Sunday, September 25, 2005

Hip Hip Bombay

It seems that when someone suggests that the US adopt some form of universal health care, supporters of America's failing system are apt to point out that foreigners are lining up to come to our country for various medical procedures. Yet, according to an Associated Press article, Americans are more and more traveling to OTHER countries for medical care.
BOMBAY, India — Bradley Thayer, a retired apple farmer from Okanogan, Wash., traveled 7,500 miles to get his torn knee ligament fixed, and says he paid a third of what it would have cost him in a U.S. hospital.

And that included airfare to Bombay.

Thayer, 60, had no health insurance when he fell and injured himself while vacationing in British Columbia. He says his U.S. doctors told him he would have to wait six months for surgery and pay bills totaling $35,000.
So, if the US system is SUPPOSEDLY the envy of the rest of the world, why are more Americans traveling overseas for care? Why are more and more Americans seeking out prescriptions from Canada and Mexico?

The answer is obvious. They can get the same level of care for a fraction of the cost.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The True Terrorist

George W. Bush has hung his hat on the fight against terrorism. His administration has led this nation into armed conflict with groups of individuals residing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars have been diverted from domestic needs to the likes of the Department of Defense and Halliburton.

Yet, for all the mighty expenditures of human and financial resources, far too little attention has been paid to the greatest fomenter of terror the world over -- Mother Nature.

Terror is defined as intense, overpowering fear and the one thing that frightens us, more than anything else, is the unknown. Mother Nature is an unknown quantity.

The human form of terrorism is a slightly different animal. People terrorize others based on perceived or real injustices. Consequently, how we choose to interact as individuals or nations can effect the prevalence of terrorism. In other words, whether we choose to utilize it or not, we have some measure of control.

We completely lack this measure when dealing with Mother Nature. There is no ransom we can pay to free a region or community from a storm or earthquake. No amount of domestic or foreign aid will divert the path of a hurricane. We can't invite Mother Nature to a conference to discuss strategies to lessen the number, frequency or intensity of climatic events.

It is this helplessness that has terrorized humankind from the very beginning. And, no matter how much power and wealth we build up around ourselves, we remain subject to the whims of Mother Nature.

Since we are unable to control her, the next best thing we can do is to prepare for her. In annual example after example -- both in the U.S. and around the world -- we have shown how ill-prepared we are to deal with her. This ill-preparedness results in far too many unneeded deaths and misery.

How many more storms will it take before we can acknowledge the true terrorist among us?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Not Whether But Weather

With the advent of two severe hurricanes over the past month -- Katrina & now Rita -- I've heard some postulations that "GOD" is trying to send us a message. While I, of course, don't believe that a personified deity is trying to dial us up, if this is the intent after all, then I think the message should be quite clear -- Shit happens.

That may sound a wee bit crass, but weather happens. It has happened since day one and will continue to happen as long as this planet exists. Regardless of what's going on in our individual and collective lives, weather will effect it.

While I certainly subscribe to the belief that GLOBAL WARMING plays a role in the ever-increasing severity of storms, global warming is not the chief culprit. In fact, there is NO culprit at all. Weather is a natural occurrence.

Humanity could live in a state of virtual utopia and we would still have to cope with tornadoes, floods, earthquakes AND hurricanes. That's just the way it is.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

And the Winner Is...

I'm sure it will come as no surprise to most, but, according to an article in the Guardian Unlimited, the majority of people don't trust politicians. It doesn't seem to matter where a person lives or what specific form of government one is talking about. When various occupations are ranked, politicians fare the worst.
Most people believe their government does not act according to their wishes, a worldwide opinion survey shows. Lack of confidence in governments is highest in the former Soviet bloc, where 75% say their country is not governed by the will of the people, but similar views are held by most Europeans (64%) and North Americans (60%).
As with a lot of things in life, this result offers some good news and some bad news.

The good news -- particularly in today's neo-con America -- is that, maybe, the general public is starting to wake up to smell the coffee. If enough people become so fed up with the shannigans in the halls of Washington, D.C., the majority of state legislatures and quite a few county and city governments, maybe the day will soon come when being an incumbent is more a liability than a sure-fire guarantee of victory.

Maybe we can finally begin the process to develop and PASS true electoral reform, including getting big money out of politics altogether. According to an article in today's Christian Science Monitor, many sociologists believe we are on the cusp of transcending the Left-Right divide.
How will current US social and political trends - amid the rise of the right - affect the world in the decades ahead? Surprisingly, some sociologists say that they augur for curbing the excesses of national power and capitalist markets while strengthening the UN and other forms of global governance. Though it sounds counterintuitive in an age of corporate globalization and US unilateralism, there is evidence of powerful social forces stirring that could do just that.
But before we get all excited, we need to look at the bad news. If politicians are so distrusted by the majority of the populace, what rational person would want to become a first-time political candidate? Why would any of us voluntarily seek to subject ourselves to negative campaigns and mudslinging? Why would any sane person want to spend all their free time trying to raise the egregious amount of money needed to run a viable campaign?

As has been witnessed over the past two campaign cycles in many city, county and legislative races, the answer is painfully obvious. Very few people have shown an interest in attempting to join the ranks of distrusted politicians.

In essence, we progressive-minded citizens find ourselves in a classic catch-22 situation. We want to change the face of political campaigns to emphasize substance over fluff and public needs over special interests, yet to have the opportunity to accomplish this, we must enter an arena which is all about fluff, negativity, AND special interest influence/money.

It's a terrible dilemma, but one we MUST transcend...somehow.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Not the WHOLE Story

In many respects, Hurricane Katrina has awakened the mainstream media from a decades long slumber. I've been especially impressed with the reporting of Anderson Cooper of CNN. Over the past 2 weeks, he's pulled few punches. In fact, he's said numerous times that he keeps asking the same questions and government officials say quite a bit, yet provide few answers.

Another reporter that should get some due is Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. Check out PDXLeft's post of September 6, "Keith Olbermann Rocks" for some hard hitting commentary

PDXLeft also has another good post dated yesterday, "Newsweek: the real story of our Master of Disaster (in-Chief)". I read the article and, while it a fairly good one by mainstream media standards, it leaves out some very crucial bits of information.

In essence, it states that our Commander-in-Chief didn't realize how bad Hurricane Katrina was and no one on his staff had the courage to tell him. By itself, that certainly doesn't put the Bush administration in a good light. However, when you consider the information NewsWeek neglected to report, it looks ten times worse.

While CNN, MSNBC and even The New York Times have gone to great lengths to highlight the fact that it SHOULD have been common knowledge that this specific hurricane was apt to cause widespread damage and death, NewsWeek said nary a thing about it. Their article painted Bush & his merry men more as bunglers than wantonly indifferent leaders.

I don't know about you, but I see a world of difference between the two.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Burning Bush

I think our current president is an imbecile. From my perspective, he acts lost and confused every time he's on camera. But there are those who contend that Mr. Bush is a smart guy! They say, "Look at his family, his Ivy League education and, well, you can't become president if you're a dummy."

His supporters should adopt my assessment because, if he is as bright as they say, then he's a master deceiver and manipulator!! If he's a brainiac, then he should have KNOWN about the potentiality for Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.

As William Rivers Pitt reports today at,
"Here's the thing, though. Katrina was the single most anticipated natural disaster in the history of the country. Report after report, study after study, everything and everyone for years and years said that a hurricane making a direct hit upon New Orleans would flood the city out of existence and kill a lot of people. The National Weather Service dipped into dire poetics to try to warn all of officialdom that the ram was coming. Yet despite all this, the catastrophe happened anyway.

"...No one could have anticipated an attack like this," right? Nonsense. Just as with the hurricane, the warnings were there but the disaster happened anyway. The attacks became enveloped in this asinine mysticism, as if they were magic, as if they were some kind of unstoppable bolt from Heaven itself. This was politically expedient, and was also the product of a stunned populace that didn't want to even begin to consider the possibility that their leadership could screw up so catastrophically. In fact, the attacks had been anticipated, feared, described before they ever happened, and warned against. The attacks should have been stopped, should never have happened in the first place. Such is the only available conclusion to be reached once the mystical nonsense is ripped away."
I encourage you to use the link provided to read his entire column.

Is W stupid or brilliant? As it stands today, the only defense that could save him is the former.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Opium Up, Bush Down

I seem to recall one mighty shrub telling Americans that one positive result of the US incursion into Afghanistan would be a severe reduction in the amount of opium produced. The cerebral W had a grand plan to teach Afghan's how to produce other types of cash crops that wouldn't lend themselves to be developed into illicit drugs like heroin.

Like so many of the [p]Resident's grand schemes, this one doesn't seem to be working out so well. According to the United Nation's "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004",
...the country will have produced an astonishing 87% of the planet’s entire opium crop this year, up from 76% in 2003. Total opium production soared to 4,200 metric tons in 2004, surpassing the previous year’s record breaking 3,600 metric tons.

Afghanistan’s opium boom is wide as well as deep. Commercial growing expanded to all 32 provinces of Afghanistan in 2004, an increase from 28 provinces the year before. Under the Taliban, opium growing was concentrated in the predominantly ethnic Pashtun provinces of southern and southeastern Afghanistan. Now farmers in the northern provinces where ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks are the majorities are also raising the cash crop that earns 12 times the income per hectare of wheat. What’s driving this switch to opium is obvious. The return on investment is high and enforcement of laws against opium growing is effectively non-existent. Some 356,000 Afghani farm households, or roughly 10% of the population, depend on the crop that now accounts for the equivalent of 60% of the country’s entire Gross Domestic Product.
Hmm. Sixty percent of their GDP?

Another smashing success for Team Bush!

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Ideology Trumps Need

Remember the biblical story of the good samaritan? It concerns a foreigner coming to the aid of an injured individual while his countrymen turn a blind eye. For me, the message of the story is that help and assistance can sometimes come from people you least expect. Places like Cubans, Venezuelans or even Iranians!

While federal officials have seemed lost in their response to Hurricane Katrina, nations from around the world have offered various forms of aid. The country that could have aided us the most in the first few critical days was Cuba. They offered to send doctors and supplies on their own dime. If given the okay, they could have arrived in the Gulf states in a matter of hours! They could have helped local officials save lives!!

Unfortunately, ideology trumps need in Washington, D.C. Cuba's offer was turned down by an eerie silence. Here we could have had doctors and supplies in the field -- during a period that FEMA seemed frozen -- but it was not to be.

Read an excerpt from the story for yourself from Ekklesia:
Axis of evil offers to come to America's rescue -05/09/05

As the US federal government continues to struggle in its efforts to respond to the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, offers of help from around the world are pouring in - not just from the UN and the European Union, but even from countries at loggerheads with President Bush or castigated by him as part of an "axis of evil" in the world.

Last Thursday the Cuban national assembly held a minute's silence for Katrina victims. President Castro has offered to send 1,100 doctors to Houston, Texas, together with 26 tonnes of medical equipment. Cuban churches have also offered to help.

But despite two communiques, the US administration, under fire from black church and community leaders for its handling of the hurricane crisis, has so far declined to respond. The two countries have not had diplomatic relations for over 40 years and the US government has recently tightened trade and travel restrictions, against requests from US churches.

Iran, another "axis of evil" nation, has offered aid through the Red Crescent organisation, a Muslim relief agency. Hamid Reza Asefi, from the Iranian foreign ministry, said that there was genuine concern for the plight of affected communities.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, recently the subject of an assassination call by renegade US evangelist Pat Robertson, also pledged cheap fuel, humanitarian supplies and relief workers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Next Month...

I am both greatly heartened and disheartened by the outpouring of support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. On the positive side, it’s wonderful to see people of all races, all creeds, all economic levels and of differing sexual orientations putting aside these differences to pull together as one. It makes me want to think that our society could be this way ALL the time.

But that thought immediately makes me feel disheartened. This pulling together is caused by an EX-ternal circumstance. It represents a fleeting exception, not the norm. What kind of reception will many of these people receive once they no longer wear the label of “Katrina Survivor”?

The very people being embraced in warmth and sympathy today will, most likely, be the very same people others no longer see next week, next month or next year. The outpouring of love will quickly turn to aggravation and contempt. And the people rescued from New Orleans’ slums and rundown neighborhoods will soon find themselves poked into the same kinds of neighborhoods in their new communities.

White people who today work in shelter’s predominantly housing black people will return to their white neighborhoods. As the glow of the helping spirit wanes, they will become suspicious of any black person who shows up on their street. Police will continue to pull over black drives for no other reason than driving while black.

This is the real tragedy inherent in calamity. For a few ephemeral moments, people cast aside the often trivial differences that divide people. Fueled by the understanding that “there but for fortune go you or I”, we jump in to lend a hand to complete strangers. But the external impetus always fades away and we return to the mundane everyday isolationism of before.

Believe Your Own Eyes

As with all things political, the spin doctors are out in force. Bush and his merry men are trying to tell the public that the rescue effort in the Gulf region wasn't as bad as we might like to think. But there's a giant bug in the ointment! Our own eyes.

Unlike Iraq and its embedded reporters, the national media descended unfettered upon New Orleans and Mississippi. Within hours after Hurricane Katrina's landfall, reporters were there to provide round-the-clock observations and pictures. In fact, in the beginning of the aftermath, it looked like the media outnumbered the rescuers!

This onslaught of media attention shone a steady light on the unfolding tragedy. Regardless of what the administration is trying to get us to believe, we know it's not true. We saw the people in misery. We heard their stories. We watched as the police stood by while people looted (though, personally, I don't think that's an indictment of the police). We watched as people waited for a rescue that didn't come for days. We saw the bloated bodies floating in the water!

What is far worse for the Bush administration concerns the direction the criticism is coming from. It's not just the liberal media. It's coming from the left AND the right. Several republicans have decried the slowness of response and the overall lack of coordination. Even the very conservative publication BusinessWeek has written a scathing editorial!

So let the spin doctors try to spin their web of lies. This is one time I don't think the American public will buy their snake oil. This time we know different. This time there were MILLIONS of eyewitnesses.

Believe your own eyes.

Monday, September 5, 2005

Snippets of Katrina Commentary

I've really been amazed at the amount and depth of reporting and commentary about the many variables of Hurricane Katrina. Like many of you, I receive daily email updates and RSS feeds. Here is a brief sampling of what's being written (use the links to read the full article):
From Margins of Society to Center of the Tragedy
The scenes of floating corpses, scavengers fighting for food and desperate throngs seeking any way out of New Orleans have been tragic enough. But for many African-American leaders, there is a growing outrage that many of those still stuck at the center of this tragedy were people who for generations had been pushed to the margins of society.

The victims, they note, were largely black and poor, those who toiled in the background of the tourist havens, living in tumbledown neighborhoods that were long known to be vulnerable to disaster if the levees failed. Without so much as a car or bus fare to escape ahead of time, they found themselves left behind by a failure to plan for their rescue should the dreaded day ever arrive.

"If you know that terror is approaching in terms of hurricanes, and you've already seen the damage they've done in Florida and elsewhere, what in God's name were you thinking?" said the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. "I think a lot of it has to do with race and class. The people affected were largely poor people. Poor, black people."
Notes from Inside New Orleans
In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside, we were told, evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas, for example, even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp.
What Happens to a Race Deferred
The white people got out. Most of them, anyway. If television and newspaper images can be deemed a statistical sample, it was mostly black people who were left behind. Poor black people, growing more hungry, sick and frightened by the hour as faraway officials counseled patience and warned that rescues take time.

What a shocked world saw exposed in New Orleans last week wasn't just a broken levee. It was a cleavage of race and class, at once familiar and startlingly new, laid bare in a setting where they suddenly amounted to matters of life and death. Hydrology joined sociology throughout the story line, from the settling of the flood-prone city, where well-to-do white people lived on the high ground, to its frantic abandonment.
A Hurricane of Consequences
As it is beginning to appear that the death toll in southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi from Hurricane Katrina may surpass that of 9/11, once again questions are being raised regarding the Bush administration's distorted views as to what constitutes national security.

Much of the criticism thus far has focused on the failure of authorities to evacuate the tens of thousands of low-income residents in New Orleans who lacked the means to leave for higher ground inland and the slowness and inefficiency of the federal response following the rupture of the levees protecting the city, much of which lies below sea level. (Some have compared the U.S. government's reaction unfavorably to its response to the devastating tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean region in December, though the U.S. response to that disaster was actually even slower and far less generous financially.
Monument to a Rotten System
There is nothing "unnatural" about the disaster of New Orleans. When politicians smirk at global warming, when developers look at our wetlands and dream of mini-malls, when billions are flushed in the name of war and tax cuts, when issues of poverty and racism don't even register in presidential debates, all it takes is wind, albeit 145 mph wind, to expose a sturdy superpower as a house of cards.

Nowhere is this personified more painfully than in a monument to corporate greed that has rapidly become the earth's most damnable homeless shelter: the Louisiana Superdome.
Falluja Floods the Superdome
As the levees cracked open and ushered hell into New Orleans on Tuesday, President Bush once again chose to fly away from Washington, not toward it, while disaster struck. We can all enumerate the many differences between a natural catastrophe and a terrorist attack. But character doesn't change: it is immutable, and it is destiny.

As always, the president's first priority, the one that sped him from Crawford toward California, was saving himself: he had to combat the flood of record-low poll numbers that was as uncontrollable as the surging of Lake Pontchartrain. It was time, therefore, for another disingenuous pep talk, in which he would exploit the cataclysm that defined his first term, 9/11, even at the price of failing to recognize the emerging fiasco likely to engulf Term 2.

After dispatching Katrina with a few sentences of sanctimonious boilerplate ("our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens"), he turned to his more important task. The war in Iraq is World War II. George W. Bush is F.D.R. And anyone who refuses to stay his course is soft on terrorism and guilty of a pre-9/11 "mind-set of isolation and retreat."

The Two Americas
Last September, a Category 5 hurricane battered the small island of Cuba with 160-mile-per-hour winds. More than 1.5 million Cubans were evacuated to higher ground ahead of the storm. Although the hurricane destroyed 20,000 houses, no one died.

What is Cuban President Fidel Castro's secret? According to Dr. Nelson Valdes, a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, and specialist in Latin America, "the whole civil defense is embedded in the community to begin with. People know ahead of time where they are to go."

Katrina Compounded
Even in the first seventy-two hours after Katrina came ashore near New Orleans, it became obvious that government had failed, at every level.

If ever there was an occasion for government intervention, this was it. People were drowning. People were stranded. People were cooped up in the Superdome in disgusting conditions. People were on the highway in the baking sun with no food or water or facilities or medicine. And none in sight--for themselves, or their elderly parents, or their infants.

The state and local authorities were woefully unprepared, and the Bush Administration responded with a lethal tardiness.

While Katrina was without question an extraordinarily vicious storm, the vast majority of people who died did so not because of Katrina but because of a laissez-faire federal government with skewed priorities.

No Assurance Without Insurance

One of the themes I’ve heard repeatedly from conservative pundits and bloggers regarding the ongoing human tragedy of Hurricane Katrina is this idea that those who did not evacuate are somehow responsible for the horrible plight they find themselves in. While the media has done a fairly good job in reporting that many who stayed behind did so because they had no means of transportation or, if they did have transportation, not enough money to make use of it, I think they’ve neglected another key variable – insurance.

People who have insurance (like my wife & I) often take it for granted. We just sort of assume that everybody has it. Unfortunately, such an assumption is false.

Insurance is quite expensive. If your family is struggling to pay the monthly rent/mortgage and put food on the table, insurance is a luxury you probably can’t afford. So, you hope that nobody gets deathly ill, you’re not involved in an accident or no one falls on your property. If any of these things does occur, it will probably decimate you financially.

Consequently, insurance provides a bit of a safety net and a healthy piece of mind. If you have home owner’s and auto insurance, you can get the heck out of Dodge knowing that these things eventually will be replaced. In other words, you will have something to come back for.

If you have no insurance AND you live day-to-day or month-to-month, leaving behind the little you have becomes a far more dicey situation. If you are a renter (and most of the poor don’t own their own home), you don’t want to give up your space. If you are evacuated to a location far from home, by the time you get back, your space may be rented to someone else. Then what in the heck will you do?

And what about your meager belongings? You don’t have the money to replace them or the funds to get new stuff. Faced with this kind of no-win situation, I can easily understand why some people decided to stay put and try to weather out the storm. They chose not to evacuate simply because they felt it was paramount to hold on to the little they could call their own.

It’s tragic and unfortunate that the poor are faced with such predicaments. However, it’s EVEN more tragic that those who are more well off judge such people by their own experience and reality, not the reality these people face everyday…even during and after a hurricane.

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Paper or Plastic?

I believe that most people look for meaning in the major disasters of our time (e.g., the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the various California earthquakes, 9/11, etc.) Some will say it’s an act of God punishing a certain segment of the population or the heavens sending humanity a pointed message. For me, however, I more often find meaning in the routine aspects of life, those everyday occurrences that we frequently take for granted. In my book, these ephemeral events say a lot more about the overall condition of human society.

In our role as American consumers, hardly a day goes by when we aren’t asked that ubiquitous question, “Paper or plastic?” Just today I was at a local store to pick up a gallon of milk (combined with several other errands). As the young checker scanned my solitary item, she asked, “Paper or plastic?”

I cordially declined either option. The milk was in a plastic container which sports a handle. What advantage would I gain placing this item in a paper or plastic sack?

Once last week, I stopped by a different grocery store on my way home from a meeting. This time I purchased two items: a loaf of bread and one serving of organic yogurt. Again, I was asked, “Paper or plastic?”

Since I knew the clerk, I asked her why I would want to place a plastic sack of bread in a plastic sack? She smiled because we had discussed this issue before and we both agree on the insanity of the question in relation to a purchase of one or two small items. Still, as she explained, the “paper or plastic” question is drummed into each checker’s head and it becomes habit to ask.

And I understand why the question must be asked! Far too many consumers EXPECT to be given their purchase[s] in some type of sack or bag. Many become angry if the are not asked the question.

When I do major shopping, I never hear the “plastic or paper” query. Why? Because I bring my own reusable bags. (I realize I should keep them in my vehicle for smaller purchases as well.)

So what meaning do I derive from this everyday consumer experience? People too often don’t think about consequences. Our landfills are becoming filled with bags and sacks that are typically used once, for the briefest of time, and then tossed away.

Yes, too much tossing and not enough contemplation.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Titanic 2005

Less than 3 hours past midnight on Monday, April 15, 1912, the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic slipped beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean toward its watery grave. Of the 2,223 people onboard, only 706 survived the iceberg. Not surprisingly, most of the dead were from third class. As described in the Wikipedia,
First and second class passengers had easy access to the lifeboats with staircases that led right up to the boat deck, but third class passengers found it more difficult. Many found the corridors leading from the lower sections of the ship difficult to navigate and had trouble making their way up to the lifeboats. Not helping third class passengers were gates kept locked by crew members waiting for orders to let the passengers up to the deck.
Fast forward to August 29, 2005. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know this is the date Hurricane Katrina came ashore. Like the maritime disaster almost 100 years ago, members of the upper and middle class were most able to heed the evacuation orders and get out of town before the storm hit. The majority of the dead are the poor (third class) who faced numerous barriers to escape. Theirs are the bodies we see floating in the stagnant water on TV.

As I’ve thought about the innumerable personal tragedies of Katrina, I see a lot of similarities between it and the Titanic sinking. Many of the same types of decisions impacted both events. And, most importantly, it’s sad to say that, when tragedy strikes, one can be almost guaranteed that the poorest of citizens will be the ones to bear the greatest pain, agony and hardship.

As a Titanic history buff, I know a lot of the less-publicized particulars of this sinking. For example, while most people are aware that the luxury liner did not have enough lifeboats onboard, few people know that this was not in violation of then current law and that the ship had MORE lifeboats than was required.

Of course, the prime reason that sufficient lifeboats weren’t mandated is because the idea was fought by ship owners. Lifeboats meant less space for luxury cabins and this meant less profit to shareholders. Had an adequate number of lifeboats been available AND the crew had been sufficiently trained to operate them, far less people would have perished.

The issue of money also plays a big role in the death toll in Louisiana and Mississippi. Several years ago Congress created a fund for flood control and emergency preparedness for the region in and around New Orleans. Unfortunately for the residents of New Orleans, President Bush diverted over 40% of these funds to the “war on terror”.

As has been well-documented, a large share of this money has found its way into the pockets of corporations like Hallburton. Consequently, like with the Titanic, it seems that profits for the few took precedence over protection and safety for the many.

Another similarity between these two calamities is arrogance. Many believed the RMS Titanic was unsinkable and so they didn’t exercise caution nor prudence toward reports of icebergs in their path. In fact, upon hearing reports of a large ice field up ahead, Captain Edward Smith ordered the ship to INCREASE speed.

Several scientists have been predicting that it was an inevitability that a major hurricane would strike near the Mardi Gras city and that 2005 looks like a year for several major storms. Understanding that the vast majority of the City of New Orleans lies below sea level and is protected by inadequate levees, these experts warned that, unless efforts were undertaken to remedy this circumstance, New Orleans could easily become a lake of dead bodies and sewage.

Yet despite this clarion call, the federal government refused to heed the warning. We now have been witness to the damage and heartbreak this has caused.

Every time the world is faced with a major calamity, people vow it should never happen again. Political leaders make glorious speeches in which they SAY we will learn from our mistakes and be better prepared the next time.

But what did humanity learn from the sinking of the Titanic?

Hurricane Katrina is the Titanic all over again.

Friday, September 2, 2005

End of the Line?

Death. It’s one of those unnerving topics that most people try to steer clear of. About the ONLY time most of us are willing to talk about it is when someone we know dies. We talk about it quickly in hushed tones. And we welcome anyone who can provide us with a diversion.

My wife learned yesterday that her foster grandmother (the woman was my mother-in-law’s foster mother) died. Both my wife & I have mixed feelings about the woman’s passing. On the one hand, we feel sympathy for those family members in grief. On the other hand, however, this woman was one of the most miserable people either of us have ever met, so there’s not much grieving going on at our house.

Grandma was miserable by her own choice. She was a Christian fundamentalist who viewed the world as solely black-and-white, no shades of grey anywhere. She was willing to be your “friend”, provided that you believed just as she did. If you didn’t (and even trivial differences counted), then she would x you out of her book.

Since no one that I know of agreed with her world view 100 per cent, as the years went by, almost everyone – children and other close relatives included – were cast aside. At the end of her life on planet earth, she was alone in her self-righteousness.

This woman missed out on weddings, births, first words and first steps, promotions and everything else her once friends and/or relatives experienced in their lives. In essence, by shutting her heart to so many people, she robbed herself of sharing in the joys and heartaches of the very people she should have held dear. In my book, that’s the definition of self-imposed misery!

All of this might not be for naught, if heaven is the kind of place she believed in. If it is, then maybe she will have the last laugh.

But what if her spirit rises up out the primordial mist and, instead of finding herself at the pearly gates, she is dropped down next to a simple handwritten sign, “You had your one big chance and you blew it”.

This is something I think more fundamentalists should ponder. If heaven turns out to be each of our lives here on earth and not some place in the hereafter, then it will mean that far too many lives have been wasted. Such people will have squandered their one opportunity for happiness and fulfillment, waiting for a day that had already arrived...the day they were born.