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<nettime> Oh to have lived to see the day
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<nettime> Oh to have lived to see the day

     From:       ctheory {AT} lists.uvic.ca
     Subject:     [CTHEORY] Event Scene 164 - Katrina-Baghdad
     Date:     August 31, 2005 3:37:55 PM PDT
     To:       ctheory {AT} lists.uvic.ca
     Reply-To:       ctheory {AT} lists.uvic.ca

         *** Visit CTHEORY Online: http://www.ctheory.net ***

  Event-Scene 164   31/08/2005   Editors: Arthur and Marilouise Kroker


                             1000 DAYS OF THEORY


  Katrina-Baghdad: Initial Iterations of a Strange Attractor

  ~Dion Dennis~

  On August 30, 2005, George W. Bush was sent to the wrong place, at
  the wrong time, to deliver, in his pseudo-folksy ham-handed way, the
  wrong script: Bush's political choreographers crafted a speech that
  was delivered at a 60th anniversary commemoration of the end of World
  War II, held at a California Naval Air station. As a salvo in the
  propaganda war over Iraq, Bush histrionically claimed the moral
  authority of World War II for the current U.S. occupation of Iraq.
  Besides the highly dubious claim of moral equivalence, the timing of
  the speech turned out to be inept. Unfolding events caught Bush and
  his handlers off-guard.

  Fifteen-hundred miles away, a concurrent event, the Category Five
  Hurricane Katrina, laid waste to a significant American city, New
  Orleans, and to a contiguous two-hundred mile swath of the Gulf Coast
  east of New Orleans. Mississippi's Governor, the former head of the
  Republican National Committee, Haley Barbour, unreflexively invoked
  another descriptive icon of World War II, as well. "It looks like
  Hiroshima is what it looks like," muttered a shocked Barbour,
  describing parts of a devastated county on the coast. Meanwhile, the
  Louisiana levees broke in at least three spots, unleashing the fury
  of the swollen waters of Lake Pontchartrain on New Orleans. Potable
  drinking water, electricity, and the other taken-for-granted basics
  of mundane life disappeared into a twenty foot high stew of sewage,
  toxic chemicals, Mississippi Delta mud, and Lake Pontchartrain
  spillage.  Basic infrastructure was destroyed. Tens of thousands of
  houses were severely damaged or simply obliterated. Bloated bodies
  floated in the water, as much of the coastal population became a
  large and instant group of internal U.S. refugees.  Meanwhile, police
  looked on passively as looters raided both the upscale downtown shops
  such as the Bon Marche, and less status-conscious looters stripped
  the shelves of several outlying stores of the behemoth proletarian
  vendor, Wal-Mart. On the night of August 30th, the CNN website
  described it this way: "New Orleans resembled a war zone more than a
  modern American metropolis on Tuesday."  As Army Reservists and a
  remainder of National Guard troops rolled into New Orleans, they
  resembled nothing as much as their comrades-in-arms concurrently
  stationed in Iraq.  Ironically, the shock and awe produced by
  Katrina's Gulf Coast invasion mirrored the effects of the Iraqi war,
  in novel and all-too-tragic ways. On Tuesday night, August 30, 2005,
  New Orleans became the ~de facto~ American Baghdad, as the contiguous
  Gulf Coast east of New Orleans became an analogue for the Iraqi
  countryside. It was no surprise, then, to see the juxtaposition of
  the following morning's (Wednesday, August 31st) split-screen front
  page headlines on MSNBC.com. A story on the "Nightmare" of Katrina
  refugees was paired with the "Baghdad Stampede" that killed 800 or
  more Iraqis. Panic, disaster, public disorder, the mass movement of
  refugees, tightening military occupation, combined with the key
  linkages between the disruption of oil production and refineries and
  long-term economic dislocation and debt accumulation; these are just
  the initial components of Katrina-Baghdad as a "strange attractor."
  This emergent strange attractor we now call Katrina-Baghdad will spin
  off and/or accelerate a series of complex economic, political and
  social iterations over the near and longer term.

  Today, there's a post-apocalyptic sensibility in the air. Mayor
  Nagin's mandatory evacuation order of New Orleans will be carried
  out, in part, by dispatching 475 buses contracted by FEMA (the
  Federal Emergency Management Agency) to move tens of thousand of
  Katrina refugees from the damaged New Orleans Superdome to the
  recently shuttered Houston Astrodome. According to the ~New York
  Times~, Texas state government officials expect to house the refugee
  residents of this new "Dome City" for months, if not longer.
  Meanwhile, as Howard Fineman notes, the bulk of the personnel,
  equipment and financial resources necessary for a "war-like" response
  to such devastation are sunk into another delta, a half-a-world away,
  at the mouth of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Already consuming
  eighty percent of the world's lending capital in prolifigate fiscal
  and consumer consumption, sharp and immediate rises in oil and
  natural gas prices, combined with tens of billions in infrastructural
  reconstruction costs, may well set off an accelerating chain of
  events (such as rising interest rates and the collapse of the housing
  market bubble). The result could lead, in very short order, to a
  steep decline in personal and national fortunes.

  Finally, we should take note of a particular incident of
  destruction. Across Lake Pontchartrain, two seven mile bridge spans
  of Interstate 10, connecting New Orleans to the eastern U.S.
  mainland, were catastrophically shredded into dozens of disconnected
  concrete chunks.  As both a metaphor and event precursor, this
  particular piece of devastation is profoundly symbolic. The
  shattering of this part of I-10 connotes the liabilities of a fragile
  and deep interconnectedness, in a global economic and ecological
  system. A product of the mid-and-late 20th Century height of the
  American Empire, the Interstate Highway System was a triumph of
  economic nationalism and Fordist progressive capitalism. Katrina's
  demolishing of this portion of I-10 can be understood as signifying
  the shattering of the remaining structural supports for the effective
  maintenance of such an economic nationalism, while revealing,
  immediately and decisively, the hubris and frailty of the Imperium.

  With enduring interests in representation, communication, culture and
  technology, Dion Dennis is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice
  at Bridgewater State College.


  * CTHEORY is an international journal of theory, technology and
  *    culture. Articles, interviews, and key book reviews in
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