Monday, September 05, 2005


Thank God the situation in New Orleans is finally under firm control.

Obviously, I’m not referring to the physical management of the city, that is still pretty fucked up.

But the news management side of things has improved markedly.

For most of last week we in the UK were treated to the sight of British foreign correspondents, hardened by careers spent in third world disaster zones, standing knee deep in polluted water, surrounded by rubble and clearly shocked by the things they had seen.

It was quite a peculiar and unique experience. Disbelief was the strongest emotion coming across much of the time. They just couldn’t believe they were reporting on human misery on such a colossal scale, days after disaster had struck and with absolutely no signs of aid or relief. And all this was taking place in America. For a brief while, even kiss-ass US news presenters were reacting in an equally shocked way.

But those dark days are past. Essential supplies such as food, water and effective public relations skills are finally making their way into the heart of the devastated city.

The disaster story has stabilised now and the scenes of absolute misery are already being treated as history and we are being pounded with images of trucks driving up and down New Orlean’s waterlogged streets and heavily armed soldiers hugging black people.

Slightly off-message stories can still be found though but you have to work harder to find them. Personal favourites include

The frenzied reporting of looting was really something to behold. The media went into a lather about it. Senior politicians announced that battle hardened troops were being sent in with shoot to kill orders to prevent it. The battered survivors of New Orleans were to be treated to a demonstration of martial law, Baghdad style.

Yup, tens of thousands of people wilting and dying and politicians were worried about some of them stealing some potato chips. There’s no doubt that some of them were taking training shoes and TVs as well but, come on, let’s get real here what were they going to do with them? Was it really worth diverting resources away from rescue operations for the sake of some mass produced plastic crap? The fact that looting even appeared in the media and the politicians’ radar shows what fucked up priorities those people have.

The more cynical observer might conclude that tales of looting and mayhem were played-up to serve as an excuse for and distraction from the fucked-up relief operation. And this is the mother of all fuck-ups. Even at this stage it is clear that so very many things went wrong…

  • the levees were inadequately maintained
  • no provision was made to evacuate people without access to private transport
  • no viable contingency plan existed for the aftermath of a flood of New Orleans

Not only have Americans and the entire World been treated to a rare sight of the sheer size of the American underclass, they’re also going to have to come to terms with the astonishing incompetency of the people responsible for US domestic security – at all levels. If I was living in California right now I’d be more than a little nervous about the prospects of personal survival when the Big One eventually hits that part of the world.

Years ago, I met an seasoned traveller who told me that there were three cities in America that stood out from all the others by virtue of the uniqueness of their culture – San Franciso, Santa Fe and New Orleans. Having visited all three now I can see where he was coming from and New Orleans is at the top of my own personal list. My first visit to New Orleans was my entree to The Deep South and I’ve been fascinated by the Southern States ever since. This isn’t the place to enthuse about what New Orleans was but it was unique and those discarded people we saw scattered around the convention centre and Superdome were an integral part of that uniqueness. Not that you'd realise from the way they have been treated.

One thing we can be sure of, the New Orleans many of us loved is dead and gone. Partly because it will take generations for the memory of what happened on its streets to fade but also because there is no way it will ever be restored to its former seedy glory. A city like New Orleans had character because it grew organically, over centuries. The New New Orleans will be an ugly, soulless heap of casinos, malls and chain stores. Even if those people evacuated this week could ever bring themselves to return, their homes will be long gone and whatever is put in their place won’t be for the likes of them. New Orleans will become a tacky replica of itself and just like every other sanitised, corporate-conceived vacation resort in Amerika

It really is no exaggeration to say that we’ve seen a city, along with thousands of its poorest residents, die this last week and it isn’t coming back.


Postman said...

I statistic put it all in perspective

Katrina devastation = 90,000 sq. miles
UK Landmass = 93,000 sq. miles

There must be many tales to tell.

Stef said...

I still can't wrap my head around what's happened. And in spite of the scale of the destruction I am still staggered at the slow response.

America is the world's No.1 logistical superpower, yet its federal government did dick for days. It's not hard to understand why some people are so horrified they are willing to believe that the lack of attention was deliberate in some way

Shahid said...

Mate - not nearly enough swearing IMHO. :-)

zenyenta said...

Why it took so long is simple. We have the worst president and administration that we've ever seen in the admittedly short history of our country. Oh, sure, we've had corrupt ones, drunks, incompentent weaklings and just plain bad people at the helm before, but Bush makes them all look like humanitarian geniuses.

As to what the "new" New Orleans will look like, I couldn't agree with you more, stef. It'll be fake, like New York is getting to be. Everything that might interest tourists in the US is becoming a simulation of what made it what it was. I'm sure there's someone who'd like to redo the Grand Canyon in that plastic they use for rock climbing walls.

Stef said...

What baffles so many people in the UK is how so Americans have voted for George W. in the past. To many of us he just comes across as a smirking buffoon.

It must be an American thing that we just don't get

zenyenta said...

Been an American all my life and I don't get it either. Really. I have no idea how anyone ever thought it would be a good idea to vote for him or that he could "keep us safe" or that he's a "plain spoken man", two of the things people say about him. More than one article published about this crisis has said that people see him as confident and resolute. That's one half of the country, I guess. The other half sees him as stubborn and stupid.

Of course, you do have to keep in mind that he lost the popular vote the first time and we're not sure what the vote really was the second time. American elections are a bit screwed at the moment, maybe.

Ian said...

George Bush has been described in the same way by Sky News and the BBC since the Hurricane - 'bright' (as in "he's a bright man").
Not sure where bright is on a scale of 1-10 of intelligence, but it's not 10, or close. 10 might be 'extremely intelligent', for example.
So, the US has a bright future, unfortunately, for the next few years at least.