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Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I know something of hurricanes. The day after I moved to Houston in August 1980, Hurricane Allen hit. Three years later, at 6:30pm on the afternoon of an August Thursday at whose midnight Hurricane Alicia's eye passed over downtown Houston, I was among two lawyers, one judge, one bailiff, and twelve very panicked jurors left in the Harris County Civil Courts Building. But despite hurricanes and sometimes-worse (mere) tropical storms, Houston, my home for 25 years, has been lucky lately; our worst over that period has been nowhere near as bad as Katrina, but bad enough that this city, to its enormous credit, has been among the most empathetic and proactively supportive of our neighbors to the east along the Gulf Coast.

New Orleans, to many, is Mardi Gras, the Big Easy, the good times rollin' on. To me, though, since my judicial clerkship, it's always been, first and foremost, the headquarters city of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Reputation and party atmosphere aside, I've always been aware that N'walins has its very solid, almost hidden core of people who work hard for a living and get things done. "Getting things done" might mean processing an appeal, or getting a crew boat out to an offshore rig, or delivering a taxi-load from the airport to the Royal Sonesta, or teaching a third-grade science class, or picking out a sweet blues line on a tarnished but well-maintained Bb trumpet — work, art, and joy being mutually exclusive in none of those occupations.

My blogospheric friend Ernie the Attorney is one such, one of many. Breathless cable news coverage can give a sense of their loss, but only poorly hints at their subtle, powerful resiliency. A year, or certainly three years from now, though, that's what the world will think of when it thinks back to Katrina: Not just the loss and death and pain, but the recovery, the rebuilding, and the protracted indestructable courage that will — by God's grace, man's sweat, and one-muddy-bucket at-a-time — turn out to be greater, more magnificent, even than Nature. Ernie, bless his soul, is starting to be heartened. And he's one of tens, maybe probably hundreds, of thousands who will remake New Orleans and Gulf-Coast Louisiana and Mississippi. I'm awed by Nature, but I'm more awed by all my neighbors.

They'll be back. Don't bet against 'em.


UPDATE (Wed Sep 7 @ 8:47am): This post was written partly as a rebuttal to and protest against articles like this one by Noemie Emery in the online Daily Standard. I'm a reflexive Houston-booster, and agree with most of the nice things she says about this city; and it may be true that on a comparative basis, New Orleans is relatively less meritocratic and dynamic, or more corrupt, than Houston. But that's absolutely the wrong focus to have right now, and it's terribly misleading because it only pays attention to fractional percentages at the margins. Katrina didn't just hit the margins — it hit everyone in New Orleans, although with varying widely impacts. The rain fell on the just and the unjust. The rich and the poor, the black and the white and the brown, the lazy and the industrious, the young and the old, the newcomers and the oldtimers have all been affected. And maybe at the margins some of those groups, some easy stereotypees, have performed or appear differently than their counterparts in other cities might have. But most of the people there — whether they evacuated or not — are just like most of the people here or in Anaheim or Anahuac or Annapolis or Albany. And it wasn't the looters or the whiners or the other cable-TV-news attention grabbers who kept the place going to begin with, or who'll mostly (with some help) put the place back together, or who'll deserve the credit when they do. To those who're drawing sweeping conclusions or issuing broad indictments to the effect that Katrina has shown that N'walins was or is part of the "Third World," my response is: You're a sucker for the most superficial appearances, my friends, and you're insulting and misunderestimating a whole bunch of people who have been hurt, are still hurtin', deserve better from you, and will prove you wrong over time.

Posted by Beldar at 01:49 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Katrina and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) vnjagvet made the following comment | Sep 7, 2005 10:15:31 AM | Permalink

Great post, Beldar. Showing that you are not just a terrific trial lawyer, but a good man as well. This is the type of perspective that should be appearing in the mainstram press rather than the shallow yellow journalism we are seeing.

(2) Boger made the following comment | Sep 7, 2005 11:10:02 AM | Permalink

As someone who knows the city, I guess your take should be instructive. But for many who don't have first hand knowledge, like me, I think the violence, government ineptitude and civil irresponsibility is an eye-opener. I have found it informative to compare the hurricane response of NO to that of Baton Rouge and Biloxi. Those cities took Katrina seriously, were prepared and provisioned, had leadership on the ground and have coped extremely well. What particularly bothers me is that the crisis in NO degraded the whole effort in the region. And it did not have to be that way.

From what I have seen and heard in the news, it is my understanding that Nagin evacuated himself but did not return to the city until he went in with Bush on Friday. Can you provide the facts on Nagin's whereabouts during Katrina.

(3) My Boaz's Ruth made the following comment | Sep 7, 2005 12:03:10 PM | Permalink

I am immensely proud of the city of my childhood right now. I was in Houston for both Allen and Alicia (but I only remember Alicia.) Living in "Northwest Park," a neighborhood on the suburbs.
It's kind of cool to think that people I didn't even know at the time were there too.

(4) Steve made the following comment | Sep 7, 2005 1:47:59 PM | Permalink

Can you comment on the legal system in NOLA? My father, who prosecuted in Ohio in the 1960's, tells a story of a fugitive from Ohio (grand larceny) who was picked up in the parish to the west of NO, and then again in NO. Both times the judiciary refused to honor the extradition warrant. Graft was suspected. Does this sound right for the 1960's? Have times changed? I ask this not in relation to the current problems in NO, but merely as a matter of latent curiousity.

(5) nk made the following comment | Sep 8, 2005 7:59:23 AM | Permalink

When you read 1) that the Levee Board was a political plum job using its budget to, inter alia, buy a casino and private plane, 2) that the governor stopped supplies of food and water from going to the Superdome because it would encourage people to go there and, 3) contrast it with the six-year old who was found leading six babies to safety, how can you help but feel frustration, anger and disgust at the pezzonovantes?

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