Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, August 30, 2015 6:35 am

New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina

When you need an elegy, always hire an Irish poet.

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce:

All archaeology is about layers, one city laid atop the others, as though civilization were coming from deep in the earth and piling itself up toward the sky. In the late nineteenth century, when the German adventurer and archaeologist—and part-time fantast—Heinrich Schliemann went looking for the city of Troy, he found eleven of them, one atop another. At one level, Schliemann found a cache of gold and jewelry that he pronounced to be the treasure of Priam, the king of Troy at the time of the events of the Iliad. He was wrong. The gold had been found at what later was determined to be only Troy II. It is popularly believed now that Troy VII was the site of the war about which Homer wrote. There are bronze arrowheads there, and skeletons bearing the marks of hor-rendous injuries, and there is evidence of a great fire. What Schliemann wrote when he first made his discoveries there has held remarkably true for all the layers of Troy that have been unearthed since then:

“I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the Plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hissarlik only its Acropolis, with its temples and a few other large edifices, whilst its lower city extended in an easterly, southerly, and westerly direction, on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.”

There is an archaeology to human lives, too, and it is very much the same. Human lives have layers, one atop the other, as though the individual were rising from the dust of creation toward the stars. Some of the layers show nothing much at all. Some of them, like the dark layers at Troy that indicate a vast fire, show that something very important happened to the lives in question. Hurricane Katrina, and all of the myriad events surrounding it, both good and bad, is that vast, sweeping layer within the lives of the people of New Orleans. Almost fifteen hundred people died. There was $100 billion in damage. The levees failed. The city flooded. The city, state, and federal governments failed even worse than the levees did. It was estimated in 2006 that four hundred thousand people were displaced from the city; an estimated one hundred thousand of them never returned. Parts of the city recovered. Parts of the city were rebuilt. Parts of the city gleam now brighter than they ever did. There will be parades on the anniversary of the storm because there are things in the city to celebrate, but it is the tradition in this city that the music doesn’t lively up and the parade really doesn’t start until the departed has been laid to rest, until what is lost is counted, and until the memories are stored away. Only then does the music swing the way the music is supposed to sound. Only then do they begin to parade.

There will be some joy in the tenth-anniversary celebration because of this, but the storm is there in everyone, a dark layer in the archaeology of their lives. For some people, it is buried deeply enough to be forgotten. For others, the people who live in the places that do not gleam and that are not new, it is closer to the surface. A lot of the recovery is due to what author Naomi Klein refers to as “disaster capitalism.” The city has been reconfigured according to radically different political imperatives—in its schools and its housing and the general relationship of the people to their city and state governments. Many of them felt their lives taken over by anonymous forces as implacable as the storm was. There will be some sadness in the tenth anniversary because of this, fresh memories of old wounds, a sense of looming and ongoing loss. The storm is the dark layer in all the lives. And because it is, the storm is what unites them still, like that burned layer of Troy.

It is what connects the memory of [New Orleans police officer] Daryle Holloway to that of [Dr.] Bennett deBoisblanc, both of whom worked to save lives at Charity Hospital, which is now closed, never to reopen. It connects them all, this dark layer in the deep strata of their lives. It connects Charity Hospital to the Lower Ninth Ward in the life of Irma Mosley, who was born at Charity fifty-four years ago and who now works at a community center in the Lower Ninth. It is on St. Claude Avenue, not far from where Daryle Holloway, whose mother worked at Charity, was shot and killed.


Saturday, August 29, 2015 4:41 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 29

It was easier to give in than to keep running.

This is the kind of climate-change contradiction that likely can be explained only by following the money.

Sarah Palin interviews Donald Trump: the dumber leading the dumberer.

A West Point professor, Willliam Bradford, has gone WAY off the constitutional reservation on the War on Some Terror.

So fracking, among its many other charms, can produce radioactive material. Woo-hoo!

Remind me again why anyone would or should listen to Dick Cheney.

On this, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Heckuva Job Brownie is quite literally the last person we need to hear from.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010 9:19 pm

To share?

Filed under: Journalism,Sad — Lex @ 9:19 pm
Tags: , , ,

Good people share what’s theirs. Journalists share what belongs to others — sometimes freely given, sometimes obtained with the leverage of an open-records law or a not-so-disinterested third party, sometimes just stumbled upon, but what belongs to others nonetheless.

The difference is so stark that to use the same verb in both instances seems almost absurd. Accordingly, the dynamics of that interaction raise all kinds of moral and ethical issues and questions, and good journalists think about those questions all the time, weigh them anew with each new story, trying to strike the most moral balance between competing ethical claims.

But the phenomenon is larger than journalism, and it arises in the context of the new HBO drama “Treme,” a fictional show about all-too-real post-Katrina New Orleans. I haven’t seen the show (I don’t have HBO and don’t watch much TV that doesn’t have a Carolina Panther in it). But I’ve seen the phenomenon. For decades, I’ve seen it. And as, through reality TV and blogs and Facebook and roll-your-own talk-radio shows, we increase in both our ability and our inclination to share what’s ours, the likelihood that we will, at the same time, share what belongs to others only increases because the old boundaries are thinning and fading. And so the moral and ethical questions grow more important, not less.

“Treme” is the creation of David Simon, who also created “Homicide” and “The Wire.” And if I lived in New Orleans, I know I would be fascinated by what he intends to do with my town far beyond the fact that, simply because of his own resume, might well make New Orleans “cool” again.

If I lived in New Orleans — and I speak only for myself here, particulary since I don’t live in New Orleans — I would want to see truth on the screen. I don’t mean I’d be looking for stuff that actually happened on a fictional drama, of course, and I don’t just mean that I would not want to see New Orleans stereotypes, as if all residents are drag queens or Mardi Gras partiers or musicians at a jazz funeral. No, I would want to see a show that accurately reflects the conditions of my life and those of my friends and neighbors — the visual and aural and gustatory details, the pressures, the issues, the problems, the stuff I think about day-in and day-out.

And I think I also would like to see some evidence that the makers of the show understand that I and mine are still part of America and that the producers are conveying that much-denied reality in a way non-New Orleanians can recognize, because almost five years after George Bush went on national TV and made some lavish promises, those promises remain unfulfilled and I suspect that a lot of New Orleanians, and former New Orleanians now unwillingly displaced, are deeply angry and resentful about it.

Conveying that kind of sentiment well is easy to screw up. Characters could come off whiny or preachy if they address it directly. But you don’t want to overdo the subtlety, either, because the message is too important. It’s a tough nut for even a pro like Simon to crack, but if I lived in New Orleans, I think I’d want him to try because otherwise what’s the point of the series? 

Athenae, herself a journalist and a big New Orleans fan although she’s from much farther upriver, gets it, and at Back of Town, a blog about “Treme,” she lays it out:

Who has the right to tell your story and hear your story? Who has the right to be let in that deep? Telling a story is letting someone into your heart, into the things for you that are like the things of the church, the things you don’t talk about, that are knit into your muscle and bone. We were always trying to be conscious of that, at my last paper, that ain’t nobody obligated to give you [stuff] about their lives and that if they do, you tread on that as if it’s sacred ground. We didn’t always get there but I’d never say we didn’t always try. Here’s the crazy thing, though: Show up on someone’s doorstep after their grandkid died in some horrific car accident or school shooting or something, call up somebody after 20 years who said he was molested by a priest, invite yourself to a funeral, join a Muslim family for dinner after their children have been spit at on the street, and more often than not people want you there. They invite you in. Feed you, even. They talk for hours.  They want their story told.

We all know as … human beings, somewhere deep down, that our own memories only live as long as we do and the way we teach each other how to live is to tell our stories. And if we can’t tell them ourselves, we tell them this way: Books. Newspapers. TV shows. Movies, even. Radio. We’ve expanded the campfire where we used to share tales of the hunt to the entire [expletive] world. This is how we do this now.

Is it exploitative? It can be, if done badly. It can be terribly destructive, breaking something up into little pieces and putting it out there for the rest of the world to see. It can be scary. … I’d never tell anyone to do that kind of thing if they didn’t want to do it. I have zero quarrel with people who’d just as soon any storyteller at their door went … away.

And audiences can be total [expletive]s. The worst thing about being in any kind of communication medium is that you’re basically just throwing [expletive] out there and you have zero control where it lands. Somebody might be inspired to go shoot up a freeway, and that isn’t in any way what you meant, but damned if they didn’t just hear what they wanted to hear. Somebody else, though, might get it. Somebody else might take it up. Somebody else might make their life’s work something glorious because of something that you said. And that’s always been a chance I’ve been willing to try to convince others to take. So who has the right to tell the story? Whoever wants it bad enough to get it. To show up on the doorstep, to do the work to get inside, to crawl around under the skin of something and get people to talk.

And once it’s out there, there will be lots of people who can see your heart. Who will know your secrets. And who will remember, long after you’re gone, who you were and what you did. And it’s not up to anybody but you to decide if that’s worth it.

(Commenter Maitri adds: “People will do with your tale what they will, but be as patient as possible, because chaos theory states that dynamic systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions. We can argue about where ‘initial’ begins, but what you say and how does matter along the way.”)

What happened to New Orleans five years ago was a disaster. What has happened since has been a disgrace. And yet it’s a disgrace a lot of people are stuck living with, and if David Simon, with his skills and his big bank of viewer loyalty built up over the years, can reward the patience of those people by conveying that message to a large audience not necessarily aware of what’s coming but primed to appreciate it, he will have done New Orleans and those who love her a huge service.

Thursday, November 19, 2009 9:47 pm

Odds and ends for 11/19

Good news, bad news: The good news: The S&P 500 is sitting on a ton of cash. The bad news: The cash came from being overleveraged and from failure to invest in existing business and/or growth, which will lead to bad future news on both revenues and employment.

It’s OK if you’re a Republican: The Obama White House gets criticized for attempting to manage the news cycle … by Karl Rove.

Shorter Peter Wehner: Sarah Palin hasn’t an idea in her head, but just because she’s both stupid and a whiner is no reason to criticize her. (No, I’m not making this up. Even better: I’m linking to Commentary.)

Why competence matters: New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina because the Army Corps of Engineers messed up, a federal judge rules. Cue the lawsuits, and this is one case in which I don’t want to hear any whining about tort reform.

If you want to make an omelette heal a soccer player, you have to break a few eggs birth a few horses: This is the kind of alternative medical treatment for which I might well look for an alternative … any alternative. (h/t: friend and former co-worker Christie on Facebook)

Texas declares war on marriage: Does mathematics’ reflexive property of equality (a = a) apply to Texas family law? If so, then in banning gay marriage, the state might have outsmarted itself and banned all marriage when it added this phrase to its constitution: “This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” And one of the legal statuses identical to marriage is, well, marriage. At least, so says the Democratic candidate for attorney general.

If you’re going to hire a hack, at least hire a talented hack: President Obama has named former Bush White House spokesbot Dana Perino to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees civilian U.S. government broadcasts. I’m trying to decide whether to be outraged or to conclude that it’s a good idea to have a propagandist in charge of propaganda. Or to conclude that it’s a good idea to have a propagandist in charge of propaganda but wish for a GOOD propagandist rather than Perino.

North Carolina’s Mel Watt is on the side of the demons in the audit-the-Fed debate. Those of you in the 12th District, which includes many of us right here in fair Greensboro, need to get in his face about this. Whether you’re in NC-12 or elsewhere, you can petition the appropriate committee leaders here. More background here.

Because Goldman Sachs didn’t have enough people qualifying for big, taxpayer-financed bonuses already: The vampire squid is promoting 272 people to managing director.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Banksters. (Bonus: background info on how U.S. credit card fees paid by merchants and passed on to consumers, are some of the world’s highest.) Memo to the Democrats, which will cost them far less than the advice they get from professional consultants: When your political opponent starts gouging the public, during the holidays, in the middle of a recession — when he basically hands you a chair and says “Hit me over the head with this!” — if you want to win elections, you hit him over the head with it. (Key phrase there being, “If you want to win elections …”)

“Nothing bespeaks personal character like the volatile use of violence on your opponents”: Chuck Norris confesses that anger-management issues rule out a political career for him. Hey, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Why does Glenn Beck hate America? No, really.

Remember: Conservativism cannot fail, it can only be failed: Bonus fun: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is a “registered hate group.” Where do you register as a hate group? How much does it cost? How often does the magazine come? Do you get movie passes?

And, finally …

Today’s Quote of the Day, on how conservatives are blaming all electoral ills, including legitimate Republican losses, on ACORN, from Hullabaloo commenter “Pseudonymous in NC” (and, no, that’s not me; I only wish I had thought of this): “For wingnuts, ‘ACORN’ rhymes with ‘trigger’. That’s what this poll tells you.”


Thursday, August 27, 2009 8:13 pm

Perhaps Obama and Congress remember Katrina …

… but if so, they don’t remember it too well, the Institute for Southern Studies finds.

Talk is cheap, folks.

(h/t: Ed)

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