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August 31, 2005



I couldn't disagree more with the excerpt from Beth Torode. I think that anything that adds to our knowledge is potentially useful and enlightening. A verbal description of the horrors of 9/11 could never have done justice to its sights and sounds. With only a verbal description, 9/11 might have seemed a mere abstraction in many people's minds. But the sights and sounds of 9/11! The physical devastation, the images of frightened fleeing through clouds of dust, and the recordings of victims who made their last telephone calls knowing they were about to die! I think that the television coverage helped to unite the country and the world in mourning.


One of the biggest problems in Iraq has been Americans not seeing the full tragedy of the war itself. New Orleans is now paying part of the cost of the Iraq war, with broken levees from the lack of upgrading and repair the Army Core of Engineers would have done had their funding not been cut, and the National Guard troops in Iraq instead of at home.

We need to understand what others are going through, not just to have compassion for the suffering of others, but to fully comprehend it. Otherwise, we don't prepare and plan for disaster and we won't avoid causing tragedy for others.There are many, many lessons to be learned from Katrina - among them, to plan and prepare, and to be able to respond. If we don't understand what disaster is, we can't help others or ourselves when it happens. FEMA funding and ability for disaster preparedness has been slashed by this administration - now we pay the price for that.


My first reaction on hearing that it had gone east of NOLA was phew, not a worry about a large scale disaster, perhaps just business as usual that I could ignore as regional news (just as Easterners ignore Midwestern tornado news and Midwesterners ignore Eastern blizzard news).

My second reaction was to check the map, since I have a friend in Gulfport, and I have been a bit hazy about geography. Uh-oh. She cleared out Sunday, but her job's kaput for a while because the hospital has been severely damaged and she doesn't work in a critical department. She said she knows nothing about other hospital workers who stayed. And the house - who knows if a stick is standing.

I might add that feeling depressed, stressed, fearful after seeing photos and videos of disaster just proves that we are normal humans.


There is a bit of voyeurism and a bit of curiosity about civil engineering, crisis management, etc that goes into my viewing of disaster news. Also, respect for people who are forced to make decisions under those conditions - use helicopter to rescue people at real risk for drowning now, vs use helicopter to drop sandbags to seal levee breach? You might save someone now and doom others later to drown, or you might let someone drown to save further flooding with uncertain loss of life due to drowning, disease, fires.

I always wondered about NOLA stayed dry, what with the obvious levees, and the location below sea level with a lake on one side and an ocean on the other. Must have some monster pumps.


But maybe that sort of desire for a huge disaster that you describe -- that I have experienced myself -- is more complex than simple sinful craving for excitement with no consideration for others.

It seems like it might come from a desire to have the facade of everyday life punctured in some way. To find something out that can only emerge in extreme conditions.

I'm not saying that it's appropriate to desire a hurricane that some other city has to suffer through. I'm saying that you need to listen to that urge to find something out that can only be found out when all the procedures of everyday life stops.

That motivation in itself seems like the beginning of a desire to be exposed to the reality of divine grace. Figuring out how to keep the desire alive without needing it fed by other people's tragedies -- that's the trick.

Patricia Katagiri

Interesting that the Iraq war is blamed for what happened in New Orleans--(I am not for the war, so please take this as it is intended) What I'm trying to say is who knows if whatever more the Corps of Engineers might have done to shore up levees in New Orleans would have been enough if their funding had not been cut. Or even if levees in New Orleans would have been shored up before some other project that needs to be done---such as dredging the Mississippi River so that barge traffic could go through. I guess what I'm trying to say, this Hurricane was an act of nature or an Act of God, however one wants to frame it. We cannot read God's mind or control nature. What we can do is help in any way possible after the fact.


On one level, you're right, Patricia. But natural disasters are not just natural events: they are profoundly shaped by social conditions and by the human response. Famines are usually, on some level, natural disasters, but Amartya Sen has pointed out that there has never been a famine in a functioning democracy, that a government accountable to its citizen has never allowed mass starvation. Similarly, the people who die in natural disasters are often the people who are most vulnerable and marginalized to start out with. Natural disasters are social, and not just natural, events.

It's probably too soon to talk about how social and political considerations shaped this disaster. But I think that's a perfectly reasonable discussion to have.


"One of the biggest problems in Iraq has been Americans not seeing the full tragedy of the war itself. New Orleans is now paying part of the cost of the Iraq war, with broken levees from the lack of upgrading and repair the Army Core of Engineers would have done had their funding not been cut, and the National Guard troops in Iraq instead of at home."

I think you're 100% right. Actually it even goes back further then the Iraq war. Right back to the 70s when the US should have started planning to use alternative fuels, as NOBODY can convince me that we would have become so involved in the affairs of the Middle East to begin with, if it weren't for our addiction to their oil.

It's all connected.

Most of Africa, parts of South America, even the Carribean are in far worse shape then much of the Middle East. YET we rarely get actively involved in policing them or trying to bring REAL democracy or prosperity to them.

More importantly the American people must blame ourselves for electing such a bunch of short-sighted leaders that can never DO anything to address the issues UNTIL something like this forces them to act.

Our national guard should be HOME. We should have had enough funding so that the corp of engineers was on top of the dyke situation, even ahead of it with innovative solutions. Look what the Netherlands has done with their system of sea walls and dykes. AND they have far fewer resources then we do, but are not everywhere trying to be the world policemen to protect western access to other people's resources. That's the difference.

They aren't still using sandbags for dykes either. I was watching on National Geographic the other day that they have a computerized system of walls that automatically closed and blocks the sea BEFORE a sea surge hits the shore. Not waiting until afterwards and then rushing to throw sandbags on it.

New Orleans should have had that system too and maybe we could afford it if we'd quit getting involved in these global wars all the time. That's a very historic city. I think the oldest cathedral in the Northern hemisphere is located there. We couldn't afford to protect that city, but we can always afford another piece of military hardware.

Let's cut back on the war business and we could afford to do other things. Heck I didn't even have time to celebrate the end of the Cold War. I think when the Berlin Wall finally fell, we were heading out to Kuwait...That stuff needs to end.

So this woman is right.

Emily H.

Our brains, at some kind of deep level, do not get TV. They're not evolved for it.

In a preindustrial age, five or six kidnappings, or plane crashes, or murders a year would have been genuinely worrisome--because they would all have happened to people you know. Now, disasters get spread internationally; you know in your head that you're more likely to die of suicide than murder (statistically), that planes are safer than cars (statistically). But because we turn on the TV and hear about plane crashes and murders, they become processed as things that happen often.

And most of us saw the towers come down 20, 40, 100 times on 9/11.

I do worry about the kinds of effects that has on us.


Thanks for the wonderful honesty, Hugo. I experienced some of the same sinfulness myself.

So, Hugo, do you think that Katrina could be a test case for your orthodox/progressive alliance theory?

Peace of Christ,


I'm having the opposite experience from you, Hugo. I donated money and it felt partly like repentance for *not* watching. I just can't bring myself to do it. Overall, working at a paper has diminished my appetite for news, since I'm in a newsroom all day. But since I cover a narrow beat, it does mean that I miss a lot of stuff.


Thanks for this. It's a tendancy I've noticed and a lot of bloggers, myself included, joke about slow news cycles because we have less to write about. Of course, that said, I had no reaction like that to Katrina--in fact the opposite--I thought, this sort of thing makes me silent with grief and I have no urge to write, and only do so out of some sort of obligation not to fall silent and let people who want to lie and do disservice to the victims by blaming them for their fate.

Of course, that New Orleans is close and is one of my favorite cities ever makes my impotent feelings of grief and rage even worse. I keep remembering and wondering....are the places that I loved so much under water now?


Of course, the wretched poverty in that part of the country scares me. There's so many people that can barely get by as it is--the death toll is going to be outrageous, I fear. Ugh, I need to sleep. Devastating. New Orleans has always been there in the edges of my memories and I can't wrap my mind around the idea that it might never be the same. It really is a beautiful city.


Hugo, i have no doubt you would have contributed whether or not you saw the devastation on tv. But how many others would? i'm all for showing as much as possible. The runaway bride story was voyeurism. But Katrina is real news that everyone should care about.


Hola faretaste

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