Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some Things to Be Understood about New Orleans and Katrina

A few years ago, I ran into the father of a friend of mine in Tallahassee. He was with her uncle, who I was meeting for the first time. We talked a little, the father asked how I was liking New Orleans, and I told him how much I loved it. Suddenly, the uncle busts out with this rant:

"I don't know why they're rebuilding that city. It's all under sea level, and it's raising my insurance premiums. It's ridiculous!" Or, something along those lines.

Now, I don't know why this Florida resident thought that rebuilding New Orleans would increase his insurance premiums anymore than a beach house in Panama City. And I don't know why all the rancor. But it shed a little light on the feelings not a few Americans have about New Orleans.

Not everyone loves this city. It's hard to believe, because so many people do. People have their hearts buried here. But some people have no love for New Orleans. Maybe they have a bad memory of puking their guts out on Bourbon Street in their fraternity days. Maybe they are just not moved by a brass band marching down St. Charles Avenue at Mardi Gras.

When it comes to Katrina, some people have opinions that, really, if they don't live here, why do they even bother? For people who don't love the city, Katrina gives them this reason to say the city shouldn't even exist. It's below sea level, people shouldn't live there, they don't want their taxes payin' for it.

Here are a few things those people need to understand. They are not righteous in their opinions. And they are wrong about the facts.

While Katrina damaged many buildings, it was the flooding that killed people and created most of the property damage. The flooding actually occurred hours after the worst of the storm had past.

The Industrial Canal that flooded the Ninth Ward is a man-made body of water. People were living in the Ninth Ward before the canal and levees were built in the 1920's. It is and always has been the Army Corps of Engineer's responsibility to maintain the levees that protect this neighborhood. The levees broke because they were poorly maintained.

The flooding was not inevitable and does not have to happen again. It was not purely a natural disaster. If the Army Corps of Engineers maintains the levees the way it should, this disaster does not have to be repeated. So, why shouldn't people live here?

Not all of New Orleans is under sea level, but most of New Orleans was flooded. Is it reasonable to think that the entire city should have gone without rebuilding?

Tax dollars. I hear people complain that tax money shouldn't go into rebuilding New Orleans. One, Louisiana pays taxes like any other state. Two, it was the government's responsibility to maintain the levees and it failed. Why shouldn't it foot the bill?

That being said, how much money has really gone into rebuilding when there are so many people who have yet received money to come home?

Now for some City Oppression Olympics: Do people really talk about Los Angeles, with it's earthquakes, wild fires, mudslides and droughts, with the same venom? Do people hold the same belief that Las Vegas shouldn't exist because it is so unsustainable? Miami and Galveston have been hit with monstrous hurricanes, and will be again. Does anyone question why we rebuild them? The entire country of Bangladesh is under sea level, prone to horrible natural disasters. Should we withhold aid from Bangladeshis until they live where we want them to? Home is home. What right does anyone have to say the Ninth Ward shouldn't be rebuilt when the people who lived there want to come home?

Perhaps because Katrina was such a dramatic disaster, everyone has an opinion about the city's existence. It is one of the oldest cities in America, of extreme importance to America's history and present. From Louisiana, the rest of the country takes oil, seafood, music - and New Orleans is the center of industry, a major port, the entrance to the Mississippi River. It's not worth rebuilding? It's not worth protecting?

It angers me to hear people ask why the city should be rebuilt. One, it has already been rebuilt. The Ninth Ward is coming back, with or without the support of everyone else in America. So, it's a little late to say it shouldn't happen. It doesn't seem to matter how many times Anderson Cooper comes down here and reports from some revitalized neighborhood - some people still envision the city under water. Some people will always see New Orleans as suffering. And that's their problem, not ours.

Americans should question their own neighborhoods. Do they have the same culture, history and heart as New Orleans? What makes your home worth protecting? If you dare to question the validity of this community, are you really ready to defend yours against such questioning?

Related sites:
Gulf Restoration Network

Harry Shearer: Five Myths about Katrina

Drugs are a Human Rights Violation: Part II

Seventy-two migrants were found near the U.S.-Mexico Border, murdered by members of a drug cartel on August 26th. Two days later, Paris Hilton was arrested for cocaine possession in Las Vegas.
And all people can say is that she looks pretty, even in her mug shot.

No one in the media draws a connection between drug use and the violence playing out in Mexico today. People blame the war on drugs, drug policies, prohibition, the governments of the U.S. and Mexico - and all of these play their part - yet no one ever places the responsibility on the people who actually purchase these drugs for recreation.

I'm not saying that Paris Hilton has killed seventy-two Latin Americans herself. But I am saying that instead of focusing on the superficial aspects of the story - like her beauty, her irreverence, her foolishness for getting caught - we should ask her if she knows where her drugs come from. Does she know how they got to Las Vegas? Did they come from a fair trade coca farm in Southern California? Did they come wrapped in condoms swallowed by a drug mule?

When Lindsay Lohan was photographed in Paris with a cocaine-powdered credit card in the corner, people laughed. They said she was stupid for letting herself be photographed with cocaine when she was supposed to be in court in California. But no one drew a connection between Lindsay Lohan snorting cocaine in France and the countries in West Africa that have become violent stopping points for drugs on their way from Latin America to Europe. When celebrities are caught with drugs, the media worries about the end of a career, the affect on beauty, the dimming of a star. No one thinks about the people in the developing world who suffered in the production process. Why is that? Why doesn't anyone make drug use a human rights issue?

Some people argue that legalization of cocaine and heroin might somehow solve all the problems of the drug trade. Some people say drug use should be decriminalized and users should be treated for addiction instead of placed in prison. And those ideas may have their merits. But I see nothing wrong with making the connection between purchasing cocaine, heroin and meth and financially supporting the violent drug cartels that are currently murdering people at will. When you pay for cocaine, you are putting money in the pockets of some messed-up people. When you snort cocaine, you are snorting blood.

Related posts:

Drugs are a Human Rights Violation: Part I
Ms. Hilton in Africa
Ms. Lohan in India

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dirty Linen Night: August 14, 2010

My favorite artist who shows locally: Alex Beard

George Rodrigue is probably the most famous local artist, and he's famous mostly for his blue dogs. I like his older work, scenes of Cajun life and Louisiana landscape. I did like this one portrait of his wife, because it recalls the first blue dog, who was painted over a tomb like this one.

Chris Roberts-Antieau

Friday, August 20, 2010

Interpretation Files: PSA from Texas

In this PSA, an English-speaking rushes her sick baby to a hospital where no one speaks English. I'm not sure what they are speaking (any ideas)? The idea, I believe, is to show what it would be like to be unable to communicate with anyone in an emergency. I like the guy who speaks two words of English and throws them out there as if they could help.

I think it's interesting that - in a PSA aiming to improve language access in America - they chose to make an English-speaker the subject of our sympathy. I believe this is because those people most against language access would not be moved by watching a Spanish-speaking mother in this situation. They would probably mutter something about how she needed to learn English anyway. Watching a White mother try to find someone who speaks English in a hospital full of other White people makes it less about race and more about the linguistic problem of being unable to speak the language of those in charge.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

One Lee Cirlce

As if it isn't strange enough that New Orleans has a "Lee Circle" with a towering monument of Robert E. Lee. One Lee Circle also hosts this monument. I apologize that this picture is so bad, I took it at night, through glass because the doors were locked. The plaque below the bronze statue of oil workers reads:
"Always Remember, Oil and Gas Funded this Foundation."

The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation provides college scholarships to Louisiana students. The tone of the monument seems to be of true indignation that someone might forget it was really all about the oil. I think the monument is interesting now, after all that has happened. Two summers ago when I first moved to New Orleans, I remember being annoyed that the statue was demanding me to think of oil fondly, when I have no good feelings towards the oil industry. Two years ago, the doors were wide open. I may be wrong about this, but since the spill, I have not seen the doors open to visitors. Seeing that the foundation is supposed to be a charitable one and also has nothing to do with BP, it may not be a target of anger over the spill. But maybe they aren't taking any chances.

Always Remember, Oil and Gas has Permanently Damaged Our Coast.

White Linen Night 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

Global Wildlife Center: Folsom, Louisiana

My family took me to Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana for my birthday this weekend. I loved it! There are no predators on the park, so, no big cats. Also no elephants or hippos or animals that could really mess you up if they wanted to. But there are plenty of another amazing animals to see. Gazelle, reindeer, kangaroos, giraffes. The animals are free-roaming, so it's even better than a zoo. There is a kind of Noah's Arc feel to the sight of a herd of animals that wouldn't ordinarily be found together in nature living together. Riding in a covered tractor-wagon, you can buy feed to give to the animals and - if they let you - you can even pet them. Except the zebras. They're kind of mean. Check out the website for more information.