Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What I Found on the Bus

Saturday morning I was enroute to the mall when I noticed the bus driver reading a piece of paper. I was just a little annoyed that she wasn't giving her undivided attention to the road, but curious about what she was reading. Later that day I was taking another bus back to the mall from the theatre--and noticed a passenger sitting across from me showing someone next to him a page identical to the one I'd seen the bus driver reading that morning. Curiouser and curiouser. So when I boarded the bus to go home, naturally when I saw an identical sheet of paper in the seat across from the one I was planning to sit in, I had to pick it up. It says:

It's Nearly Midnight

My bed remains unmade

As I stare at each wrinkle in my bed sheets

I think of the Ocean's waves

Which will drown me to sleep

Richard J. Dillon
Militia of the Immaculate

Friday, May 23, 2008

9/11 and 8/29--What's Different?

This diary is intended as something of a rant. Because this saddens me and makes my blood boil every time I think about it.

But before I vent, here's a caveat: as I said in yesterday's diary, 9/11 tore me apart. So this is by no means intended as a put-down of the trauma 9/11 survivors went through or a complaint about the well-deserved sympathy and support they've gotten.

Rather, what pisses me off is is the fact that survivors of 8/29--whether of Katrina, the federal flood, or of Rita--have not been receiving the equal aid, synpathy, or other treatment to that received by 9/11 survivors, that they deserve. What blueintheface brings up--the fact that Daily Kos hasn't been paying enough attention to New Orleans and Katrina, is the tip of a very big iceberg involving the MSM and many politicians that has been keeping storm and flood survivors from getting the attention they have a right to receive.

In fact, I'm going to argue that Katrina, Rita, and federal flood survivors, and the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, should be getting more federal aid than 9/11 survivors, and the city and state of New York, because 9/11 survivors, unlike 8/29 survivors, have warm, safe, comfy homes because all that was destroyed in New York during 9/11 were the Twin Towers. Far more, over a wider area, was destroyed during 8/29 than was destroyed during 9/11. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

9/11 and 8/29 are the most tragic things that have occured in this country so far in this century. After both, there were massive outpourings of support, aid, and sympathy from all around the country and most of the rest of the world.

But there the similarity ends. After 8/29 FEMA by means of all sorts of bureaucratic roadblocks did what it could to slow the arrival of relief and rescue worked and aid in drowned New Orleans and the Mississippi and Louisiana communities obliterated to the slabs by Katrina. And supplies and rescuers from overseas were turned away or squandered by the Bush Administration. This in an odd parallel to the way Burma's government has been keeping foreign relief workers out, which Bush himself, seemingly having forgotten what his own administration did during Katrina and the flood, has been protesting.

9/11 had its well-publicized heroes--the firefighters and police who received national adulation. But the heroes of Katrina and the flood--Coast Guard members who rescued New Orleanians from rooftops and sweltering attics, and homegrown groups such as the Cajun Navy and the NOLA homeboys who were mentioned in Douglas Brinkley's fine book "The Deluge"--are mainly unsung. Although there has been the rare exception such as Sunday's Extreme Makeover Home Edition finale which took place in New Orleans and featured a banquet for heroes of the flood and the recovery, why don't we hear so often about the heroes of 8/29 as as we do about the heroes of 9/11?

Then there was how the media handled the tragedies--I mean, regarding advertising. While both at first received wall-to-wall coverage on cable, these networks during 9/11 had the sensitivity and respect for the fallen, not to mention the tragedy itself, not to air commercials. Which is as it should have been--it would have been jarring and in poor taste to have the network cut away from scenes of the planes hitting and the towers falling to a cheery cereal or cat food commercial.

Why, then, didn't these networks show the same taste, respect, and sensitivity during Katrina and flood coverage? Interspersed with scenes of people wading through filthy water to the high ground of the overpasses, and of devastated Mississippi, were all sorts of commercials--which were not only annoying but also inappropriate in light of the tragedy, to say the least.

But the following two things really make my blood boil--the first is that apparently there's no such thing as 9/11 fatigue, and close to seven years later it still doesn't look like 9/11 will soon be forgotten. But many including the MSM, politicians, and most of the DKos community either have forgotten the tragedies of 8/29 or suffer from "Katrina fatigue." As will be noted at length later, even the DCCC seems to have forgotten the reality people in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes must deal with, as it refused to fund Gilda Reed.

The worst is the disparity between how 9/11 victims and survivors and the state and city of New York have been treated by BushCo and the way 8/29 victims and survivors, New Orleans, and Louisiana have been treated. In what I like to call an "Emperor has no clothes" moment because it exposes an uncomfortable truth, Sen. Mary Landrieu last year made the controversial observation that
“I often think we would have been better off if the terrorists had blown up our levees...Maybe we’d have gotten more attention.”

As previously noted, massive outpourings of aid and other support took place after 9/11 and 8/29. In the case of 9/11 victims, survivors, and heroes, not only has the sympathy continued to this day, they have gotten a great deal of respect from their fellow Americans. And on top of this families of people who died on 9/11 received $1.4 million apiece in compensation for their loss.

What's unfair about this is 9/11 survivors may have lost loved ones, but they still have comfortable homes to return to--unlike Katrina and flood survivors who besides losing loved ones lost their homes, and often their physical and mental health, and not only have never received $1.4 million apiece in compensation--money that would go a long way towards rebuilding their homes and lives--but, the way things look, will never be so lucky.

This is because a BushCo busily engaged in spinning New Orleans' levee failures as being the fault of New Orleans and Louisiana has thus abdicated its responsibility in this matter so it obviously won't do what it has a moral obligation to do. And loathesome Sen. Joseph Lieberman has supported BushCo by refusing to empanel an 8/29 Commission which would carry out an 8/29 investigation. As a result, not only will those who lost loved ones on 8/29 never receive the compensation to which they're entitled, attention to 8/29 and its lingering aftereffects will continue to be next to non-existent. Lieberman should be called to accounting because on his shoulders rests the blame for the fact that those who lost family members on 8/29 will not be justly compensated.

Regarding the survivors of 8/29, while they're still receiving sympathy from some quarters and groups of volunteers are still going to the Gulf Region to help build houses, it seems that on the part of many other Americans, if they haven't completely forgotten 8/29, this sympathy has evaporated. And it evaporated quickly after "Katrina fatigue" set in among them.

I saw this on such MSNBC blogs as "First Read," Daily Nightly, and Rising from Ruin, a Mississippi blog, where New Orleanians were often stereotyped by commenters venting their Katrina fatigue as lazy ingrates who sat around waiting for hand-outs and whining for help instead of picking themselves up by their bootstraps and racist comments about "Welfare babies" and worse were made. (But how do you pick yourself up by your bootstraps when your boots were washed away in the flood?) And it made me very sad to see Louisiana derided as a state full of lazy people and not treated as though she were a part of the United States.

But to be fair, in response to people's cruel comments there were also made thoughtful, sympathetic comments such as the following:

Something has been bugging me--not only here but under other entries...I adore Mississippi. I admire the way Mississippians, after having endured America's worst natural disaster and against immense odds have been valiantly struggling together to rebuild their communities and pick up the pieces of their lives. It's also good how Mississippi's leaders from Gov. Barbour on down to Mayor Longo and other local officials have their act together.

God forbid that central Illinois should see a disaster--like a huge quake on the New Madrid Fault--that would be of Katrina's magnitude--but were something like that to happen here, I would hope that the people of this area would come together and Illinois' leaders act with the same sort of bravery and can-do pioneer spirit exhibited by Mississippi's.

However, my heart goes out to everyone in Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Long Beach, and the rest of Mississippi's Gulf Coast. Even the best teamwork and the ablest leaders don't take away the fact that you have loads of hard work remaining and many hardships that continue. Mississippi is still in a lot of pain, and I'm sure many are under psychic strain, having had your traumas and losses. There is only so much you can do by yourselves, and it will be years before everything is O.K. in Mississippi.

That being said, I also love Louisiana very much. And it saddens me to see people picking on her and beating up on her while she's down. Why do people often call her people (especially New Orleanians) "lazy," "whiners," "negative," or say they're "sitting around waiting for hand-outs?" I find such comments and other insults insensitive, callous, and meanspirited.

Wholistically speaking, Mississippi suffered the worst NATURAL disaster and PHYSICAL wounding from Katrina. Louisiana endured the "shock and awe" of a massive MANMADE disaster that not only seriously hurt her physically, but caused grave PSYCHOLOGICAL wounds as well. The wiping out of 80% of her largest and most historic and identity-defining city, with the dispersal of more than half of her residents to other parts of Louisiana and all around the nation snapped Louisiana's life in half. She will never be the same state again. And less than a month later, Rita obliterated villages on her southwest coast the same way Katrina did in Mississippi.

Thinking about this can bring tears to my eyes--but something truly heartbreaking is currently darkening Louisiana's life and sapping her of the strength--the healthy human resources--she needs to recover from last year's storms and to cope with any new challenges during this hurricane season. As if the still-unhealed physical wounds from the storms and New Orleans' flooding weren't enough, Louisiana is in a world of hurt from intensely painful emotional wounds as well. If it were possible for a state to cry from pain, Louisiana would.

Her people are just wearing down, afflicted with what officials are calling "Katrina brain"--general fatigue brought on by disruption of their lives--involving difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and mild depression. Also, approximately 500,000 of her people have since the storms been suffering from severe psychological damage--beset by sleeplessness, nightmares, chronic stress, and substance abuse.

Stress has been causing normally stable, law-abiding people to become unhinged, and according to a report in yesterday's Times-Picayune, "post-Katrina issues of displacement, anxiety, stress..." could partly be to blame for 8 weekend shootings in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish in which 4 were killed. And yet another symptom of the emotional turmoil wracking Louisiana--wife abuse has also increased in New Orleans, where shelter space and affordable housing are hard to find.

Most poignant of all, a fragile, exhausted Louisiana has been tortured by an excruciating epidemic of anxiety, depression, and suicides. This is not confined to the New Orleans area--it is statewide. When evacuees fled New Orleans for Baton Rouge, Shreveport, etc., they took their "baggage"--traumas and losses--with them. In fact, Baton Rouge, now Louisiana's most populous city overwhelmed by an influx of evacuees, is a "hot spot" for this epidemic. Saddest of all--Louisiana has insufficient resources to ease the anguish of the afflicted.

There may be a small ray of hope in the federal grant of $35 million to Louisiana Spirit, a crisis counseling program. While such counseling can keep smaller problems from becoming major ones, it's a bit of a "Band-Aid" measure because the funds cannot be used for medications or other intensive treatment, so anyone already seriously ill won't get the help they desperately need. So for Louisiana it's like being a cancer patient who's given only aspirin--which relieves her pain without treating its underlying source which is killing her.

The anguish of Louisiana's afflicted is getting worse now that hurricane season is at its peak. While the prospect of a new storm's hitting Mississippi this year or anytime soon has me very worried because it's the last thing you need with all the devastation you still have and all you need to do, Mississippi is a strong, otherwise-healthy state, and I'm confident that were worst to come to worst, you would deal with a new storm with the same fortitude with which you handled Katrina. However, I cringe at the thought of that happening to Louisiana. She fell apart when New Orleans' levees failed--a new disaster could push her over the edge.

So, please go easy on Louisiana and her people. After Katrina and Rita, she needs to be gently and compassionately nursed back to health. She does not need her people put down as "whiny," "lazy," etc. She--like Mississippi--needs the support and sympathy of other caring Americans to help her recover and become whole again.

That post first appeared on "Rising from Ruin" in 2006 but I reprinted it in near-entirety because the situation it describes still prevails for the most part--if it has not gotten worse due to BushCo's neglect of New Orleans and Louisiana and the fact that politicians and the MSM for the most part have not been paying attention to storm and flood recovery.

Even the DCCC has sleazily betrayed Louisiana and her people--look at how they refused to fund the candidacy of Gilda Reed in LA-01 and thus managed to sell out that long-suffering district to a well-financed Republican slimeball with a well-oiled campaign machine and deprived the people of a representative who would actually work in their and Louisiana's best interests instead of doing BushCo's and the GOP's dirty work.

I'd been wondering if Gilda would run again, but was very sad to read,

After the way my own party treated me, what legitimate Democrat is going to be willing to run in November as a sacrificial lamb? I have been asked by dedicated local Democrats to carry on the fight. It is going to take years, though, to come out from under the debt incurred by running once. Twice is out of the question no matter how progressive and determined I am to invoke change. Hurry up, campaign finance reform!

She adds,

Hurricane recovery and coastal restoration are still top issues. People in all 6 parishes are gasping for air, including the areas which had no flood waters. The victor Scalise claims hurricane recovery is tops but has done little in the state legislature in the almost 3 years since Katrina to address this. And just what will he be able to do as a freshman, minority-party rep known for his extreme partisan attacks on the very people he must now work with? We in LA-01 are again without appreciable representation.

I strongly doubt that the DCCC would have treated a Democratic candidate in a New York City district after 9/11 or even as late as this year as shabbily as they did Gilda. But I guess that to those corrupt scumbags, Louisiana is a small, poor state with few potential contributors to the DCCC, and consequently doesn't matter.

As Kossacks we need to make our voices heard and loudly demand for New Orleans, Louisiana, and the rest of the Gulf Region and their storm and flood survivors the same sort of attention, respect, and above all compensation that New Yorkers and others who survived 9/11 have gotten. And that 8/29 never be forgotten.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

How An Illinois Gal Got "Katrina Brain"

I've often imagined many in the DKos community have been wondering why I care so much and have been so passionate in my support of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Region from afar, after having been to New Orleans but once, over 30 years ago. And how Hurricane Katrina and the federal flood have had such a tremendous, shattering impact on me though I witnessed them safe and dry far from the sea in central Illinois. And how not only could I be well-deservedly hard on BushCo, but even take Clinton and Obama to task for not paying enough attention to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Region. And why I feel so strongly about this I started the NOLA/Gulf Blogathons. I'll go into that in more detail below the fold--but first I'll tell you how 9/11 impacted me.

I was, to make a long story short, traumatised. Here's how I first heard about the attacks--it wasn't in my car because I'd been listening to a tape instead. But when I arrived at work and turned on my radio I heard a chaotic jumble of info that wasn't clear until there was a news story that put it all together. On top of that one of my co-workers had heard from someone else that the Sears Tower had also been hit--which was much too close for comfort--2 1/2 hours away. But fortunately that turned out to be a rumor.

After that, for at least the next few months, I was all shook up. I don't have a crystal ball--so I felt as if anything could happen at any time, fearing that I'd be hearing of new terror in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans...all around this country. Because around this time, although there were no new explosions, the anthrax attacks took place. And I did some things I'm embarrassed to admit now. Looking back on them, I know they were foolish, but they made perfect sense to me at the time the way the world situation appeared to be.

But several years went by and, while terrorist bombings took place in Spain, Britain and elsewhere overseas, no further attacks occured in this country. So I gradually became less apprehensive that anything like another 9/11 would happen here.

Now for Katrina and the federal flood. I'd begun following hurricanes on the Weather Channel in 2004 when four struck Florida. So naturally when Katrina formed, crossed Florida, and then entered the Gulf and strengthened to a Cat 5, and storm trackers forecasted that it was going to directly impact New Orleans, I started paying close attention. And was more than a little shook up, because of the doomsday predictions that she would be wiped out and uninhabitable for many years afterwards.

Because I may have been to New Orleans over 30 years ago, but since then, have traveled there many times in spirit. I love that beautiful city and the rest of Louisiana, and have always enjoyed reading about New Orleans and Louisiana and the distinctive culture there. And seeing movies filmed there.

Then on 8/29 Katrina made that jog to the left and instead made first landfall at Buras, Louisiana, then made a second landfall in Mississippi. I was as relieved as was everybody else on the outside, unaware of what had actually happened in New Orleans, to hear newspeople and even people in the French Quarter, away from the danger zone, who didn't know what was really going on say New Orleans had "dodged the bullet."

But soon I was to learn of the true scope of the disaster, as the Lower 9th, Gentilly, Lakeview and the rest of the lower-lying areas of New Orleans rapidly filled with water from Lake Pontchartrain due to the failure of levees that should have been maintained by the federal government.

And the spirit-shredding things I saw while glued to the set--people waiting on rooftops for rescue or wading through what was called a "toxic soup" to the overpasses that served as high ground, FEMA's and other bureaucrats' blocking aid and rescuers--all broke my heart and made me very sad and angry that our own government was treating people this way.

But even more distressing was how soon after the disaster other Americans would complain about hearing news out of New Orleans in such places as the MSNBC blog Rising from Ruin In response to which was posted, originally in the summer of 2006:

I don't understand why so many are tired of hearing about New Orleans. I am aware that some are unhappy with the fact that Katrina's damaging effects in Mississippi, Alabama, etc. were barely covered compared to those of the flooding in New Orleans. I'm not trivializing this, because Mississippi did catch hell from Katrina as she obliterated or nearly obliterated whole communities as she did so. But the storm blew right through. After she had gone, Mississippians were free to begin assessing the damage, cleaning up debris, and taking other halting steps towards putting their shattered lives back together. So, Mississippi got a head start on recovery.

However, for Louisiana, the day of Katrina's landfall was only the beginning of at least a week of hell not for the faint of heart. Besides New Orleans' massive flooding, Louisiana was tortured by huge fires which made New Orleans' skyline resemble Baghdad's and could not be put out in spite of ironically being surrounded by floodwaters.

Louisiana felt the anguish of those who'd been forced to gravitate to the Superdome and Convention Center--which quickly metastasized into hot, humid, dark, filthy, festering sores where rapes and other violence took place and from where hordes of hungry, thirsty, sick, suffering humanity cried out for help on national TV. And waited...and waited...and waited.

Louisiana fell apart in the sickening sort of collapse usually seen only overseas--where the streets of New Orleans became Baghdad's. Louisiana was torn apart by leaders--Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin--who bickered and pointed fingers instead of working together to make order out of the chaos. In fairness, though, this catastrophe was off the charts, the likes of which had not been seen in America in many years. The levee breaches and rapid flooding had been a sort of "shock and awe." Is it any wonder that they were at a loss regarding what to do--let alone not being able to get together on dealing with a rapidly deteriorating situation?

And Louisiana was also embroiled in a relationship from hell with a Bush Administration clueless as to how to handle her excruciating crisis. Not to mention FEMA--I read in Michael Eric Dyson's Come Hell or High Water where, In Jefferson Parish, FEMA cut the telephone lines. Now, WHY would FEMA have done that? I mean, it doesn't make sense because this was LOUISIANA--not some foreign land with which America was at war.

And it took almost a month before the floodwaters were pumped out of New Orleans, then Rita hit and caused some new flooding, so residents couldn't even begin assessing the damage and cleaning up until the floodwaters were out of there.

Fast forward to a year after Katrina. It is shameful that with all the hardships New Orleanians, Mississippians, etc. are going through, the broadcast media is not reporting as much out of the storm zone as it should be... This near-total news blackout prevails in spite of the fact that Louisiana and Mississippi still desperately need help. Maybe having more attention paid to what people in those states must deal with could at least get FEMA to release the allocated money it has been sitting on, if not get more money appropriated.

Louisiana is especially in a world of hurt. New Orleans is a "tale of two cities"--small areas including her French Quarter which are in relatively good shape and large areas such as the Lower 9th and Lakeview which look worse than Baghdad. Her water, power, and sewerage systems are in war zone-like conditions. Her streets are full of potholes. Her fire department, schools, justice system, hospitals, etc. are not up to serving a city even of her diminished size. Her mental health system is having a breakdown.

And Louisiana's "Road Home" program, which is supposed to help her flooded-out homeowners if insurance didn't cover their losses, is bottled up in red tape. Also, Louisiana wasn't able to get enough money to sufficiently help her homeowners. (I don't feel like going into the sordid details of what happened to it at length right now--but originally Louisiana came up with the Baker Plan, (which the "Road Home" replaced) which would have been more helpful to her homeowners. In short, Louisiana got the shaft from the Bush Administration.)

I did what I could to help out by donating money, which since my income is low was a drop in the bucket in light of the desperate need, but was the best I was able to do. It depresses me, the way I've been sensitive to the suffering there, that I'm unable to do more, like going down there and helping out. This makes me feel helpless.

Here's something very unfair that happened to me on the MSNBC political website First Read after I posted the following after the first Democrats' debate on Apr. 26, 2007:

Where was the solidarity of the Democrats--with the exception of Obama, who mentioned New Orleans in a sentence--with the Katrina survivors? Why did nobody speak out regarding the importance not only to survivors but to the rest of America of making Louisiana, Mississippi, and the rest of the storm zone whole? I would not have been surprised by the "let them eat cake" Republicans' being silent on this matter in support of their "Dear Leader's" inaction. But for the Democrats--reputedly members of a "party for the people"--to thus remain silent is at the very least cowardly, at the worst, a betrayal of their own principles. Obeying the debate's rules is not a valid excuse--it smacks of the Nuremberg defense, "I was only following orders." The Democrats should have stood up and spoken out about the slowness of the recovery in Louisiana, Mississippi, and the rest of the storm zone, against Bush Administration neglect, and in support of Katrina and Rita survivors. There was a lot of "Wag the Dog" crap about abortion and the "right to life"--I have to ask, What about New Orleans' right to life? What about the right of people now in Houston, Atlanta, and other cities, who now cannot afford to do so because of the housing shortage, to return? The Democrats should have stood up to Brian Williams and let him know what really matters.

A mean-spirited wingnut who was rich enough to be able to afford to send his or her step-daughter to New Orleans to help build houses, who signed himself/herself "Katrina Fatigue" practically yelled at me for the way I kept bringing Katrina and New Orleans up:
I am not so sure I would continue to hound Brian Williams as you have done and continue to do across every board you can access. At least he is giving you the opportunity to express yourself. Once he gets as tired of your NOLA tirades as most of the rest of us are, he might just pull the plug. By the way, as I have previously asked you, how much time have you spent on site in NOLA, post Katrina. I ask, because my step-daughter is there again for the next two weeks. Her church rotates members in for two week intervals. There must be something you could do to help there. If you took all the time you spend writing these angry, repetitive dissertations, you would have time to go help.
Katrina Fatigue

Here's my reply:
Katrina Fatigue--God bless your step-daughter for going to the storm zone with her church and helping out. This is something I would dearly love to be able to do myself, but I'm too fragile physically and financially to do so. It breaks my heart that I am unable due to these circumstances to do this myself. So all I can do is offer my moral support and a sympathetic ear to Katrina survivors and cheer on those who are able to help or otherwise do right for Katrina survivors. And let those who don't treat Katrina survivors right know my serious dissatisfaction. I hope you are having a good day after judging me.

And "Katrina Fatigue" replied:
you judge us all the time. If you wish to fully exercise your right to free speech, including verbally attacking all who have a different opinion from you, then it is unfair for you to take the position of victim when we choose to exercise our own right to free speech.
Having to deal with this kind of insensitivity is one of several reasons I rarely if ever visit "First Read" anymore.

Now for "Katrina Brain." The mental health problems including depression, anxiety and PTSD that developed in New Orleans and among evacuees elsewhere in Louisiana are well-known, and then there are cognitive issues arising from the stress of living in a disaster zone, colloquially called "Katrina Brain" which make life disjointed and surreal. New Orleans blogger Slate recounts struggles with Katrina Brain:
Out with friends last weekend, one of them said: "Do you have Katrina brain? I do. I'm forgetting things all the time, forgetting words, names, where I put things down." I said that yes, that had been happening to me as well. We went on to talk about some of the other Katrina brain issues. I just tried to light my cigarette with my chapstick. Didn't phase me, that kind of thing happens a lot around here. People are gaining weight, losing weight, and not on purpose. Most of us forgive the flakiness of others because we're a little flaky ourselves. It's Katrina Brain. It's a disjointed kind of thing. They need to put xanax and prozac in the water system.

The other day I walked out of my house, fairly normal place: power's on, phone works, AC will really crank up if necessary. I got somewhere on Gov Nicholls around Dauphine and the dog stopped to sniff something intently. My brain didn't register that this something no doubt smelled intriguing to a dog. It was three refrigerators on the sidewalk with the telltale Katrina brown color on the outer walls of them. I hadn't noticed them, they were part of the landscape for so long that they didn't seem strange. But these were strange. It's nine months later and there they were. Hadn't seen one in a while but the brain didn't process this as an anomaly. Probably had just been removed from an apartment or condo building. Maybe not enough work crews. At this point, they are actually something that should stand out since all the others were hauled away, but here they were with my dog straining at the leash to sniff them. ::::::JOLT:::::::

Time can be strange here. Katrina Brain seems to warp time a little. A lot of us still struggle with what day or date it is. The friend who coined the K Brain term was asking if we find ourselves drinking a little more. Most of us said that although we're not drinking every day, we might have three instead of two when we do go out. Everyone at the table (6 of us) nodded in agreement and the pharmacy companies must love New Orleanians. So many of them are medicated these days, then of course there are the ones who aren't.

Now for vicarious trauma. While I Googled this but couldn't find any useful material specifically on vicarious trauma in individuals who watched Katrina and the federal flood unfold from far-off states, Rodney Luster, Ph.D defines it in general as
exposure to another’s traumatic event and the observer’s reactions as a result of that same event.
He adds:
A partial list of things to look for in yourself or others after exposure to a disturbing event, story, communication exchange, media, or news footage include the following: anxiety, hyper-vigilance, intrusive imagery or flashbacks, hyperactivity, night-terrors, rage reactions, mood swings, reduced ability to cope with daily stressors, social withdrawal, avoidance behaviors with certain situations, depression, despair, hopelessness, recurring anger, self-blame, guilt and shame, compulsive or aggressive behaviors, sleep disorders, concentration problems, disconnection from others, loss of interest in outside activities, and phantom physical pains.

I think I've been experiencing the vicarious trauma of seeing what happened not only to New Orleans and her people during and after 8/29 but also how BushCo has treated her in her effort to recover--and identified with her people, and consequently come down with "Katrina Brain." I feel the mental/emotional pain of those struggling to come back and wish there were more I was able do for them.

Besides, even though I live a safe distance from any coast, I am aware that central Illinois is subject to tornadoes and we even had a 5.2 earthquake 3 or so weeks ago. The New Madrid fault system runs under our feet.

Now you may be wondering exactly how an Illinois gal like myself could show the symptoms of "Katrina brain." Little cognitive glitches due to pre-occupation, for one. For example, when I wrote in an e-mail, "When you walk with a cain, people are awfully nice to you. As if I'd been thinking of the story of Cain and Abel. Or Sen. John McCain.

I think my "Katrina brain" comes out in my over-sensitivity--my short fuse. Which is why I find it so hard to deal with the way so many, even on this site, seem to have forgotten Katrina and New Orleans and the way the MSM and all candidates have been giving them short shrift. It's not only as if they've written off a valuable part of this country but also as if they're unaware that something similarly catastrophic could happen to their state or city next. And here's something that particularly saddens me and makes me almost physically ill--the way people deride New Orleans and Louisiana and her people.

And sometimes "Katrina brain" has the paradoxical effect on me where I know I need to write about New Orleans and Katrina to call them to this community's attention, but can't come up with things to say. I just feel emotionally drained.

When there's another disaster like the China earthquake, the Burma cyclone, or last fall's California wildfires, I flash back. I'll watch the news coverage and inevitably look for comparisons to Katrina, the flood, and how BushCo handled them. I'll notice the fact that China's govdernment responded more quickly to the quake than did BushCo to Katrina. Or the hypocrisy of how Bush has been protesting the fact that Burma hasn't been letting in foreign relief workers--when BushCo itself didn't let in relief supplies and rescuers from overseas as New Orleans drowned. It's as if BushCo had cruelly wanted people in Louisiana to die.

Lastly, when hurricane season rolls around, as this year's will about one and a half weeks from now, I become apprehensive even though I live so far from the sea. I'm just fearful of another Katrina and what it could do to a still-recovering New Orleans. And a Louisiana whose coastline has been washing away at the rate of a football field every half-hour. Hearing predictions that a storm could enter the Gulf raises my hackles (and, of course, I don't want to see one hit anyplace else on the US mainland, either.)

This diary has been difficult to finish because the way I identify so much with people in New Orleans I've also been experiencing what one of my NOLA friends calls "yin and yang" as if I were living there (as well as regarding several other matters in my own life I eventually plan to write about.) But I'd like to close this diary, which so far has been something of a downer, on a positive, if not inspiring note.

It sounds strange to speak of gifts from Katrina, but oddly, I received a few. Interestingly, for at least a month or two before Katrina hit, I'd been getting these awful near-migraines almost every day. But then Katrina hit and New Orleans drowned, and the headaches vanished to almost nothing. I still only rarely get such headaches anymore. It's as if Katrina, the flood, and the aftermath gave me something outside my head to focus on.

Then there are a couple of new interests sparked by the disaster. Such as the food. New Orleans-type food I can afford is hard to find around here, but soon after Katrina I first visited, and quickly developed an addiction to the food at, Popeye's, which not only has good affordable food and a wonderful NOLA-type ambiance including New Orleans, zydeco, blues, and other Louisiana music, but is also walking distance from my home. I eat lunch there almost every Sunday, and sometimes have ordered their jambalaya to go.

Now for music. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that in my youth when I visited New Orleans, I hadn't been interested in any of the distinctive kinds of music that can be found there or elsewhere in Louisiana. And I hadn't even heard of Dr. John, Marcia Ball, Eric Lindell, BeauSoleil, Irma Thomas, Tab Benoit, Buckwheat Zydeco, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, John Delafose, Rosie Ledet, or any of the other artists whose Louisiana music I now have in my collection. But now I'm familiar with their music, which is now one of my favorite kinds. So Katrina and the flood have had for me, as one of my NOLA friends has out it, its yin and yang.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kudos to ABC

It's rare for me to have anything good to say about the mainstream media, and even rarer for me to watch a "reality show," because "reality television" isn't.

But after seeing it promo'ed Saturday night, I determined that a reality show that was going to air Sunday night was going to be "Must-See TV." Because I knew it would have socially-redeeming value. I have only kudos for the show, ABC, and all who contributed to it for because it was heartwarming and inspiring to see and left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

This reality show is Extreme Makeover Home Edition's Louisiana grand finale, which was aired Sunday night and was about the makeovers of the Westwego home of the Usea family, and a New Orleans neighborhood church aptly named the Noah's Ark Baptist Church.

When the show was announced Feb. 14th, executive producer Denise Cramsey said,
"Even three years later, the gulf region is still suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and I believe it is going to take the entire nation to re-build, which is why it makes sense that we would need an extreme coalition of builders from all across this country to pull together and help make a difference in New Orleans for deserving families on the show."

Teams from 12 different states including the Carolinas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana herself participated in the makeover.

"This show is about the barn raising of the 1900s. Where community comes together to change lives. Louisiana is that life, and this time the community is our nation. To make a real difference along the gulf coast will take the nation. We make that step by bringing builders together, some who lost their houses and business, and others we have met in our fifty state tour." Says Conrad Ricketts, executive producer for the show.

He added,

"To end our fifty state tour in Louisiana, talks to the nation about family, extended family,neighborhood, and community. And how we as a nation can join together to help rebuild, says Ricketts."

The Usea family's men were firefighters who heroicly rescued people during the flooding and served under harsh post-disaster conditions in the federal flood's aftermath. A couple had lost their home so they all had to live in a small, cramped house with their extended family. It's so crowded that Grandma Grace must share a bed with 5-year-old Abby.

Through the show one sees and hears hints of how emotionally strung out Louisianians have been since the flood and how their neighborhoods and communities have been torn apart. Grandma Grace often tears up as she describes her family's uncomfortable life, which causes them to get on each others' nerves, and Pastor Willie Walker shows how his church looks as if a bomb had hit it. He also tells how because his congregation has had to use a temporary church, his community has been turned upside down. He also tells of old people and others giving up and dying.

The Extreme Makeover Home Edition folks send all of the Useas and Pastor Walker and his family on well-deserved vacations at Disney World, where they periodicaily are able to see on TV the progress of the makeovers. The house and the church are completely demolished.

Both the home and church are built in a distinctive way which is both "green" and is designed to hold up better in a storm. Both are raised, and parts of each are round, which has the purpose of causing storm winds to blow around instead of directly impacting any particular side. And the house is built with openings in the crawl space so flood water can drain out instead of staying under the house.

During this time a banquet is held for the mainly-unsung heroes of Katrina, the flood and the aftermath--firefighters, Coast Guard members, educators, etc. to give them some well-deserved recognition. It was especially poignant to see a teacher tell how her students had been impacted by the flood--for example, she mentioned one student who'd thought his friends were dead, and another who asked if the school had any crayons--or if they were under water.

But then comes the big feel-good momemt--when the Useas see and explore their beautiful, spacious brand-new home and Pastor Willie and his staff see the new church. For not only do the Useas and Pastor Walker have a new home and church--they also have lovely all-new furniture and other trimmings--for example, the Noah's Ark Baptist Church has a pantry chock-full of food they can use to feed the poor. And Pastor Willie's church has a new van and the younger Usea brothers, Chad and Brad, each have shiny new trucks.

I'd like to conclude this part of the diary with, "And they all lived happily ever after," but while this was an upbeat, inspiring program, it also drove home the fact that many are still struggling to rebuild, and survive, in the Gulf Region nearly 2 years after Katrina, Rita, and the federal flood. One must think about what's going on as the cameras are off--and never forget what happened in that area of our country.

About Me

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Midwest lover of New Orleans and of all things having to do with Louisiana.