Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sept 4, 2005 Katrina's devestation

Dear Sis

I've been hip-deep in legal work and I've neglected to write. Now every TV station is broadcasting the heartbreaking scenes of devestation from New Orleans and the Mississippi coast caused by Hurricane Katrina, like postcard-style vignettes of life in Hell. There's a number of lessons to be taken away from this entire sad episode, not the least of which is how thin the veneer of civilization really is. When the shit really hits the fan and push comes to shove, the primal urge to survive becomes paramount and many people devolve to savagery. When the normal structure & control suddenly and utterly disappears (i.e., when there's no police, no recognized authority) there's a paradigm shift in people's mentality as they realize that all bets are off. You become acutely aware of the evanescence of civility as social organization is instantly replaced with chaos.

I experienced this in 1973 while at Sumter Correctional Institution when I was at the center (literally) of a race riot which, like a fingersnap, exploded all around me. In one instant, everything went from peace & order to total war (I was in the gym, which was packed with about 500 inmates, watching the weekly movie). The prison guards (all white) who normally stood around, representing authority and maintaining the boundaries with their mere presence, were suddenly being beaten to the ground by the black prisoners, and all of the blacks instantly turned and attacked all of the whites. It was well organized and choreographed, and a real surprise. It's hard to describe how such a sudden and massive change in the normal "order" of your life hits you like a shift in reality. For my own part, I immediately picked up the steel folding chair I was sitting in & began attacking those attacking me. I became a savage in a heartbeat (those who didn't think as fast, who hesitated or stood around in shock, got stomped & beaten to the ground). Anyway, I saw that same thing in New Orleans. You can believe that there are a lot of horror stories yet to be told about things that have happened in New Orleans during the last week (I'm referring to humans attacking humans, predators seeking out & killing and attacking innocent civilians). Which brings me to the second lesson to take away from this: When the shit really hits the fan, your survival depends upon yourself. Waiting for the government to come and save you is not a plan. It's up to you, your own wits, strength and intelligence. What you're seeing in New Orleans (as far as the social chaos) could happen in any American city if there is some sort of disaster (natural or man-made) which completely dislocates the social fabric. Most of us know this, but it doesn't really sink in until you see it in action, like in New Orleans. So, you don't have to be a paranoid "survivalist" to embrace the idea of being prepared for emergencies (extra food, water, fuel, etc...)

You can believe there'll be lots of finger-pointing and blaming when this is all over (it's already started). I was amazed to see numerous officials, including the FEMA Director, go on TV and claim that the magnitude of the destruction could not have been anticipated. Hell, scientists and environmentalists have been yelling about this for years. It's been predicted over & over & over. About 2 years ago I watched a program on the Discovery Channel where they used computer models & animation to show what a direct hit on New Orleans by a category 4 or 5 hurricane would do (it would flood and devestate the city). Everything thay showed came to pass with Katrina. The fact is that politicians chose to ignore those warnings, claiming it was just "paranoid tree-huggers" out to scare the public. Those politicians should now be held accountable (but, of course, they won't be). The citizens themselves must share the blame. This is a nation whose sole obsession appears to be cutting taxes to the bare-bones minimum. There's no money to build adequate dykes, levees and flood walls, or to help build up the buffering marshland through reclamation projects. The technology exists (and has long existed) to prevent this disaster (just ask the Dutch, masters at keeping the sea at bay), but the political will has been non-existent. Now the chickens have come home to roost. And, as usual, it is the poor and underprivileged and elderly who paid the price, with their lives in many cases...

Gotta go, Sis. It's time for yard.

Love & Peace,

Friday, September 02, 2005

August 21, 2005 Discovery Lands!

Dear Sis~

I just watched the space shuttle Discovery return to Cape Canaveral riding piggyback on a Boeing 747. I'm always amazed at that sight, a big old 747 flying with a space shuttle strapped to its back. Who would imagine that that combo would even fly? It took a ballsy engineer to propose that solution to the problem of transporting the shuttle fleet around the country. Can you picture that discussion...a group of areospace engineers sitting around a conference table, trading ideas, and one of them speaks up and says, "Hey, let's just strap that baby onto the back of a 747 and fly it from California to Florida!" And damned if it doesn't work!

A couple of weeks ago Justice John Paul Stevens, who sits on the US Supreme Court, gave a speech to the American Bar Association wherein he was very critical of the death penalty process in America. As a general rule, Supreme Court Justices are very careful and measured with their public statements (in fact, they don't often give speeches or make public statements) and they often use such statements to signal shifts in the Court's thinking. It's sort of like with Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, whose cryptic statements about the nation's financial health are scrutinized like tea leaves by everybody in the financial markets, as they try to discern the hidden meanings of his often enigmatic utterances. Justice O'Connor, for example, during the last several years, went out of her way to make public statements about the abysmal quality of attorneys in most capital cases. (In one speech she basically stated that she'd never seen competent trial counsel in any of the capital cases that had come before the Supreme Court during the 20+ years she was on the bench). Statements like that were significant coming from her because she was a conservative Justice. And, significantly, Justice O'Connor was a key voter in several recent important decisions regarding standards governing the competence of counsel. Anyway, it might be wishful thinking, but I'd like to believe that Justice Stevens' recent stinging criticisms of capital punishment herald some coming favorable decisions. Justice Stevens, by the way, is one of the best Justices on the bench; he's brilliant, fair, judicious and humane. At any rate, there are several capital cases now pending before the Supreme Court which will provide excellent vehicles for the Court to comment on the shortcomings of the death penalty process, if the Court chooses to do so. There's a powerful capital case out of Tennessee, House vs. Bell, involving the issue of "actual innocence", and of course, there is Rob's case (the guy upstairs). And, hopefully, there will also be my own case after October.

Alright, Sis, it's almost time for yard so I'm gonna wrap this up. I'll call you next weekend & you can tell me if you've adopted one of those little lab puppies!
Love & Peace,