TCS Daily

An All Too Perfect Storm

By Ilya Shapiro - September 8, 2005 12:00 AM

ABERDEEN, MD -- As I look out the window of my train, not far from the "proving ground" where the Army develops and tests the ordnance that our fighting men use in combat, I wonder whether I am being serious enough in this serious time. The forces of freedom and civilization are striving mightily to bring peace and the rule of law to peoples long enslaved by Islamofascism. Sudan and Niger are beset with the worst combination of natural and man-made disaster imaginable. Closer to home, Hurricane Katrina -- like the gigantic tantrum-throwing toddler its name evokes -- has left a trail of devastation and tragedy from which it will take months to recover.

Yet here I am, returning to Washington after a lovely long weekend of camping and swimming on the Jersey shore and a quick jaunt up to Flushing, Queens, to take in some U.S. Open tennis. Part of what makes humans human is resilience in the face of disaster, the ability to get on with our lives after suffering trauma -- and if we don't do that, the terrorists (hurricanes?) win, right? Well, I've given to the Red Cross, so there's nothing left to do but continue with work and play as usual.

Yet that which compels me to write in the time I have away from the office also compels me to issue a barbaric yawp about Katrina. It's hard for a columnist to resist the urge to add his voice to that of so many others on the main issue of the day -- particularly when he has such a visceral connection to it.

You see, for one special year, the Gulf was my playground. I lived in Jackson, Miss. -- actually in a yuppie suburb that sneers at those uncultured hicks on the coast -- but every spare moment I'd hop in my trusty Corolla and make my way down to the lowlands. It didn't matter whether I traveled to Panama City, Florida (for a little spring break in September) or Lafayette, Louisiana (for a little Cajun dancin' at Mulate's); the hazy sun and the lolling waves called to me.

Heck, I even drove down to Biloxi a few times (once on a school night!) to watch the Mississippi Sea Wolves play the Louisiana Ice Gators, and walk along the shore amidst a winter breeze that was decidedly more friendly than the one off Lake Michigan I'd known in law school. Before embarking on the three-hour ride home I'd stop at one of the gigantic floating casinos -- the ones now upturned and collapsed -- for a $2.99 steak-and-eggs special and a bottomless cup of coffee.

Cups of coffee were what I had in so many other towns that have gotten unfortunate mention in the news of late, like Daphne, Alabama, which hosts the U.S. Sports Academy (where I briefly considered pursuing a doctorate in sports management), or Kiln, Mississippi, home of Brett Favre and right next to Waveland and Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian. I never made it down to Florabama, the kitschy bar right on the two states' border, but it is said to have reopened already, so come on down y'all.

I also spent a combined six weeks in New Orleans, spread across 14 separate trips down to the John Minor Wisdom Courthouse -- a fitting name for the most beautiful courthouse in the land -- to do the people's work at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. It was an honor and a privilege to work there, and an unadulterated pleasure to carouse till all hours and make it to the hotel (the W, of course, with all its incongruities and anachronisms) in time to shower, strap on a seersucker, and crawl into chambers by 7am.

I wonder if Imre will ever be back at Galatoire's -- the old Hungarian gave me a menu and said its prices were my prices for as long as I cared to give the place my custom. Or if Jacques-imo's and its famous lobster-gator quiche (and fried green tomatoes) will return to its previous off-the-beaten-streetcar glory.

My remembrances of the Gulf and of New Orleans (that's "New-Ă“rlans," folks; only tourists say "N'awlins" or, even worse, "New Or-leans") may not be as rich as Rick Bragg's or as poignant as Anne Rice's, but they're meaningful and they're mine.

To see what the place has become, to consider that it, quite literally, may never be the same again, makes me sad. To watch and read about the savages -- the man-made disaster on top of the natural one -- makes me angry. (The Senate should ask John Roberts whether he thinks it would violate the Eighth Amendment to brand "We are not Haiti" on the truculent torsos of all the looters, rapists, and bureaucratic delinquents.)

And so I add my voice to the cacophony in the wilderness. It really is the least I can do.

Ilya Shapiro is a Washington lawyer who writes the "Dispatches from Purple America" column for TCS. His last piece was a (somewhat unlikely) paean to the great state of New Jersey.

To see more of the extensive coverage of Hurricane Katrina from TCS, click here.


TCS Daily Archives