Friday, December 30, 2005

World Class Leadership from the Commish

It is gratifying to see that a leader in New York City recognizes the galvanizing effect that the Saints can have on our community. I will also give Mr. Tagliabue lots of credit for coming here and seeing the great condition of the Metairie facility, rather than taking the word of a local business leader who says that the practice facility was left in horrible condition by the storm and the military.

I have noted that some Saints players have expressed concern about the "quality of life" in metro New Orleans and about air and water quality. Given that almost every player lives in unflooded, wealthy suburban areas, and given that the players have had little time to spend here, I wonder where they could be getting the idea that the quality of life here is bad. Could it be people, maybe even highly placed people within the Saints organization, planting those ideas in these millionaire players' head?

How are young, very large millionaires made to be afraid? Perhaps by other, much older millionaires?

That doesn't sound very World Class to me.

Thanks, Mr. Tagliabue, for closing 2005 for us on a high note. We'll make it worth your while.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Are We Not Men? Are We Not Women?

It is so hard to figure out exactly what went on after Katrina in the city. I was in Baton Rouge with my four children. It is clear some very bad stuff went on, but it is also clear that a lot of rumors got started that made New Orleanians look bad, really bad.

Via Slate.com, I found this article in Reason that shows New Orleanians in a much better light than we have been shown in. We weren't all animals.

I have been struck over time that I hear many very specific stories about heroism and kindness of a World Class quality. I have not heard nearly as many specific stories about barbarism. The latter stories have been of a more general and hard-to-pin quality: "Did you hear? They were shooting at helicopters!" No names, just "they."

Some of the pictures I've seen of the post-crisis Convention Center show chairs in circles and supplies pooled--in other words, evidence of people in miserable conditions trying to band together somehow and ride things out by sharing.

As the Reason article points out, local officials were understandably disoriented, tired, and frustrated by the weak state and federal response. Repeating or generating exaggerated rumors was an effective way to highlight the crisis. However, there have been consequences for those rumors.

We New Orleanians now need to highlight the World Class qualities of our city and the people who remain and who are returning. A World Class recovery and resurrrection are what we deserve and what we are working on creating at the local level. Negative folks out there are trying to use rumors, past sins, questionable science, and raw fear to undermine a World Class city's work at resurrection. We have to beat them with positive stories and hard work.

We will.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas! An Allegory


A Dialogue:

Dubya: Bingle! Bingle, you're still alive - my old friend...

Bingle: Still, 'old friend.' You've managed kill just about everyone else. But like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.

Dubya (ironic) Perhaps I no longer need to try. (He punches several buttons.)

Bingle (desperate) Dubya, Dubya, you've got Genesis, but you don't have ME! You were going to kill ME, Dubya!

You're going to have to come down here!

You're going to have to come down here!

Friday, December 23, 2005

This Can't Be Real, Can It?

I'm going to post something very postive later today to balance out this, but I just had to get this up right away. Below is a letter published in the Times-Picayune this week. I believe my eyes are telling me that this gentleman is trying to defend the Orleans Levee District. I believe he says something about "a near-perfect" record of flood protection.

"Near-perfect" is not good enough, dear sir. This is like talking about "near-perfect" records on stopping space shuttles from blowing up while in flight or "near-perfect" methods of birth control. Not good enough, sir.

I am glad that the gentleman highlights the plight of Orleans Levee District workers who lost their homes. Perhaps they will have useful information from the District and the Corps and will be willing to testify in lawsuits against the Levee District and the Corps. As assistant comptroller, Mr. Bollinger himself might have some interesting information about where funds from the Levee District's casino and airport were "invested." Perhaps Mr. Bollinger is glad records were destroyed by floodwaters.

Unfortunately, in the past New Orleans has had World Class brazenness in its culture. I'm happy we're now moving on to World Class flood protection.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dear Editor:

The Times-Picayune has proven itself either a fool or a tool with its misrepresentation of facts about the Orleans Levee District. It is time you publish a bit of real fact rather than out-of-context innuendo.

The Orleans Levee District inspects its levees 365 days per year and conducts a drive-by once a year with senior staff from the Army Corps of Engineers, Levee District and Department of Transportation and Development. Why, pray tell, do you focus on the annual, one-day affair -- when it is not relevant to the real inspection effort?

Let's be blunt. The Times-Picayune is a tool of the business lobby -- the Chamber and its auxiliary wives -- which is busy collecting signatures and smearing fine people who have devoted a lifetime seeking to protect New Orleans. This group implies that the tragedy of Katrina was caused by corrupt behavior at the Levee District. Someone ought to be sued over this.

The Chamber knows that flood walls failed despite everyone doing what they believed were the right things. The Chamber knows that changing state law to require public bidding for professional service contracts will cure the whole state, while destroying the Orleans Levee District won't do much more than enrich the private sector.

Many employees of the Orleans Levee District lost everything they had. And they lost their near-perfect record against flooding.

Many helped evacuate folks from eastern New Orleans and had to face guns as they evacuated through St. Tammany Parish. I challenge The Times-Picayune to tell the positive about them.

James B. Bollinger
Assistant comptroller
Orleans Levee District
New Orleans
Now in Baton Rouge

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A New Louisiana Purchase

Wow. Inspiring stuff from da po' blog, on this, the anniversary of the day in 1803 when the American flag first flew over New Orleans:
Mr. President, reclaim New Orleans. Come down to the Cabildo and sign a new Louisiana Purchase. Buy not the barren land you see before you, but the awesome potential that lies in its regeneration. Raise the American flag over New Orleans once again so that your citizens will know they have a home and will be protected by a great and caring nation.

This reminds me of Huey Long's history-changing speech under the Evangeline Oak:
Here beneath this oak, Evangeline waited for her lover, who never came. It is a spot made immortal by Longfellow 's poem, but Evangeline is not the only one who has waited here in disappointment. Where are the schools you have waited for your children to have, which have never come? Where are the roads and highways that you send your money to build, which are now no nearer than before? Where are the institutions to care for the sick and the disabled? Evangeline wept bitter tears in her disappointment, but they lasted only through a single lifetime. Your tears in this country, around this oak, have lasted for generations. Give me the chance at last to dry the tears of those who still weep here.

Where is passion and smart leadership? I believe they are coming. The cream will rise.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

World Class Fans in New Orleans

My World Class comrade Dillyberto has a dark, truthful, but ultimately courageous post today about the court fight that looms for our beloved Black and Gold New Orleans Saints. I want to back up his stance by quoting from the book Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby. It's about his devotion to Arsenal, a soccer club (the movie of the same name changed the sport to baseball), but of course he calls it "football," and his words about being a fan ring true for us World Class fans in New Orleans right now:

One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point. Football is a context where watching becomes doing--not in the aerobic sense, because watching a game, smoking your head off while doing so, drinking after it has finished and eating chips on the way home is unlikely to do you a whole lot of Jane Fonda good, in the way that chuffing up and down a pitch is supposed to. But when there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team's fun, even though they are the ones that get to score the goals and climb the steps at Wembley to meet Princess Diana. The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things. The players are merely our representatives, chosen by the manager rather than elected by us, but our representatives nonetheless, and sometimes if you look hard you can see the little poles that join them together, and the handles at the side that enable us to move them. I am a part of the club, just as the club is a part of me; and I say this fully aware that the club exploits me, disregards my views, and treats me shoddily on occasions, so my feeling of organic connection is not built on a muddle-headed and sentimental understanding of how professional football works. [A championship win] belonged to me every bit as much as it belonged [to the Arsenal players], and I worked as hard for it as they did. The only difference between me and them is that I have put in more hours, more years, more decades than them, and so had a better understanding of the afternoon, a sweeter appreciation of why the sun still shines when I remember it..


We and the Fleur-de-Lis are bigger than any particular self-serving regime of management, coaches, and players.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

An Ally (for the moment) from Ohio


Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) had this to say about who should take responsibility for problems with Louisiana's flood protection:
"We [Congress] haven't done the job ... that we should have been doing in terms of our funding of the Army Corps of Engineers in dealing with some of the problems that we have in this country. We have been penny-wise and pound-foolish in terms of our human capital and our physical capital needs of this agency, and quite frankly a bunch of other agencies."
At the same hearing, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) apparently said that we (Louisianians, AKA Americans) were failed by every level of government.

I am encouraged that a couple of Republicans (a couple of folks with the party that runs everything in DC right now) are saying this kind of thing. Americans, not just Louisianians, should be doing a lot of self-criticism right now. Institutions just aren't working. Leadership positions seem filled with people whose job is to have the job, rather than to get things done.

A World Class City like New Orleans deserves leaders who want results that benefit citizens, starting with the worst off and working our way up. Period. I am enough of a Hegelian to believe that this crisis will force us to find new leaders who want to get the job done.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Nice Appetizer, But We Need Two More Courses


Okay, there's finally some movement and perhaps even a little energy behind the words coming out of the White House. The initial $1.6 billion that President Bush promised weeks ago was dedicated to getting the levee protection "back to pre-Katrina levels." Needless to say, that gave ZERO comfort to anybody here, since pre-Katrina levels got us a tsunami without the earthquake.

Now today, President Bush announces an additional $1.5 billion that will get us "true" Category Three protection, the best protection the city has ever had. ("Honest! We promise it'll work this time!" says the Corps.) Bush's Gulf Coast Rebuilding Czar, Donald Powell, said, "The federal government is committed to building the best levee system known in the world."

The news is being spun so positively that my friend from California called to talk about the good day we in Louisiana had (and it was good).

If that last statement from Powell is true, however, then this request is a good-faith down payment--nothing less, but nothing more either. I'm not an engineer, but everything I've read recently seems to indicate that levees are only part of the full solution to our problem. Outer barriers--a combination of restored natural barrier islands and manmade structures like a gate at the Rigolets entrance to Lake Pontchartrain--are also important. Finally wetlands restoration is CRITICAL, and I haven't heard a word about that out of Washington.

As the estimable Oyster puts it, today the feds commited to building the best levee system in the world, or "at least the best Category 3 levee system in the world." It's good, but it's too much to say that it's really comforting.

Please note that Mr. Powell said that there could still be "manageable type" flooding. (Manageable type flooding is flooding that takes place in somebody else's city, usually a city full of people poorer and darker than you are.)

Folks in the Lower Ninth and St. Bernard shouldn't feel good at all, and the LSU expert Ivor Van Heerden, who's been right all along, says it's not enough. The new money is to be spent over two years while a plan is being worked up. Van Heerden, however, says in response some of the most encouraging words I've read since the storm:
I think we don’t need two years to come up with a plan. All we need to do is bring in some of the experts from the Netherlands, and some from the University of Cal-Berkley and some of our own great people in Louisiana and we could come up with a plan very quickly that would be far greater than category-3. Mr. Powell said that we will have the best levees in the world and if that’s the case, they have to be more than one in every 10,000 years strength.
To belabor the food imagery I started with, we need a solid three-course meal. President Bush and his buddy Donald Powell have somehow managed to put together a small but nice appetizer order of shrimp remoulade (that picture above is waaay bigger than the order we got today from Bush's kitchen). That's only going to go so far, and the Lance's saltines on the red-checked tableclothed table are going to get old. We're going to be needing that main course from the kitchen real soon. And according to Chef Van Heerden, the people in Bush's kitchen do in fact know the recipe for the main course.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Well done, Dallas Morning News

Excellent piece overall, although I don't think it's only New Orleanians who need to learn how better to live in harmony with the wetlands. I think we're reaping what all Americans have sown in one form or another.

Another decent piece discusses racial considerations in post-Katrina New Orleans. On this front, we can do much better. I don't see people changing their behavior patterns yet. I hear a lot of stereotyping about black Ninth Warders and white Uptowners, and so on. The Citizens for One New Orleans group is a wonderful group fighting to get a single levee board, but they had better get a little darker if they want this truly to be one New Orleans.

Thank you, New York Times

The Times-Picayune has already stated much the same case, but I am very happy to see the NY Times recognizing that New Orleans is going to die in the current environment. I post here the entire editorial run by the Times on Sunday, December 11, 2005.

Death of an American City

We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans." But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.

There are many unanswered questions that will take years to work out, but one is make-or-break and needs to be dealt with immediately. It all boils down to the levee system. People will clear garbage, live in tents, work their fingers to the bone to reclaim homes and lives, but not if they don't believe they will be protected by more than patches to the same old system that failed during the deadly storm. Homeowners, businesses and insurance companies all need a commitment before they will stake their futures on the city.

At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship. There is no effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name the president's liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell? Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words "pending in Congress" are a death warrant requiring no signature.

The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities where they landed.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?

Losing a major American city.

"We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better," President Bush said that night in September. Our feeling, strongly, is that he was right and should keep to his word. We in New York remember well what it was like for the country to rally around our city in a desperate hour. New York survived and has flourished. New Orleans can too.

Of course, New Orleans's local and state officials must do their part as well, and demonstrate the political and practical will to rebuild the city efficiently and responsibly. They must, as quickly as possible, produce a comprehensive plan for putting New Orleans back together. Which schools will be rebuilt and which will be absorbed? Which neighborhoods will be shored up? Where will the roads go? What about electricity and water lines? So far, local and state officials have been derelict at producing anything that comes close to a coherent plan. That is unacceptable.

The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call people home and convince them that commitments will be met.

Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has turned into a permanent commitment.

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

Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

He Gets It

Okay, so the president of Loyola is a smart, hard-working, good dude.

"Of course you say that," you might say, "because he thus far has kept you on staff."
I would respond,"That is probably a factor in my saying that, but I really think I would say that even if I had been part of the layoffs this week. He's making the best of a very bad situation."

Anyway, Loyola President Fr. Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J., Ph.D., will appear on the WWL TV Channel 4 Morning News Show on December 12 at 6:30 am. He will discuss the university re-opening in January. Fr. Wildes is also scheduled to appear on WLAE's "Road to Recovery" show on Wednesday, December 21 at noon.

"6:30 a.m.?????" you might say. "Are you crazy???"

Look, as you're coming in from Parasol's or F&M's or the Bon Temps from the night before, just flip on the TV. It'll be on in like 10 minutes.

Friday, December 09, 2005

What's it gonna be boy, yes or . . . ?


The Times-Picayune published today a piece that ran in the Los Angeles Times two days ago. (Thanks to Schroeder for linking to this almost immediately.) Mike Tidwell writes that we should all immediately move away from NOLA:

We should call it quits not because New Orleans can't be made relatively safe from hurricanes. It can be. And not because to do so is more trouble than it's worth. It's not. Instead, the hammers and brooms and chain saws should all be put away and the city permanently boarded up because the Bush administration has already given New Orleans a quiet kiss of death.
It's time for the President and the Republican leadership to live up to their titles ("chief executive" and "leaders") and say unequivocally that we're going to make this work. We are going to use cutting edge, revolutionary methods to restore and resurrect a world class city and region that has been an incubator, a cultural rainforest, for so much of what makes America great. That needs to happen NOW. Flood barriers, restored wetlands, the whole works.

We Gulf Coasters will do the work here. We deserve honest treatment from our government. The President promised a lot, and it's time to make it happen. (Actually, it's past time.) We are living a sick, love-free version of Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light":

Bush/Republicans: Let me sleep on it. Baby, baby let me sleep on it. Let me sleep on it. I'll give you an answer in the morning.
NOLA: I gotta know right now.
Bush/Republicans: Let me sleep on it.
NOLA: Do you love me? Will you love me forever?
Bush/Republicans: Baby, baby let me sleep on it.
NOLA: Do you need me? Will you never leave me?
Bush/Republicans: Let me sleep on it.

Meanwhile, businesses bleed money, insurance companies dither about whether to write policies, and class and racial animosity become possibilities as finger-pointing begins. Leadership can change all of that. Without passionate, courageous leadership, good people turn into finger-pointers. When we're all pointing fingers forward to the promised land, we're not pointing at each other.

A better song for us to be living out would be "Baby, It's Cold Outside." We really can't stay (we're at least as Caribbean as we are American), but we really do want to.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Guess who said this?

I'm ready to start a revolution. This is an absolute outrage. Here we are in Month 4 of a terrible, terrible tragedy, and other than hotel rooms and meals-ready-to-eat and some reconstruction, we haven't gotten squat. . . . Has the mood soured? Yes. But are we just going to write off an entire region of the country? Congress ought to get their damned act in order and un-sour it.

Was it Oliver Thomas? Hillary Clinton? Ray Nagin? Mary Landrieu? An angry Lakeviewer or Ninth Warder?

No, it was Bob Livingston, a usually mild-mannered Republican insider. You remember: just a few years ago he was set to be a few heartbeats from the presidency, until some personal problems precluded his becoming Speaker of the House.

I'm encouraged by his candor. If anyone in other parts of the country is reading this, I hope it helps you understand the concern here. If Livingston is saying things like this about his own party, something is terribly wrong.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

This Looks Like a Start to Something Good

Let's get one voice on the levees, then see about more work on regionalism.

It'll be a tall levee we have to climb. In this article documenting the efforts of the above-referenced group, Rep. Nita Hutter of St. Bernard Parish is quoted thusly:

"The problem is not St. Bernard Parish, " Hutter said. "We have a model levee board and a model levee system. Ours has been damn good at what they do. They slept at the pump station during the storm. . . . Theirs [Orleans's] was a man-made failure. Ours was a natural disaster."
Rep. Hutter has not noticed that St. Bernard's "model levee system" allowed in a storm surge that decimated her parish, an important part of OUR region. Rep. Hutter has not noticed that Katrina did not care about parish lines or that the Army Corps of Engineers' incompetence includes both poorly designed levees in Orleans and the MRGO in St. Bernard.

Rep. Hutter likes the politics of "ours" and "theirs." Rep. Hutter is a dinosaur.

I am thankful for grassroots groups and politicians who prefer the word "ours" and eschew the word "theirs" when it come to the wonderful region in which we live.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Remote Post from Washington, DC

I'm in Washington, DC, today for professional reasons. I forgot my hayfork and torch at home, but that won't happen the next time I come up here if NOLA doesn't get what it needs.

I'm hoping to get a picture of FEMA headquarters; I think it's fairly easy to find. I expect that I'll have an easier time finding FEMA HQ than Mike Brown had finding 20,000 evacuees in the Convention Center. Ba-doom ching!

It strikes me how much water is around D.C. And I remember the complaints from D.C.'s early history about how it was being built in a swamp. I like D.C. very much, actually, and I fully hope that the people here (elected and otherwise) work to make that other city founded in a swamp work for a bright future.

Wonder if the the Corps of Engineers has an HQ? I'll post fun pix if they do.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Check this Link from Schroeder

Schroeder has a great post on Francis Heitmeier's interest in everything but levees during his time on the Orleans Levee Board. The key source is an article on Peggy Wilson (rumored candidate for NOLA mayor), who describes her time serving with Heitmeier on the Levee Board. Both Schroeder's post and the Wilson interview piece are crucial reading.

Obviously, I side with Wilson in the disagreement. You can tell when Heitmeier is lying: his lips are moving. Guys like that HAVE KILLED our people and will kill more if they are not immediately run out of office. (By the way, his office staff won't even answer the phone; a recording comes on. At least Ken Odinet, equally odious, has a person answering his phone.)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Grab the Pichforks, Have the Torches Standing By

The Times-Picayune is on the case again. They won't let the unified levee district story go, and we need sustained attention like that. Today the T-P writes an editorial listing with bold-face type the state legislators who voted against the creation of a unified levee district for our region. Conveniently, the paper also lists my state representative, Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, who didn't even bother to vote. Apparently her education at Harvard and the University of Chicago didn't cover training in virtue. Maybe she was attending a grand jury hearing for her father.

Our region needs a levee board focused on levees, not on casinos, an airport, and a police force, as the current Orleans Levee Board spends its time. I'll go even further: we need not only a unified, regional levee board; we need regional government. I'm going to spend some time researching this issue before I really elaborate, but I like the idea of Orleans, northern Jefferson, northern Plaquemines, and St. Bernard all under a single mayor or president. Strange bedfellows make for great politics. I like the idea of a region with Harry Lee as police chief and Oliver Thomas as mayor or president and Junior Rodriguez as, as--oh, we'll find him a job because he's fun to listen to and because he's proven his mettle a hundredfold during this whole mess.

The heart-and-soul of our region isn't Uptown (where I live) or Old Metairie or even the Quarter. It's Jefferson (the area near Ochsner, not the parish), Gentilly, Bucktown, Arabi, Chalmette, the Lower Ninth, Belle Chasse, Gretna (yes, even bridge-defending Gretna). Those are the folks who give metro New Orleans much of the character and most of the characters who really make us special. I think a regional government that unifies all that makes sense.

The BRA test is the real test of whether an area of metro NOLA is essential to who we are. If in that part of town "bra" refers more often to your buddy than to a woman's support undergarment, then that's a place that deserves special attention. That's who we are. The Quarter and Warehouse District are nice places that we show our guests. They are the formal dining room; the "bra" areas are the kitchen, where the real bidness is done.

As Dillyberto (a real bra if there ever was one) says, we need Gentillification, not gentrification.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Read This, And Understand Why We Are Getting Restless


"We want to see them helping themselves before they ask us for help."

A Republican congressional aide (unnamed) said this to Time magazine in an interview for their recent November 28 cover story on New Orleans.

I'm going to type that sentence again because I need to see it again, and I need everyone to contemplate these words.

"We want to see them helping themselves before they ask us for help."

I'll try to stay calm, but it's not easy.

1. It is quite evident that we New Orleanians and Gulf Coasters want to "help ourselves." Come here and look around--middle-age women pulling out sheetrock, septagenarian men with industrial-strength filter masks on. Yesterday I had six children in my house (my own plus two others) so that a friend could gut his first floor. What he needed more than anything was a place of respite for his kids while he took care of business. It is insulting to assume that we are doing anything but helping ourselves.

2. Why is there a chronological, sequential fixation in this Republican aide's (and many others') mindsets? Why is the thinking, "First, that will happen, THEN this will happen"? Why can't we get our due AS AMERICANS even as we help ourselves? Can't we have more than one level of work going on at once?

By the way, I am of course grateful for the extensive publicly-financed cleanup that is still going on. To move forward in a lasting sense, however, we need public (e.g. governmental) backing for creative, hardworking folks to find a way to fix an ecosystem that humanity broke and that now is wreaking havoc on us on the Gulf Coast. Mark my words: New Orleans's plight is a straw in the wind for the rest of the country. What you see here is coming soon to a theater near you.

3. Did you hear anything like these cynical Republican words coming out of the mouths of folks after 9/11 or the Northridge earthquake or even the Tsunami of 2004?

My breathing is becoming short. I have to stop.

By the way, Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the hardworking spirit of the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. This year I pray for patience and tenacity for all of us.

(Image above from Chris Granger of nola.com)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

President Guarantees Protection Against Moderate Terrorism


President George W. Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced yesterday that the nation will be guaranteed Category Three terrorism protection by next summer. At a press conference held at Ground Zero in New York City, the President said, “I am proud to announce that the federal government will be able to provide ‘Yellow’ or ‘Elevated’ protection against terrorism in our country. Americans can sleep soundly at night knowing that Homeland Security is hard at work and will make this happen.”

Cherthoff echoed Bush’s remarks: “We are working pretty hard to protect many Americans from a good number of terrorist attacks, especially the moderately threatening ones. Our citizens will be pretty well protected from anything short of an attack from really crafty and mean terrorists.”

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cited the need for Americans to realize the dangers of living where they’ve chosen to live: “Americans need to take responsibility for the fact that they have chosen to reside in an open society. If you choose to live in a big, open, free country, then you’re asking for trouble. The federal government can only do so much. Do you realize how much money we’ve spent on national defense over the past 50 years?”

Acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison expressed concern that past federal spending on terrorism protection has been misspent by corrupt local politicians: “We have concerns about where federal dollars have gone in the past, given the corruption of local police departments and politicians. Before we spend a lot more on local terrorism protection, we want to study this problem.”

Chertoff agreed with need for further analysis, saying that full protection against Category Five “Severe” terrorism would be studied. “We don’t know if the science and engineering are there yet. Congress has recently appropriated some money for us to study whether we can do it.”

Surprising the assembled reporters and local dignitaries, Bush, Cherthoff, and Rumsfeld left the press conference early in order to attend a meeting in Washington regarding progress on America’s manned mission to Mars.

We Need to Understand Fully What Happened Here

Last night's Nova and Frontline programs were excellent, with great additional material online that I plan to explore. They reminded my that New Orleanians (even moreso than Mississippi Gulf Coasters, who took horrifying damage) were failed more by governmental institutions than they were harmed by nature.

We were promised Category Three protection by the Army Corps of Engineers, got hit by a Category Three storm, and were decimated. The case is as simple as that. One can go on and on about local corruption and incompetence--and I am ALL about running out the chuckleheads from 'round these parts--but the federal government did not deliver. What is borderline criminal now is the utter failure to deliver any meaningful assurances about the future. Why should we trust them now ("No, this time we really will deliver--and by next summer")?

John Biguenet, an outstanding author and professor at Loyola University New Orleans, offers this sober and evenhanded assessment of the mood here and of the high emotional and moral costs of the federal government's current inaction. Something's missing in Washington. Dark, Sith-like forces are behind this. I can't believe it's simply incompetence.

James Gill's Wed., 11/23, column is not posted as of this writing, but his archive is here for when the piece is posted. He rightfully blisters the state Legislature for failing to unify the levee boards. Francis Heitmeier of Algiers and Ken Odinet of Arabi should be impeached and exiled to Illinois to spend time with Speaker of the House Hastert. Their corruption is patent now that they've killed the effort to bring some sense to local oversight of our flood protection. (Can we still call it "protection"? Maybe there's some interim term we can use until it actually protects us.)

I still have faith that this will shake out for the best. As Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu said, Katrina has had the effect of revealing angels and demons, of showing the world who each person in our region really is. It is fleetingly unpleasant to look truth in the face, but it's ultimately healthy. We'll get there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Check PBS Tonight!

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will get some wanted attention from PBS's excellent Nova and Frontline series. The New York Times has a nice preview of both programs.

Try not to throw things when Michael Brown's interview appears on the Frontline program.

I welcome analysis from these programs. I also hope that they will revisit our situation with forward-looking programs on prospective solutions and progress as we work on our resurrection.

This summary of the upcoming shows is from the 11/17/2005 Wall Street Journal:

On Tuesday, November 17, PBS will air back-to-back episodes of the science series "Nova" and the newsmagazine "Frontline" that search for explanations in the realms of science and politics. In "The Storm That Drowned a City," Nova uses computer graphics to illustrate Katrina's advance toward New Orleans and dissect the engineering faults in levees and floodwalls that led many parts of the city to become flooded in a toxic soup.

Meanwhile, "Frontline" investigates the fragmented and ineffective response to the crisis, which left emergency personnel without the ability to communicate with each other for days. The show includes interviews with several key political figures, including what it says is the first with Michael Brown, the former FEMA director, since he resigned from that post.

Outstanding Saints Analysis

Fellow blogger and Saints fan Berto has written what may be the greatest blog post ever written on any topic. Or maybe it's just the best ever written about the Saints.

In any case, if you desire a world class football team for our fair city, check out what Berto has to say. I (Dilly) and Berto have been known to wear world class golden jumpsuits to Saints home games.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Best Wishes from Germany via Canada

My friend Anita Mital forwarded to me an email that her mother, Gisela Mital, sent to her. Gisela lives in Toronto now and doesn't often tell stories about life in Germany during the war. Her hometown is Kassel in Hessen in Germany. It is where Volkswagens are now made.

This is the best, most encouraging reading I've done in the Post-Katrina, Post-Manmade Flood Era in New Orleans.

Dear Anita,

We are sending very good wishes to you and hope that you have recovered from your strenuous car ride from Little Rock. The dogs hopefully were good dogs and remembered the house and their playing space in the yard, and are happy to be with you again.

The temperatures seem to be nice and comfortable, as I could see in the newspaper, and that should help getting back into the old routines, if you can overlook the mess the hurricanes have made in the city. In time the city will heal, and eventually will be more beautiful than it was before the storm.

The same happened in my hometown in Germany, which was 90% destroyed on the 22nd of October in 1943. Your Uncle Wally was born that night (not surprising), and we other children waited out the immense bombing in our cellar.

Those were some fireworks, I can tell you! Our city too was in a terrible mess and shambles. We had a bomb in our backyard, one in our rafters, and one phosphorous bomb (those ever-glowing and ready-to-burn ones) in the sidewalk right in front of our place.

We kids had fun stepping on the sand that was piled on to them to make them less dangerous, and seeing the blue flames start eating our shoe soles. Only sand would quench the fire and save our precious footgear for walking.

All the people who were bombed out were ordered into every house that was still standing. Our place was jug-a-lug-full of families who were ever so happy to have a good place to stay.

Well, you know the feeling now, as you have experienced the same feelings. To make the story short, my city was born again with old and new buildings standing happily side by side. Pride--not only in the people but also in the houses themselves--seemed to grow.

The city of New Orleans will also get back on its feet and will don an ever-so-pretty-garment to feel happy and impress everybody immensely. Stories of hard times and misery will get laced with the funny and moving moments. Sad and happy times and all will get woven into a good piece of cloth that will be admired by future generations to come.

And you and your friends will have been part of it all --and can be proud of it!

This is just a little remembering and an attempt to encourage you all when you see the destruction of your beloved city. There are always hope, hard work, and happy people, all of which will make out of a mess a many-faceted and worthwhile project and place again.

Hoping this finds you happy and very well.

Sending Love, Mom

Drumbeat Louder, Clock Ticking


The Times-Picayune took the extremely rare step of placing an editorial at the top-center of its front page today, Sunday, November 20, 2005.

I find the following to be the most compelling lines:

Some voices in Washington are arguing against us. We were foolish, they say. We settled in a place that is lower than the sea. We should have expected to drown.

As if choosing to live in one of the nation's great cities amounted to a death wish. As if living in San Francisco or Miami or Boston is any more logical.

. . . The federal government decided long ago to try to tame the river and the swampy land spreading out from it. The country needed this waterlogged land of ours to prosper, so that the nation could prosper even more.

Some people in Washington don't seem to remember that. They act as if we are a burden. They act as if we wore our skirts too short and invited trouble.

I think almost everyone on the Gulf Coast has been helped and moved by the generosity of our fellow citizens on a personal level.

However, something is missing at the governmental level. At this point, I still can't tell if it is incompetence or malevolence. My suspicion is that it is a kind of lazy indifference that metastasizes into malevolence AND incompetence.

I don't think any of us in New Orleans want blind charity. We want smart, effective help at a basic level. When it is determined that the science and engineering are available to repair our wetlands and levees, we deserve a chance to thrive.

Human activity made most of this mess, and I have a strong suspicion that human ingenuity can fix it.

(Graphic above from www.wwltv.com.)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thomas Jefferson, Visionary

From the founder of my alma mater, the University of Virginia (oh, and he did a few other things too):
There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants.
Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, April 18,1802

I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, January 30, 1787
Remember these words. I hope that a national commitment to flood protection and wetlands restoration allows us to continue to be part of the United States. It would be a pity if we had to secede, take care of these issues ourselves, and become a "natural and habitual
enemy."

A Voice on Marketplace

The kind people at Marketplace, public radio's business program, broadcast my commentary on a failure of our leaders' vocabulary about the Gulf Coast's recovery. Special thanks to my friend Deborah Clark for helping me get a little word out about the Gulf Coast. Very special thanks to my friends Armand St. Martin and Patty Lee for recording my bit in their recently flooded and now under-repair home.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Official Beers of the Resurrection




Given New Orleanians' urgent interest in an excellent flood protection system, we should be careful about which fermented barley beverages we choose.

I endorse Abita Fleur-de-lis Restoration Ale ($1 for every 6-pack sold goes to a hurricane relief fund) and Peter's Brand (can't find a link). I discovered the latter yesterday for the first time at the Sav-a-Center on Tchoupitoulas. At $4.99 per six, it's a proletarian Heineken's, which is to say that it's quite possibly better than the green-bottle brand made famous by that looter guy (and who could blame him?).

Perhaps if we here in south Louisiana had been drinking more Dutch beer, we would have gained by osmosis the Netherlands' world class NATIONAL commitment to flood protection. (Chemists, please correct me if "osmosis" is the wrong term for internalization of wisdom gained by alcoholic beverage consumption.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I'm Not Making This Up

At 7:30 p.m. CST, on Thursday, November 17, 2005, FEMA called my land line telephone. They wanted to know if I need a trailer to live in.

Now, I'm not a very smart guy. However, my thinking is this: Many phones in metro New Orleans are not working. Or, even if they are working, no one is there yet.

If I'm answering my home phone on a cold night in New Orleans, there is an almost 100 percent likelihood that I do not need a trailer to live in. I'M IN MY HOUSE!

I politely told the very professional-sounding woman that I was in my house (obviously?), and I urged her to use the trailers for people who really need them because we desperately need New Orleanians back in New Orleans.

Am I missing something here?

I can't wait until the successful resurrection of New Orleans bubbles over into a FEMA that works well for the rest of the nation.

With Apologies to Ohio

A recent letter to The Times-Picayune from a fellow traveller in Baton Rouge:

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

When Lafcadio Hearn moved to New Orleans in the 1870s, he wrote to a friend back in Cincinnati: "Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes, than to own the whole state of Ohio."

Yes.

C. Ward Bond
Baton Rouge

Tool of Civilization, Revolution, Resurrection


A world class city like New Orleans deserves well-kept public spaces. Unfortunately, Katrina and her manmade flood in the city have caused a neglect of some publicly maintained grassy areas. The neutral grounds (medians) in Uptown New Orleans have been cut in some areas by city crews and/or guardsmen, but some neutral grounds are not being maintained.

Citizen action corrects this easily. My property is grassless, but I miss cutting the grass. The Metairie Lowe's had a great price on a solid lawnmower, so I purchased one and have begun working with fellow blogger Dillyberto to improve Uptown public spaces.

American culture has truly triumphed by pitting the individual against an overarching economic/political structure with virtually no strong intermediary institutions. Katrina and the manmade flood in New Orleans (and ensuing chaos) have revealed that small-scale cooperation among people has withered away. Local, state, and federal governments forced us to stay away (even during the early rescue operations when able-bodied people could've helped) for weeks at a time. There are virtually no neighborhood groups functioning in any meaningful way (other than those St. Tammany "neighborhood" groups that voted to keep evacuation trailers out of their gated communities).

How to combat this? Inspire others by cutting public grass, cleaning up, moving old fridges to public spaces where they can be hauled away, etc. More soon on this vital part of how New Orleans will be a beacon to the world for New Neighborhoodism (e.g. keeping people working together in a neighborhood, instead of locking people out).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A World Class Newspaper is Born


Before Katrina, The Times-Picayune, our local newspaper, was a major part of New Orleans, with a larger market share than any other newspaper in the country. Few people were very happy with it, however. At times it seemed to combine the worst of both worlds: the cynicism of modern journalism and the parochialism ascribed to the South.

The storm seems to have changed all that. The T-P has become a true beacon for the community, combining great factual reporting with a passion for resurrecting our city in a smart and just way. Here's their current series on building a flood protection system that will be as effective as the one in the Netherlands:

http://www.nola.com/speced/ruinandrecovery/

I wrote a letter to the editor to let them know of my newfound respect for them:

To the Editor:

This will look like a told-you-so letter, and perhaps it is, in effect. However, my point in writing it is to compliment you on your outstanding coverage of Katrina, Rita, and the ongoing problems we all face as we work to resurrect our region.

The text below is a letter I sent you almost exactly one year ago. At the time, you were running, on a fairly consistent basis, outrageously silly articles on your front page, even as our nation was at war and our region was at risk.

One year later, I am overwhelmingly proud of my hometown newspaper for the first time. When I picked up my paper today and saw the beginning of your three-part series on world-class flood protection in Holland and elsewhere, I got tears in my eyes.

Your photographers, writers, and editors deserve the highest praise for becoming the best kind of newspaper a city can ask for. You helped keep me going when I was in exile in Baton Rouge. Thank you, and keep up the good work.

Sincerely,
Mr. Clio

----- Original Message -----
From: Mr. Clio
To: letters@timespicayune.com
Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2004 6:38 AM
Subject: Questionable Choices
To the Editor:

As a New Orleans resident, I want to thank you for your front-page, above-the-fold story about the Northshore Naked Guy (Nov. 9).

I am very pleased that you made me turn to page A-3 to learn how global warning may be melting Arctic ice and thereby threatening local wetlands restoration efforts. I am grateful that I had to turn to page A-9 to learn of the unconstitutional treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Armed with a properly prioritized sense of the key issues of the day, I feel fully prepared to engage my fellow citizens in dialogue about our nation and world. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Mr. Clio

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Visionary Ally

Creative and visionary statements of support for New Orleans from leaders from far away are encouraging. Here's one of the more recent such statements:

From a Times-Picayune article (11/15/2005) by Keith Darce:

U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Republican from Rhode Island, wants to give serious consideration to an extensive outer-ring of flood protection for New Orleans that would reduce reliance on the kinds of levees that failed us with Katrina. Chafee, a member of a levee oversight committee who toured hurricane-devastated parts of the city Monday, said, "That may be the route to go," while noting that an outer flood protection system shielding the New Orleans area from hurricane storm surges could cost $14 million for each mile of structure.

"That's expensive," he said. "But then there is an enormous amount of revenue generated from the success of New Orleans. It's a city that generates billions and billions in revenue. That's a factor."

http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/frontpage/index.ssf?/base/news-4/1132036377260250.xml

Monday, November 14, 2005

A World Class City Deserves World Class Companies

It is inspiring to see and hear about companies who are showing faith in the New Orleans area by returning and vowing to build better and smarter than ever. Imagine what will be possible when federal and state officials unequivocally commit to building a revolutionary system of levee protection, floodgates and wetlands protection. New Orleans will be a true model for the world.

We hit a bump several weeks ago, however. The internationally known Ruth's Chris Steakhouse restaurant chain was founded in New Orleans by Ms. Ruth Fertel, who passed away a few years ago. Before her death, she sold her company, which began with a single steakhouse, to a corporation.

Mere days after Katrina struck New Orleans and our city was flooded--and while bodies were still being collected from streets and homes--the corporate overlords at Ruth's Chris announced that they were moving their corporate headquarters from the New Orleans area to Orlando, Florida. It seems that Orlando also offered tax incentives to move the headquarters. (This example of vulture-like civic activity needs further review.)

A phone conversation with an executive at Ruth's Chris new HQ in Orlando was telling. His speech was interlaced with chuckles and "sincerity" as he refused my polite request to move back to our area. He also indicated that their steakhouse on Orleans and Broad in New Orleans--which has been a real power center for politicians and corporate chieftains in the city--will not be reopened.

I will be dining on steak frequently at other establishments in the future. I encourage you to frequent other steakhouses AND let Ruth's Chris know why you are not dining there.

I snapped the above picture while passing the Orleans & Broad location of Ruth's Chris. It seems others are not happy about this decision either.

If it is difficult to read the words in the picture, I have reproduced them here:

Remember, when the bodies from Katrina were still being collected,
when we needed FAITH and HEROISM,
Ruth's Chris fled to Orlando.
Forgive them, Ms. Fertel. We won't.
BOYCOTT

Ms. Fertel's son, Randy Fertel, had this to say about this move when he spoke to a group in Oxford, Mississippi:
''My mother would never have done that,'' he said to cheers from the audience, ''and she would have reopened our original Broad Street restaurant, too.'' (NY Times, November 2, 2005).

Ruth's Chris: You still have a chance. Come back to where you belong, and be part of a dynamic resurrection. Until you do, I will be bringing my business to companies that are forward-looking. You don't qualify right now.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The World Class City in Darkness

I will move on soon to indications of the bright future of New Orleans. My first few posts will serve to let those outside New Orleans know just how far we have to go to get there, and how much help we can use on the way. The Times-Picayune, our local newspaper, ran this map on November 11, 2005, over two months after Katrina hit and our criminally poor levees failed. (The excellent graphic was done by Dan Swenson of the T-P.)

The dark areas on the map STILL do not have electricity. Much of Orleans Parish and almost all of St. Bernard Parish lack power, and brave people are camping out in their own homes doing work and waiting for electricity. In some cases, it is not safe yet to re-energize lines in their neighborhoods or homes. In other cases, the only hold-up is an inspection from overtaxed parish officials.

Our brothers and sisters outside New Orleans need to know that we were forcibly kept from our homes for a minimum of three weeks; most people who want to come back are only now doing so. Residents of the Lower Ninth Ward still cannot return to their homes in a permanent way. This has delayed the beginning of our comeback. That delay has caused a tremendous amount of anguish here, above and beyond the feeling of loss related to loved ones who are gone or property that has been destroyed or compromised.

Even those of us who have returned to dry homes are waiting for word that our city will receive world-class levee protection and wetlands restoration. Until we get this guarantee, it will be impossible to guarantee the bright future that is within our grasp.

Thanks to Schroeder for pointing me to a nice pdf of this map.

New Orleans: World Class City with a Bright Future


The flag of New Orleans is unfamiliar to many. I see it flying more than ever before these days.