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Requiem for 8-29 August 28, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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The survivors request anger in lieu of tears

Achtung Baby! August 26, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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A few days ago I was singing the Fred Flintstone “Happy Annivesary” song (as quietly as possible, since I work in a beigeworld, the cube hell that haunts Dilbert’s nightmares.) to my wife’s voicemail. Nineteen years, thanks.

Now it is that Other annivesary. And a Happy Fucking Anniversary present is Gustave.

What You Don’t Know About Katrina August 25, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Those of you who are regular readers of New Orleans blogs will find few surprises in John Barry’s campaign to educate Americans about the truths of Katrina, New Orleans and the Federal Flood (our term as NOLA bloggers, not Barry’s).

If you find you way to this blog or this post because you are searching on Katrina on the anniversary, then you need to click this link right now and go read what Barry–author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Change America–has to say.


What You Need to Know About Katrina– and Don’t–
Why It Makes Economic Sense to Protect and Rebuild New Orleans

Five Years August 21, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Three years August and the storms are being named like epic ships, a doom upon our shore, and I think of the levees still leaking and of the flood-walls patched with paper mache, our Potemkin defenses are not ready and we are not ready and the Big One is out there, invisible, a mighty wind, waiting for us. Someone empties a pistol into the night and I think of Jessica and Chanel and Helen and Dinerral as I watch the MPs in their Humvees roll by like armored ghosts. I think of the streets running into blocks running into miles of houses houses houses houses houses empty eyed with plywood doors and ragged lawns. And I think I’ll have another drink and light another cigarette and then another drink and then–I stop thinking. That is when this song comes into my head. It is a compulsion, like bitting ones nails until they smart and bleed, this thought that what we blog may not be our Genesis but an Apocalypse, the history of the end. And yet we stay because to live here is to walk through wrack and ruin counting the flowers in the weeds and discover you are not alone, everywhere there are people smiling, people with crumpled souls and rough stomachs, suffering what you are suffering, worse than you are suffering, suffering beyond your imagining and all for the sake of this place, because they see this city as you do, because they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape. A terrible beauty spills out of their eyes like tears and bathes the city in light.

Three Years August 17, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“I never thought I’d need so many people.”
–David Bowie, Five Years

Every day I drive slowly down rough and littered streets beneath sooty overpasses, through neighborhoods lined with hollow houses, the empty windows watching over the slow collapse of the roads into rubble, the rampant lawns and the vines claiming the roofs. Familiar landmarks are vanished into weed-choked lots even as new buildings rise up here and there. I tell myself this is not a disaster area, it is the New Orleans of memory, the postdiluvian city of shabby gentility slowly settling back into itself. It is the place I remember not transformed but instead amplified by the flood, the decay accelerated by the casual incompetence and common corruption of a government that would shame Haiti.

The streets and sidewalks still sag and heave as they did before, as if something beneath them were trying to break through and reclaim its place. There are more of these upheavals now, as if the flood had woken something that once moved slowly as in a dream, as if what lay below has grown hungry and anxious to completely crack the thin veneer of concrete we call civilization and begin to consume us in ernest. I can no longer be certain whether the roots that tear up the sidewalks run down from the trees, or if they are something clawing up from below, tossing up oaks and cypress to reclaim us for the swamp primeaval.

That is my city: not the delicate traceries of iron balconies or mossy-bricked patios at the end of a gas-lit carriageway in the Quarter–a postcard place for tourists–or the clean and quiet, manse-lined streets in the better parts of Uptown untouched by the flood. I live in the heart of the place, a section named Mid-City but called Back of Town by the cab dispatchers, rows of small houses crowded up to streets drapped in a tangle of overhead black wires, an early 20th century working class neighborhood made good (just), clinging desperately to gentility just a block from the railroad tracks.

Things mostly look good on our stretch of Toulouse Street three years after the levees failed and the city was drowned. Our biggest problem is that all of the rentals are full and its getting hard to park. I can drive to work up Orleans and tell myself it doesn’t look that different, until I get to the fields of sand and debris that were once the Lafitte Housing projects. Or I can take my son to school first, taking a part of my own boyhood route to school up Jefferson Davis and Nashville, and convince myself that things looks much the same as they did three years ago today, or twenty years ago when I left for the east coast.

I can make a point of not venturing into the heart of Gentilly Woods or New Orleans East. I can leave my newspaper folded on the porch, not reading of peoples homes demolished by mistake, or a building badly in need of demolition but ignored collapsing onto someone’s nearly restored house. I can pay no attention to the latest recovery scandal, the diversion of funds to help the elderly and poor into the pockets of the mayor’s brother-in-law. Instead I can make head out to any of a dozen of world’s finest restaurants in the country, then wander out into the night to listen to music you won’t find anywherre else in America, and tell myself everything is going to be alright.

Instead, I find myself getting up most mornings or coming home at night not to the daily paper but to a computer. I login and after vainly checking for comments and counts here, I pull up the writings of dozens of New Orleans bloggers who will not let us forget, who will not let you forget wherever you may be. They are a daily reminder of the ground truth of this place, that our recovery still struggles after three years and will continue for years to come. They remind me as well that I no longer have the time or energy to crusade as I did on Wet Bank Guide for the first two years after the flood, but that the battle goes on.

We are an odd bunch, the NOLA bloggers. I wrote not long ago:

“We are people who write about this city and the people in it… as one of the tethers for our sanity in this crazy place where It’s After the End of the World…part an underground resistance to the poor, lost fuckmooks [in City Hall] on Perdido Street and everywhere you can find them, here and away; to the “shootings happen to someone else, to bad people but not to me” mind set; to the “charter schools are wonderful, just like Catholic school without the tuition or the knee patches and let the rest rot” view of the world; a resistance against anyone who would profit from our pain or settle for less than something better for New Orleans.

“[w]e’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.”

Our community is an on-line analog of the movement that blossomed two years ago when the government failed to step in to rebuild the city. Organizations rose up in the neighborhoods among those who came home first, and became a movement of civic engagement. Among the leaders that movement cast up were bloggers: Karen Gadbois and Bart Everson most prominently, with dozens of others in the ranks. When it became clear that the government would not save us, the people of New Orleans moved to save themselves and blogging became an important part of that movement.

What we all blog is important because we will not let the government write our story, or the out-of-town journalists with their own angle or even our local newspaper, beholden as it is to the lot of carpetbaggers and scaliwags who are swarming like flies around the recovery money that dribbles down like. We tell our own story, the real story of the drowning and slow rebirth of New Orleans, sometimes from the fly-over view of what might be called the big picture, but more often in the stories of our own neighborhood, our block, ourselves. The people who would write our history for their own ends must contend with us. They have their own reasons, their own agendas. We have only one purpose: the salvation of the city and our own post-traumitized selves in the bargain.

Who do I read? If I start to name names, I know I will leave someone out, but on the odd chance you have just stumbled in here from elsewhere, I have to call out at least a few. Karen’s Squandered Heritage, Eli’s We Could Be Famous, the anonymous bloggers David’s Moldy City and Dambala’s American Zombie do not just take apart yesterday’s news; they are a at least a day (if not months) ahead at least. Karen and Eli can take credit for breaking the most recent City Hall Scandal. For a taste of life in the postdiluvian city you should be reading Micheal Homan, Kim’s Dangerblond, Mominem’s Tin Can Trailer Trash, Gentilly Girl, Cliff’s Crib, author Poppy Brite’s Dispatches from Tanganyika or Ray in New Orleans (currently on a blogging sabatical, but read back through his story of working on gutting houses in New Orleans). If you want to see people get their snark on and find a way to laugh through the veil of tears, then visit Peter’s Adrastos or Jeffery’s Library Chronicles.

Ah, what a slippery slope this is. See, I’ve gone and left out Leigh, Derek, Deidre, Glen, Bart, Lisa, Greg and Oyster and bog only knows who else. If you come away from this list hurt, hit me up for a drink at Rising Tide III, the bloggers conference on the recovery of New Orleans. You see, we are not just a lot of computer-equipped malingerers and malcontents. Many individuals (Ray, Bart, Karen, and others) have gone great things for the city. As a group, we have mounted Rising Tide, an annual conference on the city’s slow reconstruction. We have been able to attract national authors for featured speakers and active locals to our panels because they too have learned that there is a force moving in the world called blogging. It is not just a spin-off phenomena of politics or the ugly murmurring of the mob you read below the stories on NOLA.COM. It is as powerful and as democratic as Tom Paine setting type and as powerful and as ethereal as William Blake carving visionary plates.

Three years is too soon to know if we will succeed or fail, whether we are writing small pieces of the history of a great beginning or a tragic ending. It is a tremendous task, not merely to rebuild a city but at the same time to try to correct a century of past mistakes that had led to the city I described when I began, the city already full of broken streets and broken dreams before the flood came. Will we collapse of our own internal contraditions like the revolutions of the 20th century, or be drowned beyond recovery by yet another storm? All I know for certain is that unless the Internet collapses or is suppressed you can watch it play out here. Or even play your own part. Blogging alone, we have learned, is not enough, but it is a start: a public declaration that you care about New Orleans, and will not let is fade away.

Cross-posted from Humid City, where this first went up as part of Loki’s Carnival of Blogging for the anniversary and Rising Tide.

Selling Wolf Tickets to Ginny Women August 16, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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N.B. While I understand Carmen’s concern in her comment below that Nagin boosters will dismiss this (I know the dude, and he’s not…), I am determined to move the bar, to make it clear that the word applies to those like Nagin (or Head or the rest of them) who play the card to win.

Times-Picayune editorial writer and columnist Jarvis DeBerry show us he still still a man “in touch with the street”, as old white guys in politics used to say when I was a young white guy in politics. He treats us to a bit of street talk in his Aug. 10 column on Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s latest show of tail feathers over the blogger-sourced NOAH scandal. Nagin is, he tells us

A walking embodiment of the black vernacular, he called certain mail critics “ginny women.: He accused others of “selling wolf tickets”….

Sadly, Mr. DeBerry doesn’t bother to explain to us cracker-ass, recovery-hating bloggers what these terms mean. Thank bog for the Internets, that series of tubes which we nattering nabobs of negativism have excavated beneath the city’s recovery like medieval miners trying to fell a castle wall.

Oddly, I found the definition for “ginny woman”, a man who likes to gossip or involve himself in “women’s business”, under the Wikipedia entry for Yat (scroll down to the glossary), a uniquely working class white vernacular. I wonder if all of the Yat’s are supposed to drop using ginny woman now the way blacks stopped saying “brah” for brother the minute the white guys at Kennedy High School took it up.

Selling wolf tickets is more genuinely black vernacular, if the unruly mob behind Wikipedia are to be trusted. Sadly DeBerry missed a grand opportunity for irony in the service of clarify when he didn’t use the Lord Mayor’s own feeble threat to “cold cock” members of the local news media as a living definition. Either that or he ran over his word count, as people who live and die by the column inch must sometimes do when they’re on a roll, and something had to go.

In all fairness, DeBerry and columnist Stephanie Grace deserve full credit for their tag team Sunday columns (his here, her’s here)calling out the mayor. Jumping Nagin is something the Picayune seems very cautious about in its news column. I especially like the part where Stephanie jumped into the ring with the folding chair and whacked Hizzoner upside the head. (OK, that was gratuitous and entirely too much fun to type). Others have analyzed the full dynamic of their one-two punch better than I: Moldy City in particular.

All frustrated newspaper columnist cleverness on my part aside, I have a lot of respect for DeBerry. If I’ve deeply insulted him by any of the above, I apologize and in the same breath suggest he needs to lighten up and get out of the newsroom a little more often. I respect him because he is the child of middle-class Black parents who is an editorial writer at a paper ruled by the white uptown elite in the person of Ashton Phelps, Jr. I am sure DeBerry must walk a very fine line between what he wants to say and what he can or must say if he wants to keep his job, much as the politicians he sometimes writes about must do.

That may be the reason behind the failure of his Sunday column fails. It fails because it starts down a path it does not follow to its logical end. DeBery is in a unique position to speak out to all communities, as an editorialist for a mainstream newspaper who routinely speaks to the Op-Ed reading elite, and as a son of black New Orleans. I think he could call the mayor out on the most important score of all more effectively than my sorry Bunny Bread ass ever can, sitting here typing for an audience of a hundred (on a good day). Still, that is a Rubicon DeBerry has not yet crossed, and perhaps never can with Phelps looking over his shoulder. So once again I’m stuck out here in the wilderness with locusts and honey stuck in my teeth and not so much as a twig in sight, speaking what must be said:

Nagin is a racist.

His use of black street slang isn’t just machismo, as DeBerry suggests. Nagin is speaking in racial code to advance his agenda, circling “his people” around him as a buffer from any criticism. Anyone who so openly panders to one race over the other, who falls back upon the defense that “they” are out to get one of “us”, differs from David Duke in degree and not kind. Speaking in code just makes it worse, more insidious. Were the White Citizen Councils somehow different or better than the Ku Klux Klan? When I say this (or if James Gill or Stephanie Grace try it), well, we’re just them: Exhibit A in the argument that We’re out to get the Brother-In-Chief of the city.

What bullshit.

If you pander to racial divisiveness, you are a racist. It doesn’t matter if you drape yourself in your wife’s best sheets or the lingo of the streets, the game is the same. And that is what Nagin does, just as Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis did with the Inspector General debate When you pack the council with an angry, racial mob to get your way, does it matter if they are black or white? What difference does it make? Not that Nagin or the Cynthias are alone. Stacey Head is not above giving tit-for-tat, publicly disrespecting the other side to curry favor with her own. She is the obverse of the Nagin coin. Her taunting of public housing residents and clash with Tamborine and Fan are equally unacceptable.

What no one in the Times Picayune is likely to step up to say is the one thing that needs most to be said: people who stir up racial division are the ones who do the greatest damage to the recovery, even more than the looters in suits who siphon off recovery money.

Yes, you, C. Ray Nagin. You are not only a racist, you are one of the greatest threats to the city’s recovery. You are what I have railed against since I started blogging back in August 2005 and all through the darkest days of the rest of that dark year, back when I wrote about the Knights of the Invisible Hand, or a year and a half later when I wrote about the inspector general battle.

My position remains the same: We can not afford this. We couldn’t in September 2005, or November 2006 or August 2008. At the one bright moment in the history of the entire slavery-cursed South when everyone in one community had the largest event of their lives in common, were united in solidarity by the flood; when history presented us our Augenblick, our opportunity to seize the day and make the revolution Martin Luther King prophesied, you chose instead to whip it out and piss all over it just to show you’re one of the folk, one of the guys. When you were done you shook the brothers down for all they had in their pockets for your car fare to get uptown and collect your campaign checks, and you laughed all the way to the bank.

What a tremendous accomplishment and legacy. We shall have to erect a statue to you in memory of these times, perhaps where the Liberty Monument once stood, to remind us how you helped to destroy the second reconstruction of New Orleans. We can all look at it and hope that some day we will all join together to pull it down.

Oh, and Mr. Mayor: if you think the bloggers are out to get you, we are. In case you haven’t noticed, the NOLA Bloggeres are out to get anyone who threatens or interferes with the recovery. FYYFF.

NOLA Bloggers find missing cranes on city skyline August 11, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Cranes, you bastard. You promised us cranes. Well, we’re ready to deliver where Ed “Bicycle Pants” Blakely cannot. We got your cranes on the skyline.

Graphic by Greg Peters.

Here’s your rolling reminder about Rising Tide 3: John Barry, author of the definitive work on the 1927 Mississippi River flood; Lee Zurik together with the bloggers who broke the NOAH story; the inside dope on the massive uncontrolled experiment on involuntary child subjects called our post-Flood educational system, eats from the restaurateur/bloggers from J’Anita’s. Aren’t you registered yet? Social 8/22 in the evening at Buffa’s. Conference 8/23 a the Zeitgeist Cultural Center. Volunteer work 8/24.

Atlantis July 9, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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The rocket stands on its launch pad like mythical Babel, a pointer and a reaching out towards the heavens. A triumph of modern technology, it lifts itself by an alchemy of the ancient elements, the composite pieces of water and air joined to make fire, to lift men above the earth. A trembling in the ground and a roaring in the ears and it is away.

We watch its arc, the contrail cloud left by as it climbs into the sky. Men in white shirts sit nearby and below ground staring into computer screens, reading out their ship’s progress in numbers. Some figures climb as does the rocket–altitude, speed, the g-forces of acceleration, tracing their own mathematical curves that mirror the rocket’s. These men have built this marvel and monitor the operation of it hundreds of thousands of tiny composite parts, willing it to defy gravity and rise into the sky.

The music of this film is perfect, an analogue in sound of the complex mechanical systems we are watching, Phillip Glass’ electronic transmutation of organic music into the electronic space: crescendo and diminuendo replaced by attack and fade, the symmetries of the baroque distilled into the circuitry of the sequencer, the natural sounds of voices and pipe organ channeled into the sequencer’s inexorable logic.

We have reached in this space faring ship the apex of man’s upward climb, have tried to realize that reaching into the heavens symbolized by Babel and the pyramids. We are God’s new Chosen People. He has willed that we will master not just this one continent but an entire world. Now we reach up into the space beyond this planet so that men might walk upon the moon, someday journey to the stars.

And then it happens, as if an invisible bolt of lightening was sent down from the heavens. The vessel of all our modern hopes and dreams disintegrates in a cloud of flame and shrapnel. It is the old story again, Babel confounded and the landscape littered with gruesomely dead Greeks who had set themselves up against Olympus.

As the rocket explodes and the burning remains of the rocket slowly tumble down, following gravity’s rainbow arc back to the earth, the voices take up the refrain again: Koyaanisqatsi, a Hopi Indian word meaning variously ‘crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living’.

Here in New Orleans we do not erect towers to the heavens. We build a city where men have always built, on the fertile flood plains of a convenient river, and close to the bountiful sea. The first temples were reared in places like this, inside those first cities on the flood plains of Tigris and Euphrates. If it is an act of hubris to be here then gods have made a terrible mistake in creating man as they did (or worse, have created him to fail for their entertainment).

Here instead of towers we build levees, low mounds of dirt and clay by which we would defy the flooding river and the ocean. Where hubris and engineering intersect we find politicians peering over the engineers’ shoulders and asking, can we do this cheaper? Faster? Better? There is a rule in projects such as these, called the iron triangle. Simply stated the rule is: better, faster, cheaper–pick two. We squabble with the government for levees that would withstand a 100 year flood, and dream of the 10,000 year protection of the British and Dutch, and hope for the best.

Time has shown we did not build well enough, or perhaps we built too well. Left untouched by man, this delta would eventually be abandoned by the river, and the land sink into the sea. We are victims of our own progress, of the channeling of the river for navigation and the containment of its nourishing floods, and of the extraction of the liquid mineral wealth beneath us. By doing so we have destroyed much of the buffering land around our levees, and so accelerated the time span of our drowning from the geological into generations. The levees we built were not enough to stand against an immense wall of water running downhill in time.

Atlantis is not a myth. It is a prophecy. Someday it will be our history.

At the beginning and end of Koyaanisqatsi are shots of pictograms left behind by the desert dwelling natives of the American southwest. These simple pictures made from materials at hand have lasted the better part of a millennium, stand as the mute testament of people who have come and gone. What will we, the people of New Orleans, leave behind as our testament? The computer that holds these words, made of plastic and glass, copper and steel, will last long enough to bump up against an archeologists trowel if it is not too far beneath the sea, but the words it contains will be lost forever. What you read here today will not stand up through time as those simple drawings go

For all of our foolishness of dredging channels and building levees, digging our city’s own grave with every shovelful, we have a good life here. In spite of all the problems we have made for ourselves, amplified times over by the inevitable flood, New Orleans is not Koyaanisqatsi, not in the sense the filmmaker intended with his endless scenes of ant-like Metropolis. We manage a life here measured not by the speed of our machines or the height of our towers but instead by the music and the food and the ritual, by the way we live with and inside of those things. While we cannot completely master time any more than we can the land or the river or the sea, we have managed to bend time to a different tempo, one more in balance. It is something worth sharing with the world, and will someday be worth remembering.

I am left to rely on the hope that the music and food and ritual have so imprinted themselves upon the world that they will not be forgotten, that the word Creole (and its close cousin Cajun) will be spoken in kitchens long after the city is gone; that as long as Carnival is celebrated somewhere New Orleans will be remembered as one of its great centers; that the sounds of jazz will someday be played not only on a reproduction coronet by scholars–the way early European music is remembered today–but as something as vital and as ineradicable as language: somewhere in the future in something like a nightclub people hear the music, and rise up and dance.

That is the image I would scratch on the wall by torchlight and leave behind us, if only such a thing would not be drowned: a man raising a trumpet to the heavens leading a parade of figures, some bearing heaped platters, who dance to his music.

Good Morning, America, How Are You June 19, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Federal Flood, Flood, flooding, home, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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GULFPORT, Ill. – Juli Parks didn’t worry when water began creeping up the levee that shields this town of about 750 from the Mississippi River — not even when volunteers began piling on sandbags. ..
Then on Tuesday, the worst happened: The levee burst and Gulfport was submerged in 10 feet of water. Only 28 property owners were insured against the damage…
It is unclear what, if anything, the uninsured Parks would get in government disaster relief. “We’re hoping to rebuild, but it depends what FEMA says and how much we get,” said Parks, who is staying with her husband in a horse trailer…

The rest is here.

A horse trailer: that is where Juli Parks and her husband are staying.

What will it be like to live in a horse trailer for a year. Or two. Or three? Better perhaps than to live in a FEMA trailer and learn too late you have been poisoned, that your children will suffer the rest of their lives.

What our brothers and sisters in Iowa are discovering is the hard truth learned in New Orleans. The levees will not protect you. The government will not save you. What you have still to learn I will get to in a moment. For now, know this: you are on your own.

I blame George Bush.

Wait, stop, don’t hit that comment button yet. Bush didn’t dynamite the levees or destroy their homes. Still, he is the top man in the political establishment that spun the story of New Orleans into a myth with no basis in reality, the ugly story on cable news and AM radio that said what happened in New Orleans couldn’t happen to real Americans. It was “those people” and their corrupt ways that flooded New Orleans. It was the stupidity of people who would choose to live in the shadow of a levee and feel safe.

What happened in New Orleans had nothing to do with you, they were told. Move on. Listen, we have a war to win and we can’t get bin Laden unless you go shopping. Who knows how many more blond high school girls might disappear in suspicious circumstances if you don’t convert to digital cable and get that iPhone. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

It was all a lie.

And now the people who, almost three years after the Federal Flood, chose to live in the shadow of a Federal levee without flood insurance are learning the truth the hard way. You will lose everything, and the government will give you little or nothing. Maybe you will get your own Road Home program that offers half the replacement cost of a house. Perhaps the mortgage holder will lie to you and insist you have to sign that money over (you don’t really have to but they will lie to you as they lied to us, just as your insurance company lied to you when it said you were covered.) You will be left with a piece of land you can’t afford to build on.

When you try to rebuild you anyway will find the cost of construction materials has doubled and tripled since 8-29. Your insurance will increase five-fold. You will have to bear alone the full cost of rebuilding every thing around you. Your grocery bill will double to pay for the new store. Your utility company will gouge you to pay for what they lost in the flood. They will sell off the current power contracts while the power’s out and when it comes back on, the rates will have tripled. Your children’s schools will go without books for a year, if they have schools at all.

You will be told you will be better off if you move away from your home and leave it behind, to go somewhere else. Perhaps it won’t matter. The last place I lived people changed houses like they bought shoes. People cheerfully uprooted themselves to follow careers or just for a change. America has become a rootless people. Perhaps you won’t care.

Or are you more like us? Did you grandfather or great grandfather first break that earth? Did he found a town, its first bank or oldest church? Do you feel an irresistible compulsion to stay? My family has lived in Louisiana for almost 300 years. I am not going anywhere. If you follow in our footsteps, you need to forget everything you’ve heard about New Orleans, and look hard at us, at the real story of what happened here 8-29- and all the days since, because ours is the life ahead of you.

You will have to max out your credit cards, empty your savings accounts and 401ks, and still it will not be enough. You will have to cram your family into a tiny travel trailer and live there for years, even if it is slowly poisoning you. You will need to go to work all day, and come home and rebuild you house yourself all night. If you hire contractors, many will be the same predators who descended on us. They will take what money you have, and disappear. You will go back into your trailer, and you will weep in front of your children.

And still I think many of you will rebuild.

I think those of you who live in the houses or on the farms your parents or grandparents built, in the towns founded by your families generations ago, will insist on rebuilding just as we have. Somehow you will survive it all. I have a tremendous respect for the American people. They have come in the tens of thousands and still come to give of their time and effort to help us rebuild. Many of you who flooded are of that stock, are perhaps people who came to Chalmette or the Ninth Ward to guy homes or hammer up drywall.

If I sound discouraging I do not mean to. I just want you to open your eyes and see what the people of New Orleans have lived. I want everyone in American who sympathizes with you today to understand the truth. What happened in New Orleans can happen to you, and any suggestion that what happened here was unique or the fault of the victims is a lie. Not an exaggeration, or a distortion, or “spin”: a lie. It can happen to you. Perhaps because it has happened to the good people of Iowa and the other Mississippi River states people in America will wake up.

I hope that now they will realize that the country is full of levees that could fail at any moment, bridges like the one in Minnesota that could collapse. They need to know that the government the ruling political classes have worked at gutting and making ineffective for the last 30 years cannot help you, not in its current form or with its current leadership (not just one party or the other: Reaganomics and Clinton Bubblenomics have both gutted our ability to do anything as a nation). Everyone in this nation needs to know that tomorrow it could happen to them if something is not done, and what it will mean to them when it happens.

I have hope for New Orleans. For a long time, I had lost hope for America. I wrote these words many times in the last several years: the American experiment is over, and the results are in. It failed. Part of me does not want to believe that in spite of all of the hard evidence around me living in a city still half a ruin three years later. I want to find the fire that made me take a job that paid nothing as a journalist, the spirit that left me in awe when I walked the halls of Congress because I worked there. I want to remember what it was like to believe in a perfectible world, in something as big as a continent worth fighting for. I believe in New Orleans, and will fight for it, but I don’t know if it is enough.

I want to believe that the people of Iowa and Illinois will make common cause with the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, will insist that things change, will demand that the United States once again be about its people, will be a nation and not just an economy: of the people, by the people, for the people, never to perish from the earth.

People in the Midwest with flooded out lives have no time to think of this right now, but the eyes of the nation are upon them. Those of us who have walked that path must tell this story, must demand on their behalf and for all of us–even as we reach out to help our brothers and sisters in the baptism of the flood–that the levees must not fail again somewhere else, that the slow motion, disaster-without-end lived in New Orleans and the whole hurricane coast from Cameron to Gulfport should not be repeated there or anywhere.

Living on Sponge Cake May 23, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Is anyone surprised that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who thought it might be OK to stuff expansion joints in flood walls with newspaper in lieu of water proof seals, might have gotten it wrong in rebuilding and reinforcing the 17th Street Canal levees and flood walls, one of the major failure points of the 2005 Federal Flood? Perhaps they should try Bounty. Remember it was the Quicker Picker Upper because it was More Absorbent.

Among other things, [the Corps] repaired the wall by driving interlocking sheets of steel 60 feet into the ground, compared with about 17 feet before the storm. The sheet metal is supposed to prevent canal water from seeping under the levee through the wet, toothpaste-like soil that lies beneath the city, which was built on reclaimed swamp and filled-in marsh.

Over the past few months, however, the corps found evidence that canal water is seeping through the joints in the sheet metal and then rising to the surface on the other side of the levee, forming puddles and other wet spots.

Engineers said the boggy ground is a more serious problem than the corps realizes. [ob Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California at Berkeley,] said there is a roughly 40 percent chance of the 17th Street Canal levee collapsing if water rises higher than 6 feet above sea level. During Katrina, the water reached 7 feet in the canal.

Well, you would think that the events precipitating the Federal Flood would have led to some new thinking about how to build levees and other structures on our slippery, layered sponge cake soil, but the West Coast engineers think not. Just drive the piles deeper and hope for the best, which strikes me as an eminently 19th century solution.

It’s not as if this is a unique problem, or even a local one. I was surprised to learn while living in Fargo, N.D. that most large buildings required piles because of the characteristics of the bed of pre-historic Lake Agassiz–which in some age with a fancy scientific name rivaled the Great Lakes in size–upon which Fargo was built. I ended up helping my son research a short science essay on the subject and found the analogy to New Orleans fascinating. I sometimes think about the soils of Fargo and those 40+ foot dikes that keep the Red River of the North from drowning the place every spring.

Here’s an interesting tale from long ago about the building of a railroad embankment I used to drive along the route of (on Highway 10, a far-north, east-west analog of Highway 90 complete with parallel railroad tracks). Nothing under the sun, it seems, is new; and yet we seem to have such a confounded time figuring out how to deal with it all.

(Tim and Maitri, be sure to click the link. It’s definitely up your alley).

When the levee breaks January 31, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Corps of Engineers, Flood, flooding, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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See those dots and shaded areas? If you live there, you need to know this: there is no act of incomptence or malice for which the Corps of Engineers can be held liable should your levees (or dikes or whatever you choose to call them) fail. Thousands may die, and hundreds of billions of dollars of damage may be done, and the fault can clearly be that of the Corps, but you have no recourse.

You may think it was just some fluke of indolent and corrupt New Orleans. Think again. Locals basically mowed the grass on those levees, that’s all. Those levees and floodwals were a clear Federal responsibility. And they were not up to the required design specification. Not even close. Are your levees up to standard?

If not (and you won’t really know until you have to start cutting that hole in your attic to escape from drowning), then based on our experience I suggest you begin to evacuate these areas immediately. If you don’t drown, the best you might get (outside of what flood insurance might pay) is on the order of ten or fifteen cents on the dollar. And nothing should you die. That is what New Orleans has received, and I can’t imagine why you would expect any more.

I know most of you don’t have flood insurance. Louisiana had one of the highest compliance rates in the nation. I didn’t carry flood insurance when I lived in Fargo behind 40-foot high dikes and well below the flood stage of the Red River at its worst case. Do you have flood insurance? Do you have a plan for rebuilding your life out of the proceeds of that insurance and that insurance only? If your house and contents are worth more than $150,000 what then? If you owe more than that, are you ready to continue to pay the mortage on a ruin where you can’t live? Do you have enough life insurance should you drown so your family could make that payment on the hole in the ground that used to be your house after you’ve drowned?

If I were you, I would get that for sale sign up today. Or you can join us in demanding that the Corps of Engineers be held responsible for their clear and admitted negligence and that all of the levees in this country be built to do their job, and that the Corps be held responsible if they are not.

Note: I have resisted falling back on Led Zeppelin for a title or even a quote out for two-and-a-half years, but I just couldn’t avoid or resist this time.

New Orleans students take on Corps of Engineers November 7, 2007

Posted by Mark Folse in 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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If you have a You Tube account/login, please visit this video’s page and vote for and favorite this video produced by New Orleans school children in support of an 8-29 commission:

Hey, Mr. Blakely: I found your cranes October 20, 2007

Posted by Mark Folse in Cranes, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, New York, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Cranes Over Ground Zero

I found them towering over Ground Zero, what our esteemed mayor once referred to as “a big hole in the ground”.

Remember August 29, 2007

Posted by Mark Folse in Corps of Engineers, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, Mid-City, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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remember.jpg

The 100 Ways September 14, 2006

Posted by Mark Folse in Citizen Journalism, Corps of Engineers, Hurricane Katrina, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized, We Are Not OK.
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Last Haul September 5, 2006

Posted by Mark Folse in Citizen Journalism, Corps of Engineers, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, We Are Not OK.
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Remember August 27, 2006

Posted by Mark Folse in Corps of Engineers, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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A sign as flimsy as the Corps’ levees August 16, 2006

Posted by Mark Folse in Citizen Journalism, Corps of Engineers, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Uncategorized.
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Sign at Corps of Engineers 17th Street Canal Site
Courtesy of
Habitat for Urbanity I posted about this at Wet Bank Guide already, but not the actual photo. I’m dumbstruck.

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