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"It's downtown Baghdad" - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
"It's downtown Baghdad"
When Kim and I honeymooned in New Orleans back in October, 1996, she found a limo driver whose reservation hadn't shown up and he gave us a ride in to the Quarter. We were utterly exhausted, making the trip more surreal than it otherwise would have been. But both of us, familiar with "bad neighborhoods" in other parts of the United States, were taken aback by the mixture of lawlessness and menace that seemed to permeate large portions of the city. Throughout our stay, we regularly ventured into areas we were told to avoid -- pretty much anything outside the Quarter, the Garden District, Tulane, and Canal Street -- yet did so exercising even more caution than our years living in high-crime parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Washington D.C. area had taught us to expend. Even the short walk to the old cemeteries -- surely destroyed for good by now -- outside the Quarter was an adventure. Indeed, our impression of New Orleans was so colored by its extreme class divisions and generally run-down appearance that our subsequent trip to Kansas City was a relief because the latter at least seemed like an American city of the 1990s, replete with chain stores and the first glimmerings of the dot com boom. As tragic as the devastation from Hurricane Katrina is on its own terms, the bigger tragedy is that both the city and the state of Louisiana were woefully underprepared for an event that was bound to come sooner or later. The pumps should have been better. The levees should have been stronger. And the vast number of poor people living in the path of the storm should have been given something more than an order to leave that they were not in a position to carry out. The plight of New Orleans is captured for me in one resident's comments on the calamity:
Sean Jeffries of New Orleans had already been evacuated from one French Quarter hotel when he was ordered out of a second hotel Tuesday because of rising water.

The 37-year-old banker — who admitted to looting some food from a nearby supermarket — said the hotel guests were told they were being taken to a convention center, but from there, they didn't know.

"We're in the middle of a national tragedy," he said as he popped purloined grapes in his mouth. "But I know this city. We will be back. It may take awhile. But we will be back."
I suppose it's heartening that the wire story makes it clear that it wasn't just poor black people doing the looting. Nevertheless, when bankers are "popping purloined grapes" into their mouths and popping pointless clichés out of them, it's hard to be optimistic about the city's future.
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Comments
pissang From: pissang Date: August 31st, 2005 04:57 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I was actually just thinking how all the news stories are revealing the non-tourist-industry-defined New Orleans. It was baffling every year when the murder statistics came out and New Orleans beat Baltimore, keeping us at #2. Assholes! We were good at one thing and they could never let us take the cake. Not just once. Plus, Baltimore doesn't have anything like the French Quarter or Mardi Gras to lacquer a nicked surface.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 31st, 2005 06:35 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes. I've been in very "bad" parts of Baltimore, D.C., and Philly. New Orleans seemed worse. We had the sense that the law was almost non-existent.
From: e4q Date: August 31st, 2005 07:49 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
what annoys me is that even when something cheap or free can be done to ease a situation it is not - videos of a six lane highway where outbound was jammed and crawling and the inbound was empty made me wonder where the police's heads were at - even keeping one lane for contraflow for emergency vehicles they could have given those miserable and frightened drivers another 2 lanes. so what hope for the greater problems? bah humbug grr
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 31st, 2005 08:21 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Right. They eventually did reverse the lanes. But the longer-term issues were simply not dealt with adequately. I mean, in Bangladesh they have an excuse. In the States, though, they should be able to manage better than that.
From: e4q Date: August 31st, 2005 08:26 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
sounds like they don't just have weather proofing to think about there. seems to me the population isn't considered all that valuable. which is v sad
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 31st, 2005 08:30 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
At least the poor population. Particularly the poor black population. I was in the San Francisco Bay Area for the big 1989 earthquake. Everyone pulled together, pretty much. Instead of looting, there was mutual aid. Not that the area's perfect. But the sense of community there was a lot bigger than it seems to be in New Orleans right now.
From: e4q Date: August 31st, 2005 08:39 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
well, yeah. but there are poor people in san francisco as well, right? so it's not just poverty that is the problem, it seems political attitude leaves a lot to be desired in new orleans, and the stark comparison in an extreme situation points up what the implications for that are, whereas i suppose in everyday life it gets to be swept under the carpet, and tourists are just told not to go places. i havn't travelled very widely in the usa, but i have been to san francisco and was never told not to go to any particular area, or even to 'be careful'. sf seems to be a bit unusual as an urban environment in that regard?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 31st, 2005 09:12 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, San Francisco has its potentially dangerous neighborhoods. And the area of Oakland, across the bay, where the freeway collapsed was -- and is -- a particularly impoverished and high-crime one for that part of the country. The difference between them in 1989 and New Orleans in 2005, as you rightly suggest, is in part a matter of politics. The poor in New Orleans clearly feel even more excluded from regular society, from the world of the Law, than their counterparts in the Bay Area did fifteen years earlier. Disasters often bring about temporary truces, momentary glimpses of things held in common. But that's not what's happening in New Orleans, best I can tell. Unless, that is, you -- not you, elaine4queen, but the proverbial second person -- think that solidarity through looting is the anarchistically correct thing to be doing.
From: e4q Date: August 31st, 2005 09:40 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i wouldn't doubt that there are 'dangerous neigbourhoods' in sf, i imagine it has the usual problematics of any big city built on class distinction, but the difference seems to be politics and at a certain point Politics.
something i read a while ago made a big impression on me, risk society by ulrich beck. he talks about perception of risk in various scenarios, and it does seem to me that fear and demonising gives people a brilliant excuse to dehunanise each other, if that is the direction they want to go in in their thinking.
looting, unless it is about emergency need, fudges the issue. back in the early 80s there were some famous riots here, and then copycat riots which included looting. this allowed a sensation of closure for 'middle england' where the original howl of the original rioters was lost in the tinkle of smashed shop glass, allowing the conclusion that the rioters were per se greedy shoplifters.
i have lived in some neighbourhoods that others have perceived as risky. it has often made me feel personally slighted, but it is interesting to see people's prejudicies revealed, and rewarding when less judgemental attitudes are forthcoming.
From: e4q Date: August 31st, 2005 06:01 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

looting and finding

just saw this link http://www.livejournal.com/community/blackfolk/2420240.html which illustrates the issues around 'looting/finding' horribly well
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