When I look at the figures involved in Major League Baseball contracts -- $16 million here, $250 million there -- I find it impossible to actually imagine the practical difference between sums of that magnitude. That's because I can't actually conceptualize a million or a billion -- they're abstract concepts in my head, the concrete numbers defy any effort to contain them in a thought. Try thinking of a million things. I can't.
I find it similarly impossible to imagine the scope of the Hurricane Katrina disaster that's left much of the Gulf Coast in a state of near-anarchy. The sheer size of the area devastated is impossible to get a clear grip on, and the best anyone can do is show little snapshots of it -- flooded streets, crying children, and rampaging looters.
The people affected by this disaster have lost everything they once knew as the constants in their lives. Homes -- where they sleep at night, where they make breakfast, the doorways they walk out on their way to work -- it's all gone. And those are the ones who've managed to escape with their lives.
Survivors are being moved to shelters across the country, including Louisville. This is temporary, but if they return to their homes, nothing will be left.
It's disheartening, to say the least, to see what the local response has been in Louisiana and other affected areas. In New Orleans, notably, "civil unrest" broke out shortly after Katrina moved north: looting, raping, pillaging, destroying... groups gathered weapons from abandoned gun stores and became armed gangs. Shots were fired at rescue workers and medical command helicopters. The National Guard is pulling troops deployed to Iraq back home so they can be on-scene for what may be, unbelievably, a more chaotic situation than the one they're already in.
But while savage opportunism makes a play for power in the ruins of New Orleans, one can look for more hopeful signs in the rest of the country, where an amazing level of grassroots support is being shown. Friday, I went to a single-A football game in Elizabethtown, and in a pass-the-hat collection during halftime, the crowd donated more than $915 to the relief cause.
Firefighters were out on the main roads over the holiday weekend as I drove back to Fort Knox. They had a hook-and-ladder truck parked in the median, with an American flag and a Red Cross flag hung from the ladder rigging. They were taking donations from passing vehicles.
And in the meantime, our representatives are politicizing the issue, turning this human tragedy into campaign ammunition. Hip-hop artist Kanye West has decided that "George Bush doesn't care about black people," (hat tip to Greg) and German papers have actually blamed the American president for the disaster itself.
Opportunists like these are doing essentially the same thing the looters in New Orleans are doing: using the disaster as a chance to grab up everything they can while the rules are temporarily suspended.
Fortunately, not everyone is a greedy bastard. Greyhawk sent out this list of helpful information on Guard soldiers deployed to the region:
Useful public service request - help spread the word.Thanks to everyone whose heart and mind is in the right place regarding this issue.
http://www.dod.mil/home/features/2005/katrina/index.html - contact info for military families displaced by Katrina (also a great collection of news releases on the military efforts in hurricane relief)
http://www.guardfamily.org/ - info for Guard families impacted by the storm.
http://www.gxonline.com/gxintelnews?id=24147 - info for getting deployed Guard members in touch with their families who might be displaced by the storm - and vice versa.
http://www.mudvillegazette.com/archives/003484.html I compiled them here, but it's more important to get folks to those other pages. Feel free to ignore this one.
UPDATE: Open Post at Mudville.
UPDATE: Open Post at bRight & Early.