Sunday, September 04, 2005


"Head and heart have broken down," the band Bush sang in "Hurricane," and that best describes the situation in the United States, six days after Hurricane Katrina killed the 35th largest city in America. We are dangerously close to a national breakdown -- Christ, we're finding meaning in a Bush song -- and no amount of Clozaril is going to help when the wheels finally fly clear of the axles.

New Orleans is dead, its survivors flung across the country -- not by storm winds, but by bus and plane. Most of them say they will never go home. Their living city of 462,269 is now populated by corpses floating in filthy water. Almost all of it will have to be razed after the water is pumped away. Dry streets by Thanksgiving. Bulldozers by Christmas, maybe.

Like the piles of junk littering much of the Gulf Coast shoreline, public conversation about this national catastrophe is impossibly bizarre and does not resemble anything close to the original form. The rush of national sorrow and horror that came ashore with the hurricane has been replaced with anger and a few strong whiffs of vengeance. Give it another week and the country will reek with revenge.

Cynical reporters are crying on live television and babbling about rats eating bodies. No one is in charge, and anyone who's supposed to be in charge is blaming everybody else for not leading. Officials now spout fresh lies several times a day, their only obvious relish being a desire to tar someone else.

The mayor of New Orleans said he did all he could. He ordered an evacuation but didn't have a coherent plan to make it happen, and begged for busses after people had already drowned.

The governor of Louisiana said she did all she could. She met with President Bush on Friday and asked for another day to think over his proposals.

President Bush said he did all he could do. The day the hurricane struck, he was still on vacation. He finally ambled into the area on Friday, chuckled about his drunken days in the French Quarter and flew away. Stung by criticism of his off-key performance, Bush will do an encore on Monday and try real hard not to laugh.

He's doing better than we are. Watching the insanity on TV, we provide a steady, sardonic laugh track, keeping the lid on so we don't tip. The lid's still on the casualty count, too. That one won't hold, either.

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