Sunday, September 11, 2005

Photographer's Journal: A Wounded City

To see photographs from September 11, 2001, see this special site from the New York Times Photographer's Journal: A Wounded City.


Originally uploaded by reb-lesses.

Raising the flag at Ground Zero.

September 11, 2005

Today, as everyone knows, is the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. It's another beautiful, cloudless day in Ithaca - a blue sky day, just like September 11, 2001. This morning I went to the Farmer's Market with a friend and wandered around picking up my vegetables, drinking strong coffee, tasting local wines, and encountering friends doing the same thing. I don't know if I'll do anything to remember the day. Tonight, on campus, the student Republican club is sponsoring a candlelight vigil (why only the Republicans, I don't know - I don't think of remembering September 11 as a necessarily Republican action).

At this time of day on September 11, 2001, I was on campus, probably in my office, wondering what the hell I should be doing. I had a class scheduled for later that day and didn't know if we should meet (we didn't, as it happened). I tried to talk to people. I saw students calling their families on their cellphones. I went into the TV lounge and watched more of the coverage. I was in shock, along with everyone else I knew. I worried about friends of mine in New York City, one of whom I thought (incorrectly) worked at the World Trade Center. It was impossible to reach anyone by phone in New York City - in fact, I couldn't even get an open phone line to my family in the Boston area. You know, you all remember that day.

For some of the stories from that day, see this site from the September 11 Digital Archive. It's a Google map of lower Manhattan - click on the blue blobs and you get photographs, or on the red ones to get personal stories from the day.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A debate of biblical proportions

New excavating in Jerusalem has reopened a debate of biblical proportions - between those archaeologists who argue that the Jerusalem of David and Solomon was a substantial city with large public buildings, and those who maintain that Jerusalem only became an imposing city centuries after the time of David and Solomon.

One interesting find, discovered by Dr. Eilat Mazar, was a "a bulla, a round clay seal about one centimeter in diameter in which its owner's name was inscribed." It was inscribed "in a Hebrew script characteristic of the late First Temple period," and "contained the name of Yehokal ben Shlamyahu ben Shavi, who is mentioned twice in the Book of Jeremiah."

"When Mazar investigated further to see who the owner of the seal was, she let out a cry of surprise: Yehokal ben Shlamyahu was a senior minister in the government of Zedekiah. He is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 as one of two emissaries dispatched by King Zedekiah to Jeremiah, asking him to pray for the people during the siege of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Chapter 38 tells that Yehokal was one of four ministers who asked the king to kill Jeremiah, alleging that the prophet was sowing demoralization among the besieged people."

Is this cool or what?

Monday, September 05, 2005


For extensive coverage on the racial implications of the hurricane in New Orleans, see my friend Ben's blog, Hungry Blues. Listening to Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" show this morning was also eye-opening.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Nation's Castaways

The news about the racial divisions revealed in New Orleans by the hurricane has been noted by many news articles this weekend. In the Washington Post, an article reads:
The history of marginalizing black folk in America, especially poor ones, runs so deep that it occurs like second nature. It is one reason, say several prominent black intellectuals, that the response to the devastation of Katrina was so slow.

Racism runs "so deep that the folks who are slow to respond can't see it," says Russell Adams, professor of Afro-American studies at Howard University. "That's the unperceived character of racial behavior, of what I would call hidden racism where you don't know that this situation has a racial character to it, just like fish have trouble defining water."
The article also notes the racialized way that the photographs and news footage coming from New Orleans have been interpreted:
This feeling of being disregarded is pervasive in the African American community, where old wounds still sting. Witness a "Saturday Night Live" skit from 1998, where Samuel L. Jackson and Tracy Morgan indulge in a bit of hyperbole, playing African Americans in the fifth class steerage of the Titanic. Everyone was rescued before them -- even the furniture.

While that may have been comedy, its message is conveyed in all kinds of real-life ways. Deborah Willis, photographer and professor of the arts at New York University, laments some of the images coming out of New Orleans.

The frequent replay of what has become an iconic looting photo -- the guy with the flying braids and falling pants -- "desensitizes the viewer of finding compassion for what happened to the thousands of people who have died or who have suffered," she says.

It's an us-vs.-them kind of image, she says, and "a racialized image because of the way it's been used and reused over again."
For another way of thinking about race, see these comments:
Noel Ignatiev, author of "How the Irish Became White" and editor of Race Traitor, a journal dedicated to the "New Abolitionism," suggests that the nation is poised at a pivotal point. He sees an opportunity for a realignment of thinking.

"White is not a matter of color. White is a matter of a sense of entitlement, a sense they are or ought to be entitled to specially protected place in society," he says. "But there are plenty of white folks on the bottom rung of society, people for whom whiteness isn't doing much at all."

"Some may be awakening to the notion there's no use clinging to an identity that's doing them no good. If white folks start thinking of themselves as poor and dispossessed instead of privileged, it will change the way they act. We will see the beginnings of class conflict."

Friday, September 02, 2005

"To me, it just seems like black people are marked"

See a Washington Post article on the disproportionate number of black people hit by this disaster:
BATON ROUGE, La., Sept. 1 - It seemed a desperate echo of a bygone era, a mass of desperate-looking black folk on the run in the Deep South. Some without shoes. It was high noon Thursday at a rest stop on the edge of Baton Rouge when several buses pulled in, fresh from the calamity of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Hundreds piled out, dragging themselves as if floating through some kind of thick liquid. They were exhausted, some crying.

"It was like going to hell and back," said Bernadette Washington, 38, a black homemaker from Orleans Parish who had slept under a bridge the night before with her five children and her husband. She sighed the familiar refrain, stinging as an old-time blues note: "All I have is the clothes on my back. And I been sleeping in them for three days."

While hundreds of thousands of people have been dislocated by Hurricane Katrina, the images that have filled the television screens have been mainly of black Americans - grieving, suffering, in some cases looting and desperately trying to leave New Orleans. Along with the intimate tales of family drama and survival being played out Thursday, there was no escaping that race had become a subtext to the unfolding drama of the hurricane's aftermath.

"To me," said Bernadette Washington, "it just seems like black people are marked. We have so many troubles and problems."

"After this," her husband, Brian Thomas, said, "I want to move my family to California."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A social meltdown

Andrew Sullivan expresses eloquently how I feel: "This has morphed from a natural disaster into a social meltdown. The Lousiana governor seems overwhelmed (Barbour seems much more effective); New Orlean's civic authorities seem non-existent (and bear responsibility for the insufficient preparation for this potential and widely predicted nightmare); and the president's response has been decidedly weak. His call to restrain from using gas was, well, Carteresque. It seems to me inconceivable that we cannot impose basic law and order in a major American city five days after a hurricane has hit. This is a very basic governmental responsibility and all I can say is that I see no evidence of competence or effectiveness so far. FEMA had no solid evacuation plan? The feds had no plans to maintain order in such a situation? The explosion of complete lawlessness is beginning to make Haiti look like a pleasant place to live. This is America? Where order is so distant that snipers can prevent the evacuation of a hospital? The fundamental reason for my inability to support a second Bush term was his demonstrated incompetence in performing the basic functions of government. It seems to me that the people of New Orleans are now as much a victim of this as the people of Iraq. I guess we can merely be thankful that Rumsfeld hasn't yet appeared to say 'Stuff happens.' Yes, it does. When your government seems unable to do the most basic things required of it."

Disaster in New Orleans

I'm starting to have the feeling that the country I grew up in is no more. How can it happen that a major city can break down so quickly while the rest of us watch on television? Why isn't the federal government doing more - doing everything it can - to save people in New Orleans from hunger, thirst, heat, lack of sanitation, lack of access to doctors and medication - you name it? How can it be that people are dying in the streets and no one is even noticing the corpses? Why didn't the local and state governments bring in buses before the hurricane hit to evacuate the people too poor to get out on their own?

Is it really because our government has sent so many National Guard troops to Iraq that we have none left to deal with disasters here at home? So much for our "wartime" President, who can do nothing more than fly over Louisiana in Air Force One, watching from above. Is it because most of the people left in New Orleans are poor and black?

And the rest of us, we sit at our televisions and watch it as if it were a spectacle akin to a reality show.

Some words from local officials in New Orleans:

On the situation in the Superdome:
"Some people there have not eaten or drunk water for three or four days, which is inexcusable," acknowledged Joseph W. Matthews, the director of the city's Office of Emergency Preparedness. "We need additional troops, food, water," Mr. Matthews begged, "and we need personnel, law enforcement. This has turned into a situation where the city is being run by thugs."

Col. Terry Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans ... was particularly pungent in his criticism. Asserting that the whole recovery operation had been "carried on the backs of the little guys for four goddamn days," he said that "the rest of the goddamn nation can't get us any resources for security."

"We are like little birds with our mouths open, and you don't have to be very smart to know where to drop the worm," Colonel Ebbert said. "It's criminal within the confines of the United States that within one hour of the hurricane they weren't force-feeding us. It's like FEMA has never been to a hurricane." FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A local resident outside the Superdome:
"We're just a bunch of rats," said Earle Young, 31, a cook who stood waiting in a throng of perhaps 10,000 outside the Superdome, waiting in the blazing sun for buses to take them away from the city. "That's how they've been treating us."

On where the refugees are being sent:
The effects of the disaster spilled out over the country. In Houston, the city began to grapple with the logistics of taking tens of thousands of refugees into the Astrodome, and San Antonio and Dallas each braced for the arrival of 25,000 more. Baton Rouge overnight replaced New Orleans as the most populous city in Louisiana and was bursting at the seams.

On the receiving end in Houston, though, the Astrodome looked at times like a squatters' camp in a war-torn country. The refugees from Louisiana, many dirty and hungry, wandered about aimlessly, checking bulletin boards for information about their relatives, queuing up for supplies and pay phones, mobbing Red Cross volunteers to obtain free T-shirts. Many found some conditions similar to those that they left behind at the Superdome, like clogged toilets and foul restrooms.

But in Houston, there were hot showers, crates of Bibles and stacks of pizzas, while in New Orleans, many refugees scrounged for diapers, water and basic survival.

This article from the New York Times talks about how the government did not forsee the failure of the levees, and did not prepare for having to evacuate and house 100,000 people in the city who were too poor, old, or sick to leave on their own. They thought that even if Katrina had been a Category 5 storm, the levees and flood walls might be overtopped - not that they might be breached.
Rodney Braxton, the chief lobbyist for New Orleans, said that many of the city's poorest residents "had nowhere to go outside the region and no way to get there. And there wasn't enough police power to go to each house to say, 'You have to go, come with me.' " In a city with so many residents living in poverty, the hurricane came at the worst possible time: the end of the month, when those depending on public assistance are waiting for their next checks to be mailed on the first of the month. Without the checks, many residents didn't have money for gas, bus fare or lodging. City officials said they provided free transportation from pick-up points publicized on television, radio and by people shouting through megaphones on the streets. In addition to the Superdome, officials opened schools and the convention center as shelters.

While they may have done that, they didn't try to evacuate them outside the city.
The chaotic disaster response came despite repeated efforts over many years to plan a coordinated defense if the worst should occur. As recently as July 2004, federal, state and local officials cooperated on the Hurricane Pam drill, which predicted 10 to 15 feet of water in parts of the city and the evacuation of one million people. Martha Madden, who was the Louisiana secretary of environmental quality from 1987-1988, said that the potential for disaster was always obvious and that "FEMA has known this for 20 years." "Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent, in studies, training and contingency plans, scenarios, all of that," said Ms. Madden, now a consultant in strategic planning. The Army Corps, she said, should have had arrangements in place with contractors who had emergency supplies at hand, like sandbags or concrete barriers, the way that environmental planners have contracts in place to handle oil spills and similar events.

I know that it's impossible to plan for everything, and that the magnitude of the disaster has overwhelmed everyone - but can't we help those people who are suffering?

Disaster relief funds for New Orleans

Miriam at Bloghead provides useful information on Jewish agencies where money can be sent to help people in New Orleans and the Gulf coast. As she says, "The pictures and stories coming out of New Orleans tonight are simply beyond belief. An entire city destroyed! Who can comprehend. Even the most powerful nation in the world can be impotent before nature."

More on Pulsa Denura

The Israeli Attorney-General, Menahem Mazuz has decided not to charge the Jewish extremists who enacted the Pulsa Denura against Prime Minister Sharon this summer.
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has decided not to press charges against a group of Jewish extremists who carried out an ancient curse ceremony meant to place a death wish on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, since the appeal was to God and not to mankind, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday.

The decision by Israel's top law enforcement official was made after determining that the ceremony was an appeal for heavenly action against the prime minister, and as such could not be viewed in the legal sense as incitement to violence, according to a letter that Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan sent to MK Ran Cohen (Yahad).