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September   7

Oh the Humanity

Our man in Louisiana, Warren Levinson, is safe so far, having spent the night in the front seat of an RV near the French Quarter and the day on a boat, covering the search for survivors. What we're not getting on CNN,   he tells us, is the smell.

I spent about five hours on a boat looking for survivors, operated by Brian Smelker of Lafayette, a real top-notch boatman. We found five in a three-story apartment complex. The picture of one, an elderly lady named Ernestine Hudson, is enclosed. She had high blood pressure and emphysema, and this morning fell between the bathtub and toilet in her bathroom. They had to take out the toilet to get her out.

I can use all the regular words to describe the scope of the calamity. Miles and miles of streets and neighborhoods flooded to the porch or first floor level, cars up to the hood. You can tell the water has gone down; the cars used to be flooded to the roof.

What I can’t possibly convey in words is the utter foulness of the water. It’s a vile soup of poisons and rot. Think of the sulfurous decay you smell as you pass through wetlands, then multiply by the stench of a chemical plant. Every now and then, I will catch an echo of what it smelled like, either in  my clothes or my (admittedly limited) hair, and I shudder.

Picture, by Warren Levinson: the corner of Piety and Humanity. Later, he wrote this:

OK, so you of all people know that I am not a dog person. That I make fun of it when stories about cruelty to dogs get more attention than stories about cruelty to people. Or how bizarre I think it is that of all the horror stories Mary Foster wrote from the Superdome, the one that got the most attention was the one about Snowball (look it up if you haven't heard it). But I have to say I had what can only be described as a heartbreaking run-in with a dog today. I was on a rescue boat for most of the afternoon, and we found five people stranded in an apartment building with toxic, stinking water up to the first floor. It was a great thing to witness, and both the rescuers and I were on kind of a high when it was over. But later in the afternoon, as we continued to check the neighborhood, this dog appeared at a second floor window. Unlike another dog that barked but never showed itself, this one stood quietly as we approached. But as it became clear that there was no one in the house, we started to back away. The dog did not bark, yelp, whine or complain in any obvious way. I am sure I am anthropomorphizing here, but it seems to me that as we grew smaller on the horizon, the expression on its face said, ``What? Where are you going? What have I done wrong here?'' Do I feel guilty about leaving this dog behind? No. But I also think it will be a while before I forget about this.

More on the stranded animal story in New Orleans here on the Montclair-based website Petville.

September 7, 2005 in A Friend Writes | Permalink


for one who knows the beauty and love of life-whether an animal lover or not-

the sight of something once loved left behind is heart wrenching-- especially in the scope your husband speaks-

-my heart and prayers go out to him and those with him-for what they bare witness to-

it will be the things they never knew would effect them that will haunt the rescue units for the rest of their days.

Posted by: cstarling | Sep 7, 2005 9:02:11 AM

These posts made me very sad. While it's admirable what you're doing from a human perspective, Warren, I think there's room in everyone's hearts and minds for both people AND pets. Why can't we draw the circle to include, rather than exclude? I am curious if you have ever owned a pet, Warren. I am sure that little boy's pet dog brought him comfort, especially during this tragedy. For someone to rip him out of the boy's arms, well, that just broke my heart.

Posted by: Miss Martta | Sep 7, 2005 9:04:14 AM

Miss Martta,
I think his point is that, after yesterday, he is getting it.

Posted by: The Barista | Sep 7, 2005 9:17:01 AM

yes-indeed barista-

Posted by: cstarling | Sep 7, 2005 9:19:28 AM

Did Katrina Blow Off the White Sheets of American Racism?
Our Birminghan

Maybe this will be our generation's Birmingham.

The pictures that streamed out of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 showed young Black boys and girls attacked by German Shepherds and drenched with the powerful spray of fire hoses.

Those pictures exposed to the world the hypocrisy that rests at the heart of America. Those pictures exposed the intense racism that rests at the heart of this country.

Those pictures exposed the utter lack of credibility of the U.S. in its bloody intervention in Southeast Asia.

But those pictures also inspired and radicalized a generation of young African Americans and young progressive whites that enough was enough and that it was time to break the back of Jim Crow.

For African Americans in the North, where there was no legal segregation, the pictures from Birmingham confirmed a humiliating second-class citizenship.

The same can be said of the awful pictures streaming out of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast towns that were obliterated by Hurricane Katrina.

Like Birmingham 42 years ago, today's pictures of impoverished Black Americans wading through chest high sludge; being corralled into the Super Dome or the New Orleans Convention Center like cattle; portrayed in the American media as looters, armed thugs, murders and rapists; sitting atop their asphalt roofs in 100 degree swamp heat waiting to be rescued or waiting to die are all sharp reminders that for all of the rhetoric and crap the U.S. spews about democracy, freedom and opportunity, 140 years after the Civil War ended and 40 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed racism and class inequality remain the pillars upon which this twisted country is built upon.

The rumors coming from the mayor of New Orleans and other officials is that maybe 10,000 people have died as a result of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath.

10,000 people. Mostly Black and mostly poor.

This is not a disaster but a crime. And the sad reality is that this nightmare and this crime is only at its beginning. There is an idiocy and a contemptuousness directed towards the poor and Blacks that pervade the political duopoly in this country. The moronic idea, for example, that you can "house" 20,000 in an old baseball stadium makes you shake your head. In an area outside of Dallas, Texas, dozens of displaced evacuees were taken to what was planned as a minimum-security prison but has now been turned into temporary housing.

This in the richest country in the history of the world.

The formal shredding of the social safety net-brought to us by former President Bill Clinton in 1996-means that the half a million or so folks from Gulf Coast region have just been kicked off the ledge with nothing to break the fall.

There is no more welfare and food stamps are increasingly becoming out of reach in this country.

There is no decent, affordable housing in this country.

There is no universal healthcare in this country.

Given the scale of the crisis, the government will be forced to provide many of these things-temporarily. But temporary is not a solution. Without steady and living wages this untenable situation will quickly become an impossible situation. Black unemployment in the U.S. is at almost 11 percent. In some cities like Chicago and New York unemployment for Black men has reached the 50 percent threshold. Where will these jobs come from? Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said on MSNBC that 10,000 temporary jobs will be created.

500,000 people displaced. 10,000 temp jobs.

When the state is forced to spend some money on the welfare of some people it will inevitably raise questions as to why this government can't always use its tax dollars to take care of the people who live here instead of wasting money on imperial projects and corporate bailouts

It should.

42 years ago when the pictures from Birmingham surfaced, American officials were shamed and embarrassed as the pictures of American racism and brutality made the front pages of papers around the world. The emperor had no clothes.

Today, the pictures and stories from the survivors of this disaster should finally lay to rest any notion that the war in Iraq is anything but the racist, imperial conquest it is. From New Orleans to Fallujah, the lives of poor, colored people have no value, no worth to the wealthy white men who run this country.

During the last campaign for the presidency of the U.S., it wasn't until the third debate when moderator Bob Scheiffer finally asked Bush and Kerry a question about race. The question was whether or not affirmative action was outdated. Neither the question nor their answers were as important as the way in which the duopoly and the craven media avoid issues of race and class as if they were a plague.

The crime of New Orleans has put both of those issues back on the front pages of every newspaper across the country. The Black political establishment has even been shook beyond its usual irrelevance and complacency. These are all positive developments.

But if this is truly to be the Birmingham of our generation, it is not enough to point out the litany of racial injustices that shape and define American society. We have to organize and we have to fight back against these injustices. We may even need to organize and fight for a new civil rights movement.

October 15, 2005, marks the ten-year anniversary of the Million Man March. When Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan organized that march in 1995 he told the women to stay home and Black men to beg forgiveness for a lifetime of sin. Next month on that same date, Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Rev. Al Sharpton will re-convene the Millions More Movement march in Washington D.C. This time around Farrakhan has thrown down the welcome mat to "Christians, Muslims, Hebrews, Jews, agnostics, nationalists, socialists, men, women and youth" to "com[e] together in agreement that the time is now for us to articulate our demands, and to accept our responsibility to change the condition and reality of our lives." The demands of this march include ending the war and the prison industrial complex. It would be a shock if the organizers of the march did not now include demands around the conditions of the New Orleans and Gulf Coast evacuees. These are demands worth fighting for.

There are problems with the march. Initially, Black gays and lesbians were to be more involved in the organizing of the march but unfortunately there has been some homophobic gay baiting. If there has ever been a time for solidarity it is now and that's what the organizers need to understand. Nonetheless, the march has now taken on increased significance and importance given the developments in the Gulf region.

The ongoing crisis, as a result of the hurricane, has only begun to bring the issues afflicting working class and poor African Americans to the table. We will need a broad, multi-racial and independent movement to actually be able to do something about them.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, based in Chicago, is author of Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs: Racism in America Today for the International Socialist Review. She can be contacted at keeanga'[email protected]

Posted by: hunger | Sep 7, 2005 9:36:25 AM

seriously, does anyone care what al sharpton says about any topic?

Posted by: John L. Farrell | Sep 7, 2005 9:47:14 AM

Sorry if I misread anything, Barista & Warren, but it was this line that got to me. Can't help it. I love dogs.

"Do I feel guilty about leaving this dog behind? No."

Posted by: Miss Martta | Sep 7, 2005 9:55:15 AM


This is our moment of connection.

As animal lovers, my wife and I were discussing "what if" we had been told to leave our cats behind. Neither of us could even imagine making that choice and, perhaps idealistically, decided that we would find alternate means to get out.

I can't imagine why he would not have grabbed the dog and saved it.

I hope that other volunteers would not do the same. In fact, I know the ASPCA is down there doing their best.

Posted by: Left Of Center, like Suzanne Vega | Sep 7, 2005 10:14:05 AM

oh, and before you all jump on me and I am not making any broad claims that animals are more important than humans...

just that they are also in danger and are being left to die a slow, painful death of starvation, etc.

Posted by: Left Of Center, like Suzanne Vega | Sep 7, 2005 10:15:20 AM

Yes, the ASPCA and North Shore Animal League as well. Both are doing a great job. I just worry that they won't find enough people to take these pets in. Any what about the ones being left behind?

Slighty OT, I always assumed you were female. Life never ceases to surprise me.

Posted by: Miss Martta | Sep 7, 2005 10:19:56 AM

Sadly, it is standard evacuation procedure to leave animals behind. My mother was warned in Vermont that if she took her dogs via gondola up the mountain (to hike down during the spring weather) they would not be evacuated in the event of an emergency. She told our family right then "The dogs wouldn't leave me, I won't leave them." My boyfriend said something similar - that he would be walking the 50 + miles out of NO rather then leave a pet behind. To a lot of people its no different then being told leave your child behind.

Posted by: hrhppg | Sep 7, 2005 10:30:13 AM

Wait, let me correct myself. To my mother it would be worse then leaving her children, as we can speak and would be part of a rescue effort. Yep, my mom would leave us faster then anyone could blink to save her puppies - and none of us would question it.

Posted by: hrhppg | Sep 7, 2005 10:32:07 AM

You do what you can.

None of us HERE know what it is truly like THERE, none of us.

(seriously, does anyone care what al sharpton says about any topic?)

And I second this sentiment...

Posted by: Pam | Sep 7, 2005 10:33:19 AM

Barista, thanks for sharing the message from Warren. I believe that animal lovers would do everything in their power to save their pets during a disaster such as Katrina. I also believe that Katrina was such a force that in many cases their powers were nowhere near great enough. The HSUS, SPCA, and all the other organizations focusing on saving animals will do all they can, and they can do a hell of a lot more if they are supported generously. There should be room in our hearts (and wallets) for both people and animals, so I hope your readers give as best they can to help both.

Posted by: conan the grammarian | Sep 7, 2005 10:36:55 AM

That photo of the dog on the roof on petville.com is so sad. I could never leave my dog.

Posted by: Jen | Sep 7, 2005 10:52:15 AM

Noah's Wish is another organization that's helping out the pets left behind.

every time CNN passes an abandoned dog or cat during a broadcast i practically yell at my TV, "please don't just leave them there!" so heartbreaking.

Posted by: efs | Sep 7, 2005 11:00:31 AM

Coming face to face with this tragedy, as Mr. Levinson is right now, is unimaginable to us, here. I'm sure that survival instincts and shock play a huge factor in how one (he) reacts to animals or anyone else. And I'm also sure that the people in New Orleans did not WANT to leave there pets behind.
Oh my God, is my only thought when reading his post.

Posted by: Lynn | Sep 7, 2005 11:06:24 AM

I don't think we, who sit comfortably here in our safe, dry homes should spend our time questioning or passing judgement upon the decisions or feelings shared by those who are down there in Louisianna right now trying to help or do their jobs.

Let's get off our high horses and help too.

Posted by: WL | Sep 7, 2005 11:07:21 AM

Maybe, in the years to come after this disaster, new laws will be enacted to change the policy and require saving "any living creature" whether that be dog, cat, horse, monkey, etc. Material possessions can be replaced. Living creatures cannot. Lets move past the outmoded "tie the dog up in the back" culture and update laws to reflect the current state of affairs. Start contacting your local government officials, state senators, etc.

Posted by: Jim | Sep 7, 2005 11:56:59 AM

The irony is that while "women and children first" may be prioritized, rescuers are not leaving behind men and the elderly either. So why can't pets be part of this process, even if "last"? The "no pets" policy has to go...

Posted by: Jim | Sep 7, 2005 12:01:58 PM

Jim: I totally agree with you.

As I said in my earlier post, why not draw the circle to include, not exclude? To those people who think/say: "How can you even think about saving animals at a time like this?" I say, "My heart is big enough to include both."

Posted by: Miss Martta | Sep 7, 2005 12:08:01 PM

thought I'd share this from Michael Moore:


There is much to be said and done about the manmade annihilation of New Orleans, caused NOT by a hurricane but by the very specific decisions made by the Bush administration in the past four and a half years. Do not listen to anyone who says we can discuss all this later. No, we can't. Our country is in an immediate state of vulnerability. More hurricanes, wars, and other disasters are on the way, and a lazy bunch of self-satisfied lunatics are still running the show.

So, in the next few days, I will write to you about what must be done about Bush and Co.

But today I want you to join with me in bypassing the colossally inept and incompetent Bush administration and get help DIRECTLY to the people of the New Orleans area -- right now.

A lot of you have written me to ask what you can do. Many don't know who to trust. Many want to do more than write a check. You are right to think that writing checks to relief agencies will not get water and aid to people in the next 48 hours. Checks will be needed later and can be written later.

I have a way, though, for each and every one of us to do something today that can affect people's lives TODAY.

For the past few days I've been working with a group that, I guarantee you, will get direct aid to the people who need it most.

Cindy Sheehan, the brave woman who dared to challenge Mr. Bush at his summer home, has now sent her Camp Casey from in front of Bush's ranch to the outskirts of New Orleans. The Veterans for Peace have taken all the equipment and staff of volunteers and set up camp in Covington, Louisiana, on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. They are accepting materials and personally distributing them to those in need.

This is where we come in. We need to ship supplies to them immediately. Today they need the following:

Paper plates, paper towels, toilet paper, baby diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, Pedialyte, baby items in general, powder, lotion, handy wipes, sterile gloves, electrolytes, LARGE cans of veggies, school supplies, and anything else to lift people's spirits.

You can ship these items by following the instructions on VFPRoadTrips.org. Or you can deliver them there in person. The roads to Covington are open. Here's how to get there. You can drop them off or you can stay and participate (if you stay, you'll be camping so bring your own tent and gear and mosquito spray).

If you can't ship these items or go there in person, then go to VFPRoadTrips.org and make an immediate donation through PayPal. Camp Casey-Covington will have immediate access to this cash and can buy the items themselves from stores that are open in Louisiana (all donations to Veterans for Peace, are tax deductible).

Each day I will post up-to-the minute information as to what is needed and the progress Camp Casey is making. Please visit MichaelMoore.com often and do what you can to help.

Many other groups are also doing good work. MoveOn.org has set up a system for people to offer rooms in their homes to the survivors.

There is no time to waste. People are suffering and dying. Each of us can do something. There is no other alternative.

Thank you in advance for your help. Tomorrow, we will take care of the other work we need to do about the ideologically hamstrung incompetents in charge.

Michael Moore
[email protected]

Posted by: rez | Sep 7, 2005 12:41:20 PM

Touching stuff above about animals and folks' love of them. There are some points that PETA would never mention that might be made about hungry animals, but still....I just hope most can be rescued, and even reunited with their care providers (I won't dare say "owners.") if they're really lucky. Or with new loving ones.

But having to confront that utterly unfounded belch above from "Counterpunch" (alert for Jews: this publication wants you all dead, that should be warning enough), which as with a lot of this stuff comes with no real return address for its ever-so-kind "sender," makes me wonder, what was its point on a thread basically on our relation to our pets? ROC gave links to web sites for those interested. Someone else today merely usurped to make a vile political statement. Does this make them feel good somehow? Empowered? Or are they simply that twisted?

Whatever else the situation up and down the Gulf Coast seems to call for, it's got more to do with charitable commitment than with race hustlers and anti-Semites like Al Sharpton and Farrakhan. So I wonder about the sanity of whoever posted this stuff.

Two of the cats get very worked up when they see lost animals on the tube (yes, they watch TV, one has seen 'Winged Migration' four times with me)as a result of Katrina and make weird noises. Some call that anthropomorphizing. I just think it's me noting psychic bonds these critters may all share.

Posted by: cathar | Sep 7, 2005 12:53:01 PM

Even the posting "from" Michael Moore above, what is the bloody point? Where, too, is any sense of humanity in it? It just smacks of a wild-eyed leftist sensing a breach in a political levee, and ramming his tubby self against it in a desperate effort to widen it. But it has nothing to do with real charitable commitment, only with Moore's not-quite-as-enlarged-as-his-liver ego. Man, if this is what anger against the current administration has come to, whoever posted this crud really does need years and years of therapy. I'd also recommend an animal companion or two to help "humanize" he or she.

Posted by: cathar | Sep 7, 2005 1:01:39 PM

The extreme left is completely enjoying itself for the moment - so let them have at it. Our media is as ratings hungry as any reality show, so this is the first time in a while we've (average citizens) been able to see what it means to have an ineffective government, and to see what its like when reporters get outraged and ask questions not given to them by press secretaries.

If Bush is such a great leader then nothing Michael Moore says can tarnish what history will record. Of course, history will probably remember a leader who appoints an old buddy to the head of FEMA who is dangerously under qualified.


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