When I reflect on the continuing devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, I keep coming back to a very long article I read, some years ago, I think in Atlantic Monthly, about international shipping in the era of global capitalism. The piece appeared before I became aware of the intertubes, so I haven’t a prayer of retrieving it. Though I’ve several times tried.
The meat of the thing was that there is no margin. To ensure that we live in a world where, say, Americans can eat pineapples, strawberries, and mangoes year round, requires the allocation of enormous amounts of resources, on a split-second schedule where delay is intolerable. The system is therefore extremely vulnerable; the author, in the course of the piece, de-monstrated how the entire structure would collapse if interrupted for but three days. The most powerful interests on the planet therefore contrive to ensure that these uber-modern trains continue to run on time, regardless of consequences. They will subvert whole governments, if that is what it takes, to timely deliver the cucumbers.
This rings to me of Katrina. Because in the wake of that storm we were confronted with the fact that in the lives of so many of our fellow citizens there too is no margin. But that such people are not protected by the system and the interests that ensure that I can eat a mango in January in Icepick, Minnesota. Those who most suffered through Katrina are people who, in the normal course of things, are shunted off to a siding, barely tolerated, barely acknowledged. And who, when in three days their entire world had collapsed, were simply abandoned.
Several months ago, in the course of a satirical piece in which I presumed to speak as George II, I noted, as George II, of the victims of Katrina:
Y’know, nobody’s still made no sense to me of why I ever got so much grief about that Katrina thing. I ain’t God—I never made no hurricanes or no floods. It weren’t my fault that city was full of a bunch of damn poor people who could-n’t get nowhere when them waters came. I mean, it says right there in the Bible that you’re supposed to pick yourself up by your bootstraps so you can have some cars to drive away in when them floods come, to go stay in your summer home till the waters is gone. It ain’t my fault none of them black people never picked their bootstraps up. If they’d taken care of their business long before, then none of them woulda needed to be packed into no damn dome. As the Bible says, the government, like God, is there to help them that has already helped themselves—like oil drillers, airplane makers, Dick’s friends—people like that. Now it’s true that the Bible it says that the poor will always be with us, but it never said nothin’ about me or my government havin’ to actually do anything for ‘em.
This is only a slight exaggeration of things that were said by real people, about real people, at the time.
“I mean, you have people who don’t heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.”
—Republican Senator Rick Santorum
“It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that’s seven feet under sea level. It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.”
—Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert
“Given the abysmal failure of state and local officials in Louisiana to plan adequately for or respond to the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans, and given the long history of public corruption in Louisiana, I hope the House will refrain from directly appropriating any funds to either the state of Louisiana or the city of New Orleans.”
—Republican Representative Tom Tancredo
“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
—Republican Representative Richard Baker
—GTC official Renee Holcombe, describing Katrina evacuees
“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”
“I understand there are 10,000 people dead. It’s terrible. It’s tragic. But in a democracy of 300 million people, over years and years and years, these things happen.”
—Republican strategist Jack Burkman
“You know, it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims’ families. Took me about a year. But the second thought I had when I saw these people, and they had to shut down the Astrodome and lock it down, I thought: I didn’t think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims.”
—radio hate-show host Glenn Beck
What we have here are people who just didn’t care about those torn by Hurricane Katrina. And since those same people were running the federal government at the time, that meant that not a lot for those torn really got done.
Too, we learned via Katrina, these GOoPers had really meant what they’d previously said: they didn’t much believe in much of the federal government. And so, by the time the disaster came, the federal agencies tasked with responding to such things had been stripped, gutted, and gifted to hapless political appointees no more capable of overseeing them than of walking on their fingers to the moon.
That it was New Orleans that Katrina ravaged posed an additional problem, because New Orleans represents to Republicans so much of what they so abhor: sex, “sin,” magic, music, Democrats, black people. It is as foreign to them as the French, and at root they regard it as a French city.
As the New York Times observed, in connection with the Tennessee officials who airily allow citizens’ homes to burn, there are “many things government undeniably can and must do—and individuals cannot.”
One of those things is responding to the devastation wrought by calamitous hurricanes and floods. But as the extent of the Katrina disaster came into focus, it became clear that those tasked with tending to it were, as evidenced by the callous and contemptuous quotes cited above, most devoted to efforts to blame the victims.
The GOoPers engaged as well in blame-shifting, excoriating state and local officials for not providing the sort of services that are in truth the responsibility of the federal government—by both law and necessity. They moved The Eggman to post to his site-of-slime a photograph of school buses . . . so that the foghorns of the radio right might immediately begin bellowing that the mayor of New Orleans—gleefully dubbed “School Bus” Nagin—should have boarded onto them all the bereft people of the city.
Never mind that there were not enough buses in all the town to evacuate all those afflicted. Or that there were no passable roads upon which to transport them. The alternative “Age Of Reason” narrative was out there, and that was all that was important: it was, it seems, the fault of the ignorant black mayor, that the ignorant New Orleans “yard apes,” were not moved out of the city.
Once Katrina and its victims were out of the public eye, these Republicans were of course perfectly happy to keep those victims out of the city. As referenced in the quote above, this campaign began with Barbara Bush’s canard that those evacuated would prefer not to return.
This is not the truth. But then, these people do not traffic in truth. More than 100,000 people left New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, and most have not been back. But not for want of trying. Even in Ponchartrain Park, the oldest planned middle-class black community in New Orleans—a “black suburbia” with golf course and tennis courts—some five years after Katrina less than half the households have returned, to homes inundated by the hurricane and flood with from six to fourteen feet of water. The other homes sit there, vacant.
After the storm, [people] paid their houses off with the insurance [but] they have no money to rebuild. A lot of the mortgage companies forced the poor homeowners to pay off their mortgages, which was illegal. So, these former homeowners [now] actually own the land that’s just sitting there. They don’t have money to fix it but they don’t feel the pressure to sell. That’s where Road Home [reconstruction fund for homeowners] was supposed to kick in to help people, [and they] are still waiting.
Some Pontchartrain Park people were simply too old or sick to return.
They did everything right; they worked all their lives, owned their homes, put their kids through school, paid their taxes (and insurance) and now many can’t afford to rebuild homes in the very community they helped become one of the strongest and most stable communities in America.
My grandmother Mildred Williams  lived with me for three years in Atlanta after Katrina, while my uncles sorted out the mess of rebuilding. She got sick the day before my cousin John DuCongé of Decatur was supposed to drive her to see her newly remodeled home for the first time.
Like one-third of Pontchartrain’s residents, she was a senior citizen who did not have left the many years it would take for the community to be restored. Her condition improved just long enough for my family to throw her a huge surprise 80th birthday party in Atlanta. She died three weeks later at Emory University Hospital. I’d bet a million bucks that her final birthday wish had been to make it back to St. Ferdinand Drive.
As for those folks dispossessed by Katrina who, unlike those Pontchartrain Park residents, were truly poor . . . why, they have no more chance of easily returning to New Orleans than they do of flapping their arms to breezily fly to the Moon.
No one who has never tried to do it can truly comprehend what a titanic undertaking it is to attempt to move cross-country when one is living on no margin, when all money monthly accumulated flows right back out again merely to cover food, shelter, clothing.
This is not the America of but 120 years ago, where one could beg, borrow, or steal a horse, and ride on into new, or return to old, territory, and there hope to start afresh, or return to what was.
Try, for instance, riding some time a horse across a highway.
Dan DePaolis, a 17-year-old Massachusetts teen-ager, found out last week that it is not even possible to walk a horse about for three minutes in a school parking lot; he was suspended for two days, and told that bringing a horse to school was “the equivalent of bringing in a loaded firearm.” Officials of course allow students to drive their automobiles to school, though these deadly weapons kill or injure more than fifty million of this world’s citizens each year.
To me, a Real representation of the way we live now is the film Lonely Are The Brave, based on a novel by Edward Abbey. Wherein a stubborn, atavistic cowboy, pursued by The Law for reasons Wrong, lopingly moves to ease free via riding cross-country, aiming for a place where borders and rules do not Reign. To be brought down on a nighttime rain-slicked highway, where the unnatural, dizzying, incomprehensible movement and light and noise spooks his horse. Which is struck and fatally injured by an inattentive truck driver, who is hauling a load of portable toilets.
When the horse, by The Law, is shot and killed—”put out of its misery”—the cowboy, effectively, dies too. For the horse represents what is wild and free and real and dedicated and strong and affectionate and connected—what is true—about him. And when that is gone, so too is he.
The people displaced by Katrina were not single men, not cowboys, who, in times past, could ride away, or return, upon a horse. They were, instead, families. Which, in days gone by, required a wagon.
Well, there were plenty of modern-day wagons deployed by the government to take people out of New Orleans. But none at all, somehow, rolled around again, to drive them back in.
Money is an odd phenomenon. It is not, in truth, Real. It has no innate value. It is not complete in and of itself, like a table or a chair or an arm or a heartbeat. It is simply the product of a group agreement. Of shared delusion, if you will. Of people combining to make flesh of fantasy: masses of human beings agree that certain pieces of paper—and no others—will represent a certain sum of value. If one possesses a certain amount of these papers, one may, say, receive decent medical care. If one does not, then one may die.
Today, if one possesses a certain amount of these papers, one may return to New Orleans. If one does not, one shall remain where the government placed thee.
I was told, once upon a reading, by a psychic, that I do not at present “get” money, because in my most recent past lifetime I was an incorrigible grasping Scrooge, who accumulated vast quantities of wealth, and refused at all to share. And that now, in this lifetime, I am also going astray, this time by “overcompensating,” by giving, atevery turn, the green stuff the back of my hand.
Maybe so. Maybe so. But I fail to see the sense—in any degree, in any lifetime—in barring people whose lives and homes and ancestors and souls reside in a place, from returning to that place, simply because they fail to flash the requisite number of papers, that in phantasmagorical group agreement, have been decreed to be the magical door-opening “green.”
But that’s what’s happening. With glee. Through green, what was formerly the black community of New Orleans, is today bleaching into white.
The white elite is fighting to bring New Orleans back, richer than it was and whiter than it was, with no concern for anybody else. It’s clear to me that they don’t want people to come back. I am not against tearing bad housing down if, in fact, the plan is replacement housing. Poor people would love to live in a beautiful community. The struggle is over the amount of replacement housing: we are drawing a line in the sand for one-to-one replacement . . . .
For example, they moved six-to-eight thousand people out of public housing. What was promised, was replacement housing. What we got, was a white city council district . . . .
Before the storm, the white population was quite small. We had a majority Black city council. The Black population was [around] 70 percent, if you add the undercount . . . Since the storm, hundreds of Black people have been purged from the [voting] rolls, many of them unable to get back home. In this context, they held an election for city council where the one Black person that ran got 48 percent of the vote. She needed 51 percent in order to [avoid] a run-off. Those “missing voters” certainly made the difference . . . .
I’ll give you an example of [something] I saw happen that made me see what our plight could be. A Black woman who owns a daycare center in a city that has an unbelievable shortage of daycare went before the city council to have her [business] expanded. She’s in an area that didn’t get a whole lot of water. The neighborhood association—made up of all white people—came out against her expanding this Black daycare center. I watched her get locked out with nobody to speak for her, and the white city council president, saying: “I hope you don’t give up. We’re going to go with the neighborhood association and not allow you to expand this permit.” [At] a time when the city is under water, he’s denying her the opportunity to expand service to Black children needing daycare because the whites in the neighborhood are against it!
The bleaching of New Orleans was enabled by the levees that failed . . . which were the responsibility of the federal government. The GOoPer blame-shifting on this one involved alleging that somehow“Louisiana corruption” had prevented needed repairs. Although that was demonstrably not the case—in fact, BushCo had recently diverted funds for Louisiana levee repair to its imperial adventuring in Operation Iraqi Fiefdom.
The simple truth of the Katrina levee failures is one that has not been faced there, and has not been faced throughout the rest of the nation: the country’s infrastructure is falling apart. Nature is reclaiming her own. And there is neither the will nor the funds to counter this.
When I hear a GOoPer hard-heart like Dennis Hastert say, ”[i]t makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that’s seven feet under sea level,” on one level I think: “yeah, you’re right: nature, in such a state, cannot be put off for long. Water shall always seek its own level, and living below the waterline is not, in the long term, sustainable.”
But on another level, I think: why pick on New Orleans?
As example: about 100 miles to the west from where I sit is San Francisco. Where all the most “desirable” areas of the city are all built on landfill. Artificial extensions of that extent of land that, over millennia, the sea had grudgingly allowed to be.
Though I personally—no doubt through some sort of inner atavistic paranoia—have always lived in the foothills above California’s Central Valley, I surely know that the Valley itself, the place where I turn in my work, where squats my bank, that spits out my pieces of green, was for millennia a place that, for half the year, was a great inland sea—John Muir, when he first saw it, beheld an endless expanse of wildflowers, 400 miles long and 70 miles wide, fed by the annual alluvial overflow of great roaring bank-defying rivers. That have now been effectively leveed off and dammed these past 60-90 years.
Can those rivers, that made of this valley what it is, forever be leveed off and dammed? No. Of course not. And is there the slightest inclination among those people who today most benefit from that damming and leveeing—i.e., rich people—to shovel forth in taxes more funds to further secure those dams and levees? No. Of course not.
Instead, there is this group agreement, among the GOoPers who run things out here, that all will be solved if we simply build More Dams, and meanwhile Kill All Squirrels.
Because, it has been Determined, levees are not undermined by natural processes. They are instead chewed to shit by squirrels.
I kid you not. This is what my Congressmember, Wally Herger, most ignorant man to serve in the House of Representatives in the 21st Century, has advanced as Reason and Solution for near on his entire 23 years in office.
Okay. This piece has drifted so far loose of its moorings that it now qualifies as pathetic.
I have been working on this thing, on and mostly off, for a couple months now. And every time I come back to it, it seems in my absence to have gotten worse.
Hunter S. Thompson, when he discovered that the bubbles of his brain had burbled him into some sort of hideous compound-tangent cul-de-sac, used to write some variation on “it was never my intention to make any sense in this memo.” Though of course it always was. His intention. To make sense.
Lewis Lapham, in the November Harper’s, writes that after 26 years of penning the “Notebook” essay inaugurating each issue of the magazine, he is leaving the field. Having taught himself, under the duress of being forced to do so, to become a writer of essays, which requires that the writer accept that “I never know what I think about anything unless and until I try to set up thought in a sentence,” and that each piece is a “lighting out for the territories, never sure of the next sentence until the words show up on the page.”
Well, it’s a high-wire act, for sure. Not to mention that you’re also blindfolded, and the wire you’re walking is moving, and through a funhouse. And there ain’t no net.
I would have laughed in your face, when I set out to write this piece, if you had told me that therein I would suddenly start blithering about a dusty old cowboy movie like Lonely Are The Brave, and then commence to reference my own personal allergy to accumulating money.
So all I know about this essay, at the present juncture, is that I’ve definitely slipped off the dern high-wire, and my brains are sorta exposed there, splattered in the dust.
But I’m determined to get this damn thing done before the rising of the sun—it’s burdening me like a curse, at this point—so let’s set down another sentence or two, and see where we zoom off to next.
In 1980 I was intrigued, watching the response to the 6.89 earthquake in the Irpina region of southern Italy.
This quake was a serious shock. And in its wake—as in Katrina—people were suffering.
But the government just couldn’t seem to get it together. It had relief supplies, and more were daily pouring in from overseas, but none of it was getting to the people who needed it. The quake occurred in a relatively remote, sparsely populated, mountainous area of Italy; the roads were few, and bad, and worsened by the quake; that, mostly, seemed to be the excuse.
As days went by, and still the government trucks failed to arrive, a magical thing began to happen. People from neighboring mountain valleys, who had been relatively unaffected by the quake, began setting forth on foot, on donkey and horse and on mule, in roughened motor vehicles, to come to the aid of their neighbors. They arrived with what they could, with what was needed, and with that they succored the suffering. None of the aid with which they came was from the government: they brought what they could, and all of it was from themselves. By the time that the government, with its “official” aid, did belatedly arrive, the people suffering had, at least in their basic needs, been taken care of.
I was at this time still a very young sprout—22 or 23 or so—and I had been trolling about for some years through various political philosophies, trying to determine which might best fit me. Since before the dawn of my teens—dating, I guess, from my encounter with George Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia—I had been instinctively drawn towards anarchism. It was the Irpina quake that cemented my allegiance to this most outre and underwo/manned approach to the world. I announced this allegiance in an editorial that I wrote for the lefty paper I was then laboring for: “Anarchy And The Italian Earthquake.” This piece was not a rousing success. Mostly the reaction was puzzlement. Even my coworkers thought I was . . . off.
Anarchism, at its root, asserts that people are basically good, and that they will behave well—not selfishly, not requiring coercion—when of their own independent spirits is required aid and cooperation, in order to alleviate the sufferings of other independent spirits.
I saw that happen in the Irpina. This wasn’t theory. It was Real. These people in neighboring valleys did not need to come to the aid of their neighbors. They could have waited for the government—after all, it was the government’s job. These were not rich people, who rode over the mountains with their aid and their succor. They could have kept what they had for themselves. No one goaded or organized them. They just did what was right. Because it was Right.
Because they saw in those suffering: themselves.
Kenneth Patchen put it this way:
And it is my own face I see in the blazing windows of all the houses on earth.
And so they acted accordingly.
What I also saw happen, over the coming years, is that most of the government and charitable money intended for Irpina reconstruction was instead stealthily—sometimes just boldly—redirected to enrich those already rich.
It is today estimated that of the $40 billion expended on earthquake reconstruction, an estimated $20 billion enriched a small pool of millionaires in the region. Some $6.4 billion flowed to the local mafia, while $4 billion was paid to politicians in straight bribes. Only $9.6 billion, it is estimated, or a quarter of the total amount expended, was actually spent on people’s real needs.
Now Italy, it is known, is today governed by the richest man in that country. He basically bought first the media in Italy, and then the nation itself.
But such an assessment would ignore what the US is becoming. Which is Italy. Only bigger.
Remember that a certified foot loop, Ross Perot, who no one would have paid attention to but for his money, bought his way into the 1992 presidential election. Motivated by a personal grudge against the Bush family. And, though too many Democrats remain in denial about it, he thereby succeeded, through the siphoning off of sufficient votes, in elevating Bill Clinton to the presidency.
The wealthiest man in New York City, media mogul Michael Bloomberg (shades here of Italy’s present media padrone, Silvio Berlusconi), purchased the position of mayor of that city, and then succeeded in upending the city’s electoral tradition, in order to secure an unprecedented third term. He may now try for a fourth. Maybe a fifth. Even a sixth . . . .
Recently in California, two extremely wealthy women, who had nothing, really, to sell to the electorate but that, attempted to buy both a Senate seat and the Governor’s chair. They failed. Others, after them, may not.
The United States Supreme Court, as friendly a Court to the rich as any Court since that collection of mossbacks and mountebanks who lolled upon the bench in the early 1930s, has of late handed down shameful atavistic decisions that guarantee that wealth will play an increasingly dominant role in our elections.
Wingers like to ululate that the US is falling, as did ancient Rome, because people here are doing things like having sex and drinking wine. These wingers have not closely scrutinized their Gibbon. For if they had, they would have discovered that, in truth, the Roman Republic started circling round the bowl when people like Crassus could frankly, out front, purchase a seat in the Senate.
Not many years later, the Republic was a dictatorship, and the emperor, Nero, appointed his horse to the Senate . . . both because he could, and because, as he said, his horse was as qualified to serve as many of those who had purchased their seats. And in this he was right.
The new Republican minority in the House of Representatives has made it clear that its first priority—more important even than removing the black man who has had the effrontery to sit in “their” White House—is to ensure continued tax cuts for the infinitesimal number of Americans who “earn” more than $250,000 a year. That’s what’s important to secure the kingdom, to these horses’ asses.
I now know—praise jeebus!—how this piece will reach its end.
Of the sense of that ending, when I began the thing, I hadn’t—in the best Lapham high-wiring tradition—much of a clue. Basically, I sat down to write a piece about Katrina, about New Orleans, for Alexa. That was pretty much my sole goal. And the first thing that I settled on was that I would title it “Down In The Flood,” and that I would end it with a rendition of that song. Why, I didn’t at all know.
The key that unlocked the door came in a piece in the New Yorker by Nicholas Lehman, that appeared in the October 25 edition of the magazine . . . or about 45 days after I embarked on this endless nagging hagfish of an essay.
There, in describing the Nevada senatorial contest between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Confirmed Nutter Sharron Angle, Lehman noted that Angle, who, but for the state’s Latinas, would have defeated Reid, called into question not only the service of Reid, but the service of the very federal government of which, if she had been elected, she would have become a part.
This race is not just a matter of the usual campaign byplay. It’s a test of whether Americans don’t want “government” or really don’t want government—the modern state.
Yes, we know that teabaggers—and Sharron Angle surely is one—are propelled by RIM: Racism, Ignorance, Mendacity. We know that their primary beef with the federal government is that a black man is running it. We know that, atavistically, they seek a return to their Golden Age of the 1950s. When, as a white majority—a majority that is today rapidly, fearfully, shrinking into a white minority—they naturally, heedlessly, ground under their collective heels those who delivered the black man into the White House—women, Latinas, the poor, black folk, gays, the young, the gentle, the odd, the afflicted, the bungled and the botched. We know that these teabaggers are hurt, wounded, confused, finally enraged, in apprehending that the government that, since its inception, and at least as they perceive it, served them first and foremost, seems to serve them first and foremost no longer. We know that they have determined that if the government shall no longer be but theirs, then there should be no government any longer.
We know that in their hurt and their rage they are behaving utterly irrationally: in a state like Nevada, where the unemployment rate is the highest in the nation, an incumbent like Reid would traditionally be excoriated by his opponent for failing to deliver jobs. Yet Angle, as Lehman detailed, instead attacked Reid for saving andcreating jobs—damning him for using his political muscle to secure new job-creating projects for his state, and leaning on banks to continue funneling money to a financially desperate outfit overseeing the largest private building project in the history of North America. Angle stated bluntly that she would not have done these things, and that in fact it is not a US Senator’s job to provide or protect jobs in his state. In supporting such a person, the voters of Nevada did not shoot themselves in the foot, but rather in the stomach. And they didn’t care. Wounded, they would further wound themselves, if they perceived that it would also wound the black man, and all who sail with him. As princss6 shrewdly observed over on the Great Pumpkin, “as my grandmother would say, and I’m sure her grandmother said it too: some white folks would be fine with a dime as long as black folks got a nickel. Exhibit A: November 2, 2010.”
But Lehman’s words touched in me too something deeper. In his assertion that the teabaggers question the very existence of the modern state. That the teabaggers question it because a black man heads it, in this they are Wrong. But in questioning the state itself, they are, most probably, Right.
For, in truth, in this country, the modern state has failed most not the pearly white, relatively well-off teabaggers, but the people of the black man . . . that black man whom the teabaggers so abhor.
All of the 20th Century, in brief, was, at least in this country, about striving to get at least to the starting line all those who had for millennia been kept entirely out of the race. Problem is, the race, we now know, culminates in cascading down a precipice. Because for all of the world to live like teabaggers—run-of-the-mill American white people—would require the resources of 5.3 earths. And we don’t, on this earth, or on any other, have those resources. We’re not livin’ long like this, we relatively well-off American white people. And neither is anyone else.
Katrina, and New Orleans, are an example of this. A vital and vibrant city, but one, like so many of our cities, that exists in defiance of both God and Man, in that much of it is built against Nature, and much of it is populated by people systematically underserved by the modern state, is presented with an event cataclysmic, from Nature, that cripples the State.
In this cataclysm, New Orleans sings like a canary in a coal mine. It sings, as I said so long ago, way back at the dawn of this piece, that there is no margin. There was no margin for New Orleans, and the dispossessed displaced from it . . . and there is no margin for all of the way that all of us live, dependent, as an example, on that international shipping trade, here in the era of global capitalism, where the entire structure would collapse if interrupted for but three days.
The teabaggers are right, for the wrong reasons, in questioning the modern state. Because such a state is not sustainable. In this the reason for selecting “Down In The Flood” to title and end this piece is plain. For in that song, there is a cataclysm, involving crashes, and water, and levees, and flood, and grief. And the singer keeps repeating that the victim of this cataclysm is “gonna miss your best friend now,” is “gonna have to find yourself another best friend/somehow.”
Katrina nakedly exposed the lie: in this the country that never ceases to beat its breast about being the bestest and brightest in all the history of humankind . . . the modern state behaved as a buffoon on a whoopie cushion. It fecklessly went AWOL, as thousands of people suffered and died. And the clowns and the jugglers still don’t get it: George II, as I address elsewhere, is most riven by the seven words that Kanye West spoke of Katrina in truth on television—”George Bush doesn’t care about black people”—than he is by the reality that, on his watch, thousands upon thousands of people needlessly suffered and died.
The old best friend, upon whom we can no longer rely, is this our modern state. Because those who too often too control it are just not that interested in helping people who are not them. Katrina made that plain. The new best friend, upon whom we must rely, is each other. A la the Irpino.
This I hope to better articulate, in some sounder and saner fashion, when I next step upon the tight-rope. For a piece about Haiti. Which may be the future of us all. Serially ravaged by Man and Nature, most of the population displaced and dispossessed, a hurricane on the way, and all authorities throwing up their hands, telling people they need to seek succor with friends or family. For those without either: they’re lost.
Well. Like Jerry Garcia often said: “nobody ever plays a perfect set.” And sometimes—let’s face it—the set is just shitty. That’s what this piece feels like to me. So be it: we work in the dark, we do what we can. Hopefully there’s something of worth in here, for somebody.