Saturday, September 17, 2005

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Last night I had the strangest dream. It was that justice flourished everywhere. It was not brought on by what I ate for dinner, but rather by President Bush's speech last week.

In all of his speech about the disaster of hurricane Katrina, there were two paragraphs that had me clearing out my ears. The rest of the speech fell under the “too-little-too-late category”: something more likely designed to prop up his sagging poll numbers than actually save people.

Still, it was an anomaly of epic proportions. I almost expect the Second Coming any day now, so I am packing my bags.

From the historic French Quarter, Bush uttered these words:

"As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.

So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets. When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses.


Like the many iterations of Barbie Dolls that my girls and many others used to play with growing up, (Executive Barbie, Astronaut Barbie, Nurse or Doctor Barbie, etc) this must have been a version of Democrat Bush. Maybe we can call it "FDR Bush" for those who recall when we had a leader who really did care about the poor, despite his coming from personal wealth.

But was this really George W. Bush talking openly about poverty? Was this George Bush talking about the reality of racism in America? Was this George Bush using the affirmative action-speak of more minorities owning businesses and homes?

It made me wonder weather or not the Surgeon General was waiting just off-stage to give Mr. Bush a drug screen to see if he hadn't fallen back off the wagon. Were these words really written by the Bush speechwriters or did they have to hire the West Wing writers to complete the task?

They must have had a blast writing all this stuff that Republicans have been denying (or at the very least not acknowledging) over the past 5 years under the current Bush reign. I can just see them all sitting around a table, late at night, exhausted from all the spin they'd been trying to keep up for the last two weeks over this flap (lying is really, really hard work!)
They'd be really punchy from all that cold pizza and stale beer night after night, trying to get the spin right - "It was the local rescue that failed,; no, it was the state, yeah that's the ticket, the state" like some poor imitation of that Jon Lovitz character on old SNL reruns.

Then someone hits on it, dopey from the lack of sleep and too much Red Bull to keep them awake: “Hey, let's out-Democrat the Democrats,” someone says. “Let's throw a couple of lines in here that make it seem like we really do understand the plight of these impoverished people.” “Why that’s just crazy enough to work,” someone else retorted in 1940’s cinema style. I even believe they had a line in the first draft about "feeling your pain", but it was tossed out as too Cliton-esque. No, that would clearly give it away, and people are not that stupid.

So what are we to make of this sudden epiphany of honesty: that race may have actually played a part in the poverty that turned a natural disaster into a man-made one? I'm not certain.

I want to believe with every fiber of my being that this is sincere, but then why do I have this nagging feeling that right after Bush got offstage, he was giddy as a frat-boy during pledge week, high fiving everyone saying, "Good job, everyone, good job."

Still, consider the perspective: this is only two paragraphs in a flood of speeches over the last five years from an administration that has simply disavowed any knowledge of poverty or racism as being a problem. I suspect the floodwater of Katrina was more potent than anyone could have guessed. Disasters have a way of dredging up the good and the not so good. It's hard to sweep the truth away, I guess, when it's floating three feet above your living room floor.

Is this the start of a kinder, gentler Bush, to borrow Daddy's words? Will he start subscribing to "The Nation" and actually visiting Michael Moore's web site? Not likely.

Still, hearing those words coming out of Bush's mouth last week was like watching one of those Quisnos commercials with the infant who talks with an adult voice - you don't expect it and, well, frankly, it's just a bit more than creepy. We expect our reality straight up, most of the time, at least when mind altering drugs are not involved.

But still, it was at this moment when I heard these words that my heart actually raced, just for those few seconds. I wanted to cry. It was almost as if Paul Wellstone had not died, and had gone on to win the Presidency. It felt good, really good. Like one of those TV dream sequences where the main character looks off into the distance as the TV screen flashes the blurry special effect and trippy music.

Let's hope Mr. Bush's words go beyond Katrina and into every heart in America. Let's hope this is not a dream sequence, and we are all awake - I mean really awakened - to how the real promise of America can look, if we are only just a little less cynical, and want to help others more. Maybe this can start from the top. Maybe it has.

M C Biegner

Friday, September 16, 2005

POEM - Mirror

The image is a Seurat -
A pointillist reflection
Of countless carbon atoms
Claiming kinship with Time –

Long before Lucy was found,
Long before Neanderthals,
Long before bird like raptors
Even before the seismic
Orgasm of that meteor –

Prior to sullen concerns:
“Will this poem have merit?”
And “Where have I lain my keys?”
To when the great dust and vacuum
Were masters of everything.

This image ejaculates
Random, arduous color
The way a Jackson Pollack
Explodes unseen particles
Of paint onto the canvass –

Little IEDs hidden
Along the roadside of life,
Learning to make a life with
The insurgency of Art.

Pickup the innocent blue –
Pickup the violent red –
Pickup the pacifist green –

These jazzy, jagged, zig-zags
Are paths long ago embraced
And some unrequited paths
Of an unreflected life.

M C Biegner

POEM - Writing From Grace

Spending my last hour of every day,
Freeing sacred things from a guarded cage,
What can heaven offer me more sublime
Than this chance to write from sentient grace,
Where the vast Eternal sprouts from each line?

M C Biegner

Monday, September 12, 2005

POEM - September 11, 2005

It was a morning just like this one
It was a storm eye that never reveals
Chaos below –
Instead, it just waited for
Synchronized grief
To be come so fashionable
All Along Eighth Avenue,
The Chelsea and theater districts
And everywhere else -
When the crisp air
And finely tuned sunlight
Like glue, held the blue
New York City sky in its place.

Until great builders whose ideas
Were scribbled over an industrious horizon
Over time,
Now flat-lined.

I cried when I saw all that space,
In that corner of downtown which
Emptied what we knew
Into what has always been unknown.

It was a day just like this one
When the broken stillness
Like sharp edges of disbelief –
Like the phases of a fractured moon -
When I lost you.

M C Biegner

Friday, September 09, 2005

POEM - Awaiting Harvest

The great balls of hay,
Wrapped tight like clenched fists,
Graze like languishing
Buffalo amid
Watery shadows
Of a cool day end
That waits for harvest.

M C Biegner

Monday, September 05, 2005

POEM - Hittin’ Triple High “C”

I can see by your discomfort
That it’s time for me to go.
It’s time I should take my
Big Easy
And flagrant jazz
And make new sounds
From the ways of the old
Style of livin’.

It’s time that the music
For dancin’ be what that
Ol’ Wind blows through her horn
Hittin’ that triple high “C”
A note like sadness reaching’
Or tears
Drippin’ down
Like achin’ levees.

There are heroes everywhere –
Strewn through out the wreckage.

You can see the Big Muddy
Slap his soggy ol’ knees
Get up and cry:
“I had enough! Good Lord! I had enough”
For surely you have.
Instead, he just keeps rollin’
Like the song always said he would.

So I will leave-
And take the Big Easy along
Leavin’ a different sort
Of Mardi Gras to clean up from,
Waitin’ –
Tappin’ my foot and just waitin’
To hear you hit triple high “C” again.

M C Biegner

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina Plays the Race Card

The race card has come up again. Katrina has landed like a ton of bricks and heaped third-world type devastation upon New Orleans and Mississippi. The faces we are seeing on TV without water and food, without homes or clothes, seem to be mostly black, so now the race card has come out. “Why did it take so long for help to arrive?” everyone wants to know, and was this simply a coincidence that the people most affected were black and elderly and poor? A discussion of this is not a bad thing, of course. I believe any occasion is a good one in which to discuss race relations because we so want to put this behind us we can almost taste it. People are angry because things should have been different.

First, if a mandatory evacuation was in effect prior to the storm, why didn’t the state of Louisiana and Mississippi and the city of New Orleans provide the means with which to forcibly remove people who stayed in harm’s way? Why weren’t there busses supplied earlier on to help those who wanted to leave but simply couldn’t afford it? Why weren’t other places established to temporarily house those who had no place else to go before the storm?

Then, why did it take so long for the guard to get in there and prevent some of the violence? More disturbing than the scenes of the storm’s wreckage were the stories of the violence and the increase of lawlessness when civil society truly broke down. Why wasn’t the National Guard in sooner? The explanation was given that it was still dangerous and they didn’t want any guardsmen to end up as part of the problem, but it seemed like we didn’t see the guard in there for days after the event.
If it was safe enough for people to commit violence against each other, then why was it not safe enough for the guardsmen to come in and re-establish order?

It’s clear that many things did not go right. But was race really the issue? Many people compared this to 9/11 but that was a different sort of tragedy. The size of this storm and the physics of the levees breaking causing the kind of flooding and wreckage it did was many times greater in area alone than the wreckage of the fall of the Twin Towers. The storm was very large and while the Towers collapse was a very big logistics headache, it doesn’t even compare in the scope of what happened in the gulf. People underestimated Katrina when it was a Category 5 storm, and they underestimated her damage potential as well.

Here’s the thing with race: I don’t believe for a second that someone consciously said, “Well, it’s only New Orleans and Mississippi and there are just black people and poor there, so no rush getting in there to secure the area.” That is ludicrous. Still, the people affected were poor and black. Race was an issue in this case in the same way that race is most often an issue nowadays.

Race was responsible in the way that the emergency planning for this event did not adequately consider these people who did not have the means to leave New Orleans or the Mississippi coast. Mississippi and Louisiana rank in the top 10 states for poverty. There is a case that can be made that poverty and race are related. If the poor are the ones bearing the brunt of any storm damage and loss of life then clearly there is some sort of link between poverty/race and survival. The same way that a black male has a life expectancy of 69 years compared to 75 years for a white male in this country ( can be linked to things like access to better health care and better incomes, so too, being poor now provides a clear disadvantage when being considered in civil disaster plans.

The apparent lack of response after the hurricane was just that: an apparent lack of response. In dealing with so many agencies bureaucratic mix-ups are inevitable, though should not be tolerated. The logistics of this rescue effort in such a large area are paralyzing. I don’t believe people watching understand this, and I certainly do not believe you can believe this if you are sitting on top of a roof for days wondering where in the hell the government is.

I’m willing to give this administration and the state governors the benefit of the doubt in this regard. I guess I don’t want to believe that people would be this cynical. Clearly things could have been done better and clearly lots of people made lots of mistakes that cost lives. This should be investigated and other states should pay heed to these failings for possible problems in their own disaster planning.

But did someone willfully fail because of race? I don’t think so. Such a notion belittles the heroic efforts of all people black and white, rich and poor, struggling right now to save people they don’t even know. The humanity of this event has not been lost on anyone. Afghanistan and Sri Lanka – two of the poorest nations on the face of the earth – are offering money for the victims.
Fidel Castro has offered doctors. No one wants to see those people suffer. As time passes, I believe that there will be such a global outpouring of genuine, apolitical support not seen since after 9/11. Sometimes the worst of things can bring out the best of us too – the looting and violence notwithstanding.

I believe that the lack of preparation for what should have been done with the poorest and blackest and oldest of citizens in these states was the effect of an institutional racismand classism that plagues all of us. This lack of awareness of or thought about these people in all things: poverty, jobs, civil rights and now it seems in emergency preparedness – are all the effects of the insidious racism which we refuse to believe exists in this country.

This is twenty first century racism - the worst kind. This is the kind of racism that sits in the back of our minds and lets us pretend that in the event of a disaster each of us has an even chance of being saved. Katrina has shown us all that it doesn’t work this way. To paraphrase George Orwell, some of us are just more equal than others, it seems. This is the type of racism that is hard to nail down; for which it’s hard to hold someone accountable. We must force our eyes open to the marginalized and poor and black and elderly. They should never be made invisible - within the context of Hurricane Katrina or without. We owe it to the promise of what America is all about. We owe to ourselves since any one of us could be in that same situation. But mostly, we owe it to those who died at Katrina’s harsh lesson yielding hands.

M C Biegner