Friday, September 16, 2005

On the kindness of strangers: the aftermath of Katrina

I know Bush must have given an excellent speech last night because a liberal friend of mine pronounced it "moving" and "inspiring" in somewhat awed and surprised tones. Something he said, or perhaps the way he said it, touched her as nothing he'd ever done before.

My friend is also a barometer that tells me that the media may have overplayed its Bush-bashing hand on Katrina, big time, because she added that it's unreasonable to expect Bush could have done much to have changed things; she thinks the local authorities were most at fault. And all this from a women who until now has not had a kind word to say about the man.

So first there was Katrina itself, and then there was the reporting on Katrina. Now there is the initial aftermath of Katrina as the actual facts are becoming more widely known, and the more slowly-evolving secondary aftermath. In these later aftermaths there are some stories that can only be described as heartwarming.

Betsy's Page led me to this article that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post. It is a tale of renewal and hope for three men made homeless by Katrina:

For Henry, Smith and a third evacuee, Vylandrus Dupree, who is now being housed at a resort in Arkansas, the unimaginable disaster has led to an unimaginable gift. Through a series of chance encounters and random decisions made by relief workers, these young African American men find themselves in parts of the country they had never seen before, and each believes there is no going back.

In the Tenessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire," set in New Orleans, the character Blanche Du Bois, abused and driven to madness, utters her famous line "I've come to rely on the kindness of strangers" as she is taken away to an insane asylum. The line is powerfully ironic in the play, but in post-Katrina reality it is delivered straight:

[Katrina evacuees] just got on a plane only knowing they were going to be taken somewhere for shelter, and they ended up happening to come to Battle Creek," said Capt. Aaron Jenkins, a spokesman for the Michigan National Guard. "That's what happened to a lot of people."

When Henry got off the bus at the base, people were holding signs saying "Welcome" and "I love you."

Henry said he was glad to have been given a way out of New Orleans. He talked about the violence and drugs that had surrounded him there, the "harassment by police" and "false promises" by politicians.

"The Lord was telling me it was time for a change," he said. "I am going to take this opportunity to change my life and start a new beginning."


Henry has found a new life in Michigan, a place to which he'd never been before. Another New Orleans resident, Cash Smith, found himself whisked off to another far-off place he'd never imagined going:

Chad Ladov and two of his friends in Denver had watched the unfolding disaster in New Orleans as had millions of other Americans. One of the friends, Andrew Hudson, worked at Denver-based Frontier Airlines, and asked his company whether it could fly New Orleans evacuees to Denver free. When the company agreed, the trio immediately left for Houston, where thousands of evacuees were being housed at the Astrodome...The three friends canvassed the Astrodome, putting up signs and posters about their Denver proposal. That's when they came by Cash Smith.

"Hey, dude, do you want to come to Denver?" Smith recalled them asking...

"I have no money," Smith replied.

The group told him the airline ride to Denver was free. They promised him help in finding a job and getting on his feet.

"Why not give it a try?" Ladov said.

Smith decided to take a chance. After all, he was surrounded by strangers in the stadium; why not trust these three?

"I have lost everything else," he said he thought to himself. "What do I have to lose?"


Smith and his family will stay in Denver.

And another man who fled New Orleans in the path of Katrina, Vylandrus Dupree, found himself in another unexpected and undreamt-of place:

Volunteers helped Dupree enroll at the University of Arkansas. "It's a big opportunity," he said. "I would have been a fool not to take it."

Dupree said a clergyman he had met at the Red Cross facility had helped him find a job at a Walgreens drugstore.

There was no question of going back to New Orleans, Dupree said. "It's beautiful up here."


Some telling statistics: for two-thirds of those people whom Ladov and his friends flew to Denver, it was the very first time they'd ever been on an airplane. And all of those evacuated to northwest Arkansas were given the following choice: stay in that part of Arkansas, move back to New Orleans, or relocate elsewhere. Ninety-five percent chose to stay in Arkansas, an extraordinary percentage.

Sometimes relying on the kindness of strangers seems a good bet.

[ADDENDUM: Apparently these three are hardly the exceptions; many evacuees do not plan to return. Via Captain's Quarters, the Washington Post reports the following poll results:

Forty-three percent of these evacuees planned to return to New Orleans, the survey found. But just as many -- 44 percent -- said they will settle somewhere else, while the remainder were unsure. Many of those who were planning to return said they will be looking to buy or rent somewhere other than where they lived. Overall, only one in four said they plan to move back into their old homes, the poll found.]

14 Comments:

At 1:51 PM, September 16, 2005, Anonymous meander1 said...

Whew, after yesterday's The Palestinians: the more things change, the more they..... I needed this uplifting account. After listening to Pres. Bush's speech last night, I felt very hopeful for the city and residents of the stricken areas. It sounds equally exciting for those who are going to take a chance on a new area and a new life...good for them!

 
At 2:17 PM, September 16, 2005, Blogger Holmes said...

There is some deeper message here about the welfare state and the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and how that was all shattered by one storm, forcing people to pick up and move on to a better life.

 
At 2:52 PM, September 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes when you lose, you win.

 
At 9:12 PM, September 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me the speech was the same Bush I have always heard, a person who believes deeply that when called upon the indomitable American spirit has the strength to reach out and uplift humanity from darkness. Despite the sometimes appalling and vicious rhetoric spewed against him, he has never faltered from his belief in the goodwill of the American people. He has the courage to say what he means and the strength to do what he says.

 
At 10:06 PM, September 16, 2005, Blogger reliapundit said...

THE NUMBER ONE INDUSTRY ON THE GULF COAST - FROM NEW ORLEANS TO BILOXI - WAS TOURISM.

It will take some time to rebuild the hotels and restaurants and nightclubs and casinos, (and ALL the secondary services industries which support those enterprises).

Since neither the primary or support businesses that cater to tourism are operating, it seems logical to conclude that tourism on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans is "dead" for the time being.

BUT MAYBE THERE'S A WAY WE CAN JUMP-START IT RIGHT NOW!?

Let's start a new form of tourism: VOLUN-TOURISM.

What we can do is get the feds to set up some trailers and tents all over the region for VOLUNTEERS, who will:

(a) pay their own way to the Gulf Coast and

(b) pay for their room and board while doing UNPAID VOLUNTEER work on a reclamation project - like helping to build a home with Habitat for Humanity, or or helping to clean a school, or well - just about anything.

"Voluntourists" - instead of taking an entiely hedonistic vacation - would get to see the ravaged Gulf Coast and the heroic people of the region up-close while directly helping some people there make a new and better life.

And they'd also be indirectly helping the whole nation because they'd be SPENDING money in the region.

I got the idea when a fellow alum from Tulane emailed me that she was going to set up a college reunion for this Spring in New Orleans - so we could paper the city with our money while nostalgically recounting and reliving our glory days in the city we all love.

How 'bout it? How about spreading the word? Maybe we can make this happen for ALL the alumni from all the colleges down there, and for everyone else who loves the Gulf Coast and wants to participate in the rebirth of the region - and speed it along as much as possible.

Voluntourism might be an ultimate form of kindness from strangers.
But the beuty is, the volutourists and the victimns of Katrina wouldn't remain strangers.

 
At 11:10 PM, September 16, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

Oil prices are high......too high for the economic good of the country [this coming from someone in the oil business]. But there is a silver lining in this for some who've lost everything in Louisiana. Because of high energy prices, here in the heart of the West Texas oil fields, we are in desperate need of workers. We can and are offering the refugees from the storm the one thing they can use the most now......jobs. And many are coming out to take advantage of the opportunity, we've placed over 40 people in the last two weeks into good paying jobs and offered them a chance to start over.

Permian Basin Petroleum Assoc. job bank

 
At 5:48 AM, September 17, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

Jobs are the right metric to use in evaluating development aid.

Every assistence program should explicitly tracking how many people they've helped to find a job.

The biggest problem in a welfare community is the lack of entrepreneurs -- folk willing to start small businesses and hire one or two local workers. Aid almost never helps those entrepreneurs; and thus, not the community as much as it could.

 
At 2:37 PM, September 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the guys I shoot against was just back from his deployment in New Orleans, and told of how they entered a neighborhood and were told, "We got a body down there." They replied that it would probably take them a week to get to it. Then it came out. The guy had been a crack head who had been violently robbing people in the neighborhood, until they beat him to death. The squad thanked them, took the body away. The fellow telling the story said, "Worst thing I saw while I was down there. And the best."

And so, the beginnings of civil society. We've come a long way in a week or so.

 
At 3:04 PM, September 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Something he said, or perhaps the way he said it, touched her as nothing he'd ever done before."

I think there's a lot of import in your mentioning of the way he said it. I didn't actually see the speech nor have I read it but I have noticed that there are a seemingly large number of people out there who have an overwhelming need to see emotion in politicians. The actual words hardly seem to matter, as long as they show emotion and "feel the pain," to borrow a Clinton-era term.

Reading Tim Blair's blog from Australia shows it's not just an American phenomenon either. After last year's tsunami, the leader of the Labor Party (who wasn't even in power and was out of the public eye due to health reasons) was roundly criticized by a certain segment of people for not specifically making a public appearnace and emoting on cue to prove that he felt the victims pain. Like that would have made any difference to the situation whatsoever. He didn't have the reins of government, the power of the purse, or authority to do anything. But if he didn't cry in public he was uncaring.

I confess I think that's somewhat shallow but maybe that's just my stoic, introverted Myers-Briggs Thinker type personality talking. To me it's more important that something is actually done, whatever the demeanor of the person who is doing it. That's what demonstrates that they care. Crying in public doesn't save anyone's life. What saved lives after the tsunami were American aircraft carriers, planes, trucks, fresh water and other supplies arriving on the scene faster and in greater quantity than from anywhere else. But some people honestly seemed to care more whether President Bush displayed this or that emotion on cue. That's how they judged him, not based on his actions in actually getting help to people and saving their lives. Like I said, I don't always understand it. But different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Neo-neocon, do you have any thoughts on that, based on your experience with different personality types?

 
At 12:50 AM, September 18, 2005, Anonymous strcpy said...

I've read and heard quite a few people listing along the lines of way he speaks as a raeson not to vote (democrats all though). Most of them would even fully admit that what he said and did was workable and working, just that he didn't feel. Usually followed by waxing on about how great Clinton made them feel (and you could usually also get them to admit he didn't do much and they didn't like much of what he actually did).

Made a few of them quite mad when I called it the "Blow smoke up my ass" syndrome. At least thats the term we use for it down here in the south. Lots of people would rather *feel* good (safe, or whatever) than actually *be* good. Of course, that's what causes crap like 9/11 and what is happening in LA right now - not caring if it actually works ends up VERY bad in the long run.

 
At 1:01 PM, September 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to be able to join in the hope the evacuated poor from N.O. can build productive, better lives in the US areas that emphasize individual initiative and responsibility, as opposed to "bleeding heart" top-down welfarism, present in N.O. for two generations.
There is a lesson from Germany. Despite a trillion $ from W to E Germany since the Wall's fall, unemployment in the East is 25% and Easterners keep asking (demanding?) more. The dependent poor in N.O. have voted for, and lived under "benign" Democratic Party governance for longer than E Germans under communism.
Once we are programmed (e.g. by the 1960s), most of us are stuck. Look how long it took you, neo-neocon, to change your thinking.

 
At 4:11 PM, September 18, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

This disaster has given Americans the chance to do something worthwhile at a time when the WOT is being fought somewhere else by somebody else. We need to give as much as they need to receive.

BTW I heard that Bush's old speechwriter (Frum?) who left in 2002 returned to write the NO speech. It reminded me of the Nat'l Cathedral speech, after 9/11. "We are in the middle hour of our grief..."

 
At 11:04 AM, September 19, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The wonderful nature of freedom is that it allows people to make their own choicest. But when Black Democratic Caucus politics make it so that victims stay victims in an ever perpetrating cycle, there really is no choice of "moving to" another state because the one you live in isn't any good.

The more migration, the more people are allowed to make their own choices and are not denied the means to do so by a power hungry political machine, the more the free market takes hold and elevates everyone's living standards up and onwards.

The reason why New Orleans and Louisiana is so corrupt is because corruption is a never ending cycle, it creates the downtrodden that it then feeds on. Sort of like Middle East violence, Hamas, and social welfare there.

I had hopes for something like this when Katrina first hit. I was depressed by reports that a lot of people were blaming Bush instead of their local politics. I had wanted the black community to see a different kind of Truth than that espoused by their political masters, holding them down in an ever quickening mire of despair, hatred, and dependence.

As with human irony in ages unpast, the terrible incompetence of some have allowed the excellent competence of others to lift out of the darkness, what would otherwise have been forever lost souls.

As Goebbels, the propaganda minister said, the English likes telling their lies big, and to keep on telling them, even when it makes them look ridiculous.

It's not the English telling the Big Lie anymore, and it's not the English that looks ridiculous as history passes them by and the revolution of the information age brings untold prosperity and risks. But the one thing it does not is the east of Propaganda, propaganda has become much harder now that the world is compressed such that New Orleans residents, listening to a constant dribble of Democratic philosophy, has been exposed to the greater world around them.

And once exposed, they will never be compressed into a "victim" again.

Neo Neo Con

Dick Morris said some of the most cutting analysis of Bush's speech, that I had ever wanted to hear. He said that Bush's speech was a "female" speech, one that focused on caring. Dick Morris, someone I respect for his propaganda and PR skill as well as for his conscience in not believing his own manufactured spin, also noted that this President was very fortunate that Katrina came along. Because this President doesn't believe the government should do a lot of things. Not like FDR. This President believes that government should fight wars and help after national disasters, that is about it. So Dick Morris notes how fortunate he is to be able to exercise his POWERS effectively in the first time for War, and for the second term for Katrina Reconstruction.

He said that Bush will look so good doing this, his ratings will soar. And that is because Bush will do it "well", he will fight the povery and corruption in New Orleans, he will make it so that displaced residents who wanted to get out of New Orleans, may in the future produce children that want to go back.

Bush is a man that is best when he is exercising immense powers and discharging even greater responsibilities. In that speech, Bush presented to the nation a true picture of himself, something he has NEVER done, with the exception of on 9/11.

Bush does not believe in propaganda as a tool to aid in fighting Wars, domestically or foreign. He does believe in the principles of government and the Constitution however.

He is lucky to get a chance to recreate New Orleans, newer and better, in his second term. And New Orleans residents are lucky to have him as a President, in a time when they require comfort, but more than that, in a time when they require STRENGTH and competence.

Neo-neocon, do you have any thoughts on that, based on your experience with different personality types?

I notice that propaganda, public appearances and relations, have a more immediacy than long hard slogging work. In 20 years we may find that the Iraq War and Katrina Reconstruction was done correctly and amazingly. But right now, it takes a lot of effort to see what is being done, a lot of thinking to project what will be done, but not a lot of thinking to see what someone is saying about it.

The immediacy effect is powerful psychologically, because we believe what we see, not what we think of abstractly. We believe what we feel, we are genetically wired to do so. The thought of a predator is not as real as the sight of one.

 
At 8:26 PM, September 19, 2005, Anonymous neo-neocon said...

Ymarsakar: One of the problems with policy-making is that it takes years, maybe even decades, to appreciate the results of the decisions made and the steps taken. And even then, it's hard to scientifically pinpoint what action has led to what result, because there are so many confounding variables. So when someone makes a speech and suggests a policy, people are often responding based on a gut feeling, because the rest is just a guess--a guess that, hopefully, is an educated one, based on logic and reasoning; but in the end it's still a guess.

In general most of us are hard-wired to size people up on a host of variables, and we are ordinarily not conscious of most of these variables. Body language and facial expression, for example, are constantly being evaluated when we decide who or whom not to trust. So, politicians and their speeches will always be judged at least partly on those variables, which often come down mostly to how we feel about those politicians.

 

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