As I'm writing this, babies are stuck on overpasses, gone three days without food and water and surrounded by old folks who've died baking in the sun. It took the president three days from the hurricane's touchdown—and a day and a half after the levee was breached and the fetid waters rose—to call a cabinet meeting and determine the federal response. Hospitals are without food, water, electricity, linens and plumbing, and even they're not getting lifted out. The New Orleans Police Department has stopped search-and-rescue, turning its gun sights to looting instead—although oddly, if you're black, the Associated Press says you're “looting” food, and oddly, if you're white, the AP says you're “finding” it. The National Guard is over in Baghdad, and now desperate people have gone so batshit Mad Max, FEMA's called the whole thing off.
So welcome to our anniversary issue: the Weekly's been around 10 years. And bully for us.
I'm so angry right now I almost can't breathe. At first, it was for that beautiful jewel of a city, elegant and graceful and gracious and old as few places in this country still are. But caring about that was a luxury: it was a whole two days ago, when I assumed that the government would rescue all the people who'd been trapped like rats. A hundred thousand people in the city were too poor to own a car, and I no longer give a damn about the cobblestones or the wrought iron or the night-blooming jasmine. I don't care if when they rebuild it, it looks like Phoenix. A million people are without homes. Who do we declare war on now?
It would take pages to detail how FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—has been gutted under George W. Bush, and purposely so. People are starting to note that the Army Corps of Engineers was dangerously underfunded for the past three years—so we could use the dough for Iraq and our tax cuts. Newspapers are picking up the story of how James Lee Witt, under Bill Clinton, had planned for the same situation. Planning: Why didn't I think of that?
As Condoleezza Rice is shopping for shoes at Ferragamo in NYC when Bush has pledged his entire government is working to help the devastation, what the fuck is there left to say?
Yes, I'm angry, and, yes, I blame our happy Nero, strumming a guitar during a Category Four hurricane.
When this fine paper started 10 years ago now, I was working as its copy editor, three months out of college. Bill Clinton was in charge, and I was mad at him too. But do you think Bill Clinton, famous for keeping his aides working amid littered pizza boxes till all hours of the night, would have taken a wait-and-see attitude? Do you think he would have golfed in Arizona as the waters rose? I didn't vote for Al Gore—yes, I voted for Nader—but do you think that man, who found FEMA so sexy he bragged about his trips with James Lee Witt, wouldn't have had a wonky answer for everything and every plan poised to put in place? Perhaps he would have sent the National Guard into Iraq too—he was always pretty hawkish for a Democrat—but I doubt it. The “pathological lies” he told were each and every one true. He did sponsor the bill in Congress that first funded the creation of the Internet; he was the basis for Love Story—its author, Erich Segal, has said so. And when the media jumped on him for “lying” in a debate about a FEMA trip he'd taken with James Lee Witt—he was on that trip, with a FEMA under-director. He'd taken other trips with James Lee Witt. But he couldn't have misspoken, it had to be a lie, and that's surely equivalent to Saddam negotiating for Niger's yellowcake uranium.
I watched TV news all night last night, until finally at maybe 2 a.m., I soothed my anger with a showing of Elf, though I wept disproportionately for a Will Ferrell movie. (Usually I cry only for Adam Sandler.) Now I'm reading the posters on FreeRepublic.com writing about animals and savages who need to be cleansed from the gene pool. “Great. And now they are coming here to add to those in Houston,” wrote SaveTheChief. Yes, if you and your family had been without food and water for three days, shouting for help at rescue workers' turned backs, you would lie down and die politely. Asked someone else whom I've blocked out now: “Why don't they get off their butts and walk out of there?” And so the black people of New Orleans will get the blame for reverting to thuggery in a survival situation, when you know they're supposed to be grateful, and we won't have to feel bad for them ever again.
At least there's some constants you can count on!
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The issue in your hands is dedicated to Weekly stories that have made a difference, and part of it is our regrets about the past 10 years. Here's one: I went to college in New York, and when Sept. 11 hit it, I stayed in my bed for three days in grief. That week, my column (already on the press) bore the headline “Champagne Wishes and Lesbian Dreams,” and I was sick about inflicting on the world such flightiness. The next weekend, my boyfriend went for a five-day hiking trip, and I feared terrorists and martial law and looters at my door. There wasn't a man to protect my small son, and there wasn't a man to protect me.
I've only been to New Orleans for a single weekend, but it was so beautiful I ended up engaged. Everyone who's been there thinks he owns a piece of it. I feel as though the world is picking off our finest cities one by one, and what will we do when our turn comes? What kind of grace will we show? How long will it take us to throw off all civilization's rules, and stick guns in people's faces for our own survival?
Would you shoot someone else's child to save your own?
I would, but I'd have to give it a second thought.
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Happy anniversary to us. We're glad to be here with you. And we feel helpless and silenced and that nothing will matter, and here I am, I can't even help to ease your mood. But let me put on a funny hat and dance for you and try:
So a hurricane walks into a bar . . .