Toto. I don’t think we’re in New Orleans any more.

Hurricane. Hurri-saw. Hurri-conquered.

I’ve had it up to here with all this flooding.

The name of the State of Louisiana is being changed to the State of Emergency.

I’ve heard references to my town as “New Rouge.”

People who think the situation has nothing to do with race are, on the whole, white.
People in America who are genuinely surprised by what happened racially are, on the whole, white.

OR as John Steward said:
The people who complain about people playing the “blame game” are to blame.

This from a t-shirt: Hey George Why don’t you wait in the convention center

I had a long conversation with Alaina Dunn, who I wrote about before. She’s doing better. Her family is scattered all over the place. This very large and tight New Orleans family is now scattered over about 7 different states. She is particularly concerned about a cousin. “He’s black, gay and living in a Baptist church in Little Rock… It’s not working out.” Alaina herself is putting up about 7 people… 4 of them are on oxygen. One thing we talked about a lot, and it is a HUGE conversation around here, is the fate of the culture of New Orleans. For many people in America, Mardi Gras and the Jazz of the French Quarter was a tourist attraction. For the denizens of the city they were much more and deeper. The fact that Mardi Gras might not happen in New Orleans this year is really high on the unthinkable list for the NO diaspora. I myself, even after being down here only a couple of years, cannot imagine something NOT happening. Despite the subterranean well of meaning that it had in the community, Mardi Gras has a big visible side to it as well, but many of the aspects of NO culture were less flamboyant. More delicate. More nuanced.

The culture of a city like NO is like a compost pile. It takes a lot of junk and rot and crap to build up the critical mass necessary to get the heat and richness of NO. The music and art and weirdness and food and vibe that seeped out of those streets were organic in the deepest sense possible. And there is much talk that trying to get it back together is like trying to un-fry an egg. It ain’t gonna happen. Oh there will be some sort of Disney version of NO, with Jazz and Mardi Gras and Jambalaya. The politicians will be able to brag about how they re-built it, and they will claim that it is better than ever, and they will even claim that the spirit of NO is back. People all across America will feel good about it. But it won’t be that thing that was keeping these people with little else, culturally alive. Hey I saw Lion King. I know about the circle of life. But something really beautiful has died here and as we continue to deal with the ongoing problems, we need to grieve.
The Blues, and all of Jazz come out of pain and deprivation. It is not an accident that there was a lot of Blues in NO. There was a lot of pain and deprivation. The culture that emerges in a place like the American south is a culture that provides survival. Spiritual sustenance. For the tourists it was entertainment. For many of the artists it was literally ALL THEY HAD. Sure there were artists who had dough, but there were enough hungry ones biting at their heels to make the scene in NO as authentic as it was. The “scene” was one of an extravagance of spirit in an impoverished milieu. To pretend that the people who were making that spirit and that milieu possible were all living middle-class lives, is just plain blind. And to think that people whose very reason for going on living came out of being a part of that milieu were refusing to leave because they were stupid or blind is just dumb. Many of the people who are out in the hinterlands now had NEVER been outside of New Orleans in their lives.

Alaina told me about her cousin who, after rescuing fifteen people in his flooded neighborhood stood in chest-high water watching and waving wildly at rescue choppers going back and forth over them with no indication that they were seeing them. Apparently he said that just as he was thinking “What do I have to do to get these guy’s attention? Shoot at them?” the firing started and the choppers all went away.
I showed her the cover of the new Onion with the headline “God Outdoes Terrorists Yet Again”. She summed up a lot of the feelings amoungst the dispossessed with a quaint colloquialism: “Fuck mother nature. I want my city back.”

Looking at what’s going on in this country, I have a recurring and really troubling thought. It goes back to the period of time after 9-11 when it became clear that the country was going back to sleep. That we were all going to just hook ourselves back up to the Matrix and go on with the hypnotic money fueled choreography of America. That even a clarion wake-up call like what that day was couldn’t cause our culture to think anything more sophisticated than “let’s declare war on terrorism” and “we need to go shopping to get the economy back up to speed” was and continues to be really upsetting. I remember saying to quite a few people that what’s really scary now is that if we ARE going to wake up, it’s going to take something much worse… like the loss of a major city. Now with something very close to if not actually the loss of a major city we’re already starting to slip back into the haze of catch phrases and spin. The problems of New Orleans are the problems of the entire country. Scrape the surface off of any community in this nation and this is the color of the blood you’ll see.

On a note closer to home for me; after some frustrating time dealing with the cowardly, selfish, artistically blind way my department has been reacting to this crisis, I have massaged the politics and managed to get Big Love back on the calendar. I am doing it with a minimal budget which excites me and some of my colleagues, who are as concerned as I am that we are teaching a group of theatre majors that if you don’t have the funding you should stop doing the art. I mean if that were true…
Because it is a form of life, the most elemental job of art is to keep going despite the circumstances. The job of civilization is to create and sustain healthy conditions for life (inclusive of art) to flourish.
…I have abundant evidence to argue that what we have here in America is not a civilization. It is the idea of a civilization that has been hi-jacked by a bunch of terrorists who are fanatics in the religion of capitalism. They are using the mighty democratic tool that was forged to help us all make a better world and used it to generate profits for the few, and keep the rest either asleep, or running in circles, chasing carrots on sticks.

Ever since Katrina, the gym here at LSU has been one of the places that visiting EMT (emergency medical technitians) have been using to camp out. There’s something really interesting about racquet-ball courts with rows of inflatable mattresses and little reading lamps. I go in in the morning to do my workout and I’m rubbing shoulders with the groups that are getting their gear together to go out, or the groups that are coming back in. They’re on a sort of 24 hour rotation, so there’s always people sleeping, coming and going. We civs are cordoned off from the main areas where they live, but the locker-rooms are shared and an important part of their lives. Even naked you can tell who the EMTs are because no one else carries waterproof cell phones into the showers.

Speaking of showers. Remember a few posts back and I mentioned that the father of the girl across the street said that after three days cutting his way out of Sllidel he was happiest about taking a shower. It’s strange. He came by the house the other day. His daughter who now lives in my house wasn’t around, but I told him he was welcome to hang out. He got into the shower and took a two hour shower. I’ve mentioned this to a couple of people and some people have told me that I’m not the only one to notice this. Apparently many of the displaced seem to find comfort in long showers…