I have put some miles on the car this summer by visiting family and friends, but that’s really nothing new. Each trip to visit the family puts about 2,000 miles on the car, but I consider it a small price to pay to get together. Having made the drive many times, we have chosen a few standard places to stop for gas and munchies. At one stop, I availed myself of the facilities. In the spirit of capitalism, the McDonald’s at the truck stop had purchased some advertising space on the back of the bathroom stall doors. In this case, the item being hawked was McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

Not being a big fan of McDonald’s food, I didn’t pay much attention to the ad. On my return trip, however, I noticed the ad had been defaced. Someone had drawn an arrow to the phrase, “made of 100% white meat” and wrote, “Even McDonald’s is raciest [sic].” My first response was, “Geez, learn to spell ‘racist’ right!” My second response was to look at the meat in the McNugget on the ad. I couldn’t think of any way to best describe the color of the meat, other than to call it white.

In chickens (and some other birds like turkeys), the muscles that don’t see much use, like chest muscles, tend to be a lighter color than the muscles that are used constantly like the thighs and legs. Other birds that fly more than chickens, such as geese, are all dark meat. Because we Americans have different tastes when it comes to white and dark meat, people often carve the Thanksgiving turkey into piles of white and dark meat and allow the guests to choose the kind they like best. It is common for commercial food preparers to use only white meat in their chicken nuggets, not because it tastes any better to be made only of white meat, but merely because the appearance is more attractive to most people. There is even a scientist who has spent time figuring out ways to turn the dark meat of a chicken into white meat. I’m not a big fan of chicken nuggets from any fast-food place, since to my tastes the dark meat on a chicken has more flavor than the white. This is also why I like duck and goose meat more than I do chicken, but their higher cost means we don’t eat them very often.

But how exactly does “white” and “dark” apply to race, when we are talking about different portions of a chicken? The only way I can see that “made of 100% white meat” could be construed as a racist comment is if the person reading the advertisement views any use of the word “white” to be racially charged. And doesn’t that make the reader a racist, since he is viewing the ad (and, I assume, the world as well) through the distorted lens of racism?

If you get bad service at a restaurant, do you assume it is because of your race, age, or gender, or is it because the waiter is having a really bad day? If you instantly see any slight you might receive as being due to your race, doesn’t that make you a racist? My definition of “racist” includes those people who automatically classify others because of race. Saying “[blank] people are all [something] because of their race” is a racist attitude. And leaping to the conclusion that others are treating you poorly because of your race is also a racist attitude.

Americans are sensitive about being branded as racists. Those of us who grew up after the civil rights changes of the 1960s have been instructed and indoctrinated that we must not be racists. And because of the American melting pot effect, many Americans are mixtures and blends of different races and cultures. If we are guilty of racism, we could be guilty of hating ourselves. Tiger Woods is a good example of this. He is a mixture of Thai, Chinese, white, black, and American Indian. He is just as much black as he is Indian. He is just as much white as he is Thai. But he is really 100% American. And that’s the way we, as Americans, ought to think of ourselves. The other option is to spend our time in meaningless measurements of racial percentages, trying to discover whether it was our great-great-great or our great-great-great-great-grandfather who was of one race or another. Spare me.

Calls of racism have surfaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Kanye West labeled President Bush a racist during a fundraiser for the survivors of Katrina. Others have assumed racism in the different ways that people in photographs were identified as having “looted” or “found” food, when the reality is different. Now that Hurricane Rita is roaring to landfall, certain people will look at the different ways that local, state, and federal officials react to this hurricane as proof positive that the response to Katrina was racist. I find it much easier to believe that different people in different places will act differently, and that having seen how things were mishandled with Katrina, they will do whatever they can to keep the same mismanagement from occurring with Rita. It’s called learning from the mistakes of others.

Another common call of racism comes whenever someone points out that the attacks on September 11th were carried out by Arabic Muslim males between the ages of 18 and 45. The follow-up to such an observation is a call for more scrutiny of males of Arabic descent between the ages of 18 and 45, but some people will claim such behavior is racial profiling. It should be common sense that since we have been attacked by male Arabic Muslims, we should actually focus our attention on them. Pat-downs at airports of elderly ladies and of former Vice President Al Gore do not make us more safe. It is only common sense to focus more on the persons who resemble those who have actually been attacking us. Any time someone suggests this, the cry of “racism” and “racial profiling” comes up. But as Jim Quinn has said, giving more scrutiny to Muslim males of Arabic descent is not so much “racial profiling” as it is “a description of the perpetrator.” Heather Mac Donald wrote about this issue at National Review Online:

There are, however, no unambiguous physical markers for being a Muslim. So rational Islamic-terror investigators must use a surrogate: apparent national origin. Al Qaeda and other Islamic-terror groups have drawn the vast majority of their members from what Krauthammer calls the “Islamic belt” — the Middle East, Pakistan, and North Africa, where white skin is not indigenous. Does that mean that Islamic-terror investigators are biased against people with darker skin? Of course not. Nor does it mean that antiterror agents should treat every Middle Easterner as a suspect. But they should be allowed to factor in apparent Muslim identity in evaluating whether certain behavior is suspicious. A string of eight Saudi males seeking to purchase large quantities of fertilizer at a garden supply store outside of Las Vegas should raise more questions than if eight Mormon missionaries were to do so.

When my wife read this quote, she said, “Yeah, but you gotta watch those sneaky Mormon missionaries. Let ‘em into your home and they could–horrors–CONVERT you to a Christian faith!!! And then you’d engage in horrible activities like humanitarian projects and potluck dinners! Gahh!” Given a choice between having more au gratin potatoes at a potluck dinner or having my head cut off with an “Allahu Akbar” chorus, I think I’ll take my chances with the Mormon missionaries.

So the parents dropped by (Hi, Mom & Dad!), and we decided to make a trip to see something we had not seen before. After much driving, we arrived at a picturesque site.

View over Crater Lake from the west looking NNE.

That’s a shot from the western lip of Crater Lake in Oregon. Yes, the water really is that blue, if not more so. The temperature was a nice brisk 41 degrees. It’s hard to tell, but the water is about 2,000 feet below. Most of the crater walls are pretty steep.

Wizard Island in Crater Lake

Above is a shot of Wizard Island, located on the west side of Crater Lake. The island is a volcanic cone from an eruption that occurred after the collapse that created the lake. This was taken from the same vantage point as above, looking southeast.

Later shot from SE looking NW.

Later that day, after driving halfway around the lake, I took this shot from the opposite side looking northwest. This location is closer to the water.

So nothing political today. Just a simple statement of “don’t you wish you were here?”

This day brings me bittersweet feelings. I am heartbroken over the death of thousands on that day four years ago, but I can be content in the knowledge that in our response to these thugs, 50 million people are now freed from oppressive dictatorships that supported terrorists acts like the ones we saw that September morning. Sitting on my shelf is a documentary about New York firefighters, filmed by two French brothers named Jules and Gedeon Naudet. I have held off watching it these four years, but I will watch it today. I missed the documentary put together by National Geographic, but I plan on buying that soon as well. I don’t want to forget why America is at war with terrorists.

Below are eleven images from the slideshow available at Little Green Footballs. If anyone asks me why we are doing what we are doing, I point them to Charles’ slideshow.

Incoming Plane

Second Plane Hits

Pentagon Burns

The Towers Burn

Three Falling

Trapped

The First Tower Falls

The Second Tower Falls

Died in the Service of Others

Empty Streets

Never Again

Here’s the situation I found myself in: I was in Mexico, and my visa had run out. I was heading back to Ciudad Juarez to get a new visa, but there was a very real chance that I could be punted out of Mexico, stranded in El Paso. I didn’t know anyone in El Paso. So how was I to handle this situation if it actually happened? I thought about it for a few minutes, and then I did what I needed to do to be prepared: I bought a U.S. quarter off a guy so that if I found myself on the other side of the border, I’d have the money to make a phone call. Sure, I could have called collect, but I figured it was more responsible to be prepared to pay for that first call. Buying more quarters would have been even better, but the guy I found only had one. Happily, I was able to get a new visa without being unceremoniously tossed out of Mexico.

How would you have reacted in this situation?

Let’s try another, but this time I’ll delve into a Gedankenexperiment: imagine that you wake up in an alternate reality that’s exactly like this one, but for one thing — you were never born. To add further insult to this It’s a Wonderful Life ripoff, you find yourself in a city you do not recognize. You have the clothes on your person and the memories of your life still in your head, but no money and no identification. What do you do?

I know what I would do. First I’d look around for Clarence or Rod Serling, and administer a serious smackdown for getting me into this mess. After that I would look for the closest LDS meetinghouse. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helps people in need. It’s one of the things we do. I wouldn’t have to limit myself to just the LDS Church; there are many other religious and secular organizations who help the needy. I am confident that within a year after waking up, I’d be employed and paying my own way. I would not be on the street, in a shelter, or sitting in some government housing waiting for a welfare check to come.

Why do I think about these things? Because it exercises my imagination. If I know what I would do in a really bad Twilight Zone episode — a worst-case scenario — then I should be well-prepared to handle any similar, lesser incidents. Pilots do this all the time. During drills, they simulate various power failures, hydraulic malfunctions and engine fires. If any of these things happen during a real flight, the pilots will react quickly and with the correct actions because they have already mentally prepared themselves for the crisis. Knowing what to do is a critical component of any emergency situation, because knowledge is power.

Another key factor in handling an emergency is recognizing when it’s time to leave the scene, and having the wherewithal to do so. In his book The Chernobyl Syndrome, author Dean Ing discusses at length the importance of being prepared for disaster. He writes about the necessity of being properly prepared to leave “Disasteropolis.” In his case, it referred to a specific city in California, but Disasteropolis is any place you need to flee when the emergency hits.

Perhaps, though, you’re of the mind that as long as your local government has a disaster plan in place, you don’t really need to do much preparation yourself. After all, isn’t that the job of your local officials — to make sure you’re cared for in a time of crisis?

Well, no. The dirty little secret of American civil defense is that, in the overwhelming majority of our cities and towns, mayors and city councils have no preparations for even the smallest disaster; many officials, if they’ve thought that far, simply expect the citizens to live by their own wits until the crisis has passed. Perhaps, in an ideal world, one could depend on one’s local officials to be calm, cool-headed and well-prepared to handle any emergency. But in Louisiana, there was a world of difference between emergency plans on paper and the actual execution of those plans. The New York Times printed a long article about this situation:

The governor of Louisiana was “blistering mad.” It was the third night after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco needed buses to rescue thousands of people from the fetid Superdome and convention center. But only a fraction of the 500 vehicles promised by federal authorities had arrived.

Ms. Blanco burst into the state’s emergency center in Baton Rouge. “Does anybody in this building know anything about buses?” she recalled crying out.

They were an obvious linchpin for evacuating a city where nearly 100,000 people had no cars. Yet the federal, state and local officials who had failed to round up buses in advance were now in a frantic hunt. It would be two more days before they found enough to empty the shelters.

While it is understandable that Governor Blanco wanted assistance from FEMA to help with the evacuation, there are many now asking why she did not use the buses that were already available within the city. There are numerous pictures showing lots full of flooded, useless buses in New Orleans, some of them parked not two miles from the Superdome. I cannot help but think that, had they used their own supply of local buses to start the mandatory evacuation, the city and state officials in Louisiana wouldn’t be turning to Washington D.C. in a panic, expecting the federal government to provide buses. Meanwhile, people were drowning.

Drowned Buses

A glut of stories have been streaming out of the Katrina disaster, and already several have been shown to be false, so take this next bit with a grain of salt. I have read reports that Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans demanded, “Get every Greyhound bus in the country and get them moving.” Apparently he wanted the more luxurious Greyhound buses for the evacuation, even though he had hundreds of yellow school buses at his disposal. That’s like one of Noah’s neighbors giving the Ark a pass because it didn’t have the luxuries of the QE2. “You mean there’s going to be animals in there? Thanks, but I think I’ll wait for the next boat.”

Disaster is a flaming-hot crucible that changes people. It burns away the veneer of social graces, those extraneous bits we present to others, and reveals our true nature. During the crucible of tragedy of the Twin Towers, some people fled, shoving and trampling others in their rush to get to safety, while some deliberately put their lives on the line to help friends or strangers. In the disaster that is Katrina, we have seen true heroes like the doctors and nurses doing everything they can to keep hospital patients alive while the rising waters knocked out their power. We have seen people risk their lives to rescue others. Sometimes they were pulling their loved ones out of the water, but many times the people were strangers. Regardless, these people helped.

But not everyone rises to the occasion. Too often the base and violent aspects of human nature are revealed. In the wake of most disasters, looters crawl out of the wreckage and work their destruction on a neighborhood already reeling from pain. I do not blame the people who broke into a supermarket to retrieve necessary food, water and medicine. They did what they had to do to stay alive. Nor do I blame the good-hearted people who rooted for necessary items like diapers, medicines and food and brought them to suffering thousands in the Superdome. But I do not understand people who looted luxury goods, items they wanted but did not need. Gold jewelry is pretty, but it isn’t edible, and you can’t boil water with the 39″ TV you just obtained via a “Katrina discount.” I can understand getting some clean clothes if everything you own has been washed away, but I have difficulty seeing the need for an armful of designer jeans. I guess it is the difference between needs and wants. You need that food, but you only want that Xbox.

Why do people loot the things they want rather than the things they need? During the L.A. riots after the Rodney King trial, some people availed themselves of a “riot discount” at stores in their neighborhoods. A common justification I heard was that the store owners charged too much for their goods, and the looters were therefore entitled to take what they wanted. The key word in that excuse is “entitled.” The looters didn’t earn these goods, but because they wanted the stuff and because they felt they should by rights have the stuff, they took it. “I want it, therefore it’s mine” describes the feeling of entitlement. If you look around, you can see a certain percentage of people expressing the feeling that just because they exist, they should get. Young children often express this feeling of entitlement, but responsible parents teach them that this is not the way the world works. At some point, a child has to learn that he will not get that new toy just because he wants it. Unfortunately, not everyone learns this lesson in childhood.

New York City is huge. There have been massive power failures in this metropolis on three different occasions: 1965, 1977, and 2003. When the power went out in 1965, the people sat in the stranded subway cars singing, telling stories, and passing around any food and drink they had on hand. When the power went out twelve years later, in 1977, there was widespread looting. Why the difference? What changed in a single decade to turn the people of New York from peaceful chatting to lawless looting? It was the same city and the same kind of blackout; the one variable that changed was people’s attitudes. I can only point to President Johnson’s War on Poverty as the reason for this attitude change. Johnson’s “Great Society” programs were created to bring the poor and impoverished out of their miserable state, but that didn’t happen; instead, we have more poor today than in the 1960s. Quinn’s First Law explains why that didn’t happen: “Liberalism always generates the exact opposite of its stated intent.” By 1977, there had been a decade of handouts to the poor; coupled with those handouts was the expressed belief that the poor were entitled to get what they did because their lives were bad. I believe it was this new sense of entitlement that fueled the looting in 1977. When people saw others looting, they felt the need to get what they deserved before others beat them to it, so they joined in. I would have expected the same kind of looting during the 2003 blackout, but there was one major variable that changed it — September 11th, 2001. I firmly believe that, had the 2003 blackout happened in 2000, the looting would have been widespread. But since the blackout took place after 9/11, the people of New York had forged a new sense of community; they were less inclined to take things from others in their community. And having seen so many police and firefighters lay down their lives in 2001, I think the quick deployment of uniformed officers also helped stem the looting in 2003.

Another type of person to rise up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is the hater. These are they who shake their fists at President Bush, their mayor, and their governor, and hate them all for not being there for them. Professor Ron Walters of the University of Maryland said, “Black people are mad because they feel the reason for the slow response is because those people are black and they didn’t support George Bush.” I cannot and do not believe that Hurricane Katrina relief was slow in coming because so many people affected are black. For one thing, I distinctly remember hearing on the news a general sense of relief that the hurricane wasn’t nearly as bad as people had anticipated. It wasn’t until the news came that the levee had broken that people realized how much damage had been done. Jesse Jackson didn’t outright label racism as the reason for a slow aid response, but he believed it was a factor. He said, “We [Americans] have an amazing tolerance for black pain.” I can only speak for myself, but I have a low tolerance for pain in others. That is why my wife and I have decided to do our part to help, rather than pointing a finger of hate and crying “racism.”

Speaking of pointing a finger, there is a final group I will discuss: those who are busy pointing the finger of blame. Some are outraged that Secretary of State Condi Rice went shopping and attended a play while others in the federal government were burning the midnight oil to aid the hurricane sufferers. But in none of the articles and blogs I read did anyone point out that the responsibilities of the Secretary of State are largely foreign in nature. That is why Secretary Rice is usually sent to visit other heads of state around the world. There are others in the federal government with the actual responsibility of dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters, and they have been working. I have written how people have been blaming President Bush and America for causing global warming that they believe created the hurricane. People are also blaming President Bush for not evacuating Louisiana and Mississippi, but they seem to ignore the fact that it is the primary responsibility of city mayors and state governors to move their people in times of danger. The federal government cannot jump in unless it is invited, and the invitation didn’t come in a timely manner. Senator Hillary Clinton has called for a “9/11-style probe” into the federal government’s response to the hurricane. But as more and more news comes out about the 9/11 Commission and how it ignored the Able Danger reports, I’m skeptical that this is the type of probe we need. I do know that this is not the time to start laying blame. We will need a good, complete investigation to see why plans that called for using school and city buses to move the people out of New Orleans were not followed, but that can wait until the people are safe. Now is the time to aid, not blame — no matter how easy or tempting it is to point the finger of blame at someone.

My wife was looking at these looters, haters, and blamers and trying to figure out the right word to describe them. We agreed that the most descriptive word is “ghouls,” the monsters who feed off the dead. She also found a poem, a section of which seems most appropriate:

And the people — ah, the people –
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone –
They are neither man nor woman –
They are neither brute nor human –
They are Ghouls…

– Edgar Allan Poe, “The Bells”