Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The looting's not the story, folks

Recent developments in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have me, for the most part, speechless. What we're seeing is hard to comprehend. But I do know that some of the news focus in the past two days on looting in New Orleans is misguided. Stories about looting do have the benefit of letting us feel superior - surely we'd never behave that way in a crisis. Certain idiotic segments of the population probably also enjoy seeing reports of looting because the looters are primarily poor black people, thus allowing them to confirm their prejudices. But I would suggest that several other aspects of this story are a bit more important:

- unless rescue efforts are heroically successful, in a way that is not currently foreseen, almost all of those looters are going to die, along with many others who are both law-abiding and stuck in the city.

- currently there are thousands of people - I've seen numbers ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 - in the Superdome, where there is no air conditioning, no potable water, no plumbing, and limited if any electricity. Unless these people can be successfully evacuated - and just how do you move that many people? - a simply unfathomable situation will soon be at hand there.

- unless the levee is somehow repaired, and soon - and again, it's not clear how this will be done or if it can - it will be impossible to drain the city. With that much polluted water sitting in the city for that long, causing untold damage, we will have to at least contemplate the tragic possibility of abandoning what is America's most charming and unique city.

These horrific possibilities, I would suggest, are one hell of a lot more important than some looting, and deserve a lot more media attention than they're getting.

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