03 September 2005

images of/and death/disaster

As I've had some free time the last few days, and as I'm in DC, a city that has one of the best newspapers in the country, I have been reading the newspaper. it's not that I don't read the news normally, I watch Jon Stewart and scan my RSS BBC headlines with the best of 'em. but we haven't gotten a physical newspaper in years, because of its wastefulness in terms of paper and the ease of access to more up-to-date news on-line. and because of salon.com, to which we subscribe, a news outlet that provides interesting, well-thought out coverage of current events as well as reflections on on-going stories that are not in the news cycle but should be, and columns that provide an entirely new slant on "advice" or "flying commercial airlines."

But as you know, and as ockham's razor has noted, the last few days have been all about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and for good reason. as an art historian type, I'm always interested in the images; I had a former student who did a project on the photos of the first gulf war, and the way we were shielded from images of the brutality of war and death.

so I've been watching with some interest the images out of NO and comparing them to other disasters (not so natural) that have also caused massive destruction and death, and to which the NO situation has been compared in the text of the news: Iraq. a national guardsman in NO told the news that it was better in Iraq, because despite the constant threat of death, at least you knew you were getting three meals a day, there was a plan, and some semblance of organization.

in the washington post yesterday they included pictures of an old man in a lawnchair, slumped over, and the caption identifies him as deceased, as others mill around him near the superdome. it struck me that we are seeing more images of death from NO and the gulf than we have for the entirety of our war in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's horrible what's happening in NO. and I'm extremely angry at the hubris and arrogance of a national administration that ignores warnings from experts to fix the levees, fires those experts, and then squabbles over whether sending the military in is legal. oh, and continues to stay on vacation for two days after the storm hits.

but the picture of the massive pile of shoes (see #14 in the slideshow) on the bridge in Baghdad on wednesday in the aftermath of the stampede set off by rumors of a suicide bomber is just as horrifying to me. almost 1000 dead there. jumping off the bridge into the Tigris to their deaths, some at the end of the bridge jumping onto the concrete. and the death toll there will rise in Iraq just as surely as it will in NO. for me, despite all the very real differences between the two situations, both images strike me as icons of mismanagement at our highest governmental level. and when I say "our" I mean the U.S., our elected officials and those whom they appoint to run things.

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