Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The End of the Ignorance: A Plea

As we approach two years out, a quick perusal of the blogosphere turns up more than a little Katrina backlash going on.

Much of it comes, sadly, from outright ignorance. Let's spend a few minutes, shall we?, responding to just a few of my favorite misconceptions:

"Isn't the Gulf Coast rebuilt yet? The government pumped in $100 billion already!"
Get on a plane to the Coast and you'll see for yourself the status of rebuilding. GulfCoastNews.com has a great article summing up where the Coast is and why it is so far from what any sane person would consider normalcy. They also correctly point out that $100 billion has been allocated; the actual amount being used is far, far less. A major reason I left the Coast was a belief that this recovery is going to take many, many years--I'll now say more than a decade--and I wasn't prepared to sacrifice my sons' childhood(s) to that.

"Those people living in trailers must be plain lazy if they haven't rebuilt their homes yet."
Ah, this one never gets old. For those who insist that there's been more than enough opportunity to rebuild, let's do the math, using some very rough estimates:
* Assume 5000 homes needing repair or rebuilding in Waveland and Bay St Louis (this, of course, leaves out Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, and New Orleans; I'm confining this example to the area I know best)
* Assume your average contractor has repaired and/or rebuilt 5 homes in the past 2 years (this might be generous, since my experience says a new home takes over six months to build, and almost nothing was started in Bay-Waveland until at least late winter-early spring 2006; then again, not every home needed to be rebuilt from scratch; maybe only a third? Which is actually a staggering number, so we'll keep that estimate where it is.)
* For all the homes to have been repaired within 2 years, that would mean 1000 contractors in the area. Now all of you out there who think there are 1000 contractors in Hancock County, please raise your hands. And that doesn't include the subcontractors and workers. By the time you add it all up, for all the homes to be rebuilt, the area population would have to be comprised entirely and exclusively of construction workers. And then you're left with wondering where they'd be living, since they're busy fixing other people's homes.

This little scenario also assumes that everyone received a fair settlement on their home and can afford to rebuild. Which leads to...

"If I was in that situation, I'd just pick up and leave."
Set aside emotional, historical, and family ties to the area. Financially, many residents are between the rock and hard place and Hell. They still owe a mortgage on a property which in many cases may be a slab. They can't afford to rebuild, since--oh, who knows why, maybe the insurance companies didn't give them a fair shake, maybe they didn't have flood insurance, maybe they didn't qualify for the Mississippi grant program, maybe they already lost a few thousand to a crooked contractor. And they can't sell the property since the real estate market has tanked. There are a record number of properties for sale--and a record low number of buyers. News flash, no one wants to buy a home in Bay-Waveland right now. Did I mention the astronomical price of wind insurance?
Your options? Keep trying to get by, sell the property at a major loss, or foreclose. That's about it. Which would you choose? Oh, by the way, it might be hard moving to a new place with no money and/or no credit...

And, finally,
"You people get what you deserve for living below sea level."
Um, Bay St Louis is 20 feet above sea level. It's actually the highest point on the entire frickin' Gulf Coast. That didn't mean much against a 30-foot storm surge. Which is pretty hard to imagine, but hey, it happened.

Why blame the victims? Why wallow in, and almost gleefully celebrate, the ignorance? Has anyone said those Minnesotans should have known not to trust an old bridge? Were New Yorkers at fault for living in the most prominent American city on 9/11/01? Why haven't we started yelling at the populations of Key West, Miami, coastal North Carolina, Galveston to pick up and leave, MORONS, before the next hurricane strikes and we have to clean up your mess, you crybabies? Why stop there--why should we feel sympathy or even responsibility for a post-earthquake San Francisco, a snow-bound Rochester, a flooded-from-broken-levee Fresno, a water-parched Las Vegas, a terrorist-hit Washington DC?

Is it simply Katrina fatigue? After the emotional drains of 9/11 and school shootings and war in Iraq, do we just have nothing left?

Is the dismal recovery simply too unbelievable to comprehend? Perhaps many Americans have a hard time accepting that the government of their great country could have been so callous and incompetent, and therefore they rationalize and project that the Coast's residents simply must have had a larger role in the current failures.

Or is it about southern rednecks of Mississippi hick-towns and dangerous inner-city blacks in New Orleans ghettos? Who must have been in their pre-Katrina situations due to their own slothfulness and moral failure? Are we in the throes of a neo-Puritanism revival that insists people's destiny is entirely self-determined and not subject to the earthly influences of the material world around them? Or even better, perhaps we'll just go all-out-Calvinistic (and no, don't go all Calvin-and-Hobbes on me, that's not what I'm talking about): these people are poor and uneducated because God has deemed they should be that way! We should no more feel pity on them or help them than we should try to improve the lot of a common dog!

Whatever the motivation behind the ignorance, perhaps the most concerning aspect is the fact that its adherents feel so free to profess it, with vehemence and self-righteousness. Perhaps we can thank Rush Limbaugh, and his protege, Bill O'Reilly, for the decline in courteous civil discourse in America today. Then again, the anonymity of the blogosphere certainly tempts many to more extreme emotions, outright provocation, and a lack of responsibility.

I enter a plea for tolerance, or at least, respect. In other words, stop the hatin'. Don't go spouting off on topics you know very little about; take the time to listen to the stories from the Coast. As anyone who has visited the region--let alone lived there--can tell you, it's all far worse and more overwhelming than you have been led to believe, or can even imagine.

But enough preaching, let alone to the choir. Good night, peace, and God bless.

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