Thursday, September 29, 2005

Please Email This Article To 10,000 of Your Closest Soulmates Immediately And Bill Gates Will Give New Orleans A Trillion Bucks. Or Else You'll DIE.

Now that the news media is more or less done pumping up their ratings via extensive reporting of rumors, innuendo, exaggerations, falsehoods and histrionic hyperbole, they are now ready to set the record straight. It was all a bunch of hysteria-inducing lies! Profitable and titillating, but untrue. So now they have been devoting an exciting amount of airtime and column inches to detailing just how WRONG they were. To be fair, it is hard to get a story straight when your anchors are all wet and screaming at each other, and they have to rely on delusional, half-starved looters for information. So I'm here to retell the story of Hurricane Katrina. Only this time there will be no embellishments. Just the genuine poop straight from the sewers of New Orleans! It all began when a tropical "wave" high-fived Cuba and then developed into a "depression." It immediately headed for the Florida Keys in the hope of scoring some mood-altering substances. The tropical storm hip-checked South Florida as a mere Category I hurricane. Katrina then swirled into the Gulf of Mexico for 4o days and 40 nights while weather forecasters begged the Governor of Louisiana (Ellen DeGeneres), and the Mayor of New Orleans (Fats Domino) to call for mandatory evacuations of the city and coastline. The governor, channeling her forgetful Dory the Fish character from Finding Nemo, could not recall what the evacuation plan consisted of, nor what state she was supposed to be governing. She promptly legalized same-sex unions and applied for drought relief. Meanwhile Mayor Domino arranged a jam session of local musicians so the city could go under in style a la The Titanic. He belatedly issued an order for a "suggested evacuation" that included the poor, the elderly and the hospitalized to use U.S.S. Enterprise-style transponders to beam themselves to higher ground. Those who did not have fresh batteries for their transponders were advised to buy tickets to that weekend's New Orleans Saints game so they could "ride out the storm" in the comfort of the Superdome, with cheerleaders providing entertainment during the eye of the hurricane. Those who did not have the money to eat from the stadium's exorbitant snack menu were told to report to the Superdome with a six-pack and a roll of toilet paper. Meanwhile, the hurricane made landfall, causing a badly needed makeover of the coastline, re-shaping it into its original pristine people-free condition. Sandhill cranes celebrated their victory over mankind while armed killer dolphins roamed the bayous, plotting to finish off any human stragglers. News anchors cheered that the storm had veered at the last second and spared New Orleans from the anticipated destruction. Then a CIA-trained diving team consisting of Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and David Duke surreptitiously blew holes in several levees, flooding the city so that poor people would feel encouraged to abandon their homes and begin the process of gentrification in other urban areas, or possibly other urban continents. Pure freshwater from Lake Pontchartrain washed over the city, sweeping it of street grime, poor people and nursing home residents in one cleansing rush. Those city residents who did not have tickets for the football game chose not to evacuate due to a Mardi Gras in August Party scheduled at the New Orleans Convention Center. There was an elaborate buffet, and outsiders were clamoring to move to the city. The chamber of commerce was elated. By mid-week Mayor Fats Domino and Governor Ellen DeGeneres both woke up in bathtubs full of ice, and with painful, clumsily performed stitches in their noggins. A note scrawled on their respective bathroom mirrors (his in shrimp cocktail sauce, hers in lipstick) advised ominously, "Call FEMA!" The federal government rushed to their aid. The surgeon general soon examined the mayor and governor. They were both stunned to learn that some evil person, maybe even Martha Stewart, had secretly performed lobotomies on them, and had probably sold their brains on the black market. Or transferred them to that Imclone Company! Eventually the happy campers at the Superdome and Convention Center were transported out of New Orleans by means of: The Magic Schoolbus, The Polar Express, Jay Jay the Jetplane, and Herbie the Love Bug. They were assisted by the Superfriends, Booh-Bahs and Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang. Everyone is extremely excited about the prospect of re-building New Orleans. It can all be done with the help of generous donations from philanthropists such as Oprah Winfrey (who is giving all evacuees "a NEW car!"), Bill Clinton (personally donating a dozen roses to each displaced family), and Michael Jackson (just a bunch of old magazines, actually, but you have to read something while your house is being rebuilt.) There was so much praise and back-slapping going on politicians were developing bruises between their shoulder blades. FEMA director Michael Brown did such an outstanding job he was granted an early retirement and gold watch from a grateful president. Those evacuees who fled to other sports arenas are welcomed by their host communities because they are helping improve attendance at the local games. They would like to stay, but the prospect of returning to a newly-rebuilt New Orleans is too tempting to resist. The new city is going to be glassed in like a snow globe so future hurricanes will just bounce off and hit, ahem, Texas. The Texans don't mind...they too would like their coastlines cleansed! Hurricane Katrina will be remembered for how she brought us all together as one big happy nation. The levee-front condos in New Orleans should be finished any time now.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rita and Weep

If you are stuck with a second major hurricane swirling in the Gulf of Mexico within a month of the first, would you be better off having that hurricane strike a new area, or have it strike where it did before? That is a question some were debating as Hurricane Rita rotated ominously for several days after striking a glancing blow to the Florida Keys. Well it's not as though we're given a choice in these things. Hurricanes can't be steered like a herd of cattle. (Although I have to believe a hurricane is the waterborn equivalent of a stampede.) But it's an interesting question. The problem is, Hurricane Rita is so morbidly obese that she has more or less succeeded in hitting Houston, the Texas/Louisiana oil rigs AND re-flooding New Orleans, all at the same time! Rita is what you would call a multi-tasking storm, busily sending threatening text messages to worried meteorologists as she decides where she wants to do the most damage. Was she going to smack Galveston with her waterlogged briefcase? Or was she going to fire New Orleans as a major American city, sending it a pink slip just when it thought it was up for a promotion? Meanwhile the meeting she called to discuss the subject took DAYS, as everyone in their right mind evacuated. Watching the evacuation gave me many sincere feelings, the predominant one being that if we as a population ever needed to get someplace quickly, say, in 24 hours, WE'RE DOOMED. That much is obvious. And in case of emergency you sure don't want to be a senior citizen. After watching a couple dozen nursing home residents burn up in a bus you have to wonder what other option these people had. If you stay, you drown. If you flee, burn to death. Great choices! Americans are no doubt looking at that situation and saying they clearly would NEVER want to be a nursing home resident. That's no way to live. So, Terri Schiavo-like, it must be time to cut off the food supplies to nursing homes. Would YOU want to live that way? And wouldn't you want your loved ones deciding when you're going to die rather than the inept governor of a state? I suspect terrorists are watching this whole charade and thinking, gee, it doesn't take much to flood New Orleans, does it? But their next weapon of mass destruction is likely to be buses filled with senior citizens on oxygen. That bus explosion turned out to be the worst casualty of Hurricane Rita. Is this hurricane season trying to tell us something? Maybe that the coasts are no longer a viable place to live? Is it reasonable to expect the country to foot the bill for rebuilding New Orleans in a location that won't be any safer next year than it is today? These questions don't have to be answered right away. We can wait maybe until the next hurricane. That may answer them for us. The president has said he cannot imagine this country without New Orleans. Well I say get creative! We couldn't have imagined it underwater, either. Voila! There are many available locations to evacuate "New Olreans" to. Maybe some nice, dry territory in Wyoming. If we keep insisting we're going to rebuild New Orleans Six Feet Under, er, below sea level, maybe the hurricanes will keep insisting it's a bad idea. You can't win an argument with Mother Nature. And as dad is sure to point out, we shouldn't even be giving her any lip.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Stressed Side Story: Hurricane Rita

Unfortunately for us, Hurricane Rita likes the shores of America. Which really suggests a tribute to multi-talented star of the 1950s and 1960s Rita Moreno, who starred in the movie West Side Story in 1961. I will go ahead with my regular story, but, musical style, will occasionally break into song to amplify my remarks. (Just picture members of FEMA performing an elaborately choreographed dance sequence in the background.) I feel windy Oh so windy I feel windy and stormy tonight And I pity Any citizen in the way of my might Last night as I was watching the eyewall to eyewall coverage of Hurricane Rita, I was startled to see the cable news channels break away to coverage of SOMETHING ELSE. (How dare they!) I guess the only thing more interesting than a Category 5 hurricane in the gulf would be a passenger jet buzzing Los Angeles because its landing gear is stuck at an awkward 90 degree angle. The prospect of a spectacular crash was too much for the news channels to resist! Fortunately the plane was able to land with all its passengers intact, but not before creating a most alarming "spark" when it hit the tarmac. I'm sure that plane's passengers found it a life-altering experience, as they had three hours (while the plane dumped fuel) to reflect on their collective near death experience. Because it was a JetBlue flight they all got to watch the footage of their plane landing on their personal passenger TV screens! ("Honey, would you rather watch our fiery deaths on TV, or experience it live in the cabin?") I feel alarming So alarming It's amazing how alarming I've grown And so windy That I can destroy everything you own As soon as the plane issue was over we returned to Rita, which local and federal government officials are responding to in a remarkably attentive way! I guess they didn't want to get caught with their landing gear in the "down" position for two consecutive massive public hurricanes. But now we see what the problem is when the evacuation operates correctly: EVERYONE is on the road! Making the journey extremely slow. To the point where we wonder if these same people will still be on the road two days later. Will they arrive at a safe destination before they run out of gas? And if everyone starts running out of gas, is someone from FEMA assigned to go from car to car with the official federal gas can? Would AAA even THINK about responding in this situation? One woman called the news via cell phone to report she had traveled 8 miles in 6 and a half hours. At that rate she'll be in the eye of the hurricane in approximately 38 hours! See the windy storm in the radar Who can that monster 'cane be? Such a windy eye Such a windy surge Such a windy day Such a windy me! This does slightly call into question the government's pledge to rebuild New Orleans, and to do it with tons of federal money (couple hundred billion?) and make it better than it was before. Is it wise to rebuild ANY city that is, technically, below sea level? Can't we just have a New Orleans pavilion at Disney's Epcot Center and be done with it? I questioned the wisdom of this when it was announced. (Me: What, are they NUTS?) But now that Hurricane Rita is threatening to take out Galveston, Houston, and parts of western Louisiana, I'm thinking that even the nation's safety deposit bottles will not be enough to pay for rebuilding. After all, we'll also have to rebuild the oil rigs, the insurance companies and the housing bubble. Think we can still afford to be spending hundreds of billions annually to bring democracy to Iraq? I have long said it would not be a political crisis that would end our involvement in Iraq. We would simply run out of money to sustain the operation. Well the hurricanes may be ratcheting up the timetable on that one. Can't we let the CHINESE take care of the Iraq problem? Who cares if they're communist as long as they turn the utilities back on and start pumping oil? It doesn't seem like they want democracy -- let's see how they like Karl Marx! I am running And I'm gunning For the coast of the state of Texas And I'm going To drive up the price of your gas Just as an aside, (and it is an interesting aside because it may encompass the whole of our futures), but a huge hit on the rest of our oil-producing capacity is a huge hit on EVERYTHING. Not just gassing up our cars, although that's bad enough, but on everything we buy, everything we take for granted, our entire way of life. Multiple personal cars per family? Silly. Abandoning our cities for long suburban commutes? Ridiculous. Shipping our jobs and major industries overseas so we can have a "service economy" and import cheap junk from China and Taiwan? Suicidal. Unheard of 75 years ago. And (I'm predicting) unheard of 15 years from now. I didn't expect to have to say that prior to the big California earthquake, a major Mississippi flood or a really weird volcano, but here it is. Only two back to back hurricanes and suddenly we're realizing that our economic assumptions of the past 50 years no longer apply. So stock up on whatever you think you're definitely going to need for the next 15 years...I'm thinking underwear, deodorant and toothpaste are all important. Oh yes, and floss. West Side Story said it best: "Comfort is Yours in America!" Thank you, Stephen Sondheim, for the memories.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Simple Simon Says: Come To New Orleans. Wait. No, DON'T!

I have to say that his whole hurricane evacuation/rescue/relief/recover/return/rebuild scenario in Louisiana is beginning to take on the aura of an elaborate game of Simon Says only on a statewide scale. Simple Mayor Ray Nagin says: "Evacuate!" (unless you're a hospital. We feel those people can definitely weather a Cat 4 storm because, well, aren't those tube thingies battery-operated?). Late last week, Simple Nagin shouted, "Everyone come back! Let's start the rebuilding on Monday!" Now that it's Monday we just got some alarming news. Hard to believe, but IT'S STILL HURRICANE SEASON! Simple Nagin says, "The return is halted! We're evacuating again!" This was bolstered by a statement from Simple Kathleen Blanco, the alleged governor, who warned that coastal residents (not just New Orleans residents) should "prepare" to evacuate. But to not actually evacuate until, say, it's too late. Par for the course! Weather forecasters are once again screaming "Fore!" and local politicians have lapsed into Dithering Mode, which seems to be standard operating procedure in the face of impending catastrophe. Why, they couldn't even agree on whether or when the residents should be allowed to return to the city. Nagin: Yes! Local FEMA guy: No! Gov. Blanco: What's my state, again? President Bush: I'm forseeing a breach in the levees! Homeland Security Chief Chertoff: We're letting people back into New Orleans? I thought we wrote off the city! That was MY intention, anyway. The Red Cross: Should we just set up the trucks now? New FEMA guy: Just wrap your house with duct tape and hope it sticks to the earth. It seems slightly unfair that the tropical storm eyeing Key West (RITA) could very well sweep into the Gulf, strengthen, and then take aim at, ahem THE HOUSTON ASTRODOME, where many Katrina evacuees are receiving their mail. It does seem like a government plot to keep SOMEONE from receiving their Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Grand Prize, doesn't it? All these conflicting orders/suggestions/directives/edicts/recommendations/pleas by government officials have to be giving back pain to anyone trying to follow them, unless they happen to be extremely limber. It is difficult to cut through all the verbiage and discern if what we're hearing is a Simon Says statement (you ought to do it) or just a "statement" (something you should take with a carton of salt). Let's just say even the news people are growing confused. There's also the matter of long-term plans for the area. Some (namely the president) say it will be rebuilt in even grander style than before. Every house will look like Trent Lott's! We will pay for this with money collected from all those deposit bottles that floated into the Gulf during the storm. (Note: Any that wash up on Florida's west coast will be confiscated by Floridians because we have our own hurricane rebuilding difficulties.) Others say there are significant obstacles to the rebuilding effort. These include: 1) Money. There may not be enough deposit bottles on THE WHOLE PLANET to rebuild New Orleans. (Idea: Maybe there are weapons of mass destruction buried in New Orleans that no one knows about. Along the lines of that biological defense lab where they supposedly "destroyed" the deadly samples. Let's declare war on Mayor Nagin and instead of bombing those insurgent evacuees, we'll just give them what we would've spent on the bombing to help bring democracy to New Orleans!) 2) Germs. The EPA has tested the air and yes, it's safe to take a deep breath in the Big Stinky! But the EPA has NOT yet given the okay on the water. True, you can drink bottled water. But are you going to SHOWER with bottled water? Wash your dishes with bottled water? Your clothes? Methinks New Orleans is going to need a very long hose, say one that stretches to lake Michigan, before the water problem is solved. 3) Levees. The levees are temporarily holding. But if a tropical storm should happen by, fergeddabouddit! We will see the re-flooding of the city. Hopefully by now everyone knows that if you evacuate to your attic you need to bring bottled water and a sharp ax with you. And maybe some flares if you want to eventually be seen by MSNBC. I have a word of advice for the rest of the country. Don't plan next year's convention for the New Orleans convention center. And don't buy a used car with a rusty interior. The Kingdome and the Silverdome? Get ready for customers!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Katrina and The Waves of Remorse

Nothing can be quite as bad as watching a major American city crumble like a cookie soaked in a Hot Toxic Superfund Stew, but after enduring the horrors of the New Orleans deluge something comes close. And that would be watching all the government officials in their digitproof vests as they stab fingers in each other's direction trying to pin the blame on someone else's soiled lapel. Of course they all gave lip service to the idea that we should be "responding, not blaming" but honestly, I believe they were all lip synching when they said that. It was the ultimate governmental Ashlee Simpson moment. Which is why everyone is rapidly making embarrassed hoe down moves in response to the public outrage. The president has already dos-i-doed to the region four times in an effort to portray that he cares, and is on top of the situation. The governor is desperately marshalling a belated response (and I'm sure relatives of the deceased residents of various nursing homes will kick in for a collective thank you card), and trying to convince everyone that YES, she was INDEED aware that Louisiana was "her" state. It is so easy to get that confused on election night when so many other governors' races are being decided. It is entirely possible she thought she got elected governor of Illinois and is in fact dealing with a severe drought as we speak. More recently our top government officials seem to have realized that their effort to shift blame has only inflamed public opinion further, to the point where we have started looting positive approval points out of the polls. So instead of shifting blame (which, let's face it, they never accepted to begin with, since it was obviously the National Geographic's fault for not sending every American citizen a copy of their prescient article on the potentially catastrophic flooding) they are now, (hold your breath in anticipation here, or, if you're in New Orleans, because you can't stand the smell in the streets) ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY. They are ALL doing it! It is the trend of the moment. Once you've pointed out that you did everything you could do under the circumstances, and, anyway, had no way of knowing that New Orleans could EVER flood on a rainy day, then it's time to turn the page and regally "accept responsibility." As long as it means you get to keep your job and people stop saying nasty things about you, of course. So far between the president of the U.S., the governor of Louisiana, the Mayor of New Orleans, the chief of Homeland Security, and the head of FEMA (who has graciously agreed to accept responsibility from his recreation room at his home), they have collectively accepted responsibility for: substandard housing in Louisiana's sports arenas, WWI, the JFK assassination, the Great Depression, Watergate, Hiroshima, the Energy Crisis, WWII, Vietnam, Iran-Contra, the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia, the Gulf War, West Nile Virus and a plethora of bad photo opportunities emanating from the Gulf Coast region. They are accepting so much responsibility for bad things that I'm beginning to think they are al Qaeda spokespeople minus the angry eyebrows. Exhausted from all the accepting of responsibility, I am sure they need people to spell them. I am here to offer my services, since I routinely accept the blame for things on Thursdays. True, today is Friday, so that gives me a week to rest up and start my blame shouldering the following Thursday. As water levels receded in downtown New Orleans, some interesting facts that were submerged in all the news overload are now coming to light and drying out a bit. The Associated Press has sorted through these facts, and here are a few I'd like to share. First is that the levees that were breached were not exactly the ones waiting for more funding. It was the ALREADY REINFORCED levees that gave way, so no amount of federal money would have stoppered those leaks. In fact, the flooding likely would have occurred even if every levee improvement project had been completed, simply because no one planned to build them to withstand a Category Four-plus hurricane. It is also obvious that everyone "could have" expected the breach of the levees, contrary to the president's assertion. (Although it's possible he was referring to the fact that no levees broke during the storm proper, and news people were already celebrating the bullet dodged by the city the following morning.) There were plenty of academic papers, newspaper articles and magazine pieces discussing precisely such a scenario. Dire warnings were issued by TV weather forecasters as Katrina bore down on the city. The only way you could not have known of the catastrophic potential was if you were singing loudly to yourself in the shower for three straight days. (Come to think of it, everyone's skin IS looking a bit more wrinkly lately.) Need proof? Last year Homeland Security and FEMA jointly conducted an exercise dubbed "Hurricane Pam" to study a proper response to a fictional Category Three hurricane that would hit New Orleans. (Aside: I like the teflonesque qualities implied by Hurricane Pam, as if it were as non-stick as a baking spray.) That study suggested flooding would top the levees and potentially cause mass casualties on the heels of a mass evacuation. It projected upwards of 60,000 deaths, injuries and illnesses in the hundreds of thousands, leaving the area barren for more than 12 months. Now that sort of projection, undertaken just last year by the very agencies in charge of federal emergency response, has to leave us wondering why they were sitting on their duffs when a monster hurricane, larger AND more powerful than the Faux Pam, was taking aim at New Orleans. FEMA director Michael Brown got sacked for the perceived tardiness of governmental response, even though best as I can tell Homeland Security Chief Chertoff did not transfer the authority and responsibility to him until 36 hours after the storm passed. Well, you can't drop a baton until the runner ahead passes it along. In the hot glare of press inquiry Brown's resume problem floated to the surface. It seems he padded that resume to D-cup size when his accomplishments merited "barely an A" status. He did not actually DIRECT any emergency management organizations. He previously worked as an intern for one. Yes, it would be like Monica Lewinsky running the State Department! (Which, frankly, we can't be certain she didn't, at times.) So his job and reputation were an early administrative casualty of Katrina's wrath, and it's hard to feel sorry for him when there are so many others who have lost so much more. Political spinners really ought to give it a rest, though, because if you want to boil the dollars down to a Democrat vs Republican water balloon fight, it turns out the federal government spent $195 million on the New Orleans levee project during the last five years of Clinton's terms, compared with the $276 million spent in the first five years of Bush's terms in office. That might be like comparing Al Gore's "Gentleman's C" grades with those of both John Kerry and G.W. Bush, but at least money was spent. Probably not wisely or well, but it was spent. On top of that, New Orleans is far from the only area of the country that was in desperate need of infrastructure triage. I'll get into that in a future blog. We should all be afraid. Very afraid!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Not EXACTLY The Wild Kingdom

Florida is absolutely beautiful in its natural state. The beaches! The wetlands! The tropical jungle-looking stuff! Being the naturalist outdoorsy types that Hubby and I are, we enjoy viewing all this fabulous natural scenery in pictures. We even don't mind viewing it from, say, the tinted windows of our speeding van, or the safety of a tourist tram, or especially from the hermetically sealed windows of our plane as we are flying over! What we DON'T want is to encounter any of it in an up close and personal way, such as the kind that would result in bug bites, rashes or any type of alligator incident that would make the local section of our paper. What we want to do is confront nature on OUR terms, which is basically to pretend it doesn't exist except perhaps in stories, photographs or tour guide monologues. What we like is FAKE nature that looks beautiful but doesn't smell like anything unless you spray it with one of those outdoorsy car deodorizers. Which is why we LOVE our trips to Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in Winter Haven, Florida. We actually used to live a stone's throw from the park (assuming the stone is the size of a baseball and the thrower is Randy Johnson.) Really only a 5-minute drive depending on whether we had to wait at the signal. Now that we live in Lakeland the park is about a half hour ride, but still well worth getting the season's pass. The park got re-made in the past year and added all kinds of great rides plus a water park, making it perfect for our 4- and and 6-year-old! It used to be primarily botanical gardens, an animal section, plus a water ski show and some dusty exhibits. Now it's like Disney without the lines! Like Six Flags without the defibrillator! Like the zoo but without any significant odors! Really, you get a lot of bang for your buck at the New Cypress Gardens Adventure Park. And no one is paying me to say that! (Yet. I have hopes! This space available!) When we went earlier in the summer only two sections of the water park were open. It is called Splash Island, which sounds more kid-oriented than parent-friendly. But in reality it is both! Especially in Florida's 95-plus degrees summer heat. The two open sections were Paradise River, which is where you get on your own personal inner tube raft and float lazily in this meandering "river" that is only about three feet deep. And you can make a flotilla out of your whole family so you don't have to worry about losing the kids! There are lifeguards stationed everywhere along the way so they don't have to worry about losing any paying customers. This is a fabulous ride if you just want to cool off and don't want to have to use any muscles or even open your eyes! In other words, MY kinda ride! (Parental disclaimer: I did glance at the kids every so often.) The other open section was "Polynesian Adventure." It is an elaborate structure placed in shallow water. It is swarming with kids of all sizes and bursting with water from every possible direction. Don't stare too closely up at that Polynesian god or his face will tip, dumping buckets of water onto unsuspecting onlookers. Exotic birds will spit water at you! Water sprays up at you on the stairs causing sensations best not described on a G-rated blog! I'm not sure why I wear my glasses to these things, except for the fact that I can't see without them. (Note to self: Maybe a swimmer's mask or diving helmet next time?) Then there are these twisting slides which the kids insist we go down with them. (Special note: the green slide is the most aggressive and will result in water up your nose.) Now if your goal is to "not get your hair wet" you will not enjoy the Polynesian Adventure. But if you're more concerned with keeping your body temperature from soaring into fever range, this is the perfect way to do it. Yesterday's adventure added a whole new wrinkle, the Wave Pool. First let me tell you what this pool did NOT have: stingrays, sharks, sharp stones, stones of any kind, jellyfish, dead fish, toxic waste, seaweed, litter, members of FEMA or cable news reporters. In other words, it was like paradise. TRUE, there was technically no sand, either, but that's nothing you couldn't fix by adding a sandbox to your backyard if you really wanted the sensation of sand between your toes. And the concrete at the edge of the wading pool was sand-colored, in contrast to the blue concrete in the wave area. So the visuals were harmonically blended. So I sat in about a foot of water and just let the waves roll over me while I made sure the 4- and 6-year-old did not go "out too deep." (The Deep End was an impressive 6 feet.) I'm not certain what exactly generated these waves. It was definitely not the ocean, and I'm pretty sure God was not directly involved either. Right now my suspicion is lingering on some kind of 'Wave Machine" that may have been invented in Hollywood around the time of the first Poseidon Adventure. This was the perfect clinically sterile experience I was looking for. Better than real waves because they come in faster and you don't have to worry about getting the flesh-eating disease. (Thank you Mr. Pool Chemical Guy) Meanwhile, I noticed Hubby in a beach chair in the "sandy" area. He was talking to some young fellow I didn't recognize. Perhaps someone he knew in connection with work? Later he told me the guy was a total stranger, but appeared "stoned," and was complaining that the waves weren't big enough for his surfboard. How's THAT for realism? Our very own stoned surfer kvetching about the quality of the waves! Public Safety Note: There is NO SMOKING at the Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, no matter what the substance. So we don't know how he got in that condition. The kids also got to do some Kidsapalooza activities involving: Thumbprint Art (the 4-year-old wiped his thumbs on me), a Graffiti Wall (the 6-year-old somehow turns the first letter of his name into a waterslide, with the vowel sliding down into a pool. It's much more artistic than anything I have ever conceived.), Animal Tracks (we had plenty of room on our sheet until we got to the baby elephant stamp), Sand Art, Create Your Own Magnet, and Boomerang Decoration (0uch.) If you have a kid under the age of 10, this is the park for you! If you like to enjoy the water without enjoying shark attacks, riptides and waterborne funguses, this is the park for you! If you don't want to fight the crowds at Disney but still feel like you got your money's worth, this is the park for you! Plus at the end we got to stroll through the botanical gardens part, with funky new age music playing out of strategically placed speakers. Enjoying nature without having to touch it! They pay others to keep everything trimmed and make sure there are no spiders. Ah, Natural Florida. Can't beat it!

Friday, September 09, 2005

National Struggle Against Atmospheric Extremism

It is apparent to me that the number of deaths associated with Hurricane Katrina will exceed the number of people who died in the 9/11 terror attacks on American soil. This was obvious to me even as the hurricane was on its way in, as I reported around 2 a.m. on Aug. 29th, before the hurricane had even struck in "Katrina: Mother of All Hurricanes." News reports now say we are spending $1 billion a day on the Katrina relief effort. Perhaps that figure would be unchanged even if things had gone differently. However this was not a totally unexpected disaster, as the 9/11 attacks were. This was not some sucker punch thrown by Mother Nature that we couldn't have guessed it was coming. We've known for decades it could come. At least since hurricanes Betsy and Camille in the 1960s. Development in the low-lying New Olreans area continued unabated. (and calling New Orleans "low-lying" is a little like calling Katrina "a large windbag.") A researcher from LSU described what would happen almost verbatim, and this was in 2002. LSU Guy Foresees New Orleans Tragedy. What WAS abated was money slated for levee improvements. Money allocated by the federal government and then apparently spent by the state of Louisiana for other things such as refurbishing some Mardi Gras statues and expensive improvements for the state supreme court. There were even some federal matching funds that went unclaimed because the state spent its largesse so unwisely. The feds also slashed levee monies in recent years, so it's apparent EVERYONE was counting on the generosity of Mother Nature in not walloping New Orleans with a right hook. But wasn't a hurricane in New Orleans more LIKELY than any given terrorist attack? You can never be sure where a terrorist will strike, but you can be certain New Orleans remains a hurricane target with each new season that comes. But we have a whole structure set up, Homeland Security, just to deal with things like terrorist attacks. And, to a lesser extent, natural disasters. Even though it must be obvious by now that natural disasters are a bigger threat to national (and local) security than anyone with a boxcutter. So far there hasn't been any terrorist attack that has emptied almost an entire city, the way Katrina did to New Orleans. It's still an open question whether the city will be rebuilt in any meaningful way. Yes they are giving lip service to it, surely no one is missing all the giant flapping lips that seem to be the hallmark of this disaster. But I suspect they will keep making progress until the "obstacles" get too expensive, whether it be shoring up the levees, detoxifying the city or suddenly realizing that every building in the flooded areas has a serious mold problem that will be extremely expensive to eradicate. My latest idea on New Orleans: Let's glass it in like a snow globe! Then people can visit using those cute little tourist submarines like they have in Hawaii. The next hurricane will wash right over the city with no visible effect. It will be our first fully-functional underwater community! Anyway, if we are going to respond to 9/11 with a War on Terror, then the thousands of Katrina deaths ought to precipitate a War Against Natural Disasters, or W.A.N.D., as in we should start waving one, along with scattering our pixie dust. Maybe we could lable it the National Struggle Against Atmospheric Extremism. Yes, I know we want to blame the policians for not building higher levees, or a dike the size of Rhode Island. But I have to ask: what are you gonna do about California? I forget how much of our national economy it makes up, but it's a lot. CA has one of the largest economies in the WORLD. California is sitting precariously on a fault between two really cranky tectonic plates. The Big One (an earthquake greater than magnitude 8, maybe closer to 9) has been overdue now for at least two decades. When THAT happens you aren't going to be able to bus the bottled water in, or bus the people out. You won't even get the courtesty of 48 hours notice as we did with Katrina. It will just be WHAMMO, and suddenly the whole state will be refugees (excuse me "evacuees," only of course they won't be going anywhere unless there is a helicopter pilot in the family.) Roads will be impassible, buildings will be on fire, people will be trapped, the U.S. economy will be ruined. So my suggestion is a simple one. We need to evacaute California starting TODAY. Maybe we can begin with everyone along the San Andreas fault, and then move, fault by fault, until we've cleansed the entire area of future evacuees! Let's face it, California is only as viable as Pompeii. A nice place to be born, but you wouldn't want to be crushed there. And a note to you in other parts of the world: that Asian tsunami thing was probably just a warm-up! The next earthquake/tidal wave event will likely extend as far as Australia and the east coast of Africa. You can't actually shift the earth off its axis and then not expect a follow-up. So everyone move at least ten feet inland (or ten miles if you can manage it) because we all know now Mother Nature's version of Disney's Blizzard Beach is no fun at all.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Future Map of North America

The Inundation of New Orleans is making people nervous, in an End Times kinda way. Although I like Hubby's idea of leaving the Big Easy underwater, and recreating a tourist attraction on a giant bobbing barge that could be called The Floating French Quarter. I've been mentally reviewing the list of things which must be done in order to revive New Orleans. It is not a happy list. They need to: find, recover and bury the remaining dead bodies (including searches of every house still standing), temporarily rebuild the levees so they can pump out the water, raze damaged structures, detoxify everything, mobilize an army of insurance adjustors and building inspectors to assess damage, clean up the mold, rebuild the infrastructure...then and only then can they think about rebuilding. I think it's several years out, if it can be done at all. I think it will prove far too expensive to rebuild New Orleans where it was. I don't blame people for having an emotional attachment to What Once Was (WOW!), but that New Orleans is a memory. It may not be acceptable to declare the city dead (ask Dennis Hastert) but what they likely will do is pretend they plan to rebuild the city and then inform the public as each new obstacle is reached. It will eventually become conventional wisdom that it just can't be done. That's also assuming no more hurricanes will come along in the meantime, which is not a certainty either. I hope every other city is working on its disaster plan, whether it's Miami's hurricane plan, LA's earthquake plan, Seattle's volcano plan, New York's terrorism plan or Philadelphia's tsunami plan. We now know a certain percentage cannot evacuate without help, and another percentage will not evacuate without coercion. Let's work on that now before it's too late.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Rescue Heroes Save Humanity

After watching a week's worth of disaster in the City Formerly Known as New Orleans, I want to focus on a rescue of a happier nature. One in which none of the victims die, the rescuers are all heroes, and everything returns to normal at the end of the day. These rescues took place at our house. Hubby got to play God, setting in motion a number of Faux Disasters that the 4- and 6-year-old were commissioned to deal with.

They love the Rescue Heroes action figures, with names like ROCKY CANYON, MOE ZAMBIQUE, WENDY WATERS, GIL GRIPPER and KENNY RIDE. They want to be just like them, rescuing people from various dangers that pop up around our house. (However not from REAL dangers, such as we lost the car keys, forgot to turn the toaster oven off and it's smoking, a spider the size a frisbee is in the house, Girl Scouts are insisting we bought 12 boxes of cookies all the same variety, or no one can find the remote again and it's the TV whose manual button is broke so it won't shut off EVER, etc.)

So anyway, God, er, I mean Hubby, is forced to come up with a variety of exciting "rescues" that can be staged inside the house without a) endangering our children, b) hurting the resale value of the house, or c) causing a social service agency to investigate us. It is quite a task, but Hubby has a side of him that is firmly stuck in childhood, so I think he just channeled that personality!

The first rescue was called "Avalanche!" Upstairs he created a disaster involving comforters, couch cushions, and every pillow in our house. We probably own 30-40 pillows for no good reason. We were probably both pillow deprived as children. I only recall ever owning one, and it was VERY flat. We've obviously overcompensated. So our boys, the Rescue Heroes, were charged with the mission of getting to the upstairs "disaster area" and finding all 15 or so victims. They had to bring these victims to the rescue area.

"No one gets LEFT BEHIND!" Hubby shouted as them as they bolted upstairs, scrambling on the stairs over strategically placed comforters and pillows. "We're ON it!" they assured him. (They like using official Rescue Hero Lingo, which includes a bevy of "rogers," "overs," and "can-you-read-me's?") Like extremely cute mountain goats they made it past the obstruction, and squealed with delight as they were able to rescue some of their victims, stuck in drawers, hanging from chandeliers, trapped behind couch cushions. I had to pretend to be Network News Lady, following them with the video camera to get great footage of the rescue.

It was not easy. Hubby imagined that as they scaled the stairs they would throw the pillows behind them. Wrong! They dexterously clambered OVER them, leaving Hubby and me to fight our way awkwardly through what looked like a White Sale Gone Very Wrong. They had rescued half the victims by the time I made it to the second floor. Winnie the Pooh! Mickey Mouse! Minnie! Stuffed Animals of Every Description! Bob the Builder (who kept running his saw and spouting dialogue any time anyone touched him.)

The kids were outfitted with walkie talkies. Each time one of the boys uncovered a victim, he would seize the person/animal/creature by one limb (or worse, the head) and fling he/she/it into the pile of already rescued victims. Sometimes at great speed! With no regards to the status of anyone's back. Let's just say if these victims weren't hurt by the avalanche itself, the rough rescue probably did them in. The boys were just counting rescued bodies. Injuries sustained during the rescue were completely incidental. "STAY SAFE!" They would shout at each other periodically. Their faces were flushed with triumph by the time they rescued the last victim.

This was better than playing Hide and Seek in Mom & Dad's room with the neighborhood kids and a bag of chips! Greater fun than re-doing the kitchen in a Play-Doh motif! More fascinating than dousing the entire master bath in a dense fog of white baby powder! But the fun did not stop there. No! Next was "Lanai Forest Fire." Hubby taped red paper flames to the plastic patio chairs scattered around our screened-in patio and pool area. The boys proceeded to douse the flames with water balloons. Little bits of water balloon littered the lanai. The tile looked like it had contracted Psychedelic Measles.

Then we went on the "Mine Explosion and Poisonous Gas Adventure." The boys donned surgical masks, safety goggles and rubber gloves as they rescued their stuffed victims from the poisonous gases seeping throughout the upstairs after the mine explosion. It was harder to see through the safety goggles, but eventually they found all the fuzzy victims and hurled them to safety!

Hubby was getting very creative with the next adventure. It was a "Rock Slide Into Our Bedroom." He carefully blocked the entrance to the master bedroom top to bottom with a variety of soft objects such as pillows, cushions and backrests. He wedged it all in there tightly. He had scattered the poor victims (which by now had to be getting tired of being rescued from so many disasters) all over our room. Then he told the boys they needed to get through the rockslide which had "trapped" the victims in our room, and get them out ASAP so we could attend to their injuries. Well the boys took a running start and burst through the pillow blockage jamming the doorway such that they both went tumbling into the room in a giggling heap with pillows flying every which way. Then of course they raced to trample the victims and sling them out of the room. More success!

The final adventure was breathtaking. We had to wait until after dinner, when night fell, for the "Electrical Wind And Rain Storm." (However we had already decided beforehand we did NOT want anything resembling a flood in the house.) Once it got dark, Hubby scattered the bruised and tattered victims on the boys' side of the house, strewn between two bedrooms and a hall. We turned off every light in the house, and sent them searching with flashlights and glow sticks. Then I blew the battery-operated fan at them (wind!) and Hubby squirted them with his spray bottle of water (rain!) as they scrambled around looking for victims. A huge success!

The boys were so weary and thrilled by the end of all this they couldn't wait until we did MORE rescues the next day. Perhaps something involving boats, they suggested. Or a tornado! And could we get some dangerous animals into the house to participate? (NO.) As the 4-year-old said to us, "This is FAMILY FUN!" I give Hubby all the credit for coming up with such a bizarre and successful childhood memory for them. Especially because we will probably have to come up with new adventures each week, or somehow get the entire neighborhood involved. The best part of all is that there is no danger. It is all just Make Believe.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Lost City of New Orleans

Perhaps someday people will think of New Orleans as a mythical city like Atlantis, long buried in a watery grave. That is what I suspect, even though the talking heads have been prattling about "the rebuilding schedule." It'll be DAYS before New Orleans is back on line (they assured us Monday), perhaps WEEKS before the lights go back on (they breathlessly informed us on Tuesday), even MONTHS before the city reopens for business (they prognosticated on Wednesday), mmm, likely YEARS before life gets back to normal (they suggested Thursday.) By early Friday morning, for the first time, I heard someone mention "a decade." Okay. Let me save you all the trouble. It might not come back. Ever. And even if it could, perhaps it should not. Not where it is. Not in the absurd configuration of a City in a Bowl. Not the way it was. You can't duplicate that kind of history without making it into a Disney-esque hyperbole of what people remembered it to be. Accept it. New Orleans is a city that once was. It is not to be again. I'm getting a little fatigued watching and reading the news reports. It is not Compassion Fatigue. The stories still move me, the pictures still wound me, the misery still astounds me. Each night I go to bed and thank God for my comfortable bed, my safe house, my fresh water, my plentiful food, my uninterrupted electricity, my functioning plumbing, my access to incredibly expensive gasoline. Because no matter how much it costs, we HAVE it. The people in New Orleans have nothing. Nothing worth having. What they have is suffering. There's plenty of that to go around, and it is growing by the hour. I watch in horror as people trapped on rooftops for days are afraid to come down because of the roving armed gangs of looters. Families waiting on interstates for buses that take forever. Children with quivering lips, living the nightmare parents always assured them could never happen. The elderly in their wheelchairs, waiting patiently for help that never comes. Patients dying for lack of food, medicine, fresh water, oxygen, shelter from a blistering sun. It is an apocalyptic scene, and it scares me to think such suffering is going on all over the vast city, in hidden corners away from the cameras that are attempting to document it all. Government leaders seem to spout nonsense, assuring us that help is on the way, that the people are "resilient," that the situation will soon be under control. What kind of poorly thought out disaster plan didn't account for an impoverished population that had no means to flee an unfolding catastrophe, and no place to flee to? An imminent Category 5 did not trigger free buses? There was no agreement with other communities on setting up temporary refuges for the tens of thousands who had no money for a hotel? The shelter of choice for the sickest and most infirm was the SUPERDOME? Did planners actually sit around a coffee urn and discuss any of these details, or did they find the scenario too depressing to even address? I want to scoop up all these suffering people and deposit them somewhere, anywhere, that can help them. I wonder why it is taking so LONG to deliver even the most basic of supplies. I worry about the children, praying that their parents can keep them safe until help arrives. Word has just gone out that the Astrodome is closed to new refugees. They are at capacity. Where next? The Kingdome in Seattle? The Silverdome in Detroit? The Kingdom of Heaven, perhaps, if someone doesn't do something soon? The devastation is unprecedented, the losses incalculable, the suffering unimaginable. And the suffering is not limited to New Orleans. There are refugees all over parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. People without electricity everywhere, and gas in short supply. Will people get their back their homes, their jobs, their lives? For many the answer is no. It has been said Mardi Gras has been canceled for next year. However Lent, the 6-week season of penance that follows it, will surely go on as scheduled. Come to think of it, Lent began on Sunday. And we have no earthly idea when it will end.