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Don't Wait for the Cavalry

    You may have spent the weekend reading about what went wrong with Katrina, and then watching documentaries on TV about what happened on 9/11, and if so, you probably had a rather sober thought: In crunch time, you're on your own. No one is going to save you. You must save yourself -- a lesson from the depths of time.

    There won't be a cavalry, or the cavalry will have conflicting orders, or the horses will have drowned, or no one will even know of your existence. The feds may freeze outright, the locals may not even be able to make a phone call. The person in charge of handling disasters may be a political hack. National leaders may be on vacation and reluctant to leave the ranch or the golf course or the spa. You have to take charge of your own life. You have to pull a Flight 93: Solve your own problem.

   [For years, "Solve your own problems" has been Rule One in my house. I've told the kids ever since they were in diapers that Mommy and Daddy won't be around forever. I can remember all the times I've given the kids The Speech. The kid would be in the crib, clutching the rail, gurgling, looking around at the flying frogs and all the stuffed animals and brightly colored toys, and I'd be saying, "Someday, Daddy may die and you'll have to survive by your wits. You must learn to hunt for sustenance, and build a fire in a blizzard." The kids never liked The Speech.]

   But back to Katrina (it's reflex at this point): Anyone who hasn't read it yet might want to check out the great tick-tock by Susan Glasser and Mike Grunwald (and a supporting cast of thousands) in the Post this weekend. What a train wreck. [As Mike Kinsley has pointed out in a great op-ed, we're swamped by righteous hindsight these days. Kinsley admits he didn't anticipate New Orleans getting flooded: "Nor have I given much thought to the risk of a big earthquake along the West Coast -- the only one of the top three catastrophes that hasn't happened yet -- even though I live and work in the earthquake zone." Dear Mike: Make sure the hot water heater is strapped down and the house bolted to the foundation. The SAF in Southern California hasn't broken since 1857, and the southernmost sections have been locked since at least 1812. You're due. Might ponder it.]

     It's interesting how this disaster hasn't generated the profusion of heroes that 9/11 did, but has been prodigious in its production of fools, villains, and total losers. Let's stipulate that the Coast Guard did a great job rescuing people. But Katrina has given so many people a chance to demonstrate that they are not up to the job or are politically tone-deaf or suffer from the terrible gaffe-producing disease known as Pat Robertson Mouth. What White House staffer signed off on the idea of Bush initially just flying over the scene in Air Force One? Did someone think the official White House photo of him looking out the window would show compassion? Rick Santorum has decided that the villain is the National Weather Service, which performed brilliantly. Even the usually sure-footed Barbara Bush stepped in it at the Astrodome. And the king goat is, of course, Michael Brown, who at this point wouldn't be trusted to handle a photocopier paper jam.

By Joel Achenbach  |  September 12, 2005; 12:57 PM ET
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