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September 16, 2005

Leviticus 19:33-34
Posted by Patrick at 01:46 PM *

The citizens and city council of Gretna, Lousiana endorse their police chief’s decision to used armed force to prevent terrifying gangs of sick and exhausted people from escaping into their suburb from New Orleans:

Little over a week after this mostly white suburb became a symbol of callousness for using armed officers to seal one of the last escape routes from New Orleans—trapping thousands of mostly black evacuees in the flooded city—the Gretna City Council passed a resolution supporting the police chief’s move.

“This wasn’t just one man’s decision,” Mayor Ronnie C. Harris said Thursday. “The whole community backs it.”

Via Majikthise, where Maryland commenter “Steven” says:

If I wanted to live with people like that I would. But I don’t and I expect our local governemnt and police to ensure our security. That is their job…and they did it much better than the local govenment of NEW ORLEANS—Who ran away!

What “ensures our security” most of all, of course, is a general mutual willingness to help one another. In blocking their bridge out of New Orleans, the people of Gretna, Louisiana have behaved as selfishly as any gangster. Certainly they have done more damage to the bonds that hold society together than could be caused by looting a dozen Wal-Marts. If they’re very lucky, neither Mayor Ronnie C. Harris nor his police chief will ever need the help of a neighbor in an emergency. And if the rest of us are lucky, we’ll never be one of those neighbors, facing the temptation to mete out what Mayor Ronnie C. Harris, his police chief, and many of the citizens of Gretna, Louisiana so evidently deserve.

Comments on Leviticus 19:33-34:
#1 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 02:59 PM:

Fortunately for my soul, if the Gretnans ever show up in my neighborhood looking for refuge, they probably won't say "Hello, we're from Gretna," they'll just be there and we'll take care of them.

#2 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 03:05 PM:

I wonder if I can get a bulk discount for floggings if I buy them all at once...

#3 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 03:24 PM:

Is there anything more than this which needs to be said?

Matthew 25:31-46

Maybe it ought to be put on postcards which can be posted to the Mayor and people of Gretna.

#4 ::: Ingrid de Beus ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 03:28 PM:

Is this not what shunning was invented for? I would like to see the state of Louisiana shun the town of Gretna, but that's my inner Erinyes talkin'.

#5 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 03:32 PM:

maybe we should leave New Orleans underwater and relocate everyone to Gretna.

#6 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 03:39 PM:

Greg, I think the good people of New Orleans have suffered enough, don't you?

#7 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 03:47 PM:

As a side note, I would like to alert all EMTs, paramedics, and other emergency workers of the person from Hagerstown who has said that he doesn't want to live near "people like that"--that, in fact, he supports the decision of another town to use guns to keep paramedics out.

#8 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 03:54 PM:

Thanks PNH for this. I will note that I posted the link in the Superdomes thread earlier today, but this is where it belongs, front and center.

#9 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:02 PM:

This happens. I'm actually (as is frequently the case) hugely behind on reading several threads here, and I sometimes worry that I might appear to be throwing links up onto the front page without giving due credit to commenters who spotted them first.

#10 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:05 PM:

Contact info for the City of Gretna:

http://www.gretnala.com/contact/contact.html

City of Gretna
P.O. Box 404
Gretna, LA, 70054-0404

Phone: (504) 363-1505
Fax: (504) 363-1509
E mail: rharris@gretnala.com

#11 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:10 PM:

Here in Virginia, you need to have a little tax sticker from your town on your windshield. I have no idea if Louisiana does things in a similar fashion, but it occurred to me that it's going to a generation or more before it's safe to park a car in New Orleans that bears evidence of residing in Gretna.

Ugh. It's one thing to be horrible; quite another to be proud of it.

#12 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:18 PM:

from: http://www.gretnapolice.com/

Mission Statement

The City of Gretna Police Department's mission is to prevent crime and maintain order while affording dignity and respect to all individuals; to protect lives and property while safe guarding constitutional guarantees, committed to the delivery of police services in the most efficient, fairest, responsive and ethical manner possible to impartially enforce all laws and ordinances, while enhancing the quality of life for all citizens through new and innovative approaches to problem solving and crime prevention; with a sensitivity to the priorities and needs of the people; and to promote professionalism and pride among employees of the City of Gretna Police Department.

#13 ::: amysue ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:22 PM:

I've spent 20+ years working with folks who are forced or choose to live outside the system (often with good reason) and have to say that despite my devout desire to be able to say that nothing shocks me anymore...I'm shocked. Not as shocked as I was when, while waiting for our kids at the bus stop, a neighbor (who's husband had been laid off that day) pointed to my youngest son and the house with the new neighbors from India and screamed that "the f-cking brown people" were ruining America. That was last spring and I'm still speechless (am anomaly I assure you). I so love suburbia and the inhabitants desperate need to feel good about themselves while screwing others to the wall. FOr the record, I pointed out to my son that he'd just had a taste of racism, he was puzzled and told her he was actually black. She said "black, brown, whatever". The real shocking thing, the other moms all covered for her saying she was simply "in shock".

#14 ::: Jon Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:27 PM:

The city council and citizenry may support it, but I wonder if the Lousiana Attorney General will feel the same way? I'm not sure what they could prosecuted for, but I'm sure a clever attorney could come up with something.

#15 ::: Andy Vance ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:33 PM:

If they can't get 'em on civil rights violations, I'm wondering if there are jurisdictional issues involved. They obviously weren't in "fresh pursuit" of a suspect, nor were they invited in by NOLA officials.

#16 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:43 PM:

If they can't get 'em on civil rights violations, I'm wondering if there are jurisdictional issues involved. They obviously weren't in "fresh pursuit" of a suspect, nor were they invited in by NOLA officials.

Indeed, aren't all citizens legally permitted to travel freely within the 50 states?

#17 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:44 PM:

Don't you know that the only part of Leviticus which matters is the part about hatin' queers? Jeez, get with the program.

#18 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:47 PM:

When I lived in St. Louis, there were people who were opposed to bus service being extended into the outer suburbs, because, like, non-affluent, non-white people might actually be able to go there.

This seems hard for me to believe, now. I tend to forget this from time to time, just how deep racism still runs in much of the country, and just how overt it can be.

#19 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:52 PM:

>Is there anything more than this which needs to be said?

To Greg London: Greg, do you want to argue that the actions and attitudes of the Gretna citizenry aren't an indicator of the problem of racism? Do you believe the police response would have been the same to a group of storm refugees with mostly white faces?

I think this is a component of what Lucy was trying to get at in the Superdomes thread.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:54 PM:

This is vile. They're willing to let helpless refugees die in the street, purely because they've terrified themselves with fantasies about what "those people" would do to them if they ever got a chance.

What kind of idiots are they? Do they not understand that in the real world, failing to honor the social contract makes them significantly less safe?

#21 ::: fjm ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 04:57 PM:

Do you think they went to Church on Sunday?

#22 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:05 PM:

Business owners on International Drive in Orlando nixed light rail. One of the rumored reasons was that, "... it would allow an undesirable element into the area."

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:07 PM:

there were people who were opposed to bus service being extended into the outer suburbs, because, like, non-affluent, non-white people might actually be able to go there.

I've met this also: there are people in areas of LA who don't want mass transit in their areas because it might bring in 'those people'; never mind that 'those people' are living close to the proposed routes already, and need them to get to work, school, or shopping. (Then there are the religious ones who don't want mass transit because the noise/vibration will disturb their prayers: God doesn't hear what they're thinking?) The city of Hidden Hills was up in arms a few years back because they were told that to get funding for one of their pet projects they had to provide affordable housing. They turned it down - the housekeepers and gardeners have to come in from miles away.

#24 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:21 PM:

Um. I can't write anything cogent; my heart hurts and I'm so ashamed, and angry at the same time. I remember that Jesus looked down at the people who had driven nails into him and hung him on wood to die and prayed for them, because the stupid idiots didn't know what they had done. It doesn't help -- I'm still angry. Probably he was too. He prayed for them anyway.

Take a look at the speech by Bill Moyers; you can find it at www.ThomPaine.com (I tried to print the link here and my computer informed me my modem was broken. I had to turn it off and let it rest. It's an old computer.) It's a speech about the religious right. It has nothing directly to do with Gretna but you should read it anyway, because to my mind there is a connection with the nationalism and triumphalism of the religious right and the racist, self-righteous, MEAN attitude of the folks in Gretna. It's a very scary analysis, and it also makes me pretty angry. I'm a pretty serious radical/progressive/liberal/leftist Catholic, and what Bill Moyers is saying is what I would like the bishops of my church to be saying -- or at least, acknowledging. Instead, they're getting in bed with Dobson, et. al.

Oh well, guess I'm just gonna be pissed off for a while.

#25 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:22 PM:

You know, in the interest of civility and saving time, I'll just disemvowel myself here - I remember in the late nineties when I used to go days at a time without the phrase "crckrss mthrfckrs" popping up in my head.

Those were good days. I miss them.

#26 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:26 PM:

Lizzy Lynn's link:
http://www.tompaine.com/articles/the_delusional_is_no_longer_marginal.php

#27 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:28 PM:

The crime you're probably thinking of is "depraved indifference to human life". I suspect a civil rights suit might have a better chance.

Theresa: I am willing to bet you that the social contract many of the residents of Gretna subscribe to has the power flowing in only one direction. The most frustrating thing is that it's a given that the people responsible for this decision will use their well-deserved criticism to fertilize their sense of persecution, to hold themselves up as defenders of all that is good. Perhaps in twenty years they may feel some shame, but right now it has crystalized as an un-teachable moment.

Psychologically, they have to have either made the right decision, or take responsibility for many preventable deaths.

#28 ::: James Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:28 PM:

Would eminent domain allow the State of Louisiana to confiscate the land on which Gretna rests so that part of New Orleans can be relocated there?

#29 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:30 PM:

I believe this is the article Lizzy Lynn refers to:

http://www.tompaine.com/articles/20050909/911_and_the_sport_of_god.php

#30 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:34 PM:

"Do you think they went to Church on Sunday?"

Oh, sure. Question was, was anybody home there?

* * *

Something that gives me hope is the good possibility that Michael Moore is to set a nice big chunk of his next documentary in Greta.

#31 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:39 PM:

Teresa writes: Do they not understand that in the real world, failing to honor the social contract makes them significantly less safe?

It's worse than that. From their demented perspective, the social contract was already broken and they were simply responding to circumstances with an escalation in force that they still contend was appropriate. The real question is how much appetite they have for continued escalation before they will finally consider a regimen of cooperate threat reduction to prevent total civil war.

I'm beginning to think that some of these folks will not be coming to the bargaining table unless they are held at gunpoint.

#32 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:47 PM:

The ostensible danger of letting "those people" in is that they will get out of control and destroy your property.

The real danger of letting them in is that you might actually get to know them. That would require you to care about them. It would also remind you of your own vulnerability. That means you can't avoid recognizing the social contract, and therefore it is far more dangerous to the complacent than property crime.

#33 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 05:51 PM:

It's not really fantastical thought processes -- they are themselves, after all, demonstrably in favor of leaving the halt and the afflicted to die in preference to the risk of inconvenience, so the expectations of having every man's hand turned against them is something like reasonable -- as the self-reinforcing conviction of being subject to unjust persecution.

Getting rid of that sort of thing is really hard to do; you have to obliterate the culture that produces it.

#34 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:01 PM:

You know what this reminds me of--in Lanzman's brilliant documentary about the Holocaust, he interviewed people who still live around various concentration camp sites. And a bunch of Polish women actually said, "The Jews used to have these houses. Now we have them." And laughed. Same lack of humanity, and nothing learned from the lessons of history.

#35 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:03 PM:

Getting rid of that sort of thing is really hard to do; you have to obliterate the culture that produces it.

Which may or may not be true, but is somewhat less than helpful, since the reaction of most people to hearing something like that aimed in their general direction is highly unlikely to be, "Oh, my yes, you're certainly right. I'll just go do my bit by putting a plastic bag over my head right now." And the sort of externally-imposed force it takes to obliterate entire cultures is neither fast, nor pretty, nor cheap in any coin you care to pay.

#36 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:18 PM:

Teresa: In the south, the social contract doesn't apply to nggrs. They aren't really human you know. Don't feel pain the same way we do; need less than we do. Really, they're just animals and you know, animals en masse, can be dangerous to human beings.

Where do I go to resign from the human race?

MKK

#37 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:19 PM:

How does one do mass mailings? How many people are there in Gretna? How much would it cost to send every one of them a postcard which says,

"I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."

You'll notice I cut out the hellfire bits. I don't approve of them, personally. I wonder if it would elicit any shame. (Practically speaking, the passage probably needs some slight abridgment.)

#38 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:22 PM:

If I wanted to live with people like that I would. But I don’t and I expect our local governemnt and police to ensure our security.

Yeah, it'd be a real tragedy if any kind of Culture found its way to fucking Hagerstown.

Listen up, Hagerstown: You're nothing without your wee outlet mall. Nothing.

#39 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:43 PM:

Debra says:

And the sort of externally-imposed force it takes to obliterate entire cultures is neither fast, nor pretty, nor cheap in any coin you care to pay.

It's the first idea I've seen for aid for Katrina victims that I might give some foriegn aid to.

#40 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:50 PM:

It's the first idea I've seen for aid for Katrina victims that I might give some foriegn aid to.

Give the money to Habitat for Humanity instead. That way you're less likely to alienate people who might otherwise agree with you.

#41 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:50 PM:

Mary Kay,

I've enjoyed lurking here for some time, but your post requires a response because it's all too typical of "progressive" America's response to the South. Admittedly, the South is home to many racists. Unfortunately, so is the rest of the United States. Generalizations of the sort in your post are the worst kind of Othering. They posit a reified South that is White, homogeneous, and "nggr hating," thereby turning it into a convenient dumping ground for all the uncomfortable beliefs and behaviors that taint the rest of the nation as well. They let people say, "It's them, not us. We're not like that." But isn't that precisely what racists do to people of other ethnicities? Isn’t that precisely what you are accusing this supposedly homogeneous South of doing to people of color?

Understand that I am not excusing the despicable behavior of the authorities in Gretna. Not at all. I'm just pointing out that blanket generalizations about "the South" take us nowhere.

SW

#42 ::: Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:52 PM:

Lydy, I think that's a really good idea. The LA Times says that the population of Gretna is 17,500. That's a very do-able mass mailing.

A church could do it at bulk rates.

#43 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 06:54 PM:

Lydy: look at the Postal Service's online guides. What you want is a Carrier Route Sort where a piece is delivered to every address on a route.

You can grab a list of all the carrier routes, for all the Zip Codes in Gretna. That will also give the number of delivery addresses.

If you're serious, the USPS business mail office will gladly point you at the resources you need.

Most commercial printers can produce this mailing for you, send them camera-ready art, and it'll be dropped into the postal processing stream.

I'd send a different message to them, but it wouldn't be allowed under USPS rules. :)

#44 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 07:00 PM:

How many people are there in Gretna? How much would it cost to send every one of them a postcard

For the record, there are a little over 17,000 residents of Gretna. Several of them are my relatives, including my grandparents.

Also for the record, I think that what happened on the bridge was a terrible thing, and I have nothing but contempt for anyone who tries to justify it.

However, those who react as if the beliefs of 17,000 thousand people are all spoken for by the actions of a few - even (or maybe especially) if those few are the elected officials of those people - run the risk of making the exact same mistake they are accusing the people of Gretna of doing.

Ask yourself, when you read what the mayor of Gretna has said, how much of what comes out of Bush's mouth applies to you, simply because you happen to be an American?

Hopefully I have not lost Patrick and Teresa's goodwill in saying so, but speaking of hate-mailing and flogging and whatever else to the entire city of Gretna while my grandparents and aunts and uncles had done nothing but leave, and now wait, scattered to the winds, to see if they can come home again, to see if they have anything to come home to... well, let's just say it strikes a nerve.

#45 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 07:01 PM:

Scott: Mary Kay grew up in Oklahoma. She speaks from experience.

I grew up on the borderland of the South and Southwest. My great-great-great grandfather had his arse handed to him by Grant's army. While I'm a little younger than Mary Kay, I can confirm those attitudes were present, even in supposedly civilized, middle class suburbs of Dallas filled with college graduates and engineers.

And while you'll see the same attitudes in Boston, LA, and other 'Union' cities, they don't romanticize 'Dixie,' or the 'Stars and Bars.'

They may cling to copies of The Bell Curve or Losing Ground, but those are nowhere as powerful as totems.

#46 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 07:08 PM:

Fine. Let's not hate-mail the City of Gretna. Let's send them a quiet, civilized entreaty asking whether this is really the sort of behavior they want their names attached to. And citing Matthew 25.

#47 ::: Leslie ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 07:17 PM:

Not the entire city, then, but the City Council members who passed the resolution, and anyone else who may be specifically quoted in the article? I'd suggest an ad in their local paper, but the chances of it being accepted seem slim.

An abridgement:

"Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee . . . and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying . . . Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."

#48 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 07:28 PM:

Bill -- playing the "more Southern than thou" game is probably a bad idea in this crowd.

#49 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 07:29 PM:

Debra, alienate isn't the word. I am an alien, a foreigner, a being with no human rights in your country. Anyone over there who thinks like me is already alienated.

#50 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 07:32 PM:

Niall: It wasn't particularly your potential -- or, for that matter, actual -- alienation that I was concerned about.

#51 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 07:49 PM:

also, Oklahoma, home to many fine people though it be, is not part of the South.

#52 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 08:00 PM:

I kinda doubt there's anyone in Greta who, if you said "social contract" in their hearing, would have more than the vaguest idea of your meaning. It doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that's much discussed, generally. Not like the permutations of meaning of the phrase "property rights".

If I were Running Things, I'd want to know by what right of law the police in that area drew and fired upon what was, in essence, a group of travellers on a public road, and I would be strongly insisting on their being made to answer for their conduct. In the meantime, I'd also implement an orderly cessation of all federal services and monies to the township whose mayor and council evidently approved this action, including postal services.

This social contract stuff ain't just for the benefit of the poor, and the Constitution's got more words in it than those concerning the right to keep and bear arms.

#53 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 08:10 PM:

Please, not another round of bashing-the-South alternating with bashing-the-bashers.

It is certainly true that the South has no exclusive on racism, nor was the South the only part of the country to prosper from slavery. (Point to the South.) It is also true that the antebellum Southern ruling class was the epitome of an "honor culture" in which the stupid rise to the top and stay there. (Point against the South.) It is also true that the plantation culture wasn't the whole of Southern life. (Point to the South.) It is also true that it's wrong to tar whole peoples, or even whole towns of 17,500, with the misdeeds of the powerful few. And it is also true that sometimes people get angry and don't express themselves perfectly, even when the anger itself is quite justified.

I believe that covers most of the bases.

Scott says to Mary Kay that "generalizations of the sort in your post are the worst kind of Othering." I respectfully submit that, actually, there are many, many far worse kinds of Othering than growling angrily in a weblog comment thread. Perspective, please.

Leigh Butler writes "Hopefully I have not lost Patrick and Teresa's goodwill in saying so, but speaking of hate-mailing and flogging and whatever else to the entire city of Gretna", etc., etc. I would say to Leigh Butler that the only threat to general good will here is in the puzzling attribution to Patrick and Teresa of remarks made by other people. Or perhaps Leigh Butler could point to those posts in which Patrick or Teresa suggested hate-mailing, flogging, etc.?

#54 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 08:38 PM:

As a resident of Chicago during the late '70s, I would like to firmly endorse the point that the South has had no monopoly on racism, nor on institutionalizing racism within its public institutions, nor specifically on dangerously shortsighted and trigger-happy cops jeopardizing everybody's' lives in the name of "maintaining public safety." Have things progressed so much elsewhere in our happy nation? I would be pleasantly surprised, if so.

#55 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 08:47 PM:

"I'd send a different message to them, but it wouldn't be allowed under USPS rules."

The message I'd prefer to send is best delivered by unmanned air vehicles.

#56 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 09:15 PM:

Debra --

The usual effective way to obliterate cultures doesn't involve obliterating the people; it involves arranging things so their grand children laugh at their views. (Parts of Ontario used to be coated in Orange lodges; something, something I wish was a heck of a lot better studied, caused them to die of embarrassment sometime between 1950 and 1965.)

Which ties in pretty strongly to the hatred of empiricism any culture in that pattern shows. (And why cultures in that pattern fake empiricism -- only if you really don't get the idea of falsification as a test for validity would you either attach moral authority to measurement or create something like "The Bell Curve" in an effort to recover moral authority for the basis of empirically falsified views.)

This particular pattern is strongly associated with particular mutations of what Jane Jacobs calls Guardian ideas being used to organize domestic society; this creates an axiom that all change is an attack. (Very very common historically; only not in the strong majority in affluent sections of industrial and late pre-industrial cultures.)

The positive guardian idea of conservatism -- most change is bad, so be really careful not to trade what you have for something worse; maintain and husband all things of value -- can readily become all change is bad. Coupled with a conviction that one's position in the social hierarchy defines your worth in your own eyes, that becomes beliefs that social position is deserved, for both the people doing well and the people who aren't doing well. (the other guardian ideas mutate horribly, too, and so do the Trader ideas but, heh, someone smarter than me already wrote a book about that.)

There isn't anything, short of road-to-Damascus level conversion experiences, that will change those attitudes in adults.

Those attitudes are extremely bad at managing complexity, and industrial and post-industrial society are effectively machines for generating complexity.

A culture -- the network of inter-relating and inter-reinforcing ideas that support particular social hierarchies, ways of organizing groups, ways of ganging up on problems -- that treats all change as bad and material security as morally deserved is in many respects independent of the individuals that make it up. Cultures, like genes, are successful in as much as they get themselves into the future.

Which means, on the one hand, that you can obliterate a culture just fine by interfering with how it gets into the future, and that on the other, killing people doesn't help.

Embarrassing people -- which the biblical quotation postcards ought to do -- can help, though. The knowledge that the rest of the band thinks you're being a putz can have a strong influence on a band-forming ground ape.

And yeah, this is terribly intellectualized; my emotional reaction is that it would be appropriate to get a bunch of bulldozers and raze Gretna to the ground and put up big signs with the biblical verse about how those without charity have nothing.

I know that would be, in some meaningful sense, unfair; I know that would be unhelpful, too, because it would only reinforce the cultural conviction of being under attack.

I also know that the concern for cultural obliteration is a real one, and something that ought to be faced more squarely -- having a cosmopolitan, empirical, rationalist, meritocratic, contextual hierarchy, inclusive culture does mean getting rid of, destroying, xenophobic, revealed knowledge, doctrinal, hereditary, rigid hierarchy, class/caste based cultures.

It's worth doing, if you except empirical measures of value (life span, health, access to meaningful exercise of choice, learning, travel, material prosperity...) and very much wrong if you don't.

There isn't any way to change that wrong reaction for significant numbers of adults on the mutant-guardian side of things, either. So, sure, it's not helpful, but then again nothing is -- inside the worldview and moral system they're using, those folks with guns on the bridge were doing the right thing.

Inside the moral system I'm using, the fewer moral systems on the planet that will make a choice to prevent the escape of their fellow citizens from disaster on irrational grounds, the better.

It's not like the Gretna PD's contribution is even, probably, statistically significant in terms of the death toll contributions from using revealed-knowledge decision making processes. It's not like it's even the most wrong.

But it's a scale of wrong that's small enough to get my mind around, and it's a kind of wrong that's really, directly against the mores of my oft-at-risk-of-freezing tribe, and that makes it easier to be really, actively angry about it.

#57 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 09:21 PM:

Whatever else we might wish to call them, the Mayor and other elected officials in Gretna are politicians. If the people who are qualified to elect them don't vote for them, they're out of a job.

Mail to electors is an entirely normal way of attempting to persaude them to cast their votes in a particular way.

But can you guarantee the counting of the votes?


Personally, I reckon their are better things to spend money on.

#58 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 09:28 PM:

Debra: I didn't want to get in a out-southerning match. I'd lose. I'm more Californian than anything else these days.

Just saying that I was there, saw the culture.

#59 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 09:37 PM:

Patrick says:

I would say to Leigh Butler that the only threat to general good will here is in the puzzling attribution to Patrick and Teresa of remarks made by other people. Or perhaps Leigh Butler could point to those posts in which Patrick or Teresa suggested hate-mailing, flogging, etc.?

Leigh Butler apologizes for the confusing construction of the sentence referred to. Leigh Butler was not trying to imply that Patrick or Teresa had said either of those things.

Leigh Butler was trying to say that she hoped that neither of them would take it amiss that she expressed, in their forum, an opposing opinion to those who had said such things, since to all evidence, while neither Patrick nor Teresa had said these things specifically, Leigh Butler construed from the context and tone of the original post (e.g., such widely-inclusive phrases as "the people of Gretna, Louisiana have behaved as selfishly as any gangster"), and lack of dissent expressed following the comments herein referred, that they might not necessarily be in disagreement with such sentiments, and certainly, at the least, appeared to share the perception that the entire population of Gretna was responsible for what happened on the bridge that day.

Perceiving this, perhaps as erroneously as Patrick appears to have taken Leigh Butler's clumsy phrasing, Leigh Butler concluded that Patrick and/or Teresa might, therefore, be inclined to lash out at the poster (i.e. Leigh Butler) who expressed said opposition - or, perhaps, choose to focus, with what she interprets as condescending formality, on a perceived insult rather than on the meat of her argument - and attempted, via aforementioned wish for retention of goodwill, to head such unpleasantness off at the pass.

Leigh Butler furthermore notes that her concern on this matter does not appear to have been misplaced, and regretfully withdraws from further participation in the thread, with the caveat that this is mostly because her computer at home is broken, and she will not be able to see replies to this comment, if any, until Monday, by which time she hopes this will have blown over anyway.

#60 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 09:57 PM:

Gosh, Leigh. I hope you come back. (Or, rather, that your computer lets you come back.) You brought me up short in my fulminations against The Town Of Gretna and made me realize it, well, wasn't an abstraction, but an actual place.

Sometimes, that gets lost.

#61 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 10:22 PM:

There isn't any way to change that wrong reaction for significant numbers of adults on the mutant-guardian side of things, either.

How many reactions do you need to change for it to be significant? The social and sexual lifestyle rebellions of a minority, in the '60s, had a significant ripple effect on the "silent majority" reaction to the notion of "living in sin." The ripple effect was abetted by viability of the entertainment media of the time -- for artists to spread good evangelical art into a wide number of niches.

Relaxing the rigidity of "family values" in American life isn't the same thing as erasing racism. And it's fashionable, now, to bullet-list only the excesses and absurdities of '60s lifestyle rebellion (and the accompanying art). I'm just having a [characteristic] reaction to the idea that there's never any way to change the responses of a significant number of adult mutant-guardians.

Maybe kids can get change started, sometimes, with a litle help from their friends?

#62 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 10:27 PM:

Leigh, yes please, do come back. No great offense taken!

"while neither Patrick nor Teresa had said these things specifically, Leigh Butler construed from the context and tone of the original post (e.g., such widely-inclusive phrases as 'the people of Gretna, Louisiana have behaved as selfishly as any gangster'), and lack of dissent expressed following the comments herein referred, that they might not necessarily be in disagreement with such sentiments...

I just want to say, once again, that I often get behind on the Many Threads of Making Light, and that nobody should ever conclude that I agree with something because I wasn't along to disagree with it in a timely fashion.

Perhaps I could write a script to post that every fifty posts or so.... :-)

#63 ::: Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 10:27 PM:

I still think that the town council and the local paper should get a lot of letters quoting Matthew 25.

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 10:38 PM:

And for those who are expecting the Second Coming Real Soon Now, I would add Matthew 24:35-36.

#65 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 10:41 PM:

Thanks to my defenders.

Pericat, you're both right and wrong about Oklahoma. Geographically it's part of the Plains States, but politically and socially the eastern half of it is southern. This isn't just my theory (though I've said it for a long time). Check out the map here. Eastern Oklahoma, where I grew up, and the area around NOLA have a really similar culture in some ways. And I have blood relatives who've lived there all their lives who still talk about how much they hate nggrs.

And I never, at any point, suggested the south has a lock on racism. I've lived in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, California, and Washington and I know better. The areas I haven't lived in I mostly visited; I know what I'm talking about; I wouldn't dare open my mouth here otherwise. They aren't Other, they are me and my family and the people I grew up with. I never said, or even thought the South had a monopoly on racism, but suggesting I did so makes a handy strawman to engage with don't it? Suggesting that the South doesn't have a monopoly on biogtry in no way invalidates what I did say.

MKK

#66 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 10:58 PM:

I wish it wasn't illegal to go into someone else's (Gretna's) Web site and change the verbage. That mission statement needs some drastic fact-changing. GRR.

#67 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 11:35 PM:

Leigh -- don't go away mad. When you read this -- perhaps sooner than Monday? -- you'll know that no one intends to disrespect you or your family. Among the 17,000 people in Gretna there are surely good and loving people who are horrified by their city council and their mayor.

#68 ::: Concerned Lurker ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 11:41 PM:

Before everybody goes down that road of how evil conservatives and republicans are, you might want to check out this link:

http://www.sec.state.la.us/cgibin/?rqstyp=COMP2&rqsdta=26

And look closely at the party affiliations of at least the mayor and chief of police of Gretna. No, really. Just look.

#69 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 11:43 PM:

Lurker, no one has mentioned Republicans in this thread, except you.

#70 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2005, 11:49 PM:

Indeed not. Anyone who thinks it's a big shocker that Democrats can be bastards probably needs one of those guides-to-breathing that Teresa was writing about.

#71 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:01 AM:

One thing that has not yet been touched on but I think should be, is the reaction of the National Guard, Army troops who finally came to the convention center and the Superdome. From what I have read (and I have to say, I have been rather obsessively reading the web these days). the soldiers who have been interviewed were expecting outright nasty, rebellious behavior on the part of those they were feeding, guarding and evacuating. And every interview I read ended up with a surprised GI saying how quiet and well behaved they were. While I am sure that going w/o food and water from Mon to Friday can tone things down a bit, I would point out that most of the folks that were left to evacuate were overwhelmingly old, young, and women. I think the rumors of violence that reached a crescendo pitch during the midst of the tragedy were fed and magnified by fear of the sort we see fully displayed before us in Gretna.

Let us try to, in the future, tame this evil savagery. Else it will destroy us.

#72 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:11 AM:

Mary Kay,

You said "In the south, the social contract doesn't apply to nggrs."

Tell that to all of those in the South who *have* opened their homes and communities to evacuees.

Maybe you didn't suggest the South has a lock on racism, but it can certainly be read that you suggested everybody in the South believes "the social contract doesn't apply to nggrs." That thousand-mile-wide brush painting all Sthrnrs as having identical beliefs is what many object to. It smacks of yet another form of "those people."

I won't say there's not room for hyperbole, and I actually agree with your point, but I would have agreed more wholeheartedly if you'd been more precise in your application of it.

Like after the election (during the redstate/bluestate discussions), I keep thinking: in their current heartsick condition, should Southern liberals, who already often feel ostracized by geographic neighbors because of politics, also have to feel ostracized by political allies because of geography? Or is it time for more of that "why haven't they evacuated" business?

Anyway, this isn't meant to be a bash of any sort, just explanation. And by the way, I lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, as a child (am now in Arkansas, and spent some time in Atlanta), and I agree that Eastern Oklahoma is a very Southernlike region.

#73 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:49 AM:

Joy: I'm finding it very difficult to put into words exactly what I want to say in response to your post. Which suggests to me, knowing myself as I do, you've got a point and I don't want to admit it. Indeed, individual human beings are as capable of greatness of spirit as they are of the opposite. I know and like many folks who live in the south. However I find the overwhelming ethos of the region, especially society's enforcement institutions, to be both opressive and repressive. (I'm trying to avoid the phrase institutionalized racism so we don't get Greg started.) What I see displayed by people is the lack of any significant understanding of their own and their society's attitudes and why it might be necessary to change those attitudes. Not everyone has intellectual curiousity or the desire or leisure for introspection. They carry on as before.

I'm really not terribly reasonable and measured these days myself. New Orleans was a very special place to me and what has been done to it breaks my heart and makes me entirely unreasonable. Which is one way of saying, yeah, you've probably got a point but I don't want to admit it.

MKK

#74 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 01:25 AM:

Mary Kay, I'm not sure that map illustrates your point; it appears to show eastern OK as ideologically aligned with a huge chunk of east Texas and of Arkansas, and with the strip of land along the Gulf Coast, but not with most of the area I think of as "the South".

When I recollect OK, my impression is of people who know somebody who has moved house at least once in their life. People in the South, though, struck me with their "we have always lived here" rootedness. Not "always in this region", or even state or town, but "always in this house". These rooms, this porch, that swingset, this bed. We have always lived here, and done these things in just this way. And whatever I might think about any of it, I might just as well keep my opinion to myself.

#75 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 02:03 AM:

MK and Bill: For the record, I too am from the South. I grew up in Florida and Georgia, and have spent about half of my adult life in Texas (the other half was spent overseas).

MK: I probably took your remarks badly for precisely the reason Joy suggested—-it is very easy for liberals to feel ostracized in the South, and all that red state – blue state nonsense just worsened our sense of isolation. Moreover, Texas1, with the notable exception of Barbara Bush, has demonstrated the inadequacy of the stereotype by opening its arms to the folks from NO. Many are here in Austin, where the city’s response to them has reminded me of why I so love this place. For example: At about midnight on a Friday a week or two ago, a public service announcement crawled across the bottom of my TV screen. The Red Cross was asking for volunteers to help prepare the Convention Center for another group of several hundred people who were going to be arriving NO at 5 a.m. I spent about 20 minutes debating whether to shuck off my exhaustion and go help, then had my mind made up for me when another PSA made its way across the screen. It said, in effect, “Don’t come. We only needed 100 people and 400 have already turned up. Thanks.”

Patrick: My first reaction to your post was that you were right that there were worse kinds of Othering, and that I had succumbed to hyperbole. Now I'm less sure. Discourse fosters the mindsets that allow for really terrible actions. Pace. I'm not suggesting that I expect Mary Kay to start hunting her Southern kin, but discourse does play a significant role in creating and perpetuating cultures.

1 Yes, Texas is not really “the South.” It has a number of distinctive regions, and perhaps only East Texas can really be called “Southern.” But it does seem to get lumped in with the rest of the South in the national (and international) imagination.

#76 ::: Michael Falcon-Gates ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 02:05 AM:
The usual effective way to obliterate cultures doesn't involve obliterating the people; it involves arranging things so their grand children laugh at their views. (Parts of Ontario used to be coated in Orange lodges; something, something I wish was a heck of a lot better studied, caused them to die of embarrassment sometime between 1950 and 1965.)

So, somebody should hire clowns to walk the streets of Gretna, with one in blackface just marching along, and a bunch more dressed as mayor, police chief, etc. all comically panicking at the sight of one of Those People?

#77 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 02:07 AM:

did you know that there still is a FEMA city left over from Hurricane Charley last year? And it looks like the residents are stuck in that hell hole. Lots to look forward to.

FEMA City

#78 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 02:22 AM:

We still had some temporary housing for about ten years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, and it was a much smaller deal than your usual hurricane. You just have to plan on it taking a long time. Of course, that requires planning.

#79 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 02:28 AM:

When I recollect OK, my impression is of people who know somebody who has moved house at least once in their life. People in the South, though, struck me with their "we have always lived here" rootedness.

Depends who you knew in OK. It's a big state. Most of my relatives live within 30 miles of where they were born/grew up. Most of the people I went to high school with are still there. Oklahoma is a relatively new state it's true, but there's a lot of rootedness. Were you, by chance, in south central OK? That'd be near a great big army post...

MKK

#80 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 04:44 AM:

Leigh, I'm pretty sure that you're referring to my idea of sending a postcard to the residents of Gretna with the passage of Matthew on it as "hate mail." I am surprised at being misunderstood that way. I think what happened was shameful, but I don't think responding with one of the most compassionate and inclusive passages of the gospels is hate mail.

The reason to mail the entire town, and not just the town council and chief of police is that we live in a representative government. Those actions were taken on the behalf of the people that elected them into office. I know you can't know what somebody will do before you vote for him, but you can know what they did the next time the election comes back around.

What happened was despicable. I want to remind them of that -- preferably in terms which are clear but not accusatory. I thought that verses from Matthew do that beautifully.

I guess I could go hunting for a good quote from Locke, but I don't think that would get explain things as clearly.

(Jeez, for once in my life I quote the Bible with no intended irony, and I get accused of it. A girl can't win for losing around here.)

Seriously, I can't afford to do this by myself, but I'd be willing to throw some money at it if there are other people who would like to help. If you've got an interest, send me email, and I'll start scaring up costs and so on.

Thanks.

#81 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 05:31 AM:

So far as Gretna is concerned, my mind turns to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, but there are empirical reasons for not believing in that sort of religion.

Forced evacuation and flooding and blocked exits has a certain symmetry, but there are practical reasons for not wanting a government which does that.

Social pressure sounds good, and so do legal sanctions for those directly involved.

I'm expecting the price of real estate all over the region (except for what's right on the coast) to go up. It will depress me if Gretna real estate goes up significantly more.

However, considering that people generally in the South, the rest of the US, and the world have been willing to help New Orleans evacuees, I don't think Gretna is a central reflection of current culture.

I was hideously embarrassed by Abu Graib--it seemed to me that some very large proportion of Americans believe that if you're accused, you're guilty and if you're guilty, you deserve what happens to you.

There is no evidence that a large proportion of Americans wanted FEMA and Homeland Security to fuck up.

I haven't been keeping up with Making Light. Has anyone brought up the ninth commandment, the one against bearing false witness? Part of what happened in Gretna was the result of rumors that N.O. refugees were extremely violent, rumors which turned out to be exaggerated. It seems to me that the Ninth gets less attention than most of the other commandments, but it's a very important rule for making people tolerable to live with.

Graydon, here's a notion. IIRC, the USSR put map production under their security department. The result was that people had very few maps, and what they had included false information. After looking at how FEMA under Homeland Security has performed, perhaps there's a clue that life support organizations should not be put under security organizations.

#82 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 07:49 AM:

Nancy --

Most things described as security organizations are really secrecy organizations, and as such function extremely poorly as security organizations.

Security is about making the wrong thing hard to do; that usually involves -- not absolutely always, but usually -- making Do the Right Thing easy to do. That involves making nearly all information widely available.

Secrecy organizations derive power from making it hard to know what to do, so you have to both rely on them to tell you what to do and accept what you are told.

Secrecy organizations are a terrible, terrible way to handle actual emergencies.

#83 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 08:23 AM:

Graydon, it's a good point about what's labeled as security organization frequently being secrecy organizations.

That being granted, what would you commend as actual security organizations? If most "security organizations" are actually secrecy organizations, doesn't that make it even more urgent not to put life support under anything that's labelled a security organization?

#84 ::: Concerned Lurker ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 08:56 AM:

Indeed there has been an implicit assumption throughout this thread that the behavior of the Gretna police and government was motivated by the politics of the religious right. Lizzy Lynn posted a link to that effect, and although she admits it's not directly related, the idea is there in the dozens of posts that advocate quoting bible passages at the supposed hypocritical southern religious bigots of Gretna. The fact is the behavior was motivated by fear, not politics. That doesn't make it any better, but it does make it *not* an opportunity to count coup against the political party you dislike, nor against a religious denomination you find distasteful.

#85 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 08:59 AM:

I would say it makes it important to put "succor in disaster" -- 'life support' being a specific medical term of art I'd rather stay away from
-- under the control of actual, rather than feigned, security organizations.

If you want an example of an existing security organization, consider the various governmental weather forecasting services.

They publicize information widely for free (and are being attacked for this by the US neocons); they argue about methods and models in public, in quatified ways subject to falsification; and they save a great many lives and prevent substantial loss of property.

Indeed, one of the reason weather services generally work well is that the subject is much too important to tolerate them not working well.

#86 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 09:27 AM:

"Indeed there has been an implicit assumption throughout this thread that the behavior of the Gretna police and government was motivated by the politics of the religious right. Lizzy Lynn posted a link to that effect, and although she admits it's not directly related"

Nice try, but you can't have it both ways. In fact what Lizzy Lynn said was:

It has nothing directly to do with Gretna but you should read it anyway, because to my mind there is a connection with the nationalism and triumphalism of the religious right and the racist, self-righteous, MEAN attitude of the folks in Gretna.
This is something quite different from the idea, which you claim has been "implicit" hereabouts, that "the behavior of the Gretna police and government was motivated by the politics of the religious right." As you clearly realize, but don't admit, Lizzy's remarks don't actually substantiate your claim, but you hope the rest of us will be foolish enough to buy it anyway.

"[T]he idea is there in the dozens of posts that advocate quoting bible passages at the supposed hypocritical southern religious bigots of Gretna. The fact is the behavior was motivated by fear, not politics. That doesn't make it any better, but it does make it *not* an opportunity to count coup against the political party you dislike, nor against a religious denomination you find distasteful."

It's been pointed out to you before that you're the only person in the thread to characterize this as a matter of political parties. You're still the only person in the thread doing so, and now you're compounding it with a falsehood about "religious denominations."

I wouldn't put up with someone who showed up on Making Light and made demonstrably false factual assertions about the personal lives and history of commenters here. Equally, I'm not going to put up with someone who appears determined to claim that people in a conversation are "counting coup against a political party" when political parties haven't even been mentioned. You are telling lies for sport. You are not welcome to continue.

#87 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:10 AM:

I’m at least twelve hours late making this point (darn time difference!), but in relation to civil rights violations, I don’t think it would be stretching a point too much to characterize the Gretna police action as false imprisonment. If you’ve only got one feasible route out of a place and somebody intentionally blocks it, they’re imprisoning you, even if the place in question is as big as a city. If only Louisiana were a common-law state, the victims would have had a tort action going for them, but I would have thought an enterprising federal prosecutor could come up with a workaround here as far as criminal charges were concerned. The Rodney King case springs to mind as a parallel of sorts.

#88 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:12 AM:

I've written the mayor an email. I did my best not to be persuasive rather than hateful. The words "You and all your constituents who agree with you should be ashamed of yourselves" did occur, though. Which is a really bad sentence - I don't know why my sentence structure should get so bad whenever I write an angry letter to a politician. I hit Send, or I would have been fiddling with it all night.

#89 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:15 AM:

Mary Kay, Thanks for not taking my post badly; I worried you might. You wrote: "What I see displayed by people is the lack of any significant understanding of their own and their society's attitudes and why it might be necessary to change those attitudes." Yeah, but as I've learned since I married, changing somebody else's way of thinking or doing things has to go beyond a dopeslap and saying "can't you see how stupid that is?!" And it should include trying to see things from their POV(s) so you know how to communicate with them effectively.

As those attitudes do start to change in subsequent generations (that would be my sister and I and some but certainly not all my cousins), it's nice for the converts to not constantly be told how evil our parents and grandparents were. If I want to hear hellfire and damnation preached, I'll start going to church again. I'd far rather learn to speak about the issues intelligently and in ways that have a chance to reach people (which is why I asked my husband to help me find a good clearinghouse for info on the Katrina response that *wasn't* a liberal blog like Making Light so I could send it to family members and they might actually read more than a few sentences).

#90 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:23 AM:

Concerned Lurker isn't a lurker, either. Concerned Former Lurker wouldn't quite be accurate either - it suggests someone who, having previously only read the community, is now actively participating.

Now, someone who delurks only in order to provoke the community by making misleading statements, ignoring or twisting what other posters/commenters say, diverting the issue? There is a term for that. What was it again? Troll.

#91 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:33 AM:

pericat wrote: "People in the South, though, struck me with their "we have always lived here" rootedness. Not "always in this region", or even state or town, but "always in this house". "

Are you speaking metaphorically? Because most of my sharecropper forebears didn't own a house, but tended to move quite a lot. My mother's parents originally came to Arkansas from Mississippi to find work, picking cotton. IIRC, they moved to California briefly during WWII, to find work in the shipyards, I think, since Grandpa was too old to fight. After the war they settled back here in Hot Springs and at some point were able to buy some land and build a house.

My dad's family came from South Carolina and Georgia and also tended to move a lot--to wherever there was work, which usually meant crops. His parents did buy 10 acres out in the sticks during the war, and they built a log house there. They built a slightly better house upslope from that one in the mid-60s, and that log house was torn down a few years ago, but my grandparents lived on the property until they died. On the other hand, their siblings were spread all over the state and region.

pericat also wrote, earlier: "I kinda doubt there's anyone in Greta who, if you said "social contract" in their hearing, would have more than the vaguest idea of your meaning."

Come on, now. Do you really believe that? (And what culture is next on our social studies syllabus?) Again, I get that hyperbole is way fun and has its uses, but how does overstating your case to this point help?

Not everybody in Gretna shares a belief system. Not everybody there is uneducated. Not everybody there is right-wing. Not everybody there is white. Not everybody who lives there is even back HOME yet. Not everybody who lives there supports the police chief's action, no matter what the city council thinks or reporters report. But many of the people who are horrified at the cops' behavior have been taught (like good Southern women...and men) not to make waves and won't have an inkling of how to change things. How can we give those people a voice rather than just trashing them as a group? Come up with a way--and put it and the necessary contact info on that postcard, along with a sincere (rather than sarcastic) message "to the good people of Gretna," and you've got a good idea...

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:42 AM:

A quick pass through Google turns up names and addresses of more than 25 churches in Gretna. Maybe if all of those churches had one Sunday devoted to Matthew 25, and its applications in every-day life, the people of Gretna might see what can be done to help others.

On the other hand, I've seen religious conservatives described as "Christian, until they get out to the parking lot".

#93 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:47 AM:

The fact is the behavior was motivated by fear, not politics.

I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea that irrational fear of the other plays no role in modern politics.

It's not working.

#94 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 11:11 AM:

The fact is the behavior was motivated by fear, not politics.

And that makes it acceptable behavior in a reasonably civilized society?

I don't think so.

#95 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:01 PM:

My son has a different characterization for the actions of the Gretna sherriff and the subsequent actions of the city council, and I think he's right, in a way, but it will never be followed up on. He says it amounts to an act of war on the United States -- using armed action to prevent citizens from entering the town -- that is, treason.

In another aspect, it's murder, and they had to know it.

#96 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:16 PM:

I've been thinking about Gretna a great deal in the past few days, and it reminds me of nothing so much as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which the workers were prevented from leaving by locked and incorrectly built doors that the owners KNEW were hazardous, or any of several nightclub fires with similar issues and results. The Gretna police had to know that they were at least condemning the people whose (voluntary, self-motivated) evacuation they blocked to significant hardship, and quite likely, to death. (As Lucy puts it, that's murder.)

The difference between locked doors and police officers, though, is that the officers were capable, in the moment of not only making way, but of escorting or directing the evacuees and refugees in the direction of safety. What's carelessness or greed on the part of the Shirtwaist Triangle owners and their passive blockages was conscious and calculated. That certainly adds a degree of vileness to it, in my view.

It is going to take a very long time for them to earn forgiveness not only for failing a larger civic duty under the guise of maintaining a (misguided) lesser one, but also of knowingly setting about to harm people just because they couldn't be bothered to help them.

#97 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:29 PM:

Joy:
"To the good people of Gretna, greetings.

"Your mayor and city council have betrayed you, the one by acts of deliberate evil, the other by endorsing those acts. Moreover the portrayal in the media has made it seem like a majority of the people of Gretna endorse such action, but of course they only interviewed the people who were back there already.

"It may be that the people in Gretna who do endorse such action outnumber you (note that this missive is NOT addressed to them), but I urge you to put it to the test. You can do this in part by launching a recall drive by petition, to remove the Mayor and the City Council from office.

"If that's not possible for some reason, you can tell everyone you talk to that their actions were despicable and evil. Cease to associate with people who insist on endorsing it. A good person will not have fellowship with any who endorse such callous indifference to human life.

"Write to your state representatives and governor, urging them to take the homes of the mayor and the council through the state's power of eminent domain, and bulldoze them (ideally giving them less than 72 hours to evacuate first). Copy your most local newspaper, and a newspaper with a wider distribution. The politicians probably won't act, but it will express the level of outrage decent moral people such as yourselves feel toward such murderers.

"If you cannot do any of these things, at least make certain none of these detestable individuals ever runs without opposition again, even if you have to run a shoestring campaign yourselves.

"If you're more inclined to speak gently to your less thoughtful neighbors, convincing them will increase your numbers. If they are Christians you can quote Lev. 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:31-46 to them.

"At this point your town is being vilified in every way and in every place, and its name is in danger of becoming a byword for racism, self-righteous hypocrisy, and depraved indifference to human life. You must take timely action if this is to be prevented.

In faith you must surely exist,
[signature]"

How's that? Any tweaks you'd suggest? And do you think we should send it to a local newspaper?

#98 ::: Laina ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:42 PM:

Did anyone else read far enough into the article to see this?

Gretna is not the only community that views New Orleans with distrust. Authorities in St. Bernard Parish, to the east, stacked cars to seal roads from the Crescent City

It's easy for me to say what I would have done, but I wasn't there, trying to protect a town that had no power, water or food - according to the article, and presumably suffering from pretty limited communications. You have to get to the 2nd screen of the article to read...

Not sure how to feed even their own residents, Gretna officials were overwhelmed by New Orleans' evacuees. They organized bus caravans Aug. 31 to take the arrivals to Metairie, 16 miles away, where a food and water distribution center had been set up.

The evacuees waited for rides out of Gretna at the foot of the bridge, across the street from Oakwood Mall. As the hours ticked by and the crowd swelled, trouble began, Gretna authorities said.

Sometime on Wednesday, Aug. 31, a fire broke out in the mall, next to the local branch of the sheriff's office, and police chased suspected looters out of the building.

Mayor Harris had had enough. He called the state police.

"I said: 'There will be bloodshed on the west bank if this continues,' " Harris recalled. " 'This is not Gretna. I am not going to give up our community!' "

The following morning, Gretna's police chief made his decision: Seal the bridge.

So instead of walking through Gretna, it sounds like everyone was stopping there waiting for buses to evacuate further. I'm beginning to think that none of this is as simple as it seemed at first.

#99 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:51 PM:

My long list of crochets, all come together in one response. Is this what they call a "stance"?

"Do they not understand that in the real world, failing to honor the social contract makes them significantly less safe?"

Plainly not. Indeed, that is writ large in the whole history of the region. Myself, I favor Matthew 5:42-48. Maybe we can send the Gretna city council cards with chapter and verse.

"However, those who react as if the beliefs of 17,000 thousand people are all spoken for by the actions of a few - even (or maybe especially) if those few are the elected officials of those people - run the risk of making the exact same mistake they are accusing the people of Gretna of doing."

Then why were these officials elected? It was not a small minority who voted them in, after all. Or...was it?

"Anyone who thinks it's a big shocker that Democrats can be bastards probably needs one of those guides-to-breathing that Teresa was writing about."

This is part of the screaming need for political reform we have; there is simply no way for most people to vote for what they want.

"So, somebody should hire clowns to walk the streets of Gretna, with one in blackface just marching along, and a bunch more dressed as mayor, police chief, etc. all comically panicking at the sight of one of Those People?"

Hey, make fun of them? I like it already. "The devil, proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked."

"(Jeez, for once in my life I quote the Bible with no intended irony, and I get accused of it. A girl can't win for losing around here.)"

Why do you think they crucified Jesus? Compassion is still radical, after 2,000 years.

"I was hideously embarrassed by Abu Graib--it seemed to me that some very large proportion of Americans believe that if you're accused, you're guilty and if you're guilty, you deserve what happens to you."

The presumption of innocence is, in many places, empty words.

"Where do I go to resign from the human race?"

The problem is called samsara, which means "keeping going." Death does not release you.

"There isn't anything, short of road-to-Damascus level conversion experiences, that will change those attitudes in adults."

Do we hope, then, for the second (or fifth, or whateverth) coming?

#100 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 01:16 PM:

How about Proverbs 28:1?

#101 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 02:06 PM:

I love Lydys' idea. And it's important to reach the [presumed to exist] good people of the community to encourage them to disown their [expletive deleted] officials. And maybe there are some Christians who without thinking supported those actions, but could be brought to think by being reminded of the tenets of their own religion.

There's a gated community hereabouts. Has the highest per capita population of registered sex offenders in the state. One is tempted to say couldn't happen to a more deserving crew, but thare are some very nice folk who live there too.

Let's bring in the original context of the code phrase "property rights". In early America, when the Constitution was being written, if someone said "property rights", what were they talking about?

That's right, slavery. Their right to keep their "property" over the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of any other person. [from the excellent book Founding Brothers]

I swear it's the same people who talk about property rights now. Their property rights are supposed to trump all other rights of anyone else.

#102 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 03:38 PM:

Are you speaking metaphorically?

Um, no, I was speaking of my personal experiences, staying with people in their homes, travelling through the region, on numerous occasions in the last thirty years. That's the "struck me" part of the sentence. It is perhaps because I and my family have moved around so much that I notice rooted people more than I might otherwise. I in no way implied I thought it a bad thing, or a hallmark of undesirable qualities or belief systems.

(And yes, Mary Kay, the people I knew in Oklahoma, though they were not themselves in the service, did and I believe still do live in the south central area.)

Come on, now. Do you really believe that?

What else am I to think, given the vocal support of their police firing upon refugees? That they do in fact construe the meaning of the phrase "social contract" to include how they should personally behave toward strangers massed on their doorstep in desparate need of water, food, clothing and shelter, and free passage toward same? I expect they are perfectly nice to each other, and to self-supporting visitors, and give generously to charities. So far, though, from what I've read, Gretna residents do not understand "social contract" to have the meaning I understand it to have.

Not everybody who lives there supports the police chief's action, no matter what the city council thinks or reporters report. But many of the people who are horrified at the cops' behavior have been taught (like good Southern women...and men) not to make waves and won't have an inkling of how to change things. How can we give those people a voice rather than just trashing them as a group?

They are big people. They are grownups, they've been to school, they weren't raised by wolves, and I don't see any call to not treat them the same as everyone else, nor any reason for me to patronize them by treating them as the voiceless oppressed. I do think them capable of giving their own council and police an earful, to the very minor extent that those worthies at the least issue public apologies and promises to do better, etc, if that is in fact what those residents believe.

When I first read of Gretna cops shooting over the heads of refugees on a public road, I thought, "Boy, they're gonna catch hell from that town. No way would any public official in Louisiana condone that." And then what'd I read? "We support our police. They did just what we wanted them to do." I have yet to read, "That was despicable behaviour, and heads are gonna roll if I/we have anything to say about it." When I do read or hear of something along those lines, my opinion of Gretna, and the social conscience of the people who live there, will adjust accordingly.

#103 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 03:41 PM:

Randolph --

No, we don't hope for any divine beings to show up. We try hard to stop using decision making systems that try to optimize moral states, and start optimizing things that are measurable.

This is surprisingly effective if it can be managed.

#104 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 03:58 PM:

Patrick: I just got back to the thread. Thank you for defending my point against Lurker, who felt the need to distort my words in order to protect a political party that wasn't being attacked. I didn't mention it, and without going back to check, I'm pretty sure my fellow posters weren't concerned with political affiliation but with bigotry and lack of compassion. To Lurker I would say: Dude, you're the one who brought that shoe to the ball, not me. Better wear it.

Oh, and if you look at my post you'll see the only institution I actively criticized was [some bishops of] the Catholic Church. You got a problem with that? Tough.

#105 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 04:46 PM:

Xopher,

I like it, for the most part. I think the bulldozing paragraph is a bit strong (there's probably a better use for those houses than bulldozing them, at least?), but even just as it is, it's good.

I don't know that it would get printed, as a letter to the editor. I'd contribute toward placing it as an ad in either whatever local paper might exist (my husband looked online but couldn't find one) and/or the Times-Picayune (my preference; they could use the revenue), if they'd print it. Or towards a mass mailing.

I also wondered if an online website (say: benotforgetful.org or something similar) could be set up for residents of Gretna and the other offending suburbs to sign a petition telling their city council, mayor, and police that they don't support their actions. But I don't know if that could be made to work in any useful way.

Joy

#106 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 04:58 PM:

I'm with Laina. I think this was more complicated than "racist Southern cops shoot in the direction of black people." The Gretna cops may indeed be racist assholes, but that doesn't mean blocking the bridge wasn't a sound decision.

If they had no food, water, or transportation to offer, what were they gonna do? They probably don't have the manpower to keep an eye on another few thousand homeless people. And they didn't have communication to call in for supplies.

I lay this at the feet of FEMA. By Wednesday, there should have been buses at the Convention Center getting people outta there. The failure to do so put everybody here, evacuees and cops alike, into a crappy situation.

#107 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 05:02 PM:

"[...] start optimizing things that are measurable."

This is going to lead to a "road to damascus experience" how? It has to be the other way around; revelation has to come first, then we can agree to do the right thing.

#108 ::: kathy ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 05:13 PM:

my head is exploding. how can a person or a town deny a route to safety to people so horribly harmed? how could this happen?

if gretna didn't think it could absorb the people wanting to escape, why couldn't it have served as a link in the chain of relief?

remember those stories we heard as kids, about bucket brigades? about the underground railroad? about people doing their part to get people to safety?

#109 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 05:16 PM:

Joy, glad you liked it overall. The bulldozing was to get at the "let's see how they react to having THEIR homes destroyed" sentiment. But I wouldn't advocate advocating it if I thought advocating it would make it happen. But that was my first stab at writing it; probably it would need a bunch of editing if we were actually going to publish it somewhere.

Randolph, I don't think so. Revolution begins in the signifier. You change people's minds by getting them (by force of law if necessary) to change their behavior, and they teach their children the required behavior, and the children grow up believing it's right. The road to Damascus experience is a rare thing, and not a good model for the masses.

#110 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 05:32 PM:

Randolph --

My point in mentioning the Road to Damascus experience is to point out that, statistically, adults with that mindset are unrecoverable; one can either expend them, isolate them, or fall back on the aphorism about scientific progress occurring one funeral at a time and generalize it to social progress.

Measurable things are things like requiring mixed schooling across gender, race, and class lines, educating everyone up to the limits of their potential, and writing and enforcing laws that come down like ninety kinds of hammer on fraudulent election practices.

There's a reason the neocons are against public education, educational assistance, and honest elections.

Hamletta --

Gretna may not have had anything to give, but refusing passage is unconscionable, especially if they knew that there was a place with supplies up the road.

#111 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 05:47 PM:

While I sympathize with the sentiment behind it, I think that the idea of a sending a letter to the the "good people" in Gretna is counterproductive. First of all, they aren't children. Anyone who is upset about the actions of their police and council is smart enough to figure out what to do about it. Lecture someone like a 2-year-old and their reaction is likely to be a big "f--- off", whether they agree with your political position or not, because they don't like being patronized.

Secondly, why send the message to the people who are already in agreement with you, anyway? It's the rest that you want to shame.

#112 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 07:00 PM:

enjay, that last bit is just silly. OF COURSE we're trying to shame the others! We address the hypothetical good people as a way of saying "it's not really your fault if you're a good person, and if you're not here's how you'll know."

The rest of your post is worth considering, though. You might be right.

#113 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 09:53 PM:

Gretna may not have had anything to give, but refusing passage is unconscionable, especially if they knew that there was a place with supplies up the road.

Yeah. Sixteen miles up the road. The EMTs said their group included elderly people with walkers and mothers with small children. No way do they need to be hiking 16 miles in 98-degree weather.

The cops did what they could and bused 5000 people out, but they were overwhelmed. They needed help, and it didn't come.

#114 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:12 PM:

hamletta,

I'm afraid I don't understand your point and so you must state it explicitly for me.

Otherwise, I left to believe what you are saying is:

Due to the fact that some people were physically unable to walk 16 miles and others might have required governmental assistance once they had made that trip, the Gretna police were forced to close off access to a bridge by threat of physical force and firearms to those people who were clearly capable of making the 16 mile trek and had already made or were fully capable of making arrangements to leave once they had reached Gretna.

If that's the case, I'm afraid I don't understand why the inability of some to make the trip should disallow anyone from making the trip.

If this is not your position, I would appreciate a clearer exposition of your position.

Thank you.

#115 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:19 PM:

Xopher said: enjay, that last bit is just silly. OF COURSE we're trying to shame the others! We address the hypothetical good people as a way of saying "it's not really your fault if you're a good person, and if you're not here's how you'll know."

I think framing the message as one to "good people" distracts from the shaming. People have an extraordinary ability to disregard messages that don't directly target them.

But completely apart from the issue of what is being said to whom, I think that if you really want to put something in a Gretna paper, some short text (like a quote from the mayor or a passage from the bible) accompanied by one image that reinforces your message (like an image of a mother and kids suffering on that bridge) would be more effective than a longish letter that describes things. That kind of punchy text/image combination gets the message across to someone before they can decide to ignore it. And it can speak both to those you agree with and those you want to shame.

#116 ::: Larry Pfeffer ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:49 PM:

Greeting all,

Warning, Newbie alert:
This thread (and one previous on N.O./Paramedics' experiences/Gretna) are my first exposure to Making Light. Please bear with me.

I would be pleased to add my signature and or some $ to send either the Matthew quote and/or Xopher's letter to Gretna residents. (And to any other towns that acted similarly to people trying to get out of N.O.) My cynical nature has me doubting it'll do much good. But the gesture is still worthwhile. Feel free to email me about how I can assist.

Carrots (and letter to editors, etc.) are nice, as far as they go. Sticks are often more effective. I forsee a different means of changing behavior -- or at least drastically raising the cost to people acting in evil -- or supporting such horrible acts. I'd like to suggest a tactic to the people of New Orleans: *BOYCOTT*

N.O. has a much larger population and economy than Gretna (or it will, I *hope*, after cleanup and rebuilding.) I suspect that Gretna's economy depends far more on N.O than vice versa. Why not use that? It seems reasonable to me that citizens of N.O. and perhaps the N.O. city/Parish governments might decide that, if Gretna blockaded N.O. in time of need, then that basic tactic has already been introduced to the arena.

If so, they can simply refuse to do any business whatsoever with any business or residents in Gretna until there has been (a) a full and very public disavowal of the terrible acts of Gretna's Law Enforcement people and a full retraction of the current Gretna city government's statement supporting those acts. (Turning them out of office would also help, but I don't know whether local laws have provisions for recall.) Similarly, they can un-invite Gretnan's to visit or patronize N.O. businesses (and anything else) in N.O.

If I lived in N.O., once I got back into the city (and back on my feet), I'd do just this on a personal level. I'd also tell all my friends and neighbors. An organized mass movement, either within the N.O. city government or grass-roots-style would likely be more effective than individual's acts.

Collective punishment(!), you cry? Well, I'd add an out: Any person who strongly and *publicly* disavows the actions of Gretna's officials would be welcome. But since talk is cheap, I'd want to see proof, something along the lines of a signature on a recall petition.

Of course, mine is only the opinion of somebody far away from what happened. Still, I hope that the people of New Orleans let the people of Gretna (and any other towns that acted similarly) know that their conduct comes with real costs.

#117 ::: Returned Lurker ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 11:09 PM:

I want to apologize for offending PNH or anyone else on this board. It seemed to me that all the talk of mass mailing bible verses was an attempt to turn a mirror on a putatively conservative and Christian white majority in Gretna. I'm not sure what lies I am supposed to have posted, but I'm sorry for them, too. It's clear to me now that the owners and commenters in this thread merely want to admonish the population and leadership of Gretna, and bring the gospel to them. I didn't realize there was so much evangelical sentiment around here, so you can probably see how I misinterpreted this. As a caveat, I would say that most people don't respond well to this kind of proselytizing, and that personal witness and example are far more effective. Please, do carry on.

PS I seem to have been accidentally banned. I'm pretty sure that the blog owners advocate free speech and dissent, so I'm sure it must have been an accident. But if you don't find me posting around here again, I guess that would be why. Getting around IP blocks is not really that hard, but it's not worth my time.

#118 ::: Phil! Gregory ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 12:09 AM:

Mark Wise:

Business owners on International Drive in Orlando nixed light rail. One of the rumored reasons was that, "... it would allow an undesirable element into the area."

This is, sadly, a common argument used against rail transit (and sometimes even against buses). While there is an argument to be made from the standpoint of crime rates (statistically speaking, there *is* a correlation between rail transit linking "poor" and "rich" areas and an increased crime rate in the rich area), such transit links also bring large increases in commerce, generally more than offsetting the measurable costs associated with crime.

On top of that, especially in cities like my current home, Baltimore, where a large number of city inhabitants are black, it's sometimes had not to see claims about "undesirables" in racial terms. (And I have seen exactly those complaints about proposed new transit service in the region.)

Sorry. Public transit is one of my triggers, since I lived carless for several years in a city (Baltimore) with a barely-useful public transit system.

#119 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 01:17 AM:

Graydon -- Being culturally deprived, I had to Google to find out what an Orange Lodge was. And I still don't know where you are getting the "guardian idea" "trader idea" memes. Could you point me at the source? It seems interesting. I've been following the terms "image-correcting" vs. "image-defending" (applying to how cultures and individuals handle their world-views) back to C. A. Hilgartner -- http://www.hilgart.org/ -- who has some interesting things to say on the subject, though he seems at times to blame it all on Indo-European grammer.

#120 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 02:33 AM:

I think framing the message as one to "good people" distracts from the shaming.

I agree. Mock them all and let the Flying Spaghetti Monster decide which ones to throw into the beer volcano. I'm sorry. If I have to live down Lyndie England for the rest of my life— even though it's hard to see what else I could have done to try to prevent her and her playmates from having any chance of doing something so awful as what she did— then "the good people of Gretna" are just going to have to suck it up and take another one for the team on this horrible atrocity too.

It sucks to be them, but then we've all got bags to lug around nowadays, don't we?

#121 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 07:18 AM:

Don --

The original of those ideas (or, at least, that way of categorizing those ideas, an awareness of the split in beliefs about right conduct is at least seventeenth century) is Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival. It's in print, so easy to get. (Of her other works, Cities and the Wealth of Nations I regard as indespensable.)

While there's a lot that can be blamed on Indo-European grammar, I don't believe that the assumption of cataclysm necessarily stems from it any more than from Abrahamic monotheism. I think that one -- often reproduced independently in human history -- is simply a good-odds case of how the human brain drops back and punts when faced with an unknowable future.

The obligation to adhere to an ideal, contrasted to the obligation to not make things worse, is I think an instructive cultural comparison in general. And, thinking about it, pretty darn instructive in the case of Gretna, too.

#122 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 08:44 AM:

Now that tthe townspeople of Gretna have been thoroughly condemned, can we get on with trying to help people?

#123 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 09:10 AM:

Kathryn, I just got back from putting my kid on the plane to Montgomery (which is where the Red Cross is sending him, because the feds are still not letting the Red Cross into New Orleans). I've sent some money around. I've added to the conversation about what comes next.

What's next?

#124 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 01:16 PM:

I've got this Fire Department in Abita Springs, LA across the lake from NOLA that needs material support. They need a volunteer cook, and a bunch of other stuff, like 2 washing machines and dryers. I'm trying to hook them up with a Westchester volunteer fire department that can help them. I'm sure there are lots of other little towns with similar needs, but I'm sure they could use more.

Yes, the feds have shut a lot of help out of NOLA, but there are plenty of places that need help.

#125 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 01:18 PM:

(For details of the wish-list, email me at kathryn.cramer@gmail.com.) Some of the stuff seems to me like it is best provided by people within driving distance, which we in the NE aren't really.

#126 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 01:22 PM:

j h woodyatt wrote: "If I have to live down Lyndie England for the rest of my life— even though it's hard to see what else I could have done to try to prevent her and her playmates from having any chance of doing something so awful as what she did— then "the good people of Gretna" are just going to have to suck it up and take another one for the team on this horrible atrocity too."

But that's just it. When we vilify the entire citizenry, there IS a risk of creating a sense of "team" among them. Better to drive a wedge, and as Xopher said (I think), by addressing your message to the "good people" you have the opportunity to both humiliate the folks who back the cops and to appeal to the better natures of those who don't or aren't sure. And while it may seem patronizing to anyone who has any level of political sophistication, it may be simply educational to those who are truly unaware of how to object in a meaningful way.

The throw-them-all-to-the-wolves approach strikes me as a similar type of thought process as that the Gretna police chief must have undergone when he decided not only to block the bridge but also to not continue to send buses across to ferry the evacuees to a safer area.

Might it be better to disabuse than abuse those who might be unsure how to react?

#127 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 01:22 PM:

I will second Larry Pfeffer's suggestion for an economic boycott of Gretna. A concrete means of showing disapproval of the city's actions.

#128 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 01:36 PM:

The comment I posted above was originally considerably longer, but kept being denied "for questionable content". I think that's a first for me.

Left me scratching my head, too. Wasn't the reference to "Sodom and Gommorah" because I tried deleting that first. And nothing else seemed like it would be objectionable. (I don't think the God In The Machine is smart enough to realize that quoting the lyrics to "Town Without Pity" was probably a violation of copyright.)

#129 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 01:42 PM:

Regarding the fire department I mentioned, no sooner did I post my comment than I got an email saying that they'd been able to locate everything they needed.

#130 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 03:27 PM:

If there is one thing we should have learned from the last century or two of child-rearing practices, it is that direct shaming does not work. Or rather, it is not an effective way of modifying behavior to get a single desired result. It "works" pretty well to have all kinds of other unpredictable effects, most of them undesirable, long-lasting, and transmissible to the children of the "recipient". This is even more true with adults than with children.

If one desired goal is to make many of the people of Gretna seethe with rage at all the outsiders who weren't there and think they know better and to vote for the next candidate who says their city did the right thing and he'll stand up for Gretna's identity, then sure, shaming will do great.

If the desired goal is to make people search their souls, or even to make them feel ashamed, forget shaming. I think Graydon's long post is on the right track. (I have heard a very interesting story as to why antisemitism among Catholics dropped so much from the 1960s on, but I'm not sure it has direct applicability.)

#131 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 04:09 PM:

Clifton, talk like that can get you called some interesting things by some of the folks who post here. (not all, mind you, but some).

#132 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 04:11 PM:

(I have heard a very interesting story as to why antisemitism among Catholics dropped so much from the 1960s on, but I'm not sure it has direct applicability.)

I would be very interested in that story.

#133 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 04:22 PM:

Greydon -- Thanks! I have Googled on Systems of Survival and have been reading reviews, and will be reading the book (and probably Jacobs' other books). This viewpoint seems useful. Recent posts on the relation of The Charge of the Light Brigade to purchase of military commands, on "stupidity" rising to the top in "honor-based" societies, and on HMOs come to mind. And remarks about the "free market" being great for efficientcy and terrible for... I forget the term, but something implying compassion or maintaining society should fit. Also found an argument for a third ethical system -- http://www.nanotech-now.com/Chris-Phoenix/diverse-ethics.htm -- which is clamed to date from computer technology, but I would place it as being much older. "Image-correcting" vs. "image-defending" doesn't seem to me to map to Guardian vs. Trading, though I suspect that there may be a slew that way, so I need to let it stew in my brain. The territory is always so much more complicated than the maps, and picking good feature boundries and codings is tricky. -- Don

#134 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 05:47 PM:

Phil, can you please direct me to the studies in which a correlation between mass-transit between economically divergent neighborhoods and increased crime rates is noted? I ask because I actually did a paper on the subject of the effect of new mass transit construction on communities, and found only three studies on the subject, all conducted by the same researcher, and all noting a very slight increase in crime rates, but not enough to justify the amount of panic that usually accompanies the announcement of new transit construction.

Greg, I agree that direct shaming isn't going to work. In fact, had you read my comment closely, you would have seen that I asked if the act of punishing an indivdual (shaming constitutes a form of punishment) would actually change that individual's mind, or whether it would make him more angry and possibly more subtle.

As for Jane Jacobs, she is quite brilliant and I highly recommend her work, even if I think The Death and Life of Great American Cities is ripe for an update.

#135 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 06:00 PM:

Don --

The reason you (and every other literate adult alive) need to read Stafford Beer is that he'll take that axiom about the efficiency of markets and leave it as rigorous, quantified, falsifiable -- but not falsified -- dust.

Markets -- even when they get to cheat and define the type of efficiency, which they ought not to be allowed to do -- are not in any way reliably efficient. They're machines for maximizing profit over time.

Greg --

The analogy breaks down, because hardly anyone -- there are a few, but a very few -- disagrees that causing harm to children is axiomatically wrong.

#136 ::: rob loftis ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 06:37 PM:

I sent a fax with the matthew quote to the mayor of Gretna, and received a long personal phone call from him fifteen minutes later. My notes from the conversation are at my blog, here

http://helpychalk.blogspot.com/2005/09/skynyrd-did-what-they-could-do.html

Now I'll go back and read the comments about whether shaming does any good.

#137 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 06:53 PM:

rob; Wow, that's quite an account. And I agree wholly with your conclusion (Too small an idea who "his people" are).

Yet, oddly, I still want to help send Xopher's letter (Or a rewrite thereof) to a public paper. The people of the town who aren't sure about this action may still read and think about this in a way the mayor -- who is definitely one of those who most has to justify himself and make excuses -- won't.


Clifton: Good post. Ignore Greg.

#138 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 07:02 PM:

Greydon -- So I Googled on Stafford Beer. He is definitely in the image-correcting camp. More reading! Well, if the worst I can say about Making Light is that it makes me want to spend even more time learning things.... -- Don

#139 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 07:02 PM:

dozens of posts that advocate quoting bible passages at the supposed hypocritical southern religious bigots of Gretna.

You're making a rather remarkable leap, here, about my beliefs, and if you'd been following the blog, Teresa's entry in reference to that passage had nothing of the accusatory polaraity that you are assigning to my idea.

I'm not a Christian. One point to you. However, there's a lot to be said for speaking to people in their own language. Americans, by and large, identify as Christian. Moreover, if what I've read and heard about the South is correct, the cultural influence of Christianity is even stronger there. I have a lot of respect for vast swaths of Christianity, both the contents of the Bible and the community of the (saved, church going, um, I'm not finding a good term here. At least, not a non-denominational term. Sorry.)

The passage in Matthew that I want to quote is one that I agree with strongly. It is a statement of the social contract which I consider vital to civilized life. I am keenly aware of the fact that it wasn't the entire population of Gretna that stood on that bridge and shot at refugees, some of whom were dying. If this was all about money or fear, it seems to me that a reminder that money and fear are not the only things that should have been a concern on that day is an important message. I think that asking Christians to at least consider their faith in light of events within the world is a good thing.

I certainly hope that the hypocrites amongst them would be embarrassed by such a messagge. Embarrassment is an appropriate (and mild) response to the actions taken on the behalf of their community. I hope that the people who just didn't think about it in spiritual terms are jogged into doing so. I hope that the righteous would be given a jog in the direction of publically deploring those actions. I hope the non-Christians like me would not become holier-than-thou, although I suspect that would be one of the nasty side effects. I consider it to be a small enough one to risk.

I'm aware that the postcards might, instead, generate a great deal of rage because "someone is mocking their religion." *Shrug* I don't know what to do about recalcitrant hypocrites.

I do find it distressing, though, to be told that quoting the Bible is hate mail. Has it truly come to this, that in order to be righteous, a person must not only be a Christian, but of the correct political ideology? Has Christianity become so polarized that not even the belief in God's grace can bridge the gap?

#140 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 07:57 PM:

Quoting bible passages at people generally just pisses them off. I know it does with me, especially since everyone cherrypicks the passages that back up whatever point they want to make and ignore all the embarrassing and/or insane quotes.

Also, as much as it's satisfying to yell "Wicked! Wicked! Fie! For shame!" at the sheriff of Gretna and assorted council folk, this is conveniently ignoring the fact that bridges have two ends and police generally have radios. And while I cannot point to any census data to back this up, I think it's a safe bet to say that the New Orleans police department is substantially larger than that of Gretna. Do you think, if the NOPD had really WANTED all those people to leave over the bridge, that the Gretna police department would have been in any position to stop them?

If we're going to chastise people with bible quotes, I'm thinking that Bush and "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie" Brown are a bit more deserving, since it seems that the NOPD were told to tell people to got to the convention center and the Superdome to wait for busses that didn't come.

If you look at the story about the two conventioneers from SF, you'd note that the completely habitable New Orleans hotels were allowed to turn people out onto the streets and lock their doors as well. Are they less to blame than Gretna? Or more, because if they'd absorbed cities refugees until the busses finally showed up, they'd have only been out a few easily replaceable hotel fixtures?

#141 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 08:01 PM:

Has it truly come to this, that in order to be righteous, a person must not only be a Christian, but of the correct political ideology? Has Christianity become so polarized that not even the belief in God's grace can bridge the gap?

For some of them, the answer is yes. There were people where I lived in West Texas who wouldn't go to a genealogy meeting (secular) at the local college because it was a church-based school from a different church. I think that's extremely narrow, but I don't belong to either of those churches. The more conservative (or sometimes evangelical) churches seem to be worse in this way.

#142 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 08:45 PM:

Rob, thanks for your talk w/ the mayor of Gretna. I hope he reads your account and realizes that you tried to render his position as faithfully as you could.

When I was in church today listening to what I considered an inane sermon (so many of them seem to be lately for me...) I thought about how to approach this in what for me would be a 'Christian' way. And I think that it would be to recognize that I too, if placed in as desperate and dire a circumstance as the people of Gretna and New Orleans were, that if I were on the Gretna side of the bridge, that I, too, could have fired the shotgun over their heads to keep them out. I possess within myself that same fear of others that, unless consciously dealt with, could cause me to engage in the same shameful behavior.

When Christ was on the cross, he did not, in his extremity of suffering, pull back into hatred and anger. He was able to look down on those who were thoroughly and horribly killing him (crucifixion victims die of suffocation which is a long unspeakable torture), and ask G*d to forgive them. THAT is the ideal. That is what we are to strive for, to drop our defenses and let in our neigbors, even in the most extreme of situations. The story of the good samaritan also comes to mind here.

At any rate, I wish someone at church would give a sermon based on that. I wouldn't fall asleep I can tell you that.

#143 ::: Cameelle ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 10:39 PM:

Call me stupid but, if I had the supplies *and* the shotguns, wouldn't I be the one to say "Here is the water we have available. We do not have more. Here is your route to where there is more. Here is your route to buses that may or may not appear. We do not mean to be inhospitable but we have no idea how many evacuees are coming and we have limited space, so those gentlemen in blue will guide you along the first leg of your walk. Good luck on your journey." A bit on the curt side, but at least it would have kept people moving to shelter while maintaining a secure presence for the town. Would that have answered every problem? No, but it may have eased a few.

#144 ::: rob loftis ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 10:48 PM:

Cameelle: As I understand it from talking to the mayor and reading the newspaper reports, that was their original strategy. They had a bus station set up as an interim holding site, and were trying to get people through their community as quickly as possible.

Then there was a fire in a shopping mall near the bus station, and they panicked, and stopped taking in refugees altogether, worried that they did not have the manpower to sustain even a transfer through the city.

At least that is the impression I've gotten. I haven't seen a full fledged chronology yet.

#145 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 11:18 PM:

"I'm sorry for them, too. It's clear to me now that the owners and commenters in this thread merely want to admonish the population and leadership of Gretna, and bring the gospel to them. I didn't realize there was so much evangelical sentiment around here, so you can probably see how I misinterpreted this. As a caveat, I would say that most people don't respond well to this kind of proselytizing, and that personal witness and example are far more effective."

We are largely in agreement. Though many of us are not members of christian churches we agree with the cited passages. The cites are more an expression of frustration than an action plan. The reality, of course, is that it is terribly hard to make the case for the plain sense of the synoptic gospels and we are discussing ways to do so.

#146 ::: kathy ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 11:58 PM:

rob -- a remarkable conversation. he certainly sounds overwhelmed, and you are so right -- he has such a narrow view of who "his people" are.

i'm kind of astonished at how he seems to focus on how people didn't die "on the bridge." that suggests none of it is his problem, so long as they didn't make it over the bridge [or die on the bridge].

on the other hand, he had the sense at the beginning to comandeer busses and start an evacuation. that is something -- more than most communities or the feds can claim.

this is totally hindsight from far away, but i wonder about two things:

[1] since he had the guts and the power to get some evacuation busses running -- how come he couldn't get other communities to do the same? to take evacuees farther from harm and to communities that were not so immediately affected?

i admit ignorance of the geography and the politics, but gretna is apparently on a major road out of NO, and presumably there are other towns up the road. even if phones were out, couldn't he have sent messengers by car to other places to get help? [maybe the "pony express" method of communication is something we need to keep in mind for future emergencies...]

[2] no matter how stressed they were about floods of desperate people on busses, it is flat wrong to deny access to people finding their way out of a disaster zone on their own. just wrong.

and of course there is the big question, the one gretna couldn't possibly handle if it tried: [3]where the hell was the cavalry? the security, food, water, transportation, medical care? FEMA, homeland security, the national guard, the red cross -- all the departments and organizations that could have helped....

here in california, they tell us to be prepared to be on our own for 3 days if "the big one" hits, because emergency crews will be busy tending to those more needy. what would we do if everything was gone for weeks? what would we do if we couldn't even hike out of harm's way, should it come to that, because people with guns would not let us pass?

that is the horrible part of the story -- not that gretna couldn't absorb all the evacuees, but that they wouldn't allow and try to ease the passage.

#147 ::: Lydy ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 12:09 AM:

I gotta ask, though, even if you're frightened, wouldn't any of the citizens of Gretna volunteer to drive the old, the young, and the sick sixteen miles to help? I know communications were probably in a shambles, but didn't anybody show up and ask how they could help? That seems very unlikely, to me.

And the mayor said they got water back very quickly. Given running water, I can think of an easy dozen ways to get water to the most vulnerable. I can come up with an easy half-dozen ways to get a limited amount of water to the rest of the people camped there. And probably one or two ways to get a sufficiency of water to the refugees. In a lot of ways, Gretna's troubles appear to be built around a serious lack of creativity.

#148 ::: Lydy ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 12:12 AM:

Ok, I surrender. Elegant as the postcard would be, it would be misunderstood by too many people.

On the other hand, I think that: So, somebody should hire clowns to walk the streets of Gretna, with one in blackface just marching along, and a bunch more dressed as mayor, police chief, etc. all comically panicking at the sight of one of Those People? would be bloody brilliant. I love political street theatre, and that's pointed, edgy, and if done well, extremely funny.

#149 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 12:54 AM:

Rob Loftis,

Awesome job, man.

It seems that he has Gretna-wide blinders on. He took care of "his" and screw everyone else. he also seemed to have bridge-blinders on, given how emphatic he was pointing out that no one died "on the bridge". I can only assume that some of the emails he recieved took the story of "shots fired over heads" and turned it to "shots fired" and turned into "shots fired into crowd". But he's clueless about the repercussions of sending people back into that hellhole with no food or water.

How much emergency training can some councilman or policeman in a city of 17,000 get anyway? This is Barney Fife and Otis as mayor.

But he's gretna local government, and he served his voters' direct interests, so may very well be rewarded come election time, assuming the people of gretna have similar "we've got ours" blinders on.

#150 ::: kathy ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 01:06 AM:

maybe the awful truth is that we all have to hope for barney fife as our local government -- and figure ways to enlist him in what is truly needed. barney was easily swayed, as i recall.

holy cow. i never would have thought that the primitive sitcoms of my youth could have provided actual guidance in an emergency. except for gilligan's island, of course. (professor; 3,000 trunks of clothing and food; radio powered by converted bicycle; etc. we should all have those handy in an emergency.)

#151 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 01:35 AM:

In thinking about this, I'd like to be Ray Nagin just long enough to have the last 300 or so feet of the Gretna bridge road bed torn up, you know, for repairs, and left that way until, well, hell froze over.

Don't want big city problems? Fine, don't have any big city economy. Welcome to the world you wanted.

#152 ::: Cameellie ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 01:55 AM:

Lydy, I think you have nailed the issue. Because Gretna's powers couldn't think of a creative constructive response, they believed that the evacuees would be as destrutive-thinking as them. What a shame. What a pity. I thought Americans were an inventive people. Tsk, tsk.

#153 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 02:03 AM:

Part of law enforcement training is supposed to be emergency preparedness. I don't think small town gets you off the hook. I don't know who Barney Fife and Otis are, but I'm guessing they're some hayseed caricatures from an old sitcom.

I don't think it's right to excuse people by belittling them. Fact is, Gretna is part of the modern world, in which we ought to acknowledge that our neighborhood is more than a few blocks long (and includes, ultimately, the whole world), and some people there just screwed up. That's all. They did the wrong thing, more than once.

"This American Life" which I can only hear in the car so I only got to hear part of it, had some more really fine Katrina stuff. A woman was talking about the fine people of Baton Rouge, who were doing wonderful things for the people displaced from New Orleans but were getting kind of frayed around the edges and kind of scared and overwhelmed. She said something like they were paying their hotel bills with one hand and the other hand was holding a gun (defensively, she meant).

Now that's what I expect, honestly: a mixture of attitudes and behaviors, and people rising to the heights of neighborliness at the very same time as they're cowering in the depths of racism (and class hatred, too, which, as I say over and over, is inextricable from the other).

#154 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 10:02 AM:

Sometimes my reaction to some atrocious actor is "that poor bastard". I get that knee-jerk of sympathy for the mayor of Gretna. Doesn't excuse him one iota, but still: That poor bastard.

#155 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 12:32 PM:

As someone who was vehemently arguing that we didn't have the full story and we didn't know what they were thinking and we needed to abstain from making judgments about the folks in Gretna in an earlier comment thread last week... I was officially wrong in giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Well, I hold that I was right to give them the benefit of the doubt, but they have used up the benefit.

I feel really angry and really sad, and more than anything else, I want to hold that in memory, so that if I'm ever in a position where I have to either react with fear or react with charity, I can remember to react with charity. I'd love to think that I would do so already, but I'm reminded of the examples given in my Intro to Psych class, where volunteers posed as homeless-looking people lying unconscious outside the door to a seminary classroom on the day that a bunch of seminary students were set to give practice sermons relating to the story of the Good Samaritan. If I recall correctly, not many seminary students stopped to check on the unconscious person in the rags lying near the doorway, even as they were on their way to give a practice sermon about stopping along the way to help those in need.

So I try to bear that story in mind whenever I pass somebody stuck on the highway without another car there to help them. Now I can remember the people of Gretna, too.

#156 ::: Bridget Coila ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 01:57 PM:

So why dont we focus on the positive communities...like the one that evacuated 5000 refugees of all races who fled New Orleans into their nearby community. This town accepted these refugees for as long as they could, commandeered as many buses as they could, and then bused 5000 people out over the Causeway out of the city, only stopping when they ran out of fuel.
This happened while they had a diesel spill contaminating their own water supply, criminals setting fire to buildings and shooting at the cops and at the refugees coming into the community, and hurricane damage of their own. This town also had gotten no support from the federal govt or the red cross at the time.
Only when the criminals began to shoot at the refugees and this small community police force could no longer keep them safe did they block off their borders with strong regret.

What community was this?
GRETNA

It is sad that people jump on the bandwagon to vilify a commnuity before getting all of the facts.

#157 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 02:05 PM:

I remember once finding a guy passed out in the middle of a parking lot at 1 AM. I ran and found a cop, only to discover that I'd found someone who was passed out drunk, and the cop was only going to take him to the drunk tank. Since that experience, I've had a more jaundiced eye towards people passed out the sidewalk.

Refugees from a natural disaster are another matter, of course.

#158 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 02:24 PM:

Patrick says:

Leigh, yes please, do come back. No great offense taken!

Okay!

Now to round up a little:

kate says:

You brought me up short in my fulminations against The Town Of Gretna and made me realize it, well, wasn't an abstraction, but an actual place.

Thank you for saying so.

It's very odd for me to read this entire thread and see people who, before a couple of weeks ago, would never even have heard of Gretna, talking about it. Leaving aside the charges actually under discussion, I have to point out that I, and as far as I am aware most citizens of New Orleans, have never regarded Gretna as being a separate city per se. Insofar as anyone gave it any thought at all, Gretna is part of the Westbank, which is residential spillover from New Orleans proper and therefore basically just a suburb of New Orleans - and not a very interesting one, at that.

I don't know what exactly that changes about anything. It's just weird, that's all.

Lizzy Lynn says:

Leigh -- don't go away mad. When you read this -- perhaps sooner than Monday?

Alas, my home computer is thoroughly evil.

-- you'll know that no one intends to disrespect you or your family.

Thank you. Perhaps the evilness of my computer is a blessing in disguise - these days, two days of no Internet tends to help a lot in de-stressing myself.

Lydy Nickerson says:

I don't think responding with one of the most compassionate and inclusive passages of the gospels is hate mail.

I'm sure you wouldn't consider it so, no. And perhaps technically speaking "hate mail" was too strong a phrase.

However, there are many people - like myself, for instance - who would be frankly enraged to receive such a piece of mail. I know what you consider it to be in your mind, because you have said so in this thread, but I'll tell you what I would see, which is some random stranger who doesn't know me from Adam presuming to stick his/her nose into my business and self-righteously quote Scripture at me concerning a perceived fault as a result of an event that, since I (as a theoretical resident of Gretna) have been living in, oh, I don't know, a motel room in Arkansas for the past three weeks with no Internet, phones that only occasionally work and an ancient TV that only gets two channels, had no idea even happened, much less had a chance to support or reject.

Yeah, I'd say receiving a postcard under those circumstances, telling me I'm a bad person for living in Gretna, when I've just found out that, oh, I don't know, a tree had fallen on my house and the houses of my sons and daughters and grandchildren are filled with water, might, you know, piss me off just a little bit.

Again, I'm not saying that what happened on the bridge was good, or justifiable, or should go unnoticed. I'm just saying, going and shaking your finger under people's noses about it at the current time is really, really, really not going to work, and in fact will probably accomplish the exact opposite of what you hoped to do.

#159 ::: Damien Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 02:26 PM:

Lydy said "And the mayor said they got water back very quickly." Actually he said they had power back very quickly, not water. Later he's quoted as saying some guy got water up in a day and a half, but when that was isn't specified.

How many people were trying to go through? Gretna's pop is 17,500, the mayor said they had 5000 residents still there, they moved 5000 refugees before shutting down. Sounds like the crowds could have been some times the population of the town, with some of that crowd being violent.

The "herd the crowds with shotguns" scenario seems like it could have gone ugly, as in people trying to break free and getting shot, and then people would be condemning the Gretna police for shooting refugees.

#160 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 02:31 PM:

Bridget, according to Rob's interview of the mayor of Gretna, only 2 busloads of evacuees made it into Gretna before the way was closed. Please provide a cite to the 5000 figure. thanks.

#161 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 02:32 PM:

>It is sad that people jump on the bandwagon to vilify a commnuity before getting all of the facts.

Bridget,

I hadn't realized that people were vilifying the community. It seems to me that people here had the intent of reaching the "good people of Gretna" and asking them to take their leaders to account. That would seem like a rather pointless thing to do if we thought that everyone who happened to be within the town boundary were vile, evil people.

It seems to me that people are saving their choice words for those in positions of power who had trapped people within New Orleans at a time when New Orleans was filled with disease-ridden water, but no food or utilities of any sort.

My problem is that I have consistently failed to understand is why the Gretna police chose to shoot at people who had approached them helpless and unarmed and why when those who had been shot at had set up a sustainable shelter for themselves on the bridge, the Gretna police chose to fly a helicopter over it so that it would destroy the shelters which they had built.

Since you seem to have a fuller picture of what happened than I do, I would truly appreciate it if you would explain to me how this is in keeping with the generous humanitarian spirit which caused them to evacuate so many people.

Is shooting at people who have committed no crime and are not a threat of any kind just and humanitarian behavior?

It's pretty clear that people are capable of all sorts of rather contradictory behavior simultaneously. Just because someone does something exemplary does not mean it is wrong to call him on something he does which is not.
(e.g., saving a life does not entitle someone to take one. I do note that unless they had actually hit someone with a bullet, the mayor is undoubtedly right that they did not directly kill anyone.)

I realize your intent is not to defend these specific actions which they committed just as it is not anyone else's intent to ignore what good they did do. However, the fact that they did do some good for some people does not excuse the harm they did to others.

#162 ::: Jim Flannery ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 02:50 PM:

I keep catching myself on

The wrath of God struck New Orleans, and it spared us.

and remembering the evangelists who told us Katrina was god's judgment on NO.

#163 ::: rob loftis ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 03:45 PM:

hrc: you and bridget are looking at seperate remarks the mayor made. The first was in reference to two busloads of people who showed up at his door (transit workers and their families) and the second was an effort to get people out of the convention center area.

I'm reluctant to call my discussion with Mr. Harris an interview, because I have no training or skills in that area and I didn't ask or expect him to call me.

When/if I get the chance I will surf around and get a timeline of events and confirmation for various parts of the story.

#164 ::: rob loftis ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 03:46 PM:

Jim Flannery: I do not know if he meant that literally. It was one of the things I should have pressed him on.

#165 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 05:27 PM:

Kevin Andrew Murphy: if you find a drunk passed out on the pavement in midwinter and the cops take him to the drunk tank, you might save his life, and allow him the chance to straighten out down the line. Homeless drunks die of exposure even in my climate.

#166 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 08:18 PM:

An article in the WashPost describes what other small city mayors did, some illegal things, but clearly appropriate in the circumstances.

#167 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 09:12 PM:

Marilee:
Oh lordy. The article is from where they sent my kid (email this morning he was being shipped from Montgomery to Gulfport. Said adjusting to Alabama was painful but doable -- he wasn't there but a day before going to Mississippi, so he must have been talking about the weather, no time for culture clash).

#168 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 10:04 PM:

The police are not humanitarian. I don't think anyone here is so naive as to think that, but I learned this one morning in Manhattan. I was on my way to the 46th St. Salvation Army, which is iirc between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. This area is rather bleak, and deserted at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

I tried to draw the attention of two policemen to a guy on Tenth and 46th who was manhandling a woman, dragging her by the arm; she was smaller, and was putting up a fight, but not getting away.

The NYPD looked bored and said that she was probably a prostitute. For what it's worth, both the guy and the woman were white. For what it's worth, this was in the late '90s, Giuliani's NYPD.

To certain police (I don't want to tar them universally), all civilians are either perpetrators, or potential perps, especially if lower-class / non-white.

#169 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 01:21 AM:

Leigh, how would you interpret a postcard with much the same passage from Matthew but with a note at the bottom saying, "Please remember this at the next election." Would that still sound accusatory?

#170 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 01:35 AM:

On the whole lack of creativity thing, I partially blame FEMA. They set the tone. They turned away volunteers, wouldn't allow any sort of relief effort that they didn't approve of, and generally responded in the most inflexible ways possible. I don't work in this area at all, but every story, real or fictional, about successful or semi-successful relief efforts have been full of jury-rigging, non-standard uses of equipment and supplies, occasional unofficial trading of this resource for that resource, sending volunteers in where angels are a little bit afraid to tread, and finding ways to solve the problems within and without the rules. Which isn't to suggest that no one should be in charge, and that there should be no rules. Organization is vital. Ask Jim to explain it in detail again. But the organization is supposed to attain an objective, the disaster is not supposed to validate the organization.

With FEMA as the example, most especially with FEMA refusing aid and blocking other groups from providing aid, it creates a mind-set of hopelessness and an almost robotic response to the crises. The people in charge are told not to think, not to solve their own problems, and then no one else helps, either. Creative solutions are refused out of hand.

#171 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 03:08 AM:

Meanwhile over at obsidian wings, hilzoy has information up on what happened to the buses. It now appears that FEMA assured the state of Louisiana that buses were coming that didn't and that they couldn't use school buses to evacuate b/c they weren't air conditioned.

The story originates from a Baton Rouge tv station, so it bears repeating. Just read it and marvel that the same FEMA that stopped a doctor from doing cardio pulmonary rescucitation on a woman who diead as a result because he didn't have proper FEMA certification, also denied timely transport to hundreds if not thousands at the Superdome/Convention Center.

FEMA buses

#172 ::: amysue ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 07:32 AM:

I realize now that when I posted earlier I probably was getting off topic (kind of) with the personal anecdote and also that I didn't introduce myself (am not certain if I was supposed to) as new. The point I was trying to make however, is that in my experience many people resort to an us against them mentality when under pressure or stress. Hence, my suburban (New England) nightmare of racism on a regular basis. These are probably exactly the same people who in Gretna perhaps, and certainly historically in many other places, turn their backs and pretend that what they do is for the greater good or that it is understandable given the circumstances.

So while I can understand the need to control dwindling resources and not overtax the town, there is no excuse for setting up a situation that would in all likliehood end in harm to those looking for safe harbor or safe passage.

#174 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 09:50 AM:

I heard the NPR story this morning and I'm completely sympathetic to their plea of compassion fatigue. I've seen it in person. When things get bad enough, people do eventually hit a point where they shut down because they feel they can do no more.

What surprises me here is the use of compassion fatigue as an excuse to go completely to the other end of the reaction spectrum. i.e., rather than just no longer aiding the evacuees because they had no more left to give, they chose to hurt them instead by shooting over their heads, preventing escape on foot, destroying their shelters and confiscating their food and water.

(The NPR report mentioned only the shooting over the evacuees' heads.)

What does not help their case in this respect is the quote from the townswoman who thought the police chief and mayor did the right thing because it kept the looters and murderers out. Nevermind that there was only minimal crime in New Orleans. It unfortunately perpetuates the notion that it is ok to punish an entire population for the actions of a renegade few. (I think it's really easy to get to this mindset, but we're not supposed to give in to it.)

I think the unfavorable glare of public attention is only hardening their positions. Even if they secretly think they made a mistake, it becomes very hard to admit this put on the spot as they are.

It has struck a nerve in that it looks like they are trying hard to rehabilitate their image. But, so far, it doesn't sound like they understand why people are so outraged. That will make it harder for them to make the outraged understand why they think their actions were correct.

#175 ::: rob loftis ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 09:53 AM:

Jill: The story you linked to is about the end of Nagin's plan to reopen the parts of the city immediately. Is there a story specifically about Gretna?

#176 ::: Adina ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 10:57 AM:

The NPR story about Gretna is here.

#177 ::: rob loftis ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 11:48 AM:

Adina, thanks.

This attack page also has more Gretna media.

#178 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 12:27 PM:

You know what I'm really much more interested in at the moment than Gretna? (I think it's a simple issue. They screwed up in a crisis, handicapped by generations of white flight and racism. Period) That article that Marilee linked to about Biloxi/Gulfport. There's a very complicated tangle if you read all five pages of it. It's not all heroic altruism and openhanded generosity -- though it mostly is. But the most interesting thing is to compare it with what the local authorities in New Orleans did -- it's about the same, but the scale of the problem in Mississippi lends itself better to local improvisation than that in New Orleans. It's sort of more an illustration of why big modern communities (like whole countries, like the US) need bigger government institutions than smaller communities.

#179 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 02:06 PM:

Lydy says:

Leigh, how would you interpret a postcard with much the same passage from Matthew but with a note at the bottom saying, "Please remember this at the next election." Would that still sound accusatory?

I'm... not trying to hurt your feelings here, but really, pretty much the same.

Perhaps others would not feel as strongly as I, because this happens to intersect with three of my biggest peeves: proselytizing, armchair moralizing, and spam.

Perhaps. But even if it doesn't piss them off, I also just don't see it having any positive effect - and the timing is beyond wretched.

Sorry, Lydy, I'm not trying to insult you, but I have to be honest. While I appreciate the intent, in my humble opinion, I think your time and money would be much better spent elsewhere.

#180 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 11:33 AM:

Bluntly? I think you postcard folks would feel much better spamming Gretna with messages, however nicely phrased, but that's about the sum total of the good such a campaign would do, i.e., make you feel good. As far as getting anyone in Gretna to suddenly realize that their elected officials' actions were bad, or to make them feel ashamed of themselves, I'd give it a -3 on a scale of 1 to 10 for Actual Effectiveness.

Yet, oddly, I still want to help send Xopher's letter (Or a rewrite thereof) to a public paper.

Why not write your own letter?

#181 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 01:15 PM:

I weigh in on Leigh and mythago's side on the postcard/letter question.

I think the Gretna story is a wake-up call in terms of demonstrating the continuing power of certain narratives in our culture, narratives that encourage people to do dreadful things that they wouldn't ordinarily do; for instance, discharging firearms at helpless people.

And I think the attempts at self-justification I've seen from Gretna's public officials are plainly pathetic.

But I'd like to note that my original post concluded, not with a full-throated cry for vengeance against the wicked people of Gretna, but with the observation that the urge to take "vengeance" is a temptation, and one not necessarily best indulged.

(Although I will remark to Kathryn Cramer that part of "helping people" is figuring out the political and social aspects of how the Gulf Coast disaster happened.)

#182 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 01:58 PM:

Lucy: Actually, it was a warm night in Santa Cruz. No real risk of exposure, though some risk of someone backing their car over him.

Part of everything is learning to assess need. Something, I might add, which our government failed miserably at.

#183 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 02:48 PM:

Mythago:

1) Because there was talk of putting the letter in as a full page advertisement or the like (Possibly in the times-picayune, not the Gretna paper alone), not as a letter to the editor.

2) How much attention do you think a letter from some scmuck in Winnipeg would get?

#184 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 03:42 AM:

Leigh, I wouldn't have asked for your opinion if i didn't want it. No offense taken, truly.

Ain't nothing like self-righteousness to make a body look like a damn fool. (That would be me, just in case that wasn't clear.)

Less angry, I'm thinking I'd find a postcard like that pretty infuriating, myself. Of course, that would be because I have a rather strong allergy to Christianity (PK and all that). Still, using religion like that is pretty much guaranteed to backfire unless you're a preacher or something.

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