The human tendency is to assess and measure. “How big? How bad?” The question, “How many days until…” became a mantra. At first there were efforts to answer those questions. And then, people just gave up.
The pictures outstripped the ability of language to describe what had happened and what might happen next. Yet, dramatic as each image was, no montage of shots could convey all the dimensions of the event. Each piece of video was like a tumbling domino, striking the implication next to it. Someone waving for rescue on a roof indicated that telephone and cell service was gone, and no telephone service caused you to imagine police and fire departments operating without communications. No police or fire fighters caused you to envision humanity stranded and on its own.
Because the dimensions of Katrina were colossal, a tendency settled in to characterize the event as “indescribable,” “unimaginable,” “unthinkable,” when in fact, smart and diligent people had done thinking and had described the scenario of a Katrina-like event to state and federal agencies years earlier. The Army Corps of Engineers pleaded for funds to strengthen the New Orleans levee. The paper trail is wide and clear and you already know where it leads.
So there will be measurements. The size and scope will be known. An “unmitigated disaster” could have been mitigated, and we’ll have a responsibility to examine all that is revealed. We owe it to the victims of Katrina.
Maybe it’s too much to hope that those “How did this happen?” exertions will be as dedicated and courageous as the search and rescue efforts have been. And we’re in a period right now where we don’t gauge our responses. We hurtle into war, we vote based on fear, we yield when judges and UN delegates are pushed into positions of authority because we’re told we must. On Katrina, we are obligated to look past official stories and government presentations. This time, if you will, we must find the WMDs of hubris and neglect.
Although I’m arguing that Katrina’s total dimensions can and will be comprehended, I would offer that the full legacy of Katrina might be so far-reaching as to be unknowable for decades.
As of this writing, many are inclined to weave Katrina’s aftermath suffering into America’s struggle with race. It may sadly be correct to do that, but perhaps it’s more useful to see it in terms of class. Katrina’s depressing images give us a giant laser-printer quality mural of the parameters of poverty in America. This will be a lasting and detailed study, with pictures, of what it means to be without resources in a country that runs its political system on $5,000 a plate dinners. The chasm between haves and have-nots will be shown in all its depth and contrast. As to why it takes a hurricane for us to get that view, I’m going to have to go with Kanye West on this one.
Could this sustained look at another America create a unified front that fuses the current Cindy Sheehan-inspired momentum to end the war in Iraq with those who have recently discovered their disappointment in the White House and with those who never wanted eight years of piracy and plundering by incompetents in the first place? That impact is something many of us can easily imagine.
This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz
1) California teachers raised $21 million to
(a) defeat Republican initiatives on Nov. 8.
(b) develop dust-free “Super Chalk”
(c) send Arnold to Mars.
2) Scientists conclude that organic foods
(a) are better with spray-on cheese.
(b) protect kids from pesticides.
(c) may save Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
3) $300 gas fill-ups didn’t stop
(a) Labor Day RV drivers.
(b) the Oscar Meyer Wiener Wagon.
(c) P. Diddy’s “SuperBoat 3000”.
1) (a) “Better than an apple…”
2) (b) “Better than a dusty apple…”3) (a) “Let’s park in that orchard…”