Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2005-6

Don Markstein's deals with characters from the comics, and is one of the net's fannish glories. A New Orleans native, his thoughts on Katrina are anything but comic.


"ROE vs. WADE?"

a guest editorial

Don Markstein

Q: Where does Bush stand on Roe vs. Wade?

A: He doesn't care what hurricane victims do.

I got that from Larry Epke.

I'd planned to start with something completely unexpected - kind words about George W. Bush. But on September 2, 2005, he blew my kind words right out of the water, if you don't mind an allusion to what has become the worst enemy of the city I love most.

And what did he do to derail my uncharacteristically positive attitude towards him? He decided flying over New Orleans wasn't enough. He had to visit on the ground. And what, do you suppose, did he expect to accomplish by that, other than posture in front of a camera about how awful it is (which we already know)? The only possible effect would be to get in the way of people with real work to do. And in fact, he went even farther in that direction than he had to, by grabbing trained rescue workers to stand behind him and form a backdrop, so he'd look better on TV.

Even one rubbernecking disaster tourist is too many. But a U.S. president, with an entourage that would embarrass most emperors, is a hell of a lot more than just one. So many, the last leg of the trip had to be done in a flotilla of helicopters.

I wonder how many rooftop dwellers those helicopters could have been ferrying to safety if they hadn't been pressed into the service of a pompous, smirking powermonger. I wonder how many died because the helicopters weren't there.

Think he got his damned feet wet?

This has nothing to do with my personal feelings about Bush. Even a politician I like, if there were such a thing, would have gotten the same response. New Orleans simply isn't a legitimate destination right now for useless people like politicians.


We hear a lot about Bush glomming the budget for levee maintenance, and that's certainly a valid reason (among many) to loathe him. Of course, Bill Clinton slashed levee maintenance too, and he's pretty loathsome as well, but at least Clinton did it less, and didn't funnel the money into anything quite so patently evil. But a lot of the blame should go to the locals, who for the better part of a century have been delighted to foist off the burden of levee maintenance to the federal government.

But there's plenty of blame available for the guy who stated, right in front of a camera, that there was no way anyone could have known the levee was going to break. (And there was no way of knowing Osama bin Laden was up to something before 9/11, unless he read the August 6 memo that had been addressed to Bush.) Is he that stupid, or does he just lie by reflex?

Then there's that incredible fool he put in charge of FEMA. If you'd told me, Wednesday after the storm, that there could possibly exist even a single person, anywhere in the world, who wasn't aware of all the people trapped in the Convention Center, chanting "We Want Help" at any of the many reporters willing to point a camera at them, I'd have thought it was a ridiculous fantasy. But here was the guy running FEMA, who one would think would at least know what's going on, expressing surprise as late as Thursday, that any such thing could be.

Hey, George - I know about your affinity for people who, like you, have failed at everything they've ever tried; and I know it's a time-honored tradition to appoint your political pals to lucrative do-nothing jobs. But there's plenty of pork for guys like that - director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures, ambassador to Djibouti, deputy under-secretary of whatever … Only a moron, and I'm not saying you aren't, would put someone like him where it matters when he screws up.

This is how our highly trusted federal security folks, who are real good at making us take off our shoes before boarding airplanes, would deal with the aftermath of a real breach in security. Provided, of course, those breaching it gave five days notice. Too bad if the terrorists are impolite enough to strike without warning.

I see Congress just gave FEMA another $60+ billion. Isn't that just like government? The worse it fails, the more money they give it. And when that amazingly incompetent jackass finally resigned, he was replaced by the idiot whose idea of terrorist protection is duct tape. No word on where the money will come from, but history tells us we can rule out tax increases and cutting expenses elsewhere.

Not that the feds deserve all the blame - the governor and the mayor didn't exactly cover themselves with glory either. In fact, I can't think of anyone in government who did.

If you're among those inclined to despise people for whining to government before looking to private organizations, preferably local or regional, for help - all I can do is suggest you join the rest of us here in the real world. How do you propose getting rid of the federal monopolization of disaster management? It's been growing for decades, and had a huge spurt right after 9/11. Nowadays, you can't even bring in three truckloads of drinking water, as WalMart, that most despised of corporations, tried to do, without being turned away by armed men.

Surely FEMA didn't really think that letting that stuff in would hurt! Does private help threaten their hegemony or something? This gives credence to those who suspect FEMA, which has the power to ignore any law and suspend any liberty (and which was never authorized by a legislative body, being the product of an "executive order" - which I don't believe is mentioned in the Constitution - on the part of John F. Kennedy), is being groomed to take over when they're ready to take the final steps in turning America into a police state. The obvious fact that they put so much effort into establishing control over the remaining population - breaking into houses and seizing legal weapons in violation of the 2nd Amendment (just as an example) - days before making any, and I do mean any, attempt to help them survive, is another clue. People trying to get out of that hellhole at the Superdome (which, for the record, I was against building) before FEMA was finally ready to ship them god-knows-where, were held in at gunpoint!

So both "ends" of the pathetically short political spectrum segment that supposedly represents us in Washington are clamoring for FEMA to get even more money. What, exactly, are they hoping for it to accomplish with it? Deny access to twice as many trucks full of drinking water?

So where were the citizen soldiers of the National Guard, who should have been the first responders? Iraq. Where were the helicopters that should have gone out within minutes of the levees breaking, and started dropping sandbags into the gaps? Iraq. Where was the money that was needed to shore up the levees in the first place? Iraq.

God damn George W. Bush for turning my home town into another piece of collateral damage from his deadly hubris.


Time to talk about dat ol' debbil, racism. Unlike many others condemned as Liberals by the Liberal Media (i.e., anyone who thinks maybe it's not a good idea to level Iraqi cities in an attempt to win their hearts and minds), I don't think the fact that most of New Orleans is black is why the feds were so anti-helpful. That's just the feds being feds - it only shows more here than it usually does.

I do, however, see a lot of racism in the news coverage, and I'm not talking about that famous incident where black people "looted: necessary supplies while white people "found" them. I saw that almost as a red herring, drawing attention away from the more subtle racism I was already seeing in the news.

In any disaster, there are going to be lots of heroes helping their neighbors survive, alongside a few who give in to their baser instincts. Since I'm convinced that most people are basically good despite the fact that we all have baser instincts, I know very well there are always more heroes than looters.

And we usually see that in hurricane coverage, e.g., what came out of Florida last year. But they have a more balanced racial mix. In New Orleans, with few exceptions, what we saw was the "looting" - word in quotes because, as in the loot/find dichotomy, it seems to have consisted mostly of ordinary folks trying to survive however they could. We also hear a lot about gang violence on the streets (a necessary propaganda prelude to rounding up all the guns).

Here ( is another point of view about this alleged violence. You'll find a clickable link at

Maybe the reason this struck me is that for once, it's my people, i.e. Orleanians of whatever skin color, on the short end of it.


So now what?

The people who say "we" shouldn't rebuild a city that "they" were foolish enough to build below sea level are, of course, just ignorant dorks. There's a good reason for the fact that you'll find a city near the mouth of every navigable river in the world.

And the ones who decided on the exact location of this one weren't idiots - they went far enough upstream (100 miles from the Gulf) to put it on solid ground. That's why the oldest parts of the city were only lightly, if at all flooded, despite the natural sinking of coastal areas following centuries of short-sighted flood control. It was urban sprawl (which we think of as a 20th Century phenomenon though it got well started in the 19th) that made it necessary to drain a lot of swampland so people would have places to live. There's no use insulting anyone's intelligence for that.

New Orleans will come back, with or without a dime of federal subsidy, simply because it's a good location for a city. This is a wonderful opportunity for someone with a lot of money to buy up soon-to-be-valuable-again property. But it's likely to come back a pathetic parody of its former self.

Tourism has long been the tail that wags the Port of New Orleans dog. One of the things driving it is an abundance of fine restaurants, serving a unique cuisine with influences from all over the world. Many of those restaurants have been in the same family since before any of us, or our grandparents, were born, and it's the collective traditions of those families that make up what we think of as the New Orleans style of food.

I suppose most of the remaining family-owned ones are about to fall into the hands of multi-national corporations, which will then resume serving "New Orleans style food," supplemented with the Cajun style that's become conflated with it in the perception of semi-literate Yankees. The kind of New Orleans style you can find anywhere, right between the Chinese style and the Mexican style.

As the ordinary people whose families have lived there a century or more, who gave New Orleans more character than tourists will ever know (I assume you've read A Confederacy of Dunces), are scattered, the city is likely to become practically a theme park. That's been the trend for many years, at least in the touristy areas, and this can only accelerate it.

It breaks my heart. I love that city, and now it's gone.


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