For the Week of September 12, 2005
Those who say they were completely surprisd by Hurricane Katrina are liars.
Surprised by the results, yes. But hurricanes, even big ones, are facts of life. New Orleans knew it was vulnerable. The Big One was a constant topic of conversation, especially as global warming moved from theory to fact.
It was just as Rushdie wrote it in The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Sudden change pulled everyone down. We watched it come on, we waited with popcorn to see how many anchors would make fools of themselves fighting the wind. We should have suspected something when The Weather Channel pulled their talent inland.
This wasn't a few buildings being pulled down by the evil hearts of men. This was a whole city pulled down by the omnipotent hand of God. While a few fulminated about sin, most pointed the blame elsewhere, to the White House and its priorities.
The looters! We could take our anger out on them for a time. Then, a mere rumor of coming shortages in my own town of Atlanta caused a run on gasoline, which drained the city's stations dry in just hours, despite prices which rose to $5/gallon. By the next day they had settled, at $3.30-$3.40, a full 65 cents over what they'd been just days earlier.
Suddenly the vulnerability that was theoretical after 9/11 (for most of us) became stunningly real. All of what we call civilization, including the medium you're now using, is a veneer, a coating like paint, make-up on a pig. The casual cruelty with which America treats its poor, especially its black poor, was exposed. Many felt like they were being slapped in the face.
But, again, it was predictable. It was inevitable.
So what happens now?
Now we find out if Americans still "have it," I suppose. But what is it?
American exceptionalism, if it exists, is based on the idea that we can, in the words of comic Larry the Cable Guy, "get 'er done." We have sacrifice in our past. We have it in our present, on the faces of every immigrant willing to brave barbed wire to get here, to work long hours for little pay, to take those pittances and build a better life with them, whether here or back there.
My point (in case you missed it) is that this same spirit also exists, somewhere, in every native-born American, no matter their sex, age, race or station. Our forefathers showed it repeatedly, in every crisis We the People ever faced, and while the results were often messy, with vast human waste and unfairness, in the end there was continuing forward progress.
We have also faced calamity with leaders far-worse than the crowd in there now. Somehow, from somewhere, new leadership emerged, and the system was flexible enough to bring these people forward. If democracy does still exist here, this will happen again. (Or maybe we'll see a real change within our current leadership, although that's not how I'd bet.)
Shared sacrifice must, and will, become the new theme of life in these United States. Millions are going to dig deep for the charities now gearing-up for the task FEMA has failed to grasp hold of. The so-called leaders can either follow or get out of the way. America is going to 'get 'r done."
And then, once it's done, we'll deal with the miserable failures in Washington, in New York, and elsewhere. Once we get our hands and faces dirty, once we feel the bottoms of our pocketbooks and checking accounts, once we've done the work, then we'll be ready to deal properly and humbly with the rest of the world, the way Americans are supposed to.
You watch. America's best days are still to come.
I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source for ZDNet.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout, a new kind of mediator for mobile phone users.
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
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Best of the Week
I think nearly all Americans can now agree that the biggest mistake made after 9-11 was avoiding a call to sacrifice.
Given his falling popularity and recent bizarre behaviors (running away from Cindy Sheehan, comparing Iraq to World War II while New Orleans died) I'm wondering if this meme isn't about to move.
After the people are gone - all the people - the logistics of what must happen in New Orleans next are daunting.
The civilizing process of the 20th century, with its oil-driven economy, is now driving the global environment off a cliff. Most of the world knew this before Katrina. Now even Mississippi knows this.
The fight has barely begun for control of the new Internet interface, the RSS reader.
Om Malik has a wise commentary today on how peer-to-peer services (p2p) is the killer app for broadband.
If you have a mobile phone, and it claims you have Internet service on it, you may not.
Mobile service providers have become increasingly aggressive in stopping access to services and sites they don't like, writes DeWayne Hendrick.
While using the Web to track Hurricane Katrina (get out of New Orleans and Biloxi while you still can) I found the high-ranking site for another Katrina, Katrina Leskanich.
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in are those who know sacrifice. (Hug your parents if they're still alive.)
Clueless are all those who don't.
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