September 2, 2005

Living on a First World Edge

The governor of Texas today said that his state would take 25,000 people displaced by the hurricane. He called them refugees. And that is what they are. In the richest country in the world Mississippi is the poorest state and in many places here it looks very much like the third world.

Elizabeth Vargas
Reporting from Gulfport, Mississippi
ABC World News Tonight

Petrolcide T-Shirt @

Let’s get our priorities straight.
(Petrolcide T-shirt from Standpoint)

I live on a precipice. If I look straight out at the vastness before me I see opportunity and good fortune. I live in a constant heightened state and I am always looking ahead. I am wired and wireless. I feel connected to the 21st century. And I almost never look down.

Katrina reminds me of how close to the edge we really live. Hurricanes, suicide bombers, earthquakes, and human stampedes —natural or man-made disasters: the more we rely on our comforts, the less we think about them. And the more we dangle over that edge. It’s a little scary when you think about it, if you ever do.

I literally live on the edge, the edge of an electrical grid. After a rough downpour, an ice storm, or, as happened two years ago during Hurricane Isabel, our house goes dark. Sweat drips down my forehead. Or I freeze. And I am uncomfortable, miserable, and angry. My life is temorarily disrupted while my neighbors across the street —on another grid— live as they always have, without disconnection or disruption. I can’t see a thing in the dark but I look at them with envy.

But once the power is restored, I quickly and conveniently forget.

After living through 9/11 and two neighborhood snipers Katrina once again reminds me how close to chaos I live. And watching the people in New Orleans and Mississippi suffer and die, I must remind myself this is not happening very far away. Not far at all. I struggle to remember these are my people who are suffering. Katrina reminds me Americans hold no special dispensation. We are not immune.

Hubris. As the days go by we are no better at taking care of our own. We are simply human. Until we are pushed out of the present and into the dark and dank third world we assume life will always be as it always has for us: comfortable, ordered, and most of all humane. We would like to forget it’s often not, even in the first world.

Katrina reminds me life is a struggle for the majority of people on Earth. It reminds me we are no different and no better than an Iraqi child or a refugee from Darfur. We can be tossed out of our complacency and have to work hard to stay alive at any time.

It’s scary how close to the precipice we live. Katrina reminds me of that.

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I hope this most recent catastrophe tosses out of a complacency about the environment and health that we so often take for granted.

Thanks for your thoughtful words, I have been tired of reading the broadcasts looking for blame or explanations on what could of, should have or is not being done. It is a very sad experience to feel you can do nothing as an ordinary citizen and that our system of goverment has been so slow to respond and repair the damage that mulitplied this scenario into even more of a catastrophe.

Before Katrina hit, indexes for employment have shown that the confidence of ordinary people is down lower than it has been since 9/11. This catastrophe is simply accentuating a very deep deep need for change in American culture, government and values that are acted out by decisions makers in business and government.

Posted by: Lavinia Weissman on September 2, 2005 8:53 AM

What drives me almost to despair is that we can have our comforts and still respect the earth that nurtures us. And by assuming a nurturing posture (as opposed to a raping one), perhaps we would then really share with those whose lives are already over the edge. There are all kinds of renewable resources and just plain ingenuity that can be used.

I cannot stand to think about the direction this country continues to go in. And I don’t think Katrina will change anything in terms of national policy, even though I hear talk about reversing floodplain insurance, “unstraightening” the Mississippi, and restoring the barrier islands.

In younger days I was totally an activist. I don’t see very many young people doing that today. I am almost paralyzed with feelings of disenfranchisement. I have felt this way for some time.

Posted by: Nina on September 2, 2005 2:25 PM

I share your feelings. I continue to be appalled by the choices Bush and his advisors continue to make.

It is important to get the word out to the young people, to everyone, that Bush took away the funds that were specifically earmarked to shore up the levees. And of course we’ve all seen money that was to go to the schools and other resources go to this huge war fund. I believe FEMA is under the Dept of so-called Homeland Security so we know where the priorities are in that department.

Bush continues to mislead the public into thinking that he is making the world safer by bombing them over there so they “won’t come here” when in fact he did exactly what Bin Laden wanted. The Bushes have been in bed with Bin Laden from the start and now they have gone after his enemy and created a fertile ground for terrorists.

The terrorists don’t even have to come here. We do enough damage to ourselves and with our mishandling of a natural disaster. This was preventable and it was predicted. Bush came out with yet Another Big Lie today about that.

Is it a coincidence that the day resources finally come into New Orleans is the day the President decides to arrive for his photo op? You decide. Lucky Bush. This has all taken away from the protest at his ranch.

Posted by: Donna on September 3, 2005 4:02 AM

Very well put.

I think a lot of people forget how fragile our civilized life is, it just takes one cough from nature and we are back in the stone age.

Posted by: Barbara on September 5, 2005 5:20 AM

Comments are now closed for this post. But there are a few other entries which might provoke an opinion or two.

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