Saturday, September 03, 2005


I've been on a Terry Pratchett kick lately as far as audio book listening. A few years ago I read a few of the more "outlandish" ones -- Carpe Jugulum, which concentrates on the vampires; Hogfather (probably my favorite of all the ones I've read), which deals with the disappearance of the Hogfather (Discworld's version of Santa Claus) and Death's decision to take his place; Soul Music, which talks about a new kind of music, "music with rocks in."

I had never read (or listened to) any of the Watch-specific books in the Discworld series. The Watch is the Discworld police force, and from what little I knew, I thought those books would be mostly humorous, mostly "Keystone Cops" kind of thing, so oI hadn't taken any notice of them. Then I decided to start listening to some of the more recent books, and started with Going Postal, about the revitalization of the Ankh-Morpork post office, which was wonderful, and The Truth, about the origins of the Ankh-Morpork Times newspaper, both of which were more or less "stand-alone" novels about Discworld without many of the more familiar characters, except in peripheral roles.

And then I was basically out of the ones that I thought would be interesting, but tried The Fifth Elephant, which was about Sam Vimes of the City Watch, and it wasn't like I had expected it to be at all. I loved it. It was darker, more like a detective novel then the comedy I had expected, and when I finished it, I wasn't ready to be finished with Sam Vimes, so I bought Night Watch, which I'm listening to now. Night Watch is very dark, and it involves time travel (I've noticed that almost all of the books I consider my favorites involve time travel), and it's wonderful. I'm very much looking forward to the next Discworld book, Thud, which is also about the Watch and Vimes.

I don't really know how to talk about the disaster in New Orleans, and I'm not sure I should even try. It's just too big, and it's not simple. It's so hard to imagine what it would be like to suddenly lose absolutely everything in your life--your home, your job, your possessions, even your family. To go from living a normal life to suddenly becoming a refugee in your own country with nothing but the scraps of clothing that you were wearing, completely dependent on others for shelter, food, everything.

As I read more and more, though, I see that there is more going on than what we see on the nightly news, the crises that are unfolding in the stadiums where most of the refugees were originally located. There are employers who are trying to locate their employees to reassure them that they will continue to be paid, if only they can find them and figure out how to get the money to them. There are numbers to call to start to arrange for unemployment benefits--if only the phones worked, I suppose. There will be insurance, in many cases, although I doubt if most people living in flood-prone New Orleans have flood insurance, but I heard someone say flood insurance is federal, so maybe. I don't know anything about it.

All I know is that as bad as it is, there is hope.

And that no matter what, there will always be people who take advantage of a bad situation. In New Orleans, just like anywhere else that this kind of disaster could happen, there are people who are taking advantage of the absence of societial pressures, and even presence, and taking whatever they can. Breaking into stores not for the things that they need to survive, like food and water and medicine and clothing, but television sets and stereo equipment. Breaking into banks--although in my experience banks don't exactly just leave money lying around, and you can't generally break into a vault with a wooden club--I guess maybe you could steal a computer or two, but it would be a long walk through the water to find someplace where you could plug it in.

One of the worst things I've heard said is that some people feel that anyone who lives in a place like New Orleans deserves what they get, that they should realize the danger and move. It just isn't that simple. I'm sure that the majority of the people who found themselves still in New Orleans when the hurricane hit didn't choose to stay there. They didn't leave because they either had no car, no money, or no place to go. They didn't choose to stay. They had no choice. When you're working in a low-paying job, or probably, more than one job, you don't just pick up and move somewhere else, somewhere away from your family, somewhere away from where you've lived all your life. It just isn't that simple.

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