and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
September #2

Big Easy's Louis Armstrong
knew joy and sorrow are part of every life
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 8, 2005

"And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

The song has been replaying itself in my head for days, not only because it was used during coverage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, but because it was referenced in the book I was reading over the holiday weekend.

Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch, a lover of jazz, notes how Louis Armstrong's voice "carried the rasp of all the world's anguish in it." This observation provides balance to the joy and optimism of the lyrics, and does it better than the sarcasm with which people sometimes repeat the song's title.

I first heard Louis Armstrong sing it in the soundtrack of the 1988 movie, "Good Morning, Vietnam." Armstrong grew up very poor in New Orleans and learned to make music in reform school.

Eva Cassidy also recorded the song, then died of cancer six weeks later.

It was played during the still controversial wedding of two gay friends last summer. Seems to be the soundtrack for real lives, rather than idealized dreamscapes. The lyrics make sense only if there is no expectation that life is pretty.

Just as the illusion that our government could keep us safe was shattered on Sept. 11, 2001, the illusion that our government takes care of the very poor has been shattered by news coverage of Hurricane Katrina. The message may well be: Get rid of the illusions.

During the ongoing debate between advocates of Intelligent Design and proponents of evolution, we might want to pause to see how we are doing, intelligently-designed or evolved-wise. The results of either one don't seem particularly uniform.

There were brave people and true victims in New Orleans, as well as predators, looters and those who refused, perhaps for generations, to take responsibility for themselves. Good people across the nation and around the world are finding ways to help. Other kinds will take advantage, initiate scams, or blame all of us for their problems. Meanwhile, the terrorists take heart from our seeming unpreparedness and worse may be yet to come.

In a waiting room this week, I noticed a woman reading aloud what seemed to be a recent news account of the devastation from Katrina. But she was reading an old National Geographic magazine, which was predicting what would certainly happen someday in New Orleans because of the levee designs. Guess it wasn't such an unpredictable "natural" disaster after all.

On the way home I stopped at PetSmart and left a donation there for the animal rescue groups that are working to care for abandoned Gulf Coast animals.

I feel so bad for the little boy whose dog, Snowball, was torn from his arms because pets couldn't go on the evacuation bus. And I wonder why hundreds of school buses from the untouched areas of Louisiana couldn't have been ordered in by politicians. But of course, this is a state long known for poor leadership, if not corruption.

I'll send a check to the Animal Rescue League of Boston, hoping its rescuers find Snowball.

I'm ignoring the person who was quoted as saying that sending checks is easy and we should instead get personally involved.

It's wonderful that some people do, but I'm not planning to drive to New Orleans and won't feel guilty about not inviting strangers to live with me. I'll send a check to the Salvation Army and be glad Massachusetts at least offered to take in some refugees at Otis Air Force Base. Overall, the recovery effort will be an interesting social experiment and may teach us what kind of assistance works, and what doesn't.

I had thought that federal welfare reform had put an end to the multiple-illegitimate-children-per-woman problem. Apparently not. And I would have anticipated that the politicians telling people to evacuate to a sports arena would have made sure that there was food and water available there. Apparently not, again.

The Indian Ocean tsunami was a huge natural disaster. Katrina, like 9/11, Vietnam and wars in general, was a huge, mostly man-made tragedy. One-person-at-a-time tragedies happen every day: Children with cancer, parents with Alzheimer's, teenagers on drugs, drunk-driving deaths, murders, drownings, even a man being shot in a blueberry patch because a hunter thought he was a bear. Some of these horrors are accidental, some "natural," some inexcusable.

Public safety personnel and our medical systems do amazing things to help. The National Guard arrives for search and rescue. Everywhere, life goes on.

The weather here this summer was wonderful. My partner, Chip, completed the trip he began last August, sailing alone in his 22-foot boat up the coast of Maine. Starting as a youth in 1976, he has now sailed the entire East Coast.

I put my sports-centered, then travel-centered vacations in my happily remembered past, and finally admit that there's nothing I want to do more now than read in my hammock and plant daisies during my free time. I know how lucky I am, with all the advantages of my life, many of them hard-earned by both intelligently-designed and well-evolved ancestors.

Despite lost illusions, despite everything that can and does go terribly wrong, despite knowing we too are going to die someday, we'd be ungrateful wretches if we did not agree with Louis Armstrong that it's a wonderful world.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.