Monday, 5 September 2005

The Ghost Town that is now New Orleans

"The news and opinion spin cycle is moving faster than the winds of a category 4 hurricane. Barely have we had the opportunity to feel denial about the terrible tragedy, feel sympathy for victims and begin lending our support than we've leapt to the stage of recrimination: Who's to blame? And the rush to judgment is running ahead of appropriate investigation and facts."

And so it is. Duane Freese's comments above gives the reason why I've been posting stuff here to try to get to grips with what's going on and what it means before leaping to judgement: aside from the obvious fact that living in lawlessness is as bad as living gets, the only thing emerging from the uncertainty of what is happening in New Orleans is that things are desperately uncertain, as an archived Fox News reports from Shep Smith and Geraldo Rivera shows (you'll need Quick Time for these), and as the confused blogged reports from The Interdictor continue to demonstrate. The New Orleans Times Picayune blog helps.

Irfan Khawaja says on his blog, "I’ve kept a discreet silence so far about events in New Orleans, in part because they’re too fluid to discuss, in part because they’re too horrible to contemplate." To me it's because they're so horrible that they must be contemplated in order to make some sense of them.

So it's in this spirit that I've previously posted links to articles and information that tries to make sense of what happened and why it did. Posts (in reverse chronological order) here, here, here, here, and here are examples. More tonight:
  • Duane Freese's Breaks in the Levee Logic offers plenty of background and links to help with informed judgement on the disaster response and the history of Louisiana's infrastructure.

  • Also at TechCentralStation, Jackson Kuhl considers how The City Below Sea Level was founded, and why, and on what geological base: answer a sinking one, founded "on swampland drained by pumps and canals."

  • There are nonetheless good reasons why New Orleans is such a Geopolitical Prize as to make its rebuilding inevitable, argues George Friedman. [Hat tip Sharon Ferguson at Tributaries.]

  • And more thoughts here from Rand Simberg on the unwelcome subject of 'price gouging' , to which he gives three cheers (even as the comments go wild at Druckenmiller's thoughts on the subject). Note that Simberg and many others specifically exclude from their analyses “the horrific situation in the worst-hit areas, in which first-worlders have been thrust into the third world literally overnight, many with no place to even sleep, let alone have access to food, water and other necessities or money with which to purchase them.”

    Advocating anything less than simple benevolence for those in the midst of the horror would be something less than human; however, to advocate anything other than market mechanisms to set prices once the immediate tragedy is past is to ask for the natural disaster to be compounded by a man-made one.

  • To conclude, it's worth remembering that New Orleans wasn't just a tourist mecca and a great industrial city of 1.3 million people: even as it endures its death throes we really should remember that New Orleans gave birth to something unique and special, as New Orleans-born jazzman Wynton Marsalis says in his own statement on the tragedy. My final words here tonight are his:

    New Orleans is the most unique of American cities because it is the only city in the world that created its own full culture - architecture, music and festive ceremonies. It's of singular importance to the United States of America because it was the original melting pot...]The collision of] cultures created jazz and jazz is important because it's the only art form that objectifies the fundamental principals of American democracy. That's why it swept the country and the world representing the best of the United States.

    New Orleanians are blues people. We are resilient, so we are sure that our city will come back. This tragedy, however, provides an opportunity for the American people to demonstrate to ourselves and to the world that we are one nation determined to overcome our legacies of injustices based on race and class. At this time all New Orleanians need the nation to unite in a deafening crescendo of affirmation to silence that desperate cry that is this disaster...

    We're only as civilized as our level of hospitality. Let's demonstrate to the world that what actually makes America the most powerful nation on earth is not guns, pornography and material wealth but transcendent and abiding soul, something perhaps we have lost a grip on, and this catastrophe gives us a great opportunity to handle up on.

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