Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Atlantis, Louisiana

I hadn't paid much attention to Katrina, because I thought it was just another hurricane. I turned on the local tv news last night and a montage of sunken buildings, bodies, and boats in city streets flashed past me a little faster than I could make sense of. When I was a child, I loved the story of Atlantis, the advanced civilization that wound up at the bottom of the sea somewhere lost to history except for a reference in Plato. It was, however, the romance of lost technology that intrigued me. I always skipped over the part about all the peoople being drowned.

There's a lot written about the long term economic impact of the disaster. The Port of New Orleans gets wheat to the world after it has made its way down the Mississippi River. Much of US oil production and refinery capacity is on or near the gulf there. The Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004 may have killed far more people, but this one may have more far reaching consequences. Right now though, I just see the grief, fear, and the possible loss of a great city that tied the north to the south for two centuries both through commerce and jazz. As I say this, I realize that I'm minimizing the impact on the gulf coast of Mississippi where cities like Biloxi are also all but destroyed.

They used to call them omens. In China, when a dynasty was about to lose the mandate of heaven, it was widely believed that heaven would send messages. Thus far, there's been an unprecedented terrorist attack on New York and Washington DC (well technically Arlington, Virginia), the Challenger fell out of the sky on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, now a hurricane puts major cities in the southeast under water.

At the same time, I think about the Bush family from time to time and the life of George Senior. He went to war with Saddam, but decided not to go on to Baghdad, check. He was a pioneer of offshore drilling in the oil business, check. He headed the CIA, check. He was our ambassador to the UN, check. He was the youngest combat pilot in World War 2, check.I'm honestly really worried about the fact that Bush the elder was also ambassador to China Does that mean Jr. will have to declare war on China too? Hopefully he'll do something more harmless like run over hundreds of bags of pork rinds with his mountain bike. I wonder if we should be more relieved or scared that Bush the younger is taking time off of his working vacation.

I have not gotten my mind around the whole picture. We are at war in a place where 680 people just died because of a sudden fear of a possible suicide bomber. If nothing else, that other horrific event should tell you how deeply fear has penetrated Iraqi life. A major city and many other cities in the gulf of Mexico have become some version of Pompey or Atlantis. In the meantime, the president is delaying a visit there because he doesn't want to cause a distraction.

When Omens confronted older civilizations, they took the time to consider what signals the heavens or the earth were sending. No city symbolizes the Mississippi River more than New Orleans. The river itself has been a binding force in American history and culture. For 2 centuries, the natives of New Orleans have commented on the city's vulnerability to the inevitability of nature and water. Nature still has power that man can not contain, especially when man does not respect that power.

The US only has a certain amount of resources whether it be National Guard units, oil, or capacity to influence the rest of the world.
We need to think about how we are prioritizing those resources. Is it better spent on infrastructure that makes us secure not just from other humans but from nature as well. How much of a role should serious science and engineering play in that? Should we be spending it on billions of dollars in flypaper instead?

Omens like this are a test of a culture's wisdom and its leadership. I hope we have enough of both. It doesn't matter whether it comes from members of a particular party or even if those folk have been thoroughly incompetent in the past. As the waters rise in the gulf, we need the vision to rise above it.


At 9/02/2005 07:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish they could require Emperor George to Stay on Vacation.

I long to start a Send Pretzels -- Assassinate With Ridicule Campaign. We'd ALL buy a little bag of pretzels and send them off to The Blackened With Greed House. (For those who don't remember, our Emperor choked on a pretzel and fell in a faint and struck his head on the corner of the coffee table. Theory Two is that Laura hit him with a poker.)

Gosh, we will wish we had that $200,000 per minute we're spending on the quagsand in Iraq to plunk down on our obliterated Gulf Coast.

I fear, chancelucky, that we have to wait 1,236 days for wisdom. What I most fear is that the Emperor is beginning to look hunted. By the shades of the unjustly dead no doubt. This makes him even more dangerous.

At 9/09/2005 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I'm having some trouble with the math myself.
we're spending 85 billion in Iraq
just voted to spend 51 billion in Gulf/Katrina relief.

economy may be down so fewer tax revenues....

something can't possibly be adding up if they want to eliminate the inheritance tax as well.

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