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June 23, 2006

Notes from New Orleans 1
Posted by Patrick at 07:21 PM * 27 comments

Coming in from the airport by cab, you don’t go past any of the really famously stricken areas. The neighborhoods visible from the freeway look normal enough. Then you notice the utility poles.

Those stripped tree trunks with wires hanging off them, so much part of the American urban landscape that they’re usually invisible? Almost none of them are perpendicular to the ground. They’re all leaning—most of them just a little bit, some quite a lot, some visibly shored up to keep them from falling altogether. Hundreds of them, thousands, mile after mile. It’s hard to imagine it taking less than years to repair them all.

The damaged Superdome looks like a prop from a post-urban-holocaust SF movie, like a vast dirty concrete ball hurled into hot asphalt.

I’m in a high-rise hotel on Canal Street. I’ve been to New Orleans three times before, in 1988, 1993, and 1994. Things down here look largely as I remember them, that peculiarly New Orleanean blend of comfortable wear, piss-smelling grunginess, heart-stabbing beauty, and civic boosterism. There are some large buildings visibly out of commission, like the medium-rise Doubletree Hotel that lost most of its windows. Despite the presence of the American Library Association (which I’m here for) and another convention or two, the French Quarter and downtown seem oddly uncrowded. This could be because the city has half the population it used to. Or it could be because it’s hot and humid enough to strike strong men down in the street.

The T-shirts for sale in French Quarter tourist shops include some interesting new flavors in the mix. Along with the usual (I GOT BOURBON-FACED ON SHIT STREET) and the predictable (KATRINA GAVE ME A BLOW JOB I’LL NEVER FORGET), there’s a distinct streak of the overtly political. A whole subgenre is devoted to mocking a certain Federal agency: FEDERAL EMERGENCY MISMANAGEMENT ASSHOLES, or, somewhat inscrutably, FIND EVERY MEXICAN AVAILABLE.* But what’s striking are the overtly anti-Iraq War shirts, which seem just as prevalent: MAKE LEVEES, NOT WAR. And, more directly: SCREW IRAQ, REBUILD HERE.

I’m off to dinner. More later.

UPDATE: I was wrong about the Doubletree being “out of commission.” It’s open and functioning; it’s just got an impressive amount of visible damage on its outside.

Comments on Notes from New Orleans 1:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 07:39 PM:

Find Every Mexican Available is not that inscrutable. There's been a bit of reporting on the influx of Latinos (mostly Mexican) to work on reconstruction. This has been particularly galling for poorer African-Americans in New Orleans and Louisiana more generally.

#2 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 07:47 PM:

If you have a digital camera and could position yourself so the leaning telephone poles were backdropped by sky, you might have one of those National Geographic type photos that is simple, yet tells you how messed up things are.

I assume the poles are leaning because everything down there is built on mississippi silt? Or maybe that plus hurricane force winds?

#3 ::: Robin Z ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 08:51 PM:

"SCREW IRAQ, REBUILD HERE."

I like that shirt. I'd never wear it (I'm somewhat mealy-mouthed), but I like the idea.

#4 ::: BadTux ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 11:26 PM:

As a native Louisianian, let me tell you how the Mexican thing goes. There's a lot of people out of work in Louisiana. Their business or workplace got destroyed when Katrina blew through the defective levees (East New Orleans would have flooded regardless, but was mostly residential. West New Orleans, where most businesses were, would have stayed high and dry if the levees hadn't been defective -- the levess there were *not* overtopped). There's a lot of Louisiana contractors who have crews just ready and waiting to hire all those people... if they could get contracts from FEMA to do some of that cleanup work. Otherwise they're in the same boat as everybody else.

So who is getting the cleanup contracts? You guessed it -- Dear Leader's pack of Texas cronies. Who then round up crews of illegal Mexicans from where they're based (Texas), bus them over to New Orleans, and dump them off in the streets, saying "Show up when we need a work crew and we might give you $50 a day."

See, the deal is that then they get to pocket all the money that they're supposedly paying the Mexicans, funnel it off to their offshore bank accounts, and the Mexicans aren't going to complain if the GAO starts auditing where the money's going -- they're just going to fade into the background, because they fear being deported. Whereas if they "hired" Louisiana workers, there's the possibility that the GAO might actually *find* some of those Louisiana workers, and find out that the billions that FEMA is supposedly paying for the "cleanup effort" (HAH! There isn't any, except what people have managed to do for themselves!) never made it to the workers who were supposedly being paid with it.

In other words, it's all a corrupt scheme by the Presidential Cronies to rip off the taxpayers for yet more money. In my opinion, we ought to give all the money to the people who actually live there. Yeah, the New Orleans government is notoriously incompetent and corrupt. But look, can they be any more corrupt and incompetent than Dear Leader's administration, which can't even manage to properly conquer some decrepit sandpit overseas without screwing it up? At least the people actually there in Louisiana have an incentive to actually use the money to clean up the place -- they live there, after all! What does some Dallas businessmen crony of Dear Leader care if his Mexican work crews never manage to do anything except move a pile of trash from one side of Central Park to the other, then back again? I mean, it's not as if his contract thingy has any kind of performance penalities in it, perish the thought!

- Badtux the Louisianian

#5 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 11:57 PM:

If you went by our local newspapers you'd think nothing was wrong in New Orleans. That's old news ::yawn:: Heck, Zarqawi is old news already. But Iraq -- oh, yah, that we can get plenty of mileage out of.

Hmm... maybe if someone spread a convincing rumor that Osama was holed up in the Superdome...

Oh, sorry, I forgot. Osama, that guy who actually masterminded the attack on our nation, is old news too.

#6 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 01:56 AM:

Want to be that half the population of New Orleans will have to come back just to get the application form for a postal ballot?

Because it doesn't look as if they'll get many Republican votes there.

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 10:20 AM:

iraq new orleans
no difference between them
sources of profit

#8 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 10:50 AM:

Peace is good for business.
War is good for business.
--#s 34 and 35 of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition

#9 ::: RuTemple ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 11:43 AM:

Greg,
A photo of skewed powerline poles wouldn't skim the top of the surface of things, alas.
In the lower ninth ward, there is still no electricity, no services, and the only cleanup is what people are doing themselves, or with the little bit of help folks who come down on their spring break to do a week of service, add in. A pal of mine did that this March.
She and the students with her took some great photos. Did some significant work. Made a tiny, tiny, drop in the bucket, or perhaps rather ocean of what's needed there:

"Pictures from the lower 9th ward
Here's a sampling of pictures from New Orleans. I will gradually get more loaded into my scrapbook. They don't really do justice to it. You have to think of miles of this stuff, electrical wires dangling all over (no power, of course), pools of water, craters in the roads sprouting trees, and rusted cars everywhere there aren't houses (and sometimes in places where there are.)"

You may wish to peruse her LiveJournal account of the trip, see the pix. First photos here: http://botanicavix.livejournal.com/49583.html
Beginning of the trip log here:
http://botanicavix.livejournal.com/48738.html

Thoughtful reading.

Patrick, we opted not to head out to ALA this summer, in part due to intense mold allergies, and eagerly look forward to peering over your shoulder at how it is this year - thanks for the descriptions!

#10 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 01:29 PM:

thank you. keep describing, please.

#11 ::: Diana Rowland ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 10:14 PM:

You don't even have to go to the Ninth Ward to see how bad it still is. Just go a couple of miles up Canal Street toward the lake. Once you get out of the central business district, it goes back to being a devastated mess. The only places where you can kinda pretend that things are all right are in the CBD or on the ridges that took only a couple of feet of water. Go north on Canal, and then take some random side streets... the only thing that has changed since the storm is that the weeds are higher. Lakeview is a desolate mess. The whole thing is pathetic and depressing. I hate going into New Orleans--makes me cry every time.

Patrick, please see as much of the city as you can. Too many people think that since it's been almost a year that things must be back to normal, things must be rebuilt by now. But people forget that it wasn't just homes that flooded.. it was homes and grocery stores and walmarts and pharmacies and the pediatrician who has your baby's shot records and the library and the utility company and the hospitals... it was everything. We need people to realize that.

#12 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 11:52 PM:

Read Dhalgren. Every time something's burning, mentally substitute "soaked and rotting."

Might get close.

#13 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2006, 08:50 PM:

and the pediatrician who has your baby's shot records

My Dad would be among those. He said it was amazing, the amount of people calling him after the storm, some from out of state, desperately needing those medical records and absolutely unable to comprehend that his office drowned too.

It's tempting to hole up at my parent's place in Metairie and pretend nothing's wrong, when I come visit. Their area has been pretty well cleaned up. Back in February I took a brief bike ride south from there, up into the area where Country Day School is, and kept going towards Airline Highway by way of all the country club looking back streets. The signs of damage are a lot more subtle there; biking through at night, you see huge brick mansions but no lights at all, no signs of habitation, and, if you look closely at the windows, no habitable living spaces inside.

I still haven't really gotten a look at Lakeview, the west end of the area Diana's describing. The time I went with Dad to try to rescue some things from the office (in Gentilly), we sorta kinda drove back that way, taking Robert E. Lee Blvd. towards the 17th Street Canal where it would turn into Old Hammond Highway, but eventually we had to give up that plan because of all the devastation in the roads. That was October last year.

#14 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2006, 01:13 AM:

Oh, Nicole, I'm so sorry to hear about that. Losing a business you've worked to build up can be devastating.

And now for the public service announcement -

If you're a small business, such as a doctor, writer, editor, or artist - back up your work and your business records and send them off-site! By off-site, I don't just mean your home - I mean out of town, somewhere secure.

You can contract with Iron Mountain or a similar company to do this if you're dealing with people's confidential records. If not, set up disk or tape exchange with friends. They keep yours and you keep theirs.

Right now, I'm not doing as well as I should. I do have copies not in my house/office, but I don't have copies outside of the city I live in. Posts like Nicole's remind me that I need to send a set of backup DVDs to some out-of-town relatives to put in their safe deposit box.

I'm not currently a data safekeeping specialist, nor do I play one on TV, but I did have a job as one for ten years. I don't know the backup programs/media anymore, but if anyone's interested, I can answer some questions on the principals involved.

#15 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2006, 04:30 AM:

Good advice.

I understand that the USA doesn't have anything like the data protection laws in Europe. One feature of the system is that you're required to keep personal data "safe", rather than just "secure". So backups are important. And it's likely a good thing to have some sort of written contract. even in the USA, with your out-of-state friend.

I suppose the British example is the Buncefield fuel depot. What idiocy let an industrial estate be built right by the depot, and had companies putting their national offices there, I'm not sure. Luckily, the explosion that trashed the offices didn't happen during office hours.

#16 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2006, 04:57 AM:

"SCREW IRAQ, REBUILD HERE."

Well, they're halfway there...

The perfect racket. In a way, I admire them. I admire their purity. Survivors, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

#17 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2006, 07:43 AM:

I work for the company who's head office was right next door to Buncefield.

What happened shows the value of off-site backups. Although the building and it's contents were a total loss, just about every mission critical system was back up within days, and most others within weeks. While it caused a lot of short-term disruption, there's been comparatively little long-term impact on the business.

#18 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2006, 01:23 PM:

Thank you for going with the ALA, Patrick. My mother, who runs an antique shop on Magazine Street, says everyone in the tourism-oriented industries there is desperate for the conventions to come back to town. The convention-goers constitute a HUGE percentage of their annual profits, and this year... well.

Good on the ALA for not canceling the way so many others have.

(If you want to go by, my mom and them would love to see ya! Bon Marche' Antique Mall, 2014 Magazine St.)

#19 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2006, 08:16 PM:

Margaret, thanks for the good thoughts. Dr.s LeBoeuf and Buras are still in business, in no small part thanks to the good graces of the Metairie branch of Children's Hospital, who's loaning them office space, but I think the real moment of truth will be when the '06-'07 school year starts and they see how many of their former patients actually come home--or how many new ones they get.

As for backing up records, well, most of them were paper. File cabinets filled with 'em. Medical offices tend to be the last to go paper-free, in my limited experience. I'm not sure what it would have taken to get all those paper files into bits and bytes, but my guess is about twice the staff hours they'd had at their disposal pre-Katrina.

On another subject, the ALA sounds like a wonderful event and I'm kicking myself for not even being aware of it before seeing all the blogs I read erupt in news of it this year. (Neil's and Poppy's in particular are making me DROOL.) *SIGH* I'll be in town around-abouts the end of July until the first weekend in August; anything going on then I should check out? (Maybe I should take my family out to Cafe Adelaide's? After winning the lottery?)

#20 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2006, 11:56 PM:

Definitely be interested in hearing more about your trip. (I mean, presuming you want to talk about it any more.)

#21 ::: Shannnon ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 09:43 PM:

Not all of the Katrina-themed shirts are so nice... Lots of jokes about looting and whatnot. Really poor taste.

Yeah, the 9th Ward's awful. Can't get much worse, 'cept it can: Chalmette. That damage was flood surge (salt water), so all the trees are dead and gray. All of them. I went through there on a particularly gloomy day and I felt like I had stepped into a Poe story. Or Lovecraft.

#22 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 07:27 PM:

Err... "storm surge," that is...

#23 ::: Colleen Lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2006, 11:09 AM:

Hey, my pal Kuo-Yu Liang from Diamond Comics just got back from New Orleans, and has a good couple of posts about it here.

#24 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2006, 03:27 PM:

Colleen: You seem to have a bum link there. (One too many 't's in 'http' if I'm reading it right.)

--Mary Aileen

#25 ::: Dave ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:54 PM:

Yeah, I was at the same conference and posted a few comments regarding New Orleans. The Bourbon Street t-shirts were wonderful! Liked 'em so much that I made a listing of the ones I came across.

#27 ::: Cally Soukup sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 10:54 AM:

Oddly, I don't see the spam at #26 in the "recent comments" list, or even when I preview this comment, but I do see it when I click Tom Whitmore's comment in the comment list.

I wasn't sure whether to mention the spam or not, but since it still seems to be somehow in the thread, though not in the preview or the comments list, I decided to.

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