The problem with all this incessant “Oklahoma spirit” celebration after the tornadoes and storms that struck here recently and killed more than 40 people is that it takes us away from solutions.
We have major problems with tornado and storm safety in this state and these problems can be fixed. Sure, it will take money and a concerted effort, but they can be fixed. It can be done. It’s not complicated.
Celebrating our supposed great “spirit,” as if Texans or New Yorkers don’t have “spirit” as well, accomplishes nothing. It would be much better if people here would get angry at the lack of leadership on the tornado-safety issue before the recent storms quickly recede into the state’s collective memory hole.
I’m reminded of this once again by Gov. Mary Fallin’s recent comments that the state won’t suffer any image problems because of the tornadoes and after talking to people on the East Coast on a recent trip. There is a big disconnect between Fallin’s cheerleading and what I’ve experienced from talking to people outside of the state since the tornadoes hit.
Obviously, any governor of any state has to work the public relations angle of any given issue to present her state in a good light. I’m not faulting Fallin for that necessarily, but her comments are so rote and superficial they need to be called into question.
Here’s Fallin in a recent NewsOK.com story about the state’s image and recent tornadoes:
“We're going to have an image of, like I think we earned and we accomplished, that we're a strong people. We're resilient. We're compassionate.”
But we’ve heard that over and over again. I hate to break the news to everyone here, but there are other people in the world, quite a few, in fact, that are every bit as resilient as Oklahomans. History is filled with subjugated people who have endured centuries of hardship only to survive and triumph. Relying on the federal government for bailout after bailout after all our severe weather events and not preparing properly is hardly going to make any real historical list of true resiliency.
The storms hit here. Uncle Sam comes in and saves the day. The storms are forgotten. No one learns anything. The storms hit again. That’s the real story.
Are we compassionate? Well, our current state government denies health insurance to poor people by rejecting federal Medicaid expansion at that same time it dismisses the idea of requiring storm shelters for schools. Is that compassion? Tell that to someone from the East Coast who has never been to Oklahoma and wonders why we don’t have more shelters in schools and why we rebuild in the same areas repeatedly devastated by previous tornadoes.
I know this. I just got back from an academic conference in Charleston, South Carolina, and I was bombarded with questions about the tornadoes. Everyone was nice about it, of course, but they had questions that only lead to the logical conclusion that Oklahomans are big takers of federal money and not intelligent enough to build more storm shelters.
I pointed them to the Op-Ed I published in The Washington Post about the lack of storm safety here after the May 20 tornado, a national commentary that not a single media outlet here would even touch because it’s the truth and not some rah-rah empty cheer about Oklahoma resiliency.
The lack of preparation for the storms has definitely tarnished the state’s image. The television images were reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina—I’m not trying to conflate the two in terms of loss of life, of course—and pretty much everyone outside of the state is thinking about those images when they even hear the word “Oklahoma.” They wonder, just like in the aftermath of Katrina, why we weren’t more prepared. In Katrina’s case, the federal government failed. In Oklahoma’s case, the issue is simpler. We lack storm shelters. We lack stronger buildings. We have rebuilt in an area that has been struck by major tornadoes repeatedly in less than 15 years.
If Fallin really thinks that the state’s low unemployment rate cancels out the lack of tornado shelters here, then nothing will get done after these storms.
There's nothing happening here. That’s not the way the song goes.
I’m giving a presentation at the 2013 North American James Joyce Conference this week in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina so I’ll resume regular posting Monday.
My presentation deals, in part, with Irish writer Roddy Doyle’s continued public reactions to Joyce, a legendary Irish literary figure who published Dubliners, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Doyle has playfully argued Ulysses “needed a good editor” and has criticized academics who relentlessly study Joyce.
Fairly recently, Doyle wrote, “It’s the religion that annoys me, the Apostolic Church of James Joyce the Redeemer, and the priests who guard the church’s holy texts, the bowler-hatted bores who have robbed Joyce of his flaws and humanity."
So who are these “bowler-hatted bores”?
I hope to have some fun with Doyle’s remark (see slide image above) and then turn it into a discussion about postmodernity’s murky relationship to modernity, the commodification of publishing in our screen culture and the impact of neoliberalism on the fiction writer. Fun times.—Kurt Hochenauer
Even as area leaders casually claim the May tornado destruction will not create image problems, a new report released recently ranks Oklahoma City the lowest of 50 cities in fitness and health.
The denial among some political leaders here is not only palpable, but dangerous to our health. There are things we can do to improve our safety—build more storm shelters, for example—and boost our health outcomes, but that won’t happen when nothing seems to matter to leaders convinced the Oklahoma City Thunder and Bricktown have turned the city into some marvelous destination place where everyone wants to live.
Once again, Oklahoma City was ranked 50th out of 50 cities in a fitness and health index created by the American College of Sport Medicine. The immensely popular local blog, The Lost Ogle, covered the not-so startling news this way, pointing out some of what I would call basic “denial” by locals here about the problem.
I’ll just directly quote from the report about the problem areas when it comes to health and fitness here:
Lower percent eating 5+ servings of fruits/vegetables per day
Higher percent currently smoking
Higher percent obese
Lower percent in excellent or very good health
Higher percent of days when mental health was not good during the past 30 days
Higher percent with asthma
Higher percent with angina or coronary heart disease
Higher percent with diabetes
Higher death rate for cardiovascular disease
Higher death rate for diabetes
Lower percent of city land area as parkland
Lower percent using public transportation to work
Lower percent bicycling or walking to work
Fewer ball diamonds per capita
Fewer dog parks per capita
Fewer park units per capita
Fewer swimming pools per capita
Fewer tennis courts per capita
Lower park-related expenditures per capita
Lower level of state requirement for physical education classes
Fewer primary health care providers per capita
The bottom line is that generally speaking people don’t eat healthy here, they smoke too much, medical accessibility is ridiculously poor and the city’s sprawling infrastructure is a huge hindrance to fitness.
Some of this, such as eating and lifestyle habits, is built into the DNA of this place, but medical availability and infrastructure improvements are areas in which government can help right away. For example, we could get thousands more people on Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act and we could build more parks, sidewalks and bike trails.
But why do that when Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett can simply put the city on another diet like he did a few years ago as other city leaders fixate on building a new hotel and convention center for visitors?
Oh yeah, watch out for the tornadoes. You’re on your own.