Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Our tsunami...

Ah... the political soundbite...
"This is our tsunami," (Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway)
I read that quote a little while ago. Hurricane Katrina was a lethal natural disaster to be sure - one of the worst in US history. And the death toll and destruction continue to rise along with the water level that is sinking New Orleans.

This quote however came from Biloxi - one of the hardest hit by the initial storm surge - and was stated when only 56 deaths had been reported in a city of 50,000, and before the damage had been surveyed or the onslaught of flood waters hit New Orleans the following day.

Must we compare?

Politicians are always looking for their soundbites and catchphrases. And they choose their words carefully. The Mayor didn't say this was "like the tsunami", he said "this is our tsunami." The implication is very clear: "We're the same as them."

Hurricane Katrina is estimated to have caused $26 billion in property damages, destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, left hundreds of thousands homeless, and the death toll will surely rise to more than the current 100 people - maybe 500 or 2000 counting those who may die from disease in the weeks to come. Not to mention the ongoing plight of the poor and indigent who have no financial means to relocate. Three states, $26 billion and hundreds or more dead...

Tragic, devestating and heartbreaking - Yes. But "our tsunami"?

Yes, this property devestation is "like" the devestation caused by a tsunami (which coincidentally is very much "like" a hurricane, and in fact a 30 foot storm surge could easily be called a tsunami). But this is not THE tsunami. And we all knew the tsunami which the Mayor refered to was THE Indonesian tsunami of 2004, which carries with it the following statistics:
  • 200,000+ dead across 13 countries
  • 5 Million people homeless
That's 200 Thousand dead. That's a bit different than 200 or even 2000. No, 100 dead in a city of 50,000 is not the same. But the question remains: why does it need to be compared to anything?

Since 9/11, when Rudolph Giuliani did in fact portray strength in the midst of disaster, it seems more and more politicians are trying to strengthen their own image by exploiting the tragedies around them - by using the my-tragedy-is-bigger-than-yours routine.

Not to be outdone in the politician's stupid analogy category, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is quoted as saying:
"I can only imagine that this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago."
Whoa there Governor! Have you ever seen photos of Hiroshima and its aftermath? If not, you should go look at some now. The photos of Katrina's wrath are tragic - the photos of Hiroshima are horrific. Nothing, nothing, not a damn thing in common.

It seems to be symbolic of our culture of victimization that we all need to be the biggest victim around - and the political one-upsmanship in this regard is a disturbing trend. In the turn of a phrase, a politician can minimize the tragedy of preceding events in order to maximize the political sympathy for their current disaster - and to gain air time for their little clevernesses. This tragedy was a devestating hurricane - that alone should speak for itself. People understand that a hurricane isn't a walk in the park.

I am saddened increasingly by the plight of the indigent, sick and elderly in Louisiana and Mississippi as their conditions worsen. To them, this disaster was in fact exactly the same as the tsunami - they had nowhere, and no way, to go. But, we predicted Katrina and her path - and her destructive power - several days in advance. And we did nothing to help those who couldn't evacuate on their own get out. It is markedly different from the Indonesian tsunami.

Let's be clear. The tsunami came with no warning and struck in a matter of minutes and killed over 200,000 people who were defenseless and literally had nowhere to run. Entire pieces of land are now gone from the face of the earth. The death and material devastation in the Gulf are tragic and there are months of tragedy still to come, with few good options for the poor. But it is still nowhere near the scale of the Indonesian tsunami.

As bad as Katrina was, and is, it is not the tsunami - and is most certainly not Hiroshima. We need to find another analogy. Or better yet, stop using analogies altogether and simply call it what it is: Katrina, the most deadly and devestating hurricane in US history. Isn't that descriptive enough?


Monday, August 22, 2005

Israel's Finest Hour

We've all watched in amazement...

Today, the forced evacuation of thousands of Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip is almost at an end. Only one settlement remains, and most of those who are there to protest and resist the withdrawal are in fact not residents of the settlements in Gaza.

Whether you agree with the pullout or not is not nearly as important as the subtle facts of a much larger truth being played out before our eyes. As all of us who have watched have witnessed, there is one thing to be learned from the events of the last week: the amazing spirit, maturity, peace, and professionalism of both the Israeli security forces, and the Jewish settlers themselves, is second to none on this planet.

The utter lack of violence, with few exceptions, during this extremely emotional situation is an amazing occurrence. While some protesters (again, most of whom were not settlers themselves) threw acid at some troops in an isolated event - that was the exception to their behavior, not the rule.

Jews who believed their land was given to them by God protested and objected with all their might, and many were emotionally broken - and yet they did not turn to violence. Yes, many settlers fought their extradition, but only as far as putting up minor physical resistance would get them. Troops who encountered thousands of near-rioting crowds in an extremely tense and dangerous situation kept their heads and used peaceful and humane crowd control means to evacuate the protesters - even taking time during the confrontation to distribute water to the protesters to protect them from the 100 degree heat. Troops openly wept with settlers - both took time to comfort the other. And yet, in the end, what was agreed upon was done.

At this point, there is no turning back. Most of the settlers' homes have already been demolished - part of the joint Israeli/Palestinian plan. The settlers have nowhere to return to. They must now move on - move forward.

Hopefully someday the world will rejoice in a stable and peaceful Middle East, a place where Jew and Palestinian can live side by side without violence, and will look back on this monumental event as the catalyst for it.

But regardless of the end, the world should always look back on this event as a symbol of the true nature of the Israeli people. A people who this day have lived up to being called God's People.

How many of us would have measured up to this same test?


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Boldly carrying on...

Admit it. You watched (or listened to) Discovery's re-entry this morning with a bit of aprehensive excitement. Just like watching the start of the Indianapolis 500 - hoping that nothing tragic happened but wanting to be tuned in just in case it did.

It didn't.

Yet don't let the sigh of relief make you believe that this was just "any old" shuttle mission. Instead, you should have a renewed belief that there is no such thing as a routine shuttle mission and a renewed faith in the human spirit. This is not commercial air travel and our astronauts are not merely a flight crew. They are, as many have called them, daredevils and explorers. They truly have risked their lives for scientific pursuits as mundane as demonstrating simple repair technics and as everyday as taking out the trash. Two and a half years worth of trash that is.

These are seemingly ordinary adults - scientists and engineers. Nothing special about them. Nothing that is unless you consider that they climbed into a rocket, survived the most controlled explosion known to man, hurtled into the vacuum of space, and returned with the knowledge that the last voyagers before them had all died taking the same ride. That's one horse that would be tough to climb back on.

I cannot fathom traveling into space. But even more, I cannot grasp the emotions I would feel if I were a member of STS-114 - the first shuttle trying to get home since the Columbia disaster. A disaster caused by a one pound piece of foam hitting a 1 million pound shuttle. The courage it would take to endure that seems almost incomprehensible.

But it has happened before. The astronauts of Apollo 7 and those aboard Columbia STS-26 both continued the tradition of their fallen peers and did not sway from their duty or resolve. In each case, it was more than two years from the previous tragedy before the next manned flight was undertaken.

So today, the names Collins, Robinson, Kelly, Thomas, Lawrence, Camarda and Noguch can be added to the list of Schirra, Eisle, Cunningham, Hauck, Covey, Lounge, Nelson, and Hilmers as brave pioneers being the first to step forward and take the leap of faith and show us all a little about what courage really means.


Friday, August 05, 2005

Are we really this stupid?

Not that I am a supporter of President Bush or the war in Iraq, but I found it quite surprising when the news headlines yesterday on Yahoo! News claimed "Bush: U.S. to Stay in Iraq Despite Deaths".


After 2 years and 1800+ American troop deaths, and a Presdient who has said from the beginning that we won't let terrorists (ie now insurgents) scare us off, did *any* of us believe that 18 American deaths in two days would somehow change our entire military philosophy and make the President change his mind on the war?


You have got to be kidding me. What an arrogant and misinformed populace we have become. Wars, people, have casualties - usually counted in the thousands. If eighteen troop deaths would somehow change our military position and be cause for us to ever pull out of an engagement, well, Woe-is-us. We might as well cash in the cookies now and sell the farm because we've definitely lost our backbone as a nation.

I'm not saying the war is right - in fact I believe it is quite wrong. And the deaths of any military personnel are a tragedy. But let's get real, if a handful of troop deaths is considered too high a cost when we are in a war (and don't fool yourself - the troops in Iraq are in fact in the middle of a war) then we have truly lost our sense of reality.

Does anyone in America really believe this? Does the reporter who wrote this believe it? Or was it just a stupid attempt at an attention-grabbing headline? Either way, someone somewhere is being an idiot.