Monday, August 31, 2015

K+10 K-Day plus 1, aka The Drowned City


Isn’t that the title of a Lovecraft story? Sounds like it. We’re in the wilderness (Dinosaur National Monument) with no wifi so I can’t check.

The horrors of Katrina were frequently counterbalanced by the generosity and kindness of people with no motivation other than the goodness of their own hearts. Altruism, pure and simple. Fuck you, Ayn Rand! You and yours are the antithesis of “humanity.”

There are many stories and examples of generosity in the wake of Katrina, extravagant, promiscuous generosity, and they are humbling. But no instance of generosity should be dismissed. Small or large, all instances of generosity spring from the same place in the human heart. A locale where we should all spend more of our time.

We were sitting in upscale comfort in Chuck’s Houston-ish home, glued to the news, fairly certain that our beloved (and newly refurbished, damnit!) Zombie Princess had been destroyed along with most of the other watercraft in the New Orleans area. In the midst of that maelstrom of emotion, Kelly Lovejoy contacted Ronnie and offer to give us a scholarship to attend the Live and Learn Unschooling Conference, happening soon in Saint Louis, free of charge. If we had no boat to adventure on, we could refresh our emotional reserves with a long weekend with fellow unschoolers before moving ahead - somewhere – with our lives. A timely and generous offer. Thank you, Kelly. We will always treasure it. A few years later, we did make it to the last-ever Live and Learn Unschooling Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. Unschoolers are wonderful; but I digress.

That is merely a pleasant vignette, peripheral to the headline news of this day: Levees fail. New Orleans drowns.

Ain’t dat some pure fuckin’ shit? The city may have dodged a bullet but then it got hit by an RPG. Or more like a tactical nuke. With all the nastiness dredged up by a flood in that area, it was actually pretty much like a biological weapon. When I was a kid, that’s what the wags and wonks called it: ABC warfare – Atomic, Biological, Chemical. Did you learn your ABCs in school? Yessir, I sure did. Hide under my plywood desk near the huge bank of non-safety-glass windows. After I survive the multiple nuclear strikes on New Orleans by doing that, I can survive the radiation because I am pure of heart and a by-gawd American. Biological and/or chemical attacks? Well, then I guess we were just fucked.

The flood water itself was, of course, immensely destructive. Add to that the fact that it was a medium carrying every sort of tropical disease bred in those primeval swamps. Then add in the effluvium from failed petrochemical plants and aluminum smelters and you have a hellish brew capable of producing mutagenic effects even Hollywood horror movies of the 50s never thought of. Biological AND chemical? Check and Check. The city was just fucked.

Storm surge. Not an especially evocative phrase on its own. Could refer to the tide rolling casually up the beach a couple more feet than usual. Or it could refer to…

New Orleans has always been a port city. For a long time it was the busiest port in the US. Even in the years leading up to Katrina it was still one of the busiest, serving the entire middle of the US. Post-Katrina it still is and does. When people ask, “Why should we rebuild a city which is below sea level?”, the simple answer is: It is a VITAL port city for much of the US. If for no other reason, it is necessary to support and maintain New Orleans because of that.

Shipping comes up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico. The delta is, like most deltas, a confusing maze of channels and serpentine, changing routes. Business logic said that having a consistent, direct, dredged route would be a godsend. Introducing Mister Go, aka Mr. Go, aka MRGO – the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a wonderful straight shot from the Gulf to the heart of New Orleans.

Is there an adumbration in that sentence for you? Do you feel the potential of what underlies that sentence? A straight shot from the Gulf to the heart of New Orleans. What could possibly go wrong?

FYI, in the years since those halcyon days of profitable yore, Mr. Go is no more. Mister Go is Mister Gone.

But for Katrina, Mr. Go was a freeway for a tidal bore, more precisely, a storm bore, the gun barrel of an oceanic sniper rifle zeroed in on the fibrillating heart of the Crescent City, the City that Care Forgot, the Big Easy, the Paris of America, the Northernmost Caribbean Island, etc. The sniper motto is “One Shot, One Kill” even from great distances, even from a cold barrel. Sniper Katrina was unemotionally professional. No fancy head shot. No precision medulla hit causing an instant cessation of life. Katrina went for the sure shot – center mass – not necessarily instant death but certain death.

New Orleans is an old city (in American terms). Her arteries and veins had been repaired and rebuilt many times by various doctors. Specialists had been trying to get her to do a major rebuild of her main arteries for years but the cost was high and her insurance company didn’t like the price tag. Her current doctors were doing what they could but they were neither the best nor the brightest and they were defensive about the quality of their previous work. They argued that it was good enough.

Katrina’s shot from the barrel of Mr. Go injected a sudden bolus of immense volume, unimaginable volume, into New Orleans’ old and tired arteries, throwing her instantly into hypervolemic shock. Inadequate stitches in arterial walls began to give. Death was not instant but it was certain.

Stitches tore. Arterial walls failed. New Orleans began to experience fatal internal bleeding.

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