Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I Care

Los Angeles Times writer Scott Gold speaking at Hamilton College:
Five days after the storm, the military came into the city to “take it back.” Gold was able to travel with soldiers heading from the Superdome to the city’s convention center. When two black men were slow to move out of the truck’s path, Gold heard a white soldier remark, “Just shoot ‘em, who cares?” This comment was not printed in the Times, but Gold said that perhaps it should have. It embodied not only the distrust that some soldiers had developed for the people they were there to rescue, but as the overall question arising from the disaster - who cares about this city and its people?

New Orleans is Not Unique After All

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, finishing what Katrina started:
The Army Corps of Engineers has identified 146 levees nationwide that it says pose an unacceptable risk of failing in a major flood.

The deficiencies, mostly due to poor maintenance, are forcing communities from Connecticut to California to invest millions of dollars in repairs. If the levees aren't fixed, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could determine that they are no longer adequate flood controls. If that happens, property owners behind the levees would have to buy flood insurance costing hundreds of dollars a year or more.

The substandard levees are being identified under a corps inspection program that has grown more aggressive since Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed levees across the Gulf Coast in August 2005.
I wonder if FEMA will require a “three feet above ground” rule for new construction in these at-risk areas.

Also, notice the revising of events after Katrina:
Thousands of residents who lost property did not have flood insurance because those levees were considered adequate; later reviews found many were not well maintained.
It should say “later reviews found many were not well designed.

Via Gentilly Girl.

110 Billion Reasons to Bang My Head

Bush on not mentioning the Gulf Coast in the State of the Union speech:
Well, I gave a speech that I thought was necessary to give. On the other hand, I had been talking a lot about Katrina and about the fact that I worked with the Congress to get about $110 billion sent down to both Mississippi and Louisiana to help them on their reconstruction efforts.
Did he say Congress sent $110 billion dollars to the Gulf Coast for reconstruction?

Government Accountability Office, is that right (pdf)?
About $88 billion has been appropriated to 23 different federal agencies through four emergency supplemental appropriations acts.
The GAO even includes a graphic showing which agencies the $88 billion, not $110 billion, has gone to.

Of course, we here at Da Po’ Institute of First Grade Math have also been counting how much federal money has been coming to the Gulf Coast. Our report concludes similar findings to the GAO’s:
* September 2, 2005 – $10.5 billion in a disaster relief bill

* September 8, 2005 – $51.8 billion in a disaster relief bill

* December 31, 2005 – $5 billion in a spending bill (along with $24 billion diverted from already authorized funds, but not new money)

*June 15, 2006 - $19.8 billion in a spending bill
DPIFGM’s total: About $87.1 billion has been appropriated by Congress for hurricane response and recovery.

In the past, the President has counted the borrowing limit of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is currently $20.8 billion. DPIFGM doesn’t count that for previously stated reasons, previously stated thusly:
I didn’t know that paying out flood insurance claims was optional.
Even if we did count flood insurance payments, we still would not count the entire $20.8 billion. That’s just the limit. Around $16 billion has actually been “sent down to both Mississippi and Louisiana” in flood insurance payments for Katrina and Rita.

But, as I said, DPIFGM doesn’t count flood insurance payments as reconstruction money.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Comparing Home Grant Programs

Total Applications: 17,600
Eligible: 14,471
Closings Calculated: 11,827 (80.5% of total, 81.7% of eligible)
Paid: 10,002 (56.8% of total, 69.1% of eligible)
$ Paid: $665,404,722
Average $ Paid: $66,527
Total Applications: 101,657
Closings Calculated: 30,357 (29.8% of total)
Average $ Calculated: $82,581
Paid: 258
Estimated $ Paid: $21,305,898 (Average $ Calculated times Number of Paid)
If we were up to Mississippi’s speed and had paid 56.8% of our total applications (57,741), at their Average $ Paid ($66,527), we would have paid out $3,841,335,507.

For perspective, consider that in January 2006, one year ago, the first round of Community Development Block Grants was given out.

Mississippi received $5,058,185,000.

Louisiana received $6,210,000,000.

Mississippi got 86.8% more in that first round of CDBGs than it has paid out more than halfway through their housing plan. If we had paid out at the same rate at Mississippi’s lower average payment, we would have used up over half (61%) of our first allocation. In fact, assuming our average calculated payment remains consistent at $82,581, we will completely use up that first allocation about three quarters of the way through our total applications.

What is my point? Though Mississippi and Louisiana are using similar grant programs, their progress can not be similarly compared. Louisiana’s destruction was greater in scale and complexity and was grossly under-funded at the offset.

Having said that, 258 closings out of 101,657 applications is abysmal. And Mississippi should be congratulated for their able administering of their home grant program.

"Little, If Any"

Mississippi governor Haley Barbour:
"Sounds to me like Congress is getting their money's worth in Mississippi," Barbour said.
Pearlington, MS:
While the national debate over the recovery has focused on the billions expected in federal aid and insurance, those sources have so far provided little for places such as Pearlington, and charity efforts have constituted more than 80 percent of the home rebuilding completed so far, local and charity officials said.


The reason for the charity's dominant role in the rebuilding is that little, if any, of the $3.2 billion in federal aid for Mississippi homeowners has reached anyone here -- it is tied up for now at the state level. As for insurance, most residents of this rural community lacked any form of flood policy. People say there just hadn't been a flood in recent memory, and of those who did have coverage, most had too little.
Sometimes the big picture gets in the way of the little picture.

Sunday Bob Marley

Today is going to be a good day.

"...cause I've got a love, darling..."

If Sunday Bob Marley isn't enough for you, make your own Bob Marley station at

Saturday, January 27, 2007

What If Firefighters Showed Up at a Fire…

…and when they doused the fire with water, it actually got bigger and burned hotter?

That would suck.
A day after City Council members were assured that New Orleans firefighters would receive long-overdue raises in their pay packages Friday, the leader of the firefighters union said many of his members actually received less money than in the past.

"It's an event of historic proportions," said Nick Felton, president of Fire Fighters Association Local 632. "It's the first time in the history of New Orleans that city employees got a pay increase and lost money."
Hey, man, don’t blame City Hall. Their abaci* work just fine:
Chief Deputy City Attorney Joseph DiRosa Jr., the city's chief negotiator in the long-running firefighter pay dispute, said that despite the union's allegations, he was "absolutely confident" that all firefighters' pay had been calculated correctly.


DiRosa said that because paying the state-mandated longevity raises involved a switch from city to state longevity rules, it was possible that some firefighters did wind up making less money than before, even when a 10 percent raise was included.
*Abaci or abacuses?

The Free Market Doesn’t Work in the Interest of the People

Unless, by “the people,” you mean “insurance and business officials”:
Louisiana property owners would be hurt if this state’s legislators follow the example of those in Florida and approve pro-consumer insurance reforms, insurance and business officials say.


The Florida bill, among other things, would order reductions in premiums and allow the state-run insurer of last resort to compete with private insurance companies.


One issue passed by the Florida Legislature that could prove divisive in Louisiana is called the “anti-cherry-picking” law. Florida’s bill would require insurance companies that sell auto protection in that state and property insurance in other states to also sell homeowners policies in Florida.
Good thing our representatives on the state level are looking out for our interests:
Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, said she wants her legislative insurance task force to focus on bills most likely to pass. That means reforms to which the insurance industry agrees.

The insurance industry is much too powerful in Louisiana for lawmakers to attempt as strong a pro-consumer angle as Florida, she said.


“I’m sure somebody will file that piece of legislation here,” Quinn said. “That’s highly controversial and something that the industry would fight against vehemently.”
My democracy, my democracy, why hast thou forsaken me?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Mayor's Nicknames

He's got quite a few. I would like to add "Stretch":
"We're 18 months into this thing. I'm tired of complaining and bellyaching," Nagin said Wednesday. "We're going to take whatever nickels we have, whatever pennies we have, whatever dollars we have, and we're going to stretch it, and we're going to make this recovery work."
C. Ray.

C. Ray stretch.

Stretch, Ray, stretch.

The new recovery plan: Stretch. That way you can stay in the same place and get everything you want... as long as it's within reach.

Not Like We Need More Evidence

But our criminal justice system does not keep our residents safe.

Example #1, from the T-P today:
Police have booked a man in the Jan. 5 shooting death of a woman in the Carrollton area on Pitt Street, New Orleans police said Wednesday.

Sterling Pipkins, 22, of New Orleans, who already was in jail, was rebooked with second-degree murder in the death of Jealina Brown, also of New Orleans, in her home in the 7400 block of Pitt Street.


Pipkins was convicted in July 2002 of attempted murder of New Orleans police Capt. Clarence Hebert, who has since recovered and is currently the commander of the Mounted Division.

It is not known when Pipkins was released from prison on that charge.
I don’t know the specifics of the case. But I find it hard to believe that a man *convicted* of attempted murder of a police officer in 2002 is out of prison, free to kill a resident in 2007.

Example #2:
Garelle Smith, 25, sits in jail without bond after his arrest last week at the St. Bernard public housing complex, where police nabbed him, at first, for tearing down part of the fence that the Housing Authority of New Orleans installed around the sprawling complex after closing it down in the aftermath of Katrina.


Police booked him with the first-degree murder of Mandell Duplessis, 24, who was gunned down Aug. 4 outside a FEMA trailer in Gentilly after surprising a small band of armed robbers who had taken the trailer's residents hostage in search of cash and narcotics.

It is a familiar drill for Smith, who has escaped two previous murder charges in Orleans Parish, including the killing of local rapper Soulja Slim, born James Tapp, on Nov. 26, 2003.


At the same time prosecutors gave up trying to link him to Soulja Slim's killing, Smith sat in jail booked in another murder, that of Spencer Smith Jr., 28, a recording artist known as Funk who died while seated in a pickup truck on St. Bernard Avenue -- right in front of the public housing complex -- where he was riddled with bullets. That was on Dec. 11, 2003, not even a month after Soulja Slim was slain in Gentilly.

Spencer Smith was the son of New Orleans police officer Spencer Smith Sr. and is not related to Garelle Smith.
Once again, I don’t know the specifics of these cases. However, while it is possible to be arrested wrongly for murder three times, I don’t think it is likely. Note that Garelle Smith was accused of murdering a police officer’s son.

I can’t say whether these men are guilty of the crimes they are accused of. Normally, I would say, “Let the courts decide.” But, I am not confident that the courts will get a chance to decide, or that their decision will be carried out. Just look at the evidence.

Words That Hurt

I teach my son that words only have the power that we give them. They are symbols. Words are not good or bad. What they symbolize can be good or bad… or harmful. But the words themselves can’t hurt you.

There are a few words that I don’t *want* my child to say, but I don’t really mind if he says them, like curse words. Lil po’ boy has blurted out a few “shits” and “fucks” before. However, I can’t really scold him because I have blurted out quite a few “shits” and “fucks” in my lifetime (particularly during Saints games). Since I can not tell my son *not* to do something I do all the time, I tell him those are “daddy words,” as in words we only say around daddy.

But there are words that I don’t want my son to ever to use. If he comes to me one day and asks about them, I will tell him as I told him before: Words only have the power we give them. And, though you and I don’t give power to these words, many people do.

One of those words is the word “nigger.” I don’t use it. None of my friends do. The only time I utter it is when I am talking about the word itself, as in this case. As I am a white man, no one has ever used it to harm me. But, I know in the past it has been used many times to hurt other people, including my friends, and I recognize that to many people, it is a powerful word. I can not think of any good that can come from using it, other than in academic discussions, so I don’t use it.

Enter Chicago:
With history being made--the Bears' Lovie Smith and Colts' Tony Dungy becoming the first African-American head coaches to lead their teams into the Super Bowl--it's tempting for Americans to congratulate ourselves on how far we've come.

But all it took was one stupid Chicago Bears fan with the N-word blurting from his lips to remind New Orleans TV reporter Glynn Boyd, and the rest of us, how far we've got to go.
The author lets Boyd tell the story himself:
"There were only a few minutes left in Sunday's game, and some Saints fan told me that a Chicago fan asked them about their home in New Orleans during the flood, and she said it had 10 feet of water, and the Bears fans started screaming, saying, `I wish you'd drowned in it!' And, `We'll finish what Hurricane Katrina started!' That kind of stuff.

"So I set up to do an interview with the Saints fan," Boyd said. "That's when the two Bears fans came up, including the one who yelled at her. There was a big guy, about 6 foot 7, and there was his buddy, a little guy, who was doing all the talking."

It's always the little guy, right?

"Yeah," Boyd said. "So as we're setting up to do the interview, the shorter Bears fan comes up, screaming, `Katrina! Katrina!' He must've been drunk. I turned and said, `Hey, I'm trying to work here.' And that's when he pushes me and says it. He says the N-word. He dropped it right on me.

"He pushes me and I push back, there wasn't any tape, but the guys in the [TV control] booth could see it. You could say there was some pushing going on. He kept saying it, ugly, loud, the N-word. Yelling it."
Don’t get too mad, though. What goes around, comes around, and sometimes it comes around in the form of a fist:
"There wasn't any [video] tape, but I think somebody might have thrown a left hook," Boyd said.

A good one, with some hip torque behind it?

"Perhaps. It might have been a guy from New Orleans that threw it, and if he did throw it, not that I'm saying he did, but if he did, it might have felt good to do so, after he'd been pushed and called that word over and over. If he did, of course, I'd have to assume he felt some satisfaction. I'm almost certain of it. But that's not the issue. The behavior of that fan is the issue."
I am not a violent man. But if that left hook was thrown by a guy from New Orleans, and I am not saying it was, I would also feel some satisfaction.

All people from Chicago are not like this guy. I guess. But the stories I hear and read about abusive Bears fans worry me. They seem to symbolize not hatred for our team and its fans for being their opponent, but hatred for our team and its fans for existing. The Chicago fans who were rude were not just saying “Go back to New Orleans,” they were saying “Go back to New Orleans AND DROWN.” That’s not cool.

I share Jeffrey’s thoughts on this as I consider how much America really wants to help her brothers and sisters in New Orleans. I did not expect President Bush to mention New Orleans in his SOTU address, but it still scares me that the State of the Union is considered strong when the future of New Orleans is so unclear.

The author of this article works for the Chicago Tribune. I applaud him for not overlooking this ugly episode and addressing the ungracious fans even though they were his own people. However, I wonder if he realizes how he contributed to the problem, for he is none other than John “We are not your sponge” Kass.

He offers an explanation for the Bears fans’ animosity:
Bears fans were becoming nauseated by the national media hype that didn't have anything to do with football, the hype suggesting that because of the hurricane's devastation, a Saints victory was called for. I wrote about that on Sunday, that Chicago isn't New Orleans' sponge, and received hundreds of critical letters from Saints fans, including a few ugly ones on the level of Boyd's Bears fan. But it wasn't the people of New Orleans whom Bears fans were fed up with. We're sorry about the flood. It was the national story line that peeved us.
First of all, what he wrote last Sunday deserved a response similar to “Boyd's Bears fan.” It was ugly. He wasn’t talking about football, even though he claimed to be. He even refered to the Civil War. What does that have to do with football?

Second, if the Bears fans were becoming nauseated by the media hype focused on Katrina and not on their big game, they must realize something. Katrina was, is, and will continue to be a bigger story than any Bears football game. Their ignorance of that fact or reluctance to accept it is part of our problem down here.

Simply because they don’t give power to these words doesn’t mean that the words can not hurt others. I guess I will have to give them the same speech I gave my six-year-old.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Chef Menteur Landfill Deal Audited

Remember that deal?
The new landfill, to a degree, grew out of the Gentilly settlement. As operations were scaled back there, Waste Management sought and received the conditional-use permit it needed for the new landfill from City Hall, courtesy of Mayor Ray Nagin, who in February invoked emergency powers after Katrina to waive the city's comprehensive zoning ordinance. The same day, Waste Management pledged to give 22 percent of the revenue it receives from the new facility to the cash-strapped city.
Mayor Nagin used his emergency powers to fast track a landfill in New Orleans East for Waste Management, who conveniently pledged to “donate” 22 percent of the profit to the city. Sounds sketchy?

The Department of Homeland Security, the department that oversees FEMA, thinks so and has audited the deal.

The audit says the city was double-dipping into federal funds. FEMA was paying for the debris removal. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would transport the debris to the Chef Menteur Landfill and would pay Waste Management to deal with it. FEMA would reimburse the USACE with federal funds. Essentially, federal funds were going into Waste Management’s pockets, which is one form of federal assistance. The city didn’t have to pay for any of the debris removal process. That is the first dip.

Then Waste Management then took 22 percent of the money the federal government paid the company and set it aside to give back to the city as a “donation.” That’s the second dip. It was like the federal government was paying the city 100 percent for debris removal at the Chef Menteur landfill plus 22 percent lagniappe. I am sure the federal government would have been much happier if the city had negotiated with WM to lower the dumping fee 22 percent, rather than kicking 22 percent of the federal funds back to the state.

Which is exactly what the auditor is asking for (pdf):
FEMA did not require the City to pay for debris removal necessitated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but the City should not profit from those debris removal operations, especially when the profit (donations) appears to be at the federal government's expense. Therefore, in substance, the donations should be treated as a credit and deducted from the City's final claim for other disaster costs, effectively to reduce FEMA’s costs for the City's debris removal.
In total, the auditor is recommending $860,000 be deducted from further federal funds headed to the state.

There’s more:
The landfill operator's tipping fee for Chef Menteur was $5.00 per cubic yard, which is significantly higher than the $3.50 tipping fee at the nearby Gentilly and the $2.75 tipping fee at Highway 90. Under the donation agreement, the landfill operator is to pay the City $1.10 of the $5.00 tipping fee, which reduces his net revenue fiom the tipping fee to $3.90, an amount closer to the Gentilly tipping fee.
WM inflated its prices to receive a profit comparable to nearby landfills plus the money it would “donate” to the city. It basically added the city’s 22 percent to its normal price. That sounds more like a tax than a donation.

With the price inflation, this deal is bordering on an illegal use of federal funds. It’s a good thing the landfill’s existence did not rely on this agreement of a “donation” to the city.

Uh oh.
However, the donation agreement also says that the landfill operator will submit its calculation of the 22 percent of landfill revenues "to the City along with payment and will give the City the opportunity to validate the calculation. The Donation shall become effective upon, and continue so long as, [the landfill operator's] disposal operations continue at the landfill."

Common sense tells us that the beneficiary of a voluntary donation would not normally require the donor to (1) sign a notarized agreement, (2) submit calculation of donated amounts to the beneficiary for validation, or (3) continue donations so long as the donor operated a business that required the beneficiary's authorization. These requirements provide convincing evidence that the landfill operator's "donation" of 22 percent of gross revenues was contingent on the City's approval to operate the landfill.
The Chef Menteur landfill was a bad idea ecologically and now we are seeing that it was just a bad idea.

We’ve been C-Rayed again.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Insurance Companies Refuse to Insure against Risk

Not even wealthy New Englanders safe:
During the nine years she's lived in her historic sea captain's house on Cape Cod, Mass., Paula Aschettino never filed a claim against her homeowner's insurance policy. But last year she received a letter from her insurer, Hingham Mutual Group, canceling coverage on her nine-room, $600,000 oceanfront home, which has withstood its share of hurricanes since 1840. She and her husband, Michael, scrambled to find other insurance but were repeatedly denied. "They just said we are in a high-risk area," she says.


Allstate Insurance recently announced it wouldn't take new homeowner policies in New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware—or the five boroughs of New York City. The company also won't renew 30,000 of more than 600,000 policies it carries in and around New York City. A host of other firms are refusing to insure properties along the Atlantic coast from Maine to the Carolinas.
Now, the greatest statement ever by a spokesperson for an insurance company, which exists for the purpose of insuring against the various things that could go wrong in life, i.e. “risk”:
"We believe it would be bad business to continue to add to our risk."
I think someone is in the wrong business.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Is That What It's Like?

Because, I can't take this. I didn't know what it would be like for a football team I root for to actually play in the NFC Championship game.

Now that I know what it's like, I am almost glad the Saints didn't win. Watching them in the Superbowl would have killed me.

That period right after Reggie's run and right before Drew's safety was crazy. I almost didn't make it.

Seriously, going from 3-13 to the NFC Championship game is too much, especially when we've had plenty of 3-13-like seasons and zero NFC-Championship-game-like seasons. It's like going from 0 to 1,000 mph in one second. The human body can't take those kinds of G-forces (I presume).

Generally, after a Saints season ends, I feel like something is missing, like something was left incomplete. Not this year.

I look foward to a rematch in the NFC Championship game next year. Only, let's do it indoors this time.


Not today.

Who Dat.

Sunday Bob Marley

And Peter Tosh.

Stop that train. Sometimes you have to go somewhere to get somewhere.

For John Kass Is an Honorable Man

***WARNING: The following post is PURE RANT, and very long and wordy. For the second time in less than a week, an opinion piece has gotten the better of my better self. If you continue, consider yourself warned. If you do not continue, at least read the source of my ire and make your own conclusions.***

William Shakespeare wrote a line you may have heard before:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!
John Kass of the Chicago Tribune wrote a line you are most likely hearing for the first time today:
People of New Orleans, lend me your ears.
Both men hoped for the line to ignite a rhetorical flourish meant to turn the tide of public opinion around, to make roundly vilified a subject who before was wholly venerated. By the time the unbiased reader finishes Kass’ article “Love the city, mourn the football team,” he or she will conclude that the author from Chicago has not the rhetorical mastery of a Marc Anthony, the character who uttered the famous speech from which Kass’ inspiration is drawn, nor the writing genius of a Shakespeare.

In Marc Antony’s speech in “Julius Caesar,” Shakespeare follows his famous first line with an adept display of irony:
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
It is irony, because Antony’s intent is exactly the opposite. He shall praise Caesar in such a way that, by the end of his speech, the mob he was addressing has turned their anger away from Caesar towards Brutus, who just before the speech they were willing to crown the next Caesar.

Kass’ first-line/second-line combination doesn’t have quite the same punch:
People of New Orleans, lend me your ears.

We are not your sponge.
It’s all downhill from there.
A football is an oval hunk of leather. And large, fast and supremely violent men catch it and run with it as others try to smash them to the ground.

But a sponge is porous and soft, often pink, or yellow, belonging in a sink or the tub. There is no violence in a sponge. A sponge is designed to sop up unwanted water.

And New Orleans, please understand this: We like you guys. But we're not your sponge.

Get it?
Um, no. I don’t get it. Please give me more examples.
Chicago is not your paper towel, either, or your Shop-Vac or your spaghetti mop or your squeegee.

So no matter what happens Sunday in the NFC championship game between the Bears and the Saints, it has nothing to do with that flood of yours.

We're not sopping up your water.
Oh, wait. Now I get it. The honorable Mr. Kass thinks we New Orleanians beleive that beating the Chicago Bears will finally rid us of that flood of ours.

Do you think Mr. Kass knows that our streets are no longer flooded and that, since our pumps kicked in September of ’05 and helped finish the Army Corps of Engineers’ job, we haven’t needed a sponge, paper towel, Shop-Vac, spaghetti mop, or squeegee to sop up Katrina’s waters?

Or do you think he is a little confused by the endless use of “file video” on CNN showing the streets of New Orleans underwater? That’s okay. I can see how an honorable man can overlook this small fact.

What follows is, I think, Mr. Kass’ point:
This is football.
Yes, it is. And I, for one, am glad that Mr. Kass pointed that out to us New Orleanians. I am now satisfied that I leant my ear.

This is football, where what happens off the field never affects play on the field.

This is football, where motivation acquired before a game never helps during a game.

This is football, where a victory is just one more check in the win column.

This is football. It is just a game.

What about the game?
"That's all anyone wants to talk about, Hurricane Katrina and the flood and how if the Saints win this game, it'll help New Orleans," said my friend Dave Kaplan, the WGN-AM sports talk show host who has been doing interviews with his counterparts in other cities about Sunday's game.

"It's Katrina this and Katrina that," Kaplan said, shrugging.

It makes me sick, I said.

"Me too," Kaplan said, who has issues with New Orleans that I'll reveal later. "What does Katrina have to do with football?"

Mr. Kass’ honorable friend is amazed how his counterparts from other cities talk about Katrina when addressing Sunday’s game. Don’t they know this is football? Or maybe they know something the honorable men of Chicago don’t know, something we know down here in New Orleans. It’s still Katrina this and Katrina that.

Mr. Kass and his friend should come down and visit. Go for a ride. I am sure it will make him sick. It doesn’t even have to be in the flooded areas, although that would give them the best perspective. They can simply drive down St. Charles and count the many traffic lights that are either blinking or completely out with temporary stop signs in use, while noting the absence of the picturesque streetcar. Sure, that’s minor in comparison to a flooded out neighborhood. But it’s still Katrina this and Katrina that.

Eh, who needs perspective. This is football.
All of us felt terrible about Katrina and the flood. Even Kaplan. And we hold no animosity for a great city that has endured so much.

What drives us crazy is the blabbermouth national media, projecting their own desires in their stories, putting the Saints on the side of the angels, and the Bears on the side of Katrina. If they were political writers, they'd be card carrying Obamamaniacs.

Even our future president, Sen. Barack Obama, has the guts to publicly say he wants the Bears to whip Saint behind on Sunday.
This manipulation of his audience is a little more obvious than that of Marc Antony’s in “Julius Caesar.” It is a worthy cause to attempt to portray your side in a contest as the victims of the big bad media. It could provide some of that off-the-field-motivation that football is supposedly not about.

However, when the media extols the virtues of a team like the Saints, it is not, therefore, condemning as demonic the Saints' opponents. Two good and virtuous teams can play each other in the NFL. This is, after all, the number one seeded team versus the number two seeded team in the NFC - the two best teams. The Saints just have more story lines for the media to pursue.

But don’t feel hurt, honorable men. This is football.
"More Than Football," cooed Sports Illustrated on its cover last week. "Drew Brees and the Saints lift the city of New Orleans to higher ground."

Oh, I get it. If the Bears lose, New Orleans will rise above the place where it now sits, below sea level, where some ridiculous Frenchman put it, ignoring the warnings of his engineers.
The novelty of this article is wearing out. Yes, parts of New Orleans are below sea level. But 80 percent of New Orleans did not flood because parts of the city are below sea level, nor due to the error of a “ridiculous Frenchman.” New Orleans flooded because of a “design failure” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

And the honorable men of Chicago should be careful when disparaging the French, for none other than the Father of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, was half French. And how did Point Du Sable get to Illinois? Through connections he made at the Port of New Orleans, of course!

Back to the article:
It ends Sunday, unless the unthinkable happens and the Bears lose. Then Indianapolis or New England can be cast as the Great Satan. Or is that The Great Sponge?
Again with the sponge?

The next part is has nothing to do with anything. I am surprised it got past the editors.

Finally, the honorable Mr. Kass tells us why his honorable friend Mr. Kaplan has “issues” with New Orleans:
Which brings me back to Kaplan and his strained relationship with New Orleans, which started when he was engaged to a woman from that town.

"I was staying overnight at their place, and got up late to hit the fridge for some food, and here comes my almost future mother-in-law. She hates me. And she's silent. She doesn't say a word.

"So I figure, the heck with this, I approach her and say, `I'm a likable guy. I get along with just about everybody. What's your problem with me? Is it because I'm Jewish?

"She said `No, it's because you're taking my daughter away, you Yankee!'

"I finally had enough of her, and I tell her, `That's right. I'm a Yankee, and guess what? We kicked your butts 150 years ago and we could do it again.'

"And the next morning, I broke up with my fiance and left and that was it," Kaplan said, with a big smile.

We kicked their butts 150 years ago. And Katrina or no Katrina, the Bears will kick some again on Sunday.

I gar-on-tee.
The honorable Mr. Kaplan sure sounds like the likeable guy he professes to be. It’s a darn shame he didn’t marry that New Orleanian and stick around.

The Civil War reference is revealing. If anyone needs more evidence of how the rest of America considers and treats New Orleans like another country or some other part of the world, look no further than a couple of honorable Chicagoans agreeing with “We kicked your butts 150 years ago and we could do it again.” I can’t wait to see that sign in the crowd on Sunday: “The North Shall Kick Your Butts Again!”

The title of this article, “Love the city, mourn the football team,” recalls the seminal moment of Marc Antony’s speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral when he effectively turns his audience's negative opinions against Caesar to negative opinions against Caesar’s (and Marc Antony’s) enemy Brutus:
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause;
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
If John Kass’ intention was to turn the public’s positive opinion of the Saints to a positive opinion of the Bears, he has failed in every way possible. He ridiculed the personal and shared tragedy of so many New Orleanians (We are not your sponge.), minimized the importance of this game to the people of New Orleans ("What does Katrina have to do with football?" Nothing.), insulted the city in general implying its residents are stupid for living there (Oh, I get it. If the Bears lose, New Orleans will rise above the place where it now sits, below sea level, where some ridiculous Frenchman put it, ignoring the warnings of his engineers.), and glorified a deadly and humiliating period of our history that the South is still recovering from and that Chicago greatly benefited from (“We kicked your butts 150 years ago and we could do it again.”).

Shakespeare, he is not.

Win or lose, the Saints have already won the equivalent of the Super Bowl for New Orleans. They will receive a hero’s welcome no matter what the outcome of Sunday’s game.

This, honorable Mr. Kass, is football.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Will There Be a Memorial for This Man?

By my count, he is the 13th human being murdered in New Orleans in 2007:
A New Orleans man was found dead, apparently from a single gunshot wound, inside a vacant apartment in the Iberville public housing development Saturday morning, the New Orleans Police Department reported.


Police officers found narcotics at the scene but couldn’t say if they were connected to the murder, [department spokeswoman Sabrina] Richardson said. Authorities had no witnesses or suspects, she said.
No witnesses. Could surveillance cameras in the projects help?
Mayor Ray Nagin on Friday received a response from federal recovery coordinator Donald Powell about his request for money for surveillance cameras, but so far the assistance is limited to cameras at public housing developments.


But Nagin spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said that although the city is appreciative of money for such cameras, the mayor is also seeking about $6 million from the federal government that could be used to put up 500 cameras throughout the city.
Nagin is seeking the money for extra cameras, but apparently not applying for it:
Yet as of now Powell's office has only received a camera request related to the public housing sites, [Powell spokeswoman Susan] Aspey said.
I’m seeing a trend here:
Powell's letter also addressed another Nagin concern: when the flooded New Orleans Police Department headquarters would be reopened. FEMA money totaling $2.1 million has already started flowing for the project and construction work will allow the police to move back into the second through the fifth floors of the building by May, Powell wrote. But in the letter Powell expressed concern that the city had not completed the necessary paperwork to get an additional $864,410 for work on the first floor.
Hmmm… The city refutes this one, and says the federal government is doing that thing they do with federal funds, overestimating how much is coming to the city and misrepresenting what it is for:
Cynthia Sylvain-Lear, Nagin's deputy chief administrative officer, countered that her office completed the paperwork on Dec. 20.


Sylvain-Lear said that although the Powell letter says that $195 million has been obligated for criminal justice in New Orleans, the city itself gets only $98 million of that. So far, the city has received only $71 million, much of which covered emergency expenses, such as police overtime, from right after Hurricane Katrina, she said.
Who to believe? Meanwhile, the NOPD headquarters is some trailers on Lafitte near Bayou St. John.

On the flip side, I am happy to report that one agency is starting to receive citizen tips on who the bad guys are:
Federal and state law enforcement agents, acting on a citizen's tip, found an elaborate marijuana-growing operation on one side of a shot-gun double, and busted two men living on the other side, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said.

About 384 marijuana plants, along with chemicals, lighting and ventilation, were discovered during a court-ordered search by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Louisiana State Police troopers, Letten said Friday.
$2 million in marijuana plants in one half of a shotgun double. The growers lived in the other.

The flip side, indeed.

What’s in that Brownie?

Whatever it is, it makes you talk a lot:
Some in the White House suggested only Louisiana should be federalized because it was run by a Democrat, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, [Michael] Brown told a group of graduate students at a lecture on politics and emergency management at Metropolitan College of New York.


"Unbeknownst to me, certain people in the White House were thinking 'We had to federalize Louisiana because she's a white, female Democratic governor and we have a chance to rub her nose in it," he said.
Honestly, when I read “certain people” my antennae went up. I would love to know who these “certain people” were.

However, Brownie FM wasn’t transmitting:
Brown declined to say who in the White House had argued for only taking control of Louisiana, but said that he'd later learned of the situation through Blanco's office and from other officials on the federal level.
How can we believe his accusations if he can’t produce who said it? Plus, he says he heard about the statements secondhand and after the event.

I assume he’s being paid for these speaking engagements and that’s his motivation to keep on talking. But, if he also wants to clear his name, he needs to start providing evidence for his accusations. Simply saying other people screwed up too doesn’t make up for his screw ups.

Previously on Brownie FM:

The Legend of Michael Brown – where he says of Blanco and Nagin, “I felt like strangling them both” and scolds the people of New Orleans with “The government cannot save you.”

Why Is Michael Brown Still Talking? – where he solemnly relives the height of his infamy revealing how he should have responded after the President gave him a premature performance evaluation, “You just said I was doing a heck of a job, when I know things are going to heck in a handbasket.”

UPDATE: anonymous digs up a relevant article in the comments.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Three Stooges of the Recovery

The state government:
Federal money that Mayor Ray Nagin says New Orleans must have in order to recover is available, state officials said Thursday.

But to get it, Nagin must ask for it, said Col. Jeff Smith, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security.

“We don’t read minds down here,” Smith said. “They have to apply for it.”
The city government:
Cynthia Sylvain-Lear, deputy chief administrative officer for New Orleans, said Thursday the city is aggressively seeking the money, but it has encountered problems with both FEMA and the state.

Sylvain-Lear said more than 300 city buildings were destroyed or damaged in the hurricane; officials have estimated that will cost about $400 million to repair. “Some of our early estimates were wrong and we’re trying to revise those with FEMA,” she said. “In some cases FEMA has vastly underestimated the costs.”

At the same time, she said, paperwork the city has sent to the state has been misplaced or lost.
The federal government:
Simpson also said FEMA was working to remove any bottlenecks.

“We’ve been very aggressive in our efforts to fix any chokepoints,” he said. “In August, the average stay in the million-dollar queue was 52 days. As of yesterday, we had that down to 8.7 days.”

The million-dollar queue is where all applications for more than $1 million are processed.
The first one hits the second one in the head with a wrench, the second one turns around and twists the third one’s nose, and the third one goes over to the first one and pokes him in the eye.

Meanwhile, New Orleans is left doing the Curly Shuffle. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Young Felaz Forever

We already had a 15-year-old accused attempted murderer. Now we have a 15-year-old murder victim:
In a separate incident, the coroner's office released the identity of a 15-year-old murder victim.

Hilary Campbell of Boutte was found shot many times in the head and chest on Jan. 3 in the afternoon in a remote grassy area near Industry and Press streets, Gagliano said.

Campbell's identity came to light when someone recognized descriptions of Campbell's tattoos and told relatives the tattoos belonged Campbell, Gagliano said. He said the tattoos, "Young" and "Felaz," stood for Young Fellows.
If you get “young felaz” tattooed on your body, you don’t plan on getting old.

This one hurts, too. It’s got to hurt. If it doesn’t, it needs to start hurting.

Given Campbell’s tattoos, that fact that he was a runaway, and the manner in which he was killed, one might think he was up to no good and that’s why he was shot. Even if that were true, and I don’t know if it is, we as a society failed him long before he was murdered. More than one of us allowed him to start down his path towards being young forever.

That’s what hurts.

And the "separate incident" was our 11th murder of the year.

UPDATE: Another murder. WWL says it is number 11, but I count 12 total.

I Don't Understand Insurance

Insurance companies paid out 85% less in 2006 than in 2005:
The insurance industry paid out some $8.8 billion in claims in the United States in 2006 -- a sharp drop from hurricane-plagued 2005, the ISO's Property Claim Services unit reported Tuesday.


In 2005, 24 events were classified as catastrophes but they included Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita and resulted in insured losses of a record $61.9 billion, the company said.
Even in 2005, with all those hurricanes, the insurance industry profited, as seen in this April article in the LA Times:
The companies that provide Americans with their homeowners and auto insurance made a record $44.8-billion profit last year even after accounting for the claims of policyholders wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and the other big storms of 2005, according to the firms' filings with state regulators.


In fact, the property casualty insurance industry, which provides homeowners and auto coverage, made a considerable sum despite paying tens of billions of dollars to policyholders as a result of Katrina, which is widely described as the largest insured disaster in U.S. history, and a string of other storms.

Besides boosting profits, the industry raised its surplus by more than 7% to nearly $427 billion, according to an analysis of company filings by the National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners, which represents regulators from the 50 states. The surplus is intended to provide a financial cushion in times of high claims.
This year saw more catastrophes, but less expensive ones:
Property Claim Services, which is based in Jersey City, N.J., said there were 33 catastrophic events last year, the highest frequency since 37 in 1998. Insurers received some 2,272,000 claims for damages, it said.
Interestingly enough, for all the grief we are given for living here, we weren’t in the ISO’s top five for 2006:
State - Loss ($)
Indiana - $1.5 billion
Missouri - $878 million
Tennessee - $873 million
Texas - $688 million
Kansas - $601 million
So, insurance companies profit when they pay out record claims, not to mention adding to their surplus (a true rainy day fund). Yet, in a year with fewer claims, all of our insurance goes up, presumably adding even more to their profit and surplus.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fighting Words

***WARNING: The following is pure rant. I woke up in a bad mood and then read this editorial online. I didn’t like it.***

The Pittsburgh-Tribune Review pens an editorial:
The big stupid
While the title is meant to be a play on the phrase “the Big Easy,” it is more accurately a description the intellectual worth of the article that is to follow.

The editorial fails in its opening sentence:
Madness oftentimes is defined as doing the same thing but expecting a different result.
First, this “definition” for madness (usually insanity) is used too often. It is a cliché, and not a very good one. Second, I do not agree that it is an accurate description of madness or insanity. Consider another frequently used phrase: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” In the battle of clichés, we see that “doing the same thing but expecting a different result” can have both negative and positive meanings.

Obviously, in this case, the writer uses the cliché in its negative sense. What he or she is criticizing is illuminated in the second sentence:
Such is witnessed today in New Orleans where some residents are rebuilding in the worst low-lying areas.
It is madness to rebuild Lakeview. It is madness to rebuild Broadmoor. It is madness to rebuild the 9th Ward. It is madness to rebuild Mid-City. It is madness to rebuild Gentilly. It is madness to rebuild New Orleans East. These are the implications of the editorial’s first two sentences.

The writer continues his observations on madness:
Leading the lunacy is Mayor Ray Nagin. The Washington Post reports he is allowing evacuees to rebuild as they please -- and without raising their homes as required to meet new flood guidelines.
Nagin leading? What lunacy! As far as “allowing evacuees to rebuild as they please,” I’d like to see the government stop anyone from rebuilding “as they please.” The people rebuilding know if they do not follow federal guidelines, they don’t get federal aid, including Road Home money. If you had more than 50 percent damage to your house, you must rebuild no lower than the base flood elevation and be at least three feet above the ground. Nagin can not “allow” people to ignore federal rebuilding guidelines *and* receive federal funds.

The big stupid continues:
This, after experts repeatedly have warned that broad segments of flood-prone neighborhoods should be abandoned.
Experts have also said that flood-prone neighborhoods could be protected by properly built and maintained levees.

More big stupid:
Why should homeowners care when they're receiving billions of dollars in federal aid -- even if they skirt the government's own flood guidelines?
As of January 8, 2007, 118 homeowners in the state of Louisiana have received federal rebuilding money *not due to them through the National Flood Insurance Program.* Remember, those with flood insurance paid dues.

With an average benefit calculated at $78,820.37, that comes to $9,300,803.66 in federal aid sent to homeowners to be used to rebuild. Since that covers the entire state, there is no guarantee that all of that federal aid went to New Orleans homeowners. Therefore, it is not correct to say that New Orleans homeowners are “receiving billions of dollars in federal aid” nor is it fair to conclude that receiving any aid would cause homeowners to not care how they rebuild. This is our home and the lives of our people. We want things done right.

The big stupid pre-dates Katrina:
That's because tough decisions are an anomaly in the Big Easy, as evidenced in the days before Hurricane Katrina. And as more houses go up in the wrong areas, it will be even more difficult to lead residents to higher land.
I assume from the last line that this is a reference to the evacuation. The idea that the evacuation was a failure is one of the greatest myths of Katrina. The true failure was the levees. If the levees had held, the people who stayed behind in New Orleans would have lived.

We are the big stupid because we are the big risky:
Reports due this spring from the Army Corps of Engineers on which city neighborhoods are the riskiest -- and offering homeowners commonsense incentives to build elsewhere -- could help. But remember, this is New Orleans.
Yes, remember. This is New Orleans. And remember that how “risky” a neighborhood is relies on the strength of the levees that protect it. The USACE is responsible for that, too. If they do the job that many engineers think they can do, then we won’t need “commonsense incentives to build elsewhere.”

We should absolve America from our big stupid:
If dim-witted evacuees are determined to rebuild in the worst possible areas, they should sign a waiver relinquishing any claim to future aid if their homes float down the river in the next 30 years.
I certainly hope Pittsburgh isn’t in a flood zone or protected by levees. If so, I fully expect the author of this editorial to sign a waiver relinquishing any claim to future aid if his or her home floats down the river in the next 30 years. But that won’t happen, right? The levees and dams will hold, right?

Not only are we the big stupid, we are the “apogee of stupidity”:
Paying these imbeciles again, after they rebuild in the wrong areas, would be the apogee of stupidity.
At first, I thought the title was a pun. Now I see that it is irony.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Chocolate City Day

Lil po' boy has Chocolate City Day off from school, which made the following exchange possible:
da po' boy: My foot's asleep.

lil po' boy: That's called "stitches and noodles."

da po' boy: You mean "pins and needles?"

lil po' boy: Yeah. "Stitches and noodles."
Also, his first words to me when we woke up this morning: "I had a dream... [long pause for effect]."

I have high hopes for this boy.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sunday Bob Marley

I always wanted to be the small axe that cut down the big tree. But I have come to realize that I alone can not fell the big tree.

Only all of us together can be the small axe.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


On Friday, January 12, 2007, one day after the march on City Hall, two men were shot in Central City:
At about 6 p.m., a 26-year-old man was shot several times in the 1800 block of Washington Avenue, near Baronne Street, Garry Flot, a police public information officer, said. The victim was taken to a hospital.

Sometime before 8 p.m., another man arrived at a hospital with a gunshot wound to his buttocks.
The article says neither shooting is life threatening.

However, in the first shooting, an NOPD press release paints a darker picture:
The offense occurred at approximately 5:53 p.m., in the 1800 block of Washington Avenue.

According to investigators, Sixth District officers responded to a call of a “male shot” and upon their arrival, found the victim suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to the body. Emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene and transported the victim to a local hospital where he is listed in critical condition.

Investigators learned, the victim was approached by two males that produced a handgun and began firing striking the victim multiple times to the body. Both suspects fled on foot.
Police say they think they know the identity of one of the “two males that produced a handgun and began firing.”

Here he is, the face of an accused attempted murderer:

15-year-old Alton Netter.

We need to find a way to make sure, if Alton Netter truly took part in this attempted murder, that he is the last 15-year-old to shoot or assist in shooting another person in this city. We can not lose another generation.

We can not arrest our way out of this problem. We certainly have not been able to convict our way out of this problem. We can only teach our way out of this problem - not just in the academic sense. But at home and in our communities. We teach best by example.

Be good. Teach good. And they will learn good. Real good.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

SEC vs. the World

As an LSU fan, it's hard to root for Florida. But I can root for the SEC.

And, as we saw with last night's championship game, you're not the number one team in the country until you've beaten the number one team in the SEC.

That didn't happen this year.

Final poll. LSU would probably beat Ohio St., too. Six SEC teams in the top 25, three in the top 10, two in the top three.

Not bad.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Think Like a Houstonian

Hurricane Katrina evacuees take note: You’re not in New Orleans anymore.

It’s time to “think like a Houstonian.”

That is the message from two displaced New Orleanians in a lighthearted new video prepared by Houston social agencies to help survivors of the 2005 hurricane find work and establish new roots here in the nation’s fourth largest city.
I watched the video. It has good advice for job seekers and useful information about the city of Houston.

I hope, though, that those New Orleanians who decide to stay in Houston don’t have to disavow their New Orleans-ness to assimilate:
“Now that you’re in Houston looking for work,” Mr. Johnson says, “you should think of yourself as a Houstonian, not a homesick New Orleanian.”
I suspect many New Orleanians that evacuated or were bused to Houston will choose to stay in Houston. That is, the choice, in many cases, will be made for them by the slow pace of the leaderless recovery. There is no community for many of the evacuees to return to. Nor is there adequate or affordable housing.

There will be many homesick New Orleanians looking for jobs in Houston with one foot in the Bayou City and the other in the Bayou State. But do they have to sell their New Orleans soul for a job?
A Houstonian does not keep a cellphone with a 504 New Orleans area code. “You want to make sure that the employer knows that you are planning on staying in Houston,” Mr. Johnson says.

Make sure, Ms. Jackson agrees, “to put a 713 or 832 or another local number on that application.”
Thinking “like a Houstonian” in this sense is really thinking like a good job seeker. I am confident that one can both “think like a New Orleanian” and get a job in Houston.

Now, if Houston businesses are refusing to hire people who are “obviously” New Orleanian (hmm, I wonder what that means?), then the problem lies not in the job seekers’ state of mind, but in the Houston business world. Being from New Orleans should not be an obstacle blocking one from getting a job. I have met many a Texan working here in New Orleans and, believe me, they are still thinking like a Texan.

I realize that a couple of New Orleans evacuees put the video together. I see that as an admirable response to a problem in their community and it should accomplish its intended result and help New Orleanians get jobs.

But it also is a response to negative myths that have evolved in Houston concerning New Orleans evacuees. The evacuees have already been characterized as an undesirable group. Asking the evacuees to cover up their New Orleans-ness supports this unfavorable stereotype, even though it may get a few of them jobs.

I guess, as a New Orleanian, my problem is with the choice of words. I don’t ever want someone to tell me not to think like a New Orleanian. Plus, I want the evacuees to get jobs here in New Orleans – their home – and help spur on the recovery.

Oops, there I go exhibiting my New Orleans-ness again. You know, the eternal optimism New Orleanians have that our leaders will do the right thing to get people home and speed up the recovery, or speed up the recovery to get people home.

Eternal optimism from a life long Saints fan. Imagine that.

Five oh fo’ eva.

UPDATE: New Orleanians in Houston get a video to help them find jobs. Iraqis get a billion dollars.
President Bush’s new Iraq strategy calls for a rapid influx of forces that could add as many as 20,000 American combat troops to Baghdad, supplemented with a jobs program costing as much as $1 billion intended to employ Iraqis in projects including painting schools and cleaning streets, according to American officials who are piecing together the last parts of the initiative.
Via dangerblond, who observes:
And the president is really smart to do this, because with all the training and jobs, they will not only be able to rebuild their destroyed homes and communities, but they’ll have less of an incentive to turn to violence. What? Why are you looking at me like that?
I wonder if the new plan will teach the Iraqis to "think like an American."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sunday Bob Marley

A song I hadn't heard before.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

When You Put It That Way…

It looks pretty bad:
In the last week more Americans have died in New Orleans than in Iraq. Since Dec. 29, there have been eight military deaths. In the Big Easy, there have been 14 murders.
Please, New Orleans is not as dangerous as Iraq. I don’t want to sugarcoat the violent crime problem down here, but c’mon. Along with the military deaths, how many Iraqi troops, police, and civilians were killed? I guess Iraqis don’t count.

On the same page is a video report with this description (as of 4:24 pm):
Jan. 5: There have been 14 murders since Jan. 1 in New Orleans, outpacing any other U.S. city, and even the number of troops killed in combat in Iraq. NBC's Martin Savidge reports.

Nightly News
Besides being incorrect (as of Jan.5 there are seven or eight murders, depending who you read), that contradicts information on the same page. Admittedly, seven (or eight) is just as bad as 14. I just thought I would point out the error.

Also, while talking about exclusively American deaths, I believe Paul Gailiunas was Canadian. It says a lot about his character that he gave so much to a community so far from where he was from.

While there are many things to lament about New Orleans both pre and post Katrina, there’s one aspect I’ve always loved about our city. You don’t have to be from here to be from here.

This One Hurts

Helen Hill shot, murdered. Her husband shot, injured, holding their child. Holding their child.

It hurts. I didn’t know the family. But it hurts. It hurts all of us.

The city feels this one. We feel it through personal accounts and through the media:
After the flood, Helen Hill ached to return to her adopted city.

Her husband, Paul Gailiunas, resisted. The storm had destroyed the health clinic he co-founded in the Treme neighborhood to serve the city's poor. Gailiunas, a doctor, fretted about the quality of the air and water, and of life in general, for the couple and their baby son, Francis. Hill's parents in South Carolina, where the couple had retreated in exile, worried, too. They had seen the destruction on television.

"But she had New Orleans in her heart and imagination," her stepfather, Kevin Lewis, said Friday, a day after Hill was shot dead and her husband wounded inside their Marigny home. "She was idealistic. She wanted her family and her creative life fulfilled here."
It hurts to lose Helen Hill. It hurts even more to lose her in such a violent way. It hurts to lose anyone in such a violent way.

Anyone. The day after Helen Hill was murdered, a woman was shot and killed Uptown:
The death of Jealina Brown, 22, continued a rash of slayings gripping the city. She was the seventh person slain since 2007 began, and 13th killed in an eight-day period.
Even though I have heard of no impromptu memorials for Jealina Brown, her loss hurts, too.

And I don’t expect memorials for these murders either:
The other recent killings followed a depressingly familiar pattern. Earlier Thursday, the police found a young man with gunshot wounds lying face-down in a Central City alleyway; on Wednesday evening, they responded to a report of gunshots in the same neighborhood and found another young man dead; that afternoon, Louisiana National Guardsmen found the body of a man shot in the head in the Desire area, in the Ninth Ward; and on Wednesday morning, they found the body of a woman wrapped in a rug in the Lower Ninth Ward.
But they hurt. They all hurt. Some affect the community differently, but they all hurt. The loss of a Helen Hill gets more attention than the loss of a young, black, Central City man. But they both hurt.

It is wrong to assume that the young, black Central City men were involved in anything illegal when they were shot. But if they were (as many retaliatory Central City murders similar to these are), it would also be wrong to say that their loss should hurt any less. We are not born bad. We are taught bad. The young black men that are killing each other on our streets and the men and women of every color who commit viloent crimes were taught bad. As much as they hurt their community with their actions, they were first and equally hurt *by* their community. And their community is us.

That hurts.

When I hear about a murder – any murder – that doesn’t involve someone I know, I still hurt because I feel the loss of the family and loved ones. How can you not? But I also hurt because I realize that someone was taught bad. Someone was taught that murder is an option. My community failed for that person. I failed for that person.

Did no one see that person being taught bad? Were we too busy to notice? Did we not see the conditions at home that contributed? Did we not see the conditions in the neighborhood, or the schools, or the lack of opportunity or a future that contributed to the creation of a murderer? Dammit, what the hell were we doing that we didn’t notice?

What the hell do we do now that we have noticed? It’s too late for eight people already, just six days into the new year. One thing on our side is that, as with bad, we are also taught good. We can teach good.

Teaching good is rebuilding every neighborhood equally. Teaching good is rebuilding every school equally. Teaching good is not hording resources – money, property, wealth – amongst the few. Teaching good is not rewarding privilege but merit. Teaching good is through more education, not more incarceration. Teaching good is a bottom-up process, not a top-down mandate. Teaching good is me not sitting so much in this chair and typing so much, but doing much more. (Hey, I never said I was a saint.)

The Mayor and the Superintendent talk about the murders:
This city, which has recorded at least eight killings this year, is looking at imposing a curfew as a way to help stem the violence, police Superintendent Warren Riley said Saturday.

"It's something we're just sort of talking about, to see if that will make a difference," he said. A curfew in effect in the city in the early part of 2006, along with the hurricane-diminished population, seemed to make a difference, Riley added, giving New Orleans "our best quarter, probably, in 30, 40 years."


Both said they understood citizens' concerns, but Nagin urged them not to make decisions on their future in this still-rebuilding city based on the recent killings.

"This is a tragic incident, but we've had murders over the past year-and-a-half or 10 years, and I understand there are tipping points," Nagin said. This may be one such tipping point, he said, that "galvanizes our community to really step forward and help us to solve this."
The curfew may work in the short term. But a curfew doesn’t teach good. And to cite the first quarter of 2006 as "our best quarter, probably, in 30, 40 years" is crazy. The population of residents was so low the numbers can not be used in comparison to other quarters. Plus, up until January 2006, the national guard was assisting the police. Before they came back halfway through the year, the police weren’t doing such a great job even with the smaller population. The NY Times wrote an article at the end of "our best quarter, probably, in 30, 40 years" and you tell me how “best” it looked:
But crime is nowhere near its pre-storm levels. With the city's population reduced by at least three-fifths, statistics indicate that crime is down 60 percent to 70 percent over all, the department said.

There have been 16 killings this year, compared with more than 60 for the same period last year, which means quieter days for the police but still works out to an annualized rate of 32 killings per 100,000 people, ahead of Cleveland and Chicago.
According to the NOPD, there were 17 murders in the first quarter of 2006. In the next quarter there were 39 murders. With 161 by the end of the year, that means the last half of the year saw 105 murders, with just half the population back (and that’s the high-end estimate). That doesn't look like an improvement.

There are no bright spots here. When the Superintendent and the Mayor try to spin the murder rate, people get mad. The “tipping point” Nagin speaks of might not cause a galvanization of the community, but an exodus from the community.

We need to care about all of these murders to prevent more murders. But, man, this one hurts.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Where There’s a Problem, There’s a Solution

Max Mayfield is no longer the chief of the National Hurricane Center. He leaves warning of the big one to come and lamenting Americans’ penchant for building near the coast:
"We're eventually going to get a strong enough storm in a densely populated area to have a major disaster," he said. "I know people don't want to hear this, and I'm generally a very positive person, but we're setting ourselves up for this major disaster."
Well, there’s the problem. How about a solution?
He argues that his own dire predictions don't have to become reality.

Technology exists to build high-rise buildings capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds and tropical storm surges more powerful than experienced in the past few years. Much of Hong Kong's architecture has been built to survive typhoons, and hotels and apartments built in Kobe, Japan, after a 1995 earthquake devastated the city are touted as indestructible, he said.
The technology exists. Good to know. So why all the debate about rebuilding New Orleans?
What is lacking in the U.S. is the political will to make and impose hard decisions on building codes and land use in the face of resistance from the influential building industry and a public still willing to gamble that the big one will never hit, he said.

"It's good for the tax base" to allow developers to put up buildings on the coastline, Mayfield said in explaining politicians' reluctance to deter housing projects that expose residents to storm risks.

"I don't want the builders to get mad at me," he said, "but the building industry strongly opposes improvement in building codes."
Oh…. Wouldn’t want to make the builders mad, now would we?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Speaking of Murder Rates

New Orleans – murder capital of the universe:
Three New Year's Eve killings brought the city's murder total to 161 for 2006. Depending on which population estimate is used, that works out to a rate of 60 to 81 killings per 100,000 residents. But two-thirds of the murders were in the last half of the year.


National figures for 2006 won't be in for months. But in 2005, the highest rate in any city was 67 per 100,000 in Compton, Calif., a city of just under 97,000. New Orleans wasn't included in FBI crime statistics last year because of Hurricane Katrina.
It’s hard to tell what that murder rate means. Even though there are only 200,000 people living here, we still have the problems of a city built for half a million. On top of that, we have the problems of a city built for half a million people that was then hit by a hurricane and the levees didn’t work, devastating the infrastructure of our criminal justice system, which didn’t work well before the storm.

We will probably equal our pre-Katrina murder total way before we equal our pre-Katrina population total, which will make the murder rate crazy high. But, as Chris at points out, that just means we have the same old problems:
If the chief is trying to make the tourists feel safe then maybe he needs to tell them the truth. If you are white and you don’t do drugs your chances of being murdered in this city greatly decrease. Wake up Riley we are living on the same bloody streets that we lived on before the storm, trying to claim that you have accomplished anything is a stretch.
They know where they crime is. They know where the drugs are. They know where the murders are going to happen. It’s all in the same place it was before the storm.

The same old same old is getting old.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Definition of Rate

From Wikipedia:
A rate is a special kind of ratio, indicating a relationship between two measurements with different units, such as miles to gallons or cents to pounds. For example, suppose one spends 9 dollars on 2 pounds of candy. The rate $9 / 2 pounds compares the money spent to the number of pounds of candy.(or money)
So the “murder rate” of a city would be the ratio of the total number of murders to another number, like the total population. The murder rate is usually presented as the number of murders per 100,000 residents.

There is a difference between the murder rate and the total number of murders in a city.

The *total number of murders* in Houston was up 13.5 percent in 2006 when compared to 2005:
In 2006, the Houston Police Department recorded 379 homicides as of Dec. 31, a 13.5 percent increase from the 334 homicides recorded in 2005. The 2006 total is the highest since 1994, when 419 homicides were reported in the city.
But the *murder rate* was up 5.57 percent:
Despite another annual increase, residents here are not necessarily at greater risk of becoming a homicide victim. That's because Houston's homicide rate per 100,000 residents rose only incrementally in 2006 — since the city's population is estimated to have surged by more than 148,000 people, due largely to an influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.


Despite the upward trend, Houston's homicide rate per 100,000 residents hardly changed at all. That number increased from 16.33 in 2005 to 17.24 in 2006.
The FBI says that in 2006, cities with more than 1,000,000 people (that includes Houston) had an average increase in their murder rates of 6.7 percent.

Given the national trends, I just don’t understand how the Katrina evacuees that went to Houston can be blamed entirely for Houston’s higher murder rate:
"We did have a surge in population from a city where the homicide rate is eight times the national average," said Houston Mayor Bill White, referring to New Orleans, hometown of many of the evacuees. "The last 2 1/2 months, we have seen a return to homicide rates typical of the 2000-to-2004 period prior to Katrina."
Yes, more people were murdered in Houston last year. But there were more people in Houston to be murdered. If nearly 200,000 people had come to Houston in a matter of months from anywhere in the world, the total number of murders would have gone up, even if the murder rate had stayed the same.

I am still not sold on the Katrina Criminals Myth.