Friday, September 02, 2005

Drowned Worlds

Four days later and they are still picking people off roof tops! People are without water, food and civilization now for four days! In America!

Those of us who are fans of the British novelist J.G. Ballard are not surprised at what is happening in New Orleans. We knew it would turn out this way.

Ballard, who is best known for his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, which Steven Spielberg turned into a movie, makes his living writing environmental disaster fantasies, including The Drowned World. (He actually goes both ways: another novel is called Drought.) It is what happens when an environmental disaster peels off the thin veneer of civilization that covers us all, what happens when the social contract breaks down. See New Orleans 2005. A city in America.

A few thoughts:

President Bush told ABC no one expected the levees to break. Nonsense.

FEMA 2001
Louisiana State University and FEMA 2004
New Orleans Times-Picayune 2004-2005
U.S. News & World Report 2005
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for years

One wonders if he is a liar or is really so out of touch with reality.

Watching too many hours of television news. The difference between CNN's coverage and Fox is interesting. CNN's version is that things are pretty bad and getting worse. Fox's version is that things are pretty bad but help is on the way. I wondered if CNN, particularly Wolf Blitzer, was over-emphasizing the civil unrest but it appears, from seeing other media, that CNN was more accurate. And only Fox would broadcast a preacher blaming this all on a government that drives prayer out of schools. (If God was so pissed off at liberals why did He send the hurricane to Louisiana and Mississippi.)

Both networks rose to the occasion with heroic journalism but by far the best I have seen was NBC (I have not watched the other two networks so I can't comment). It was some of the most graphic and emotional broadcast journalism I can remember and done under extraordinary circumstances. There are times when I desperately miss not working for a newspaper or a news service. This is one of them.

Question: If CNN can get a producer and cameraperson to the convention center, why can't the U.S. army get there? If NBC can find tourists trapped on the roof of a building in an apartment they took over, why can't the New Orleans police? (The answer to the last question, which brings us back to Ballard, is in a fine story by Douglas Birch in the Baltimore Sun of what happens when the police also are victims when the social contract fails.

Networks are grappling with how graphic to let their pictures become--particularly the dead bodies. They are doing a fair job but I wonder about the question. One journalism professor was quoted as saying "dead is dead," but he is a journalism professor and you expect something like that from them. This is happening in an American city. It is a disgrace of historic proportion (the mayor of New Orleans called the federal response the third disaster) and it must be shown, the American people must see the result of what Washington has done through the years and what the Bush administration is doing now. And dead bodies carry the message.

And finally, the reaction of folks overseas is interesting and disturbing. They are properly appalled. My father used to say you can be incompetent or you can be arrogant. You can't be both.

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