Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The 200,000

New Orleans recovery czar Ed Blakely appears to have been selected based on a close personal affinity for our mayor: he opens his mouth, and stupid just rains out of it like coins from a slot machine.

Hot on the heels of an interview of an interview in his adopted home of Australia in which he appears to have just made up some population figures to suit his current train of thought, he has surpassed the merely Naginesque.

In this one quote in an interview with the New York Times he displays either an ignorance that should disqualify him from his post, or an arrogance that should anger us all to the point that leaving town in the dark of night should appear to be a wise career move, tar-and-feathers-wise.

New Orleans "won't be the same "when the dust settles, he asserted calmly,
suggesting that a new population with more "energy" may replace the old.
There are some things I will forgive the outsider, in the same way I might over look a joke that would not pass muster with H.R. from someone of a certain age; certain misunderstandings of the city I would simply let slide simply because outsiders can't be expected to understand, at least not at first.

Insulting the 200,000 is not one of those things.

The 200,000 are the people who picked themselves up after 8-29, came home and started rebuilding. They did not wait for the due proceeds of their insurance, and they remain in spite of the fact that many have still not received those proceeds.

The 200,000 did not wait for the government to conjure up federal money to cobble together a Road Home program. They emptied their bank accounts and ran up their credit cards and came home. Every day they went to their day jobs and came home at night and did another day's hard labor of first mucking and gutting then re-building.

The 200,000 did not all have savings accounts or credit cards. Still, many came anyway and slept in their cars or in tents in their yards, and went back to minimum wage jobs if it meant they could come home and begin to rebuild their houses as best they could.

The 200,000 are without exception the greatest generation of Americans that has ever lived. If you wish to dispute that, please don't bother with the comment button below, but stop by my house after work and try. Come ready for a fight.

For the 200,000, there were no propaganda campaigns or peer pressure to enlist in this battle. No flags were waved and no parades were held in their honor. No one would call them yellow if they did not come. No medals were promised, and no lifetime care for the wounds--physical and psychological--they received. There are no cemeteries that honor the dead of the flood, or those who did not survive the return. Their country did not call them; it scattered them to the four winds. And still they came.

The 200,000 did not come for a land rush or to make their fortune in gold, or for a better life in a factory in the north or west. No one promised them a bonanza farm or any of the land-agent trickery that brought our ancestors here to this place. They did not come for a tax incentive, or the chance to get rich quick off the misfortune of others. They came with the clear knowledge that theirs would be a life harder than any they knew before, and with no other path to making it better than their own effort. And still they came.

I don't count myself among that number. I lost nothing in the storm, had no home to muck out, no insurance company dragon to slay. I came for similar reasons--because this is my home, the only home I've found worth living in--but I am not one of them. If you want heroes, try my wife and children. This is not their long lost home, but mine. They followed me here like the family of every tom fool who came home one night with a Conestoga wagon, leaving the home they knew behind.

All around us, Mr Blakely, are heroes. Simply to stand in line at Lowes or the Sewage & Water Board with these people is an honor and a privilege, Mr. Blakely, akin to watching the veterans of old wars parade past you. This is something you and I should never forget.

If you don't understand that, if you don't understand why we expect an abject apology, then leave now. Your help, if we can call it that, is not welcome. You are just another damned carpetbagger here to make your fortune off the misfortune of this place and these people, the 200,000. You dishonor them simply by being here, much less running your mouth off in the service of the Buffoon-in-Chief who hired you. Take a good hard look in the mirror and recognized the buffoon looking back at you. And then leave.


This is the time of year I love, sleep with the windows open.

The garden has started to bloom and the smells in the air are heady and sweet.

But this year like last year I can still smell the musty smell of my flooded downstairs. My husband and I try and figure out how we are going to ever afford to fix it. Our living space cut in half,and all that was there.

So thanks Mark, for recognizing something that should be obvious to Ed Blakely.

We may be doing a shitty job of recovering here but it is not the fault of those who have "paid it forward" for a few lifetimes.
It's literally adding insult to injury. And as far as I can see, he's been not one iota more productive or competent than any of his buffoonish predecessors.
The guy only said what needed saying...that if we come back with a population that's essentially the same as we had before as far as the desire to make things better than they were before the storm, then things won't be any better than they were before the storm. And considering over my lifetime roughly 225,000 New Orleanians left the city of their own volition BEFORE the Katrina-prompted reduction of another 225,000 from the remaining total (a lot of whom, by the way, aren't "struggling mightily" to get back)....maybe we kind of need to start getting over ourselves a little bit. There were a lot of things right about the pre-flood NOLA. There were a lot of things wrong, too.

It was a great place to be rich or upper middle class. It was something less of a paradise if you were lower middle class or, heaven forbid, poor. Sure, you could eat well almost irregardless of your economic position. If you like music, you could find places to hear a number of different genres, too. Educating your children? Well, if you're like me, you could allocate roughly a quarter of your yearly salary to that purpose and feel somewhat confident they'll be prepared when they hit college age.

I probably wasn't going to end up getting murdered in pre-flood NOLA; I'm not involved in the drug trade, don't use, and don't hang around on street corners in neighborhoods with open-air drug markets. Still, I managed to experience having my home buglarized twice, my car broken into a couple of times, and how a gun barrel feels pressed into the back of your skull while hearing "I'll blow your fucking head off" as my wife watched. (I didn't foul myself, which I felt was an accomplishment in and of itself.)

Economic opportunity? LOL...next question. No, if my two sons want to be successful rather than just scrape by like their Dad, they'll have to mimic the literally hundreds of thousands who no longer live here. (Think of that. Literally hundreds of thousands fewer citizens than were here when I was born in 1959, most families gone in search of better lives.) It's way too late for them to be sucessful the old fashioned New Orleans way--by winning the birth lottery and being brought home to a crib on Audubon Place. They're not really into eating out; they like music, but not particularly "New Orleans music" and aren't terribly into clubbing to hear live music (or show no signs of being into live music, I should say, as they're still underage); and neither is particularly fond of fishing like their old man. No, seeing as the oldest is second in his class and the youngest is first in his, we're pretty hopeful that some form of scholarships will be in the offing as they graduate from high school. I pretty much have resigned myself to their going off to seek their "fortune" somewhere other than NOLA. And I've been melancholy almost all of the time since I realized this some years ago.

Buffoons? Yeah, I've seen more than my share in New Orleans...and you know you all have as well. It's always been amazing to me that we can all gripe, bitch, and moan about all manner of things having to do with how our city doesn't "work" right--City Hall, the police force, the DA's office, the public school system, etc.--things that many of us have been complaining about for 20 years--and it's all good. But the first time some "outsider" references the same problems, it's time for the crucifixion reenactment.

The funny thing is that there's probably a larger percentage of the "blogging community" of NOLA than there is of the NOLA population overall that were, at least at one time, "outsiders" themselves. Many are not native New Orleanians, and rather came here because of their love for the place....and injected badly needed "fresh blood" into the NOLA body. No community can remain completely static and stay a healthy community. We all know the statistics on how high a percentage of New Orleanians have not only lived here all their lives (here!), but have lived in the same neighborhood all their lives. There's nothing wrong with that per se...but when your entire city fits that description, you have a community that is, well, "insular". And self-isolated from the rest of the world. Frankly....all of the things that Blakely said the community was. And that's a recipe for nothing other than "more of the same".

No, Blakely doesn't owe anyone an apology. He doesn't have to come to the FEMA trailer in my front yard that's housed my family of four since January 2006, stand there an look at the waterlines on my partially demolished home, and apologize to me. He doesn't have to follow my children to their flooded out campus where they've been attending class in modular trailers surrounded by the ruined classroom buildings and gym since midway through last school year and apologize to them. And he doesn't have to come to the trailer to see my wife, who's running her business from the trailer table rather than her wreaked home office, servicing maybe half of her customers from before the flood, and apologize to her. In our eyes, he was pretty much on target...so that just leaves 199,996 apologies for him to make, I guess.
Puddinhead, we all know the bufoons of which our mayor is chief. We lined up at their parades every year to watch the people who've run the city into the ground shower us with beads until Comus stopped parading. I've cataloged the racial divide and all of the other idiocy we battle with here everyday.

What rankles me is the suggestion that the core of people who've come back are constitutionally incapable of doing anything about it. They are the people with the energy Blakely calls for. That is the insult he needs to recognize and remedy.
With all due respect, what the man did was say all at once what any number of local bloggers and commenters have been saying in dribs and drabs for years.

And I must have missed the part where Blakely said it was the people quietly trying to scrape together whatever resources they can get their hands on to put their lives back together who were the "buffoons" that newcomers to our city would get frustrated with. I guess I was under the mistaken impression that the "buffoons" he referred to were the same dysfunctional bozos who've been doing all they can to make our lives a living hell for years. The Safety and Permits functionary who's going to do what he can to find more hoops for you to jump through rather than doing what he can to help you move your project forward. The disinterested retail worker who rather than doing what they can to help you find what you need would rather ignore you in the hopes that you'll just go away.

Soon after I returned to the city after the evacuation I was talking to an architect. The gentleman happened to be about the same age as me. He also happened to be African-American...not that that should matter to this story. He was telling me how he was having to find a couple of smaller, more expensive lumber yards to supply all of his jobs rather than using one of the big home improvement centers that could have handled all of his jobs at a substantially lower price. Why? Because, he said, the big places were hiring the same type of "local clowns" who'd been working there before the storm. He wanted to know if I'd grown up in New Orleans like he had...I answered that I had. He said then I should know all about the old "okey-doke" attitude that meant that if they could get by with not processing his lumber order and leaving it for the next guy to do, then they'd do that. If they accidentally put a bundle of 2x10s on the truck instead of the 2x12s that the order called for, and it was easier to just send the truck out with the wrong lumber than it was to change it out, then they'd do that. If it was easier to tell him they didn't think they carried a product than it was to go pull it from in the back, they'd do that. He said there were way to many people in New Orleans who, instead of spending the day doing a job were spending the day trying to figure out how to get out of doing their job.

He called them "local clowns". I don't think "local buffoons" is all that different a description.
"What rankles me is the suggestion that the core of people who've come back are constitutionally incapable of doing anything about it. They are the people with the energy Blakely calls for. That is the insult he needs to recognize and remedy."

I don't think that's who he's pointing to. I think you're being hypersensitive to insult -- not that New Orleans hasn't been insulted and attacked far too often in the media.

After all, he also said this (link http://blog.nola.com/topnews/2007/04/blakely_expects_job_to_take_a.html )

He also found a patchwork of
residents who had returned home
bursting with ambition but
lacking support to rebuild their

"Rather than being welcomed back,
they were sort of filtering back
into their city with a feeling
that they had been neglected and
that no one was there to help
them, and rebuilding their homes
on their own, literally on their
own with almost no government
assistance at all," Blakely
Mark, I love ya but I don't agree that Blakely needs to go absent an apology. He is perceived on Capitol Hill as the man who finally delivered a workable plane for NOLA. Is that fair? Probably not but riding him out of town on a rail will be a disaster. We finally have a Congressional leadership that gives a rat's ass about us and ditching Blakely will set us back.

Do I wish that he'd STFU? Yes but calling out the sensitivity police will bite us in the ass. And I say that as one of the 200,000. It's time to leave cloud cuckoo land and deal with a somewhat ugly reality.
Wanna get back at Blakely? Show him what a bunch of New Orleans buffoons can do with his own maps! They're (finally!) available here:


Already I've caught them out in one blunder: one "re-develop area" is advertised as "Carrollton and I-10", but the circle is centered on Carrollton and Washington/Palmetto. This might exclude the former Baumer Foods plant, which I'd thought might make nice artists' lofts or tech offices or something. Whoopsie! Then again, I've been out of town for so long that maybe the buffoonery is starting to wear off. (/sarc)

You would have thought they would have learned their lesson about drawing circles around neighborhoods after the "green dot" fiasco, but, well, you know.

One does wonder what the circles actually mean. Surely, for instance, they're not going to take over half of Broadmoor just to rebuild the one community center? Right?
Here's another howler: the drawings on the map for Claiborne and St. Bernard show various grandiose plans for the area a few blocks lakeward where A.P. Tureaud (which the buffoons insist on spelling "Touro"!) slants off from St. Bernard, yet there is no circle drawn around that area!


Interesting AZ-style connection: The Seventh Ward's own Sidney Barthelemy was last spotted as the lobbyist, um, er, "governmental affairs associate" for one Pres Kabacoff! Oh well, at least it isn't Canizaro...
It seemed to me that he wasn't talking about the people who have returned but those who have washed their hands of the city, either finding rebuilding too hard or those who haven't bothered to put together the resources to return.

I am a native New Orleanian and find that many of my transplant friends come to the city with much more enthusiasm for the place than most of my fellow natives.

For my money, even with the population misstep, Blakely is saying the things that need to be said here; That we need to get back to basics like trade in our economy, that acting like a basket case with our hands out to everyone will only get us so far.

Blakely is probably the best thing to happen in Nagin's second term. In an administration that seemed to be paralyzed by indecision and inaction, I'm just happy someone is moving forward with a plan for rebuilding.

We, who are rebuilding this city, do need to call out some of the buffoons that are holding back the recovery, in City Hall, in the criminal justice system and in the business community. He's right.
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