Saturday, January 27, 2007

Meet the boys on the battle front

"Why am I here? Coming back after the flood was a leap of faith. I thought New Orleans had a fighting chance. I thought maybe it could even improve. I wanted to be a part of that ...

"Why am I here?

"An object at rest tends to stay at rest. I still have my job. We still own a house. Starting over is hard. Leaving would entail all kinds of hassles, not least of which is admitting I was wrong. So… there’s a certain inertia that keeps us here."

-- Bart Everson on b.rox wondering why he's here

In the dark of the year with the Saint's frenzy behind us, with the parade all passed an nothing left behind of the brightness and joy, nothing but the litter and the distant wail of sirens we are like residents along the parade route wondering: why, why do we live chose to live here?

It is not simply inertia thats holds us here, Bart. New Orleans captures us in the way planets capture moons: an irressitable force that will grab hold of any body that wanders past, all vectors and velocities altered and so many captured--some burnt to a cinder and others irreversibly drawn into orbit--by a primordial force.

I don't know what it is. The essence of New Orleans is as indistinct and essential as the philosopher's stone: something understood by the adept but impossible to produce. If we were somehow to capture it in a jar it would cease to be, or at least the genuine thingness of this place that brings or keeps us here would not be there. It would be only a Disney golum, a hollow and lifeless shell of the thing we would try to capture.

For hundreds of years America was a patchwork of places as disjointed as the Holy Roman Empire, a true assembly of states both physical and of mind, held together only by our seperateness from our forefathers' homelands. Some people were comfortable with their native state and could remain there, while others set out West in search of something different, and could be fairly certain of finding something that was not what they left behind.

Part of the ugly legacy of the 20th century is the loss of the individuality of place, the homoginezation through mass media and mass marketing of most of an entire continent into a single suburb designed in Long Island, and a single shopping boulevard perfected in California. As children we were indoctrinated in this sameness by television and came to accept the gradual replacement of the local diner and five-and-dime and department store by the national chains. We bought the same clothes and cars and became increasingly indistinguishable except perhaps by accent or license plate.

A few places and their people resisted this, either by isolation or choice. New Orleans resisted better than most (even as our stores vanished we held our restaurants) because of some unique customs that set us apart, like Carnival, and because of a certain cultural and economic isolation. Our days as the queen of the south long behind us, we escaped the fate of Atlanta and Dallas. Even our povery in some sense preserved us. People without cars need their neighborhood stores and restaurants to survive, and no corporation rushed in to exploit that tenuous market. As a result we remained at least in an essential way ourselves.

The flood nearly washed that away, may still succeed in washing it away forever, and it is something that is worth save. I can't tell you why to stay, only why I came back, and it was to be part of that critical threshold of return we need to save what remains of this place and its way of life.

As I was travelling on business this past week and stepped out into the nine degree morning on Long Island, N.Y., the frigid air transported me back to think about North Dakota. In that broad and empty place are vast native reservations that have struggled as we have for generations with poverty and its symptoms, with the threatened collapse of their identity. These people have struggled against the despair of poverty and the homogenization of American culture and the lure of distant, prosperous cities for generations.

With Carnival almost upon us, we need to look to the example of the native peoples, to one of the ways in which they cope and try to overcome their challenges and preserve their essential selves: they make elaborate costumes and they dance. They are the model (from turn of the last century wild west shows) that our own Mardi Gras Indians fashioned themselves from in their own search for their lost culture.

For the pow-wow dancers, these rituals are closely tied to religion and language, to the elements of their culture most threated and which they must preseve to retain their identiy as a poeple. They prepare their costumes and dance not because it will magically transform the alcoholism and unemployment anymore than their father's ghost dances would stop bullets. They do it because they recognize they have to start by recovering their sense of themselves.

If you want to remember why you're here, why we're all here, then lay aside for a day or a week all of the challenges. Make your costume and dance. Preserve that which is essential, without which this is just another East St. Louis on a hell bound train. Remind yourself what attracted you here in the first place, and refresh yourself in the celebration of it. Remember that what we are trying to preserve is unique and important, so that when the parade is passed you are not left with just a littered street and a pounding hangover but with a renewed sense of who we are and why we are here, of why we are struggling so that it might survive.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Cool Runnings

Derice - Sanka, you dead?
Sanka - Ya, mon.

A few years ago at work, the almost entirely female office crew where I worked put up one of those silly white board quizzes that the office morale officer is in charge of. The question: what movie makes you cry.

I knew I had to post up an answer: Cool Runnings.

Any guy who watches this film and doesn't start to tear up when the Jamacian bobsled team stand up after their crash and carry their shattered sled the final yards down the run, and the hard-assed European team leader starts clapping, is either suffering from a tear duct disorder, or something slightly more fatal.

The quote at the top is a recurring comic line from every scene in which they crash first their oddball training cart and later their bobsleds. One of the team asks another (Sanka, the slightly offbeat one with the lucky egg) if he's dead. And he always answers, "ya, mon, I dead." The moment passed, they pick themselves up and drag the cart back to the top of the the hill, and try again.

The films ends after a tremendous run by which they might earn medal status ends when the cast-off sled they have managed to acquire comes apart, and there is a terrible crash. As officials slip and slide down the icy run to help them, they pull themselves out of the wreckage, pick up their sled, and carry it across the finish line, determined to show a suspicious world that they are not a joke, that their tropical nation has sent them to the Olympics not as some ganja-inspired prank but to compete as Olympians.

It is in a near victory tragically ended in defeat that they truly rise up to the level of Olympians.

Today we find ourselves in the same place. Sure, Sunday's loss to Chicago hurts, but those of us of a certain age have some mighty hard scar tissue after 40 years. We waited a long time for this game to just begin, and we will never forget it. One theme of this blog has always been Remember. Well, remember this: the New Orleans Saints just played in its first NFC championship game in franchise's 40-year history. In the process 53 men lifted up an entire city of 200,000 on their shoulders and carried us for the last five months like Duece McAlister carrying a half-dozen defenders forward.

Someday, my own children will sit with their families and remember this year, and say: in those days giants roamed the earth--not the creatures of some fairy tale but flesh-and-blood giants whose footprints will forever mark the earth like the trails of dinosaurs.

Our lives today in New Orleans are no fairy tale, any more than the season of the Saints has been a fairy tale. The sports writers (who in general get the real back story better than most journalists) found the fairy tale line irresistable in their constant pursuit of hyperbole, but the season has been a hard slog with its disappointments and its pain, just as our own lives have been since 8-29.

If the 200,000 in New Orleans have any chance of succeeding it is in part due to the New Orleans Saints, who have kept our heads high these past months. Even in defeat, they remain the model we must all emulate to save this city: heart, teamwork, faith and a willingness to dust themselves off after every play--good or bad--and get ready to bust on the snap. We have a long road ahead of us, and we will need to pick ourselves up from every defeat, and come back and go again just as the Saints have, just as we all believe they will come 2008.

Like the Jamaican bobsled team in the film, we need to remember to be who we are, and to find a way to excel by being who we are. We need to take the grief much of America gives us, to be proud of ourselves just as we are proud of our Saints, and to climb back to the top of the hill and make another run. We owe it not only to ourselves but to the New Orleans Saints. Just as they have been our inspiration for the last half-year, we need to find a way to be the city they are proud to call home until the first snap of 2008.

Bless you boys, for all you've done for us. Now its our turn.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bricks v. Sticks

I think Danger Blonde has nailed this one: demolishing much of the existing public housing infrastructure is a bad idea. As far as physical structures go, there is no upside to demolishing most of the half-century old brick construction buildings to replace them with "stick-built" modern housing that can't be insured.

While the building are older and will need remediation and renovation, and may harbor asbestos or lead paint that will need to go, the problems with "the bricks" . Some local advocates for preservation agree. In a long article in Gambit Weekly:

Longimte local urban planner Bob Tannen says that the Lafitte is worth saving for several reasons: the buildings were nicely designed, modeled after the much-prized Pontalba apartments that line Jackson Square, and they were built using excellent materials -- good bricks and tile roofs.

[Lafitte project neighbor Shirley] Simmons remembers her relatives, legendary Seventh Ward craftsmen, coming home and talking about their work on the bricks hat day. "So I know that Lafitte was built by the very best roofers, cement finishers, and carpenters," she says

The buildings are attractive. The garden layout ought to be not a hidden drug market but a haven for children and other residents just as the lanes and parkways of Lake Vista were for its upscale residents. [Interesting aside: Lake Vista was designed to be a working-class community, with narrow lots designed for affordable homes. You can still find modest "Levee Board houses" there what would not look out of place anywhere in Gentilly Good intentions gone, well, somewhere.]

The question is: how do we change the projects from ghettos of despair into a place full of hope for the future of New Orleans?

One thing was clear from all the discussions I facilitated as part of the Housing Committee of the Mid-City Neighborhood Recovery Meeting: All assisted housing should be for people who are coming home to work for the rebirth of New Orleans. If you're not retired or on disability, don't come home and look for housing assistance. Sorry, but there isn't enough to go around, and we need housing for people who are ready to contribute.

I would take it a step further: If you're retired or on disability, I think some sort of community service compatible with your age or disability is a reasonable expectation. We have always had a city full of kids being raised by grandma and not enough formal childcare to go around. I don't see why every development couldn't have resident-staffed child care relying in large part on retirees.

If you're living in assisted housing and can't find a job, the city should find one for you at minimum wage plus your apartment. There are parks and streets and so much more that weren't much to look at before the storm, and are worse off now. I don't see why public housing can't be leveraged as part of a Works Progress Administration-style rebuilding effort. (For the kiddies, the WPA was a Great Depression era federal program of public works. Look closely at those curvaceous bridges in City Park and you'll notice signage that they were largely WPA projects).

How are we going to rehabilitate these buildings when the federal government wants to get out of the clustered public housing business? First, we need to examine the heady rush into distributed, mixed-income development. It's a wonderful idea, but how well has it worked. Instead of trying to lure yuppies into former projects, we need to look at how to grow a more prosperous middle class out of the people who live there now. Perhaps we should hire the residents to remediate their own apartments and rehabilitate their own buildings as a first step, including trades training in the process. These buildings could probably last another half-century, and add to both the housing stock and character of the city if properly rebuilt.

We should also provide housing free or cheep to NOPD officers, firefighters, EMS, etc. These folks will add stability and security to the neighborhoods, and we don't want them living in tin boxes or having to commute from across the lake every day. I don't think this will displace many residents. If you've followed the Katrina story as closely as I have, you've heard the tales of people from the bricks who've landed in suburban garden apartments with new furniture and clothes and jobs. The recurring story line is so many of these tales is: these people have landed better off than they were before, and they're not coming back.

Finally, we need to have some rules, people. Go to work or go to school , or find someplace else to live: no exceptions. No drugs or guns: no exceptions. No stayin' by grandmas unless you meet the first two and don't exceed the leased number of residents: no exceptions. If you are going to stay in assisted housing, own the place: require residents to perform community service to keep the grounds up, etc.: no exceptions. Those of us lucky enough to make the rent or the note on our own all live with these rules. We should expect people who are getting a hand up to do the same, and to contribute something extra (as we do in taxes to pay for it) toward making the system work.

Some people are going to hate these ideas, but I don't much care. Anyone who claims to advocate for public housing and doesn't advocate to keep out idlers and thugs isn't much of an advocate for the residents. I'm not ready to give up the idea that this catastrophe presents the opportunity to do things right, and how to handle these buildings is the next, best opportunity to get the recovery right.

If if you don't like those ideas then don't move to a disaster area, which sadly we remain over 500 days after the Federal Flood.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Unleash the lawyers

There were two critical stories likely lost in the noise of the crime march and the New Orleans Saints this week that everyone who cares about New Orleans needs to catch up on. First, Sen. Joe Lieberman's believes its time for all of us to just move on and stop looking back at Katrina and the Federal Flood). He announced this past week he will not pursue a promised investigation of the government's role in the disaster. This will rob us of our best opportunity to establish the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' complete culpability for the Federal Flood and to begin to seek the full compensation and the Category Five levees we are entitled to.

We are not ready to get over it, to just move on. Also Sen. Mary Landrieu's meek announcment that she will demure to his decision is also unacceptable, and we have to let her know in no uncertain terms that this will be her last term in public office if she is not prepared to continue to fight for justice for us.

We need this forum in Washington not to humiliate the incompetent, but because it presents us the opportunity to make our case that we are entitled to full compensation for the losses caused by the Federal Flood. Ultimately it is in the Federal's best interest to pay, for the same reason they opened up the federal purse after 9-11: to save a major industry from bankruptcy.

Our second don't-miss story from last week was the ruling awarding both a settlement and $2 million in punitive damages to a Mississippi couple in their lawsuit against Allstate opens every other insurance company on the Hurricane Coast to a similar judgement.

Apply that to 80,000 displaced Orlenian households gets us to $160 Billion, and we haven't even touched on people outside of Orleans Parish. If the Feds will not pay full compensation to the victims of the Federal Flood then we need to go after the only other deep pocket available: the insurance companies. We will have to do this, and potentially bankrupt the two largest property-and-casualty carriers in the nation, because the Federals and in particular the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to hide from their responsibility behind soveriegn immunity.

If we have no other avenue than to bankrupt several of the nation's largest insurance carriers, then I saw let it begin. It will be just too damn bad if that ends home sales and construction in the U.S. and forces millions into bankruptcy when they lose the insurance required by their mortgage. They will simply be in the same boat as tens of thousands of Orlenians.

All of those homeowners and construction workers and realtors, well, they'll just have to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and figure out some way to get on with their lives, just as we are asked to do.

Or the Congress can act as they did after 9-11, not out of sympathy for the victims but out of fear of the bankruptcy of the airlines and other industries, and payout what they in fact owe us. The choice is now up to them

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Unbearable Lightess of Bienville

A neighbor came up to the porch to chat, and asked my wife Rebecca when exactly it was she had come to the house on Toulouse Street, when it would be a year. We closed on the house the Friday after Mardi Gras 2006, and she moved in that Sunday. However, here real anniversary will be on Martin Luther King's birthday holiday, the day she boarded a plane alone to start a new life in a strange city.

New Orleans is in some ways always a strange city, even to those of us who are from here: the original island of misfit toys. It is the one place I feel entirely comfortable, something my wife long knew and which lead her to agree to move here even in the uncertain days after the storm. She does not suffer from that particular strange attraction. I (and a handful of my oldest friends) are misfit toys enough for her. As much as she loves the food and the music and the atmosphere of New Orleans her real pleasures are closer to home, something I believe is a natural part of being a mid-westerner, an attachment to the hearth that is central to life in a cold climate.

And so it was more than a bit surprising last night when I stayed home to change and finish laying out the food for a Twelfth Night party while she took the children up the street to usher in Carnival at the start of the Phorty Phunny Phellows annual streetcar parade. That she naturally accepted my suggestion that she go while I hold down the fort, that she be in charge of taking the children to the first event of their first Carnival as Orleanians was the crossing of an invisible line just as she approached her first anniversary here, a more significant act than buying a house or serving her first holiday dinner here.

She became, in that moment, an Orleanian.

My own sense of myself as an Orleanian, my feeling of being home, comes to me in similarly small moments. An absence of nineteen years is enough to disrupt my sense of being "home". On top of that, there is the profound change in geography and society that the Federal Flood brought about. At first it was a daily wonder just to rise and walk the length of my shotgun home to the craftsman porch and look out and see not the wide suburban streets of Fargo buried in snow, but to see New Orleans.

The longer I am here, however, the easier it is just to slip into the routine of life and forget the tremendous sacrifice my wife made to allow us to be here, the miracle of all that came together to make it possible, to lose the sense of wonder. Wonder does not get the laundry done or the children to school. It doesn't get up and go downtown everyday to pay the bills.

Still it continues to creep up behind me and tap me on the shoulder when I least expect it. Standing in my doorway watching it rain last Sunday, the latest among scores of rainy winter Sunday's I spent here in the first 30 years of my life, it happened again. It was as if all the memories of all of those Sundays woke in me at once, came thundering up my spine into my brain shouting: this, this is what a rainy January Sunday morning is like in New Orleans. Remember.

It was a moment in which I understood what Joyce meant by an epiphany. It was an awakening to the very moment, a freeze frame of experience--the smeary house fronts across the street through the curtain of rain in the flat grey light, the hiss of the rain on pavement and the chuckling of a downspout dumping the water off of the roof all on this particular dreary morning--and yet it partook of every other rainy Sunday afternoon I had ever known here, was a visceral experience of not just my own memories but those of every Folse who watched a the rainfall out of a window in Louisiana over nearly three centuries. Just as I had on a rainy afternoon last summer, I reclaimed in a moment of commonplace another small bit of myself as an Orleanian, took possession of or was possessed by this particular point in time and space and felt myself suddenly and profoundly at home in that moment.

That same evening I returned from an errand to Metairie. The unavoidable shopping trips up Metairie Road or Veterans reinforce a sense of the common place: so many things about where I left them 20 years ago, down to the game room next to Dorignacs where I squandered some of my youth. There is no haunting backdrop of shell buildings and debris, no immediate reminder of the catastrophe. As the commonplace replaces the remarkable, its easy to forget that I am living in an incredible place and time, washed up on my own personal Ithaca after a journey fraught with peril and wonders. And still the movies must go back and there must be milk for breakfast, and so the wonderful is set aside in favor of the practical.

As I came back from the Metairie Road exit and turned off City Park Avenue onto Bienville, driving slowly and looking around to see who had taken down the Xmas lights and who had hung up their Carnival decorations, the intersection of a bit of song and perhaps a scent or trick of the light and I was suddenly struck by the painfully obvious: I was driving up Bienville to my house in New Orleans. The dark street that rolled past took on the magical quality of a film, one in which the suspension of disbelief is so complete that I entered into that scene as through a door and found myself in another place: at home, in New Orleans. At that thought, something incredibly warm rose up from somewhere just beneath my heart and spread through my body, blooming as it reached my head like a lotus flower and shaping my face so that I knew I had the biggest, stupidest looking grin imaginable on my face.

As the feeling slowly passed I turned left off Bienville at North St. Patrick toward Toulouse Street, but I was already home.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Harry Lee plans armored assault on crime

Harry Lee plans armored assault on crime

I'm sure most people missed this story, what with the couple who are getting married on Game Day (which led off the WDSU news Thursday night) and some sort of parade downtown, but apparently Harry Lee has decided to model the solution to crime in Jefferson Parish on the war in Iraq. Look for pearl handled pistols on his belt soon.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I was as drunk as an unemployed librarian. I trolled around the internets looking for a picture of these armored vehicles, but I couldn't find one. I couldn't even find a picture of the sawed off tank that Chief Giarrusso ordered up in the 1960s to prepare for the riots that never came to New Orleans.

All I know is that nothing says people-focused community policing like having something that looks like a tank rumbling up and down the block. Perhaps they should lay down an artillery barrage to soften up the neighborhood first.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bart Everson for Mayor

Please read the speech Mid-City resident, organizer and leader, and blogger Bart Everson gave to 5,000 angry Orleanians at today's March Against Crime.

Fueling our anger is the perception that our leaders do not share our fear and
our sense of shame. And so today I want to say shame on you, Mayor Nagin,
Superintendent Riley, District Attorney Jordan. You’ve really let us down. You
have failed us. The criminal justice system and the government is broken. And I
want to communicate to you the level of outrage that my friends and neighbors
are feeling, because we don’t think you get it. Families that have lived in New
Orleans for over 300 years are talking about leaving. People displaced by the
flood are saying they are afraid to come back. That is the level of hopelessness
and despair. They’d like you to step up and just do your jobs — but they don’t
think you can. They’d like you to step down and resign — but they’re afraid
you’d be replaced with equally incompetent people. Many of my neighbors believe
that we need to see the federal government step in and literally take over New
Orleans, or at least the criminal justice system. The feeling seems to be that
even FEMA couldn’t screw up any worse than we have. At first I thought that was
a joke. But it seems more possible every day, and there’s nothing funny about

Full text here.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Colors in the spin cycle

"One life is not worth more than another"
-- New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas

In a remark echoed by Mayor "No C'em" Ray Nagin at Tuesday's press conference featuring only the city's black political elite several speakers attempted to pre-empt and marginalize tomorrow's citizen's march to City Hall. Yes, make sure that tomorrow's event is marginalized by slying suggesting that the march is about the white lady.

You misereable worthless sacks of shit. If I could push that big red Easy Button and bloodlessly strike all your worthless asses down and get back Dinerral Shavers, you sorry mo-fo's would be dead. That includes everybody who decided to hold hands and dance around No C 'Em singing la-la-la everything is going to be all right. Yes, you, Shelley and Stacey. Didn't you wonder why they didn't let you speak? And you too, Mr. Perry.

You have to admit, Nagin and Riley have balls. I just heard that they showed up tonight at the sign-making party in Marigny for the march. Sure, Ray, tell 'em everything is going to be all right. I'll have to ask my daughter the dancer again how you can spin like that and not get dizzy and fall down.

We know everything is not all right. Everything has been spiralling out of control since 8-29 and I can't honestly think of a single good thing that come out of Perdido Street in all that time. Everything positive that has happened in the last 500 days has sprung up out of the streets, even as Perdido Street and the old elite try to crush it.

Sorry, Ray, but those of us who are all in on this hand aren't going to take your bullshit anymore. It's not about Helen Hill. It's about everything: all the murders, not just the Hills and Shavers but all the lost boys our elites have failed for generations gunning each other down, its about all of the people getting their copper and fixtures and tools ripped off as they try to rebuild by the sweat of their own brows, all the people who can't make the new rents and all the people who can't get a job in Houston if they have a 504 cell phone, all the people still waiting on insurance and the Road Home and levees.

If you manage to turn this into a black-versus-white thing and co-opt this moment, perhaps you can preserve the fantasy city you see out your windows on Perdido Street a while longer, but you will destroy the real city in the process

What kind of idiot wants to be mayor of the Big Empty?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Gettin' Ugly

There is an axiom in my line of work (project management) that one should "get ugly early." Briefly, this means to identify and get all of the contentious debate and decisions out of the way up front, so that we can all get along and execute the resulting plan.

In the war on crime, it's time to get ugly.

First, the idea of a curfew. The idea of restricing my ability to travel from my house in my safe neighborhood on Toulouse up to the Sav-A-Center on Carrollton is ridiculous. This will do nothing to mitigage crime in the crucial Triangle of Death and other areas of the city. What they need (in part) are more officers on the ground in the hot zones. There is a simple solution to this: withdraw police protection from other areas, including the state patrol and National Guard.

Make some areas no-go zones again, or very nearly so. Put checkpoints along clearly demarcated boundaries to those zones (say Lakeview, Gentilly and the East, as defined by the railroad corridor that follows I-610 and I-10 to the Industrial Canal, and along the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal. Allow only residents or contractors residents sign for to have access. Add an exception for Dillard, UNO and Ben Frankling students.

Then pull the police, National Guard and state troopers out of those areas and put them where they are needed. Either the entire city can be the wild west, or we can declare the most flooded outlying areas to be the frontier try to restore law and order to the core city. Yes, we'd be withdrawing city services from areas, something City Hall has known it needed to do since the BNOB Commission but has been afraid to touch. We all knew this was coming, someday. And how much is your home in Lakeview or Gentilly going to be worth if the core city collapses under the weight of rampant crime?

(Hell, I lived for years in a town served only by a volunteer fire department. Perhaps its time to decide if we can afford full-time, professional fire protection in those areas as well, but that's an ugly discussion for another time. "Out of scope" as I'd say at work).

Next, bring back Camp Foti.We are spending hundreds of lots of FEMA dollars on some sort of modular prison buildings to hold a few hundred prisoners.What we need are on hurricane fence, concertina wire and tents so we can house as many prisoners as we need. Put some of the Guardsmen who were out on the perimeter to guarding people if the sheriff doesn't have enough

Then, lets fill up those tents. No one arrested for a persons crime or in possesion of a weapon should be bailed out. Period. End of discussion. They stay until trial. How do we get those tents filled? I'd suggest checkpoints in high-crime areas, set up an random. Check IDs, search vehicles, whatever. If you're wandering down Simon Bolivar in the middle of the night, you ought to be damned glad to see these, not complaining about it.

Finally, we need some of the zero-tolerance-meets-community-policing that turned New York around. Yes, that means the blue-and-white stopping at every street corner gathering of more than a couple of people. We're bound to pick up some more that way as well. Begin zero tolerance policing. Yes, Kim, that means they will pull you over for going 36 in a 35 or tossing a gum wrapper out the window, but only as an opportunity to check for warrants, etc.

At the same time, the NOPD need to treat people civilly at these checkpoints or stops until somebody bolts, or is discovered to have a warrant. If the NOPD can't figure out how to behave the way their momma's should have raised them, put some damn out-of-town trainers with them on these patrols until they do figure it out. If the police want people's help solving crimes they need to start treaing everyone like a damn citizen and human being instead of a suspect until they have reason to act therwise. Perhaps instead of having everybody tense up when they do a corner stop, people who tend to hang on the corner or a stoop in the evening will start to be the ears and eyes of the police, as it should be. Anybody on the NOPD who's too dim to learn to behave, or is only on the force for the 9mm penis extension on their belt should get the boot

At some point, the wild boys are all either going to be in Camp Foti, Angola or on their way out of town. Where out of town is exactly can't be our concern (Sorry, Houston). For now we need to secure New Orleans to make it a livable place. Then we'll need long-term solutions. Let's start by paying police a decent wage in exchange for efficient, effective professional behavior. Then we can try a prosector who's not a racist idiot, one who can actually manage to bring people to trial and get convictions. And then let's get rid of judges who don't recognize that accused criminals with rap sheets found in posssesion of weapons are a threat to the community. Man, that's a hard one. Do you think its on the bar exam?

Putting in a city-wide curfew makes no sense what so ever. It fact, it's a dodge to avoid having to make the hard decisions and then act on them that is what's really required. And ultimatley it is an indictment of the failure of the current chief and mayor. It's a confession that they have no ideas of their own what to do, and to float such a idiotic trial balloon in the weeks before Mardi Gras may qualify as the stupideset thing any official and at any level has said or done since the Federal Flood.

If I can come up with this program in twenty minutes during lunch hour, I think brighter minds than mind could some up with some good ideas for sweeping the streets of criminals without creating some sort of police state.

New York has done it. We can, too. But first we have to get rid of the crime enablers on Perdido Street, and cops who aren't much better than Anthony Burgess' droogies-turned-Bobbys. We need to figure out how to unite--black and white, section-by-section--against the Mayor and DA and Chief who have failed us or we're all royally f---ed.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Clockwork Merliton

. . . The river's tent is broken; the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed . . .
-- from The Fire Sermon, from T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland

What will it mean to the future of the city if the senseless murder of Helen Hill is the last straw? The level of despair is the worst I've heard since the bleak fall of '05, when it seemed the city was drowned to death. People are beginning to murmur that they have had enough, that they will follow Paul Gailiunas and go. It will be painfully ironic if the placards posted through Central City calling people to stand up against crime to save their city become instead signposts on the way to somewhere else.

Even from my cozy corner of the Triangle of Hope in Mid-City, the neighborhood I began referring to only partially in jest as the Green Zone, a gathering of friends was marked by the tension. I had hoped Bart and Xy would join us; they hard RSVP'd. Given their connection to Paul and Helen, I was not surprised when they did not come. One person who did come came without his wife, pleading too much stress on her part. She called right after his brief drop-by, worried about where he was "with all the bullets flying out there." At nights end, one person fled the porch suddenly when I mentioned "the couple in the Marigny" and did not return.

I do feel safe even as property crime seems to be on the upswing in Mid-City. I look at the police maps, and "persons crimes" are notably absent from our area. Still, my daughter is in the Bywater every day at NOCCA, and the guards at the entrance and high fences: are they enough? Its one thing to risk my neck on principle, but another that she have to risk hers.

The more I think about it, the more I think that Kimberly has said it best by stealing the silly phrase of 2001: If you leave, the terrorists win. Here, that trite bit of propaganda has true meaning. The shooters are lost to humanity, have lost their humanity, become precisely what Anthony Burgess meant by a clockwork orange: a souless, clockwork person; something that seems bright and full of the juice of life but is in fact a sham of a human being; a golum.

Regardless of one's views on religion and spirit, it is indisputable that evil moves in the world even if it is only a diseased and dysfunctional aspect of humanity. It is moving through our city, cruising slowly through the drug-riddled neighborhoods with a .40 caliber automatic in its pocket. To leave now would be a mistake at great as Neville Chamberlain's. It will not mean peace for our time, but instead consign those who remain to a downward spiral into the unimaginable and render everything we have done for the city by coming home worthless.

I am no more ready to give up hope now than I was a year and a half ago. Confronting the crime problem is no less daunting than contemplating how to rebuild a city more damaged than anything seen since World War II. All that is required for evil-- and in the city's case entropy--to triumph is that good men and women do nothing, as thefamous misquote of Edmund Burke runs. Just as apt is an actual quote on the issue of American independence also from Mr. Burke:

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Thieving Scum Sugar Bowl

My own special souvenir of my wife's Alma Mater's Sugar Bowl visit.

I'm conflicted about attending the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and not just because I'm misty-eyed about the days when bowls had names without commercial sponsors. The sponsor is a company that is clearly acting in directly contrary to the interests of New Orleans and the state, and should not be allowed to use this sponsorship to cover that up.

What idiot accepted this deal in the post-Flood universe? To paraphrase the Dear Leader: 8-29 changed everything, and some people just don't get it. Allstate and its fellow travelers in the world of legalized racketeering are not just another unpopular big business, like Microsoft or Wal-Mart: it is an organized criminal enterprise that seeks to ruin us to enrich itself, a cabal with a callous disregard for human suffering that would give Tony Soprano pause. And we are letting them trade in our own good name and good will, built over decades of Sugar Bowls, even as they trod upon us on the way to the bank.

What truly troubles me is this: is the national coverage of the Sugar Bowl important enough to the city's image that we should all just sit quietly on our hands when some Allstate exec struts onto the field pre-game, sitting with our hats held reverently in both hands while we closely examine our shoes and murmer, "thank you massah Allstate sir"? Or should we be ready to treat thtem to some of the triple decibel noise we know 70,000 plus angry fans can generate, showering the field with our true feelings and perhaps the odd loose projectile?

Should the Allstate representative have to be escorted off the field by a protective detail sheilding him with their bodies from a rain of beer cups and programs, and the sponsor skybox evacuated as a precaution? Should Fox have to cut the stadium sound lest some tender ears here what people in Louisiana really think about Allstate?

Or would a delay of kickoff caused by a semi-riot ultimately be counter-productive? What will those millions of viewers think? Frankly, my dear readers, I don't give a damn. No, that's not true. I do give a damn what the rest of America thinks. What they need to know is that the property insurance industry in this nation is a fraud, that our experience isn't just an isolated case of a dispute between some homeowner and their insurer over a few dollars one way or the other.

Instead, we have torn back the scab and found a huge cancerous growth. If politely sitting on our hands tomorrow night allows that growth to continue untreated, will we have done a tremendous disservice to the entire nation. America needs to know that when push comes to shove, all of their payments all these years will mean nothing, that the policies they hold are ultimately worthless, that its all a scam, that their friend at Rotary with the bright smile and the Allstate lapel pin is a thieving scum bucket.

Here's hoping that at the first visible sign of an Allstate presence on the field at the Sacredome that I won't be alone when I stand and start booing.

"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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