Archive for August, 2007

Dear America,

Forget what you may have heard. We are not Ok.

We are stuck in a hell of human folly with the lives and futures of millions in the delicate balance. A dissipating coast, a weak criminal justice system, devious politicians and a decrepit flood protection system form a mass of mental anguish that gnaws at the chaste souls who inhabit the area. And none of this is Katrina’s fault. In case you haven’t heard, it never was.

It is and has always been the fault of men.

The flooding of New Orleans in August 2005 was caused by doomed levees, built and watched over by flawed characters. It was a horrible engineering failure and it was due to the incompetence of the Army Corps of Engineers and the local governments whose task it was to watch over them.

The vanishing coast is devoured and chewed up by canals and natural gas lines of oil and gas companies coming in from the gulf.

The insane crime rate in New Orleans is the result of a sabotaged educational system, overworked and undermanned police and a flaccid district attorney.

The recovery is being overseen by a swarm of political weakness and its empty promises. An inept president, a feckless governor and an oblivious mayor lack the conviction needed in this critical time. They are pitiful. Not fit to be elected as public servants. They have failed us. We intend to drive them out, but we need to know that America won’t fail us the way our elected officials and their petulant bureaucracies have. America, we need you to stand with us, not against us.

We need you to understand that our recovery is not a political issue. Men have turned it into that. It should never have been something that indicates a party or a way of thought. When people need help, partisan motivations shouldn’t prevent them from receiving it. Yet that is what America’s politicians have done to the recovery of South Louisiana.

We are, after all, Americans. Though we are people that much comedy has been written about – Southern Americans, black Americans, poor Americans – understand that we are Americans nonetheless. This is something that so-called patriots tend to forget. Portions of our paychecks go to America. We’d like a little of it back, not for some majestic bridge or a grandiose vanity project, but for the safety and protection of our unique way of life. Our unique American way of life. We won’t abandon you America, please don’t abandon us. We need the citizenship of the United States to stand with us.

It is our pleasure America, to provide you three strategic ports to export 55 to 70 percent of all U.S. corn, soy, and wheat. Please utilize the large percentages of rubber, coffee and oil and gas that pass through the area every year on 50,000 barges and 6000 freighters.

Please continue to enjoy the jazz and blues music our culture created. Also be aware that this music was then refined to become rock ‘n’ roll and that music has in turn typified what it means to be an American over the last 60 years.

As you enjoy these resources, understand that the river on which our city sits was for many years a meandering body of water that often replaced its own delta and swayed wildly around the area over the course of thousands of years, creating rich agricultural farmland as it did. In 1963, the Army Corp of Engineers built a control structure that permanently fixed the path of the Mississippi River on its current descent to the Gulf of Mexico. By doing so, they guaranteed New Orleans would be the last city on the river’s trek to the ocean. The Corps did this on behalf of the United States government and its constituents. Any suggestion as to abandoning the city of New Orleans (as has been ignorantly and callously suggested) must also include the question of what city will then facilitate the mouth of the river in the wake of New Orleans downfall and America’s ongoing need to stay the course of the Mississippi River.

Some choose to cite the challenge of ensuring the safety of South Louisiana as the very reason for not doing so. These uninspired need only look abroad to be shown the way. The system can be built like the reclamation and flood control projects in countries like Britain, Italy, Dubai, China and, perhaps most spectacularly, The Netherlands. Where do we, as Americans stand next to these magnificent achievements?

America, we are only asking for a future and we only demand it because it sometimes seems like we have been forsaken. Not by God or nature, which can’t be lobbied or petitioned with, but by Americans themselves, who may be reticent to help due to the wool pulled over their eyes by politicians aiming to play politics with our lives.

What Americans should realize is that if South Louisiana is left to perish because it is too expensive or difficult to save, what or where will the next natural disaster on the list be? This isn’t something that is exclusive to our parts.

It was a monster storm, a storm of the century. The damage she inflicted along the Gulf Coast was shocking. But, as powerful as it was, please understand one thing America…

It isn’t a hurricane that thwarts our revival, it’s men.

Written shortly after returning home from Katrina evacuation …

So many people forget that the Friday before Aug. 29, 2005 Katrina’s forecast led her to Apalachicola, Fl. Then suddenly, they drew her path a few hundred miles west, right at us.

I finished refinishing the floors to our dining room and living room and we began packing for Katrina. Ever the optimist, I packed light. We departed around 5:30 a.m. the Sunday before the storm and made our way out, East on I-10 dodging all the chaos. No one was going east, not at that hour. We arrived in Pensacola (itself still recovering from the Onslaught of Hurricane Ivan) later that morning and waited. A few hours passed and Katrina became a buzzsaw in the Gulf, doubling in size and with a perfect eye. I felt resigned to the destruction that would follow. I knew thousands wouldn’t leave.

We evacuated for the second time from my parent’s house on Perdido Key (just rebuilt after being destroyed in Ivan) to a point further inland. Once we got there, mom said she needed to drive back to retrieve some papers that documented the house’s contents. I talked her into letting me go back for them instead. This was around 7 p.m. Sunday night.

If I knew what kind of drive it was going to be, I wouldn’t have volunteered. Conditions deteriorated pretty fast in the hour between when we left the house and when I went back. It had also gotten dark. The wind was up to tropical storm force. The closer I got to the coast (where my parents live) the more the rain and wind started to come down. Visibility was poor. The center line was invisible and the large F-150 trucks that most Pensacola men like to drive were whizzing past. I got to Grande Lagoon and got out of the car and was soaked in seconds. The papers were retrieved and I got the hell out of there. In less than a half and hour the conditions worsened more. It was damn scary.

We turned on CNN, had a few drinks (some delicious moonshine) played some Trivial Pursuit (I lost) and waited it out.

The next morning, we woke up early to see the Katrina coverage on TV. Power went out early but thanks to a generator and some rabbit ears, we were able to keep in touch with what was going on. Though it was mostly about Baldwin County Alabama. There was nothing out of New Orleans. The first images that came through were of eaves and signposts surrounded by water, the obligatory “flood” street. The human disaster followed and all the rumors that came with it showcased our country’s horror-fixation.

We didn’t know what was going on with our house. We hoped for the best and expected the worse. Our main concern was that if the Mississippi River levee had been breached, the house would be flooded. We intended to get flood insurance but just hadn’t managed it yet. If the house was flooded, we would not be covered. It’s a peculiar thing to hope that your house is destroyed one way rather than another. It’s akin to betting on a football game with a spread. If the hurricane blows a tree into our house, we are covered but if it creates enough rain that the river tops the levee and floods the neighborhood, we aren’t. Risky business. I made a mental note to get flood insurance.

Reports of flooding New Orleans Ninth Ward were trickling in and nothing was being heard about any of the rest of the city. We went to bed that night still wondering.

The following day, Aug. 30, brought good news. Some intrepid neighbors rode the storm out in Baton Rouge and came back through Katrina’s southern swaths to return hours after the eye passed. They checked all the houses on the street and reported little to no damage. With other reports that many parts of New Orleans were high and dry this was at least a decent consolation after hearing of the massive flooding in the Ninth Ward and the inevitable deaths that probably lurked within.

We made plans to return to the city the next day. Then the proverbial shit hit the fan.

It was Tuesday and we were at Trigger’s off Gulf Beach Highway and my dad told us another levee had broke (17th Street) and that “Canal St. was a Canal.” Marathon CNN watching followed. We realized from what we saw that it would be a while before we would return.

By Wednesday, the Convention Center madness had begun. My mind was somewhere between the truth and urban legends. My selfish consolation was that at least it was mostly confined to the East Bank. Two days after the storm, where was the relief? It was the $64,000 question.

After trips to FEMA and the unemployment office, we resigned ourselves to our position. We were in wait-and-see mode. The horrors unfolding on CNN were dealt with in increments. The reporter’s grandiose apocalyptic visions reasoned by hyperbolic dismissals and unfortunate acceptance that this unique situation could only come to pass in New Orleans. It was to be a huge chapter in the even larger book of the city’s history.

We went to Wal-Mart a lot. I even got myself decked out in some of Sam Walton’s finest apparel. We also stopped by some thrift stores and visited friends and local restaurants.

We mostly just bummed around waiting for Nagin to let us back in. We we worried about our neighbors who stayed and about our house. But one can’t spend a whole day worrying.

We did a lot of CNN watching and I played quite a bit of old school solitaire.

Finally, two weeks after the storm, Algiers opened up and we ventured back to New Orleans to see what really went down.

On our way back down I-10 we began to see evidence of the destruction that went down in Biloxi and New Orleans, there was a motorcade of NYPD cars, ravaged billboards, National Guard humvees, broken bridges and dead trees everywhere.

The twin span between Slidell and New Orleans was destroyed in the storm and the mighty Causeway, though undamaged, was closed. So traffic going west into New Orleans was diverted across Lake Ponchartrain – not exactly a leisurely jaunt. It and the traffic added two and a half hours to our trip.

The plus side was we enjoyed a quaint little foray down Highway 22 and took in the the sights. Not much storm damage and more than a few bayou communities and nice homes.

We made it to I-10 and were stopped outside of Lulling. No one was getting in, local ID or not. So we told them we just need to cross the river and they told us to cross at the Lulling bridge.

The bridge is quite a majestic piece of engineering and it was quite inspiring to drive over. Unfortunately, we had to drive through the hell hole that is Norco to get there. Norco was like some sort of Milton-esque creation. I think I may have gotten cancer just by driving through there.

We finally made it back to a battered neighborhood but, at least it was above water. The front porch light was on, indicating power.

The fridge was the first thing to go. Two weeks of summer temperatures rotted everything inside. It was actually the second storm for that fridge, it survived Ivan and was donated to us by a friend of the family. Poor thing had enough. The only other damage was some missing shingles, a stained ceiling from the leakage and a large tree on the lil yellow shed.

Other than the damage, the other thing that was apparent was the military that was all over. If the city was unsafe during the aftermath of the storm, it was plenty safe now. We had helicopters, a helicopter carrier and humvees everywhere. Dudes with M-16s slung over their shoulder were raking up debris and saying, “howdy ma’am.”

Neighbors started to trickle in over the next few days and Romy and I even adopted a pair of beagles for a few days. We named them Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin. We found their owner a few days later but not before much fun was had saying stuff like, “Governor Blanco peed on the floor” or “Mayor Nagin’s got a boner!”

This is why I have ventured further left from my cup of coffee with moderacy a while back.
Candidates Call Anew for Rebuilding of New Orleans
NY Times

By Douglas Brinkley’
If we want New Orleans to die, we should say so
Washington Post

On the state of the art
The day the music died?
BBC

A day in the life
A day in New Orleans

LA Times

(Botched) recovery article
Two Years Later, New Orleans Inches Back
ABC News

With Lolis Eric Elie
10 Questions: Life After Katrina
CBS News

Fresh of his appearance at Rising Tide, Joshua Clark will be in Algiers on Tuesday…

From the Hubbell…

This Tuesday evening, August 28th, is a very special Author Night at the Hubbell Library in Algiers Point. To mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we are having Joshua Clark and his memoir, Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone. Josh stayed in town during the storm, never leaving the city until months afterward. The book is amazing!!

Books will be available on Tuesday starting at 6pm, or you can call Amy Hubbell at 504-473-3635 to buy yours in advance.

Please join us to talk with Josh, hear his stories, and enjoy wine, snacks and other refreshments. It’s this Tuesday, August 28th at 6:30pm. At The Hubbell Library, 725 Pelican Avenue, 504-596-2640. The event is free and open to everyone.

Tim Ruppert from Tim’s Nameless Blog provided some deeper insight to the Army Corps’ plans for 2011 100-year flood protection during his presentation of “In Levees We Trust,” a great title. As much as we decry the state of the levees, we really do depend on them to keep us dry. I don’t have a lot respect or the concrete I-beams placed along the canals but I always seem to find myself gazing at the large, St. Aug-covered earthens that surround the lake and river.

One of the main points Tim drove home during the presentation was how far advanced other countries’ flood control systems were in respect to ours. He made reference to Britain’s amazing Thames Barrier and Deltawerken in the Netherlands. Other “mega engineering” projects that involve either land reclamation or flood control include Venice’s Mose Project, China’s Three Gorge’s Dam and Dubai’s garish Palm Islands.

Interestingly, as New Orleans and South Louisiana fight for 1-in-100 year flood protection, the Netherlands enjoys 1 in 10,000 year protection.

Also spoke of was just how dangerous 1-in100 year protection is by stating that if someone lives in a polder with that protection they stand roughly a 1-in-4 chance of flooding during the span of their 30-year mortgage. Not good odds.

He then mentioned something very important about the difference between the Dutch flood control protection and ours (other than the quality of course). In the Netherlands, the Delta Works protect 60 percent of their country. So, flood control is a national priority there. This speaks to how important it is that South Louisianans yell as loud as they can about decent flood protection down here. I thought maybe dead bodies floating in the streets would be enough but I guess the bodies were the wrong color. Oh my god! Did I just say that!?

The presentation showed that arguments that New Orleans can’t be saved are garbage. It’s just a matter of if it will be saved.

The question of the importance of coastal restoration came up and Tim stated that the effect of marshlands on storm surge was usually overstated. I spoke with him briefly about this between presentations but wasn’t able to discuss it further. What I did gather from our short conversation was that elevation was more important in slowing the tide in a hurricane than the marshes, given that a marsh will only rise a foot or so over sea level and a typical storm surge is well over a dozen or so feet. He did clearly state that coastal restoration was important for many environmental and ecological reasons but seemed to downplay how much it will slow a storm surge. I’d love to hear more from him on this interesting subject. There are some people who swear by the marshlands.

You know what we need around here? A meteorologist blogger!

Great presentation by Tim and I feel lucky to have been privy to it.

Via Dangerblond’s recap post of Rising Tide:

Arena made a statement in which he called New Orleans bloggers “hysterical” for writing about crime and calling for Eddie Jordan’s resignation and accused us of doing it because we want to see more black men to go jail.

I’ve never heard of Jay Arena before this day but his comments didn’t let me forget that our little progressive blogger conference couldn’t escape accusations of racism. And as I have stated before, the Jordan case is a poor and incorrect cause to pursue in regards to racism in the city. How about poor wages? How about police brutality? Never mind the black crime victims! The real victims are Eddie Jordan and the criminals!

Arena lost credibility by operating a statement that says absolutely we “want to see more young black men go to jail.” Pulling the card that fast and with such accusation and ignoring the argument about Jordan’s competence abruptly and wrongly changes the terms of the discussion, taking it off the DA and placing it on his critics. Thus, Jordan’s job performance no longer becomes the issue. That’s a crafty move that might work on an average crowd but not this one.

I looked over some of Arena’s work online. Impressive stuff. He should know however that if he’s going to try to take a stand in a conference such as this one, he should have a grasp on the importance credibility will play in his argument. And saying that we just want to see a bunch of black men go to jail is a reprehensible and stupid statement that questions his judgment and will lead me to take anything I read by him in the future with a certain grain of salt.

Of course, he also thought he could come into the conference, stump his views and not even pay the very cheap registration fee, saying he had no money. So not only were his statements broke, HE was broke!

I literally spent the last $20 I had on the meeting.

More posts on the conference coming soon.

Getcha asses movin to Risin’ Tide! And let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country! Excuse my French everybody in America!

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Rising Tide 2 is a conference, a party and an opportunity to learn where New Orleans stands two years after the failure of the federally-built levees following Hurricane Katrina. The weekend schedule of events is organized and presented by New Orleans bloggers in an effort to bring real-life activism to their online visibility. This year, Rising Tide will present author Dave Zirin, engineer Timothy Ruppert ,“Fix the Pumps” author Matt McBride, and panel discussions featuring New Orleans bloggers, authors, community activists and political muckrakers. Naturally, there’s a party, and on Saturday we’ll have lunch from legendary New Orleans restaurant Dunbar’s.

I saw over at Ashmo’s blog that Glenn Beck has been running his mouth off about New Orleans, uttering quotes like:

I`m not sure still that we should bother rebuilding it

and

you know what, we should just walk away from that city. Why are we there?

But the tossed-up thing is throughout the interview, it sounds like he is parroting what a lot of people around here are saying:

if we`re going to rebuild cities like New Orleans, can we at least do it right?

The rebuilding is a long way from complete.

Mr. Mayor. Can you really afford to be that casual as you walk around a pile of splinters that used to be your city? I mean, that`s outrageous. It`s politicians like you that got your city into the shape that it`s in today.

Under building the levees isn`t just a waste of time and money. It could end up wasting more American lives. We don`t need a new generation of New Orleans hurricane survivors.

The people of the gulf region are some of the strongest and most resilient in the nation. They have weathered the storm. They are dedicated to putting their towns, their homes, and their lives back together.

Sounds good so far right? I mean except that he prefaced the whole thing by saying the city shouldn’t be rebuilt at all. Then he says it again:

But the rebuilding of the area`s infrastructure is going to cost too much time and too much energy and too much dollars if we`re going to do it right.

Then he talks out of the other side of his mouth again:

And if we`re going to do it, shouldn`t we do it right?

As another example of his quizzically rhetoric he says:

In the long run, you know, sadly, it will be a bargain. Sadly, we only need to look at the climbing death toll in Mexico to remember that lives are in the balance.

But earlier in the show he said this about the lives in Mexico:

I`ve been watching the news about Hurricane Dean, and the truth is it`s not happening here in the U.S. I`m not really connected to it, and I find myself switching channels. I don`t really care that much, and I know that sounds horrible.

So, in the course of the show he suddenly found out he does care about the Central Americans facing the threat of Dean? Also, Mr. Beck, acknowledging the horror of your statement doesn’t make it less horrible.

So Beck then goes on to say:

Build them for Category 5. I mean, jeez, there`s a city in the Netherlands that, in the 1950s, built a giant wall to make sure that their city was safe. If we really believe in New Orleans, we should build it the right way.

Hey, I agree, but with assclown Republicans and fella’s like those who occupy my Enemies of the State list saying the city shouldn’t be rebuilt, it’s making the issue into a political one and seriously screwing with the process. It shouldn’t be a political issue. It amazes me every day that it is.

But here is where Beck really gets back-asswards.

But here`s the other thing. And tell me where I`m wrong. Let me be completely honest and completely politically incorrect. It is a race issue. Because the race card has been played, no one is willing to speak frankly. No one is willing to say, “We should not be rebuilding this city.” Am I wrong?

Here’s the deal. People who suggest the city be abandoned are not willing to talk about it because it’s a stupid thing to say. I don’t have time to get into why it is stupid. There is a lot written by myself and the Nola bloggers about it but, trust me on this one, suggesting that we abandon the city is a stupid thing to say. It is stupid culturally and economically. Many people are just smart enough not to suggest something so stupid.

But you are right about the race thing. Race does factor in. But not in the way you think it does. It matters because people who oppose the rebuilding of the city do so because there are a bunch of black folks down here. There is no way to prove that, and many of them won’t admit it (amazingly though, some will) but that is indeed the reason. People saw the news in September 2005 and saw poor black folks and like George Bush, didn’t care about them.

The “under sea level” BS is a means to an end for them. The Netherlands has proven that it can be done. The proof sits up there in Northern Europe. Where is the proof it can’t? It doesn’t exist. You can’t prove a negative.

As for Mr. Beck, I don’t know what to say. He is impotent in this argument. He seems to understand the ineptitude of our mayor and our certain need for Cat 5 levees. But he has this gig as a petulant conservative pundit and ratings shape his views and castrate his critical thought. So he doesn’t merit a spot on the list.

Unmoderated and anonymous comments on Nola.com reach a new low…

Marrero man electrocuted while working

See, nobody would be making these comments if their full name and image appeared beside the post. So this is not an accurate representation of people’s true thoughts on the incident. The reason they are making the insincere comments is BECAUSE they are anonymous. So it is bad journalism because, without the factors presented by the Web site, the people wouldn’t be making the comments. So, in a respect, the site’s parameters are creating the childish and reprehensible comments about the death of a man who was simply mowing his lawn on a Tuesday morning.

This month’s Author Night at the Library will feature

THE JOY OF Y’AT CATHOLICISM

Join us for stories from Earl Higgins, plus snacks, wine and other refreshments sponsored by -->