These are the stark headlines from an American city in the 21st century:

Bodies, gunfire and chaos in New Orleans’ streets
By Mark Babineck

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Rotting bodies littered New Orleans’ streets on Thursday and troops headed in to control looting and violence, as thousands of desperate survivors of Hurricane Katrina pleaded to be evacuated from the flooded city, or even just fed.

And this is one of the failures behind them:

No plan ever made to help New Orleans’ most vulnerable

Published on: 09/01/05 Atlanta Constitution

“Each time you hear a federal, state or city official explain what he or she is doing to help New Orleans, consider the opening paragraphs of a July 24 story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans’ poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you’re on your own.”

This is an apocalyptic moment, a revelation.  But of what?  
It is a revelation of the politics of greed, that began its current resurgence in the 1980s, and its apotheosis with the second coming of George Bush.

It is the revelation of the culture of denial, a combination of consumption as chief value and exhaustion from so many personal pressures (due to the need to make money to be a legitimate part of the consuming culture)and the self-protection from assault by so many images, making each of us responsible for everything, yet feeling powerless.

It is the revelation of the ecology of ignorance, upon which much political and economic power depends.

It is the revelation of our failure to think seriously about the future in our various decisions.

And it has the inevitable feeling of an even deeper historical apocalypse.  I am probably not the only person (though these days, who knows) who has been thinking today of this poem by William Butler Yeats:

“Turning and turning the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming!  Hardly are those words out
When a vast image of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”