Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Black Sabbatical

(Crossposted in part at CorrenteWire)

I've been away, and I know the place has gone to hell. My TTLB eco-status is fast devolving to the paramecium level, and I'm too distracted to care. The news, when I let myself think too much about it, feels like a chunk of sharpened obsidian trepanning into my skull. If I'm going to be lobotomized, at least let it be by my own hand. The abortion thing, Alito, Iraq, Rod Stewart singing old standards...any number of rampant stupidities at large in the land at any given moment make me just want to hide my head and cry.
NOLA 188
So I can't blog now. I feel like I owe it to the people who have read my stuff to at least give that much notice. Fatigue, depresssion, constantly phasing in and out of illness, I'm pretty useless for anything except work, for which I save all my energy, and even there I'm pretty much phoning it in. I've decided to take a sabbatical for the next month, in hopes that after the holidays I'll be in better shape and more worthy to add my two cents here and elsewhere. I may sit down and work on the template now and then. Maybe even type something brief. But probably not.

In the meantime, keep plugging NOLA. And watch out for others who want to cover it over, using the excuse that it's not healthy to dwell on all the bad. There's a fine line to be walked between keeping up morale for the people who dream of rebuilding their homes, and rah-rahing a bunch of no-nothing bullshit to make the rest of the world think the place is going to be just like new in another couple months. The second approach is a sure way to let people off the hook from caring about the worst natural disaster to ever hit our country. It was 95,000 square miles of damage. Over 5000 people are still missing. Bodies were still being pulled out while I was there, only a couple miles from my shelter in Kenner.

If it was your home, you would tell anyone else who advised you to cash it in and move away to go fuck themselves. We owe it to them to remember, and do something about it.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Attention Science Wonks, Political Junkies, & Critter Lovers

That about covers my readership, doesn't it?

Philly's main PBS station, WHYY, has announced a trio of Katrina-related documentaries that sound good to me. Times and days may vary, depending on your local PBS station. From their e-mailed ad:

"Nature "Katrina's Animal Rescue"
Sunday, November 20 at 8 p.m.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, animal experts rushed to the frontlines of the disaster to stage emergency rescue missions for the tens of thousands of animals left behind. Nature recorded these amazing stories of courage and survival, taking viewers deep into the center of the hurricane catastrophe on small boats to search for surviving pets. The film captures the intensity of efforts to save not only dogs and cats (and reunite them with their families), but also penguins, dolphins and other zoo and aquarium animals, and imparts a sense of the triumphs and disappointments of this massive operation.

What Went Wrong?
Tuesday, November 22
WHYY presents two riveting new programs about the Hurricane Katrina disaster:

8 p.m.: NOVA "Storm That Drowned a City" analyzes the forces that made Katrina so deadly, and

9 p.m.: Frontline "The Storm" investigates the government's response before and after this national tragedy."

And if you're lucky enough to own a digital tuner, their HD station kicks ass.

Whistling Past Somebody Else's Graveyard

In NOLA there is no dearth of signs like this:


popping up all over street corners and other high-visibility sites, advertising jobs, loans, cleaning and restoration services, "house gutting", and often just that businesses closed for storm damage have re-opened again. Among these are always the ones announcing "Katrina lawsuits" and legal assistance.



In yesterday's NYTimes, the editorial noticed that Katrina survivors, having had enough of Bush's compassionate conservatism, are taking matters into their own hands:
"Public outrage is clearly growing over the federal government's woefully inadequate program for housing the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Last week a group of survivors filed the first of what are likely to be several lawsuits alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has failed to live up to its responsibilities. The recovery effort has been subject to blistering criticism from conservative, nonpartisan and liberal groups alike.
The same basic question is this: Why did the Bush administration focus on trailer parks built by FEMA - which is actually not a housing agency - instead of giving the lead role to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has so much experience on this issue?"
"Outrage" barely expresses it. Everywhere you go in New Orleans and environs you can see the anger, written on the sides of buildings ("Screw you, Nagin, we made our own plan"), spelled out on broken signs with magnetic letters ("Where was FEMA?"), scrawled on the ruined appliances that litter the streets ("Build a crap wall. What Katrina left, Wilma will take"), on homemade signs propped up in the piles of detritus and trash unbiquitous to the curbs in front of almost every house ("Evacuate Broussard" "Thanks, Aaron!"), and on the T-shirts sold by small vendors in the Quarter ("FEMA: Federal Employees Missing Again").

That anger shouted eloquently from the buildings of New Orleans, gave voice to the diaspora long since departed and the powerless still trapped inside. Here is what I wrote on 10/26/05 in the journal I kept while down there:
"The broken bodies of rotted and collapsed buildings have become billboards for the anger and pain of the people of NOLA and the towns surrounding it. Sprawled over 4 corners (of an intersection) and down half the city blocks beyond, piles of ruined stuffed animals 6 or 7 feet high, the ruins of a warehouse that held a man's entire livelihood. Delicate little houses with wrought ironwork and still-vibrant paint jobs, broken, rotting, and abandoned for miles. The fluorescent red or orange "X" painted on house after house, a sign left by those who entered searching for bodies or the still-living in need of rescue. At the top is the date of inspection--most are dated around 9/15 or later, some as late as early October. On the left, the initials of the inspecting group.

9th Ward

At the bottom, the number of dead found; usually that was a "0", meaning none. To see a number other than the struck through zero there always gave me a chill. The letters in the right side of the cross still remain a mystery. Sometimes they seemed to indicate a direction, as in "NE". Other times they made no sense at all. And often I'd see "TFW" written (inside a circle). I still don't know what it is. The SPCA would sometimes weigh in, as well. Their messages were easy to decipher: "K-9 moved to corner"; "1 dog alive"; "2 cats under house"; and sometimes "no dogs" or "1 dead cat".
Between these signs and messages, and the words written by the ones who had to leave in anger and bitterness, even the parts of NOLA that are still and lifeless vibrate with a thousand voices, reaching out to communicate with anyone who comes after. "Help! Help! Help!" reads the house on the street in the lower Ninth Ward. Places where not a living thing moves can make the tears come, when you read the stories that have been left there. Holes in roofs torn by the desperate, trapped inside their houses while trying to escape rising waters, still gape to remind us of their terror.
To imagine living here, constantly facing the massive deconstruction on every corner, in every yard, with your entire environment looking like one big landfill;

17th St Levee

to live growing numb to the ugliness; to expect mud, cracked earth, endless dust, to always be hacking and coughing, living with low-level respiratory ailments; to wait without hope for salvation from the insurance company, the city, the federal government, to live with price gouging. To live in tents.
At home it has rained endlessly, and been cold. Here, the sun has shone everyday, and the earth is parched. Hurricane Wilma's hellacious winds sent water into the Ninth Ward again Tuesday, and what small progress made there was halted.
Halloween in the Quarter I wish I could say I'll miss NOLA, or Louisiana, but I won't. It's too flat for my soul, and I miss the seasons. Fall doesn't exist here, at least in a way that makes sense to a Yankee. The few Halloween decorations I've noticed look as out of place as a Christmas tree in the middle of a bandstand on a summer night. But most of all, I won't miss the constant low-level misery, the endless fighting back against despair that is the lot of every person here. I've come to love the strength, humor, and compassion of the local people. But I don't have enough of any of those qualities to bear their miseries."
On my day off wandering the French Quarter, one of the last people I talked to before leaving New Orleans was a small, sweet Filipino woman who ran a little souvenir shop across from the French Market. She told me how her children,ages 10 to 16, lived in Florida now because there was no place for them to stay since the storm had destroyed her house. How she was waiting and waiting and waiting for FEMA to provide her with a trailer. How the insurance company had kissed her off. How determined she was to stay on and keep trying. I told her about the Vietnamese community of Willowbrook, still deprived of power and water and being pressured to allow their land to be condemned, and the people of Lakeview, who came up to our trucks sobbing, who told us of having no income for 2 months and being made to jump through hoops by the city (set up an inspection of the property which will take half a month, then wait, then send in over $100 for the permit) in order to repair their homes. I shared with her the stories other residents had shared with me, and it made her feel less alone. We hugged and cried together.

One of the striking things about the NOLA area was the brightly colored blue tarps I had seen on roofs everywhere since I'd been down there, and shortly after my conversation with the souvenir shop owner, I learned what it was all about. A few blocks down I met an Army Corps of Engineers engineer, who had been inspecting buildings for the FEMA Blue Roof program. As it turns out. this is nothing more than plastic sheeting installed over the damaged areas, in order to stem any further damages from the elements, until the homeowner can pay someone to fix it. If the damage is too extensive (50% or more) or makes the roof structurally unsound, it disqualifies the applicant for assistance. He told me about the Blue Roof program, and how the ACE works with FEMA on it. This is what one of their notices looks like when it goes up on a property that fails to conform to the criteria for eligibility:

French Quarter

We also talked about what we had seen in the Ninth Ward, and he told me of a little old woman with problems getting around who refused to leave her house (no one was supposed to be cleared to stay there at the time). I gave him the cell phone number for one of my Red Cross supervisors so he could pass on her location. Later I learned from one of the supervisors that ERV crews had seen an old woman there rocking on her porch. I don't know what, if anything, they did.

And this is what FEMA puts up when they are trying to get in to inspect a property where the owner has requested assistance, and the owner is not at home.

French Quarter

The owner may have been applying from Texas or New York, for all I know, which could account for them not being home. Whether FEMA would be aware of those circumstances would, I guess, depend on whether they are currently being run as a real agency or just a money-laundering crony employment initiative. But the condition of the house in question, which was obviously damaged and shuttered on a street with very little sign of life, might give a clue:

French Quarter

Public outrage? Not nearly enough. The majority of those affected are still reeling from massive psychological damage. Struggling just to get by from one day to the next makes it hard to think about the political and legal affronts that facilitated your misery. It takes awhile to organize behind that. People continue to suffer without power or water or transportation or easy access to food. The most common request from the people we served from the trucks was for ice. Yet for some reason people think ice is no longer an issue. Illness is rampant. Businesses are struggling to open. Jobs go begging because there is no place to live. There is no real infrastructure. Migrant workers have been shipped in to do the dangerous work of salvage, and are being forced to sleep in buses or in tents in fields. Homelessness is starting to climb again, now that the evictions have started and the vulturine landlord class has price-jacked rents. The displaced are sleeping with their children in tents while trying to find or keep jobs.


The outrage is that for some reason many people have put this unprecedented disaster behind them, and think that it will all be over in a year or two. The outrage is that Bush and his coterie of fratboys and creeps still animate the governmental corpse like a cabal of voodoo priests, and that not once since the embarrassment of the initial inconvenient slaughter has he willingly looked in on the progress being made in the Gulf Coast, or offered anything like an open hand to its ravaged victims, 5000 of whom remain missing in action. The outrage is that he still sits in the White House, and the rest of us yawn and go back to picking lint from our navels, or whatever it is that passes for quality time spent in America these days, and wait for someone else to fix everything.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Checking In

American Government Awash In Cases Of Avian Flu
---Thousands Believed Braindead

Just a note to those who may have wondered if I died.

The answer is: not yet, but my body keeps trying. I've been dragging around with some kind of chest infection for over a week, and I may be fighting off a re-visitation of my illness in New Orleans. Whatever it is, it's made it really hard to sit in front of the computer after spending all my energy on day-to-day chores, and I'm finally giving in and seeing the doc tomorrow. Hopefully this will get me back into the soup and writing. After that baldly shameless shit-slinging of Bush's last week, I can hardly stand to sit by and let these golden opportunities go past. After all...there he was, channeling Karl Rove's up-is-down junkyard dog snarl and blaming the Democrats for giving him exactly what he wanted back at a time when anyone who dared speak out against the resolution was being branded a traitor by Bushco operatives in and out of the media.

In the meantime, while we're on the subject of the braindead, read Charles Pierce's wonderful assessment of the state of the Union's literacy rate, Greetings From Idiot America.

Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Grave Blanket Of Comforting Lies

Leah has a thoughtful post up marking Veteran's Day.

Me, I'm sick of it all. I just got back from a part of the world where the destruction is so vast and pitiless that I think we have more on our plate than we can handle, just dealing with Nature's wars. Yet we persist in creating more for ourselves. marsI'm not adding one more voice to the chorus, however well intended, about how brave and heroic the warrior class is. Because what it comes down to is that you put people out there in endlessly repeated situations where all that matters is staying alive and depending on their comrades to help them do that, and then you praise them for it. You pick out the inevitable shining diamonds of decency and the moments of humanity that many of them act out, that will let them rise above the carnage for however brief a moment, and praise them and what they have had to endure, and it makes the attraction of fighting and dying all the more alluring, cements the mythology even more tightly to the reality it obscures, the reality that war is death to the human soul and a wallow in the worst evils man can produce. The young are full of fire and believe in their own immortality and are eager to prove to themselves and the world that they can walk through that fire, and the old are eager to give them the chance by stoking them with jingoistic lies and the false religion of patriotism.

Every time we cry over our dead and elevate them above us as heroes for fighting in a war we did not, we give fodder to the war-making machine that is never filled, and we give the halo of desirability to the deaths to come.

I refuse to do this anymore. War is not heroic. It is not a lesser evil. It is not an inevitable fact of life we must adjust ourselves to, and everytime we pacify ourselves with that lie, we make the next war as inevitable as the next rainstorm.

It's time to end this myth, because the only thing it does is provide never-ending justification to the warmongers who need us to believe it in order to power their machine.

I hate the loss of so much life. It is a crime and a sin. It is a sin for which no church can offer justification. It's time to pull the tooth of the war god, and say "Enough."

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Law

"Power is always gradually stealing away from the many to the few, because the few are more vigilant and consistent; it still contracts to a smaller number, till in time it centers in a single person. Thus all the forms of governments instituted among mankind perpetually tend towards monarchy; and power, however diffused through the whole community, is by negligence or corruption, commotion or distress, reposed at last in the chief magistrate."---Samuel Johnson

stgeorgeandthedragon-raphael A writ of habeas corpus is an ancient legal protection grounded in English Common Law that allows a prisoner to demand an appearance before a court as to the lawfulness of his or her detention. It has always been one of the most basic sovereign rights accorded to individuals by our justice system for protection against an unlawful imprisonment, even before our revolution and the drafting of our constitution. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution states:

Clause 2: The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
That's "Rebellion or invasion", neither of which have occurred here, regardless of how Bushco tries to deform the definitions of those terms. The BBC gives a quick overview:

" Sir William Blackstone, who wrote his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England in the 18th Century, recorded the first use of habeas corpus in 1305. But other writs with the same effect were used in the 12th Century, so it appears to have preceded Magna Carta in 1215.
Its original use was more straightforward - a writ to bring a prisoner into court to testify in a pending trial. But what began as a weapon for the king and the courts became - as the political climate changed - protection for the individual against arbitrary detention by the state.
It is thought to have been common law by the time of Magna Carta, which says in Article 39: "No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor will we send upon him except upon the lawful judgement of his peers or the law of the land."
Over the next few hundred years, concern grew that kings would whimsically intervene on matters of detention, so it was enshrined in law in 1679. "
Now Jerrilyn Merritt at Talk Left reports that the attack on this ancient right that began last spring has geared up:

"Tinkering with habeas corpus is a dangerous thing. Today, Sen. Lindsay Graham and his fellow Senators told you they are only restricting habeas rights of enemy combatants, i.e., foreigners. But on November 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a second hearing on S. 1088 (pdf), a bill that would gut habeas corpus rights for Americans.
The legislation, known as the Streamlined Procedures Act, would effectively kill the writ of habeas corpus by stripping federal courts of jurisdiction to consider cases in which a prisoner's constitutional rights may have been violated. The legislation would apply to all criminal cases, including capital cases. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in the Senate and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) in the House."
What I don't think these people anticipate is the firestorm of objection that will surely come from, not just bleeding-heart liberals, but foamy-mouthed reactionaries and libertarians as well. The same "unlikely bedfellows" principle that foiled Michael Powell's FCC fold to the media giants will likely prevail in this case as well; simply too many people's oxen stand to be gored. And while this alone keeps me from freaking too heavily behind this bald-faced attempt to deep-six the Constitution, the other part scares me even more deeply: that we ourselves are sending representatives to Washington who neither understand nor care about the law or its protections against tyranny. And that even if this travesty is defeated, the mindset that conceived it is not going to go away.

Is it any wonder Bushco shills have been trying to disembowel the public education system?

Friday, November 04, 2005

More Pictures

I-10 Downtown
I-10 Downtown.

17th St Levee
17th St. Levee.


Everywhere you go in New Orleans and environs you'll see these small signs popping up like mushrooms, advertising house gutting or clean water or legal services, or simply announcing that some local business has re-opened.

17th St. Levee
17th St. Levee.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Some Pictures

Without comment.
Rampart St
Rampart St.

Vieux Carre
French Quarter.

17th St Levee
17th St Levee.

Canal St
Canal St.