Sunday, July 30, 2006

Not on Track, Not Moving Forward

From the same folks who suggested greenspacing neighborhoods like Broadmoor (which is strong and will recover) by assuming all the flooding was caused by low-lying land, not the fucked-up levee and flood "protection" systems built by the Army Corps of Engineers, comes criticism of New Orleans' local leadership in the recovery, claiming there has been little, if any, leadership (which is exactly how it has felt these 11 months--where is the fucking urgency?):

As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina fast approaches, New Orleans lacks leadership from Mayor Ray Nagin and the City Council, said John McIlwain, the senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute.

McIlwain was part of a panel of 50 specialists in urban and postdisaster planning brought in by Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission to help the city create a recovery strategy. The commission largely rejected the institute's advice, particularly its recommendation to rebuild first on higher ground in the less-damaged neighborhoods, a suggestion that turned into a hot debate about the city's footprint and who would be encouraged to return.


"It's virtually a city without a city administration and it's worse than ever," McIlwain said. "New Orleans needs Huey Long. You need a politician, a leader that is willing to make tough decisions and articulate to the people why these decisions are made, which means everyone is not going to be happy."

Huey Long? Though he is right about needing a leader, someone who will make decisions. That leader is not Nagin. and Mitch Landrieu ran a weak and timid campaign that did not indicate he would be that leader either. No matter what neighborhoods do, someone or a small group of someones need to pull it all together.

In an e-mail asking for his response to McIlwain's criticism of his administration, Nagin replied: "No comment."

No, really?

"Given the extraordinary circumstances of what happened to your city, you cannot solve this incrementally," said Murphy, who presided over Pittsburgh's revitalization of 1,100 acres of defunct steel mills along the riverfront. "You need to create an agency or an authority that has people who wake up every day and their job is simply to make development happen. You need to build on a scale that in the best of times most cities wouldn't be able to do. You don't need 200 houses a year. You need to do 10,000 houses a year."

An Urban Land Institute spokeswoman said the group's comments about New Orleans' state of recovery are in response to the upcoming one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and not to Nagin's speech Wednesday, in which the mayor claimed the city was on the right path.

"We are on track," Nagin said. "We're moving forward. No one would have guessed that we would be sitting here today with 250,000 of our residents back in the city of New Orleans living, breathing and helping us to move forward."

Without a change in City Hall's track record, the image of vacant, blighted neighborhoods bleeding from years of neglect is New Orleans' future post-Katrina, McIlwain said.

"We're talking Dresden after World War II. I can take you through parts of North Philadelphia or Detroit or Baltimore and show you what it will look like."

The SBA also takes a hit for being underprepared, doing little about it and moving too slowly on processing applications and getting checks out:

Investigators found that the SBA's new loan processing system was largely designed to match the agency's response to the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California. But that planning underestimated the volume of incoming applications from larger catastrophes such as Katrina, the report found. The agency said it received 420,000 applications from 2005 hurricane victims, compared with 250,000 following the Northridge quake.

Moreover, the report said, SBA failed to stress-test the new system before it was put into action. The agency was also given incorrect computer hardware and ineffective technical support from contractors--resulting in "system instability, outages and slow response times," the report said.

There has been no urgency at any level and a year out, here we wait, still moving refrigerators and blue tarps and boards over windows.

The Book Meme

Got tagged (and I am honored it was Dr. Free Ride). I'm no genius and kind of all over the place. Duh.

1. One book that changed your life?
The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker. Not only was she black (and "she") and the characters black, but some realities I'd lived were validated/confirmed by that book. That, more than the story or prose, helped me become a writer.

2. One book you have read more than once?
Since my mid-20s, I find it hard to read books again for pleasure rather than edification. This does not count all the kids' and picture books I've read to The Girl. I knew (know?) Ten Apples up on Top and The Big Pets by heart and read with my eyes closed or focused across the room. That was business (and pleasure).

Answer: Kassandra and the Wolf by Margarita Karapanou, another book that figured prominently in building my writing self. It is haunting to me still. (Few people I know manage to read it, too dense and odd and discomfiting.) In high school, I carried it in my purse for at least a year, if not longer, and read it over and over and over.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
ONE?!? Couldn't I bring less...something else?

SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea by John "Lofty" Wiseman (name sounds truthy to me)

4. One book that made you laugh?
American Desert by Percival Everett

5. One book that made you cry?
Caucasia by Danzy Senna. And I am not a person who cries over books but the poignancy of the main character's loneliness, need and search and the relief and joy of finding her sister, the one person who loved her and who she loved....I need a tissue. I also read it soon after returning to the shattered concrete, wood and asbestos roof tiles folks were calling "New Orleans" at that time.

6. One book you wish had been written?

The Foolproof, Bombproof Way to Overthrow Your Government Without Leaving Your Computer Desk or Buying a Gun

7. One book you wish had never had been written?


8. One book you are currently reading?

Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Assata, An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

10. Now tag five people -

Hm.....Professor Zero
Susie Bright (I shoot high, no?)
Devious Diva

7/30 8/1: see the memes and those tagged next--at Women of Color, This Is Not My Country

Friday, July 28, 2006


This is down the street from my house:

About a month ago, this house had a crew of Spanish-speaking workers (some but not all are Mexican; I hear a lot of "guey" in the stores and on the bus) tearing off the damaged roof and piling it on the sidewalk like this. Two days later a FEMA contractor team closed off the block, covered their noses and mouths and took away the roof tiles in a closed dumpsster--asbestos tiles. About a month before, a house 1 door down from us had its roof worked on, again by Spanish-speaking workers who worked 10+-hour days every single day of the week, and a day later a FEMA contractor team came by in white suits to take those roof tiles away in a closed dumpster---also asbestos.

This includes none of the roofing but most of the interior of the decrepit house (scary pre-Katrina). The pile has been there for over a week. And the workers that ripped it all out and piled it there haven't been here since. Today, a stench began in the block, either from this pile (rained on daily) or the refrigerators on the curb around the corner. Cough. Cough, cough.

Judge Hunter Calls the State's Bluff

Judge Arthur Hunter has been making noise about indigent defendants left to waste away in the New Orleans judicial "system" and has threatened to take action, even issuing a subpoena (very politely) to Governor Blanco to testify in his court room about the lack of funding for indigent defense. It may be low on the list of local officials' priorities (Nagin thinks we are on schedule rebuilding the city and economy--see "Mayor finally breaks post-election silence") but these people in jail, some not charged but who have been in jail since before Katrina struck 11 months ago, do have rights. So Judge Hunter will release indigent defendants as they reach his courtroom:

Judge to release indigent defendants via (emphasis added)
Frank Donze and Michelle Krupa

Declaring a state of emergency within the criminal justice system, an Orleans Parish judge today said he will begin releasing poor defendants awaiting trial on a case-by-case basis Aug. 29, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

“It is a pathetic and shameful state of affairs [in which] the criminal justice system finds itself,” Judge Arthur Hunter ruled from his bench at criminal district court this afternoon. “The Constitution guarantees certain rights. Facts, reports and studies have concluded constitutional rights are being violated.”

Criminal district court has a backlog of 6,000 cases and growing, while the public defender’s office is barely recovering from going broke after Katrina and losing almost all of its attorneys. At least hundreds of poor defendants remain jailed without court-appointed representation.

Hunter released several orders and statements Friday, including a short yet stern response to the fact that Gov. Kathleen Kathleen Blanco did not appear in his court, despite his issuing a subpoena weeks ago.

Blanco sent Assistant Attorney General Burton Guidry to fight the subpoena, arguing that Hunter is without authority and jurisdiction to demand the governor’s attendance.

Hunter noted Blanco’s “non-appearance,” while quoting from famous case law that declares, “No man in this country is so high that he is above the law.”

Hunter said that statement is “black-letter law in this country for 124 years.”

Guidry and Assistant District Attorney David Pipes both said they will appeal Hunter’s ruling on inmate release.

Hunter said the only defendants released will be those who have not gone to trial, and that release does not mean the defendant is freed from any charges.

“The court has repeatedly warned for months the funding crisis within the public defender’s office and continued violations of defendants’ constitutional rights would lead to the release of defendants if the state of Louisiana did not adequately fund the public defender’s office,” Hunter wrote in his order.

Hunter said he takes no satisfaction in this ruling. “But, after 11 months of waiting, 11 months of meetings, 11 months of idle talk, 11 months without a sensible recovery plan and 11 months of tolerating those who have the authority to solve, correct and fix the problem but either refuse, fail or are just inept, then necessary action must be taken to protect the constitutional rights of people.”

Blanco did secure an additional $10 million for the state’s indigent defender program, doubling the previous statewide budget. But the Orleans Parish public defender’s office needs $10 million alone to provide services that adequately measure up to the constitutional right to representation afforded to poor defendants, said Denise LeBoeuf, chairwoman of the newly installed Orleans Parish Indigent Defender Board.

In another statement issued Friday, Judge Hunter said that with 6,000 cases looming, it is time for District Attorney Eddie Jordan to start “the process of determining which cases can be prosecuted.”

That means prosecutors must sort out which cases are doomed because of displaced victims, witnesses, police officers, or flood-ruined evidence, Hunter said. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nash Says

We knew this from Nash Roberts. Nash Roberts is a veteran New Orleans TV weatherman who is low-tech, at least by way of presentation, and always right. Nash was broadcasting from his own house, it looked like, tracing the hurricane with a grease pencil on a sheet of Plexiglas or a pad of paper, I forget which, while the other channels' meteorologists were using all manner of laser pointers and rear-projected electronic schematic representations of the area. You couldn't tell what in the world Nash was scribbling with the grease pencil, but as usual he was the first to make the call, this one's going to miss us, and he was on the money.

Roy Blount, Jr.: Rambles around New Orleans

It sounds goofy, sentimental and made-up but I remember Nash Roberts, his white boards and plexiglas (it's not that simple, deeper, more primal) and everyone listened to Nash Roberts. Whatever he said went and usually bore out. When I watched the weather Saturday afternoon, August 27, I did think, "Nash Roberts." Everybody always wanted to know what he thought (his last post-retirement appearance on WWL-TV was in 2001) and I especially wanted to know then. Turns out even Nash evacuated for Katrina. Would some have changed their minds if they'd heard him say he was on I-10 headed out?

It's Okay to Be Squeezed (So Smile)

Cities Shed Middle Class, and Are Richer and Poorer for It

But it's really not all bad:
Firefighters who want to live in high-priced cities can work two jobs, said W. Michael Cox, chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “I think it’s great,” he said. “It gives you portfolio diversification in your income.” Pay for essential workers like plumbers and cabdrivers will tend to go up, he said.
Two jobs to get by = "portfolio diversification in your income"--did he think it was a Daily Show interview?

Though cities can certainly get by dominated by haves and never-gonna-haves and the middle class that teach in clasrooms, arrest rapists, put out fires and hold your hand while the anesthetic takes effect can live in the suburbs with "remarkably cheap housing, fast commutes, decent public services and incredibly cheap products available in big box stores." (Oh, really?) What suffers is education for the poor and the middle class holding on as tightly as they can--middle class parents agitate for improvements, rich people have the money and clout to get things changed or at least provide the tax base to fund change and poorer students reap the benefits. With a shrunken or driven-out middle class, it is harder for the poor to transition out of poverty--it's possible to sneak your way onto the edge of a good middle-class neighborhood, eventually, to get into a decent school but it is impossible when the cheapest house is half a million dollars or pointless when the public schools have been abandoned for $10-15K/year private schools.

With a dwindling middle class, rich and poor become more separate. Alan Berube, an author of the Brookings study, said a two-tiered marketplace can develop: Whole Foods for the upper classes, bodegas for the lower, with no competition from stores courting the middle. “If the two models are check cashers on the one hand and major national financial institutions on the other, who’s thinking about how to hold down costs for the basic consumer?” he asked.
New Orleans is following and will follow the trend. Some of the middle class are selling high and getting the fuck out. The exodus will stop by summer's end. The weekend Times-Pic story about the 20-somethings settling in NO or sticking with it, those who have no children and/or the 5+ years it'll take, it seems, to pull things together is great for the city and those people; when you're 40 or just over, or in your 60s or older . . . the thoughts come slowly, with guilt and pain. Decisions, though, must be made.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Girls Have Cooties!

from "Portrait of a Blogger: Under 30 and Sociable" by Kim Hart:

"The average blogger is a 14-year-old girl writing about her cat," said Alexander Halavais, an assistant professor of interactive communications at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Not only should blogging be taken lightly because "the young" and the "chatty" do it so their "friends" can read about their latest flossing but also because it's girlish, something only a girl would do, the lowest of the low. (Imagine what his classes are like.)

The whole article brushes aside anything but vanity and diary blogs and assumes that few bloggers have ideas larger than their belly buttons, that there is no impact, that no one is "out to change the world" (from Amanda Lenhart who directed the survey for The Pew Internet & American Life Project).

Friday, July 21, 2006

University Shredding

Update/clarification: Sorry, no, it's not my office. (I didn't have an office. I had a cubicle 15 blocks from where I taught. On campus, my office was a trailer, not a sturdy interior like this.) I have my job (complaining will start in September) and I knew I should've been specific--the computer science department was eliminated at Loyola (the reasons are unclear and hardly fit their claim to be thinking about community needs) and this professor was given a month to clear out. He taped the letter to his door as his last words, to show what the administration did. This is going on at Loyola and Tulane and UNO. These are not fly-by-night adjuncts but tenured professors with functional departments.

7/25/06: My "fly-by-night" comment was not a statement of fact or belief but a reiteration of one of the university myths about adjuncts--that they work full-time at other jobs and teach just to keep in touch with academia (
huh?), that they are temporary and disposable, that they are less capable or just starting out and adjuncting gives them a chance to grow as teachers (huh? squared), etc. I have yet to meet an adjunct that fits the university myths.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Less of One, Twice the Other

Of these murders, few are obvious drug crimes, what was allegedly fueling the rise in crime here. Some are personal disputes fueled by any number of factors, many the same post-Katrina as pre-Katrina. The numbers break down as:

During the four weeks before the federal troops and State Police arrived, there were 230 felony arrests, 90 misdemeanor arrests and 156 narcotics arrests in the two districts, according to statistics provided by New Orleans police. From June 18 to July 19, there were 359 felony arrests, 248 misdemeanor arrests and 199 narcotics arrests in the same districts.
One Month After Reinforcements Arrive: N.O. Murders Fall and Arrests Climb, July 20
A huge rise in misdemeanor arrests sounds like the police up to their usual--harassing and dragging away anyone who "looks" like a criminal, especially having dark skin, being male, wearing a big white t-shirt and/or baggy pants, standing on or near a corner, especially in Central City. (Like I said, Jack Strain is not the only racial profiler around.) But as Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said, "Historically in New Orleans, only a fraction of the people arrested by the Police Department were convicted. Police should strive to make quality cases."

Many of the murders in the illustration (the Times-Pic is excelling with visuals like this lately) seem based in the same problems we had pre-Katrina--too many guns in private hands, people desperate and angry and thwarted reaching for those guns or other lethal force before anything else. The most common arrest in town seems to still be petty drug possession, especially of marijuana, cases that are a waste of district attorneys' time. Before the hurricane, NO was steeped in violence and murderers ran the most dangerous parts of town, including (yes) housing projects. In a system in which witnesses are too scared to testify, murder charges are often dropped, leaving the murderer free to kill again and more easily intimidate his way back onto the street next time. We still have no indigent defense system to speak of, the courts recently re-opened and are overwhelmed and the district attorney's office has some problems of its own unrelated to making felony cases stick. A weakness before the storm now looks like embarrassingly deep incompetence.

Summertiiiime and the Livin' Is....

For my 12 (OK, 14) readers: It is summer. The Girl is home most of the time, unless I drive her to a class or event or store for different air-conditioning than ours at home. Smother is still here, still trying to manipulate me into being her entertainment and comrade in anxiety and panic. Mister works his 8 hours then wants to relax and has done a great job lately taking The Girl to the park instead (after 6 p.m. when it has cooled down to 87 degrees or so). I have been able to read books only because I use a post-it flag to mark the sentence (or clause) I was reading when interrupted. The few posts I have done since classes ended (notice I did not say "when work ended"--like most professors, I think or at least have been told by my chair, I do a fair amount of free work over the summer for the University) have taken 1-3 hours not because of their complexity or brilliance but because I am needed, questioned, talked to (or at), on duty every 15 minutes or so and being the non-genius I am, I need a good 5-10 minutes, sometimes 15 or 20, to get warmed up. ("Flow" takes longer and is something I haven't seen in almost 2 years.) At home, there is no vacation time, no off-duty or comp hours, no temps, no leaves of absence. I put in my 8 hours (slacking as much as I can) then get ready to slack through 6-8 hours more.

Though there is much I want to write about (collective punishment in the Middle East and in the massive police action here in Central City and elsewhere young dark men stand around for more than 20 seconds; Darfur; the book on Rwanda I've been reading and how working for the UN on a mission not supported by the US, France or other big gun countries is a lot like working for the University, though in my case no one dies; NO assessors; the complete and impartial sex ed Smother thinks has been in schools all my life and how most women are stupid if they don't have a nurse's knowledge of bodily functions, anatomy and sexuality; and the 40 other thoughts I've wanted to develop), posting will be sporadic until The Girl is in school all day or I win the lottery and hire a domestic staff (at 2x the living wage or more; just because I don't want to do it doesn't make it worthless).

  • Strain is sticking by his words--no surprise there.
  • A few students have objected to their final grades, including one who sent 2 emails with few if any capitals and no punctuation, of course bewildered why she didn't pass the course.
  • It may just be my PKSD (post-Katrina stress disorder)--maybe the interruptions are my delusion and I can't seem to get things done because of that, not the family I dearly love (except for Smother).
  • Hopefully, the chair will hire an ABD or 2 to take some of the pressure off her and the Presidential professor (who went from teaching 1-2 classes a semester to a full load of 4).
  • It still looks like the water drained out of Gentilly last week.
  • Bullets make it look like you've actually said something. I see why students love them so.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Particular Strain of Whiteness

I am coming to/blogging on this very late though I've been following it since the start. First with my jaw dropped and then head shaking. I have reasons for the delay. (Even now I am multitasking, playing all roles at once in person and via Firefox tabs and email accounts and trying to think, hence the following incoherence and typos.)

First, the interview:

Yep. Is there anyone he does not insult? And day after day, news story after news story, Strain has stuck to his guns (pun intended).
"I don't want to get into calling people names, but if you're going to walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy."
"Sheriff's remarks called 'overtly racist' " -- July 8

He sees no problem targeting hairstyles as if hair is as strong a piece of evidence as DNA. As Jarvis DeBerry points out in an excellent column "Black hair is always suspect," this is not the first or last time African Americans have been targeted in St. Tammany parish (or elsewhere) because of hair. DeBerry starts his column recounting a case in St. Tammany in 1996:

St. Tammany Parish prosecutors were trying to convince a jury that [Ronnie] Johnson and an accomplice had shot two men dead outside a Slidell sweet shop on July 12, 1996.

The problem facing prosecutors during the August 1999 trial was that their evidence sucked. Each of the state's alleged eyewitnesses fell into one of two categories: They either gave a version of events that was contradicted by the autopsy report or they were in prison and, thus, had reason to curry favor with the state.

With his case clearly falling apart, the assistant district attorney tried to arouse the mostly white jury's prejudices. He asked Ronnie Johnson why he wore his hair that way.

Johnson's hair was cornrowed.

Think Leroy from television's "Fame." Think D'Angelo of the album "Brown Sugar." Think Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers or Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets.

The prosecutor wanted the mostly white jury to think "gang," to think "violence," to think "incorrigible criminal." In short, to think "nigger." And to send Johnson to prison for the rest of his life.

Someone had told me, only half-jokingly, that the typical juror in St. Tammany says, "Well he got arrested, didn't he?" before quickly moving to convict.

That case turned out for the better despite the plan of the prosecutor. ("Not these 12. Closing arguments ended, and 45 minutes later they were back with an acquittal.")

Strain equates "thugs" and "trash" and "spillover crime" with "New Orleans" and "Katrina evacuees," following the age-old local belief/worldview that New Orleans, specifically Orleans parish (not the Jefferson parish suburbs), is not only "black" but "crime-ridden" and "dangerous" so people move out of town to "be safer" and have "better" schools (another race-based delusion). "Crime" and "black" are used synonymously by some here. You see it everywhere in the area but especially in the expanded metro area. Letters to the editor from St. Tammany and other outer parishes (talkign in a very New Orleans-centric way) generally support Sherrif Strain and his worldview, like this example fromthe Times-Picayune dated July 14:

Re: "Sheriff's remarks called 'overtly racist,' " Page 1, July 8.

If you are offended at being stereotyped because you wear dreadlocks or a "chee-wee" hairstyle, then cut your hair. Stop living the stereotype. If you don't want people to think you are a gangster or a punk, stop dressing like a gangster or a a punk.

Besides, what has St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain said that hasn't been said by the New Orleans police, Mayor Ray Nagin and various members of the City Council? If you are going to commit crime, we don't want you here. Black, white, red, green, yellow -- doesn't matter. I, for one, will cast my vote for Sheriff Strain whenever he is on the ballot.

Tony Arnold


Strain tries to defend himself by saying he has never been accused of a civil rights violation. As I would say to students while teaching argument, that is weak and specious support. Conversely, I could say that since I have never been accused of lying in public that I have never lied. A student could say because she has never been caught plagiarizing that she is clean as fresh-fallen snow. Not being accused or found guilty in public does not mean no codes or mores or ethics or civil rights have been violated. Strain's refusal to see any problem with his statements is what is most alarming to the ACLU, the Covington NAACP and others. He does not see how targeting individuals because of hairstyles, not because of physical description or DNA or MO, is problematic, does not see that there might be a difference, as Donatus King, president of the local New Orleans NAACP chapter, said, "If the suspect is a 5-foot-tall male with dreadlocks, that doesn't justify stopping a 6-foot-tall male with dreadlocks." Only someone who thinks blacks are interchangeable, who could believe that collective punishment is a crime-fighting technique (or method of diplomacy) would defend the statements made.

additional reading:

Black hair is always suspect by Jarvis DeBerry *

Sheriff's remarks called 'overtly racist' *

ACLU: Sheriff's hairstyle comment racist *

Sheriff isn't backing down at all *

Hume defends racist remarks -- Brit Hume defended Strain's comments on July 11

A 'strain' on relations from The Louisiana Weekly

Sheriff Strain defends his statements -- from KLFY in Lafayette

* items all at (registration required--pissants)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Ass Gets Bitten

After the Orleans Parish School System fired/laid off all teachers last year, the new state-run Recovery School District now needs to hire about 500 in the next 6 weeks. Not a single teacher has yet been hired for any of the 15 schools opening in September. The detailed and seemingly professional screening process originally decided upon will be scrapped so the district can get bodies in classrooms as soon as possible.

At the University, my department was decimated when all non-tenured faculty were laid off. My department went from 18 to 6. 3 of those 6 have yet to return and 2 have already said they will not be back at all, anytime, under any conditions and one, so worn down by this alleged school year we had between January and July, has decided to retire. We are left with 2 literature professors. The University refuses to foot the bill for a national ad, insisting that the chair and dean search via "word of mouth" and "the grapevine." Unemployed PhDs aren't hanging around these days. After mass university layoffs, all based on "paper" rather than program strengths or needs, the college educated left. There is no local pool of qualified, quality college instructors with PhDs waiting around to be hired. All those with options and sense left months ago. The university thinks that hiring without an ad and at the last minute (since there have been no takers yet for these unadvertised positions) will not just maintain but enhance the academic quality of our department. The main person making this decision is not thinking realistically or clearly, in my opinion. But I think other universities may be in the same spot come mid- to late August, scrambling to put bodies in classrooms, especially for core courses. University professors, instructors, even adjuncts are not interchangeable, quickly replaceable cogs in a machine. It takes experience and training and I do not feel, as some of my colleagues do, that putting an underqualified person in a classroom to teach a core course is appropriate. The students are cheated yet we are unconcerned because it is not full-time, tenure-track faculty screwing them?

I do not see how "Schools could be short on teachers" will inspire folks to return.

Monday, July 10, 2006

All (need to) Fall Down: New Orleans City Council edition

Schroeder at People Get Ready has been writing about this should-be scandal for days--"Being incredibly selfish is not a criminal act unto itself," "All the Way," "Hey look-a me--I'm a 'local entity' "--and I give him his props for jumping on it and demanding ethics reform for New Orleans. (Which we've needed since before my lifetime.) The basics: After Katrina hit and the levees failed, DaimlerChrysler donated 40 trucks and SUVs to southeast LA governments through two of our area representatives, Reps. Jindal and Jefferson. Rep. Jindal transferred the cars allotted to him to government agencies in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes. Rep. Jefferson, already under a (seemingly more and more justified) cloud of suspicion, handed responsibility for the New Orleans metro area vehicles to council member Renee Gill-Pratt, a longtime crony of his brother Mose Jefferson. (There are side should-be scandals to this, including exhorbitant office rent paid by Gill-Pratt to Mose Jefferson and years of state money funneled to Mose Jefferson's organizations, companies and pet projects.) Gill-Pratt contends that she was told the vehicles were to be donated to "non-profits" despite written and verbal notice from DaimlerChrysler specifying the vehicles were to be used by government agencies, not "non-profits."

While New Orleans council members were expecting to give away all 16 of the vehicles allotted to them, only six were ever fully transferred, the city said, including the four cars assigned to Gill Pratt. Batt was the only other member of the council to complete a successful transfer: He directed one vehicle to the Lakeview Crime Prevention District and the other to the Audubon Nature Institute. Because both are "quasi-public" agencies, the titles remain in the name of the city, while the agencies have permission to use the cars.

The hangups in transferring the cars appear generally to be due to a bottleneck in the city attorney's office in getting the legal paperwork done.

Batt, for instance, said he announced his donation of to the Lakeview crime district in November, but the paperwork took almost six months, during which time the car, frustratingly, went unused.

But apart from Gill Pratt, it seems that only former Councilman Eddie Sapir sought to donate a car each to two groups with whom he had close personal ties: Friends of NORD and Victims and Citizens Against Crime, though neither donation has been completed yet.

Friends of NORD's executive director is Nancy Broadhurst, who is married to lawyer and Sapir political confidant Bill Broadhurst. In preparation for using the car in her official capacity, Nancy Broadhurst took out insurance on the car, her husband said, but she has been unable to drive it because the city never transferred the title.


Former Councilwoman Clarkson was apparently the first council member to give her cars way. But though she did so in the first weeks after the storm, the paperwork never followed, and the vehicles she sent to two churches in her district have been idle as a result. She gave one each to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Faubourg Marigny and Greater St. Mary Baptist Church in Algiers, each of which was operating food-distribution centers after the storm.

Gill-Pratt originally said it was God's will she ended up driving the Durango after she failed to win re-election to the city council--"But sometimes God puts things in places for you. It just happened. It wasn't something that was planned intentionally." She still asserts that she and the other council members did nothing wrong. Nothing wrong at all, according to the rules the council and other elected and appointed officials down here live by. Money pours into City Hall and never seems to come out. The city for generations has been a trough for a select few families and their circle of friends who have gotten and stayed rich on the people's money.

I'm too mad to even think. And I am insulted this woman thinks God wanted her to keep driving a SUV donated for governemnt use, not a self-designated charity and especially not for her personal use and I am not Christian or a believer. Giving the cars back means nothing. The problem is she and others thought that whatever was donated to the city government was meant for their personal use, as gifts to them for being...what? What have any of the re-elected or former council members done for anyone but themselves? Gill-Pratt and the others should be prosecuted or at the very least publicly embarrased. The mayor, who signed off on the treansfers of the trucks and SUVs, and the city council members still seated--Oliver Thomas, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis--should be recalled.

I need to add: I have seen in some NO blogs much scorn and hate dumped on Gill-Pratt as if she is the only ethically-challenged person on the council or in any government in the state. I cannot help but divine, having lived here most of my life and understanding far too well the atmosphere here, that some of the scorn is racially based, that it exemplifies the growing implied chorus that it is black politicians who have corrupted the system and need to go so they can be replaced with people who are ethical simply because they are white. (Just like folks keep implying that the buildings of the housing projects somehow cause crime and tearing them down alone will decrease crime in NO.) Corruption comes in all sizes and flavors here. Greed knows no color. And "getting rid of" black people will not solve any of the city's problems. Black people built this city. It is not the color of skin that makes one valuable or not.

And there's wonder why 11 months post-Katrina nothing has been rebuilt but hotels and the Superdome?

additional reading:

Ex-official steers cash to nonprofits

FBI to investigate ex-councilwoman with strong ties to Jefferson

New Orleans City Attorney Addresses Cars Controversies

FBI investigating donated cars

Donated vehicles returned amid outcry

all but one at (You'll need to register at to read their articles; little national coverage on this one. Yet.)

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

"American Biafra": Ashley Morris

Ashley Morris in "American Biafra" revisits the crushing of Biafra by Nigeria and compares their situation to ours in NOLA, crushing my decades-long dream of seceding from the Union; he ends

We are the first city I know of that has ever been completely abandoned by their federal government.

I've been in Europe for 2 weeks. People ask "What's it like there?" I reply: "You ever seen Hiroshima? Well, Japan rebuilt Hiroshima."

Sinn Fein. (ourselves alone)

Guess This Explains the Brownout the Other Day...

Why must I care or have to pay to get Entergy New Orleans out of bankruptcy sooner? If I file for bankruptcy, I don't get a raise at work to help me avoid it or pull out of the hole sooner. Entergy has asked for $718 million in federal money for itself alone, to repair hurricane damage and compensate for "losses in revenue" (there was plenty that needed to be fixed before Katrina; like LSU "running" Charity Hospital here, it expects the government to pay for everything that is broken, hurricane-related or not) and ratepayers on the East Bank will "only" be paying $118 million of this. (The West Bank/Algiers is served by Entergy Louisiana.) Entergy New Orleans is asking the city council for a 25% rate increase:

Based on a typical home that uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and 5,000 cubic feet of natural gas, customers would see their electric and bills rise from $177.58 a month to $207.12 a month. Entergy New Orleans is also requesting that the typical customer pay about $9.20 a month to help recover the $118 million in storm costs and another $5.85 a month to build up a $150 million storm reserve account, for a total monthly bill of $222.

About $128 of the bill would be for the electric portion, still much lower than Boston, where the typical electric bill is $207.34, the highest in the nation. [And salaries are higher in Boston] Electric costs, however, would still be higher than the rest of the state.

Those costs include fuel adjustment charges, a line item on customers bills which varies month by month depending on the cost of fuel.

Gas customers would have rates skyrocket 160 percent, [emphasis added] from $15.72 a month to $41.02 a month. That dramatic rise is because of the extensive damage to the gas system and the smaller customer base, Entergy said. There is no available data to compare how that rate compares with the rest of the state or the nation.

The total increase of 25 percent, though, is far short of the 140 percent increase that Entergy has been warning of, if the company doesn't get a portion of the federal money. [emphasis added]

If the City Council doesn't agree with Entergy's recommended rate increase, it could affect the company's ability to emerge from bankruptcy, according to Phillip May, vice president of regulatory services for Entergy Corp.

"It would delay our ability to emerge from bankruptcy," May said. "Or worse."

So Entergy New Orleans (not Entergy Louisiana or any other Entergy subsidiary/"sister" company) goes bankrupt. Profit is not a civil right or guarantee and business is always a risk, especially something like utilities which shouldn't be run for profit in my opinion. If corporations can ignore shareholders' interests and employee pension plans and regulations and public welfare, I can ignore Entergy New Orleans' "pain."

Where is my fucking gun?

The "recovery" continues to continue being planned

I have been trying to absorb and process the "news" about rebuilding plans but my anger (and...) has made it impossible. Plus, there are few details out. Now, it will be December when Nagin and the city council produce a "combined recovery plan" for the city, only 16 months after the city was flooded. Is it copywriter sarcasm that the article is called "N.O. blazes trail for grant money"? I'm sorry if I do not see this shit as timely progress. Homes and entire blocks have been empty for 10 months. People in the hardest hit areas of Ninth Ward, where houses were pushed off their foundations by water from levee breeches, are just starting to get trailers. Folks in the New Orleans diaspora have tried to live half-lives elsewhere while waiting to see what they can come home to and have little to go on still. Where is "our mayor"? What has he been doing since the election? Why is he still running for office rather than raising a stink about the levees, pushing people to move faster, demanding forward motion? (You can also ask what "our mayor" did in his first term. I did not see him and his cronies not robbing city government blind as much of an endorsement.)

None of these plans involve the most important aspect--flood protection. Do we have any? How reliable is it? Is it impossible to protect New Orleans or just impossible for the Army Corps of Engineers to protect New Orleans? The latest news is that there will be more street flooding than in the past, partly because the flood protection system we have is patched up, inherently flawed and in progress. Not street flooding when we get a category 2 hurricane but when a tropical storm (read: long heavy thunderstorm) passes over the city. It seems like (and I mean that strictly, not to infer that what follows is true) fears are being borne out--the majority of the population, black and middle class and working class and working poor (Who do you think worked in the hotels? acted as special education aides and changed diapers of autistic children? worked in the plethora of t-shirt and daiquiri shops pre-Katrina?) have been driven away and no plans are being considered or made to bring them back; the middle class we have, largely white but also black, Vietnamese, East Indian, etc., is leaving now, mid-summer, especially if they have school-age or young children. Every person I've met leaving New Orleans, permanently or semi-permanently, has children. The lack of a public school system will soon be less of a problem.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Lies I Lie: 1

Lying increases the creative faculties, expands the ego, and lessens the frictions of social contacts.
Clare Booth Luce (1903 - 1987)

Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well.
Samuel Butler (1835 - 1902)

The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.
Samuel Butler (1835 - 1902)

I told a couple big lies in the past 3 days, all to take "mental health" time, to avoid doing something I didn't want to do, to have an hour's peace. In general, I hate liars and the lies they tell, from my mother on the phone to Bush and company. But I am a liar. And generally a good one. I have a poor memory for dates and numbers (hence history) but an excellent social and intrapersonal memory (a novelist's memory) and because of my generally hard line on lying and deception, whether an ad or political speech or a euphemism or a condescending tone, people find it hard to believe I am not telling the truth. I know how and when to keep it simple and how and when to layer it. I am good at finding the uncomfortable detail, the one after which even the nosiest and/or angriest questioner gives in--once I began to describe a dentist cutting into my gum, another time said "It's like pissing acid mixed with nails and screws."

I lie to protect myself, no matter what "protect," "my" or "self" mean at that particular moment in time. I lie to hide in plain view, in defiance, in passive aggressiveness to avoid doing what I do not want to do but do not have the balls or authority or status to refuse. I am a hard-working, generally loyal employee but I'll lie in a millisecond to get what I want or get out of what I don't want. But I don't lie in personal, intimate relationships, no matter how long or brief. I've told the truth no mattter what or kept silent and eventually walked away. Or did what I wanted. Mostly that. If my first internal reaction was "I don't let my own father/mother tell me what to do," distance preceded by or gained with lies soon followed. I've lied about my name dozens of times. I've been caught once. The look he gave me was cold and I gave it back; I always lied about my name in bars, I told myself, because I didn't like being picked up in them. (Everywhere else, though, was fair game.) I've made up mini-histories for a day or half-hour. I did warn boyfriends or fuckbuddies that I'd tell the truth if they really wanted to hear it. Usually, they didn't. Wise.

The guilt is never more than splinter-deep. An hour or so's discomfort. A few head rushes of fear or adrenaline. Then, backstory tucked in a fold of the brain for quick retrieval, my life continues.....

I'm not done with this. I'm really not as sociopathic as all that.

quotations from

Happy Dead Animal Day!

Last week, the grocery ads got more meat-heavy than usual which tipped me off that a holiday is coming, the Fourth of July specifically. It is a day, as Mister, Girl and I say, for folks to burn some dead animal. For us, it's a time to be given the fourth degree about not eating meat (or fish or even chicken?) and waiting for the proper appearance time has passed to either rush home to gobble down tofu and vegetables or race to the nearest Subway.

Except this year. I am "giving myself permission" to avoid insane and/or animal-burning family members and drink at home.

As the omnivores eat their charred animal flesh with ketchup and bread, we'll grill some veggies, smother potatoes in the coals and start the margaritas around noon. Happy Independence (for whom?) Day!

Bill Quigley: Gutting New Orleans

I don't like to make a "post" filled with the words of others but this case merits it; plus, I cannot say what he says any better. Bill Quigley runs the Loyola Law Clinic and is generally a voice for the powerless/voiceless/in need here in NOLA. You can read the whole thing again and more about the law clinic and Prof. Quigley at Justice for New Orleans.

Ten Months After Katrina: Gutting New Orleans

Saturday I joined some volunteers and helped gut the home of one of my best friends. Two months after she finished paying off her mortgage, her one-story brick home was engulfed in 7 feet of water. Because she was under-insured and remains worried about a repeat of the floods, my friend, a grandmother, has not yet decided if she is going to rebuild.

Though it is Saturday morning, on my friend’s block no children play and no one is cutting the grass. Most of her neighbors’ homes are still abandoned. Three older women neighbors have died since Katrina.

We are still finding dead bodies. Ten days ago, workers cleaning a house in New Orleans found a body of a man who died in the flood. He is the twenty-third person found dead from the storm since March.

Over two hundred thousand people have not yet made it back to New Orleans. Vacant houses stretch mile after mile, neighborhood after neighborhood. Thousands of buildings remain marked with brown ribbons where floodwaters settled. Of the thousands of homes and businesses in eastern New Orleans, thirteen percent have been re-connected to electricity.

The mass displacement of people has left New Orleans older, whiter and more affluent. African-Americans, children and the poor have not made it back – primarily because of severe shortages of affordable housing.

Thousands of homes remain just as they were when the floodwaters receded – ghost-like houses with open doors, upturned furniture, and walls covered with growing mold.

Not a single dollar of federal housing repair or home reconstruction money has made it to New Orleans yet. Tens of thousands are waiting. Many wait because a full third of homeowners in the New Orleans area had no flood insurance. Others wait because the levees surrounding New Orleans are not yet as strong as they were before Katrina and fear re-building until flood protection is more likely. Fights over the federal housing money still loom because Louisiana refuses to clearly state a commitment to direct 50% of the billions to low and moderate income families.

Meanwhile, seventy thousand families in Louisiana live in 240 square foot FEMA trailers – three on my friend’s street. As homeowners, their trailer is in front of their own battered home. Renters are not so fortunate and are placed in gravel strewn FEMA-villes across the state. With rents skyrocketing, thousands have moved into houses without electricity.

Meanwhile, privatization of public services continues to accelerate.

Public education in New Orleans is mostly demolished and what remains is being privatized. The city is now the nation’s laboratory for charter schools – publicly funded schools run by private bodies. Before Katrina the local elected school board had control over 115 schools – they now control 4. The majority of the remaining schools are now charters. The metro area public schools will get $213 million less next school year in state money because tens of thousands of public school students were displaced last year. At the same time, the federal government announced a special allocation of $23.9 million which can only be used for charter schools in Louisiana. The teachers union, the largest in the state, has been told there will be no collective bargaining because, as one board member stated, “I think we all realize the world has changed around us.”

Public housing has been boarded up and fenced off as HUD announced plans to demolish 5000 apartments – despite the greatest shortage of affordable housing in the region’s history. HUD plans to let private companies develop the sites. In the meantime, the 4000 families locked out since Katrina are not allowed to return.

The broken city water system is losing about 85 million gallons of water in leaks every day. That is not a typo, 85 million gallons of water a day, at a cost of $200,000 a day, are still leaking out of the system even after over 17,000 leaks have been plugged. Michelle Krupa of the Times-Picayune reports that the city pumps 135 million gallons a day through 80 miles of pipe in order for 50 million gallons to be used. We are losing more than we are using; the repair bill is estimated to be $1 billion - money the city does not have.

Public healthcare is in crisis. Our big public hospital has remained closed and there are no serious plans to reopen it. A neighbor with cancer who has no car was told that she has to go 68 miles away to the closest public hospital for her chemotherapy.

Mental health may be worse. In the crumbling city and in the shelters of the displaced, depression and worse reign. Despite a suicide rate triple what it was a year ago, the New York Times reports we have lost half of our psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and other mental health care workers. Mental health clinics remain closed. The psych unit of the big public hospital has not been replaced in the private sector as most are too poor to pay. The primary residence for people with mental health problems are our jails and prisons.

For children, the Washington Post reports, the trauma of the floods has not ended. A LSU mental health screening of nearly 5,000 children in schools and temporary housing in Louisiana found that 96 percent saw hurricane damage to their homes or neighborhoods, 22 percent had relatives or friends who were injured, 14 percent had relatives or friends who died, and 35 percent lost pets. Thirty-four percent were separated from their primary caregivers at some point; 9 percent still are. Little care is directed to the little ones.

The criminal justice system remains shattered. Six thousand cases await trial. There were no jury trials and only 4 public defenders for 9 of the last 10 months. Many people in jail have not seen a lawyer since 2005. The Times-Picayune reported one defendant, jailed for possession of crack cocaine for almost two years, has not been inside a court room since August 2005 despite the fact that a key police witness against him committed suicide during the storm.

You may have seen on the news that we have some new neighbors – the National Guard. We could use the help of our military to set up hospitals and clinics. We could use their help in gutting and building houses or picking up the mountains of debris that remain. But instead they were sent to guard us from ourselves. Crime certainly is a community problem. But many question the Guard helping local police dramatically increase stops of young black males – who are spread out on the ground while they and their cars are searched. The relationship between crime and the collapse of all of these other systems is a one rarely brought up.

It has occurred to us that our New Orleans is looking more and more like Baghdad.

People in New Orleans wonder if this is the way the US treats its own citizens, how on earth is the US government treating people around the world? We know our nation could use its money and troops and power to help build up our community instead of trying to extending our economic and corporate reach around the globe. Why has it chosen not to?

We know that what is happening in New Orleans is just a more concentrated, more graphic version of what is going on all over our country. Every city in our country has some serious similarities to New Orleans. Every city has some abandoned neighborhoods. Every city in our country has abandoned some public education, public housing, public healthcare, and criminal justice. Those who do not support public education, healthcare, and housing will continue to turn all of our country into the Lower Ninth Ward unless we stop them. Why do we allow this?

There are signs of hope and resistance.

Neighborhood groups across the Gulf Coast are meeting and insisting that the voices and wishes of the residents be respected in the planning and rebuilding of their neighborhoods.

Public outrage forced FEMA to cancel the eviction of 3,000 families from trailers in Mississippi.

Country music artists Faith Hill and Tim McGraw blasted the failed federal rebuilding effort, saying "When you have people dying because they're poor and black or poor and white, or because of whatever they are — if that's a number on a political scale — then that is the most wrong thing. That erases everything that's great about our country."

There is a growing grassroots movement to save the 4000+ apartments of public housing HUD promises to bulldoze. Residents and allies plan a big July 4 celebration of resistance.

Voluntary groups have continued their active charitable work on the Gulf Coast. Thousands of houses are being gutted and repaired and even built by Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, Mennonite, Methodist, Muslim, Presbyterian and other faith groups. The AFL-CIO announced plans to invest $700 million in housing in New Orleans.

Many ask what the future of New Orleans is going to be like? I always give the lawyer’s answer, “It depends.” The future of New Orleans depends on whether our nation makes a commitment to those who have so far been shut out of the repair of New Orleans. Will the common good prompt the federal government to help the elderly, the children, the disabled and the working poor return to New Orleans? If so, we might get most of our city back. If not, and the signs so far are not so good, then the tens of thousands of people who were left behind when Katrina hit 10 months ago, will again be left behind.

The future of New Orleans depends on those who are willing to fight for the right of every person to return. Many are fighting for that right. Please join in.

Some ask, what can people who care do to help New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? Help us rebuild our communities. Pair up your community, your business, school, church, professional or social organization, with one on the Gulf Coast – and build a relationship where your organization can be a resource for one here and provide opportunities for your groups to come and help and for people here to come and tell their stories in your communities. Most groups here have adopted the theme – Solidarity not Charity. Or as aboriginal activist Lila Watson once said: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us struggle together.”

For the sake of our nation and for our world, let us struggle together.

In the meantime, I will be joining other volunteers this Saturday, knocking out the mold covered ceiling of my friend’s home and putting it out on the street – 10 months after Katrina.

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at

Also check out his article from October 2005 at Chickenbones.

Zimbabwean women want Dignity.Period!

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