Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

September 6, 2005

Hurricane Urban Legends? Already?

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:02 pm

Many news organizations have been reporting on the horrid conditions that prevailed in the Superdome and the Convention Center before those who’d taken refuge there were evacuated to other cities. Stories of people dying everyday in the buildings, dead bodies piling up inside, horrific stories of murder and rape — even, as in the story quoted below, “babies getting raped in the bathrooms, there were murders, nobody was doing anything for these people,” and in the most exteme case, an allegation of cannibalism (later retracted). For all this, of course, public officials were to blame.

Now, the Manchester (U.K.) Guardian — a left-wing newspaper that is surely no defender of American public officials — is reporting that many of these stories, if not all of them, are in fact unsubstantiated and may turn out to be completely untrue.

Murder and rape – fact or fiction?

Gary Younge in Baton Rouge
Tuesday September 6, 2005

There were two babies who had their throats slit. The seven-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in the Superdome. And the corpses laid out amid the excrement in the convention centre.

In a week filled with dreadful scenes of desperation and anger from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina some stories stood out.

But as time goes on many remain unsubstantiated and may yet prove to be apocryphal.

New Orleans police have been unable to confirm the tale of the raped child, or indeed any of the reports of rapes, in the Superdome and convention centre.

New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass said last night: “We don’t have any substantiated rapes. We will investigate if the individuals come forward.”

And while many claim they happened, no witnesses, survivors or survivors’ relatives have come forward.

Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found. And while the floor of the convention centre toilets were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian found no corpses.

During a week when communications were difficult, rumours have acquired a particular currency. They acquired through repetition the status of established facts.

One French journalist from the daily newspaper Libération was given precise information that 1,200 people had drowned at Marion Abramson school on 5552 Read Boulevard. Nobody at the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the New Orleans police force has been able to verify that.

Reports of the complete degradation and violent criminals running rampant in the Superdome suggested a crisis that both hastened the relief effort and demonised those who were stranded.

By the end of last week the media in Baton Rouge reported that evacuees from New Orleans were carjacking and that guns and knives were being seized in local shelters where riots were erupting.

The local mayor responded accordingly.

“We do not want to inherit the looting and all the other foolishness that went on in New Orleans,” Kip Holden was told the Baton Rouge Advocate.

“We do not want to inherit that breed that seeks to prey on other people.”

The trouble, wrote Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune is that “scarcely any of it was true – the police confiscated a single knife from a refugee in one Baton Rouge shelter”.

“There were no riots in Baton Rouge. There were no armed hordes.”

Similarly when the first convoy of national guardsmen went into New Orleans approached the convention centre they were ordered to “lock and load”.

But when they arrived they were confronted not by armed mobs but a nurse wearing a T-shirt that read “I love New Orleans”.

“She ran down a broken escalator, then held her hands in the air when she saw the guns,” wrote the LA Times.

“We have sick kids up here!” she shouted.

“We have dehydrated kids! One kid with sickle cell!”

When good information is scarce, false rumors can have bad consequences. We should be glad that these rumors didn’t result in some fatal misunderstanding, such as National Guardsmen shooting that nurse.

(Hat tip: Pejman.)

Sneaking to the Rescue

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:45 pm

Ray Gronberg of the Durham, NC Herald-Sun reports:

DURHAM — A trio of Duke University sophomores say they drove to New Orleans late last week, posed as journalists to slip inside the hurricane-soaked city twice, and evacuated seven people who weren’t receiving help from authorities.

The group, led by South Carolina native Sonny Byrd, say they also managed to drive all the way to the New Orleans Convention Center, where they encountered scenes early Saturday evening that they say were disgraceful.

“We found it absolutely incredible that the authorities had no way to get there for four or five days, that they didn’t go in and help these people, and we made it in a two-wheel-drive Hyundai,” said Hans Buder, who made the trip with his roommate Byrd and another student, David Hankla.

Small correction: By the time they got there, “the authorities” no longer “had no way to get there” — and in fact below they describe seeing numerous police National Guard troops in the city.

Buder’s account — told by cell phone Sunday evening as the trio neared Montgomery, Ala., on their way home — chronicled a three-day odyssey that began when the students, angered by the news reports they were seeing on CNN, loaded up their car with bottled water and headed for the Gulf coast to see if they could lend a hand.

The trio say they left Durham about 6 p.m. Thursday and reached Montgomery about 12 hours later. After catching 1½ hours of sleep, they reached the coast at Mobile. From there, they traveled through the Mississippi cities of Biloxi and Gulfport.

They say they elected to keep going because it seemed like Mississippi authorities had things well in hand.

Now if — as lots of people including the New Orleans mayor seem to be saying — this is all the federal government’s fault, FEMA’s fault, and Bush’s fault, why it is that things are under control in Mississippi? Does Mississippi have a different president and a different federal government? Or could it be — just maybe — that the state and local governments in Mississippi are more competent and less corrupt, and the difference between the situation there and in Louisiana is due — at least in part — to the incompetence and/or corruption of the state and local governments in Louisiana?

Moving right along, we get to my favorite part:

Pushing on, they passed through Slidell, La., and tried to get into New Orleans by a couple of routes. Each time, police and National Guard troops turned them away. By 2 p.m. they’d wound up in Baton Rouge.

At 2 p.m., the trio decided to head for New Orleans, Buder said. After looking around, they swiped an Associated Press identification and one of the TV station’s crew shirts, and found a Kinko’s where they could make copies of the ID.

They were stopped again by authorities at the edge of New Orleans, but this time were able to make it through.

“We waved the press pass, and they looked at each other, the two guards, and waved us on in,” Buder said.

I think next time I want to get into some place I’m not supposed to be able to get into, I’ll just head for the nearest Kinko’s and make myself a press pass.

Now why is it that the press is let in, but residents — who may want to “report” on the status of their homes, for example — are not? Who deserves to be there more?

Inside the city, they found a surreal environment.

“It was wild,” Buder said. “It really felt like it was ‘Independence Day,’ the movie.”

The trio dodged downed trees and power lines until they happened upon Magazine Street, which runs in a semi-circle around the city parallel to and about four blocks north of the Mississippi River.

They stopped to give water to a 15-year-old boy sitting beside the road holding a sign that said “Need Water/Food,” then went to the convention center.

The evacuation was basically complete by the time they arrived, at about 6:30 or 6:45 p.m. What the trio saw there horrified them.

“The only way I can describe this, it was the epicenter,” Buder said. “Inside there were National Guard running around, there was feces, people had urinated, soiled the carpet. There were dead bodies. The smell will never leave me.”

Buder said the students saw four or five bodies. National Guard troopers seemed to be checking the second and third floors of the building to try to secure the site.

“Anyone who knows that area, if you had a bus, it would take you no more than 20 minutes to drive in with a bus and get these people out,” Buder said. “They sat there for four or five days with no food, no water, babies getting raped in the bathrooms, there were murders, nobody was doing anything for these people. And we just drove right in, really disgraceful. I don’t want to get too fired up with the rhetoric, but some blame needs to be placed somewhere.”

Ah, “some blame needs to be placed somewhere.” A future lawyer, no doubt.

But seriously — the fact that two-wheel-drive Hyundai or a bus could make it in there in 20 minutes on Saturday, nearly a week after the hurricane and five days after the levees failed most certainly does not mean that they could have made it in there several days before when the police couldn’t move around the city and the National Guard couldn’t get in.

Let’s have some perspective here — the situation is changing constantly in a situation like this. Just because a two-wheel-drive Hyundai could make it to the New Orleans Convention Center on Saturday does not mean that the National Guard could have made it in the previous Tuesday, when the streets near the convention center were under four feet or more of water. Indeed, well before the Duke students got there, firefighters from as far away as California and New York had already arrived, as had National Guard troops from California, Ohio, Arkansas, and other states.

The fact is, the waters have receded somewhat already, and will no doubt continue to do so. You can see this in an excellent day-by-day photo spread put together by the Miami Herald (free registration required but worth it). The photos are sorted by day, and if you keep track you will notice that the number of pictures showing exposed ground and roadways increase as time goes on.

And if you are familiar with the layout of New Orleans, you’ll notice that the flooding downtown is pretty much gone. On Canal Street (which runs from right near the Superdome to right near the Convention Center) , people were wading hip-deep on Tuesday, and walking normally and driving — even in vehicles as fragile as golf carts — by Wednesday.

One brief sort-of personal comment: These Duke students were enterprising, energetic, creative, and gold-hearted. They saw a problem and wanted to make a difference. They were also totally devoid of a context in which to understand what they saw, and as a result over-estimated the significance of their own observations — they simply assumed that what they ahd seen was all there was to see. They also over-estimated their own importance. I was an undergraduate at Duke for four years. This precise combination of enterprise, creativity, and a total lack of perspective is so typical of Duke students you’d think it was an admission requirement. (Maybe it is!)

(Hat tip: David R. Mark.)

Christian Homes Torched in West Bank

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:09 pm

In case you thought Arab-Muslim violence was only directed against Jews (and Americans), note this:

Muslims torch 14 Christian homes near Ramallah
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondent

At least 14 houses belonging to Christian residents of Taybeh, a West Bank village northeast of Ramallah, were torched by Muslims from neighboring Dir Jarir on Sunday, to avenge what they termed the dishonor of a Muslim woman.

According to Taybeh residents, several dozen young men from Dir Jarir descended on their village before dawn, torched the homes and destroyed a great deal of other property.

“The young men, who were holding Molotov cocktails, threw them at the houses, which began to go up in flames, one after another,” said Buthaina Sha’aban, a Taybeh resident and the sister of the town’s mayor. “They vandalized parked cars and beat village residents who went out into the streets. Entire families were thrown into the street after their homes were torched. Not much remains of their property. We urge all international, Israeli and Palestinian actors to intervene and protect village residents from the Muslim rage.”

PA security sources said that the rampage was triggered by an incident last week in which a 23-year-old woman was killed by her relatives because they suspected her of carrying on a romance with a Christian man from Taybeh. The woman was quickly buried, but last Tuesday, the PA police exhumed the body for an autopsy.

I once had a landlady who was an Assyrian Christian from northern Iraq; she and her family had escaped from Saddam’s rampages with nothing, leaving behind an upper-class (by 1970s Iraqi standards anyway) life and starting over in the United States. She said they had a saying among Christians in Arab countries: “First ‘Saturday’ then ‘Sunday.’” In other words, first they direct their rhetoric and violence against the Jews, accusing the Jews of all sorts of crimes to justify violence. Then when there aren’t any Jews left to attack, they direct the same rage and violence at the Christians.

Terrorist Attack Averted

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:57 am

It seems that a major terrorist attack planned for the Los Angeles area has been averted. This from Daniel Pipes:

The Jewish High Holidays this year fall in early October, and that’s when a massacre was planned against two Los Angeles synagogues, as well as other targets, according to an indictment just handed down against four young Muslim men.

Law enforcement traces the origins of this plot to 1997. That’s when Kevin Lamar James, a black inmate at New Folsom Prison, near Sacramento, California, founded Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS, Arabic for “Assembly of Authentic Islam”). JIS promotes the sort of jihadi version of Islam typical of American jails. As the indictment puts it, James, now 29, preached that JIS members have the duty “to target for violent attack any enemies of Islam or ‘infidels,’ including the United States government and Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel.”

James, serving a 10-year prison sentence for an armed robbery in 1996, recruited acolytes among fellow prisoners. Volunteers swore to obey him and not to disclose the existence of JIS. On release from prison, they promised to get directives from him at least every three months, recruit Muslims to JIS, and attack government officials and supporters of Israel.

Two men, both 21 years old and without criminal records, did sign up: Hammad Riaz Samana, a lawful Pakistani immigrant and student at Santa Monica College, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, a black convert who had worked at a duty-free shop in Los Angeles International Airport. The three, plus James, now face up to life in prison for conspiring “to levy a war against the Government of the United States through terrorism.”

They did so in five ways. They conducted surveillance of U.S. government targets (military recruitment stations and bases), Israeli targets (the Los Angeles consulate and El Al), and Jewish targets (synagogues). The trio monitored the Jewish calendar and, the indictment notes, planned to attack synagogues on Jewish holidays “to maximize the number of casualties.”

They acquired an arsenal of weapons. To fund this undertaking, they set off on a crime wave, robbing (or attempting to rob) gas stations eleven times in the five weeks after May 30. They engaged in physical and firearms training. Finally, they tried recruiting other Muslims.

But Patterson dropped a mobile telephone during the course of one gas station robbery, and the police retrieved it. Information from the phone set off an FBI-led investigation that involved more than 25 agencies and 500 investigators.

Although Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales lavished praise on “the work of able investigators at all levels of government” in solving this case, law enforcement was as clueless about the JIS gang as was its British counterpart about the 7/7 bombers. If not for the lucky break of a dropped phone, the jihadis probably would have struck. It is extremely disturbing to see law enforcement pat itself on the back for ineptitude.

Needless to say, this will get a lot less news coverage than if the attacks had actually been carried out.

Chillingly, Pipes concludes:

The emergence of a primarily African-American Islamist terrorist cell signals a new trend. Native-born Americans have taken part in terrorist operations before, but (again, as in London), this case this marks their first large-scale plot.

Terrorist plans that fail don’t make headlines, but they should. This was a near-miss. Home-grown radical Islam has arrived and will do damage.

Even though most Jews resist acknowledging it, the Muslim threat is changing Jewish life in the United States. The golden age of American Jewry is coming to an end.

I don’t know if he’s right about that last point, but if he is, we’re in real trouble, because the situation is even worse nearly everywhere else. A Jewish family from France moved to my neighborhood (near Washington, DC) about a year ago to escape antisemitic violence there — and when I mentioned this to a (non-Jewish) French woman I met, she nodded knowingly and confirmed that it was a good idea for them to get out.

The United States is the one major country where Jews have lived, from which we have never been expelled and in which we have never suffered from large-scale antisemitic violence. But that was true 900 years ago in Spain, too, and it changed there.

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