Saturday, September 24, 2005

Apocalypse There. Matt Taibbi from the disaster zone

/ disaster / witness /
Matt Taibbi left for New Orleans on September 3d, along with a movie star and a historian. He describes his journey into the sunken city. His story is probably one of the best told and to-the-point accounts of the destruction of New Orleans. For anyone even remotely familiar with New Orleans his descriptions are like something out of a JG Ballard post-disaster, metaphorically existential, narrative - only written by a post-punk Hunter S. Thompson who doesn't do the existential part except by accident.

This, probably will become (or if it doesn't it should) one of the defining, standard descriptions - indeed testimonis of the New Orleans disaster in the future. It is both eloquent (since Taibbi is one of the few journalists I know of that is actually a great writer) and substantial in what it doesn't omit.

[non-random excerpt]:

...Not far from his church we come upon a house full of elderly people who are sitting out on their porch. Their house is in only about three feet of water, but no police or Guardsmen have come by to talk to them yet. Upon seeing Willie, Warren Champ and Jeannette Carter ask what the latest news is.

"Well, these reporters are here to see what y'all think about the storm," he says.

"You tell us, preacher," says Jeannette. "You're always reading the Bible and whatnot, doing all that reading."

"Well, you know this is all about bankruptcy," he says. "That levee? They letting it fail."

"Why would they do that?" Jeannette asks.

"All those years when they were stealing . . . all those failed schools, all those debts on the city rolls . . . it's all going to be washed away now. They're getting a clean slate, a brand-new slate."

Willie goes on to explain that most of these neighborhoods are going to be condemned, and that people will be asked to sell their properties: "They're getting all of y'all out of state, sending you to different parts of the country. And they're hoping you don't hold on to what you've got. They're hoping you take the money and move. And then they'll bring in the developers, and they'll make new neighborhoods, with a new tax base."

I am about to interrupt here, but white guilt slaps a hand over my mouth. What am I going to say -- that white people aren't dastardly enough to blow a levee on purpose? This is the wrong audience for that joke. As for the rest of it, it rings unpleasantly true. Deep in my white heart I can appreciate the brutal logic of shipping 300,000 blacks out of town and hoping they stay away at a barbecue somewhere while you auction off their houses. I am definitely not going to argue with that part of it.

"But what is your advice for poor black people?" asks Carter.

"Hold on to your properties," he says. "Don't let them take what you've got. And you can listen to me. I'm not in it for the money. I'm in it for the blessings of God."...


Michael M. said...

Astounding story, thanks for the link. Not many journalists can hold a candle to Taibbi; it was a shame he left the NYPress. (If only because he was the only reason to read that sad attempt at a paper.)

Is he full-time at Rolling Stone now?

talos said...

Apparently yes, he seems to be full time at RS, if only because he's written three articles in succesive issues in their politics section. That's good for RS.

The NYP apparently is suffering from the aftereffects of the furore over the Pope article, which was the most unfunny piece Taibbi ever wrote - and which caused the firing of the NYP's editor and eventually Taibbi's departure (I guess?)...

talos said...

A Taibbi interview where he explains the NYP mess...

Michael M. said...

Thanks! It's a relief to hear that there will still be some regular doses of Taibbi.

kkk said...

Thanks for the interview link talos.
I'd never heard of the guy till now,
but he seems a hoot.

As an aside, I am glad at last to see one media figure that supports burial by feeding to wild animals. Must have been all those years with the Mongolian shamans...