Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 is Over Already?

Where did September go?

I meant to start this blog in late August. Great timing, huh? Anyway, this is what I had to say in 2005.

On how to tell when things are back to normal:

This is now my litmus test for when things are back to normal in the GNO area. When I stop getting flats, things are back to normal.
On Presidential obligations:
Mr. President, reclaim New Orleans. Come down to the Cabildo and sign a new Louisiana Purchase. Buy not the barren land you see before you, but the awesome potential that lies in its regeneration. Raise the American flag over New Orleans once again so that your citizens will know they have a home and will be protected by a great and caring nation.
On defeetists:
We all know the defeetists. And they are not justified by the facts. When they say “I betcha five bucks I know where ya’ got dem shoes,” we know they do not really know.
On the war in Iraq:
Oh, that’s right. I forgot. We’re fighting them over there so that we can’t build bigger levees over here. Priorities!
On the federal government's response after Katrina:
We might find at the end of the day that it is not black New Orleanians that the federal government has neglected, but New Orleanians of every color.
On Mardi Gras 2006:
Yes, having Mardi Gras next year will send the message that the Mayor and the tourism industry want: New Orleans is open for business. But, to cancel Mardi Gras would send a more powerful message to the nation: We are not back to normal and we need your help.

Which one is more accurate? Which one helps us in our mission to rebuild?
On the correct way and the Orleans Levee Board’s way of inspecting a levee:
Eight engineers versus grass cutters. My head hurts.
On Army Corps workers being threatened:
If people in the Lower Ninth were threatening ACE workers, it probably went something like this:

"Dude, your levees suck."

That's not a threat. That's a fact.
On Rumsfeld’s Thanksgiving epiphany that they Iraqi insurgents weren’t insurgents:
I am glad that when I have an epiphany, it does not become national policy. My epiphanies are limited to things like better ways to wipe my ass. I can't imagine the entire country all wiping its ass just like me.
On water:
Southern Louisiana evolved over millions of years to take a big hurricane every now and then, so there is a place for the water to go. We need to find where that place is, figure out a way to channel a massive storm surge there, and get it done. If we raise our structures off the ground and build them strong enough to withstand the movement of the water, the whole city can be a channel for the storm surge to go to a happy place.

Or, we could just rebuild the city every fifty years. Either way.
On that stupid question that stupid people kept asking right after Katrina hit:
The question shouldn't be: “Why rebuild in New Orleans?” It should be: “Why build in areas which may flood?” And the answer is because people live there. New Orleans is not the only place protected by levees, and the country needs to invest in plans to keep those places safe.
The first real post:
I started this weblog four days before I packed my family in a car and ran from a storm called Katrina. I wanted to speak for my city, New Orleans. I wanted to promote what was going right in my city, shine a light on what was going wrong, and hold the powerful accountable for the plight of the powerless. While I believe these goals to be valiant before the storm, I see them as essential after Katrina. The problems of my city are now out in the open. The solutions are scattered somewhere in the debris that still lines our streets weeks after the hurricane made landfall. As New Orleanians return to their city, they are going to talk about what happened. And they are going to talk about it like only New Orleanians can. And they are going to find solutions like only New Orleanians can.
Down here, we speak a different language. We speak New Orleans.
On this blog, I’m going to speak New Orleans. Feel free to listen.
That pretty much says it all.

Thanks for tuning in.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Why I Don’t Like Tourism

The Sheraton Hotel sales director Tommy Morel had this to say:

"A person could fly into the airport, stay in a top hotel, eat in the best restaurants and visit our most famous jazz bars and never know anything was wrong with this city," says Mr Morel. "Visitors should not feel guilty about coming back. They are helping the city recover."
This is what I have to say:
“Residents could fly into the airport, stay here, eat at the best restaurants and visit the most famous jazz bars and know that nothing is wrong with this city. They should be able to come back and help the city recover.”
What is the goal here, to attract tourists while we keep residents away? How does the city benefit from that?

The Disaster was Natural

The catastrophe was human-made:

The bodies of at least 588 people were recovered in neighborhoods that engineers say would have remained largely dry had the walls of the 17th Street and London Avenue canals not given way.
588 is more than half of all the Katrina deaths in Louisiana – 1,096 as of 12/28/05. A levee system built as advertised would have saved most if not all of those who died in the “would-have-remained-largely-dry” areas.

Let’s see. We built the ineffective levees. We built the MRGO/Katrina Storm Surge Funnel. We contributed to the significant loss of coastal wetlands over the past 40 years.

Remind you of Pogo, anyone?
We have met the enemy and he is us.
Those that we have elected have failed us. But as our representatives, they have failed us in our names. Ultimately, it is we who have failed to elect those who would act in our best interests. We are to blame.

I’m not big on guilt. No pity parties on da po’ blog. So what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fill in the Blank

When I want meat cut, I talk to the butcher.

When I want my hair cut, I go to the barber.

When I want my dreams of hurricane protection by next season cut up into little pieces and then flushed down the toilet thereby clogging up the pipes and flooding my bathroom, I listen to Walter Maestri:

"We're six months from the next hurricane season," Maestri says. "There is no way known to man, with all of our technology, that we can deal with all of this. And I don't know that any of us… can tell people that they should come back and experience this again."
If there’s “no way known to man” that we can be protected by next season, then we need to get a woman working on this because that is *not* what I want to hear. If they say there’s no way known to man or woman, then I want a hermaphrodite to start working on the levees. If they say there’s no way known to man, woman, or man-woman, then I want some alien species to apply their superior technology to fix the problem. If they say… well, you get the picture, and I really don’t know where to go after that.

I like this quote by Walter Baumy of the Army Corps:
"We will have hurricane protection in place by next year's season."
Hey, buddy, there’s an adjective missing there:
"We will have _____________ hurricane protection in place by next year's season."
The best ever? Adequate? Category 3? 2? 1? Shitty?

It’s just like Mad Libs! How would the experts fill in the blank?

Jefferson Parish Emergency Operations head Walter Maestri:
"As far as real protection is concerned for the community, I just don't see it."
LSU Hurricane Center scientist Paul Kemp:
“Will we have things we can depend on for resisting wave forces and surges of 17 or 18 feet? No, we won't.”
National Science Foundation member Robert Bea:
Bea says officials at the Army Corps need to tell the nation that they will not be able to protect New Orleans anytime soon.
The experts choose: shitty! Just like the levees were before!

Oh, yeah, and about the shitty way they were built before:
Baumy says that the Corps still doesn't know how many miles of levees were built that way and need to be rebuilt.
I believe this is a FYYFF moment.

Okay, I Tried…

But it didn’t feel right.

I reviewed my posts over the last few weeks and realized that they all seemed negative. I wanted to post something light, quippy, maybe funny, or at least positive. (See last few posts.)

But, that’s just not the way I feel. I don’t feel light, or quippy. I laugh, usually at some sarcastic remark, so I guess I can feel “funny.” Most unfortunately, though, I am not positive.

Such is the post-Katrina world. At least for me.

So, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Arty Gras Must Go On

While we agonized over whether or not to have Mardi Gras next year, the residents of Worcester, MA, had an agonizing choice of their own:

“In February we were debating the direction of this year’s show,” said Joyce R. Kressler, executive director of First Night Worcester. “It (the ‘Arty Gras’ theme) was chosen because of the culture that is Mardi Gras and that Mardi Gras is a celebration. And it was a play on words. We never could have imagined the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.”

***

“We didn’t want people to think we were using the theme to capitalize on the tragedy … We actually toyed with the idea of not using the theme.”
Nay, good people of Worcester, Arty Gras must go on. And it will.

Sure, this festival is far from New Orleans and Louisiana, but it is still helping out by employing local and regional bands. They also bought “500 pounds of Mardi Gras beads that First Night ordered directly from a company in the Louisiana Gulf. The company’s factory was destroyed by Katrina, Kressler said, and is currently conducting its business out of trailers.”

So, all together now: “Arty Gras mambo, mambo, mambo… up in Worcester!”

Jazz Fest to Have New Orleans Theme

About time, you say? Well, it’s not THAT Jazz Fest. It’s the one in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Organisers of the week-long jazz and blues extravaganza have confirmed that the event will pay homage to the "home of the blues" and will raise money for people whose homes and possessions were destroyed by the hurricane.
How important is New Orleans to the world? Ask the Scots.

5… 4… 3… 2… 1… 1…

Happy New Year!

"Enjoy New Year's Eve a second longer," the institute said in an explanatory notice. "You can toot your horn an extra second this year."
(I just wanted to write that title.)

Thanks to That Guy

When I go to work, I always say, “Time to make the donuts” – like that guy in the Dunkin’ Donuts commercial.

That guy died over the weekend.

I guess I should say thanks.

What Image Problem?

From Market Watch:

Divided, corrupt past haunts Big Easy

It could be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Southeast Louisiana as it seeks federal aid for rebuilding: its image as a corrupt, divided, disorganized and poorly educated region.
See previous post.

The Good, the Bad…

…and the NOPD’s image.

The officers who gunned down a knife-wielding man appeared to be justified in using lethal force, but the death will be perceived as a black mark on the beleaguered police department, the head of a watchdog group said Tuesday.
Two quick points:

First, the shooting will only be “perceived as a black mark” if the press inaccurately portrays it as a black mark. If the police were wrong to shoot, report that the police were wrong. If the police were justified in shooting, report that the police were justified. If we don’t know yet, report that we don’t know yet.

Second, thanks a lot, “watchdog group.” You’re not helping:
"People will continue to have a negative opinion of police in this city," said Rafael Goyeneche, executive director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of Greater New Orleans. "That goes back to some of the sins the department has been guilty of over the past 10 to 15 years."
Thanks for linking this unrelated incident to 10 to 15 years of “sins” committed by the department (as if a department can commit a sin). And thanks for giving this reporter and countless reporters afterwards a green light to rehash all the bad things people inside the NOPD have ever done over its entire history (i.e. Len Davis).

Look, I am not a cheerleader for the NOPD. It seems excessive to me that three officers shot a total of nine times at a man with a knife. That is for another post.

I am, however, a cheerleader for accurate reporting. And it is not accurate for a reporter to write the shooting “appeared to be justified,” then say it “will be perceived as a black mark,” and then proceed to portray it as a black mark. Remember, it “appeared to be justified.”

The NOPD has an image problem. New Orleans has an image problem. And though some of the negative image is deserved, headlines like “New Orleans Shooting a New Mark on Police” don’t help, especially when the shooting “appeared to be justified.”

NOTE: Just or unjust, the shooting was unfortunate. The purpose of this post was not to address whether the police were right or wrong, but to address how the media’s coverage of the story will be perceived as a black mark on the beleaguered city of New Orleans.

Monday, December 26, 2005

This is Happening in My Backyard?

A selection of quotes from the Times-Picayune article “‘Not in my back yard’ cry holding up FEMA trailers.”

(Read the article for context, but don’t expect the quotes to look any more justified or less sad.)

“It's a nice and quiet and safe neighborhood, and that's how I'd like to keep it,” Galatas said. “I don't want my neighborhood ruined because theirs is.”

***

“It makes me feel like a second-class citizen, like we're diseased or we're some kind of criminal because we don't have normal housing.”

***

“We're not trying to be obstructionist,” Councilman Jay Batt said. “We just want this done intelligently and methodically.”

***

Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, whose district includes Algiers and the French Quarter, said she has fought for trailer parks in her district to be in locations that “don't intrude on our lifestyle.”

***

“Nobody can guarantee that the price of my property won't be affected,” Meskill said. “Compassion is all right, but compassion can't be at the expense of my property.”

***

“You used to have murders on the news every night. Nobody would want to live next to that.”

***

“That's what they forgot about. We weren't the enemy, but now it seems that we are. My city appears not to want me. That's the worst part.”
Where did the forest go? I can’t see it through all these trees.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Holidays Reclaimed

What the L.A. Times taketh (previous post), they giveth.

I knew Mr. Bingle was back, but I didn’t know he was a survivor:

The storm collapsed a levee just a few blocks from the industrial district where Mr. Bingle had been stashed. Every nearby warehouse was destroyed — except the one housing him.
I’m gonna go play with lil’ po’ boy, now. It’s a merry frickin’ holiday after all.

Coal in my Stocking

I was hoping to post something for the holidays that was positive. Reading over my last few posts, I realized that I need to lighten up.

However, Christmas came, and I found coal in my stocking. Thanks, L.A. Times:

Levees Weakened as New Orleans Board, Federal Engineers Feuded
Quick points from the article:

1) It was the Army Corps versus the Orleans Levee Board, not the Army Corps *and* the Levee Board, working to protect the city from a major hurricane:
Corps engineers wanted to install gates in front of the city's three main internal canals to protect against violent storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain. The Orleans Levee District, the city's flood protection agency, preferred to build higher flood walls for miles along the canals. For five years, neither side yielded.
Higher flood walls didn’t work, and the plan on the books now more closely resembles the Army Corps’ early plans.

2) Just because you are politically connected doesn’t mean you can’t be effective. However, this doesn’t look right:
All three engineering consultants who were selected by the Orleans board to design the levees contributed to the political campaigns of officials with sway over the board.

***

Levee board contractors also frequently gave campaign money to Francis C. Heitmeier, a powerful state legislator from New Orleans who has long wielded influence over Orleans levee district affairs.

***

Just last month, Heitmeier again played obstructionist, helping to snuff out a post-Katrina attempt by reformers to create a unified state levee board.
3) Sometimes people say that East Jefferson was lucky because the breach at the 17th Street Canal could have been on the E.J. side. But, luck probably had nothing to do with it:
Harvey recalls staring jealously at East Jefferson Levee District's well-trimmed border of the 17th Street canal, then at untamed foliage and trees massed along the Orleans levee wall. "I'd look at the Orleans side and get depressed," he said.

Neither the corps nor the Orleans board had a rigorous program for scanning for structural defects. Instead, the two agencies joined twice a year for five-hour-long inspection tours. A caravan of officials would make random stops along the floodwalls. Sometimes corps officials issued citations. Then they would head out for long lunches.
Merry frickin’ holidays.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

What is the Media Doing?

In a Reuters article entitled “Immigrants find opportunity in ruined New Orleans,” the author ends with this:

The immigrant workers do not feel too threatened by competition from the local Americans. They point to the back of the parking lot where the only "gringos" in sight are sleeping on sheets of cardboard or sitting on wooden boxes, surrounded by empty beer cans and booze bottles.

"There are a lot of drunks here," said Delgado.

When asked where the American workers were, Del Rio shook his head and said, "Who knows? It just seems like the Latin race likes to work more."
Do I even have to comment on the absurdity of this?

First of all, the term “American workers” does not exclude the “Latin race.” And I refuse to believe that Americans are lazy and there are “a lot of drunks here.” After all, New Orleans drunks are the good, functioning kind of drunks. (Ha, ha – joke.)

Any story on the influx of migrant workers in the New Orleans area that does not point out that the city, state, and federal government have not done enough to return local workers is not a good story. That is the only reason why there is a gap to be filled by the migrant workers. The article even says “While New Orleans residents are slow to return…,” but does not tell us *why* they are slow to return. In fact, the article implies that we are slow to return because we do not want to work.

I am here. I am working. If the others were here, they would be working, too.

Overall, the media is really disappointing me. Are there any well-told, accurate stories out there?

Great Pains

Last Tuesday the USA Today wrote:

Neither Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco nor New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has articulated a detailed vision for the city's future.
Blanco and Nagin responded:
We are moving forward and rebuilding our home. We trust that Americans will understand if we take great pains to do it right.
Translation: We’re not moving *slow*. We’re moving *deliberately*.

As long as it is not deliberately slow.

The USA Today is correct to point out the lack of a detailed vision. But, that’s easy for them to say. Because they are farther from the disaster, they are more interested in symbolic victories. It would make them feel better if a politician got up and gave an “I have a dream” speech about the future of New Orleans.

When you are living here, you are interested in tangible victories – ones you can feel, like electricity to see, gas to take a hot shower, a place to live, schools to bring your kids to, a hospital to treat your Katrina cough.

We need both. We need more of a vision to make us feel better. And, we need more infrastructure to make our lives better. A leader’s job is to do both.

Though our leaders' views on whether or not to rebuild have been consistent, a vision of rebuilding has been absent. We like the tangible victories, but I don’t think we would mind a little uplifting symbolism every now and then.

Friday, December 23, 2005

How Many More?

Via Polimom Says..., another body was found in the Lower Ninth Ward Thursday. That makes two found this week.

The Wet Bank Guide points out St. Bernard has found a lot of the people on their missing list alive, but:

The results in St. Bernard, which are more likely to track those of New Orleans, found only 75% of the missing. The rest can't be accounted for, and the search for bodies in the marshes has begun.
Are there many more to be found? Do we know? Are we doing enough to find them?

The politicians are asking people to come back. In January, many will return after staying in other cities for the school semester. How can we ask people to come back to an area where they are still finding dead bodies?

Once again, this adds fuel to the sense of neglect many Ninth Ward residents are feeling. They felt neglected before the storm, and now they feel like they aren’t wanted back.

We want everyone back.

It was Inevitable

The Suspect Device Blog finds a rare incident of Mike Brown being right.

In 2003, he sent a memo to the Homeland Security Secretary about the retooling of FEMA under the new department:

The inevitable result, he wrote, would be "an ineffective and uncoordinated response" to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.
Give that man a Presidential Medal of Freedom!

It looks like Brown knew something bad was going to happen:
"The slogan was 'Do No Harm,' but we were doing harm," Brown said. "People became distracted from the mission, because we spent so much time and energy fighting for resources and working on reorganization. It just disintegrated our capacity."
I got news for you, Brownie. You don’t get points for seeing it coming.

Sssssss… (Air Escaping)

In the last two months, between my work vehicle, my personal vehicle, and da po’ wife’s car, we have had seven flat tires.

Three tires had to be replaced, two were patched, and I currently have one flat and one slow leak.

That ain’t right.

This is now my litmus test for when things are back to normal in the GNO area. When I stop getting flats, things are back to normal.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Recommendation for the New NOLA

Hybrid cabs.

Maybe we can replace all those flooded RTA and school buses with hybrid buses, too.

Fun with Numbers

I was surprised to read that only $5 billion dollars of the Katrina aid package approved by the Senate yesterday was new money:

Most of the hurricane aid — $24 billion — has already been authorized by Congress as part of a federal Disaster Relief Fund. The money now will be diverted from the fund, overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and sent directly to Gulf Coast states and victims.
I am not ungrateful for the $5 billion dollars, but I was under the impression that this was an additional $29 billion on top of what was originally given to FEMA (I believe $62 billion).

I am now wondering why that $24 billion dollars wasn’t already earmarked for spending and how much more money is just floating around waiting for direction. There’s nothing I dislike more than directionless Katrina aid.

What is Victory in Iraq?

define: victory in iraq

Anyone?

Rumsfeld gives it a try
:

"Victory in Iraq will be a situation where the political process will be successful, where the security forces are sufficiently competent to take over the security responsibilities and we can pass it on to them and we can draw down our forces ...."
At least he’s trying.

It’s the Little Things that Fatigue

This scenario is probably playing out in many communities around the south that have taken in Katrina evacuees:

"The county is not in any financial problems" due to its support of the housing program, she said. "We are not struggling."
***
[County Auditor Linda] Breazeale stressed to the commissioners the current FEMA program is "time and labor intensive" to oversee and that it could have an impact on her 17-person department's ability to issue the county's certificates of obligation and road bonds for 2006.
FEMA will reimburse this community and all the communities that are helping evacuees for any money spent - so money is not always an issue. But, it is still more work for the same number of workers. So, when we see Katrina Fatigue set in, it might not be because the fatigued are tired of Katrina. It is more likely that they are just tired.

All the more reason to get the evacuees back home.

Why ANWR? Why Now?

The Senate approved the provision of the defense spending bill that would give $29 billion in aid to the Gulf Coast. But don’t start signing your checks just yet. Since changes occurred in the bill, it goes back to the House to be approved. Again.

One of those changes is the removal of a provision opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.

Could the bill have passed “as is” without the ANWR provision tacked on? Maybe. In that case, the $29 billion would be a Presidential signature away from heading to the Gulf Coast. Instead, it's headed back to the House.

So, why stick ANWR on this bill? Supplemental appropriation bills are often attached to unrelated spending bills to send money quickly to an area after a disaster. But there is no disaster in ANWR. There is no pressing need to start drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge.

But to Alaskan SenatorTed Stevens, there is a pressing need. It has been pressing him for 25 years:

Back in 1980, the deal went like this: Vote yes on setting aside 19 million acres of wilderness, said Sens. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, and Congress will support permission to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Stevens agreed. Tsongas and Jackson, meanwhile, died before Congress could grant permission to drill.

Their debt survives, Stevens insists. And he's playing procedural hardball to make the Senate pay up.
And hardball is definitely his game:
"It's going to be awfully hard to vote against Katrina," the Alaska Republican said.
Wow.

He made a strategic decision to pit Katrina aid versus drilling in ANWR.

Wow.

Stevens lost his bid to open up the spigot of ANWR. We lost one more day to shore up our levees before the start of net year’s hurricane season. In my opinion, that’s his debt repaid. We sacrificed one day for his 25-year-long fantasy. I hope it wasn't the day we needed.

Stevens said that “he wouldn't withhold hurricane aid to get ANWR passed.” Apparently, he couldn’t do that if he wanted to.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Louisiana and the “Resource Curse”

As the Vice-President rushes back to provide the deciding vote (if needed) on the latest deficit reduction bill, and as Congress battles over whether or not to drill in ANWR, Louisiana’s fortunes are once again tied to the future of domestic oil drilling. $29 billion dollars of Katrina relief are in the same bill as the provision opening up the Arctic Refuge in Alaska to drilling. And the vote appears tight.

Once, Louisiana was an oil state. Big Erl made its millions here as it did anywhere else in the world where there was oil. But the oil slowed down, the profits went down, and Big Erl left town. And we were left with the aftermath from what NY Times Magazine contributing author Peter Maass calls the “resource curse”:

Though it seems counterintuitive - countries with a lot of oil are lucky and rich, right? - a succession of studies… show that countries dependent on natural-resource exports experience lower growth rates than countries that have nonresource economies, and they suffer greater amounts of repression and conflict too. The reasons are complex - and there are exceptions to these dismal rules - but in general, a reliance on oil discourages investment in other industries, makes governments less responsive to the desires of citizens and fosters corruption by officials seeking and receiving funds that are not their due. An oil state is, almost by definition, a dysfunctional state.
He’s talking about countries. But, it sounds like Louisiana, doesn’t it?

Maass makes some good points:
The latest battle has not touched upon a depressing fact: every barrel of oil that is not extracted from America must be drilled from someone else's backyard, often with little regard for the consequences. Because our appetite for energy has grown over the decades, new drilling, along with the damage it tends to create, has not been halted; it has been outsourced.
And asks some good questions:
If the protection of our environment comes at the expense of others, might it be an expression of selfishness rather than virtue? The more we focus on defending our environment, the less we may focus on environments outside our borders; activism can become anesthesia. Domestic restrictions on drilling have had the unintended effect of insulating our tender consciences from the worst impacts of oil extraction. Out of sight, out of mind.
From reading his article, I would think Maass is basically saying: If we are to do ugly things, should we not be ugly ourselves?

I don’t know about that. I’m not into self-flagellation. I want to do pretty things and be pretty. I don’t want to drill for more oil here, nor do I want the Saudis, Iraqis, Iranians, Venezuelans, Bruneians, or anyone else drilling more oil in their countries for me.

But, I want $29 billion dollars to come to the Gulf Coast. So it’s drilling in ANWR versus not getting aid – kind of like Edwards versus Duke. I don’t know how I would vote. It seems to me that to be a politician, you must defy your principles equally as often as you uphold them. It must be fun.

Who, following Maass’ criteria, is being selfish in this case? We who want to sacrifice the environment of ANWR for our $29 billion dollars? Or, those who wish not to pay *us* back for *our* environmental sacrifice without dooming another region to the same fate? Just asking.

(This boring post inspired by The Oil Drum.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

They Found a Body

From ABC 26 News:

Contractors gutting a home in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans made a gruesome discovery Tuesday morning. They found a body, apparently left there since Hurricane Katrina.

Walter Smith says they spotted the body before they even entered the home in the 1300 block of Tuplelo [sic] Street.
Given the level of destruction in the Lower Ninth, I can understand that people are still finding bodies. But, contractors “spotted the body before they even entered the home?” Even though “[m]arkings on the front of the house indicate it was checked at least twice for bodies?”

C’mon. Justified or not, the people of the Lower Ninth feel like they have been forgotten. This only adds to their despair. And Tupelo St., while not a main street, is a divided and well-trafficked street, near Jackson Barracks.

It may turn out that the body was not there since Katrina. But the damage was done today:
The discovery fuels a sense of hopelessness in the Lower Ninth Ward. Much of the neighborhood is still frozen in time and little has changed since Katrina flooded their streets and destroyed their homes.
ALL of New Orleans needs to be rebuilt. And progress needs to be spread out. If certain areas are mending while others languish, the tension between residents allowed to come back and those still on the outside will rip apart whatever good is accomplished.

I don’t know if New Orleans ever really was a completely functional community. But, now we have the chance to be, unless we keep neglecting the Lower Ninth.

Court Upholds Science

Many of us knew this before, but now it's official:

However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
I wish we could apply this to political policies and the realm of politics.

(P.S. The posse's getting bigger!)

Are You Serious?

This happened in America?

UPDATE: Okay, maybe it didn't. Link brought to you by John McAdams.

UPDATE 2: Good, it's not true.

NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
I hope this is the iceberg, not just the tip.

On This Day in History…

The American flag was first raised over New Orleans, December 20, 1803.

That year, President Thomas Jefferson considered New Orleans so vital to the United States’ interests that he had sent his representatives Robert Livingston and James Monroe to France to solicit the purchase of the port city.

They ended up buying all of the Louisiana Territory, which was really just lagniappe. New Orleans was the prize.

Woe that today’s President does not value New Orleans so. Nor does he value New Orleans’ contribution to the growth of the country whose Constitution he has sworn to defend.

If he did, he would not let New Orleans and the cities that have grown up around her lie bare to the winds and waters that surround us.

We need more than money. We need more than levees. We need more than rhetoric. We need more than what may filter down through the bureaucratic levels of our government.

We are lost. Lost to the Gulf of Mexico. Lost to the floods of Katrina. Lost to years of neglect by our politicians. Lost to years of failing schools. Lost to our own apathy and short-sightedness. Lost in cities all around the country, and unable to find our way home.

Mr. President, reclaim New Orleans. Come down to the Cabildo and sign a new Louisiana Purchase. Buy not the barren land you see before you, but the awesome potential that lies in its regeneration. Raise the American flag over New Orleans once again so that your citizens will know they have a home and will be protected by a great and caring nation.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Western Music Banned in Iran

How that played out inside the White House:

Advisor: President Bush, we have received intelligence that the president of Iran has banned all Western music in his country.

Bush: What? No Toby Keith? Fire up the smart bombs!

Advisor: No, sir. Not country western music, all music from the countries west of Iran.

Bush:
The music of Kanye West? Good. I hate that punk. Saying I don’t care about black people. I have black friends! You can call me what ever you want, but don’t call me a racist. And don’t call me late for dinner.

[LAUGHTER]

Advisor:
No, sir. The president of Iran did not ban the music of Kanye West. Well, actually, he did, because he banned ALL MUSIC COMING FROM THE WEST, including the United States.

Bush: We can’t have that. How are Middle Easterners gonna learn how to live under Democracy?

Advisor: Uhh... Should we send the president a message?

Bush:
Yeah, that’s a good idea. Start off with: “We can’t have that. How are Middle Easterners gonna learn how to live under Democracy?”

Advisor: I’ll tell you what, sir. I’ll go let Mr. Rove know about this and let you get back to sleep.

Bush: Okay. But end the message with some Toby Keith, like: “And you'll be sorry that you messed with/The U.S. of A./'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass/It's the American way.” Yeah, I like that.

American Citizens? Bush Tapped That!

Why did he do it?

So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.
Funny. Bush doesn’t have a good record determining that:
The Bush administration sought to convince Americans before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein's government had links to bin Laden's al Qaeda. No such links have been proven.
He cleared the tapping of Iraqi citizens and then invaded Iraq. Could the U.S. be next?

(I really have nothing new to say about this. I just wanted to write that title.)

Do They Even Try to Get It Right?

From Yahoo News, as of 11:04 am:

No one knows just how deadly the season was, as many of Hurricane Katrina's victims in New Orleans are feared to have been carried away by flood waters, buried under rubble or even eaten by crocodiles.
(emphasis mine)
Crocodiles? Maybe if the bodies were carried all the way to the southern tip of Florida.

I guess it’s possible.

(I wrote “as of 11:04 am” because I am hoping an editor catches it and changes it.)

UPDATE: Alas, my skepticism is unfounded. Polimom finds evidence of the elusive Louisiana crocodile.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I, Too, Do Not Like Defeetists

Tonight, the President said this:

Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts.
This rings so true to us New Orleanians.

We all know the defeetists. And they are not justified by the facts. When they say “I betcha five bucks I know where ya’ got dem shoes,” we know they do not really know.

We know that they will not respond “Payless,” or “Foot Locker,” or for those better off, “Sears.” We know they will say “On your feet,” and then expect payment for such an unjustified-by-the-facts statement.

Defeetists must be stopped. They have been driven away by Katrina, and must never be allowed to return to the New Orleans.

Wait a minute, it’s defeatists with an “a”? Never mind. I have no problem with them.

I'm a Saints Fan, But . . .

I watched more of Peyton and the Colts today in their failed attempt to go 14-0 than the Saints game. Is that wrong?

I feel dirty.

"We came to lift the city up."

Polimom pointed me to this Washington Post article about Hispanic workers in New Orleans, many of which are here illegally.

Polimom says…

What I can’t figure out (never could) is what Americans fear from these folks? I hear – all the time – about how they’re taking away our jobs. Really? Who among us is willing to live and work under such conditions, much less for these wages? I know I’m not.
These workers never paid into the system, so they expect far less out of it. American citizens have paid into the system, so expect more out of it. Unfortunately, the system is failing both.

Americans deserve decent housing and working conditions. So do migrant workers. New Orleanians deserve the right to come back and rebuild their community. They aren’t coming back or can’t get back to do that. Migrant workers are just filling in the gaps left by the government’s inability to craft a plan to return the residents they didn’t have a plan to evacuate in the first place.

Outside contractors are interested in making money. If they had to pay decent wages and provide decent housing, they wouldn’t make the crazy profits that justify their being here. So, don't expect them to help out the locals and *expect* them to take advantage of migrant workers.

For locals, just being here would be their justification. It would not be profit margin encouraging them to rebuild their own community.

Remember, that’s the goal: Rebuilding the community. And, as the WaPo article shows, we need someone to help:
Around midday, across from a church in eastern New Orleans, they spotted a woman in a garage, struggling with an armful of splintered wood. "I make you good price," Medina told her.

"How good?" Marie Croson responded.

Their first bite. Medina whispered something to Gonzalez and then blurted out, "Eight hundred dollars."

Then Croson was interested. She has been trying for weeks to get her house gutted. A church group from out of state had offered to do the work at no charge, but it backed off upon learning she had insurance, even though she has yet to receive a penny from her policy. A neighbor was demanding $4,000 to do the job, way more than she could afford.
We want to do it ourselves, but not enough of us are back. We want the government to help us, but it’s hard to get in touch with sometimes. The migrant workers are here and looking for someone to help. They are not taking anything away from Americans. If anything, they are giving something back.

And what do we do for them? Make life harder:
The House last night passed tough immigration legislation to build vast border fences, force employers to verify the legality of their workers and tighten security on the nation's frontier, but it rebuffed President Bush's entreaties to include avenues for foreign workers to gain legal employment.

This, My Friends, is Journalism

The NY Times didn’t wait for a press release. They didn’t wait for someone to call a press conference. They went out and got the information themselves.

What an effing original idea:

The Times conducted more than 200 interviews with relatives, neighbors and friends of the victims, and culled information from local coroners and medical examiners, census data, obituaries, and news articles.

The interviews add narrative and nuance to what has been a largely anonymous or purely statistical casualty list. Relatives were able to explain that what might have been listed as a simple drowning was really a tragic end to a rescue, or that medical care just a few minutes earlier might have meant the difference between life and death.
This is not the final word in how and who died in the storm. Two hundred interviews out of more than 1,000 dead do not show the whole story.

But it is the whole story for Velda Smith:
"It's ironic that you can survive a storm," but still die, said Velda Smith, who lost her sister-in-law and three teenage nieces to the floodwaters.
And for Vanessa Pereira, and Eddie Cherrie Jr., and Jack Bunn.

To those who did not lose a loved one after the storm, one person out of one million might be a tiny fraction. To the family members and friends interviewed by the NY Times, one is huge, and not just a number.

The article is a good read, though not for good reasons. But it is, without doubt, good journalism.

(Via DED Space.)

No Sleep ‘Til New Orleans

It looks like evacuees are staying close to home:

Hurricane Katrina may have emptied whole sections of New Orleans, but it hasn't set in motion the great national diaspora that was widely foreseen. Instead, the vast majority of displaced households are staying close to their former homes, postal records show.
***
Overall, more than 80 percent of all evacuees remained in the southern states nearest the gulf region, with the top destinations being suburban New Orleans, followed by Houston, Baton Rouge, La., Dallas and Atlanta.
I would guess that many of them are staying close to facilitate moving back.

Meanwhile, FEMA might be asking them to stay away:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is encouraging hurricane victims living in hotels to consider moving out of state — even temporarily — until more housing becomes available in southern Louisiana.
If evacuees are staying in hotels anyway, why can’t they be staying in hotels here in New Orleans and the surrounding area? We need residents more than tourists. And, if FEMA pays the hotel costs, the residents get housing here in the city and the hotels make money. Win-win, no?

Just a thought. I’m not big on the tourism industry anyway. If it were up to me, I would turn all those downtown hotels into condos and apartments, revitalize downtown as a place to live, work, and shop – not just visit, and reclaim New Orleans for New Orleanians.

But, that’s another fight for another time.

Tracking Down the “Unknown” Evacuees in Texas

I don’t really know what to say about this article from the Gainesville Daily Register (that’s Gainesville, TX). But, for some reason, I think it would make a good movie:

A team of six FEMA representatives from Montana arrived Tuesday morning to begin looking for the “other” evacuees. The team consists of Phillip Arrow Top Knot, Douglas Malatare, Maurice Bear, Joseph Bear, Gloria Bear and Marcedes Old Person.

The team is from the Blackfoot Tribe located in Montana.

“Fifty of them were hired to work for FEMA last year in Florida, and it worked out so well that this year FEMA hired 300 of them,” Fletcher said. “Maybe there aren't many hurricanes or major disasters in Montana.”
A group of Native Americans show up in a Texas town tracking down people in need of help with no where to go.

And they’re good at what they do:
FEMA policy forbids its employees from making comments to the press, so the Montanans declined to comment on their work in Gainesville. But their actions may speak louder than words.

“They said they found three rooms at the Ramada and five at the Holiday Inn Express that were occupied by evacuees, and they had barely started looking,” Fletcher noted.
I’d go see that movie.

This is actually a positive story. The county doesn’t have the resources to help the “unknown” evacuees, so they are trying to hook them up with FEMA who can help them.

The only thing is, I can’t find any info on the web about this Blackfoot/FEMA Tracking program – not that I don’t think it is a bad idea. Like any good journalmalist, I need to confirm my sources. Those internets can be sketchy sometimes.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The President Will Speechify the Nation

Don’t miss it! This Sunday, 8pm CST. Live from the Oval Office, your tax dollars present: the President of the United States of America!

Topic: “Why it’s more important to spend money destroying Iraq instead of building bigger levees.”

I wonder if he will talk about this cool archeological find:

An excavation project on the Syrian-Iraqi border has uncovered an ancient settlement wiped out by invaders 5,500 years ago.
The ancient invaders didn’t find any WMDs, so he probably won’t address it. Plus, he no doubt is pissed because somebody invaded Syria before he could.

However, the researchers did supply yet another rationale he could use for attacking Iraq:
The discovery of the devastated remains of the ancient trading center suggests that the urge to attack and conquer cities is as old and basic as the need to build them, the researchers said.
I think that would make number 28 on the list.

Say the Magic Word. It’s Mandatory.

I am still watching Blanco’s Wednesday testimony in front of the House Select Committee on C-SPAN.org. (I know. I’m slow. And I can't find a transcript anywhere.)

The republican members of the committee seem to be stuck on two fantasies. They just can’t get over the pictures of flooded school buses and the fact that Blanco and Nagin didn’t say the magic word “mandatory” earlier.

The buses were never in play. Many people chose to stay. And the people who the system really failed – the invisible people – they were never in the plans to be picked up.

And, as far as the magic word goes, as Blanco put it: “Now, because the word mandatory was not used until Sunday morning does not mean that we were not evacuating the area.”

Reps. Rogers, Shays, Davis, et al. seemed to believe that if the state and city officials had just said “mandatory,” all those who had elected to stay and all the poor, elderly, handicapped, and otherwise incapable of leaving would have been teleported on to the school buses in that picture and would have been whisked driverless out of the city.

Well, generally I think the editorial writers at the Times-Pic do a mediocre job. But, addressing these two republican post-Katrina fetishes, Jarvis DeBerry’s latest editorial hits a home run just with the title:

We needed levees, not more buses.
Maybe if we say the magic word we can get Category 5 protection. Because it’s mandatory! Mandatory, y’erd me!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Et Tu, Cyril?

He says he's not coming back:

"Would I go back to live?" Neville asked. "There's nothing there. And the situation for musicians was a joke. People thought there was a New Orleans music scene -- there wasn't. You worked two times a year: Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. The only musicians I knew who made a living playing music in New Orleans were Kermit Ruffins and Pete Fountain. Everyone else had to have a day job or go on tour. I have worked more in two months in Austin than I worked in two years in New Orleans.

"A lot of things about life in New Orleans were a myth."
He's got a point. Our music scene was great despite ourselves. We need to take care of the things we love about New Orleans now more than ever. Because, given the chance, they can easily go wherever they want.

White People are Mutants!

Does that mean I can join the X-Men now?

Cool:

The skin color of Europeans may have turned white after their ancestors migrated from Africa because of a single mutation among the 3 billion genetic "letters" that make up the human genome, scientists reported Thursday.

Was It Racism?

Chris Lewis, a New Orleans evacuee who spent time in the Superdome after Katrina and then at Camp Gruber in Oklahoma, tries to answer this question in an editorial in the Tahlequah Daily Press:

Was it racism? Not in the traditional sense. I think it was inefficiency allowed to run amok due to the apathy toward those left behind. Many of those considered less than intelligent for having stayed were, in fact, simply too sick, too old, and too poor - myself included - to have motive, means or opportunity to leave. Those who rendered those judgments never thought to ask why someone might stay behind in a disaster zone, aside from ascribing such behavior to either simple stupidity or stubbornness.
He’s right. It wasn’t racism in the traditional sense. It was racism aimed at the invisible race – that race of people who are invisible to us Americans everyday. We walk right by them, not even seeing them. And, if we see them, we pretend like we didn’t. We don’t talk about them much. And you normally don’t see the invisible race on TV.

But, for the first time, when Katrina hit and the levees broke, people all around the U.S. turned on their TVs and saw the faces of the invisible race – at the Superdome, at the Convention Center, at I-10 and Causeway, being rescued from roof tops and flooded porches. They were of all colors, but mostly black. They were poor. They were elderly. They were sick. They were mentally ill. They were homeless. All the people we don’t usually see were there.

Some people who were not part of the invisible race got caught up in the fray. They, no doubt, felt like they didn’t belong. Some actually arranged to be evacuated before the invisible people that surrounded them, which is fine. We want everyone to be safe.

Last Wednesday, the Governor touted her evacuation of southern Louisiana. She said the state succeeded in evacuating 1.2 million people in 36 hours. It was a success because the only people it did not include were those who chose to stay behind and the invisible people we could not see.

Mr. Lewis, in his editorial, says that he was “one who found himself shoulder-to-shoulder with people whom I previously shared no commonality, or bond. Indeed, people I felt an inherent need to avoid throughout my life…,” and concludes with this:
Was it racism? Was it apathy? Was it incompetence? I think, be it one, two, none or all of those things to you as an individual reader, what it should be to us all, as a people, is a wake-up call.
We woke up after Katrina and saw the invisible race. As its members are now displaced throughout the nation, let’s not let them fade away again.

Priorities!

Since money spent in Iraq is money that can not be spent to rebuild the Gulf Coast, I reserve the right to opine on the war in Iraq even though this is a blog focusing on the greater New Orleans area.

Having said that, a vote today in the House of Representatives rejected a withdrawal from Iraq:

In a 279-109 vote, the GOP-controlled House approved a resolution saying the chamber is committed "to achieving victory in Iraq" and that setting an "artificial timetable" would be "fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory."
They neglected to define victory. Is victory killing every terrorist in the world? Is it just killing every terrorist in Iraq? What the hell is victory? Wouldn’t it be funny if victory were withdrawing? Do they even know what victory is? What kind of statement is that?

The good gentleman from Florida disagrees with me:
But Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., said Congress needed to make a statement that it was committed to winning. "This is a global war on terror, and if we don't win the battle in Iraq, where else might we win it or, where else might we have to fight it?" he said.
Oh, that’s right. I forgot. We’re fighting them over there so that we can’t build bigger levees over here. Priorities!

Part of I-10 Flooded for Five Hours

Can we build a Mounes overpass, not underpass, please? When the city flooded after Katrina, the only way into the city by car was River Road because the I-10 was flooded at, guess where? The same place it flooded yesterday morning.

It’s not on their website, but Fox 8 TV news reported last night that the new pumping station located at the Mounes underpass (near the Jeff/Orleans border) still does not have power and is not staffed 24 hours. According to an engineer they spoke to, it is supposed to sense flooding and start the pumps automatically. But, without power, the sensors aren’t on, and someone has to be there to turn on the generators for the pumps to work.

Why doesn’t the pumping station have power yet? What the hell is Entergy doing?

A Better and Stronger Headache

"The levee system will be better and stronger than it ever has been in the history of New Orleans," said Donald Powell, the top federal official for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.
Okay… yeah… I don’t think that’s the standard we should go by. It shouldn’t be too hard to build “better and stronger” levees than the ones that fell apart in a storm that didn’t make a direct hit on New Orleans. There are no “better and stronger” levees than the Mississippi River Levees which we already have, and I don’t see enough funds in that $3.1 billion dollars Bush is offering up to surround southeastern Louisiana with those 25 foot monsters which, to my knowledge, have never failed down in this area. And an incredible volume of water runs through them.

Sugar Ray Nagin is happy, though (same article):
"I want to say to all New Orleanians, to all businesses, it's time for you to come home, it's time for you to come back to the Big Easy," Nagin said.
Not so fast. According to this Times-Picayune graphic (pdf), by the start of next year’s hurricane season, June 2006, only repairs, temporary improvements, and better designed levees will have been completed. It is not until June 2007 that any fortifications (stronger levees) will be in place.

I think that’s why the Governor is less optimistic in her invitation to the people and businesses of southern Louisiana (same article):
Calling it a down payment on greater protection for all of south Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the announcement "is a strong signal to our families that they can come home and rebuild."
A “strong signal” vs. “come home.” Let’s see what the experts have to say in the same article.
Joseph Suhayda, a coastal scientist and retired Louisiana State University professor who helped design computer programs allowing the modeling of the effects of storm surge on New Orleans…[says this is] "the federal government simply saying they would finally do what they had committed to doing in 1965," when the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project was authorized by Congress. "In that regard, they aren't restoring to Category 3 levels, they're finally getting there, just 45 years late."
Hmmm, 45 years late. But wait, are we really there yet?
Ivor van Heerden, director of the LSU Hurricane Center… [says] "The problem is the design criteria they had in the past wasn't for a Category 3 hurricane; Katrina proved that," he said. "The breaches at London Avenue and 17th Street were caused by surges generally associated with a Category 1 storm."

Simulations run by the LSU Hurricane Center showed a true Category 3 storm passing west of the city would flood the entire West Bank and downtown New Orleans with the current protection system in place, van Heerden said.
45 years late for levees that would withstand only a Category 1 surge and would still allow the West Bank and downtown to be flooded in a true Category 3.

My head still hurts.

(Props to the Times-Picayune which is rocking on their levee coverage.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Da Po’ Boy Goes Off Topic

I always thought it was a little exaggerated when people made fun of professional athletes referring to themselves in the third person. But, in today’s Times-Pic we have these quotes (all emphasis mine):

Aaron Brooks on his performance this season:
“It's not that I'm disappointed in how I've played this season. One season does not define who Aaron Brooks is. And I've got many things to look forward to in the future, personally, on the field and off the field.”

Joe Horn on Brooks’ benching:
“It's a sad day. It's a sad day for Joe Horn because that's the only guy who's been throwing me the ball for the past five, six years. So I'd be stupid to stand here and tell you that I'm happy that it happened.”

Darren Howard on being placed on the inactive list:
“The bottom line is this situation has nothing to do with Darren Howard's knee," Howard said. "This is all about Darren Howard and the New Orleans Saints not growing with each other. That's the bottom line.”
In this crazy world of hero worship, even the heroes worship themselves. That’s how da po’ boy sees it, anyway.

We Are Not Crooks

I am watching yesterday’s testimony of Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin on C-SPAN.org.

I see the first question asked to the Governor and her staff was not about the evacuation. It was not about the rescue. It was not about levees. It was not about how many people died. It was about how federal money given to Louisiana in 1999 was spent.

The congressman who asked the first question, because he is on the appropriations committee that will decide how much money the state gets, reffered to $170 million the state received over the past six years to improve communications during a disaster, and warned he doesn’t like that only $15 million of it had been spent and warned that he wants to know why, implying that we aren't using it properly.

WTF?

Why does everyone think we are corrupt? Why does everyone think we take money from the federal government and put it in our pockets? Is he trying to send a message, like, “We’re watching you! Don’t spend the money we give you on the wrong things!” Because, if he is, he needs to direct that message first to the top and ask Bush why he is spending never-ending billions on a war that he started over "intelligence" even the Prez says was bullsh*t.

Dammit! If this narrative keeps getting played, Louisiana might not get the full federal funding it needs because of the perception that we will steal it. This will have the same deadly results as the perception (rumor) that rescue helicopters were getting shot at: the rescues stopped, and people suffered.

If the federal government thinks we are corrupt, it won’t give us all the money we need to rebuild our cities and rebuild our levees. Or, they will slap on so many bureaucratic hoops to jump through (like oversight committees) to get to the funds that nothing will ever get done in a timely manner.

Either way, people will suffer.

We are no more corrupt than anyone else. Now, buy me some Cat. 5 levees for Christmas!

UPDATE: That's more like it!

Reuters: New Orleans levees to get $3 billion upgrade

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I Invoke the Gods on Behalf of the Saints

O, Muses, born of Zeus’ love with Memory,
Sing of the glorious deeds of our great heroes of lore!
So your daughters and sons may rejoice
And our warriors may taste victory once more.

(UPDATE 12/15: I don't think my invocation worked. Brooks was benched for the season and doesn't think he will be back next year and Darren Howard, our franchise player, says he doesn't plan on re-signing with the Saints.)

I invoke the Muses of the Lower Garden District to inspire the authors of the epic poem that is the tale of the Saints. As the Fates spin what may be the last yarns, I await to see the destiny of our heroes.

But, where is our Achilles? Where is our Heracles? All we have to celebrate are the exploits of our heroes of old.

And that’s all the Saints faithful really want: heroes to praise. Archie Manning. Bobby Hebert. Eric Martin. George Rogers. Rueben Mayes. Dalton Hilliard. Ricky Jackson. Pat Swilling. Vaughan Johnson. Sam Mills. Frank Warren. Wayne Martin. Bruce Clark. Morten Anderson. Hoby Brenner. John Tice. Jim Dombrowski. Stan Brock. Jack Del Rio. Hokie Gajan. Ironhead. Mel Gray. Kenny Stabler. Dave Wilson. Bum Phillips. Jim Mora. John Fourcade. Dave Waymer. Brian Hansen.

As we tell our stories, these names come up time and again. Some were the good guys. Some were the bad guys. Some were both. They certainly weren’t always the best. In fact, they usually weren’t even any good. But they were our heroes because they were characters in our myths – the mythology of the Saints fan.

Notice my pantheon of football gods comes from the 1980s. That’s when this Saints fan’s mythology was written. But, we all have our own - unique to our experience.

Who of today’s Saints will become the heroes of tomorrow’s mythology? Are any of them worthy? Will they be in some other city’s pantheon? Will they be the first heroes of the San Antonio Santos?

I will consult the Oracle and hope the Muses hear my plea, and the plea of this fan, dillyberto, who inspired this post.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How They Died

This story never gets better:

Nineteen bodies were found on the overpass where Interstates 610 and 10 split, where they were dumped or where people died while waiting to be rescued. Nearly 80 people died in pairs, found together in or near their houses.

A vast majority of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee breaks in New Orleans died alone.

In America, they died alone.

Bush Says Don’t Call Him a Racist

…because the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was equally as slow for whites as it was for blacks. At least, I think that’s what he is saying:

“I heard, you know, a couple of people say ... ‘Bush didn't respond because of race – because he's a racist,’ or alleged that,” Bush said. “That is absolutely wrong. And I — I reject that.”

He then added that the real reason he didn’t respond quickly was because he is the worst president ever.

Okay, he didn’t say that last part. That was me.

But racism and the charge of racism are in play in the aftermath of Katrina. How can it not be in the South?

Looking at the latest percentages of identified Katrina-related deaths, however, there is not a great disparity between black and white deaths. Of the 488 victims identified and whose information has been released publicly, 49% are black and 47% are white.

Is this evidence that the federal response was not racist? The right of the blogosphere (using older stats) would say yes.

Remember, though, there are still 587 bodies yet to be examined, or the family must be notified before the information is released, or a positive identification has not been made, or the identity can not be determined. Those percentages can change as more victims are identified or as more bodies are recovered.

Whether the percentages change or not, deaths after the storm is not a valid rubric to use in order to grade how racist (or not) the federal government is or was right after the storm hit. Overall, what the government did before the storm to protect New Orleanians, during the storm to keep New Orleanians safe, immediately after the storm to rescue New Orleanians in need, and what the government plans to do for the displaced New Orleanians now and to help those trying to rebuild must be examined to determine racism involved.

We might find at the end of the day that it is not black New Orleanians that the federal government has neglected, but New Orleanians of every color.

And *age*. The numbers show (pdf) that 64% of identified post-Katrina deaths (including the 21 non-Katrina related deaths) were over the age of 60. That is the most damning number of all, because they had given to the system their entire lives, only to see crappy levees built, a crappy evacuation plan that didn’t include their specific needs, and a crappy rescue that couldn’t save some of those that managed to survive.

Yes, racism probably contributed to the tragedy of Katrina. But, a lot of other –isms were no doubt involved, too.

Jeez, I just bummed myself out.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Company You Keep - Part 2

CNN: U.S. isolated on climate change

More than 150 nations, including nearly every industrialized country except the United States, agreed Saturday to negotiate a second phase of mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Look, the only debate concerning global warming is happening outside the scientific community. At the very least, in combination with naturally occurring warming, human-made greenhouse gases are making things worse, for the world and especially the Gulf Coast.

Why the Gulf Coast? Hurricanes. They are the planet’s way of moving hot air from the equator up north to the Arctic. The more hot air there is in the equator, the more hot air that needs to move south to north. That can be expressed in tropical storms of higher frequency and/or higher intensity.

The Gulf Coast lies in the middle of this heat-transfer path. It is in our best interests on the coast to do whatever we can to lessen global warming, including signing on to the freaking Kyoto Protocol.

Here’s an article I hope shows my amateur science isn’t full of shiznit.

The Company You Keep

Simply because you are against the death penalty does not mean you defend those sentenced to be murdered.

I do not know much about Stanley Williams, but no man or woman should be killed by the state.

However, if you disagree with me, Digby has a list of the countries which condone state sanctioned murder. What is interesting are the countries not on the list:

With the exception of Belize, Guatamala and some Caribbean islands we are the only country in North America, South America or Europe to have the death penalty.

We need to execute a Category 5 protection plan. Not our own citizens.

UPDATE: Come to find Stanley Williams was born in New Orleans before moving to California. And Tookie appears to be his middle name, even though I repeatedly see it in quotes ("Tookie").

Grass Not Always Greener on the Other Side

And the land isn't always higher.

The repopulation of the Greater New Orleans area
may be starting in West Jefferson, with a proposed 20,000-home development on the “Churchill Farms tract, part of a 9,393-acre swath that extends east about nine miles from the St. Charles Parish line.”

OK, here’s an elevation map of the GNO area.

See all the blue in West Jefferson? Looks a lot like the blue in New Orleans East that got flooded by the storm surge from Katrina, doesn’t it?

Now, imagine that Katrina goes west of the Mississippi. The storm surge goes west, too. Would it reach West Jeff? I hope not. But, if I am reading this Hurricane Pam graphic (pdf) right, that area gets over 10 feet of surge in this fictitious Category 3 scenario.

But wait, there’s a levee (same article):

Plans call for the levee to be widened and raised to 10 feet to protect against a fast-moving Category 3 storm by next hurricane season, said Cahill, who has complained in recent months that some parts of West Jefferson's overall levee system would not stave off a "Category 0" storm. He added that Category 5 protection could be achieved at Cataouache for $10 million to $20 million from federal coffers.

“[W]ould not stave off a ‘Category 0’ storm.” My head hurts. Nevertheless, welcome to the West Bank.

And, speaking of blue, look at all the blue in East Jefferson west of the 17th Street Canal. If you live there, you need to be as vocal as New Orleans residents in demanding improved levees.

About That Louisiana Purchase…

Is there an out clause?

Because, Joan Fox writes to the Times-Pic that she wants to make a deal:

Dear France,

Greetings from Louisiana! We are shopping for new owners, and we immediately thought of you! Our present rulers haven't been taking very good care of us and we are looking for a better deal.

According to the National Archives (click Read More…), “President Thomas Jefferson was a strict interpreter of the Constitution who wondered if the U.S. Government was authorized to acquire new territory.”

Any real estate lawyers out there care to look into this?

(via People Get Ready)

The NY Times Writes an Editorial

Title: Death of an American City

Salient point:

If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.

When I criticize the federal government – the President, Senators, Representatives – it is not personal. Yes, I do not like the President and his cronies, but I am not attacking these men and women personally. I am attacking their policy decisions. Their decisions hurt America.

A disaster befell the Gulf Coast. New Orleans was especially affected. On a smaller scale, many Americans, all over the country, go through this in their every day lives. Crises are not limited to hurricanes.

But, the Bush administration has made policy decisions that have made the U.S. impotent to respond to tragedy, both at the regional level – that of Katrina – and the personal level – that of the level of a family which has fallen on hard times for whatever reason.

The Bush administration has shaped an America where the laws and law enforcement exist solely to ensure that the rich and powerful keep what they have – their riches and their power.

In the case of New Orleans, which has always been used as a conduit for money rather than a place to keep it, this is never more clear. Oil, cargo, and industry flow through this great city, but the benefits never stick around. The rich and powerful have concluded that they can find another New Orleans to make their millions, and so this one is expendable.

But let’s not call it the "Death of an American City." Let us call it what it is:
The Death of America.

Mardi Gras is Bigger than Ever

In Galveston!

Good for them. This year's theme is “A traditional Mardi Gras,” with an unofficial second theme, “A Salute to the Gulf Coast.”

Dr. John will perform. Bards of Bohemia will roll. (Yes, that Bards of Bohemia.)

Should be fun. At least somebody will have a traditional Mardi Gras. Although, having never been to the Mardi Gras in Galveston, there is one thing I don't understand:

Tickets at the gate for the second weekend are $15 for Friday and $20 for Saturday. A discount two-day pass is on sale for $25 at www. mardigrasgalveston.com.

Tickets? A two-day pass? Huh?

Not Going Down without a Fight

Like engineers would be that easy to get rid of:

Save Tulane Engineering.

Ashley Morris: the blog makes a good point, and tells us, "Save things worth saving."

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What If We Had a Mardi Gras in New Orleans and No New Orleanians Came?

The Mayor wants Mardi Gras to go on next year.

However, when he was in Atlanta, it seemed like he didn’t:

The mayor said he agreed that holding Mardi Gras would be inappropriate. He said he had tried to persuade tourism officials in New Orleans not to hold it next year but was overruled.

Then, the Mayor said he *did* want Mardi Gras next year, but with a little help from the tourism industry:
"I want to see a Mardi Gras," Nagin said Tuesday, "but I want to see the hotels and the tourist industry do something more substantial for New Orleanians."

Oh, and it looks like in order for Mardi Gras to roll next year, it will have to be sponsored.

Should we have Mardi Gras next year?

Full disclosure: Right after Katrina, I was looking forward to Carnival. I wanted to go sit with my family on St. Charles with a couple boxes of chicken and beer, watch the lil’ po’ boy run around catching a bunch of beads I ain’t got room for in my house, get drunk and tired, and eventually get into a fight with da po’ wife.

But I realized that I was yearning for pre-Katrina Mardi Gras – and a romanticized version at that. Overall, I have been yearning for a romanticized pre-Katrina version of New Orleans, and sometimes that gets in the way of my post-Katrina planning.

Yes, having Mardi Gras next year will send the message that the Mayor and the tourism industry want: New Orleans is open for business. But, to cancel Mardi Gras would send a more powerful message to the nation: We are not back to normal and we need your help.

Which one is more accurate? Which one helps us in our mission to rebuild?

More Evidence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

In the news:

Scientists: Fissure Could Become New Ocean

"We believe we have seen the birth of a new ocean basin," said Dereje of Addis Ababa University. "This is unprecedented in scientific history because we usually see the split after it has happened. But here we are watching the phenomenon."

Plate tectonics are far too complicated for mere mortal scientists to comprehend. There must be a higher being involved in such an earth-changing event.

"The entire system is broken . . .

. . . and we need to fix it before the next major disaster strikes, whether it's another hurricane or — Heaven help us — a terrorist attack," said U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La.
Another report slamming the federal response after Katrina. This time it is the emergency medical response that is criticized, something that should have worked better considering all that terrorist-attack planning that the feds have funded since 9/11.
It described doctors using manual resuscitation masks rather than ventilators for hours and patients lying on the floor in New Orleans' international airport.

It also said medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile failed to reach medical teams within 12 hours, as stipulated under disaster plans, instead taking three days to get to New Orleans — and even then there was a shortage.

No doubt, the doctors involved did the best they could under the circumstances. The point is: the circumstances should have been better.

The rest of the country needs to understand that the federal government failures in New Orleans could happen anywhere in the country in the event of a catastrophic disaster, natural or human-caused. It doesn’t matter how prepared the local officials were. All their resources were destroyed. That can happen because of a flood or nuclear bomb – which means it could happen anywhere.

The federal government response to a catastrophic disaster must be flawless. I think Katrina showed we're not quite there yet.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Last Thing We Need

Don't listen to this man.

I'd never been to New Orleans. Figured it was time I went. And after a weekend down there, I urge you to go, too.

We don't need tourists down here. We need residents.
While many of the city's more than 38,000 hotel rooms are shuttered, and many of the 18,000 that remain are filled with workers, there is vacancy.

If there are vacancies, fill them with New Orleanians.

The article goes on to describe a visit to New Orleans like a visit to the zoo: First, you see the Asian Domain. Then, the Primates. After that, make your way over to the Reptile Encounter. Only, in this scenario, the people are the caged animals, seen in their natural environment gutting out their homes. Don’t forget your camera.

A lot of people think we can’t survive without tourism down here. I disagree. Now is our chance to kick our addiction to tourism. Let’s build New Orleans for New Orleanians.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mike Tidwell Gives Up on NOLA...

...because Bush already has. (via The Dead Pelican)

He writes in the LA Times:

We should call it quits not because New Orleans can't be made relatively safe from hurricanes. It can be. And not because to do so is more trouble than it's worth. It's not. Instead, the hammers and brooms and chain saws should all be put away and the city permanently boarded up because the Bush administration has already given New Orleans a quiet kiss of death.
***
As someone who dearly loves New Orleans, it pains me immeasurably to call for this retreat. I mean what I say. Shut the city down. To encourage people to return to New Orleans, as Bush is doing, without funding the only plan that can save the city from the next Katrina is to commit an act of mass homicide.

C'mon, Bush. I know we're not Iraq, but we do have some oil down here. Throw a dog a bone!

Race Matters More than Ever

Rebuilding may be battle of black and white.

This article which ran in the Dallas Morning News is an excellent summary of where race relations in New Orleans were right before Katrina and how the history and feared future of race relations here is affecting the recovery.

In a nutshell:

The racial divide affects almost every rebuilding question: which neighborhoods will be rebuilt and when; how public housing will be reconstructed; how to protect the city from future disasters; and who will call the shots – the white-dominated business community, black politicians or outsiders.

It also hits on a point I like to make, but many disagree with: A tourism-based economy is bad for the people who live here. Tourism employs paid servants at working-poor wages. The money generated by tourism never trickles down to the low wage earners. It pools in the hands of the few at the top at the expense of the masses on the bottom. As the article puts it:
Before Katrina slammed ashore on Aug. 29, the New Orleans economy was so heavily staked on jobs in hotels, restaurants, bars and other purveyors to visitors that some dubbed it a tourism ghetto.

I hope a "tourism ghetto" isn't on the list of future plans for New Orleans.

How to Inspect a Levee System

The right way:

But Wolff, who worked for the corps from 1970 to 1985, said inspections of levees in the districts where he worked, from Missouri to California, were much more formal events. They involved crews of as many as eight engineers who drove and walked the levees, and seldom covered more than 10 miles in a day.
(emphasis mine)

The wrong way:
Corps and Levee Board officials last month admitted their annual inspections typically were little more than quick driving tours. Inspection of the 17th Street Canal levee usually took place from a stop on the Old Hammond Highway, rather than a thorough walk or drive of the flood control structure that is 15,000 feet long.
***
The agencies said they conducted more frequent informal inspections, typically when personnel were going to the levees for other purposes. For instance, the Levee Board said it relied on grass cutters to report any problems they might see.
(emphasis mine)

Eight engineers versus grass cutters. My head hurts.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Flood Control Group Can’t Meet in NOLA…

…because of lack of flood control.

For only the second time since the attack on Pearl Harbor, a group devoted to flood protection along the Mississippi River has moved its yearly meeting outside New Orleans - this time to the St. Louis area because of the widespread hurricane and flood damage.
This just made me chuckle – but no snorting.

100,000 Pages of Katrina Documents

If I can find the link, I’ve got some reading to do. In the meantime, I’ll settle for the mainstream press as a filter.

The day before Katrina, Blanco asked for help from the federal government:

"I have determined that this incident will be of such severity and magnitude that effective response will be beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments and that supplementary federal assistance will be necessary," Blanco wrote.

David Vitter delivered the federal government’s response:
White House senior adviser Karl Rove wanted it conveyed that he understood that Blanco was requesting that President Bush federalize the evacuation of New Orleans.

The resulting tug-of-war between the state and the national governments for control of the evacuation and rescue caused nothing but trouble.

Who to blame? I guess it depends on if you think “supplementary federal assistance” = “federalize the evacuation of New Orleans.”

Democracy in Limbo

The February elections in New Orleans are postponed.

I know that it would be a nightmare to have them and ensure a fair election. And, given the present speed of the recovery, which is not too slow but not fast enough, I do agree that elections can not be held in February.

However, while the elections may be in limbo, the electorate is in purgatory. They are being punished for sins not of their doing.

Displaced New Orleanians, be they in Houston, Atlanta, Memphis, or Jackson, have no voice in their adopted communities. And now, they have no voice in their own communities. A people without voice is a people without power.

The gift of democracy having been temporarily taken away from them, they can no longer hold their representatives accountable for their actions before and after Katrina. They can no longer participate in the democratic government that they are actively petitioning for help.

I keep thinking somebody should have done more. But that somebody includes me, which bums me out.

If I were still Catholic, I would offer my suffering up to the poor souls in purgatory - or New Orleanians. Same thing.