About that other Superdome

Une pub d’une chaîne de télévision spécialisée dans l’histoire. Trouvée à côté d’un article sur l’aide aux victimes de l’inondation à La Nouvelle Orléans.

On peut s’interroger sur le bon goût, mais aussi sur la justesse historique pratiqués par The History Channel.

When I read the AFP wire US declines Swedish water sanitation aid on Yahoo! News#[1], the ad I’ve reproduced here was shown next to the article. (You’ll probably see a different ad if you click on the link; the original file is here (gif file).)

History Channel ad - The World's First Superdome

So what’s wrong with it?

  1. I don’t know how many other US sports stadiums are called “Superdome”#[2], but for the moment, the name calls to mind the New Orleans Superdome and its scenes of suffering.
  2. If the Colosseum (the German Wikipedia entry is actually quite a bit better, for once) was a “Superdome”, what went on there? Well, public entertainment, except that it was cheaper (free admission for Roman citizens, as opposed to the $90 ticket price I’ve seen quoted for the New Orleans football games): fights between animals (venationes), combats between gladiators (munera), public executions, in particular the killing of prisoners by animals (noxii). And mock naval battles (naumachiae) — in the beginning, the basement of the Colosseum could be flooded. Estimates vary, but several hundreds of thousands of people died there during these extremely blood-thirsty spectacles. The Colosseum is a contender for the top spot on the list of single places that saw the killing of the gratest number of human beings, in known history.
    At this point I start seriously wondering what kind of association The History Channel is aiming for in its ad.
  3. If the Colosseum, or Amphitheatrum Flavium, was the biggest Roman amphitheatre, it wasn’t the first such venue. It was inaugurated in 80 C.E., whereas the second largest, in Capua, was at least begun, if maybe not completed, in Augustan times (i.e. before 14 C.E.), and for the third largest, Verona’s Arena, usually a date of around 30 C.E. is given. Both seated tenths of thousands of people and were used for similar forms of entertainment, so they should qualify for the “Superdome” label.
    Not to mention much older great amphitheatres, with their religious and properly theatrical festivals,
  4. I find the reference to chariots puzzling. Either they are thinking of visitor parking — in which case they would be quite far off the mark. The masses of Rome certainly didn’t arrive in chariots. As for parking space outside the Colosseum, have a look at this scale model (the Colosseum is the near-circular shape at the top of the image, about two fifth in from the right edge). Imperial Rome was a crowded city of up to a million inhabitants. Not much consideration was given to chariot parking lots.
    Or were they thinking of chariot races? Like in Ben Hur? Those didn’t take place in the Colosseum, but in the Circus Maximus, among other places. (In the image, the Circus Maximus is the oblong race track to the right of the Colosseum.)

I am unfamiliar with The History Channel and have no idea of its overall quality. This ad doesn’t precisely give me a favourable impression of its concern for historical accuracy, or good taste, for that matter.

[1]: Refusing water sanitation aid doesn’t strike me as a particularly bright idea, given the immense need. Still, the Swedish official who is quoted in the article leaves the question ultimately open: “They couldn’t accept the aid today (but) we’re still waiting for word that they may need our help.” (UPDATE — not to let this stand: a few hours after this was posted, news wire stories came in saying that the US is now indeed asking for help. Good. [2]: There’s a fair amount of confusion in the European media between “Superdome” and “Superbowl”. After all, a bowl is just a dome turned upside-down. The Colosseum, for what it’s worth, does look more like a bowl than a dome.

Citations d’hier

Three quotes, two from yesterday, one from today. I’m leaving the post in this bilingual version: there’s an English translation for the one that was originally in French.

There is much less of a conflict between journalists and bloggers here in France; I even think this struggle might be a phenomenon that is particular to the US. On the contrary, quite a number of journalist have blogs, and their notes, penned in a personal, more intimate voice, are often a more interesting read than the articles the same journalists write for their newspapers.

… et une d’aujourd’hui.

Les journalistes qui bloguent, ne serait-ce que dans un coin du site officiel de l’organe de presse auxuels ils sont rattachés, apportent un je-ne-sais-quoi de parole à la première personne qui change du baratin des journaux.

Voici la description de Pascal Riché, correspondant de Libération à Washington, du spectacle qu’il s’est offert à ses yeux et à ceux de son compagnon de route, Julian Borger (du Guardian), hier à La Nouvelle Orléans :

Des milliers de gens étaient agglutinés autour du Convention Center, abandonnés à eux-même. Ils attendaient des bus qui ne venaient pas. Plusieurs sont morts, et les autorités n’ont même pas emporté les cadavres qui restent là, posés à même le trottoir. On leur jette des rations alimentaires et des bouteilles d’eau du haut d’un hélicoptère, ou du haut du pont voisin. Comme à des pestiférés. Ils vivent dans la peur, surtout la nuit, à cause des gangs, des armes. Ils ont soif et faim. Les toilettes du centre débordent d’excréments. Vous pouvez imaginer l’état d’exaspération et de colère de ces gens. “Ecrivez que si les bus ne viennent pas, on va mettre le feu à la ville” m’a juré un type.

Car l’autoroute est juste à côté est parfaitement sèche. Les aider, les tirer de là, serait facile. Pourquoi a-t-il fallu attendre quatre jours pour commencer à leur promettre des bus ?

Au début, en débarquant dans cette foule en colère, nous avions un peu peur. Aucun n’a été agressif, tous ont été amicaux, clamant simplement leur indignation, leur souffrance, et leur sentiment profond d’être traités comme des animaux parce qu’ils sont noirs et pauvres.

[« Thousands of people were crowded around the Convention Center, left to their own devices. They were waiting for buses that didn’t come. Several have died, and the authorities haven’t even taken away the dead bodies that are laid out on the sidewalk. Food rations and bottles of water are being thrown down to them from a hovering helicopter, or from a neighboring bridge. As if they had the plague. They are frightened, especially at night, because of the gangs, the arms. They are hungry and thirsty. The toilets of the center are overflowing with excrement. You can imagine how exasperated and angry these people are. ‘Write that if the buses don’t come, we will burn down the city,’ a guy promised me.

Because the highway is very close and perfectly dry. To help them, to get them out of there would be easy. Why was it necessary to wait four days to start promising them busses?

In the beginning, when we entered this angry crowd, we were a bit scared. None of them has been aggressive, all have been friendly, and were simply venting their indignation, their suffering and their deep-seated feeling that they are being treated like animals because they are black and poor. »]

Les notes de Adam Brookes sur le Reporters’ Log de la BBC (également d’hier) sonnent sensiblement pareil :

[16:00 GMT] There’s a very aggressive police presence. They don’t stop and talk to the refugees at all and they don’t communicate with them. They just speed by in their pick up trucks and their cars pointing shotguns out of the window as they go. It’s quite extraordinary behaviour. And these desperate people are waiting for evacuation. The police behaviour makes them all feel like suspects.

Every now and again a military helicopter comes in, it hovers over a car park and soldiers throw out big boxes of bottled water and food ration packs and then a great tide of young men come running in and start fighting for the food. This means that the most vulnerable people, the sick and elderly, many families don’t get a shot of the food coming down. There are five corpses there, at least from what we’ve seen today, it could be a serious development.

[17:24 GMT] One army veteran, sick with diabetes, with no medications, asked me why if the United States is capable of invading a country half a world away, wasn’t it capable of driving him 10 miles across the river.

It was as if in his mind the very idea of Americanness and citizenship was being betrayed.

Donc, pourquoi la Croix Rouge n’était-elle pas présente à côté de ces réfugiés ? Simple: ils ont reçu des ordres. La Garde Nationale contrôlait l’accès à la ville, et le département de la « Homeland Security » ne voulait pas créer des conditions trop « favorables » au maintien de quiconque dans la ville sinistrée :

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?
  • Acess to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.
  • The state Homeland Security Department had requested–and continues to request–that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

Quelqu’un a fait exprès de laisser des êtres humains souffrir et mourir dans une ville transformée en enfer. Merci à tous ceux et celles qui ont gueulé, pour que finisse ce spectacle indigne et meurtrier.

(La dernière citation via Rivka, chez Respectful of Otters ; remerciements à Magpie.)

Interview with New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, uncensored

Plusieurs liens vers un entretien donné par le maire de la Nouvelle Orléans, Ray Nagin, hier sur une radio locale. C’est la version non-censurée, sans les « beep » que CNN a insérés pour camoufler les gros mots. Un document extraordinaire.

Debi Jones Joan Touzet, who blogs at An Atypical Life, has put up an uncensored recording (mp3 file, 3.2 MB) of the interview that the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, gave to the radio station WWL-AM yesterday. I am locally mirroring the file here; another mirror is here.

Via Debi Jones, who links to more mirrors. You can also listen to the WWL-AM live feed .

I understand that a “bleeped” version has been or is being aired on CNN International here in Europe. This is a remarkable document that I think is worth listening to to the end.

Quote (added later — I wasn’t sure about the “doggone” part):

And they don’t have a clue what’s going on down here. They flew down here, one time, two days after the doggone event was over, with TV cameras, AP reporters, all kind of goddamn — excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed.

Regular blogging will resume shortly. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I have given Anna Stevenson’s excellent transcript a once-over (a small number of corrections and additions of disfluencies, mostly).