September 06, 2005

He who smelt it, dealt it.

I haven't written much about the recent hurricane and the aftermath, mainly because it would do little good at this point. The best thing anyone can do is to donate if you're not in the area, and get to work if you are.

But it has still nagged at me--the almost immediate, and increasingly incessant, caterwauling by certain politicians about whom to blame.

Long ago when I was a kid in school, and farting was quite the social high point of life, it was a well-established fact that the person who first mentioned a particularly odious contribution to the ambient atmosphere was more than likely the perpetrator of the vapor cloud. The way we had of dealing with this was to heap scorn on the person with the taunt of, "He who smelt it, dealt it!" Meaning, the person who spoke up was probably trying to deflect suspicion from himself by acting as though someone else did it.

In the case of this storm, and in New Orleans in particular, it seems clear to me that the first person to start screaming about how everyone else is to blame is probably a lot closer to being the producer of the stink than he dare admit.

In this situation, there truly is enough blame to go around, but the sign of leadership is knowing how and when to accept your portion of it. To date, I have not heard a single local official step forward and forthrightly say, "Yes, there's plenty of blame to go around, including on my part. When this is over, I know I'm going to catch heat, but let's get things working first." To say anything else at this point is counterproductive. Unless your true priority is covering up your own failings.

I don't know Louisiana's local politics, other than the seemingly unquenchable taint of corruption. But that seems to afflict local politics everywhere, not just Louisiana. In this instance, though, there it seems that there is an overabundance of people appointed to positions of authority primarily out of repaying political indebtedness, with little thought given to the tasks they might be called upon to carry out. Too many who see all the various emergency and security directorships merely as a resume-sweetener. Too many people given ostensible authority in times of peril who can do nothing but throw up their hands and cry. Too many people who made careers out of turning vast swaths of the population into essentially wards of the state, whose only purpose was to keep voting their patron into office. Too many people who have decided to cede control of their destinies to the idea that if trouble happens, the President (of whatever party) will come wading in, grunt once, and crap great loads of fresh hot disaster relief into their eager waiting hands.

It was a terrible catastrophe, made worse by inept planning at the local level, made yet worse by bureaucratic misassumptions up and down the chain of command, and topped off by a rich stew of local and national media doing its dead-level best to insure that every story did two things: 1) berate the Administration, and 2) make good copy for submittal to the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Frankly, it's hard to see how it could have turned out any differently.

As for the future, one hopes that the people who do return do so with a far better understanding of the necessity of becoming more self-reliant, and self-sufficient. I love my country, and I think despite its downfalls our government works well. But it cannot, and should not, be expected to do everything. Bad things will continue to happen until God calls a halt to the proceedings. That's just the way things are. I love my state, and my county, and my home town, but they can't do everything, either. At some point in here, people have to make up the difference, and realize that just like the cops can't be everywhere, neither can the guys bringing cots and water, or your FEMA check.

Community is wonderful--on some level I do believe all that "it takes a village" stuff. But when the village is wiped out, you have to be able to carry on without it. And without hopping on the local airwaves to unleash your foul-mouthed tirades at others.

New Orleans, and the rest of the Gulf Coast, will be rebuilt. People will return, and life will return to the street. It will be different, yes, but with work it can be good. Not perfect, not immune to tragedy, but maybe better able to cope with trouble when it comes again.

And by the way, I know you've probably all read it, but just in case, I recommend that you Be Gray, and Wear a White Hat.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at September 6, 2005 01:58 PM

This article by John Tierney in the New York Times was remarkably even-handed, coming from the same paper that publishes such as Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich. Note what Tierney says about "magic marker strategy". (registration may be needed)

Posted by: Stan at September 6, 2005 02:05 PM

Amen. I rember after Isabell and the roads were a tangled mess of trees, everbody broke out their chainsaws and did the best we could. We knew the state and county had its hands full and it was up to us to clear the subdivision roads to make them passable until the big boys show up. I know that this was nowhere on the same scale, but it showed how a community can pull together to get things done.

Posted by: Sarah G. at September 6, 2005 02:39 PM

Seems like there's an old saying about it being better to light a candle than to curse the darkness...

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at September 6, 2005 02:47 PM

Amen, brother!
Times like this show people's true character. There are lots who are doing everything they can to help, but some do nothing but find fault, blame others, and complain.
I'm glad y'all made it through the storm. We've been without phones (and internet!)at work until just a few minutes ago. We had trees and limbs down and my parents STILL don't have power. BUT... we are SO blessed! My family and our homes and vehicles are ok. We do have neighbors with a good bit of damage, and there are LOTS of refugees here (Meridian, MS).

Posted by: Kathy at September 6, 2005 03:12 PM

Glad to have you back online, Kathy! I think my sister has finally gotten her power back on (Mobile) but it has taken a while. [Just called my mom--it was yesterday.] Luckily, no house damage, though. Be sure to keep in touch and let us know what you need.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at September 6, 2005 03:17 PM