The Big Easy Takes a Bath

‘The City That Care Forgot’, care just remembered. Hurricane Katrina, muscled up on climate change and freak weather, plowed a fosse through New Orleans, Queen of the Mississippi. The eye of the storm barely missed downtown, and its cyclonic arms crushed the entire region to its bosom like a three-hundred-pound prostitute hitting a plate of fresh beignets. Storm surges blasted through the levees intended to keep the local waters from seeking their natural level, which is about ceiling fan height for most of the metropolitan area. Massive overbuilding along the coast and blinkered, underfunded water management methods set up what George Clooney fans might call a ‘perfect storm’: a deadly mixture of hubris, rapacity, and the engineering equivalent of a ‘kick me’ sign against the most destructive US hurricane on record. Irwin Allen would have loved this. What hasn’t been drowned is on fire; what isn’t on fire has been looted. The deaths have only begun. This disaster is of such a colossal scale that even the president remarked upon it briefly before continuing his vacation. But few have yet addressed the actual reach of this disaster (the destruction of New Orleans, not the president’s vacation).

They call New Orleans “The Big Easy”, perhaps because of the superabundance of farded jades plying their naughty trade within its confines. New Orleans is one of those cities in the world that could only happen by chance, and never again. It is a place shaped by a confluence of cultures, and, as is so often the case, the confluence of mighty waters. Where there is navigation, there is a mingling of unlike peoples. Unlike peoples must either make war or common ground. War has touched this venerable city, but over the centuries New Orleans has become common ground nonpareil (an appropriately French word meaning ‘chocolate umbrella’. I may have that wrong.) But even a great city is not immune to oblivion: ask Agamemnon how Troy is doing these days. New Orleans, too, has had its brush with destruction: as I write this, the Paris of the Americas is underwater, Atlantis-wise. Yet it is not only the millions that call this city home that will feel the effects of Hurricane Katrina. There is another perfect storm abrew.

Gas prices, I should explain for my Amish readers, have been rising like the waters of the Big Muddy. Half (yes, half, there’s strategic planning for you) of America’s fossil fuel supply passes through New Orleans. So already staggering $3.00-per-gallon (14,000,000 lire per liter) gasoline is about to spike into the $4.00-per-gallon range, with the winter heating oil season usward erelong. Key industries, such as insurance and energy, are going to take it in the pants, and they will pass the impact right along to that long-suffering quantum boob, Joe Consumer. It is a clusterlovemake of unprecedented proportions. The US economy, which through very elaborate number-puffing is supposed to be growing at about 4%, is going to sink like the Vieux Carre. Consumer spending will wither like bougainvillea in seawater. Economy chokes on own vomit. I feel like Thomas Friedman with all these mixed metaphors, blending a literary Sazerac Cocktail to raise in remembrance to a great city.

Normally, the US responds to this sort of thing by bringing the government’s resources to bear: the military engages in relief and reconstruction, a massive amount of pork is stuffed into the cracks in the affected region’s foundations, and everybody gets to feel great about how united we are as a nation. But there is no money left, and nobody’s running the government. The military is fully engaged in a different quagmire on the other side of the world. We as a nation are worn out, overspent, pissed off, and irreconcilably divided. Meanwhile president Bush rides his bicycle in Washington: how’s bayou? I suspect that the so-called economic recovery, which has all the same characteristics of a lawn mower engine racing just before it runs out of fuel, is about to plotz.

Even if there isn’t a 1929-style crash, things will get palpably worse in this country. The flood waters that sank New Orleans are spreading up the Misissississsippi and washing out across the heartland to the coasts. America was completely unprepared for a disaster of this scale. What terrorists did to New York, nature has done to New Orleans a thousandfold, abetted by lack of vision and leadership at a national level: Hurricane George, meet Hurricane Katrina. We’re in for some nasty weather, mes amis. I have a feeling everybody’s going to get soaked.

BEN TRIPP is an independent filmmaker and all-around swine. His book, Square In The Nuts, may be purchased here, with other outlets to follow: Swag is available as always from http://www.cafeshops/tarantulabros. And Mr. Tripp may be reached at






We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


Ben Tripp is America’s leading pseudo-intellectual. His most recent book is The Fifth House of the Heart.