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Watching the story unfold

The shocking story I wrote about earlier today is now being taken apart and examined to see if it holds water (perhaps an unfortunate expression under the circumstances) and as a result, it will either be reinforced as a truly damning indictment of the powers-that-be in and around New Orleans… or it will be a rather different damning indictment of a couple of politically motivated para-medic writers who, far from recording their eyewitness experiences, cobbled together a polemical message hung on a tissue of lies, misrepresentations and other people’s stories. I really do want to know which it is but I am certainly not prepared to just discount this because I happen to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum to the socialists who wrote it.

Some commenters have said they suspect the article is ‘true in essence’ rather than a literally true account of events but that is far too ‘Oliver Stone’ for me (and trust me, that is not a nice thing to say given how I feel about Oliver Stone). I do not buy the idea of ‘true in essence’: it is either based on facts that happened and were witnessed by the authors… or it was not! It matters less if the authors were wrong about certain technical details or terminology or even the motivations of the actors in question, just so long as the actually basic facts are correct. It is their witness I am interested in, not their analysis. Once the facts are established beyond a reasonable doubt, we can argue over the whys and wherefores and justifications, but the accusations in this purported eyewitness account are just too damning to be left in doubt either way.

I find this whole thing really fascinating and I cannot thank enough all the people turning their analytical talents and local knowledge on this story for commenting! The truth will out and let the chips fall where they may.

23 comments to Watching the story unfold

  • If you thought that story was a hoot, you’ll love this one.

  • AWolf

    STLtoday has almost the same story but told from different participants. An attorney and his wife.

  • Other partially corroborating first-person accounts here, here, and here.

  • Bruce, those last two links refer to a camp / staging-area in Jefferson County; but on which side of the expressway bridge was that camp? Had the Gretna PD finally relented and allowed the refugees across that bridge; and if so, when?

  • Regardless of any embellishments that might have been added, if the Gretna PD blocked people from fleeing the city for no good reason then they should be strung up.

  • The STLToday link is from 9/2; the first posting of this tale appears to be at the SF socialist site from 2005-09-05 17:39:00. The EMSNetwork posting is from Sep 6, 2005, 11:59, and it says it’s something that’s being passed around, although what they mean isn’t clear.

    If I wanted to create a bit of speculative fiction I could take that story and add a little here and a little there and come up with something similar to the paramedics’ tale.

    I’m not saying that’s what they did, but their description of an idyllic socialistic wonderland under the overpass which was destroyed through the racist nationalistic totalitarian actions of the Oppressor tends to make me – and no doubt most everyone else – quite a bit skeptical.

  • Details matter. If the authors lie about the little details then what else are they hiding?

    Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport–because the rations set off the metal detectors.

    There are multiple mentions of ‘C-rations’ in this account. I cry shenanigans because

    a) the military hasn’t issued C-rations since before I enlisted in 1985. They’re not stored in a warehouse somewhere waiting for issue, and I doubt you can buy them. Military rations come on pallets, yes, and in boxes, inside brown plastic pouches stamped MRE.

    b) i’ve never heard of anyone who has gotten their hands on an MRE calling it anything but that. If they’re really old (like say my father’s generation – who really had to eat the stuff) then the c-ration word might come up by reflex.

    c) There isn’t anything IN an MRE to set of a metal detector. It’s all plastic and protein goop that looks like food.

  • Patrick

    Just the style of writing of the earlier piece screams FAKE to me – call me cynical but re-read that, and ask yourself if it is closer to a) an undergrad or high school student’s creative writing peice or b) reality?

    That said, I suspect that one of the biggest problems in NO was the lack of properly prepared people – if you’d spent 50USD a week earlier on water, crackers, spreads, dry cakes, muesli bars, ammunition etc, you’d have coped quite comfortably for a good few days.

  • If the authors lie about the little details then what else are they hiding?

    Yes, if they are lies. However incorrect terminology is not a lie, it is an error, which is not the same thing at all.

    You are simply wrong about use of the term C-rations. I have seen the term used in the press and C-Ration, unlike MRE, is a term still widely used even if it is incorrect.

    No, what matters is the key facts. Were they lied to by the cops to get them moving? Not conclusively confirmed yet but likely. Were a group of people prevented from saving themselves at the bridge? Yes, conformed fact. Did the cops fire over their heads? Yes, confirmed. etc. etc. That is the sort of thing that needs to be done, rather than debating semantic issues like the use of the term ‘hotwired’ or ‘C-ration’.

    If this was a bogus article, it NEEDS to be exposed. If it was not, handfuls of shit need to be thown at the nearest fans.

  • zmollusc

    No metal foil in MRE’s? Really? Does that mean the US military are missing out on ‘biscuits, brown’ (the best thing in the NATO ration box)?
    Biscuits brown come in tinfoil . Or is it synthetic tinfoil? I can’t remember now.
    Mmmm…… biscuits brown…..
    The PK chewing gum was in tinfoil too.
    In fact, the meal part was in tinfoil too, come to think of it (suspiciously similar to the little tinfoil rip-top pet food containers for small yappy dogs . Mr Dog?)

    I have completely lost the thread now so I shall think more about biscuits brown.

  • llamas

    I cartianly wasn’t trying to debunk the story in its entirety, and I don’t subscribe to the ‘falsum in uno . . .’ approach. But there seems to be little doubt that the story has elements of – assembly – to it, and of course, the happy tales of the workers marching hand-in-hand to face the evil forces of oppression are so many flights of fancy.

    I think Perry de Havilland has the right way of it – this story contains elements which are appalling and which deserve to be brought to light. However, in order to do that, a lot of the windowdressing needs to be stripped away to reveal the facts. We need to beware of ‘confirmation bias’ – because parts of the story confirm our opinion that ‘the state is not your friend’, we should examine it all the harder and make sure that the thickness of the lipstick is not obscuring the pig. That is the process which is taking place – quite nicely, as it happens. Patience – it will boil down to a hard core of more-or-less universally agreed facts in less than 24 hours, and then we can all gnaw on it all we like. Ain’y the blogosphere great?

    Personally, the part I love is the ridiculous lack of self-awareness by the authors of the article. The state treats them like crap, and the only positive things are the efforts of individuals – yet they are committed socialists, who desire collective solutions and state expansion as the answer to these kinds of problems? A better state? If an experience like this doesn’t persuade them that the state is never your friend – what would?



  • The original piece read as if the writer was trying to emulat John Steinbeck.

  • llamas, yes indeed! That is exactly the approach we need and I too got a bit of a laugh at some socialists unintentionally showing how non-coerced civil society generates spontaneous order even as the state that they think of as the tool to fix everything fucks it all up before their very eyes. Yet they seem oblivious to the exquisite irony of it all.

    But more importantly, the core facts really need to either be debunked or corroborated (and some have indeed been confirmed).

  • No metal foil in MRE’s? Really?

    Others have pointed out (in the prevous post) that the liners of MRE packages contain foil. Indeed I recall they were silver / gray in color on the inside of the individual pouches but frankly never gave any thought to the metal content.

    Enough metal to set off a metal detector? Dunno. I’ll have to cadge an MRE from my SSgt son-in-law and take a packet of ‘Chicken Ala King’ through the airport next time I fly.

    Yes, if they are lies. However incorrect terminology is not a lie, it is an error, which is not the same thing at all.

    Details matter. The type of ration (imho) matters; at one point the meals are taken away because they set off a metal detector. A C-ration would – the damned things came in tin cans. Can a plastic pouch with a metalized lining do so? Opinons vary but my guess is no. Some testing is required, I suppose. If only my wife still worked at school I could carry an MRE through their metal detector …

    You are simply wrong about use of the term C-rations. I have seen the term used in the press and C-Ration, unlike MRE, is a term still widely used even if it is incorrect.

    I only recall one person calling a military ration ‘c-ration’. This is my experience and I’m sticking to it.

    A quick google search of the term c-ration on the cnn and nytimes sites shows 3 refernces on the former, one on the latter, all referring to the actual c-ration and not MRE, but this is hardly conclusive.

    YMMV obviously.

  • ic

    oops:”We shut down the bridge,” Arthur Lawson, chief of the City of Gretna Police Department, confirmed to United Press International, adding that his jurisdiction had been “a closed and secure location” since before the storm hit.


  • David, Jefferson Parish curves around New Orleans to the west and south. Gretna is its easternmost point. Metairie to the west, which wasn’t flooded and was closer to the airport, is also part of Jefferson Parish. I believe the “refugee camp” in Metairie at I-10 and the Causeway is what’s being referred to here, or possibly another one even farther west, in Kenner.

    As much as I might want to condemn these cops, it’s true the main relief effort was coming from the west… letting refugees to walk out to the east, farther from aid, wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense, really. This is all just a side-effect of a complete lack of any feasible evacuation plan for people who had gotten to the Superdome and Convention Centre collection points, or who were needing help after both had closed.

    The real villains here to me are the hotel owners (who say, in their defence, that they were ordered to by authorities) who kicked these tourists out into the street without any plan for their safety or welfare, and the New Orleans cops who closed both existing collection centres, failed to establish a third (in, say, one of those vacant hotels) and then tormented the refugees left in the streets with a combination of misinformation and harassment.

  • Let’s be clear, though: … it was NEW ORLEANS civil authorities who ordered the hotels emptied, apparently. It was NEW ORLEANS authorities who failed to establish a third collection point after their first two were overflowing (say, in one of those evacuated luxury hotels), leaving people no choice but to sleep in the street. It was NEW ORLEANS authorities who apparently misled the resulting refugees about the Gretna bridge being open. And it would have been NEW ORLEANS POLICE who dispersed first one encampment near their casino headquarters, and another on the freeway near the bridge, in the second case possibly at gunpoint with a helicopter. The “sheriff” who dispersed the camp after dusk and repossessed refugees’ food and water would not have been a Gretna cop… the location of the camp described is well within New Orleans city lines.

    Some Gretna police may have said some stupid things to people trying to slip past their roadblock that might suggest a racial motivation, but their actions overall were at least logical, if not entirely humane. But I don’t know what the hell the New Orleans police thought they were doing by this point.

  • Midewesterner

    This just in, FEMA director recalled and replaced with a Navy? admiral. I’ll try to find more.

  • Uh oh! I just saw another mention of C-Rations in a presumably reputable news site. Yep, in an article penned by NO Times Picayune columnist Chris Rose, he mentions how the oh-so-skeletal staff of the paper are staying in a small house in uptown. He says [emphasis mine],

    We have a generator and water and military C-rations and Doritos and smokes and booze.

    Maybe it’s a regional thing… they call ’em C-rations in those parts. Or something. It adds credibility of the report from the paramedics.

  • Maybe it’s a regional thing… they call ’em C-rations in those parts. Or something. It adds credibility of the report from the paramedics.

    I’ll allow that more people than I would have thought call pre-packaged military rations in brown pouches c-rations. I’m still don’t know how packaged food with a metalized liner can set off a metal detector.

    Am I nit-picking? Sure am. In part that is what the blog is all about – a horde of nit-pickers will establish veracity better than a single fact checker in a press office.

  • The most recent episode of This American Life actually features this story in one of its segments, in a phone interview with Lorrie Beth Slonsky and another phone interview with Debbie Zelinsky, who was also part of their party (the remaining 8). More details than what their first account has, and a second person corroborating the story.

    This American Life: After the Flood