The Idler: Lesson from Katrina

It is a mystery to any hack writer, filling space between the ads in the daily fishwrappers, when one of his columns takes a life of its own and begins flitting through Christendom on little electronic beetle wings. (Well, okay, spreading through America.) Let me bashfully tell you I wrote such a thing, which appeared in my home paper, the Ottawa Citizen, on September 11 this year and weeks later I was still receiving dozens of fervid love letters about it, as it got copied from one e-list to another. Plus the usual hate mail from gliberals and leftoids.

The column, which I titled “Blame Throwing,” wasn’t even meant to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. It was more about Canada than about the United States, though it ended in defense of a certain George W. Bush, which I made slightly over-the-top by quoting from Rudyard Kipling’s “If—” poem.

If there were another reason for the ignition of my own brief candle, it was because I expressed something everyone knows to be true but hardly anyone is saying. This is at least the formula for controversy, as I have found over the years—to be the person who says publicly what everyone is thinking privately. It is also, traditionally, the way to get yourself burned at the stake.

I said, and I’ll repeat, that Hurricane Katrina hardly showed a lack of readiness at the adult level of U.S. government. The military and the National Guard could handle things, once they were dispatched under unified command. It was the local authorities who could not handle a disaster for which they should have been long prepared.

The particular edge I put on this was to mention that Canada is just like Louisiana, and in a similar storm we’d be waiting for someone to come save us, “sans input from ourselves.” We take for granted what too many of the good folk in New Orleans apparently took for granted—that some omniscient nanny-like power would anticipate every local failure, just as charity would float in on barges from all the born-again Christians and country-club Republicans we’d previously felt free to despise.

That money for charitable causes “comes in from the right and goes out to the left” is a controversial generalization which I think would easily survive close demographic study, though little of this has been done. Some has been, however, by such as the late great sociologist Edward C. Banfield, and by charities trying to target their “donation markets,” and these incidental findings are quite suggestive. Anecdotal evidence is available almost anywhere you look that the world does naturally divide between “the mouths” and “the wallets.” The boundary line between them is seldom sharp, but the truth is in the main.

To Catholics, New Orleans provided an especially painful sight, for there are (or were) few cities in America with such a high proportion of persons to the Roman manor born. Or to be fairer to ourselves: Catholics, quasi-Catholics, notional Catholics, lapsed Catholics, apostate Catholics, and ex-Catholic practitioners of voodoo in various forms and degrees.

And here again I would guess, confidently, that the distinction between those who habitually give and those who habitually receive follows the same line of progression. Hurricane Katrina exposed this articulately. The media attempted to conceal it again by blame-throwing.

This is hardly an argument against giving ’til it hurts, or against playing the adult. The world is full of toddlers, and someone must take charge. It is instead an argument for greater insensitivity. It is a mistake to tolerate blame-throwing from people who never volunteer mea culpas.

  • David Warren

    David Warren is a Canadian journalist who writes mostly on international affairs. His Web site is

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