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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 15, 2005

Editorial — Put aside greed for the common good

Our Old Men of the Mountain correspondent is both wise and witty. We look forward to his column every week.

This week, he says, the old men at their Tuesday breakfast were talking about the same topic that has riveted the rest of us — Hurricane Katrina.

He’s tired of the blame game and doesn’t see what it accomplishes. He makes the salient point that no one can help the weather.

What was Mark Twain’s quip of over a century ago" "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it."

Today, though, we may be able to do something about it if the violent weather changes are of our own making. We can reduce global warming if we join with other nations around the world in curbing our use of fossil fuels.

But, even if we can’t change the weather, we can change how we prepare for its vagaries and how we react to the emergencies it causes.

Funds that were needed by the Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen the levees keeping New Orleans safe were cut. So, as predicted, the levees gave way in the force of the storm, flooding much of the city.

Funds and manpower that were needed to save the citizens of New Orleans once their city was flooded had been spent on making war in a foreign land. And the leadership and organization that were needed to provide shelter, sustenance, and order weren’t there either. The poor were abandoned. Homeland Security had failed to protect.

Because we have televisions in our homes, we all watched helplessly as we saw what looked liked scenes from Third World countries play out in our living rooms. We heard the cries of fellow citizens, we saw their corpses — but we couldn’t reach them.

We can make changes that will keep this from happening again. We need the fortitude for sacrifice and we need to put aside individual greed for the common good.

But what can we do now to help those who have been victimized"

We favor the philosophy espoused by Shirley Ann Jackson, president of RPI, in the midst of the crisis; she said that everyone needs to do what they can do. For Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, this means helping to educate the next generation of scientists, engineers, and architects, a spokesperson for the university, Theresa Bourgeois, explained to us this week.

"Rensselaer is waiving tuition, room, board, and fees," Bourgeois said, for the fall semester for students displaced by the hurricane.

We are running a story this week about a Guilderland High School graduate who was to have been a sophomore this school year at Tulane University in New Orleans. Patrick O’Hara told of his evacuation, with other Tulane students, to the Jackson State campus in Mississippi until the storm hit there and he wended his way home.

He’s now studying at RPI.

"I’m just so grateful that I got back home," said O’Hara, "and RPI is so good to us."

The smooth transition for so many — up to 100 — students like O’Hara, "reflects what an extraordinary community we have," said Bourgeois. "There’s been an enormous outpouring of support for this initiative. Everyone wants to help."

When Jackson addressed the Guilderland High School graduates last June at their commencement exercises, she talked about community. Never before has it been so imperative that we work towards a global community, she said, noting that there is community of the mind, community of spirit, and community of caring and kindness.

"Every act of kindness is an act of strength," she said, quoting basketball great Bill Russell.

Jackson also read the Guilderland graduates a passage from The Secret Life of Bees, a novel by Sue Monk Kidd. Set in the racially-charged South of the 1960’s, the coming-of-age story tells of Lily Owens’s search for her mother.

"Lily’s room is filled with bees at night," said Jackson. The girl captures some in a jar to show her father. Two days later, she removes the lid.

"You can go," she says. But the bees remain there as if the world had shrunk.

"Those crazy bees stayed put," reports Lily.

"It did not take the bees long to accept confinement," said Jackson. They remained trapped, even when set free, she said, because they were conditioned.

"Like the open jar...," said Jackson, "many barriers impede us merely because we permit ourselves to be contained...The jar is wide open. There are no limits."

Let us not blame the weather for the human shortcomings we saw bared in New Orleans this month. Let us not set limits on what we can do now to make amends. Let us not stay put.

Each of us needs to do what we can if we are to progress as a human community.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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