Saturday, September 10, 2005

Shock(ingly) and Awe(fully stupid, Jim!)

What Jim Taylor insists on calling the “inescapable” irony of New Orleans’ current predicament in the “land of ‘shock and awe’” is completely lost on me. I mean, is the suggestion meant to be that hurricane-smashed Louisiana is uncannily like war-torn Iraq? Alas: not even remotely, Jim my dear. The absence of assault by manned aircraft over Louisiana, and the absence of water-submerged homes in Iraq will rather clearly attest to this. That, and all the other completely obvious details that make the events about as similar as chalk and cheese.

I think I understand irony well enough, and I think I understand what constitutes a valid parallel well enough. Well enough, indeed, to be able to say with some confidence that Jim Taylor has only the most rudimentary and fumbling understanding of either. Honestly, for good measure, I'm surprised he didn’t throw into his irrational little word-concoction a couple of references to the Holocaust and Karla Homolka.

One trepidatiously wonders what inescapable irony the man could jerry-rig to the discovery, say, of a dead body on the banks of London( Ontario)’s Thames river ... “Well, there’s been no hurricane, and there’s been no war, but there’s still this dead body. So, er … er … What terrible irony! Yes, that’s it! Here we are, a bunch of complacent Canadians sitting on a great heap of laurels when, apparently, people are dying on the shores of the Thames! I’m shocked! … And, it occurs to me, I’m awed, by the sight of this dead body—and so, er, what bitter and, er, inescapable irony that I should be so affected when one considers that this country borders the one that coined the very term ‘Shock and Awe’!” etc.

The man’s worked himself up into such a lather over the mere specter of what he’s calling irony that I doubt if there’s a single key left on his keyboard that doesn’t squelch when it’s pressed. And thus--if I may say so, slightly ad hominen--I think, it is sound deduction to assert that Jim Taylor has never actually seen a dead body in his life. Else, that is, the consequent hysteria should long ago have either killed him or made him into a grown-up. (And, being that neither, evidently, is the case now ... QED.)

It is also, I think, a fair enough deduction to say that Jim Taylor holds some rather shockingly backward views with regard to black people. He burbles: “It is no coincidence that almost to a man -- or woman -- the looters who rampaged through the city's streets, stripping stores, shooting at police and turning New Orleans into a scene from Apocalypse Now, were black. People who had spent their lives as society's doormats now ignored the service entrance and were attempting to kick in the front door ... And we couldn't help but notice that people crammed into buses for long trips to nowhere were almost all black. And the masses huddled on bridges, jammed into sports venues, sitting on levees, holding signs with help us scrawled on them, all black.”

(Good God, man! Is this how we disguise/defend a very clear accusation that black people are predisposed to serious criminal behaviour? By implying that, what?, apparently, white republicans drove them to it?)

First, Jim, let’s have a look at a couple of facts: New Orleans is nearly 70% black. That makes the remaining non-black population a trifling 30%. That means, Jim, that a representative cross-section of pre-hurricane New Orleans residents—say, 40 people (yes: do the math; see them there in your mind’s eye)—would also not only appear to be “almost all black,” they would quite literally be “almost all black.” It is, therefore, and as you say, “no coincidence” that the majority of the city’s looters and refugees were black. But not, it really must be emphasized, predisposed to criminal behaviour and without alternative living arrangements because they are black, so much as because, statistically, a not inconsiderable fraction of so large a whole must be so predisposed. Irrespective of colour. 70% of New Orleans, Jim, is 328,322 people. That’s a-lot-a-lot-a people ...

But the man clearly means more by what he says. The implication is that all New Orleans’ black residents are poor and destitute (are “society’s doormats”) and that they are so (and were so prior to the hurricane) because they are black.

Again: let’s have a look at those facts, shall we? If 29% of New Orleans residents live under the poverty level—and even, let’s say, if all of that 29% were black (which it most assuredly isn’t)—that figure doesn’t account for even half of the city’s black population! Only the weakest kind of reasoning could derive from these ungainly stats clear evidence that there is any determining relationship between colour and class in this scenario. (Let alone between colour and propensity to criminal behaviour!)

And, I’m sorry, but if the looters were predominantly white, I’m willing to bet that we shouldn’t have given the matter so much as a second thought, as we’d realize that, as human beings, given a bulk of us—say 328,322 of us—there’s bound to be a whole bunch of scumbags. But the likes of Jim Taylor won’t apply this eminently sensible and realistic reasoning to black people because, I’m afraid, it's quite clear that he’s not entirely convinced that they are quite as human as white people ...

This was not a great proletarian coup, Jim. Nor was it a race riot. Most of these people were hungry! Just plain old hungry. (And there were, relatively speaking, plenty of hungry white people there too. And they weren’t all poor ones either.) You wanna know why? Because a category 4 hurricane hit New Orleans!

“A Detroit TV station solicited money for those caught in the devastation and you couldn't help but think, this is the richest nation on the planet. It seemed almost surreal.”

It’s always so revealing to hear people, who are endlessly so impressed with themselves to bleat on about “what all of us [can] see unfolding before our eyes,” using terms like “surreal” to describe the sight. And, of course, it is precisely this that is the only actual inescapable irony: that Jim Taylor and so many of the self-styled realists plaguing this continent have so much trouble accepting the most basic and urgent realities (as quite opposed to surrealities) existent: destruction, suffering, death.

But if we were to use this totally inappropriate word “surreal” to describe any part of the event: let us be absolutely certain that there was nothing surreal about the fact that the mighty USA was unable to meet the demands of the situation; rather, such was the incredible destructive power of hurricane Katrina, that not even the richest nation on the planet could stand fast in its path.