Friday, August 28, 2009

Iowa's "Katrina" legitimized 

In June 2008 we referred to the flooding in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere in the Hawkeye State as "Iowa's 'Katrina'." We were only pushing along an analogy first seen on Fox News, but that fact did not prevent -- or perhaps it exacerbated -- charges of racism or, at a minimum, stone-heartedness.

Something tells me that the same people will not object to the New York Times constructing the same analogy, or even to the direct reference from Iowa's Democratic governor to the character of the people:

“We’re not making a lot of noise about it,” said Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, reflecting on a sense of Midwestern stoicism. “We’re going about our business. That’s a determination that’s impressive, but it doesn’t attract attention.”

Me, a year ago, to great controversy:
The thing is, though, the people of eastern Iowa seem to be stepping up in the Iowa stubborn way. I have seen any number of man-on-the-street interviews, and nobody is complaining. They all seem to be working to solve their problem, which is not surprising because Iowans do not complain about tragedy. They complain about hot weather and dry weather, but not tragedy. And I have looked for reports of looting and come up empty so far.

Katrina has become a metaphor for many things beyond natural disaster, including governmental and individual incompetence (depending on your point of view). In Iowa there is a 500 year flood, but the people are not paralyzed, whining, or looting. There will be no massive relief effort from around the world, and nobody will step up to help Iowans except for other Iowans. Yet years from now, there will be no Iowans still in FEMA camps.

The difference is not in the severity of the flood, but in the people who confront the flood.

Granted, that last sentence was a bit harsh, but neither it nor the paragraphs above conveyed any different opinion than Chet Culver's negative pregnant tip o' the hat to Hawkeye stoicism. That's the difference between a blogger and a politician, not in the substance of the point, which, I believe, stands largely unmolested.

Now, all of that notwithstanding, people who live in small towns and the country are in some respects much better equipped to deal with natural disasters than city-dwellers. People in places such as Iowa still revere personal competence in the Walt Kowalski sense -- "a man acquires tools over the course of a lifetime." Perhaps more significantly, rural economies are a lot less specialized than urban economies, so people actually need to do more for themselves. It was easy, therefore, to cut the people of New Orleans a break; not only did they have less time to prepare, many of them quite naturally did not have the skills necessary to prepare even with all the time in the world. They counted on their government to prepare for them, and it failed them miserably.

That is why I lost all sympathy for the people of New Orleans when they re-elected the transportingly incompetent Ray Nagin, the mayor who let his city drown and who has failed to rally and inspire effective reconstruction in the years since. You can argue that they did not know he was ineffective in 2002, but under what logic do you re-elect him in 2006?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 28, 08:37:00 AM:

From the National Organization of Perpetual Hopeless Victims:

How dare you highlight the difference between the responses to the Iowa floods and the New Orleans hurricane.....Apparently you haven't gotten THE MESSAGE: It's all Bush's fault.

To suggest otherwise implies some sort of 'racism'......


By Anonymous feeblemind, at Fri Aug 28, 08:47:00 AM:

I have heard people of New Orleans say that Nagin was re-elected because his opponent was so bad that Nagin was the lesser of the evils.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 28, 09:30:00 AM:

Channeling CC here, but it's racist to think that anything, in the entire history of the world, has been as bad a Katrina. No comparisons allowed. Yes, tens of billions has been blown on conferences to discuss the proposals for planning a possible renewal in New Orleans, but that spending is all justified and correct. Every last cent.

If Andrew Jackson were in charge the reconstruction would have been done two weeks after the event, though six duels would have been fought in the process.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Fri Aug 28, 10:05:00 AM:

I know someone who is a government official who dealt in some manner with Katrina. He asked officials in Louisiana- whose job function entailed the construction and implementation of emergency plans- about their emergency plans. The reply came back that they would deal with the emergency when it came up: plans were unnecessary. Off the record, he said that as far as he was concerned, NOLA could sink to the sea in the next flood, as he was not impressed with the lackadaisical attitude of those officials.

NOLA reelecting Ray; Mass reelecting Ted. Any similarity?

NOLA refugees in TX have gotten a bad rep because so many are unfamiliar with the work ethic.I am personally acquainted with such a lazy NOLA refugee, who is white.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 28, 10:51:00 AM:

Told a freind a week after Iowa floods, that you won't hear much about this. He wondered why, and i said cause they will just get to work and solve thier problems. They are used to doing it.
In New orleans, they are used to others solving thiers. And those that do will take thier time to extend thier jobs.
New Orleans, may have deserved the money, but I'm sure they could of been further along had the money been handled differentley.  

By Anonymous RipRip, at Fri Aug 28, 11:34:00 AM:

There are still some Iowans living in FEMA trailers but they were allowed to buy them from the .gov.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Aug 28, 01:51:00 PM:

"but under what logic do you re-elect him in 2006?"

Likely the issue.  

By Anonymous Fair and Middling, at Fri Aug 28, 11:53:00 PM:

This all just seems like a really tortured straw-man "analysis" -- and ultimately, I'm sorry to say, my money is on "stone-hearted"-ness or at least selective inattention.

All of the nice things you say about Iowa farm folk are the same things that you might pillory others for in other contexts: Since salary/net worth appears so often here as a proxy for ontological value, most days the salt-o-the-earth probably doesn't stack up so well.

Thought experiment: If a bunch of venture capitalists had been trapped on rooftops in Battery Park City in some storm-water scenario, might they find sympathy -- empathy? -- for their extreme "specialization" and urban lack of preparedness -- and might it not be argued that the public coffers should disgorge untold sums rescuing these guys who had "produced" so much for so many? (No, that's right . . . they'd call a friend with a helicopter to come fetch them & we could have another "'self'-help ROCKS" reverie. And "P.S. Note that none of those shiftless New Orleanians thought to call in THEIR friends' choppers . . .")

At the end of the day, there are just vast differences between the Iowa and New Orleans scenarios. I wholly agree that we should publically acknowledge the devastation of flooding in Iowa -- and the incredible spirit of those who faced it (and continue to deal with its aftermath). But I'm not sure why we should use that as another opportunity to insult Katrina survivors. (And, frankly, to what end; isn't that just literally adding insult to injury?)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 29, 08:31:00 AM:

It's the completely helpless, victim mentality that is and was so annoying. In the teeth of the storm and in the days afterward, one can understand it, but weeks. months and years have since gone by and we still hear the whining. That doesn't annoy you? You don't think that deserves insulting? Ray Nagin is your kind of mayor.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 29, 11:15:00 AM:

I happened to catch a scene on TV during Katrina that summed it up. It was live coverage of people being assisted off a roof. The camera panned down from the rescuees to show a guy walking along the street in waist high water -- seemingly oblivious to the water -- smoking a blunt, which he kept high and dry. The camera pulled away from the guy quickly when it was obvious what he was smoking.

I hate to be hard-hearted, but a lot of money got stolen out of Katrina recovery funding. It was even mentioned on The Sopranos. That's what you get when the feds put money into places like New Orleans. Can you say Stimulus?

Link, over  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 29, 11:52:00 AM:

Here's the president himself, for crying out loud, pushing the government dependency crack today:

"In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president noted that the Bush administration's response to the killer storm raised questions among people in the U.S. about whether the government "could fulfill its responsibility to respond in a crisis."

He said he wanted to ensure "that the legacy of a terrible storm is a country that is safer and more prepared for the challenges that may come."

Since taking office, Obama has sent 11 members of the Cabinet to the region to inspect progress and to hear local ideas on how to speed up repairs."

What a travesty, and the people of NOLA need to get up off their butts and get to work. Most of all, they need to kick back at this kind of crap.  

By Anonymous mike@ahamoment.com, at Tue Oct 13, 01:56:00 AM:

The individual stories are the ones that have always spoken to me, no matter where they're from.
Don's story is heartwarming to say the least, as he talks about his family's experience in the flooding and how they came out of it w/ a renewed sense of what's really important in life.
I hope you find it as inspiring as I do. Thanks.

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