Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Where efficiency and maximized profit are not the civic religion" 

Scout picked out a great excerpt from Dan Baum's final New Orleans Journal piece. (Baum's "N.O. Journal" is probably the most perceptive New Orleans blog of all time; certainly the best written.) Here's a slice:

The city’s unique appreciation for the present makes life there rich indeed...
New Orleans endures as the national repository of the loose-jointed Huck Finn spirit we Americans claim to cherish. While the rest of us pare down our humanity in service to the dollar, New Orleans is a corner of America where efficiency and maximized profit are not the civic religion. As I drive past endless repetitions of Wendy’s, Golden Corral, Ethan Allen furniture, Jiffy Lube, Red Lobster, and the like on my way back to Colorado, I realize that I haven’t spent a dollar anyplace but locally owned business in four months. A long time ago, David Freedman, the general manager of the listener-supported radio station WWOZ, described New Orleans to me as a kind of resistance-army headquarters. “Everyplace else in America, Clear Channel has commodified our music, McDonald’s has commodified our food, and Disney has commodified our fantasies,” he said. “None of that has taken hold in New Orleans.” In the speedy, future-oriented, hyper-productive, and globalized twenty-first century, New Orleans’s refusal to sacrifice the pleasures of the moment amounts to a life style of civil disobedience.

Today, I'll be living richly in the moment with family and friends at the Freret St. Festival.

My birthday was Thursday, but I didn't really acknowledge it here at YRHT. It felt like any other day. But since "any other day" in New Orleans is a celebration, that was more than enough for me.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

"They can make their decisions" 

Today's Washington Post reports:

Today, the first day of hurricane season, few dispute that the city is safer than it was before Hurricane Katrina. But as time passes and rebuilding costs mount, the idea that the federal government will provide protection from the worst of hurricanes here seems ever more remote.

After Katrina's catastrophic inundation, many declared "Never again!" With that message, Congress ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study how to protect the city from flooding in Category 5 storms, the most devastating on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The idea still has strong political appeal.

"I believe we should order the Corps to achieve Category 5 protection over time," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said during a presidential campaign stop here recently.

But nearly two years after the storm, with the feasibility of protecting the city to that level under study, a project to defend the city from less-ferocious storms is proving far more expensive than anticipated. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has signaled that its commitment does not extend to Category 5 protection.

How far does Bush's "commitment" extend? Only to 100 year storm protection. The Post does a good job of putting that in context:

For any given year, the roughly 1-in-100 chance of a storm overcoming the defenses might sound like attractive odds.

But it is far below local expectations, for several reasons.

The 1-in-100 annual chance means that, over a lifetime, such an event is more likely to happen than not. Moreover, protection against the 100-year storm is far less than would be necessary for a Hurricane Katrina, which is considered a 400-year event, and certainly less than what could withstand a direct hit by a Category 5.

Finally the 100-year protection leaves the New Orleans area at far more risk than other well-known flood projects: The system in the Netherlands, for example, is designed to withstand a 1-in-10,000-year storm, the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee in Florida is designed for a 1-in-935-year event, and the Mississippi River flood works are designed for a 1-in-800-year flood.

Not surprisingly, a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 95 percent of residents here want to see Category 5 protection, even if it costs more.

What I want to know is, who are the 5% of local residents that don't want Category 5 protection, "even if it costs more"? The "Couhig Conservatives"?

In response to questions about better protection for the city, [Gulf Coast Recovery Czar Donald] Powell said the administration is "committed" to the 100-year-flood protection, and says he will support spending more money to get to that level.

Previously, Powell said "the federal government is committed to building the best levee system known in the world". Now he says he will "support" weak Category 3 flood protection-- the bare minimum we need to be semi-insurable.

But [Powell] turned aside questions about Category 5 protection, noting that extensive new studies set to be released this summer will inform residents how likely they are to be flooded when the new 100-year project is finished.

"Then they can make their decisions," he said.

Oh, so that's how it's going to go down. Powell is basically saying: "New Orleans is not going to get more than WEAK CATEGORY 3 flood protection (with partially armored levees and pumps built by Bush cronies). But we will give y'all a map so you can calculate exactly how f*cked you will be the next time the levees or pumps fail, or when a major storm hits the area".

Thanks, Powell. That's mighty white of you.

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Cat 5 study will likely be delayed 

From yesterday's T-P:

Another trouble spot is the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Study, better known as the "Category 5" study, of alternatives for protecting all of south Louisiana from much larger hurricanes. The study is expected to include alternatives for levees and gates to block storm surge, as well as barrier island and wetlands restoration to reduce the height and strength of surge before it reaches the levees.

But [USACE General] Van Antwerp was expected to be told that the study might not be complete by the end of December as required by Congress. That's because of problems with access to a huge state-of-the-art Cray computer at the corps' Environmental Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., which also is being used for work on the risk assessment, and other Louisiana and Mississippi environmental projects.

After the Federal Flood, the White House resisted every push our state made towards Category 5 flood protection for South Louisiana. They politely listened to Senator Vitter's request for Cat 5 protection, and promptly rolled him under the bus. They listened to Blanco's request for Cat 5 protection, and promptly rolled her under the bus, too. Then, last year, the White House "gutted" the preliminary "Cat 5" USACE report of its specific proposals, and rewrote it to suit their own policy preferences. The Bush administration disingenuously claimed they were waiting to see what "science" said about Cat 5 protection for Louisiana. But when when the "science" began arriving in the USACE preliminary report last year, the Bush administration effectively neutered it. Instead of informing Louisianans about potential flood control projects that would give us hope and enable us to plan our lives better, the Bush administration inappropriately modified and edited the Army Corps of Engineers' report, and replaced any mention of specific solutions with a preliminary "decision matrix".

Now we learn that the Corps' "Category 5 study" will likely be delayed past the December due date that Congress requires. They say they can't get enough time on the supercomputer. Well that predicament should suit the Bushies just fine, for they've resisted the idea of Category 5 protection for South Louisiana at every turn. They don't think we need the highest category of storm protection, and they certainly don't want to pay for it on their watch. So they've been running out the clock ever since the Fall of 2005. Louisianans are paying outrageously high insurance premiums while they watch Gulf waters devour their state. We need help fast. But now it looks as if we'll have to wait a little longer, into 2008, before USACE completes the "Cat 5 report" (which the White House may then edit to suit its own ends). They can't get enough time on the computer, you see. Other projects apparently have priority-- I wonder what those projects are, and who gave them priority.

In any event, let me spare you the suspense about how this will turn out. I predict that, when the USACE report finally comes out in 2008, it will not suddenly transform the Bushies into fervent supporters for Cat 5 flood protection for South Louisiana. No, they will view Cat 5 protection the same way they viewed it back in 2005; as too costly and too complex. President Bush will make no firm commitments or appropriations for Cat 5 levees and wetlands restoration. His adminstration will continue playing "run out the clock" with Louisiana, a stricken state that has no time to lose.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dennis Kucinich needs a platform kiss his magically delicious wife ... to express his views to the world. That's why he's participating in the televised debate on Fox, which all the other major candidates are shunning.

If you need to test your fortitude, try to hold back the vomit as you read the entire hokie story about how Kucinich, 60, met his 29-year old British bride. (His attempt to use his 2004 campaign as a personal dating service didn't pan out.)

If you somehow make it through that story, and think you have an adamantine will, then see if you can endure this speech, where Kucinich makes a reference to the wisdom of Moby.

Yeah, yeah, "we're all made of stars". Very profound. But apparently the stars made some of us into phony, vegan homunculi.

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This is funny. "God-fearing" Chad Rogers was enraged at Bush's reasoning for his recent $30 billion AIDS initiative. Bush had said "To those whom much is given, much is expected", a thought which Chad labeled as "Marxist", before learning that it referred to a quote from the Nazarene (Dr. Luke 12:48). Chad has since reworked the post with an update and changed the title as well as some of the body.

Chad claims he won't do any more Democrat bashing, and says he would support the impeachment of President Bush, because Bush promotes "wealth distribution" and "World Socialism".

Bush's re-election presaged the fracturing of the GOP, and will be a long-term strategic boon for Democrats (especially if the coming recession occurs in 2007, they avoid nominating Hillary, and they get Obama on the ticket).

Make no mistake, the "Pro-Rudy" wing and the Illegal Immigration Hardliners are indispensable to this Republican "fracturing". And our dear friend Senator Vitty-cent is hard at work in both camps. Hurray!

To see Bush and Vitter work (in vastly different ways) to fracture the GOP is immensely satisfying to me, because for my entire adult life the GOP was ascendant. Now they're busting themselves to pieces.

For the most part, the Douchey Dems don't deserve this assistance, but perhaps they'll take advantage of it.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Recall Nagin, unelect Jordan and force Riley to resign 

I have tremendous respect for the citizen activists in the Silence is Violence movement, and support their efforts to reduce violent crime in New Orleans. The January March Against Crime was a wonderful thing. However, part of me can't get over the thought that a similar amount of activism and volunteering in the mayoral election six months prior to the Crime March might've pre-empted some of the political problems with which we're currently faced.

Re-electing Ray Nagin was an awful, horrible blunder for New Orleans-- for myriad reasons-- but Nagin's commitment to a Police Chief who can't control crime is at the top of the list.

A recent post at Silence and Violence reminds me how exponentially more difficult it is to work with Nagin and Riley (two guys we could have voted out a year ago) to accomplish goals that they are demonstrably incapable of achieving! Perhaps a few excerpts from the post will make this clear:

When we marched to City Hall on January 11, Mayor Nagin responded by pledging his total, undiluted attention to the problem of violent crime in New Orleans.

There is no such thing as Mayor Nagin's "total, undiluted attention". No such thing. I'm not trying to be funny or cute, here. I'm dead serious: expecting laser-like focus from Nagin on even the most important issues is asking too much.

[Nagin] agreed with what many of us voiced on that day: Without security on our streets, the societal foundation for rebuilding New Orleans is shaky at best. Yet we have just come through a particularly bloody weekend, with five murders over just a few days, and the Mayor has not responded publicly, has not appeared before us to condemn this latest round of killing, has not sent the message we need that the violence is not acceptable and that he in undertaking specific actions as our leader to deal with these murders.

Even if Nagin had shown up to "send messages" and make condemnations about the murders, I must ask: do you think that means he "gets it"? Do you think that means he will "follow through"? Besides, who will take his condemnations and his "pledges" seriously?

This Wednesday, May 30, Mayor Nagin will present his first State of the City address since Hurricane Katrina and the flood. The Mayor's office has particularly invited all of you, as supporters of SilenceIsViolence, to participate. The address will begin at 6:30pm at the National D-Day Museum.

We will be listening to the Mayor's speech for a focused message on violent crime.

I'm sure he'll address crime, and I doubt he will have a sufficiently "focused" message, but even if he does... should we come away from the speech satisfied? Hell, Silence is Violence could write Nagin's speech for him, and he could passionately deliver it, and I still would have zero faith in Nagin's ability to successfully deal with the crime problem.

The current situation in our neighborhoods is unacceptable, and on Wednesday evening we will be listening for the Mayor's response to the crime statistics from the first quarter of 2007 and for his specific methods for addressing them.

Ok, well, last year Nagin and Riley were terribly impressed with their innovative crime fighting tactics, which they considered "second to none". This preceded the "dramatic escalation" in crime in the 4th quarter of 2006.

It is no coincidence that the stemming of the late-2006 escalation in violent crime coincided with the heightened citizen-lead pressure on the system and our leaders...

I don't want to sound like a skeptical asshole, but I don't see any evidence for a causal link there. Is there evidence that it was "no coincidence", or is it simply easier to think so? I'm nitpicking because this is the sort of claim Nagin himself would make. The one thing I "know" that is not a coincidence is the increasing crime throughout the Nagin administration (except when the city depopulated after the Federal Flood). Around this time last year, Nagin was describing the increase in Post-K crime as slight "upticks" that were recognized and under control. This was before the National Guard and state troopers were sent in.

We must sustain our outcry, and the pressure it is evidently bringing to bear on both the city leadership and the criminals in our midst.... Our voices have helped to slow the escalation; we must continue working to turn it back in the other direction, and we must continue to demand that our leaders do the same.

Please attend Mayor Nagin's State of the City address this Wednesday, and let him know that we are watching, listening, and waiting for him to speak more forcefully on the issue of violence in our city.

We are way, way, WAY past the point of needing Nagin to "know" that we are "waiting for him to speak more forcefully". We are at the point now, I believe, when Nagin needs to know that he will be recalled if he doesn't fire Warren Riley immediately. That might get his attention.

Expecting that this "State of the City" speech will mean something, that it will be full of specific promises that Nagin will fulfill is ...pure folly. It may have some soaring rhetoric, as did last year's inaugural, but so effing what?

We will not lower high violent crime rates with Mayor Nagin, Chief Riley, and DA Eddie Jordan in office. Period. They are demonstrably incapable of making sustained progress, and nothing they can say at this point could possibly make any difference. In fact, I think it is unhelpful for New Orleanians to still have high hopes for Nagin or Riley saying (and meaning) "the right words" about crime in New Orleans, and suddenly getting "focused". They've been trying to placate and mislead us for over a year now, as "upticks" in crime turned into "hurricanes". Not to worry, they said, we have a crime strategy that is "second to none"; then a few months later it got so bad the national media was comparing us to Iraq, and New Orleanians poured out into the streets in mass protest.

Recall Nagin, unelect Jordan, and force Riley to resign or be terminated. These are the objectives towards which citizen activism would be most valuable, in my opinion.


Update: Here's Crouere's latest criticisms and speculations about Nagin.

Update #2: According to KATC news Nagin referred to spikes in the city's murder rate (78 total in 2007) as "an occasional 'blip,' or flare-up". Last year a rash of murders was an "uptick". This year it's a "blip".

(H/T Dead Pelican.)


Update #3: Leigh has a great speech "link-o-rama".

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Bush wants less fear in politics, Big Time wants more accuracy 

Yesterdy President Bush said:

Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard some of the talk out there about people defining the [immigration] bill. It’s clear they hadn’t read the bill. They’re speculating about what the bill says, and they’re trying to rile up people’s emotions... This bill is not an amnesty bill. If you want to scare the American people, what you say is, the bill is an amnesty bill. It’s not an amnesty bill. That’s empty political rhetoric, trying to frighten our fellow citizens.

Empty political rhetoric that scares our fellow citizens? Heaven forfend!

Tiny Revolution quotes Vice President Cheney from a 2005 appearance on Larry King:

I think there's a special obligation on major news organizations, when they're dealing with what can sometimes be life-and-death matters, to get it right.

There's "No doubt" about that. The media needs to "get it right" on life-and-death matters. They really do. As for Vice Presidents... not so much.

Update: Froomkin has a must-read piece on Cheney and Plamegate here.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Xie xie, spasiba, thank you, cha-ching 

Mandarin Chinese is now the dominant language in Flushing, Queens. People of Asian descent are the new majority there, and a NYT article profiled the white and black residents who decided to adapt to their changing surroundings by learning to speak Mandarin:

The free [Mandarin] classes at the James A. Bland Houses draw a motley assortment of students; the current session includes an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, a black woman who grew up in the housing project and the practical-minded daughter of Hungarian immigrants.

They have in common these two attributes: They have lived in Flushing since before it was Asian, and they have decided that the time has come to adapt.

“Kind of like, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,’ ” said Ms. Farren, whose Italian-American relatives cannot fathom why she hasn’t left for New Jersey.

Pitched battles have been fought over language in Flushing, whose white ethnic population has receded as Korean and Chinese immigrants have arrived. In the late 1980s, when City Councilwoman Julia Harrison proposed a bill requiring businesses to post signs in English, a public divide seemed to open: On one side were the waves of Asian newcomers; on the other, longtime residents who felt displaced and alienated.

But Man-Li Kuo Lin’s weekly Mandarin class — arranged by Ms. Harrison’s successor, Councilman John C. Liu — provides a different view of Flushing. Ms. Lin’s students filter in after finishing a day’s work as paramedics or elementary school teachers. They set up chairs under pipes labeled “hot kitchen/bath” and “chilled water supply,” which are periodically traversed by mice. Some eat supper discreetly out of paper bags. Then they stumble, with boisterous good humor, over the basics of Mandarin grammar.

In the center of the front row, every Wednesday, sits an old man with a freckled scalp and a frizz of white hair. This is Frank Sygal, 85, a retired stockbroker whose enthusiasm in pursuit of Mandarin amazes and amuses his classmates.
Mr. Sygal grew up outside Krakow and lost his parents on an August day in 1942 when German soldiers rounded up Jews, stripped off their jewelry and machine-gunned them. His facility with languages helped him survive: He spoke Russian with the Russian soldiers, Ukrainian with the Ukrainians and German with the Germans, reserving Hebrew for private spaces. Once he arrived in New York in 1949, there were two more languages to learn — English and Spanish.

Now, at 85, he has embarked on his last great linguistic effort. His progress has been maddeningly slow; at one point, Mr. Sygal approached “dozens” of Chinese people, he said, in a fruitless attempt to translate the word “ka-ching,” a term he had seen in a headline in The New York Post and assumed to be Chinese. He hopes that he will be able to carry on a conversation in Mandarin by the time he is 95.

“If I be around,” he said, “I be able to speak.”
You gotta love Mr. Sygal's spirit. But that image of him asking random Chinese people to explain "ka-ching" is hilarious. (Thanks to Prometheus 6 for the link.)


USA Today reports:

Police detained gay rights activists, among them European lawmakers, as they tried to present a letter to Moscow's mayor Sunday in a demonstration that also attracted a hostile crowd of people who punched and threw eggs at the activists.

The letter, signed by some 40 European lawmakers, appealed the city's ban on a march that would have taken place Sunday to mark the 14th anniversary of Russia decriminalizing homosexuality.
Despite being decriminalized, homosexuality is still widely despised in Russia.
Still "widely despised", huh? What, they don't get "Will and Grace" reruns there?

Here's a picture of a popular Russian stamp from 1968, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Red Army:

That's not "gay", erster. That's passionate gratitude.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

"Of the april birds and the may bee" 

Stormy Weathers alerts us to a letter from PETA "urging LSU to replace Mike V with a human mascot instead of another bengal tiger".

I suppose LSU could make a politically incorrect choice and use a human mascot that honors the Confederate Artillery Unit (and/or the "Tiger" rifles) from which LSU's "Tiger" mascot derives.

By the way way, The Florida State University does not have a "mascot", it has a symbol; a dignified symbol of an unconquered spirit.


The Cunning Realist links to tantalizing video of the UMASS protest of former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card's appearance at their commencement.

That's the biggest facial served up at UMASS since Marcus Camby was patrolling the hardwood. It deserves a tribute-- an "EDUCATIONAL!" one (lyrics here).

we're not just kids, to say the least
we got ideas to us that's dear
and stupid stuff it makes us shout
oh dance with me oh don't be shy
oh kiss me c--t and kiss me c--k

And kiss me, Card.


I watched Half Nelson the other day and was inspired-- to become either a New Orleans public school teacher or a speedball addict, but not both (that would be irresponsible). Despite my ankle vein's virgin allure, I'll probably give more serious (albeit naive) consideration to the former option rather than the latter.

How hard could it be, really, to teach Hegel's dialectical approach to history to inner city youth?

Speaking of movies, Mike Miley writes about Robocop.



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The family had a great time at the Bayou Boogaloo on Saturday. We purchased some art, drank a lot of fresh lemonade, and Pearlgirl got butterlies painted on her arms and grooved to some live Reggae music.

Thanks and congratulations to everyone who made the event a success.


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