Thursday, September 01, 2005

"That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more..."




New Orleans has turned into Bartertown, and George Bush didn't get back to Washington until YESTERDAY, after going to California to make insane comparisions between World War II and the war in Iraq and STRUMMING ON THE PRESIDENTIAL GUITAR. All while New Orleans was already flooding.

Now, tens of thousands of people in New Orleans are living in puddles of disease-riddled water, bodies rotting in the heat, shit-crazy, gun toting looters and rapists making like Janjaweed, with no food, no water, no police or National Guard presence, no transport out of town, FOUR DAYS AFTER THE HURRICANE HIT LAND! Why is this happening? The list is long: money diverted from levee-strengthening to the Iraq war, National Guard troops diverted to Iraq, a cold-bloodedly Randian pre-storm evacuation ("If you've got a car, get out of town! If you don't, grow gills, you poor douchebag!") and the fact that the entire federal government, starting with the Guitar-God-in-Chief, who took three days to even acknowledge what was happening, then cut his vacation short two days to look like he was actually doing something, acted like a pack of retarded midgets trying to drive a Hummer.

The only silver lining to be found in this horror show is the fact that the rescue operation has been such a Brobdignagian fuck-up, the consequences so bone-chillingly horrible, that people are actually demanding to know why. Why are the victims overwhelmingly poor and black? Why has it taken nearly a week to get any sort of effective force inside the city while people are literally dying to get out? These are the sort of questions that could lead to answers exceedingly uncomfortable to those in power. My hope is that this disaster could turn into the Anti-9-11: a devastating mass tragedy that, rather than bringing out the base, trollish violent nationalism in Americans, instead exposes compassion and, for the first time in my lifetime, THOUGHTFULNESS. Now, that is hugely optimistic, but there are some factors working in favor of such an outcome. Chiefly among them is the fact that there is no ENEMY that caused it. There are no "evil-doers" who transform all of the confused emotions that such an event triggers into pure, mindless hatred. Questions can't be shouted down by accusations of being "objectively pro-hurricane" or "supporting severe tropical weather systems." Without the escape valve of a foreign enemy to cathartically destroy, perhaps this nightmare can propell us towards a greater awareness of how far we've collectively fallen.

3 Comments:

Blogger Weevil said...

On the couch this morning, sometime between waking up and feeding the dog, I exposed myself once again to the chaos and agony coming out of the Gulf Coast region. For days, I’ve followed the story in the way many Americans have: with a sort of reserved sympathy, a sense of awe at the destruction, a feeling of powerlessness in the face of so many images-at once angry, confused, desperate, and alone. News came last night that my aunt, a resident of New Orleans, was in fact able to escape the hurricane’s wrath and make it to safety. This morning, at the sight of a panicked dog swimming through a gigantic oil slick on its way to a floating mattress, I cried. I cried long and violently and felt ashamed that it took such a cheap image, such a cliché/melodramatic gimmick to finally bring THAT feeling in. Once I was done, with my fever therefore broke at the expense of untold suffering, I put some ideas down on a piece of paper and wrote the following. I don’t mean to change the world here, but I can’t stand the idea of silence or apathy at this point.

Hurricane Katrina marks the second great catastrophe on American soil in my short life. The first, the attacks of September 11, occurred while I was a young and very bright-eyed student at Carroll College, a small liberal arts school in suburban Milwaukee. Like many of the young and bright-eyed, I watched the spectacle of the September 11th attacks on television throughout the day. I use the word spectacle because that is really the best word to describe what happened to the whole event-it became, through its repeated play on television, and through the horrific nature of the in-frame explosions, falling debris, and chaos in the stately confines of Manhattan-a media event. Many of us never really had a tangible connection to the suffering in New York, Washington, or Pennsylvania. Our empathy came out of nationalism, a reverence for human life, a basic and fundamental revulsion to violence. September 11 made us angry, it made us seek retribution for what we knew was, ultimately, a crime perpetuated by people. Our connection to the event, our information on the event, and the reaction to the event were all channeled to us through our living rooms and hi-speed cable lines. Few of us ever moved a single piece of the World Trade Center, or ever fired a shot in the war against terror.
The administration of the country was quick to call for war, and under the language of “us against them,” the tides of nationalism quickly spread over the United States, ushering in a bloodthirsty hunt for Bin-Laden and his co-horts. For an instant, maybe, the calls for war seemed justified. President George W. Bush and the G.O.P. used the incredibly seductive nature of the “war” argument to secure re-election. In their narrow victory over John Kerry and the Democrats, Republicans seemed assured of their appeal to middle-of-the-road America living in the heartland. But in the wake of the campaign in Afghanistan and with the weapons of mass destruction controversy, as well as continued deaths and all-around fuck-ups in Iraq, public support for the war is dwindling. By the end of summer 2005, daily soldier deaths in Iraq continued to spiral upward, leading many to cynically accept that the conflict in Iraq may have no foreseeable end. This, more than anything else, has forever tainted my bright-eyed view of the world and my faith in many of the things I once believed in. I will forever hold the people behind this culture and this government responsible for this very personal and very hurtful experience, and I wish more people would do the same. I’ve lost love and friendships in the battle to remain myself, and while I accept much of the responsibility for the bad decisions I’ve made, I too acknowledge that I can’t be blamed for being upset at the way things are. The challenge now is to find a creative and productive response to what have been several years now of soul-searching.
As with all wars, the government plays on fear and the imagined connections of community through the rhetoric of patriotism, soldier valor, masculinity, and national pride. Blinded from the true costs of war under these appeals to rather primal instincts, war has historically been a way to deflect the rational thoughts of otherwise responsible and caring people for purposes central to the interests of the ruling elite. The United States is not the first, nor will it be the last, country to do so. War always benefits the rich, always wreaks havoc upon the natural environment, always burdens most the poor, and always ends with consequences beyond the conflict’s original intent. War always brings suffering, inspires further hatreds, and deepens long-held assumptions and animosities. It, as Chris Hedges has said, however, is also “a force that gives us meaning.” In other words, as long as you’re on the victorious side, these detriments can be hidden or tucked away. It can serve as an elixir to help the powerless seem powerful. In a country this rich and this powerful, the war in Iraq seems as alien and as remote as a football game between the Patriots and the Packers. Until it hits home.
Last week, as we all know, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast shore of the United States. Displacing millions, it left a wake of destruction in its path beyond anything witnessed in American history. While a concrete number of the dead would be impossible to assemble at this point, Louisiana’s own governor has admitted that it may reach several thousand before the saga is over. All throughout the South, entire cities have been destroyed in ways that even the Union Army could have hardly imagined. A city of Creoles, Slaves, Carpetbaggers, Industrialists, Voodooists, and Girls Gone Wild Videos, (and much more, of course) it is home to a new D-Day museum and a “Museum of the Confederacy.” New Orleans is rich with the narrative and broad sweep of the American story, and its catastrophic loss presents us with a challenging historical moment. Who knows what the fallout of this event will be?
Yet, the destruction in Louisiana lacked that seductive “hook” that made September 11 such a powerful event. Katrina cannot be captured in a single clip of planes smashing into buildings. Nor can it be captured by the images of New Orleans alone. The destruction and loss are so vast that no one visual narrative can sustain or fully treat it. When we watched the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., we saw symbolic elements of American power toppled and destroyed. In Louisiana, we are invited to do the same thing, but we fail. The city lacks a visceral image, the entire event lacks that tight spectacle that the media (and sadly, our apathetic mainstream audience today) craves. I would even venture to say (and this is not a bold argument at all, really) that much of our sympathy for the September 11 attacks was evoked because of the largely WHITE face of its victims. Manhattan’s commuters and office workers look much different than the haggard, helpless folks screaming at NBC cameras for water and food during the six o’clock updates. If history is any clue, I would suspect that most Americans resent the situation in New Orleans more than they do the situation in New York and Washington because of the clearly racist and class-based undertones of the Katrina fiasco. I would guess, furthermore, that sentiment will be somewhat tempered for these people because of the continued pleas for “supporting the troops, oh!” and “supporting George Bush, oh!” and the cynicism many people feel for helping out “The blacks, oh!” the “Poor,oh!” In other words, it’s hard to be ANGRY at the hurricane. Who can we blame? Who can we bomb in revenge? What can we do to solve these problems that seem so old, so common, so rooted to every generation of American life?
But let’s step back for a moment, and let the floodwaters recede. Just a week or so ago, the United States was going about its business-watching Jessica Simpson parade around with her Confederate Flag-draped buddies in The Dukes of Hazzard, for instance. Despite the continued troubles in Iraq, and the New York Times’ recent coverage of increasing poverty levels in the United States, people seemed blissfully ignorant of the problems at home. Nothing new with that phenomenon, of course.
The hurricane washed off America’s make-up. Suddenly, that flashy dance on tv and the cool assumption that everything is gravy all melted away, and now we see the bloody wound that rests beneath. We’ve been blinded overseas by the conflict in Iraq, have been listening like sheep to speeches about the importance of “standing united.” The reality, of course, is that we are like all those generations before us who fell for those kinds of lies-that war will cure us, that blood is the price of freedom, that a little bit of Christian self-sacrifice will mold the heathens “over there” and make them love freedom as much as we do.
What freedom? What do we really mean by it? The situation in New Orleans is revealing with an agonizing clarity the reality of the domestic situation in the United States. Like a knife to the heart of every piece of rhetoric muttered by this administration, the effects of the hurricane are demonstrating that there is a significant population in this country that is poor, marginalized, outside the reaches of adequate medical help, and community-less. Faced with the immediate demands of clean water, medicine, and food, the meaning of “freedom” and “liberty” seem somehow cheap now that people are struggling to find, in this land of plenty, the means to sustain themselves. Media coverage of the event stinks bad of latent racism-the continued desperation of blacks at the superdome, rumors of gang violence, the spectacular obsession with shootings directed at National Guard helicopters.
Like the days of slavery, popular depictions continue to type-cast blacks as helpless, violence-infused maniacs hungry to destroy so-called “civilization.” Like every good Underground Railroad tale, Christian Whites line up to demonstrate their benevolence and good charity through monetary contributions and “safe houses” for the refugees. Like abolitionists who proudly wrote hundreds of stories after the Civil War about how they single-handedly destroyed slavery through their steadfast morality and dedication to the African’s plight, it’s like the entire country is writing Red Cross checks to help out instead And like Underground Railroad “operators,” America will gladly provide food and shelter to the needy, but won’t make significant enough changes to the political climate in order to destroy the INSTITUTION that feeds the situation to begin with. My point is this: Why do we condone the continued poverty of our inner cities, the continued racist depictions of blacks in our popular culture, the continued inequality of opportunity in this country, and then act like a little bit of cash during a time of disaster shows how anti-racist we are? Just like the years before the Civil War, the only version of anti-racism that can really be taken seriously in this situation is the kind that takes on the issues underneath the disaster, removed from the carnival of its effects. It’s like 1855 all over again, except that this time whites are caught in the tragedy, too. It’s just that this time, for whatever reason, the media seems less obsessed with the white communities in and around Louisiana and Mississippi also caught in this tragedy.
The lesson learned is this: the richest and most powerful nation on earth is currently failing to provide the most basic of services to its own people throughout a region comparable to the size of the region it is trying to police in Iraq. The Hurricane is exposing many of the fundamental mistruths and tragedies of current US foreign policy in the war against terror. In so doing, the hurricane, the environment-the thing we have been taught to vilify and disrespect-has exposed the fact that the war on terror is nothing compared to the war we are waging on our own people through carelessness, arrogance, and lack of sympathy. I dare any of the Country Music artists or pro-war advocates to step forward and write songs condemning storms, or putting boots up the assess of the winds; or of any pundit or politico who dares say that we should stand United against the “axis of evil”-floods, winds, and that wacko the Mississippi River (cruel Dictator as she is) because what we are learning now, and what we’ve known all along, really, is that we have bigger things to fear. When you brutalize your own population to serve your own ends, when you disrespect the whims of the natural world, when you sit by and silently approve of the institutions, laws, and circumstances that inspire people to hate one another, become alienated from their communities and their own sense of history, you welcome a situation like that in the South. Hopefully this event helps us realize that what the United States is doing and the way that it lives is creating situations all over the world like the one we are witnessing now on our own shores. When hundreds of thousands of Indonesians struggled to escape the floodwaters of the Tsunami, when Rwandans suffered under the violent lashes of the machete (as the UN ignored the repeated warnings of genocide), when Iraqis innocently perish at the hands of American soldiers, perhaps now it makes a little more sense as to why such violent resentment exists in the world. It is unfortunate that so much loss and destruction comes with a lesson that should be so easy to recognize.


In the end, I have a few lessons, and I won’t preach long. One, relief efforts are valuable and necessary, and I don’t mean to downplay the importance of sending money to the areas hit hardest. However, I think we all need to assess just exactly what we are doing on a broad scale to wipe out racism, poverty, and environmental degradation in our own communities. Remember that all over the world, people suffer daily from inadequate access to water, power, and facilities. It is not because they are stupid, but because ruling elites the world over consolidate power to serve their own interests, and our government is doing the same thing. What is stupid is to pretend that our government or any government is free from this. In other words, we need to stop believing the rhetoric of the Bush Administration and hold them, ourselves, and our own history accountable for the problems we have all created, to varying extents, and continue to perpetuate in the way we teach classes, design our cities, write/perform/consume our music/art/books/food/culture-what jobs we work, what we do at our jobs, and so on.
Two, the war on terrorism is a bad policy for the globe and new solutions should be sought. I don’t know how to do this, but it starts with the removal of the current administration’s power in the mid-term elections. This is an administration that believes war, violence, and force justify a brand of control that most people do not support. We need an administration accountable to economic, social, and political equality-as well as a renewed dedication to green politics.
Three, along these lines, the environment demands our attention. The more we continue to abuse it, neglect it, ignore it, and alienate ourselves from it, the more powerless we become. Learn-this means you!- to plant your own vegetables, grow your own garden. Eat food produced here, organically, and stop relying on infrastructure to bring food to your plate. As we see, when that stuff shuts down, you are cut off. We need to be self-reliant. Learn how to get around without your automobile. In the last few years, since the war on Terror began, people’s arrogant treatment of environmental phenomenon has caused more damage to infrastructure, lives, and property than any terrorist could image. The idea is to nurture our relationship with the natural world and make responsible decisions in our lifestyles. Our priorities have been shifted by politicians and powerful people under the rhetoric of a war that has no end, no recognizable enemies, and no concrete goal.
Four, and this is sometimes hardest for me, is to realize that you can’t be perfect and that we are all hypocrites to some extent. But more and more I recognize that diluting your time and effort in things that amount to fancy distractions is akin to suicide. Amidst all the hopelessness, perhaps its best to remember that however powerful or stable the status quo seems, a good storm can always make a pretty strong argument to the contrary. In a culture that promotes hedonistic materialism, rampant and soulless spirituality, and a seemingly unparalleled obsession with decadence; it too is meant to keep the bright, the energetic, and the creative unsure, cynical, depressed, and filled with powerlessness. That’s the way of the beast. In many ways, we are powerless and the anger that inspires should guide us.

Take from this what you will,

1:11 PM  
Blogger Weevil said...

I can't stand it either.

I wrote this morning on a similar topic, hope you like.

Matt Christman is my God, second only to Jeff Davis hanging from a sour-apple-tree.

1:13 PM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Actual Quote from the "President", made while touring the Mississippi coast, from the White House website:
"We've got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we're going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)"

This incompetent criminal may finally have gone too far. There's a whole lot of anger out there about the situation in NO; especially after yesterday, when the 24 hour channels showed hours of footage of people literally dying in front of the New Orleans convention center while politically-appointed jerk offs like FEMA's Mike Brown (who repeatedly points out that the stranded refugees "chose" not to leave the city...in a city where 100,000 people DIDN'T EVEN OWN A CAR!) and Michael Chertoff blathered about "progress" and even professed ignorance of what what happening at the convention center, even while it was being broadcast across the country. That anger is going to go in two directions: against the "looters" (AKA everyone in the city who was too "stupid" to leave or who stayed just to loot) and against the murderously callous criminals in charge of the government. While I'm sure the O'Reilly crowd will get a lot of milegage out of blaming the victim, my only hope for progress is that the images of stark, human suffering will make MOST people wake up to the essential disinterest of the federal government in the lives of the poor and black.

but then again, I'm an optimist.

3:12 PM  

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