Friday, May 05, 2006

Only Love Can Conquer Hate

If you're feeling a bit depressed, skip to the next entry. This one's serious.

I. Twenty-one years ago, I was a young single parent living with my grandmother and my baby. Ronald Reagan was president, and I remember distinctly listening to him. I remember hearing between words a great deal ot be frightened of, and for months, I had terrifying dreams in which whole landscapes, cities and peoples were on fire. The suffering was terrible in these dreams. I was breathless, night after night, with the pain and fear of these dreams. It turned out several years later that during this period there were several really close calls in cold war nuclear relations, some of which were accidental nuclear cues that someone in a silo somewhere refused to acknowledge, saving all our lives. I don't have to believe in ESP to accept that allusions to events were available and I picked them up. Reagan's recklessness was perfectly visible to me. His utter contempt for the poor was headline news every week. His feelings about communists were a matter of public record. It didn't take a genius to see that dropping bombs on the Soviet Union was a distinct possibility, even by accident, and it almost happened several times. Two + two. Four.

II. More than ten years ago, I was sitting in the old Doll's Place in New Brunswick with a man I'd met at a party on someone's porch. We'd actually met twenty years before, once, when my mother picked up a friend and his son while they were hitchhiking on Route 18. It was odd that we'd only met that once because we were both kids at the same commune for a few years, but I was older. That night in the bar, he told me he was molested at the commune, and by whom. He asked me if I knew where the house was. I told him I did. He asked me to take him there, and I did. Before we left the bar, I went upstairs to the ladies' room. I was looking at my face in the mirror when I heard in my head lyrics to a flaky Adam Ant song: It makes me proud, so proud of you, I see the innocence shining through. Sometimes the subconscious chooses strange ways to communicate; even so, we must listen.

III. Last night, I had a dream in which a partner and I were making repairs on the needle of the Empire State Building. I remember dropping lengths of thick wire onto 34th Street, where crews were waiting for it from safe positions. I can't think of a reason I'd know the Empire State Building stood on or near 34th Street except in the way that its location is simply ambient. Everything that happens in the City hangs in the air here. My partner was climbing down easily. We had done this before. I was sliding down with my arms and legs wrapped around the needle. I could see my worn blue jeans and beige workboots. Suddenly I knew I was about to be in trouble. I was swinging around the needle in the wind. I called out to my partner but he couldn't hear me. My palms were wet, which I knew meant I wouldn't be able to grab a secure handlehold. My feet couldn't find the ladder. I was starting to lose my grip altogether when I opened my eyes. I described this dream to Siobhan this morning. She said, "So either you do something that might kill you or you do something that will. What's it going to be?"

Okay, then.

Never in my life did I imagine I would turn on my television for weeks on end and see American citizens in an American city starving and drowning while government officials stood around with their thumbs up their asses. That nine months later there is no comprehensive plan to either rebuild or officially abandon the Gulf Coast to the elements disturbs me. It has meaning. I have a sense of what it could mean, though no way to confirm or refute that sense. The one thing we can say without fear of contradiction is that the human elements of how the hurricane's aftermath was addressed may have had mishaps but the outcome is evident, and that offers insight into how our government is functioning, if the whys remain mysterious.

Yesterday at Shakespeare's Sister, Thesaurus Rex wrote an emotionally fraught post reviewing a USAToday article called Pandemic flu plan: Don't count on federal rescue. Perhaps you missed this story.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A flu pandemic would cause massive disruptions lasting for months, and cities, states and businesses must make plans now to keep functioning - and not count on a federal rescue, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Please read that article. I'm not a scientist. What was said is troubling enough but what was not said was worse: this report, issued by the government agencies that could not get around its own regulations and run trains out of New Orleans before Sean Penn could commandeer a leaky motor boat and rescue people, says, "You're on your own. That'll be $7.1 billion. Don't forget to tip your waiter."

I sincerely dislike admitting I'm afraid. I think it limits me as a human being to confine myself to this one emotion. I much prefer skipping straight to the plot twist in which by some unforeseen stroke of luck I figure out what to do and do it. In this case, I'm stymied and I'm frightened. In no way can I go McGyver and work out a plan that compensates for the completely foreseeable failures of the Bush administration given its history of domestic disaster failure. Simply: if the flu goes global a lot of us are going to die.

Is that acceptable? No. It is not acceptable that we're not developing, as a nation, in concert, a plan where we feed, nurse and care for one another.

It is not acceptable that our government has now said to us: it's not our problem. Best of luck! The article goes on:
"No less important will be the actions of individual citizens, whose participation is necessary to the success of these efforts," Bush added.

A flu pandemic would roll through the country, likely causing six to eight weeks of active infection per community.

"Local communities will have to address the medical and non-medical impacts of the pandemic with available resources," the report warns, because the federal government won't be able to offer the kind of aid expected after hurricanes or other one-time, one-location natural disasters.

Huh! Let's skip for a second towns and cities nowhere near hospitals. I'm no epidemiologist. The most scientific thing I ever did was throw preserved frogs out the window of my biology lab to see how fast they fell on top of the school buses. Maybe where there are no hospitals infection would spread more slowly, what do I know? Let's skip all that.
"They say that every society is only three meals away from revolution. Deprive a culture of food for three meals, and you'll have an anarchy. And it's true, isn't it? You haven't eaten for a couple of days, and you've turned into a barbarian."

Larry Niven

I never, never want to hear another word out of the administration that claims it keeps us safe, because safety is impossible and starvation and mob violence are a distinct possibility - everywhere. A gun will not protect you. Storing up food will not protect you. A safe room in your house and shopping by mail order will not protect you. Pandemic is a crapshoot. Your life at least to some extent depends on the luck of the draw.

I feel stupid saying all this and I hate feeling stupid and afraid. If I don't say it, you might not know. Instinct tells me I have to talk and keep talking because the administration has already proven its willingness to thin the herd of its detractors and the poor via neglect. I'm cringing but Siobhan was right. Either we do something that might kill us or we do something that will. What's it going to be?

Update for NJ Carnival 5.12.06: In response to Oddjob's sensible comments about preventive hygiene - which are invisible to you - I wrote:
Oddjob my darling, you're absolutely right, and hand sanitizer - which seems like a crucially stupid idea most of the time unless you work in an abbatoir or a whorehouse or both - might actually work. I'm not afraid of the flu. I've had flu. I feel feverish and drink soup and puke a lot. Then I watch daytime TV, nap a lot and get better. Even the worst flu probably isn't going to kill me. I'm not afraid I'm going to die of the flu. I'm not even really afraid for myself, which I probably should have said in the post.

I'm afraid of martial law, of an administration that does not have our best interests at heart, of the grief we will all suffer as weaker family members and friends needlessly die, of the black mark on our souls as tragedy unfolds and we did not prevent it.

It's not the flu that scares me. It's the stupid humans.
Tata | Homepage | 05.06.06 - 9:49 am | #

That I am not afraid for myself seemed an important point, and I wouldn't even have written it down without his prompting. Thanks, Oddjob!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best regards from NY! »

11:20 AM  

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