Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina Encours et Toujours


Today the entire posting is devoted to what appears to be the demise of my beloved home town, New Orleans. There are some Middle East relevant postings waiting, and they'll probably come tomorrow.

For those New Orleanians on this list, for detailed news about various neighborhoods, here are the two websites I've found most helpful -- www.wwltv.com and www.nola.com . Each of these has "neighborhood forums" with hundreds of postings about various areas in the region. That's where the real news is, and that's also where the real rumors are flying. Nola.com also has a "breaking news" section which is frequently updated, and from which I've included three postings below.

Here are some situations, and they are due for change, revision, and correction. Slidell, MS Gulf Coast (Ocean Springs, Gulfport, Biloxi) seem to have been completely obliterated. Mandeville, St. John's Parish, St. Charles Parish, West Bank, and Grand Isle seem to have been largely spared. Mobile got hit, but not nearly as badly as Mississippi and Louisiana.

New Orleans is in awful shape, and it frankly resembles Dhaka, Bangladesh after a cyclone (looting, refugees on highway bridges, rescues, flooded housing, lack of social order). Much of the damage happened after the hurricane had long passed. The 17th Street Canal levee opened up a 300 ft long breach, and Lake Pontchartrain water is streaming into Lakeview, Mid-City, and points beyond. That breach appears to have been gradually filling the city up with water all day today. The other breach, in the Lower Ninth Ward, appears to have opened up somewhere in the Industrial Canal near Holy Cross, and has completely flooded the Lower Ninth (east of the Industrial Canal) and Arabi. Chalmette was flooded throughout during the hurricane itself, and there were reports that Bywater, Kenner, NO East, Metairie between I-10 and the Lake all got flooded during the storm itself. However, a lot of this flooding news has since been surpassed after the huge breach on the 17th St. Canal. Just in the last hour another report predicted more breaches to come. These are causing flooding up to rooftops, which may mean the end of entire neighborhoods full of old wooden houses.

I'm personally quite worried about all those wonderful crunchies, service staff, 9th Ward marching band members, drinking buddies, and ragamuffins from Leo's, Mimi's, Frenchman St, the John etc. I'm worried that some of those lovely folks were naive, young, or poor enough to stick it out and get caught in something awful. Time will tell, although I'll always wonder about folks I'll never see again who just happened to move away, or disappeared without anyone knowing why or how.

Other points of interest in New Orleans: Entergy warns that there may be no electricity for some for a month. Local officials don't want evacuees (refugees?) returning for another week. Even if they wanted to come back, it'd be difficult as the only way in or out at the moment seems to be the GNO Mississippi River Bridge. Slidell I-10 twin spans looks like the Florida I-10 bridge last year. No news about I-10 over the spillway, and there was a rumor that the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway was (miraculously) intact.

The Southern Yacht Club burned down, surreally on an island surrounded completely by water with wrecked boats all around it. The Fair Grounds lost half of its grandstands roof. CBD windows were all blown out, along with building panels. The Superdome roof coating was half peeled off, with a couple of holes opened up in it (that must have been an awful place to wait the storm, without air conditioning and herded into the stands).

The looting has begun. There were crowds swarming over Roberts at Elysian Fields and St. Claude, and legions more at the brand new Wall Mart on Tchoupitoulas (maybe they were all Magazine St. small business owners, but that's a local joke). I remember a couple of years back when righteous folks in the US kept asking me how Iraqis could possibly loot their own facilities. Well, perhaps some might now wonder how Americans can possibly loot their own facilities -- except that somehow it's not surprising at all when order completely breaks down. Even cops are doing it, but then that's a specifically New Orleans touch, if you know what I mean.

It sure is a good thing the Louisiana National Guard is there (in Iraq) to maintain order. A few months back, 6 boys from Houma -- all members of Louisiana's National Guard -- died when their Bradley Armored Vehicle hit a massive IED and flipped over into a canal not unlike the bayous whence they hailed (a nasty corpse recovery detail if ever there was one). Yesterday their own town was nearly crushed by Katrina, and were they around to help? Wouldn't their unit be of use as New Orleans gradually descends into civil chaos? What about strengthening levees? Cutting trees off of the roads? Repairing bridges? We need our guard HERE, NOW -- not killing and getting killed halfway around the world.

Of course, we're all ever proud of our great leader's decision to end his precious vacation early to "take command" over relief efforts. That's reassuring, that is. Considering the bankruptcy of the Federal Government (bled dry by -- Iraq and the tax cuts), and the fact that our military response units are away (in Iraq), he's got nothing to play with. Yet play he must. We're a "red" state, and it's put up or shut up time, W.
Since we're on the topic of W and his contributions to local developments, let's ask a couple of further questions. Is global warming really just a figment of liberals' imagination? Are the Kyoto Accords -- designed to slow global warming by slowing emissions -- really such a ridiculous idea? After last year's and this year's (not yet finished!) hurricane seasons, folks from the Gulf Coast had better ask themselves again about the significance of global warming -- that's what they've just lost their houses to. Katrina was not just any hurricane, it set records -- and the warm water temperature of the Gulf fed the monster. The proliferation of hurricanes last year and this year? Same cause. DC policy does matter. Get used to it.

Another policy issue -- locals have heard in recent months that Southern Louisiana is literally sinking into the Gulf, due to the levee system which directs Mississippi river silt further out into the Gulf. Imagine a coastline finger that grow ever longer, but thinner and lower. That's meant to be the buffer region between New Orleans and the Gulf -- and New Orleans is sinking too. Add that to global warming's rising of ocean levels, and you can see where New Orleans is ultimately headed -- underwater. Perhaps that day has arrived. Just before the collapse of the Howard Dean campaign last year, the local contingent was negotiating a statement in support of Louisiana coastal restoration as a campaign plank. Dean's campaign collapsed, and the issue never re-surfaced. I heard estimates that it would cost something like 16 billion USD to initiate a credible coastal restoration program, as it involves redesigning the whole levee system and river routings throughout Southeast Louisiana. One could rightfully ask whether it's worth so much funding, which would obviously have to be federal-backed due to its scale. It's even more than Boston's "Big Dig", which I think cost just over 10 billion USD when all was said and done (and it leaks!). We've all sat around the past decade and watched Boston suck down all those tax dollars without so much as a peep of complaint. However, it's our turn now America -- quoting the slogan that REALLY built this country, namely "where's mine"? While we're at it, let's compare the figure to another amount -- it costs 4 billion USD every week to keep US troops in Iraq. So, which would you prefer? A month more in Iraq? Or saving New Orleans? For me, the choice is easy -- which would you prefer?

Perhaps the time has come to organize "Getting Gay With Kids" choirs to "save the swamp" [South Park reference, I recommend it], because Southeastern Louisiana needs its swamps and coastal lands restored. It'll take years, but it needs to be started.

Finally, Mayor Ray Nagin, Senator Mary Landrieu, and Governor Blanco all seem to be doing well enough. Nagin's doing his best "every man" imitation, and actually seems to be more worried about the city than his own image. Ditto Blanco -- sensible, sensitive, involved, and quite the grizzled matron. Landrieu seemed like a scared kitten on TV, but she's still young. Meanwhile, Senator David Vitter was quoted saying something to the effect that while he feels pain for everyone's losses, he was relieved to find his own house in Old Metairie is still in good shape. Perhaps that was a bit too honest on his part.

New Orleans is never going to be the same. Are there any bright spots? Well, even they don't seem so bright: constructor jobs as far as the eye can see, jobs for native-born architects (and you know who you are!), federal funding about to wash over NO's corrupt patronage system, real estate prices to plummet, fewer tourists -- at least in the short term. New Orleans will emerge out of this smaller, poorer, and newer (with awful housing). The party continues, but without the beautiful props.

That's all I can think of tonight, and now I'll turn it over to postings from others and from the web.
Cheers,Nabil



1) The first three postings come from www.nola.com , which features an excellent "breaking news" section on its website:

http://www.nola.com/newslogs/breakingtp/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_Times-Picayune/archives/2005_08.html#075234

Even a cop joins in the looting

Mike Perlstein and Brian Thevenot
Staff writers

Law enforcement efforts to contain the emergency left by Katrina slipped into chaos in parts of New Orleans Tuesday with some police officers and firefighters joining looters in picking stores clean.

At the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street, an initial effort to hand out provisions to stranded citizens quickly disintegrated into mass looting. Authorities at the scene said bedlam erupted after the giveaway was announced over the radio.

While many people carried out food and essential supplies, others cleared out jewelry racks and carted out computers, TVs and appliances on handtrucks.

Some officers joined in taking whatever they could, including one New Orleans cop who loaded a shopping cart with a compact computer and a 27-inch flat screen television.

Officers claimed there was nothing they could do to contain the anarchy, saying their radio communications have broken down and they had no direction from commanders.

“We don’t have enough cops to stop it,” an officer said. “A mass riot would break out if you tried.”

Inside the store, the scene alternated between celebration and frightening bedlam. A shirtless man straddled a broken jewelry case, yelling, “Free samples, free samples over here.”

Another man rolled a mechanized pallet, stacked six feet high with cases of vodka and whiskey. Perched atop the stack was a bewildered toddler.

Throughout the store and parking lot, looters pushed carts and loaded trucks and vans alongside officers. One man said police directed him to Wal-Mart from Robert’s Grocery, where a similar scene was taking place. A crowd in the electronics section said one officer broke the glass DVD case so people wouldn’t cut themselves.

“The police got all the best stuff. They’re crookeder than us,” one man said.

Most officers, though, simply stood by powerless against the tide of law breakers.

One veteran officer said, “It’s like this everywhere in the city. This tiny number of cops can’t do anything about this. It’s wide open.”

At least one officer tried futilely to control a looter through shame.

“When they say take what you need, that doesn’t mean an f-ing TV,” the officer shouted to a looter. “This is a hurricane, not a free-for-all.”

Sandra Smith of Baton Rouge walked through the parking lot with a 12-pack of Bud Light under each arm. “I came down here to get my daughters,” she said, “but I can’t find them.”

The scene turned so chaotic at times that entrances were blocked by the press of people and shopping carts and traffic jams sprouted on surrounding streets.

Some groups organized themselves into assembly lines to more efficiently cart off goods.

Toni Williams, 25, packed her trunk with essential supplies, such as food and water, but said mass looting disgusted and frightened her.

“I didn’t feel safe. Some people are going overboard,” she said.

Inside the store, one woman was stocking up on make-up. She said she took comfort in watching police load up their own carts.

“It must be legal,” she said. “The police are here taking stuff, too.”

(Staff writers Doug MacCash and Keith Spera assisted in this story.)



2) Will New Orleans survive?

Tuesday, 5 p.m.
By James Varney
Staff writer

On the southern fringe of New Orleans' City Park there is a live oak with a branch that dips low, goes briefly underground, and comes up the other side still thriving.

It's ancient and gnarled, this tree, and filtered sunglight slants through its crown at dusk. It's a sublime thing.
When we talk about these majestic items that dot New Orleans' landscape we say, "is," but we may mean, "was." The reports are still scattered, the news from the ground still incomplete, but Hurricane Katrina may have annihilated New Orleans.

It looks bad to everyone. "It's impossible for us to say how many structures can be salvaged," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said late Tuesday. But can the birthplace of jazz truly be wiped from the face of the earth?

New Orleans may yet surprise. Too often the city is written off as a whiskey nirvana, where one guzzles Pimms cups at Napoleon House in the French Quarter at night, and eggs and grits at the Camellia Grill in the Riverbend at sunrise.

In truth, however, New Orleans is as sublime as it is Rabelaisian. For example - and this is a thing few tourists know - the French Quarter, home of Bourbon Street and jazz and possessor of a global reputation for parties, is in fact a National Park. Now and then, through the spokes of a horse-drawn carriage taking honeymooners up Royal Street, one can spot the distinctive, "Smokey," hat of a park ranger telling a more earnest visitor some genuine history.

That could include the iconic statue of Andrew Jackson, rearing back on his mustang between the Mississippi River and the St. Louis Cathedral. At its base - and this is a thing few locals know - are the words, "Our Union: It Must and Shall be Preserved."Jackson said that as president, and his toast was first carved into the statue by Union troops during the Civil War, a reminder to the former Confederate citadel that even one of the South's greatest sons was, at heart, a Union man.

Of course, the locals in 1864 didn't cotton to that sentiment. Legend holds the ladies residing in the Pontalba, the graceful brick apartment buildings that flank Jackson Square and are reputedly the oldest such edifices in the United States, would dump their human waste pots on the caps of officers strolling underneath.

Fortunately - and how odd that word sounds in association with New Orleans today - the French Quarter was still mostly dry, largely intact, late Tuesday. In another Big Easy quirk, the impossibly charming neighborhood Uptown, which is hard against the Mississippi River, is one of the highest spots in the city.

The true highest spot is an upriver paddlewheel ride away: Monkey Hill in the New Orleans zoo. No one reportedly sought refuge there as Katrina surged about the city, although it might not have been that bad a spot since it's at the opposite end of the zoo from the king cobra and the Komodo dragon.

The zoo itself is another example of how New Orleans, for all its famous decay, can survive. What was once dubbed an "animal ghetto" was turned around by the city and was, until the dreaded "Big One" grazed the city, a bucolic spot.

Other areas, too, may weather the storm. Certainly the fishing spots in the bayous of eastern New Orleans will remain; the fate of the gorgeous trellis of live oak branches arching over St. Charles Avenue is less certain.
Those 19th century trees are one symbol of New Orleans. A 20th century symbol, William Faulkner, was first published in The Times-Picayune while he was living in the city and writing his first novel. He called the city, "a courtesan whose hold is strong upon the mature, and to whose charm the young must respond."

Now, in the 21st century, the courtesan cries for help. The response from young and old will decide if she lives or dies.



3) Chris Rose column
Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
By Chris Rose

I got out.

I’m mystified by the notion that so many people didn’t even try, but that’s another story for another time.
We left Saturday, my wife, kids and me. We went first to Picayune, Miss., thinking that a Category 3 storm would flood New Orleans and knock out power, but that we’d be dry and relatively comfortable in the piney woods while the city dried out.

Sunday morning, of course, Katrina was massive red blob on our TV screens – now a Cat 5 – so we packed up and left again.

We left my in-laws behind in Picayune. They wouldn’t come with us. Self-sufficient country folk; sometimes you can’t tell ‘em nothing.

We don’t know what happened to them. My wife’s dad and her brother and their families: No word. Only hope.
Like so many people around the country wondering what happened to those still unaccounted for; we just don’t know. That’s the hardest part.

If you take the images you’ve seen on TV and picked up off the radio and internet, and you try to apply what you know to the people and places you don’t know about, well, the mind starts racing, assumptions are made and well … it consumes you.

The kids ask you questions. You don’t have answers. Sometimes they look at me and though they don’t say it, I can see they’re wondering: Daddy, where are you?

My 6-year-old daughter, she’s onto this thing. What is she thinking?

We spent Sunday night in a no-tell motel in a forgotten part of downtown Vicksburg; a neighborhood teetering between a familiar antiquated charm and hopeless decay. Truth is, it called to mind my beloved New Orleans.
Most of the folks in the hotel seem to live there permanently and it had a hard-luck feel to it. It was the kind of place where your legs start itching in the bed and you think the worst and you don’t want your kids to touch the carpet or the tub and we huddled together and I read them to sleep.

Monday morning, my wife’s aunt told us they had a generator in Baton Rouge. As Katrina marched north and east, we bailed on our sullen little hotel and drove down along he western ridge of the storm, mostly alone on the road.

Gas was no problem. We had catfish and pulled pork in a barbeque joint in Natchez and the folks there - everyone we have met along our three-day journey – has said the same thing: Good luck, folks. We love your city. Take care of it for us.

Oh, my city. We have spent hours and hours listening to the radio. Image upon image piling up in your head.
What about school? What about everyone’s jobs? Did all our friends get out? Are there still trees on the streetcar line? What will our economy be like with no visitors? How many are dead? Do I have a roof? Have the looters found me yet? When can we go home?

Like I said, it consumes you as you sit helplessly miles from home, unable to help anyone, unable to do anything.

If I could, what I’d do first is hurt the looters. I’d hurt them bad.

But you have to forget all that. You have to focus on what is at hand, what you can reach and when you have three little kids lost at sea, they are what’s at hand and what you can reach.

I brought them to a playground in Baton Rouge Tuesday afternoon. They’d been bottled up for days.

Finally unleashed, they ran, they climbed, they fell down, they fought, they cried, they made me laugh, they drove me crazy; they did the things that makes them kids.

It grounds you. You take a breath. You count to ten. Maybe - under the circumstances - you go to twenty or thirty this time.

And tonight, we’ll just read them to sleep again.

We have several books with us because – and this is rich – we brought on our evacuation all the clothes and things we planned to bring on a long-weekend trip that we were going to take over Labor Day weekend.
To the beach. To Fort Morgan, right at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

Man.

Instead of that, I put on my sun tan lotion and went out in the yard of the house where we’re staying in Baton Rouge and I raked a massive pile of leaves and limbs from the yard and swept the driveway.

Doing yard work and hitting the jungle gym on the Day After. Pretending life goes on. Just trying to stay busy. Just trying not to think. Just trying not to fail, really.

Gotta keep moving.



4) This is a posting from one of those friends in New Orleans (from yesterday, before news came out about how bad it got after the levee breaches):

Dear Ones,
__ and I are safe. I am cozily ensconced, high and dry, in my parents charming home in Illinois. I fervently hope y'all can send me similarly happy word of your safety (1 million out in 48 hours! It's comforting to know that the state of Louisiana can perform at least 1 executive function with competence). The land line here is _________. I don't know what, if anything, remains of my personal belongings and Lakefront household, but at this point I really don't give a shit. Of course, if anyone knows anything, I'd love to hear, but let me tell you folks, I've started over from nothing 3 times already in the last 15 years, and I know this with absolute certainty---if you you have the comfort and support of your people, your tribe, it is bearable. Sucks big time, but it's doable.

Somehow, our beloved Sodom seems to have miraculously been spared the biblical catastrophe, and loss of life, that might have befallen us. Sometimes the universe is merciful.

My fellow refugees, if you need anything, ANY THING at all; a ride back after the all clear, a place to stay, clothes, a temporary cash infusion, blood transfusion, shoulder to cry on, shirt to blow your nose in--just call. I will be heading back to roll up my sleeves and whistle while I work (and bitch, and ____ off) as soon as humanly possible. I have a feeling a lot of my students out in the parish have probably lost everything, and they're gonna need me out there ASAP. I saw 5 or 6 convoys of electric company truck convoys heading south today on I-55, so the calvalry is on the way.

I have, literally, been weeping with relief off and on all day. Imagine if New Orleans was wiped clean from the map of America--where could all you mad geniuses and mystic orphans go and not be taken for ugly ducklings?

We will all dance together again another day. Praise Bacchus. I love you all dearly.
mawkishly yours,
_____

5) And another two postings from another New Orleans friend:

a) It's getting worse. City is still filling up.

Pam has left via the GNO bridge (it's the only way out).

They're telling people to WALK across the Huey Long Bridge.

Harry Lee is asking for people with flatboats to go to Airline and Earhart to help with search and rescue.
This will require an FDR, not a GWB.

b) From the Times-Picayune's website. Anything that was left dry is not going to be dry.

Don't know what to say. They're looting the stores in my neighborhood. I hope my house is not next. But in the end I don't care. People are safe. I just want some kind of life/culture/lifestyle/todayness.

My training in political philosophy is re-emerging. Thomas Hobbes. State of nature. Solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

Only thing I know is that I will be staging and/or attending a Carnival parade in a few months.

Solitary, nasty, and brutish--my foot.



6) I challenge anyone who lives in the US Gulf Coastregion to affirm that Global Warming is nothing morethan a liberals' plot! After the last two hurricaneseasons, just ask anyone from Florida, and nowLouisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as well.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1558884,00.html

Republicans accused of witch-hunt against climatechange scientists
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Tuesday August 30, 2005
The Guardian

Some of America's leading scientists have accusedRepublican politicians of intimidating climate-changeexperts by placing them under unprecedented scrutiny. A far-reaching inquiry into the careers of three ofthe US's most senior climate specialists has beenlaunched by Joe Barton, the chairman of the House ofRepresentatives committee on energy and commerce. He has demanded details of all their sources of funding,methods and everything they have ever published.

Mr Barton, a Texan closely associated with thefossil-fuel lobby, has spent his 11 years a
s chairmanopposing every piece of legislation designed to combatclimate change.

He is using the wide powers of his committee to forcethe scientists to produce great quantities of materialafter alleging flaws and lack of transparency in theirresearch. He is working with Ed Whitfield, thechairman of the sub-committee on oversight andinvestigations.The scientific work they are investigating wasimportant in establishing that man-made carbonemissions were at least partly responsible for globalwarming, and formed part of the 2001 report of theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whichconvinced most world leaders - George Bush was anotable exception - that urgent action was needed tocurb greenhouse gases.

The demands in letters sent to the scientists havebeen compared by some US media commentators to theanti-communist "witch-hunts" pursued by Joe McCarthyin the 1950s.

The three US climate scientists - Michael Mann, thedirector of the Earth System Science Centre atPennsylvania State University; Raymond Bradley, thedirector of the Climate System Research Centre at theUniversity of Massachusetts; and Malcolm Hughes, theformer director of the Laboratory of Tree-RingResearch at the University of Arizona - have been toldto send large volumes of material.

A letter demanding information on the three and theirwork has also gone to Arden Bement, the director ofthe US National Science Foundation.

Mr Barton's inquiry was launched after an article inthe Wall Street Journal quoted an economist and astatistician, neither of them from a climate sciencebackground, saying there were methodological flaws anddata errors in the three scientists' calculations. Itaccused the trio of refusing to make their originalmaterial available to be cross-checked.

Mr Barton then asked for everything the scientists hadever published and all baseline data. He said theinformation was necessary because Congress was goingto make policy decisions drawing on their work, andhis committee needed to check its validity.

There followed a demand for details of everything theyhad done since their careers began, funding receivedand procedures for data disclosure.

The inquiry has sent shockwaves through the USscientific establishment, already under pressure fromthe Bush administration, which links funding to policyobjectives.

Eighteen of the country's most influential scientistsfrom Princeton and Harvard have written to Mr Bartonand Mr Whitfield expressing "deep concern". Theirletter says much of the information requested isunrelated to climate science.

It says: "Requests to provide all working materialsrelated to hundreds of publications stretching backdecades can be seen as intimidation - intentional ornot - and thereby risks compromising the independenceof scientific opinion that is vital to thepre-eminence of American science as well as to theflow of objective science to the government."

Alan Leshner protested on behalf of the AmericanAssociation for the Advancement of Science, expressing"deep concern" about the inquiry, which appeared to be"a search for a basis to discredit the particularscientists rather than a search for understanding".

Political reaction has been stronger. Henry Waxman, asenior Californian Democrat, wrote complaining thatthis was a "dubious" inquiry which many viewed as a"transparent effort to bully and harass climate-changeexperts who have reached conclusions with which youdisagree".

But the strongest language came from anotherRepublican, Sherwood Boehlert, the chairman of thehouse science committee. He wrote to "express mystrenuous objections to what I see as the misguidedand illegitimate investigation".

He said it was pernicious to substitute politicalreview for scientific peer review and the precedentwas "truly chilling". He said the inquiry "seeks toerase the line between science and politics" andshould be reconsidered.
A spokeswoman for Mr Barton said yesterday that allthe required written evidence had been collected.

"The committee will review everything we have anddecided how best to proceed. No decision has yet beenmade whether to have public hearings to investigatethe validity of the scientists' findings, but thatcould be the next step for this autumn," she said.

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