I don’t need to offer my own impressions of the cable-TV-supplied physical devastation of the city of New Orleans a year ago. The target had been a sitting duck for decades, and endemic, mindless apathy and complacence — the collective source of which is largely irrelevant after the fact of the storm — sealed the Big Easy’s fate.
I was not surprised that a Saffir-Simpson category 3/4 windstorm could level New Orleans and render a human catastrophe on the scale of the one we all saw unfold. What was just as striking to me was the manner in which the nation reacted and the degree to which different reactions reflected the polarization enabled and encouraged by the present shiftless, theocracy-bent administration, a governing body that repeatedly presses the “FLUSH” button every time something it would rather not deal with arises, only to be presented with a huge fresh steatorrheic turd thanks to its own toxic feeding habits.
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin took a lot of heat from Bush defenders when he unabashedly tore into Washington in general and FEMA in particular in the aftermath of the hurricane. Nagin can be abrasive, but he was right. It is impossible to construct a sane world view surrounding the events of late August and early September, 2005 that does not yield the picture of a mammoth, freewheeling, and seemingly undeniable f*ckup on the part of those at the highest levels of governance in an allegedly techno-savvy and generous nation. Meanwhile, idiotic and unconditionally war-happy right-wingers, fueled on Malkinisms and Limbaughisms and O’Reillyisms that strike the more cognizant as too hollow and inane to be credible even to the credulous, are still complaining about money being diverted to a city that “should have taken care of itself” while billions of dollars a day are pumped enthusiastically into a mindless, endless and pointless war these same credulous mushminds unconditionally endorse.
I was appalled, though not shocked, by some of the comments from America’s self-appointed messengers of the Christian god after Katrina hit. While a huge chunk of America’s citizenry — people of faith and secularists both — became involved in an unprecedented humanitarian relief effort, otherwise insignificant but duly loud-mouthed people like Michael Marcavage were happy to note that an “act of God” had “destroyed a wicked city.” Plenty of other “Christian” lunatics fulfilled the promise of their dysfunctional minds and souls by trumpteting similar things. It’s been said a milion times, but for a good reason: Can anyone pretend even for a moment that a Christ-like figure would be anything but aghast at these not-at-all-funny clowns?
It’s parochial-minded ignorance like that of the religiously deceived, both the leaders and the sheep, that often leads me to assume that the stranger in line in front of me at the supermarket is at best a semiliterate moron, just as apathetic as the Army Corps of Engineers that was blithely aware for a long time of the inadequacy of the Lake Ponchartrain levee and not at all curious or concerned about what goes on as long as she can maintain the impression that her life is unaffected by the machinations of the federal government — a conviction that is all too easy to maintain in Starbucks-and-Home-Depot-happy America.
And it’s not just the godly that watch it all happen as if storms, wars and persons harboring the most supreme levels of arrogant ignorance gaining political clout are all just scenes in another Jerry Bruckheimer film. It’s everyone who doesn’t undertake the slightest amount of investigation into a sketchy media claim and relies on the most bombastic and divisive sound byte for “information” because it’s easier. It’s everyone who doesn’t vote.
As a Florida resident between August 2004 and February 2006, I was nominally affected by a number of notable storms. My initiation to this steaming leach field of a state was watching Charley (Aug. 13), Frances (9/4), Ivan (9/16) and Jeanne (9/25) slam into the Gulf and Atlantic coasts within six weeks of one another. I lost power for a few days thanks to Frances and Jeanne, which managed to hit the coast within miles of one another in the Stuart/Fort Pierce area, a hundred miles north of my digs west of Fort Lauderdale. Then, last October, Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Naples, powered eastward across the Everglades and plowed through Boca Raton, providing me with my first bona fide hurricane experience. I’d been through the preparatory motions (taping windows, closing shutters, stocking up on water and gas and batteries) a bunch of times already, but hadn’t dealt with the 100-mile-an-hour-winds straining the glass of a window that suddenly seemed too large and too old, the terrified whimpers of an inconsolable, 80-pound German Shepherd, the sounds of trees creaking and then snapping, the cacophony of decorative terra cotta that shouldn’t have been there to begin with being torn off the roof and smashing into bits in the parking lot below. Literally every hanging traffic light in the city I saw was blown into the street by Wilma’s might — and this was at most a category 2 windstorm by the time it reached Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. (Incidentally, in the picture at left below, the white Jetta belonged to my girlfriend at the time, while the car with the tree on its roof was parked in the spot normally occupied by said Jetta. God helps those who help themselves — or simply get lucky, as the case may be.)
Did this suck? Sure. I was without power for about two weeks and can claim to have been inconvenienced by countless closures and event cancellations. 35 people died in Florida as a direct and indirect result of Wilma, which caused some $17 billion in damage to the Sunshine State. But comparing Wilma’s fury, fear and damage to that of Katrina is like comparing a cigarette lighter to a napalm strike. All I know for sure based on my own experience is that I don’t want to be in South Florida when it is served its own cat 4/5 hurricane and the resultant catastrophe in turn relegates the damage done to New Orleans to the status of a bump in the road of civilization and progress. Good luck evacuating six or seven million people — many of them elderly and living in high-rises perched directly on the shore like bulls-eyes — from the region with only the already choked Florida’s Turnpike and I-95 available as escape routes. And Florida’s leaders are determined not to learn lessons.
In terms of rescue efforts, I don’t know what the response will be like the next time a major disaster hits the United States. But it’s fairly easy to predict how talking heads and their lapdogs will react — as if this is not one nation but several superimposed on one another, with blame and backbiting and resorting to mythical decrees taking precedence over humanism and reason. And I can’t claim to be outside the fray simply because I recognize it for the destructive force it is. Thanks for the memories, motherf*ckers.