Posted by Pattie on 9/05/2005 02:54:00 AM

I'm Awake and On Edge

I hate this. I hate caring. I really wish I could just turn off my feelings about all this. Boy do I have a flood of feelings (sorry for the incredibly insensitive pun). The only thing I can think of to do right now is write.

Group One of Feelings: New Orleans is never, ever going to be the same again.

I have memories of getting up on Saturday mornings and taking the bus from Gentilly to the French Quarter to have beignets. Most people think about the French Quarter at night, but I loved it on a Saturday morning. Artists filled Jackson Square with everything from oil paintings to caricatures to fantasy water colors. The riverboat would play a calliope of old folk tunes. Inevitably, street musicians would gather, mostly clarinet, saxiphones and trumpets and play dixieland jazz. Bookstores and antique shops were full of interesting local color. It was always like going to a foreign country.

Other parts of New Orleans were worth the visit as well. I took the St. Charles Streetcar to work every morning for a year when I lived in the Irish Channel and worked at Notre Dame Seminary for Catholic Charities. Uptown's Tulane and Loyola campuses were beautiful with big magnolia trees and weeping willows and spanish moss laden oaks.

Of course, Mardi Gras was something that is inexplicable to anyone who has not been. It is so much more than most people know about. It is six to eight weeks of parades and king cakes and costume balls.

But I will also miss the poboy shops in the ninth ward and watching speed boats out on the lakefront. I lived and/or worked in several places in the city. I rode buses almost everyday to work or shop. I "made groceries" at Schweggmans. I parked in da neutral ground. I went to crawfish boils (though I'm allergic, so I never got to actually "suck heads" or "pinch tails.")

Please understand. It was not an easy city in which to live. Poverty and violence were apparent everywhere. City and state officials were corrupt as hell. Over a million people lived in a 12 square mile area and it was apparent in the hotter months (April to November -- very long, hot summers, short fall, shorter winter and short spring) that tempers were flaring. Racial and class tensions abound. New Orleans had few "poor neighborhoods" in the traditional sense of that phrase. It was possible in any given neighborhoods to have millionaires living two doors down from condemned houses filled with homeless people. When I finally left New Orleans in 1987, I was relieved to leave.

But I always thought it would be there to go back and visit. I went back in 1988, 1989 and 1993. I hadn't had a chance since. I regret that now.

I believe there will be a city called New Orleans rebuilt essentially in the same place as the flooded streets are now. But I don't see how the antebellum homes, the cultural base, the spirit will be the same. Some of the remnants will survive. The French Quarter seems to be intact, though I've read that Esplanade is pretty well destroyed and that is a shame because so much history will go with that. I think we will see the dome levelled and maybe not even see the Saints return. I think thousands of old, historic homes in Uptown and the ninth ward will be leveled. Given what they did to "mallify" Jax Brewery and the Riverfront, I don't hold out much hope for restoration efforts. It will be a simulation of New Orleans. Not the real thing. A lot of history has just been wiped out.

Group of Feelings Number Two: Omigawd, I was right after all!

The extent to which the federal, state and local government demonstrated their total inability to cope with the scope and magnitude of this event is overwhelming. Forget the fact that some of this tragedy could have been prevented by shoring up the levees. Okay, so the budget got cut. Even if it had been approved, it would have been too little too late. This problem has been brewing for years. I don't particularly like the president, but if we are going to criticize him for his response to this event, let's go after the bigger issues. Like why the hell did it take so long! And there is plenty of blame to go around, here.

In my life time alone, I've watched government move ever more to dumbing down its ranks. We now have a bureacratic government, not a democratic one. And that bureaucracy is falling apart from within. I've been saying for years now that the rotting infrastructure of a group of people who just don't want to think past their own noses in this moment was going to catch up with us.

Let me put it succinctly. We have dumbed down the government, business and education to the point that we are now at the mercy of the Marching Morons. The difference between our current reality and the 1950s SF short story is that it is the morons who are "managing" society.

I have not seen a measured response to this situation. Please understand. I think there are good hearted people who are doing something directly about this crisis. I believe that some people are trying.


On my little blog in my little part of the world I want to call people to attention and ask them to consider creating a national conversation in which we face our darkest and deepest secrets. Let's get poverty out in the open and talk about it. Let's get war mongering and greed out in the open and talk about it. Let's own up to our shortcomings and our long history of hurting the most vulnerable among us and among the peoples of the world.

There are blatant, obvious lessons to be learned. Let us not forget this week. Let us not get so bogged down in the death tolls and the clean ups and the name-calling and the politicizing, that we forget the thousands of people who died this week in this country because they were poor, they were disabled, they were old, they were young, they were disenfranchised. If you want to understand the cost of stigma to a society, then don't forget this week!

We need democracy, not bureaucracy. We need leadership, not posturing. We need compassion, not photo ops. We need empathy, not accusations.

It will be painful to review how little democracy America has experienced. We need to make right what was done to the natives of this land. We need to make right what was done to those we brought here as slaves. We need to make right what we've done to hurt so many others around the globe. If you are sitting here saying that you never owned a slave, never killed an Indian, never invaded another country or created a coup, then I would say to you that every privilege you have was built on the backs of these events. You cannot escape this. It is one big ball of mess and it needs to be faced in order to be healed.

Look, I'm a fat woman from a poor background. I'm smart. I live with pain and three chronic, incurable diseases. I'm pushing 50 years of age. I never know whether I'm going to survive financially from one month to the next as I have not been able to hold a steady job for years now. I don't think of myself as privileged.

But I am willing to sit down at the table and talk about all of this. I really am.

We need to heal. We need to be more than a divided group of people at the mercy of the moronic bureaucracy. That means we need to talk and then we need to act.

If this isn't the natural disaster that will send this country crashing down to its knees, then we should be damn grateful for the wake-up call and we should wake-up and DO SOMETHING. (That doing part seems to be what is lacking most.)

I know that we must attend to the displaced and the immediate needs of these storm victims first. I just want to record my feelings about this past week now because I don't want to forget the outrage and fear I am feeling right now.

Group of Feelings Number Three: It is going to get worse before it gets better.

Okay, this scares me a little:

But what scares me more is this:

"The immediate big hit is from the loss of that 10% of U.S. refining capacity. The world's refining system is stretched taut, and gasoline, diesel and jet fuel now teeter on the brink of short supply. The shortfall was accentuated by the shutdown for part of the week--due to electricity loss--of the two major pipelines that carry refined products from the Gulf Coast to the Southeast and the Mid-Atlantic states. That is why wholesale gasoline prices shot up 60 cents in four days. The shortfall will be made worse if panicked motorists rush to fill up. In that case, stations would be drained, only further fueling the scramble."


"Some of the refining capacity may come back quickly, while flooding may put some out of commission for some time. Increased product imports from Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America can help offset the losses, but that will take weeks."

Signs of hope, but underneath this commentary is the desparation of shortage. Gas shortages and electricity shortages in the United States are not pretty things to experience. I don't think they know yet if they can make up for the refineries being knocked out. I don't think they know yet if they can get these stations back online or get the crude oil to the other refineries or work the other refineries to the max.

Then there is the pipeline itself. Which seems to be working now, but I've read conflicting reports. But the thing that intrigued me and scared me the most this week was an MSNBC commentary on how the pipeline works. I can't find the transcript online, but if I understood what this guy was saying, if the pipeline doesn't come back to full capacity soon, there is no way to get refined gasoline to the pumps or to the electricity generators in the southeastern part of the United States in quantitites sufficient to sustain use. In other words, no gas at the pumps and no electricities in the houses. Anarchy in New Orleans, could be followed by anarchy in Atlanta or Miami.

Group of Feelings Number Four: People reap what they sow, or, "It's not nice to fool mother nature."

This about says it all:

The expanding U.S. population "has migrated to hazard-prone areas — to Florida, the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, particularly barrier islands, to California," noted retired U.S. government seismologist Robert M. Hamilton, a disaster-prevention specialist. "Several decades ago we didn't have wall-to-wall houses down the coast as we do now."

The way America builds too often invites disasters, experts say — by draining Florida swampland and bulldozing California hillsides, for example, disrupting natural runoff and magnifying flood hazards.

"We're building our communities in ways that aren't compatible with the natural perils we have," Miletti said.

The more advanced the nations, the bigger the blow may be.

Terry Jeggle, a U.N. disaster-reduction planner, cites the New Orleans levee system — dependent on pumps that run on electricity produced by fuel that must be transported in. One failure will lead to another along that chain.

"Complex systems invite compounding of complexity in consequences, too," said the Geneva-based Jeggle.

Experts fear more is to come.