Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day Musings

Well, we're home from a lovely weekend on the Massachusetts coast, all the while understanding that thousands are displaced down on the Gulf Coast, including fifty members of my wife's extended family, all of whom are now known to be safe. It was wonderful to be with family and friends here in sunny New England, but our thoughts and conversations turned frequently to not only extended family, but to the many people who are not as fortunate and priviledged.

Interestingly, it was only recently that we learned that two years ago, the Bush Administration cut 80% of the budget to repair and modernize the levee system in and around New Orleans, a project that was seen as essential in order to save thousands of lives in the event of an enormous storm system in the Gulf. These cuts were made in the interest of "homeland security", in order to divert funds to the so-called "War on Terror". So while we diligently search people's shoes in airports, thousands have now lost their lives, homes, or loved ones due to poor planning and lethargic institutional response to crisis. It is also painfully apparent that it has always been the poor---and mostly African Americans---who have lived in the lowest-lying areas of New Orleans, the white population historically most often settling in the more affluent neighborhoods at higher elevations. Some may argue this point, but I see this as clearly another example of racial and socioeconomic inequities directly impacting people's lives in tangible ways. Adding insult to injury, the vast majority of people who had neither access to vehicles, nor money to escape via train or bus prior to the storm, were African American. No matter what anyone says, I feel strongly that race still cruelly informs the disparities in this most prosperous of countries. The New York Times has some very informative pieces in the recent Sunday edition which makes such racial/socioeconomic inequities baldly apparent. No wonder so many people are incensed, as am I.

On another note, for the second time in two weeks, Mary and I changed our normal driving pattern and went out of our way to make a special stop for ice cream. On both of these occasions, we witnessed horrible car accidents in which SUVs travelling at high speeds collided with passenger cars, the SUVs in both cases sailing into the air and rolling at least once before coming to a halt. In the first incident, the SUV came to rest upside down, with a father and his two children under 5 escaping relatively unharmed, the driver of the other vehicle with minor injuries. In yesterday's crash, a father was again driving with three 12-year-old girls in a huge SUV, striking a passenger car, the SUV sailing through the air and rolling twice before landing upright. Again, no serious injuries but a great deal of trauma and trouble for all concerned. On both occasions, I sprinted to the scene and did my best to triage the injured and await the paramedics and police. What have I learned from these experiences?

1) Have a comprehensive First-Aid kit in each car.
2) SUVs are more dangerous than I thought and should not drive at high speeds as they are prone to roll-overs.
3) Stopping for ice cream may be more hazardous than I originally thought; or conversely, deciding to get ice cream is God's way of steering me towards the scene of an impending accident where my medical skills will be needed.
4) This lattice of coincidence is pretty amazing.

Now that I've got all that off of my chest, I must take advantage of this holiday and begin preparing for the new semester that begins this Thursday. The syllabus needs editing, the handouts need collating and copying, and I must gather my thoughts and think through any changes to my teaching approach which may be in order.

So, dear Readers, I leave you this morning to your own devices. Please consider donating to an organization of your choice which is assisting in hurricane relief in some way. If you are unable to donate monetarily, please send waves of compassion to those who are suffering the consequences of Hurricane Katrina. And while we focus on a tragedy close to home, we also remember those suffering elsewhere around the world, even as many of us frolic on this national holiday.

Mother Theresa once said, "I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, there is no hurt, only more love."
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