Friday, September 30, 2005

Hurricane Watch

This is a grim business, but the current death toll estimate from Hurricane Rita is hovering around 100 (107, says the Houston Chronicle) . The worst news of all? At least 60 of those deaths were due to the evacuation, not the storm. No way to know, of course, how many of those 60 would have died in the storm, but the odds are, looking back, that none of them would have. The largest number were on the bus that exploded (which, it turns out, has an even more checkered history than originally supposed), but many died simply because of the panic.

In other hurricane related news, FEMA has contracted for $2 billion in housing, including $236 million to house evacuees on three cruise ships, and yet has put only 107 families in permanent housing.

In part, this indicates just how difficult re-housing 1 million+ people will be.

"There are a lot of problems with trailers," said Susan J. Popkin, a researcher for the Urban Institute in Washington. "You're concentrating people in the middle of nowhere, and once they're there, it's very hard for them to get out."

Especially if displaced families get relocation help and other social services, Ms. Popkin said, they would be better off moving to places with existing schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. "People's basic needs go beyond a roof," she said.
And that is precisely the issue: people's basic needs go beyond a roof.

But they also go well beyond the material. Schools are one thing, but good schools? Housing is another, but good housing? Jobs a third, but good jobs? The poor will eventually return to New Orleans, because hotels and restaurants need bus boys and maids and janitors and dishwashers. It is ironic that "irreligious" Europe seems to handle this better than we do in America. "Religion," of course, is supposed to turn our minds to matters spiritual, yet America is the most brutally materialistic of all the developed nations, willingly treating our own citizens as third-world residents and wage slaves for the comfort and convenience of the minority. We care more about our things than our people, and decide that if the poor at least have access to schools (however poorly funded and maintained they may be) and housing (however decrepit and roach-ridden) and jobs (however demeaning and low the wages), then they have all they need, and shouldn't complain about not having more.

The necessities of life go well beyond the barest minimums we as a nation are willing to pay for. And when we wonder: "Wwill this finally bring apocalpyse? Will this finally spark the revelation that will open the eyes of the blind and make the oppressor fall?", we need to keep these words in mind:

Apocalypse is the cry of the helpless, who are borne passively by events which they cannot influence, much less control. The cry of the helpless is often vindictive, expressing impotent rage at reality. Apocalyptic rage is a flight from reality, a plea to God to fulfill their wishes and prove them right and the other wrong. Apocalyptic believers could hardly think the saying, "Go, make disciples of all nations," was addressed to them. Had apocalyptic believers dominated the church since the first century, there would have been no missions to unbelievers, no schools, no hospitals, no orphanages, no almsgiving. The helpless cannot afford to think of such enterprises; they can only await the act of God, and then complain because that act is so long delayed. The gospels and epistles rather tell the believers that they are the act of God.

John McKenzie, The New Testament without Illusion (Crossroad Publishing Co., 1982)

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