Posts Tagged ‘media’


Saturday, August 29th, 2009

People keep dying.

Celebrities. Relatives. Some obscure people. Some powerful people. People no one has or ever will hear of.

More U.S. Solders died in Afganistan this month than in any other since the current war there started (beating out last month’s record).

Why does this seem remarkable? Is there anything different about it right now? How many times in this last year have we heard the phrase “…end of an era” as a way of marking the death of someone or another. I do wonder if it has to do with the whole Obama thing giving us a sense of historic focus. But then we also have the wars and the recession/depression thing too.

Today is the confluence of Michael Jackson’s birthday (which is remarked upon because of his death), the funeral of Ted Kennedy, and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the gulf coast. Add to this, personally, that one of my uncles just died. What to choose… What to feel… hmmm…

Totally off topic here but I do have a Ted Kennedy joke I’d like to share: You know it turns out it wasn’t the tumor in his head that killed him. It turns out there was another tumor on the grassy knoll…

…too soon?

One thing I’ve been glad of is that I haven’t seen very much reference to the “Celebrities Die in Threes” trope. It’s always bugged me. I mean it has to be one of the stupidest things EVER. It could well be that when the human race slips into extinction we will find out that the total number of humans who ever existed will be a multiple of three. Or at least the total number of celebrities will be divisible by three. But its more likely that the number will not be a multiple of three, and more importantly, as the species disappears, is this REALLY going to be the most important question?

ANYTHING can be grouped into threes. Look at the stars. They’re all arranged in threes!… I’ve even noticed that after a cycle of three days, my life repeats and has ANOTHER cycle of three days!… spooky… Like all forms of numerology, it says more about the creativity of the numerologist than the nature of any kind of hidden order.

There is a thing about “Beginning-Middle-End” that makes groups of three deeply calming to our innate desire for order. So when two people die, we probably look for the third as a way of containing death. So that it won’t go on some kind of rampage in which EVERYBODY eventually dies, which is of course the big truth that we spend most of our lives distracting ourselves from. The theory of three deaths, is like a mini religion.

Truth is the boomers are dying. The post-war demographic bulge of births from the late 40s to the early 60s is falling off the cliff of time. And people who were important to the boomers are being noticed as they go. Presumably this will go on for awhile.

Or is it just that I’m getting to that age when I notice the obituaries more…


An announcement.

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

For a number of years now, I have been wanting to find a framework to create video work to post on YouTube. I don’t know if it’s vanity or just the desire to participate.

It’s clear to me that the idea of a “blog” is at least a step in the direction of democratizing the idea of freedom of the press; Who cares about freedom of the press until everyone has a press. A blog is a press, and everyone (pretty much everyone) has one.

But YouTube is taking this idea to the next level. Essentially YouTube is saying that everyone can be a TV channel if you want to. As someone who pays attention to things like television, it was vaguely disturbing to me that YouTube had taken away my ability to throw Molotov Cocktails at the networks from a safe distance. YouTube changed the conversation from “You media elites are a bunch of idiots!” to “Piss, or get off the pot!”.

So I’ve decided to piss: Leon’s Things

It’s a fundamentally silly idea, but I’ve got at least 15 of these things planned out on paper. Hopefully I’ll become better at producing them as time goes on. I do need to find something, other than a drunken monkey, to light them. A big part of it, is that I don’t want to spend any money on these things. I may someday. But for now these are zero impact projects. I have time right now to do this, so I will. For the time being, I will not use any music or other material to which I don’t own the rights. And I won’t be a shill for any company or corporation. If someone wants to sponsor me and support these things, that’s their own folly. I’m not going to pursue it.

I see/feel a clear difference between what I’m trying to do with this blog, and what this YouTube thing is, so I’m not going to collapse them into each other. If you want to keep up with the YouTube thing, subscribe to it in YouTube. I’m not planning on announcing it each time here. Apples and Oranges.


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 V

Wednesday, September 7th, 2005


Sorry for the lapse since IV.

A certain dark heart of despair is past. There are things happening and deals dealt with.

My original impetus for writing these missives was to let people know what was happening that wasn’t being reported (as far as I could see). There is so much material out there now about what is going on and the percentage that seems responsible is getting high enough for a certain critical mass of accuracy to evolve which will eventually be the way this story is told. Like all historical (or for that matter non-historical) events, there is no one unified truth about what happened. It is a massive bundle of human experience. Much of it contradictory. Little of it simple. I have never experienced war. I hope I never do. I have a slightly expanded context for imagining it now.

One of the great sources of information is the New Orleans Times Picayune. Many of their reporters have stayed on in the most horrid conditions and continued to provide information about their city. What’s really kind of inspiring about these people is that they are hardly ever even alluding to the fact that they are still down there. That they are scrounging for food.
There was a bit of controversy about the two pictures that you might have seen circulating the net: Each showing similar activities, one captioned as people having found food, the other captioned as looting. The only difference being that the looter was black. The guy who wrote the caption on the picture of the white people “finding food” was still in New Orleans and he responded to the criticism by saying basically that he was perfectly willing to have a conversation about the issue but right now, he’s wet, hasn’t slept or eaten much in days, and could we all just cut him a bit of slack until he’s on dry land. This kind of journalist is a universe away from Geraldo Rivera holding up a baby in a refugee camp.
To paraphrase John Steward last night, the media has kind of gotten it together on this one and is doing a pretty good job for once.

Life in Baton Rouge (the fastest growing city in America!) is: A veneer of normality punctuated occasionally by intense and jarring surrealism. You’ll be going about your day and suddenly a phalanx of 12 unmatched ambulances will shriek by, lights and sirens, going god knows where, at 75 miles an hour. You’ll be stuck in traffic and a convoy of trucks carrying air-boats will be winding their way east. Military helicopters (the big pregnant ones) swoop overhead like Tolkien’s Nazgil. I don’t know anybody who is not putting someone up or planning to. Every business is doing something. This is not an exaggeration. Everywhere you go there are rescue personnel from New Mexico or Illinois, all with arm-bands and various pieces of equipment.
There is still no gas, but that’s not so much of a problem because there is so much traffic you can’t drive anywhere anyway. There is some sort of mathematical phenomenon where the clogging of the traffic patterns has an exponential relationship to the expansion of the population. We’ve just over doubled the population but it seems like there’s 10 times as much traffic. We’re hovering right over the tipping point where no traffic is moving anywhere. Traffic reports are saying things like “Airline hi-way will be backed up all day. Also I-10. Please try to use alternate routes.” ALL DAY!

I got out to Target over the weekend and there are certain things that are just gone (men’s underwear, practical candles, certain camping supplies) and then huge cases of batteries sitting on pallets in the aisles.

One of my colleagues had a birthday over the weekend. A bunch of us got together. There were valiant attempts to talk about things other than the Hurricane. We failed. But at least we tried.

I don’t know how he’s being perceived in the rest of the country, but NO Mayor Ray Nagin is quickly becoming a folk hero down here. As far as I know, as I write this, he is living on the 25th floor of the Hyatt Hotel, which is now a walk-up. Yesterday he was choppered out to the Iwo Jima so that he could shower, change his cloths and sit in an air-conditioned room for awhile. I have seen some controversy about his staying in NO but to most people I have talked to down here, it is a shining example of a leader leading from the front. People tick off the facts and factoids about how Nagin is living (there’s no electricity. No… No many things) and what he’s doing, with a proto-religious awed reverence.

One of my students, who is a complete comic-book, seventies-music/eighties-movies geek of the highest order (and also an amazing dancer who spent the summer with the Joffery Ballet), was looking at the total loss of his extensive and invaluable collections (This included some archival video stuff that I had brought back from Japan, that he was helping me digitize over the summer). It turns out, his house was miraculously spared. No damage. None. There were leaks in the house, and some minor flooding, but nothing of any value was lost.

On the other hand there are more and more stories from people who are getting back into the outlying areas to asses. My housemate Michelle went into Slidel with our neighbor from across the street (who now lives with us, because her parents and grandparents live in her apartment). You can’t get into these areas without some proof that you live there. They showed me some pictures. Huge boats, upside-down in the middle of the hi-way, stacks of cars arranged around car dealerships like a crumpled house of cards, and trees, trees and more trees. Most of them at angles not conducive to photosynthesis or orderly life in their proximity. But the thing that they said was absolutely overwhelming and impossible to convey was the smell. Pervasive, intense, offensive and dark. The mind starts to get frantic, not just from the physiological stifling of it, but from the imagination trying to come to terms with what could possibly be causing it. I’ve gotten whiffs of it. I don’t want more. I don’t enjoy retching.

There are signs everywhere in the quarantined zone that say: “Looters will be shot.” I want to tag them with “Shooters will be looted.” Reasonable people are seeming to find that death is an appropriate consequence for burglary. The American dream: Get away from my stuff or I’ll kill you! You use the government to create a situation with an impossible disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Then you take away their infrastructure and dip them in a sea-water/petroleum/sewage concoction. Carnage ensues. What did you think was going to happen? Some people didn’t like the way things were and have no vested interest in returning to the status quo. On top of which, many of them have been de-toxing on national television. Speaking of both New Orleans and Iraq: Why are Americans so confused about what is motivating people to shoot at them? Can’t they figure this out?

The three reasons I have heard for why snipers shoot at rescue choppers:
1. They are evil.
2. They are hallucinating on account of the lack of drugs.
3. They are not being rescued and are trying to get attention in the only way available.

Denial and delusion play a critical role at a time like this. It is an invaluable survival skill. So many people tell me about evacuees who are staying with them who talk about getting back to their homes next week and wondering if they’re going to have to take the carpeting out. Despite the fact that it’s pretty clear that their house is or will be destroyed, these people NEED to think this way to get through the next week, the next day, the next five minutes.

The internet is playing a critical role. E-mail is better than cell-phone service. Even text-messaging is better than voice. There are web-based portals that are serving up, up-to-date “shingle-level” satellite imagery based on street addresses. It’s really pretty amazing. I’ve helped a number of people find pictures of their homes, and try to figure out what’s left of their property, 80 miles away by looking at it from outer space.

There are SO many stories now. We started classes yesterday and everyone… EVERYONE has an engrossing story that is heartfelt, heartbreaking or heartening. I have also started finding and meeting with friends amongst the diaspora. I have found that one of my primary functions at a time like this is to tell tasteless jokes:
Yeah… I got hit pretty bad. A house fell over and hit my tree.
Then some cloths and books and all kinds of appliances got all over my water and mud.
See the problem is that you left the wrong people behind. If you’d left the middle-class white people on the roofs, this wouldn’t happen.
After a hurricane, everyone is Amish.

My sarcasm circuit is stuck on full throttle. Just mention the federal government to me these days. I’m like a walking, one-man Daily Show. This is not an accomplishment. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

The other thing that more and more people here are talking about is the fact that so much attention is being focused on New Orleans that we are forgetting that other areas of the gulf coast were hit worse. Of course the footage of New Orleans looks new and dramatic, what with the water all over places many Americans may have visited as tourists. Whereas the footage of Mississippi has the been-there-done-that quality of the tsunami aftermath. Also, the broken Super-dome is more dramatic than a bridge, highway or building that just isn’t there any more. Footage of sand doesn’t really grab you unless you’re from the town that used to be on it.

And then there’s the whole thing about pets…

Katrina IV

Friday, September 2nd, 2005


The situation is still evolving. Trying to deal with what might happen.

We have been told that there will be hundreds of new students that we are “absorbing” from the NO schools, so I guess that means we’re going to have a semester.

Like many places in the country, we don’t have any gas. Most of the stations are closed. Prices, when there is gas, are not as bad as they are in some places, because Louisiana has a law that freezes gas prices in an emergency. The doubling of the population, and the fact that many people are still running generators for their electricity compounds the basic problem of no supply. The trick now is to keep the tank full so that if you need to get out, you can. My friend and hero Tom Anderson, said that several people in the emergency response business told him yesterday “Don’t panic, but be ready.”

Reports of civil unrest yesterday here in BR turn out to have been exaggerated. However, the speed at which the fear swept this town is scary. I don’t think we’re there yet, but we are approaching a tinder-box stage where a single incident could ignite the whole thing. One of my colleagues who was in LA during the riots says that the atmosphere is similar.

I heard yesterday that one of the reasons why the national coverage has been so slow to get up to speed is that seasoned reporters got down here and immediately reported back that they needed to be put on a “war footing”. They need the stuff they use to do war coverage which, although I don’t know all the ins and outs of, I’m told is a lot more hard-core than hurricane coverage and is taking some time to get.

Lately I’ve heard a tone of outrage on NPR that is resonating better with what I’m feeling here than it was before.

Several people have asked me why the evacuation wasn’t more effective early on:
Here’s the thing. The amount of time that Katrina was a Category 5 was not that long before it hit. When it hit Florida, it was a Category 1, which is small consolation to the death and destruction that caused, but the doomsday scenarios for NO required a 3 or higher. The evacuation that was ordered was extensive, and on the whole, effective (now granted there was no plan in place to evacuate the poor, primarily black population that we are now watching die), but the escalation of the situation was very steep. Also, there was in the early, critical hours of Monday and Tuesday, a sense that we may have dodged the bullet. We went from “Oh my god!” To “whew!” to “…oh …mY …GOD!!!” There was a momentum that was lost in the “whew” moment that I think was critical.
Don’t get me wrong. I think there is incompetence, stupidity, lack of imagination, racism and particularly greed all over the place and people are dieing horrible deaths as a result even as I write this.
There is also the simple matter of logistics. Where do you tell people to go? Balls are being dropped out there, but I don’t think people are maliciously saying things like “Forget about the 2500 in the convention center.” At this point it’s just that the job is overwhelming.

Despite the fact that this is a disaster that was known about as a potential for a really long time. The reality of what is unfolding in practical terms is hard to fathom. I am reminded of the fact that when the Capital of Ancient Japan was moved from Nara to Kyoto a primary reason was that the growth of Nara had overwhelmed it’s sewage system. There are similar “infrastructure issues” at work down here. It’s hot. It’s humid. We have a brief window now before Typhoid and Cholera potentially become the main story. And then there’s West Nile (standing water anyone?). I hope I’m wrong about this stuff. I really do.

Have you heard about the shark? There was a shark in lake Pontchartrain all summer. And now it’s prowling around New Orleans.

Fats Domino has been found and he’s fine.

Try to think up an image. I bet it’s happening.

Speaking of images: Perhaps people have seen the image of the two wrapped corpses outside the Convention center; one in a wheelchair, one on the ground. It is interesting how these two corpses have resonated. I’ve seen so many media outlets show them and reference them. I think part of what’s going on is that because the bodies are wrapped, the pictures show no race or social class. It could be anyone in those shrouds, and I think that’s helping people relate to the fact that what’s going on is about PEOPLE. We project ourselves and our own kith and kin into those pictures.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that I’m in that part of the movie where, as an audience, because you know what’s going to happen, you’re screaming “Get out NOW! Just leave!”. Trapping inside either an interesting eventful couple of weeks, or the first half hour of “The Pianist”. There’s no way to know which. Ah the hindsight I will have in the future.

We have a major US city that is suddenly wandering the roads. The people who are turning to violence simply have nothing left to lose. It’s really very simple and really very dangerous. My earlier allusions to “Road Warrior” are coming back to haunt in very real ways.

I am frankly scared. Right now we have every emergency worker that can be spared, every resource that isn’t nailed down screaming towards the gulf coast. The shock and awe of the National Guard are already there. We absolutely need everything we can get our hands on to help people who need it now. I am not a criminal mastermind, but it seems to me that in another couple of days, this country is going to be so completely vulnerable to an attack somewhere else that it is almost implausible that it won’t happen. It’s a perfect storm, and I can’t fathom the possibility that terrorist sleeper cells are not seeing his. The dragon is down, and his claws are stuck in a desert on the other side of the world. What an ideal opportunity to go in for the kill.
I don’t want to be unnecessarily alarmist, and I really really hope that I am wrong. There is never a good reason to panic. But I haven’t seen a better time to “be prepared” than right now.

It is becoming increasingly important that we take this conversation to the next level, and keep it there. This country is poorly led. It has been poorly led for a long time. The important thing, I think is not to sling mud at this point. I know people like Moore and even to a degree myself have been doing this. But we need to show people in rational terms that the chickens of some long term stuff are coming home to roost. This goes beyond Blue vs Red. There is a window of opportunity to be taken advantage of here. Hard core Republicans have started to register complaints. Bill O’Reily has been criticizing the administration for goodness sake, and that wasn’t supposed to happen until there were airborne porcine. We need to start figuring out how to fix what’s broken and stop fighting over who should be fixing it (or pretending to).

In the vein of giving voice to the situation in vehement terms that are really clear: I encourage all of you to listen to NO Mayor Ray Nagen go off about it. You can read the transcript here:
But I suggest you follow the links to hear him speaking.

I know a lot of you want to find ways to help. Here are some further suggestions:
1. Pressure your local government to demand more/better response and reform.
2. DO NOT tolerate people speaking ignorantly about what is going on, particularly in terms of race.
3. Live your daily life with a richness that suggests an appreciation for what you have. Understand that all your stuff, and your life, is on loan from capricious forces, and drink hearty.

I started off today thinking there wasn’t very much to report…


Katrina I

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

Ok. So I’ve been going through being in Baton Rouge during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. One of the ways I have been dealing with the whole thing is that I have been writing e-mails. I thought at first that it would just be for family (both personal and the SITI family), and a few friends, but the thing began to expand.
I have been reluctant to put these posts on my new blog, because there are people who might be hurt or piss-off at some of the things I’m saying, but a very good friend said the magic words to me today. He said “Don’t edit yourself.” So here they are. I will post the first six all today (9/16/05) as different posts but I will timestamp them as if they were blogged on the day they were written. Blah blah blah (or Blog blog blog…)


Forgive the mass e-mail. I realize that some of you have been trying to reach me and have been concerned about whether or not everything is ok. I’m fine.

Here’s the deal as far as I can tell:

I drove into Baton Rouge on Sunday night. I had looped around to the North so that I could avoid the evacuation of New Orleans which I knew would shut down almost everything, but I still ran into road-blocks and a huge flow of refugees heading north through Mississippi. I decided that if I didn’t get into Baton Rouge on Sunday there was no telling when I’d be able to get in, so with some advise from a picturesque gas station attendant and by keeping the sun in the right hand side of my sun-roof, I was able to improvise my way across southern Mississippi on back-country roads that they weren’t sealing up yet. The atmosphere was eerie to say the least. It was kind of like Road Warrior but with more green. Every church I passed had a “Shelter” banner on it.
Of course I had my Palm based GPS navigation system but I hadn’t loaded any detailed maps of Mississippi, so I was quite relieved to see the “Welcome to Louisiana” sign that meant that I had been guessing right. I did have detailed maps of Louisiana so there was much less trouble dodging the increasing number of road-blocks. At this point Baton Rouge was still on the projected track of a category 5 hurricane which meant that we were looking at losing over a million trees (those of you who have been here know how big some of them are) and everything underneath them. Not to mention that if the surge came up the river, the low-lying areas would be under water. We “battened down the hatches” and “hunkered down” (hunker down! I barely know her!).
As you may know, the storm did two things which saved a great many lives: It turned to the East just enough to spare New Orleans the center and the brutal East side of the storm, and it downgraded to a category 4 as soon as it made landfall. Relatively speaking it came nowhere near Baton Rouge. Nevertheless, we lost power at about 9 am Monday. Suddenly everybody is Amish. There’s no internet, no lights, no TV. I was charging my cell phone in my car but the network was overloaded so it was spotty at best. Battery and hand-powered radios were the only source of information but as things got worse in New Orleans, less and less information came out.
Around two in the afternoon I drove about 6 blocks through the broken trees and smashed power-grid to my friend Tom’s house. Tom is one of the founders of the Hanger theatre who is now an entrepreneur making software for first-responder units. He is very plugged into the emergency response system so I figured he would know what was going on. The only thing he knew was that everybody was very grim about New Orleans. We sat around for a few hours as the weather continued to clear, and then we climbed in his SUV and drove around doing our own damage assessment. There was a good deal of scattered tree damage (nowhere near what it could have been but that’s no consolation to the people standing outside their smashed houses and cars), and the power was spotty.
We ended up at huge cafeteria of a pizza place that Tom said was a cop and fireman hang-out, and was open. The place was packed with refugees and the two owners were making pizzas as fast as they could while one of the refugees organized orders and payment. After awhile a group of cops came in wearing an assortment of agency tee-shirts and uniforms. A family, obviously from New Orleans asked one of them if rumors of a curfew were true. He said he didn’t know. That they had been in New Orleans and were having to pull all the way back to BR to re-group. The mother asked how does it look? And the cop said “It’s bad.” There is no punctuation mark in the English language to indicate the mixture of devastation and sadness in his eyes. Someone rigged up the large-screen television and a hush came over this huge room as we saw that first military helicopter footage. The cops were as captivated as we were and you could tell which refugees were from where because they would react when their neighborhoods came up. Mostly underwater.
I suddenly got a text message from one of the LSU PHDs who had power and invited us over. We went over and watched the TV coverage the rest of the night.

A few things that don’t seem to be getting out into the national news:

The evacuation of New Orleans was a miracle of civic organization. Last year they evacuated for Ivan and it was a mess. There were moments of messiness this time, which the national media focused on, but they got far more people out, in far less time. They learned the lessons of Ivan well. Really well.

The big story seemed to be about relief, and that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Despite this being true, it is still REALLY BAD! The red cross is in the middle of the largest scale mobilization they have ever made in the US.
As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the waters are RISING in New Orleans. They have no idea why, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of people still out there. There is very little information and the refugees are being INCREDIBLY patient. New Orleans is sealed off. No one can get in, and they are urgently trying to get the word out to people who are still there to leave if they can, because it’s still getting worse. Far from turning around, the evacuation isn’t over yet. Meanwhile people in Mississippi and Alabama are still getting hit. Part of the issue is that I’ve heard several reports that government agencies are modulating their reports about how bad things are to stave off panic.

People down here are a bit pissed off at the national media. There are numerous cases of correspondents deriding the people who stayed behind despite the fact that most people who stayed had, literally, no way to leave. There is also a sense that, given the fact that most people here lost power almost immediately, the pretense, on national television, that they were performing a public service and giving information to people who needed it, was a bit disingenuous. Maybe it is idiotic to build a city below sea-level on the gulf coast. Nevertheless, the borderline racist, condescending tone of much of the coverage I saw was deplorable.

There is a big controversy about the use of the word “looting”. I think I’d be doing it too. Most people I know consider what the NY Times and others are calling “looting” as an intelligent early part of the clean-up effort. Not that there haven’t been deplorable incidents, but grabbing a couple packs of diapers out of a flooded store, hardly seems like a crime.

Many neighborhoods in BR have power and are very slowly getting back to normal. I still have no power and spotty cell-phone service. I’m writing this in my office at the theatre. LSU has it’s own generators so we’re off the grid. I’m lucky. It’s hot out there and without power there’s no AC. At least BR still has potable water, and the toilets flush. I can’t imagine what those people in the Superdome are going through right now. I hear they’re letting them outside for brief periods. It’s supposed to be near 100 degrees tomorrow.

I know disasters like this are always reality checks. And if I was in Darfore I’d be writing about that with scales falling from my eyes, but in addition to letting you know not to worry about me, I wanted to let you know that there are people deserving of your concern in my community. And that part of the media is just fitting this into the news cycle in ways that serve them, not ways that help necessarily help the situation or educate us. I hope there are many exceptions to this accusation.

Hope you’re all well.

Thankful for the silence of a couple days thout ‘lectricity…