Thursday, March 29, 2007

More news

I started to post earlier this week, but I got a little caught up in my day-to-day hustle. Since then, my mind has gone completely blank and I can't seem to form even a semi-logical thought. So, I thought I'd just report some more random news (though I'll admit: most of this stuff is pretty old):

Congresswoman: Walter Reed scandal is "overblown"
Sometimes I wonder if our elected officials are on the same planet as we are. When submitting her take about the ongoing Walter Reed Scandal, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) reported that the subpar conditions experienced by our wounded and maimed soliders was "overblown". So I guess that means that the US troops who actually stayed there and Washington Post reporters who exposed the story were just making things up.


Louisiana no longer drawing "Blanc"s
According to this article, Louisiana Governor Blanco's out. Apparently, she has decided not to seek another term; likely because of the way she completely flopped during the Katrina disaster. Personally, I'm glad she's not running again. She doesn't deserve the office anymore.

Now if only we could only convince Gov. Granholm to do the same. Or maybe a good recall would be in order...

House issues subpoenas in Prosecutor controversy
Despite childish squabbling from your president, the House Judiciary subcommittee recently issued subpoenas for high ranking White House officials including Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales for their role in firing eight federal prosecutors.

Lately, truth be told, I haven't been a fan of the Democrats. But I have to admit it, this time they're not messing around. I'm surprised that, even when the firings weren't illegal (I guess), the Democrats have stopped at nothing to get their subpoenas out.

Of course, Bush also refuses to budge on the issue; allowing his aides to speak "privately"; but not under oath. Hiding something are we?

Senior Aide pleads the fifth
Speaking of "hiding something", I found it interesting that Monica Goodling; senior counsel to Attorney General Gonzales has exercised her fifth amendment rights related to self-incrimination and has decided not to testify before Congress. Essentially she, like all the other key players in this scandal must have some things that they are not willing to expose.

Am I the only who thinks it's funny that the Bush Adminstration is finally starting to embrace the Bill of Rights?

Racism as a "house rule"
According to this report, black Americans are almost four times as likely to receive a high-cost, subprime mortgage when buying a home than their fellow white Americans; even if they earn higher wages and/or possess better credit scores. This surge in mortgage rates has been blamed, in part, for the alarmingly high foreclosures which are on the rise in black neighborhoods.

Keep that in mind the next time you declare that racism isn't as bad now as it once was.

CDC admits to arsenic in flouride
This article will make me think twice about the types of toothpaste I buy and how often I drink tap water. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), traces of arsenic poison can be found in flouride products and in drinking water.

This is bad news; especially considering the history of arsenic contaminations of groundwater we've experienced.

Senate passes Deadline bill
In a shocking turn of events, the Dems who I once called 'spineless' have just made me eat my words after passing a nonbinding bill requiring your president to start withdrawing troops as early as May, 2008.

Even though a presidential veto is likely to be issued against this bill (a veto which is not likely to get overturned by Congress), I have to say that this is a stunning and, frankly, unexpected blow dealt by the Dems.

What do you know? There's life on this planet after all.

Winter, 2007 hottest on record
I hope that I’m just being paranoid about this, but I believe that there is something seriously wrong with the environment. It's becoming increasingly clear that, although the Bush Adminstration and its wealthy corporate buddies have tried to interfere with research, global warming is a legitimate problem that needs to be address. These weather anomalies provide overpowering evidence that global climate shifts are in effect. After all, even the NOAA has reported that this winter was the hottest winter on record.

Here in Michigan, for example, it’s been much warmer than usual. Though there were some pretty brutal winter days this year, average temperatures have been modest and gentle. Last week, for example, we were experience disturbingly beautiful mid-70 degree temperatures as opposed to the lower 30's that would be expected for this time of year.
I wonder how things are in China, since they're getting pretty close to topping the US in global emissions.

Iraq and a hard place
A close friend of my sister and my best friend's brother have both been deployed to Iraq because of your president's mistakes. It's a pretty difficult time for us all right now. Please keep them; along with the hundreds of thousands of our troops, the Middle East, and even our enemies in your prayers. Peace!



Another classic Bill Maher moment. The only problem I had with his commentary was...

...that I didn't come up with it first.


Monday, March 26, 2007

In the money

What's up party people?! Sorry I haven't been around lately. Things have been a little hectic for a brotha (But seriously: what else is new?!).

Just to give you an update: I'm happy to say that my research has taken a good turn. I've been awarded a grant to help support my research! The sponsoring agency is the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA); a non-profit organization who promotes various opportunities to support research in social and behavioral sciences. As a caveat, recepients have to present their work at the American Educational Research Association conference in Chicago next month.

Maybe Bishop Leroy Thomson's proclamation that "Money cometh to me now" doesn't sound so ridiculous after all.

You know, on second thought; yeah it does.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Black racism

''Black people can never be racists.''

True as I think it is, this has to be one of the most incorrectly stated, most obscured and counterproductive phrases ever used. I first heard this line used by a black scholar on my campus a few years ago. He was attempting to point out the idea that; contrary to Webster’s definition; racism was prejudice + power. In others words, members of a dominant social group (individually or collectively) possessing prejudiced beliefs and the institutional power to systemically oppress a group of people based on that prejudice. Since black folks possess no such power, it would be pretty reasonable to conclude that racism is a hat that we can never wear. I was so impressed by that perspective of racism, that I began using it as my mantra. In fact, in an argument that I recently had with a white guy, I made reference to that line.

Why the hell did I do that?

After a firestorm of relentless debate, it was communicated to me (forcefully) that racism was an experience that was felt by my white brothers and sisters as well as by blacks. He attempted to lambaste me based on his assumption that I was somehow implying that black folks possess no ability to be racist as he defined it (prejudice based on race). He took the argument a step further by suggesting that -- in reality -- I was ignorant as to what racism truly meant.

Let it be known that while I fervently believe that black folks; or any other folks who are marginalized in this society do not possess institutional power to enforce bigotry, I will never again say that “black can’t be racists”. What I’ve learned from making such a declaration (which is what I hope black scholars will also pick up on) is that our definition of racism; prejudice + power (as solid as it is) will never be fully comprehended by everyone in the dominant culture. If anything, that contention is more likely to generate controversy and opposition than it would be in enlightening people. That’s the sad reality. But it is reality nonetheless.

So, I’d like to examine racism from another angle. I’m going to allow whites to declare that blacks can, in fact, be racist. If it puts your mind at ease, I'll say that black can be racists, bigots, prejudiced…whatever term makes you happy. Since black folks are apart of humanity (and therefore just as susceptible to human flaws), I’ll concede that we can practice some of the same lunacy against different people as whites can. There, I said it.

With that said, allow me to also note that it's an insult to logic to imply that there are similarities between ‘racism’ that whites face from blacks and the reciprocal. This, to me, is the idea that gets lost in the conversations of black scholars and which seems to get casually dismissed by ever-so-defensive whites. Collectively, blacks who practice 'racism' (again, I’m using this term synonymously with bigotry, prejudice, etc as opposed to how I define it.) possess far less of an ability to do serious damage to whites than whites who commit racism against blacks. Let’s keep it real here. Besides that, blacks don’t have nearly the historical track record of racism as do whites. I’m sorry to say, but these are irrefutable facts -- backed by history -- which silence the incessant implications (at least I think they’re incessant) that black racism has somehow dented our country’s consciousness in a way proportionate to white folks. I simply don’t buy it. History doesn’t seem to either.

If a black person is practicing ‘racism’, I have no problem with him/her being called out for it. What bothers me is when black ‘racism’ is somehow labeled as a barrier to the rights and livelihoods of White America. I mean, if it’s such a hindrance to White America, then show me the studies that prove how whites have been systematically oppressed. Show me the numbers to support how whites on a wide level have been robbed of equal housing rights, health care access, employment opportunities, judicial rights, voting privileges, etc. By the way, using the whole "Affirmative Action denied 'qualified white student X' admission into a college or a job" story doesn’t quite compare to the racist practices that we face. They are in no ways similar.

While I'm challenging people to produce proof of the affects black racism, I can produce hoards of data supporting institutional racism against blacks. These data, by the way, are not a product of pro-black establishments who have a chip on their shoulder. No. I’m talking about analyses produced by federal agencies, colleges, research institutions, and even from media reporting. Interestingly however, even in the face of clear and obvious examples of institutional powers wielded by those in the dominant culture, I still find that many whites simply can not see (or refuse to see) beyond the lines.

I guess it makes sense that the levels of white racism be ignored by folks in the dominant culture. It has to be ignored. Otherwise, they won’t have any leverage in equating the ‘racism’ they claim to face to the racism that we actually do face.

Comedian Chris Rock once said that there’s a white, one-legged busboy somewhere who wouldn’t trade places with him…and he’s rich. Sure, they’d want Rock’s money and his fame. But they wouldn’t want to be him; as a black man. To put it another way: if you had the choice to be a white person dealing with black racism or a black person dealing with white racism, what would you choose? I’m pretty sure I already know the answer.

Now why do you think that is?


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Animated penitence

Here's a funny clip of the Simpsons poking fun at Fox News and their "Fair and balanced" approach. Interestingly, this isn't the first time the Simpsons has used Fox in satire.

Maybe this is Matt Groening's repentence for putting over a decade's worth of ratings and revenue in Fox's pocket.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Silence in the Congressional halls

Since I haven’t heard much to the contrary, I guess we can say that the Democrats’ control of Congress have been relatively successful thus far. With a host of different bills on the table which call for improvement and crooks in high places finally getting theirs (somewhat), it might be safe to say that the crap produced by years of GOP control is finally starting stabilize.

But, I don’t think the Democratic-controlled Congress should kick their feet up and relax just yet. I certainly don't think we should let them off the hook. There are a few more things that I think need to be done before we can claim real progress in this country. But interestingly, I don’t think Congress really cares much to talk about them. Luckily for them, I do:

Adjustments of FICA contributions based on income
Say what you want, but the FICA tax sucks. Though it’s supposed to finance important initiatives like Social Security and Medicare, the way the feds collect these payroll taxes is a joke. If somebody can rationally justify why multi-millionaires and billionaires are paying the same amount of their income as you and me by way of FICA, I’ll give you my year’s worth of salary and I’ll pay the FICA. Any takers?

I can take one guess on who would be against this idea.

Support of the troops. Literally.
Why the government hasn’t made moves to completely and unconditionally supply for the VA fund is beyond me. For a government who is ostensibly committed to “Supporting our troops”, and who will beat up on anybody (Dems especially) who say anything remotely denigrating about the troops, their support of troops has been limited to providing low-level care and insulting compensation for the troops’ sacrifice (Hello? Anybody been following the story about the Walter Reed Military Hospital?

I was disturbed to find out that war vets were deliberately being shortchanged on their disability ratings; which, in turn, impacts the type of service they receive and the amount of time it takes for them to receive that service. Since many vets are too wounded or traumatized to reasonably re-enter the workforce (that, and the fact that military actually sells service as a “job opportunity”), they find themselves in a position where they based their livelihoods on the medical care and benefits they receive from the VA.

While we're on benefits, what ever happened to the free education used as a selling tool to recruit? With rising tuition costs, the $30,000 or so vets are allowed (only allocated while they’re still enlisted, by the way) is barely enough to pay for a couple of years of education at most colleges. There needs to also be an increase in loans, subsidies, unemployment pay, job placement, and medical assistance for those who serve this country.

Furthermore, I have no doubts that more examination must go into the post traumatic stress that comes with being in war. I’m not sure if there is an official name for it, but I do know that people in the military all -- for the most part -- accept it as a serious medical condition. American troops (as I’m sure is the case with other nation’s s military personnel) are developing severe neurological disorders that come not only from being targeted in combat, but also from their killing of others. During the Second World War and all of the subsequent conflicts, our soldiers’ ability to kill has improved drastically. If you’re one of the old, fat guys in Congress declaring war on the rest of the world, this is good news. But if you’re one of the actual soldiers doing the fighting/killing, it’s not so good. In Iraq, for instance, where there is still lots of hand-to-hand combat (even with the proliferation of long-range devices), soldiers are being forced to carry the stress of killing someone or watching their fellow brothers killed themselves. The psychological damage that could possibly ensue as a result is off the charts.

No matter how you slice it, we need to hold the government (yes…the GOVERNMENT) responsible for revamping the GI Bill. The expectation that a soldier can go to a foreign land, watch friends and family get killed, kill others, and lose limbs (all of which compromise his/her quality of life); then come home to life-as-usual is ridiculous. The government needs to take care of the folks that they continue to put in harm’s way.

Abolishing secret access budgets
The existence of clandestine spending practices frightens the hell out of me. Essentially, federally sponsor organizations (particular military/defense groups) have the right to secretly spend large sums of money (or special access funds) without informing us. In previous conflicts, these secret budgets would have made perfect sense; when the enemy’s arms and defense budgets were comparable to ours. But, I’m sorry to say: Al Qaeda is not very likely to produce multi-million dollar jets and billion dollar battle ships. We’re not talking about conflicts with China, Japan, or Russia; where we could conceivable get our butts kicked. We’re taking about Iraqis who barely have a government established.

In addition to being obsolete given our current enemies, special access programs also put our country in a precarious spot. Since these budget programs go unchecked, it’s very easy to get caught up in wasteful consumption and down-right fraud. When the NRO (the National Reconaissance Office) concealed and then failed to justify their $300+ million building, red flags should have been raised. But incidentally, they were not. Something is wrong with that picture.

Coinciding minimum working wages to the rate of inflation
Don’t get me wrong: the Democratic-pushed hike in the federal minimum wage was cool. But let’s be real here: This is only a band-aided solution to a long term problem. The feds put us in this dilemma largely because shifts in wages have never been congruent with shifts in inflation. So what we’re left with is either an economic stalemate – or a decline – in real wages. If they can finally get it right, the working class with be able to sustain even after Alan Greenspan announces predictions of inflation rate increases. Maybe if the feds take my advice, Ted Kennedy won’t have to keep lashing out.

Implementing tougher lobby laws
After Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham both went on the record admitting that they bribed members of Congress (I intentionally said “members”. If you think Tom Delay was the only Congressional crook here, you’re sadly mistaken.), it’s not only time to make this type of lobbying illegal, but also make it less easy to hide.

Of course, tougher laws on lobbying (or, as I like to call it, 'buying support') are not likely to come around too soon. I mean, half the Democrats in Congress right now have probably been bought off at some point or another. I mean, is it a secret that proposals to ban congressional earmarks and private expenses (of which a bunch of Congressmen are guilty) never even made it to the bill? What about a proposal to create a new Office of Public Integrity; which would strip the Senate (some of the key players in corruption) of the power to investigate charges against ethics? Struck down.

Most of all, the lobby bills that have been pushed have done nothing to prevent lobbyists from aiding Congressmen in building campaign contributions, fund raising, etc. Gee. I wonder why.

Pass impeachments out all around
I think it’s about time we remove the idea that impeachment can only come from committing a crime that is written on paper. Even the Constitution (correct me if I’m wrong, Hippie) allows for some of the offensives that became popular in the Bush Adminstration (cronyism, lying to Congress, carelessly wasting taxpayer dollars, abusing power, and incompetence) to be treated as causes for impeachment.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think the founding fathers would have gotten too huffy about a President lying about blowjobs (if they did, President Jefferson would’ve been screwed. No pun intended.). They would, however, bring to bear a person who lied to promote war (even given Bush the benefit of doubt about lying, you can’t say that he wasn’t at least grossly misinformed), failed monumentally with national emergencies, hired nothing but buddies to do jobs for which they were not qualified, and usurped the power of the highest legal document in the land.

Even if impeachment doesn’t get Bush and his folks out of office, at least it tells the world that lies, incompetence, and favor-currying won’t hold up in public service.

So there you are: things we need to hear from Congress, but probably won't. In the Dems's defense (I guess), the twelve-year GOP-led Congress has done more damage to this country than even the dramatic face lift of Election '06 can remedy. But it certainly doesn't mean that some major changes still can't be made to improve things. But, in an effort to score and secure as many political points as possible, I can't say that I'm placing my trust in the Dems to accomplish much else any time soon.

I really hate politics.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Now in stores: The iRack

My sister just sent me this clip. It's frickin' hilarious. But sadly, it's also true. Enjoy.


Monday, March 12, 2007

The Name Game

Ever since I've started blogging, I've seemingly wrote just about anything I could thing; from religion to politics, relationships to miscellaneous news; community to race relations. Quite often, I'd talk about something that only a few people could speak to or showed even remote interest in. But I'm hoping that the following activity is something in which everyone can freely participate.

To be blunt, I need a new name for my blog.

I didn't realize that there were so many "Inside so-and-so's Heads" around the 'net. Since I'm supposed to be committed to uniqueness and intelligentsia (or, least, my version of it), I think it starts with brand recognition. I mean, Malik's got his "Struggles Within". The Hippie Conservative has a pretty distinctive ring to it. Will's Mea Culpa says it all. I think I need a new stage name.

Any suggestions?


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Photos from Naw'lins

Hi all,

I've been a little under the weather this week so I haven't had much of an internet presence. But I have had the chance to stop by occassionally to check out the comments from the previous post. Thanks to you all for your spirited insight!

As promised, I've been able to gather Alternative Spring Break pictures from my own collection and from a few of my fellow travel mates (thanks guys!). To check them out, click here. I hope this gives you a visual sense of what we experienced and what's still going on in New Orleans today. As you'll be able to see from the photos, there is still much work that needs to be done.

Feel free to stop by my photo album often, as I'll be adding more pictures as they come to me. Until next time...


Saturday, March 03, 2007

My experience with Naw'lins

Hi all!

I'm finally back from New Orleans. I can't begin to tell you how incredible and eye-opening my time has been over the past week. Just to remind you, I joined a few fellow UM-Flint students for our Alternative Spring Break. Instead of partying in Cancun, we decided to commit our time to participating in post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts. This week has allowed us the chance to witness firsthand the after effects of the disaster and to share our stories with the rest of the world.

Well, this is my story. *Note* I'll have lots of pictures to share pretty soon. Stay tuned.

The campsite
For starters, the duration of our stay was at Camp Hope; a volunteer camp approximately 20 miles outside of New Orleans. Camp Hope was formerly a high school; now converted into a shelter for volunteers. The work on the facility has yet to be completed; as you can tell almost immediately upon entering. Between some paneling, drywall, and metal framing, the inside of the Camp still has ways to go. But be that as it may, I wasn’t expecting the Ritz Carlton. I was perfectly content with the campsite.

The rooms where we bunked, separated by gender, were nothing more than empty rooms with rows and rows and rows of cots. Without much of a ventilation system, our comfort/discomfort was primarily be based on what the temperature decided for us that day. But, again, I was content with our surroundings. After all as one of the camp counselors put it: "It's not like a hurricane destroyed everything we had."

Among the other facilities at the camp were a depot for donating clothes, blankets, and other misc materials; an all-volunteer ran cafeteria (affectionally nicknamed the “Hungry Jungle”) that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner; an orientation room used for group sessions, psychiatric support for those who needed it, and movie viewing (included in the movies shown was Spike Lee’s “When the levees broke”. If you haven’t already seen it, I strongly recommend it.); and a lounge equipped with a few computers, a television, board games, and books. The showers were located in the gymnasium of an adjacent building. Incidentally, many bulked supplies (canned foods and the hideously disgusting FEMA water for instance) were also housed in the gym.

Admittedly, our stay at Camp Hope left much to be desired (especially with the showers), but I was able to cope with it knowing that less than two years ago, most of the campsite was flooded with water. The progress that’s been made since; while not worthy of a four-star hotel; was good enough to sustain.

The camp housed volunteers not only from all around the country; but literally from all over the world. In fact, our bunk mates were from Windor, Canada. Also included in our volunteer cohort were high school students from Vietnam, a group of college students from Bosnia, a group of volunteers from the UK and a small group doing outreach work from South Africa. This, to me, shows how people from across the globe have selflessly committed themselves to this cause.

The work
Our work was performed at the Musician’s Village; through New Orleans' Habitat for Humanity. The Musician’s Village is an area in the upper 9th ward conceived by jazz musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marasalis; working in partnership with Habitat; for the purpose of restoring the homes of musicians who were displaced because of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The single-family homes built in the region are made available to displaced residents at considerably less-expensive rates. Because of the amount of volunteer time used to produce these homes, the residents have the opportunity to purchase affordable homes interest free. For more information about Musician’s village, check out its website.

Our group was broken up into teams and allowed to choose which activities we’d like to work on. While some volunteers wanted to choose a particular assignment and remain committed to it, I ultimately decided to perform a sundry of activities. Some of the work I did includes:

The houses already created by Habitat were still in need of chain-link fencing to enclose backyards. Using chain link fences is probably the most common for home usage. So, it was no surprise that we went this route. But what was suprising was all the work that went into it. For one, the heavy-gauged wiring and metal equipment we used was super heavy; making transporting it from the equipment trailers to the actual site was pretty difficult. From there, large metal posts had to be precisely measured and cut before being set in the ground. After that, the chain link fencing had to be measured, cut, and affixed to the posts using installed fittings, tension rods, and railings. After the fences were erected, gates could then be applied.

This was undoubtedly the most difficult job I took on. With all the steps and the arduous labor attached, I don’t think I’ll ever look at another chain-link fence the same. My hat goes off to the folks who do this for a living.

Vinyl siding: I’ll admit, doing vinyl siding installation wasn’t too difficult. The bulk of my siding work involved cutting the vinyl; pretty easy to do with simple power saw and a utility knife, nailing the siding, and – as needed – installing scoffits and fascias; which – I admit – was far more difficult than the siding itself. Though this is pretty time-consuming, it’s a relatively easy job that does lots to make a home more energy efficient.

Interior insulation: Even though the insulation made me itch like crazy, I had a pretty good (and easy) time installing insulation inside one of the houses we worked on. Admittedly, it was a little nerve-wrecking at times to do work in higher areas like the attic from a ladder. But overall the job was pretty simple and effortless.

Drywalling: If you can picture it, I actually gained some experience in drywalling a house. I was largely responsible for scoring (precisely cutting) the drywall, remove the excess debris, and even doing some of the actual installation.

While this job wasn’t nearly as physically demanding as fencing, it was far more nerve-wrecking. This was a pretty frustrating job for me largely because most of cuts to the material created rough edges; making it difficult to butt the pieces together tightly enough. This is a delicate skill that I don’t claim to have. Nevertheless, I finally got the hang of it and was able to learn some of the tricks of this trade.

The leisure
After the meeting the demands of a work-filled day, our group spent most of our nights in the tourist sections of New Orleans; particularly in the French Quarter. Even though we just missed Mardi Gras by a few days, the atmosphere was still pretty electric. I mean, some of the ladies in our group couldn't walk ten yards down Bourbon Street without getting party beads thrown at them (Relax. They didn't do anything to "earn" those beads except for being there and looking beautiful. They were able to stay classy even when the crowd was...well...Bourbon Street-ish). I was amazed at how much life and vitality this portion of the city had; especially considering how lifeless some of the surrounding sections of the city were. While there, we were able to enjoy hoards of live music, great food, and shopping.

Habitat's volunteers got a pretty good suprise toward the end of the work week. Apparently, pop star Justin Timberlake was scheduled to be on the site, joining in the volunteer effort (to coincide with a concert he had slated in New Orleans at the time). But Habitat coordinators indicated that -- out of concern for him losing his performance energy -- he would not be joining us at the site. Instead, he donated tickets to each of the volunteers who signed up for the week. I didn't go to concert myself (largely because I don't like his music, and because I was one of the group leaders in charge of keeping up with the non-concert going group), so I can't speak much to the event. But the group who went got a terrific treat.

For many of us, the nightlife was a much need escape from some of the experiences we realized.

The experience
Most of my commentary about the Katrina disaster used to primarily focus on the government and their massive failures, my theories on how the levees gave way, and the environmental questions left to be answered on how the hurricane will impact the area. But after my experience in New Orleans, I’m done passing the blame; though there is much to go around. Instead, seeing the after effects of the storm has given me a greater concern for the years and years of work that will still need to be done and a much greater appreciation for those who continue to battle Katrina.

We actually arrived in New Orleans late Monday evening; largely because of the some breakdowns in our trip’s coordination (I’m not gonna waste my time commenting on this). So there isn’t much to speak about for the first night there. But, I spent a few hours during the week touring the area while making notes of the all the destruction that remains even to this day. Looking around at the devastation almost made me forget that the storm which made these marks was close to two years removed already. In many areas of the city, it looked like the storm had just hit only a few brief moments earlier. Interestingly, there actually were many houses and buildings in the area that were pretty unscathed. Incidentally though, many of those were either erected on higher ground or were in affluent neighborhoods. But those unaffected buildings were too far in between. If you went one block over (in some case, if you went just next door), you were quickly reminded of the damage that really took place. The hundreds of homes that were completely obliterated far outnumbered those that were untouched or restored. It wasn’t very difficult to get past the reality that redemption for New Orleans, should there actually be any, is still many years away.

Some of my tour took me to the famous (or should I say ‘infamous’) lower 9th Ward. Most of this part in the city, simply put, is finished. Located just feet away from the industrial levees that broke down and completely collapsed, this part of the city was most victimized by the sheer power of the storm. The 9th ward was completely slammed with a tsunami-like force and was left to immerse underwater for weeks thereafter. Today, even after the waters have receded, entire sections of the 9th ward have been reduced to clear lots, vacant houses and scattered debris. Every so often, I’d stumble upon houses and buildings made of brick and mortar, steel, or cinder blocks that were moderately preserved. Moderately, of course, because the exteriors had not been completely ruined. But everything on the interior was, of course, completely and utterly destroyed. Now that think about, the term “destroyed” doesn’t quite do the scene justice. These areas were submerged in contaminated water for weeks, then left untreated in the hot and sultry New Orleans air. When I think about some of the things I saw, to say that things were ‘destroyed’ is an understatement. I find it difficult to fathom the idea of this area ever being inhabitable again.

Most of the wooden homes in the area didn’t stand a chance. The winds ripped through them leaving them shifted, moved, or destroyed. If the winds were not effective in destroying the homes, the water was. Since most of the homes were only built to sustain flooding of a foot or so (about the height of the cinder block foundation upon which they were built), any additional water would travel its way in through the wooden boards in the floors and on the walls. If you look inside of the typical wooden-structured home, it’s pretty likely that you’ll see the floors and walls expanding outward; likely where the water exploded from the ground into the house. With enough power and force (that comes with millions of gallons of water), moving houses from their foundations is a definite possibility. In one of my pictures, for example, a house had its front end completely ripped away while a large portion of a neighboring house (they look similar in the picture, but these are actually two different homes) was ripped from its yard and landed on a vehicle. This is only a sample of the types of images we ran into all over the 9th ward.

Optimistically speaking, there were also many parts of the city that were in pretty modest, decent, or completely restored and in inhabitable conditions. Some of the displaced residents of the city (many of whom with enough resources to do so) have moved back to the city and have began; even completed, their rebuilding. Areas like that do two things: (1) remind me that even in the face of horrible natural disasters, people can overcome and (2) but not so cheery; that there is a blatantly obvious level of disparity in the city; shaped just as much by class as it is by race. While I was encouraged to see the beauty of the city restored to an extent; especially in the virtually unaffected French Quarters, I also couldn’t help but to feel a great deal of frustration and exasperation knowing how some of the city is progressing while most of it is left to decay and be absorbed later by greedy contractors and property owners. For them, New Orleans is a gentrified, solid gold piece of real estate.

Every single building in the area; even those currently occupied; were labeled with codes used to represent the condition of the buildings during the time of inspection. The numbers listed on the homes signified the number of dead animals found, the number of dead humans found, the known (or suspected) address of the building, the level of damage sustained at that location, and the date(s) of inspection. Every few blocks or so, I noticed multiple inspection dates on houses which, I suppose, was an indication that there was at least some progress made by the inspection crews. Also, it was good to see that damage levels in many areas wasn’t that high, there was only mild flooding in some areas (if there really was such a thing), and casuality levels were pretty low.

It made it that much more unnerving when I actually did see houses that have numbers on them greater than zero; especially in the human causality section. It was hard to imagine that the bodies of the dead were found in these homes. Hearing about a death toll is one thing; physically seeing the places where they either died and/or were found dead is another. At one point, for example I ran into what appeared to be a church. It was small house-like building with a cross on it. While most of the churches in the area were pretty modernized, there were a few older churches still around, which is what I thought this was. But, as it was later explained to me, this building that I thought was a church was actually a home, where the owner placed a cross on the roof to mark where one of his relatives died while awaiting relief (I didn’t get a picture of it because it was too disturbing of a story for me. I felt it disrespectful to do.) Stories like that gave me an unadulterated version of Katrina; without the media and political spins and soundbytes. These were actual people with actual stories told with actual emotions.

I also noticed other signs and messages painted onto houses that told other stories of and relayed stories from that home’s inhabitants. Some messages were optimistic while others were spine-tingling. I read messages that spoke to human courage and soul like “We’re at home. 504-xxx-xxxx”, “Thank you Jesus”, “We're alive!”, or to human agony like “Help!” and “Possible body inside”. Interestingly, I didn’t see many messages advertising political disdain, anger, or frustration. There wasn’t much about Bush, FEMA, or the government. I could only speculate why people decided not to express their disappointment at the government for failing them. But, one of the residents with whom I spoke gave me his reasons for not initially criticizing those who failed him. “I didn’t want to bite the hand I was hoping would feed me.” This quote is word-for-word. Perhaps this was the predominant sentiment of the other victims or maybe they were too tired and overwhelmed to think about their anger. Whatever the case, there wasn’t much of a public display of people’s anger. I can’t tell whether this is good or bad for the city.

During some of my touring and picturing taking, I also had a chance to meet several of the city's residents. In fact, I met residents all throughout our trip. Let me go on the record by saying that the people of the city were incredibly terrific to us. They were genuinely interested in hearing about our work and also shared their incredible experiences with us. Even when many of their stories were somber and heartrending, the positivity and energy they projected only encouraged us more. There was at least one resident, however, who appeared to be incensed by our being there. While I was taking random photos of the area, I heard him say (though not to me directly), “I’m sick of these goddamned tourists!” I felt compelled to inform him that I was here primarily to do volunteer work and that I was only taking pictures to remind others about how the situation in the area has not improved. But I left it alone. I suspected that this man, along with thousands of others, was simply releasing the stress and anguish that came with being involved in a disaster, losing everything they own, and trying to start over from scratch.

This leads me to another point (I apologize for the digression, but this sordid situation leaves much to talk about). Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about the people and their rebuilding efforts was that while I was there, I only noticed a few random residents rebuilding, a few people using tools, a few trailers being inhabited, a few contracting companies doing work. Simply put, I didn’t notice much community or governmental action taking place; largely, I suspect, because most people aren’t even there anymore. Individual or small group action was the central theme of the rebuilding effort. This is not to say that there was not a volunteer group presence (in fact, as I shared earlier, that’s exactly what we were apart of.). But given the magnitude of this disaster, I was surprised not to see more governmental support. This storm didn’t just impact a city or town. It affected an entire region of our nation. Though regional compositions of homes, stores, churches, schools, streets were destroyed on a massive and widespread level, the large bulk of the rebuilding was left to individual inhabitants and volunteer organizations. Human presence in an area, to me, is a complicated idea that calls for an equilibrium between people, buildings, economy, and public work services like electricity, gas, sewage, and road work; all of which impact how much quality of life can be restored as rebuilding is accomplished. Simply put, you can rebuild a house all you want, but what good is it if you can’t have basic services like heating, electricity, and clean water?

As we traveled back to our campsite, I got a look at parts of the new levee system. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed by what I saw. Most of the levees were pretty meager, stark, and insecure. To put it another way, if another storm like Katrina came around tomorrow, I’m not convinced that what I saw would effectively do much against additional flooding. What disturbed me more than the weak and frail levee system was the fact that this is the protection that a vulnerable city has against another disaster that is just waiting to happen. We’ve already seen the results of inferior levees. Do we have to see it again? Talking to some of the residents made me realize how nervous folks are about the possibility of more disastrous hurricanes and how unprepared the city is. After seeing the new levees firsthand, I don’t think their reactions are all that unreasonable. Considering how close another catastrophe is and how emotionally threadbare people are, it makes perfect sense why people have yet to – and probably never will – fully recover.

Most of the lower 9th ward was comprised of rented single-family homes, apartment buildings, gas stations, small malls, and rental houses (interestingly, not that dissimilar from Flint). Looking at the buildings, you have clear indication of the extent to which the flood waters rampaged the area. Flood lines reached as high as 15 feet in some areas and buildings and their environments were completely demolished. We drove passed miles and miles of condemned, tame, and unrestored property. This property will likely remain unoccupied, repurchased by new owners, and used to generate large profits down the road. At most complexes there was no obvious restoration activity going on.

In many of the suburban areas of the city, a different tale is told about the impact of the storm. In this section; mostly made up of middle to upper-middle class residents, houses were generally intact. While waters did raise to at least half way up the first level of these homes, they are still pretty well intact; although some structures made of wood were either collapsing or pretty significantly damaged. The need for restoration around these areas is not as demanding as it is for places like the 9th ward, but is still pretty bad. Homes in this area, while in one piece, still have notable damage caused by the water; like with appliances, furniture, and other unsalvageable goods. Even when infrastructures were of quality, a combination of contaminated water, lack of utilities and penetrable fungus and mold were enough to damage even the most well-protected homes. Unlike in the 9th ward, most of these homes have either had substantial work done on them or were in the process of getting worked on. Even still, many of these homes were decorated with Home for Sale signs in the front yard. This suggested to me that many people wanted to sell and get the hell out of Dodge. But I couldn’t help but wonder what family in their right mind would buy a home in New Orleans now. But given all the restoration projects taken on by volunteers, it’s not too hard to imagine that many rich buyers will be looking to buy land at dirt cheap prices; only to charge premium rates later if and when the city is revitalized. I suppose that only time will tell...

Located in front of quite a few homes were the ever-infamous FEMA trailers. If you know anything about these trailers, these units were either not delivered to the area on time or not delievered at all. Even the trailers that actually were provided were not nearly equipped with the necessary items to make them livable. One of the residents shared a story where she and her family were assigned to a trailer, but given the wrong keys. They had to wait for an additional three days to get a new set; but not before they took it upon themselves to break in to the unit. Though there were many vacant lots with lots of space, many trailers were situated right in front of people’s homes. The trailer units have newly-built step (or, as needed, ramps for the physically impared) which lead up to the trailer’s entrance.

The trailers I’ve seen created mixed feelings for me. On the one hand, they were symbolic of the government’s attempts to at least minutely assuage some of the anguish of the disaster. But, on the other hand, they also represented nothing more than a big lump of unequipped and lacking homes taking up space that needed to be restored. Interestingly, one of the residents I spoke to indicated that – for him – his trailer was a much needed breath of fresh air to allow him to escape from his unlivable house and provided him and his family a place to live, reclaim a piece of their neighborhood, and ultimately to recreate the community in which he resides. Versus living in a homeless shelter or jam-packing the Superdome, these trailers were a step up. Far be it for me to argue. But even if this man (or people like him) would rather live in the subpar conditions of a trailer instead a shelter, this doesn’t give the government the license to completely neglect their needs for a home. I’ll argue that until the day I die. If this city is ever to survive again, it must do so through its people. But the people must first be supported by their government. This includes through the use of decent trailers.

Unless the government steps up with its support (improving from its lackluster performance thus far), the damage done to the city doesn't appear to be completely fixable unless the residents can themselves afford to handle the work. Residents who can afford to do so have hired various construction workers to do most of the restoration work. A man I met in the French Quarter; for instance; was able to somehow collect enough money from his insurance agency, combining that with his own money, and was able to hire expensive contractors to literally rebuild his home from square one. But the residents from the far less affluent neighborhoods are left to rely solely on grassroots volunteers and low-end (more than likely foreign) workers as their source of rebuilding. Although their efforts to rebuild are inspiring, much needed, and welcomed by the residents, they are not enough to eliminate the problems faced by the city. Eager students and residents armed with a hammer and nails is not enough rebuild an entire region; or a city no less.

I think that’s important to note that Katrina did more than destroy infrastructure. To many, it destroyed lives. It destroyed to city’s ability to ensure economic survival for its residents. But most of all, it destroyed the power of people’s spirit to aid the city in sustaining itself. This is not to say that the city was absent of spirit. In fact, the dozens of people we met tell another story. But this city cannot survive off of just its spirit. Actions must continue to be taken. The work is dire and the labor is great. It involves restoring an entire collection of people, an economic base, and a renewal of human vigor. We must find a way to reinvigorate people; even more than what jazz, gumbo, and Mardi Gras can do, so that they will be willing to start afresh.

I hate to admit it, but Katrina openly exposed some of the our nation's most hideous aspects of social, economic, and environmental injustice. It reminded me of our nation's inability and/or unwillingness to support and protect the rights of our fellow countrymen; while prioritizing profitable foreign 'conflicts'. But on the positive side, my experiences also taught me importance lessons about hope, continual optimism, and the significance of diverse peoples unifying with one common goal. Above all, it reminds me that even when we faced on of the greatest disasters in our history, the waters did recede.

The destruction that has taken place will be sure to resonate with those who were there; as well as those who volunteered their time in the relief/rebuilding efforts. I'm eternally thankful to have had the opportunity to participate and for being able to share my experiences with the world. I hope that you will each have a chance to see this for yourself; so that you can fully realize the extent to which the need for aid still exists.

Please continue to keep our brothers and sisters of the Gulf in your prayers.