The City and the River

I didn’t listen to Bush tonight, much. I did hear the part that was excerpted for the late local news here in liberal-land. If I knew nothing of his history, I’d say I liked what they chose to play: He said he’s responsible, the people deserve better, and there will be an honest effort to learn from the catastrophe. Having seen him on the job for the last five years, the most optimistic sentiment I can muster is “uh huh.”

However, I will not now stoop to the blame game. Let us consider what others might be saying about the present and past of New Orleans and its region and what it might tell us about the future.

First: From Sunday’s Washington Post, an interesting piece of historical perspective from Joel Garreau, a reporter who suggests the city, as it was, will never come back. The biggest reasons, he says: the people who control the resources to rebuild simple won’t pay, and the people who live in the city lack what it takes to make it happen.

“In his 2000 book, “Bowling Alone,” political scientist Robert Putnam measured social capital around the country — the group cohesion that allows people to come together in times of great need to perform seemingly impossible feats together. He found some of the lowest levels in Louisiana. (More Louisianans agree with the statement “I do better than average in a fistfight” than people from almost anywhere else.) His data do not seem to be contradicted by New Orleans’s murder rate, which is 10 times the national average. Not to mention the political candidates through the ages who, to little effect, have run on promises of cleaning up the corruption endemic to the government and police force. New Orleans is not called the Big Easy for nothing. This is the place whose most famous slogan is ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ — ‘Let the good times roll.’ ”

Second: Recommended by the proto-Infospigot (aka, my dad) is an “American Experience” documentary on the 1927 Mississippi River floods. The disasters may differ in origin, but the utter disregard for the poor looks familiar. The show was on Tuesday night (September 14), but public TV being public TV, it’ll be on again.

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