Friday, September 02, 2005

As I've watched things in NO deteriorate over the past few days, I've been thinking long and hard about why things are the way they are. I have a few things I need to blog, if only to help me think them through. Forgive the meandering:

a. The issue of race is hard to avoid. The majority of the sufferers on TV are obviously black... NO is around 3/4 black, but I'd guess that 90-95% of those I've seen at the Superdome and Convention Center are. The reasons that they are the ones we see is because they are the poorest. The real issue is NOT that the government has been slow to help because they are black... I don't believe that for a second. The issue is an older one... why are blacks still the ones overwhelmingly in poverty? Poverty is what made them vulnerable. I also know there is no one answer to this question, but I think they some are 1. the legacy of slavery, 2. illegitimacy rates among blacks, 3. poor education system, 4. racism, 5. apathy by the powers that be 6. failed socialist type programs. Don't misunderstand, I'm not downplaying the role of whites... but I'm also not dumb enough to think that any kind of program, conservative or liberal (however good they make whites feel), can fix a culture where a majority of children do not have a father in the home. That is not to say that the government can't play a part in changing things... it had better... and spending lots of money will be part of it. But no politician, college professor, preacher, or government check can fill the void left by a nonexistent father. I'm not saying that this means that the refugees deserve their plight... I deserve as much or more than they... but the single mother home is a primary indicator of a child in poverty. Remember my #1 factor is still the legacy of slavery. The subsequent Reconstruction and segregation of the south is a big reason for the chasm that currently exists between blacks and whites... and little has been done to address this.

So we have the poor of NO and MS, most of them black, facing this nightmare...

b. Is this really happening in the US? I've heard reporter after reporter say he's seen this in other places, but never would he have suspected it here. I'll give the reasons why I think the situation is as dire as it is:
1. unpreparedness - this goes for the city of NO (who has seperate politicians in different constituencies responsible for each levee... all of whom failed to recognize the importance of their job... NO politics are notoriously slimey), the state (LA has been a dollar short and a day late), and the federal govt who, though they issue warnings of potential danger, obviously fail to believe them and mobilize way too late. I attribute most of this to our flawed humanity... 20,000 died in France 2 years ago because of a heat wave... nobody thinks the worst will happen so they don't prepare. The result is that those least able to cope are left to suffer. (Do you think L.A. is really ready for 'the big one'?) But, in our fallen humanity, we will certainly plan so that the last tragedy won't happen again... and we'll ignore the one that is screaming at us. I bet NO will have 10 levees, all able to weather a Cat 5 hurricane, in 20 years... and another won't come for 200.

2. failure to face reality - over and over these govt people show that they won't admit the truth. Good for the mayor of NO for finally getting mad and letting the press know... but remember that he was one of the ones saying that NO has dodged a bullet a few days before. Everybody wants to cover their rear ends... so few worry about others. They want to believe that things are better than they are because they look better.

3. pride - Why would America be immune? Just because we have money and military might doesn't mean we won't be left looking horribly weak and ignorant at times.

But in the weeks and months to come we'll be able to look back more clearly and see where to place blame. One thing is for sure... we should all donate money to the relief... now. The Red Cross is a natural place to start.

I hope my ministry group can go down and help soon.

c. While I was amazed at the looting at first, I'm really amazed at how well behaved the overwhelming majority of those suffering have been. They are desperate but calm; ill equipped but trying to help the sick, elderly, and young; tired but courageous. I don't know how they do it.

d. Is part of the problem the overcoverage of lesser hurricanes by the news networks? Were some folks less inclined to leave the area because they'd know CNN, Fox, etc. to make a big deal out of what turned out to be a minor storm? Are we crying 'wolf' too much?

e. Is there any way that NO will ever be the metropolis it was again? Should it be?

f. Did I really see the gas station near my office change its prices twice in a couple of hours? Is this really attributable to the hurricane?

I have some happier things to blog about... tomorrow. I had to get this one out of my system.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In 1995, I encountered my first hurricane, Opal, in Auburn, Alabama. Since Auburn is only 170 miles or so inland from the Gulf of Mexico, I figured that such events were expected every 10-20 years or so. I also figured that the reason I'd never encountered a hurricane was because I'd grown up in North Alabama. However...

To see an amazing animation of all of last year's U.S. hurricanes, go here.
Last year, when Hurricane Ivan hit, I lived in Moulton, Alabama and we still had 70 mph winds. This, I thought, would be the last hurricane to ever effect me because Moulton is around 300 miles from the Gulf. However...

We moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee recently. The Boro is around 400 miles from the Gulf, and Hurricane Katrina got us good on Monday night. Which begs the question... Are you folks in Canada really safe from these things?

In all seriousness, the situation in south MS and New Orleans is heart breaking. My friend BK does a good job of describing his feelings and the tragedy he's seen on TV. I agree with him... makes you see how most everything else of a temporary nature is, well, temporary... and how suffering people are so much more important that 99% of the stuff we consume ourselves with.

I must rebuff him for not following my advice on which 24 hours news channels to watch, however. He rightly points out that the looting of grocery stores for food is not exactly grand larceny when you consider the dire needs of the folks affected there. They're even out of food at places like the Superdome. However, if he'd have watched MSNBC's coverage last night he'd would not have seen any looting of grocery stores. In fact, one reporter sympathized with those looters on air. He would have seen hundreds of people stealing electronic equipment and other creature comforts... most of them men in their 20-40's. And how much do you want to bet that many of them don't work? Those are the ones that make me angry.

But in the whole scheme of things, looting is completely unimportant. Authorities there need to focus on saving people. Last night I watched Larry King for about 10 minutes and have this to say about what I saw:

1. A lady called in and said that her cousin was trapped in his attic in NO and needed rescuing. Apparently all the hotlines she had tried were tied up. She had been talking to him on Monday when the water was rising up to his ceiling. As he climbed in the attic, apparently he dropped his cell phone in the water and she had not heard anything from him.

2. Larry King is a complete idiot. His response was to ask one of the reporters, whom he deemed familiar with situations like this, to offer advice for someone stuck in their attic while the waters were rising. WHAT???!?!? The reporter, Anderson Cooper, was dumbfounded at the question because anyone stuck in an attic with water rising ain't watching TV, and after a few seconds he had the sense to change the subject to helping the lady who called by letting her know that all communication was down and thus her cousin might be OK. Then...

3. Louisiana's governor proceeded to show complete ignorance on many issues. I wonder what the purpose for being on the show was? She did have the presence of mind to ask the lady to call back and give her cousin's address so he could be checked on.

About my life... the weather here is beautiful today and it is actually not stifling hot for a change.

I have been busy, busy, dreadfully busy over the past few days... and things will not lighten up for a while. The first 2 weeks of class are always packed full of stuff in campus ministry... all things designed to get students plugged in and start forming relationships. On Sunday afternoon I had planned to attend the online draft for my fantasy football league... but things at church went long and I didn't make it home in time... sorry Brad.

Monday was our first BIG event. Picnic and Praise Devotional. Of course, all the rain meant that we had to do everything inside, but we still had over 250 students here and lots of helpers. All we did was eat and sing (not at the same time... that would be ugly). Praise was led by Kip Long. Awesome stuff. My favorite song for the moment is "Blessed be the Name of the Lord". You can hear it here. Of course our version is a capella, but the words and music are the same. Truly a poignant expression of a journey of faith.

Yesterday we started our Tuesday lunches at the student center, which we call Bread Break. I was talking with a Vietnamese student whom I've gotten to know well over the past month and a half. I could tell that he was troubled. Turns out that he had his qualifying exams for the PhD program thrust on him at the last moment (he thought he could take them next year). Though he has never expressed a belief in God, he sincerely asked for prayers yesterday. It is a humbling experience to pray for a guy like that as he cries in your office. Reminded me of my mission.

I'll try to post some new Helen pics tomorrow...