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.


31 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

KC said...

Wow. I don't know what to say.

Thank you for posting this.

Greeneyes said...

My Greeneyed King
I BOW to thee!
First of all , a terrific post , very informative and interesting,I enjoyed every word.I think you could send this to any newspaper and it would be printed . I like many people on the planet have seen most of this horrible event on our Televisions on our comfy sofas , dry ,heated etc homes and have no idea of the reality that has and is still going on there.
I have watched the media throughout and it had trickled down to a mere drip, it should be more on this and your wonderful view could fill in a great deal of blanks .
I am on my feet to applaud you for taking on this task and helping ,seems like they need many more like you and your group .

Brains and Brauns Huh , now you know what it is like to work with your hands instead of that ol Grey matter ....:0) I am sure you are humble in your description of your abilities , I would have paid good money to see you use a saw or any tools LOL , I guess I am quick to assume that you are not the handy man /carpenter/laborer/etc....I should not be so swift as you may have skills unknown to us here in blogville !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I know you do have a huge heart and a wonderful soul , "Naw'lins" needs more people like you , so does the rest of the world ,,,,BRAVO ANDRE~ BRAVO


The H.C. said...

Hey Dre,
Welcome back! I applaud you for doing what you've done! I think you've exposed the truth of the matter. That government can not be trusted to get things done but good people can. If I had my way, people like you would have no taxes to pay because you've payed your part back in N.O. So far we've invested $110 BILLION in rebuilding areas hit by Katrina, and it isn't even close to done. The problem is too many people trying to find a way to profiteer as you so astutely pointed out. For point of reference, Michigan's entire General Fund for this year is $8.3 billion. A better solution is to support groups like the one you were involved in and reward the people like you who took the time to help. It used to be a joke when people said, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." New Orleans shows us that it is still a joke and not one to be taken seriously. I'm not letting them off the hook, I just have very low expectations for the government to get anything done quickly and well. As you know, I'm seriously concerned about rebuilding some of the lower parts of N.O. concidering Global Warming and the rise of the oceans, were houses being moved higher? Was that being addressed? This post was extremely interesting and I can't wait for the pics. My hats off to you my friend. Great job all around.

Will Luongo said...

I'm sorry to be the person to disagree, but I think that this post is a disgusting example of why americans are so hated, and should be.

Our own citizens who actually suffered are content with the trailers. But we think they should get more?! Victims of the tsunami in India and Indonesia would sell their souls for the kind of relief that our government has "failed to provide" to New Orleans.

They are not getting musician's districts. They don't have Mardi Gras where thousands of over-privileged americans go to let loose, so nobody cares about them.

That being said, I do think that it is entirely worthwhile and laudable for you to go down there, and that we need to stop looking to the government to start effecting change, and start doing it ourselves.

HeiressChild said...

hi andre and welcome back. i've seen and heard a lot thru the media, so thank you for a first-hand report. i watched anchorwoman soledad o'brien on t.v. last week receive an award. she talked about the conditions of not only new orleans, but parts of mississippi that were hit by katrina also. she let the nation know the people there in both places still need lots of help, more than what people are even aware of, unless they've been there.

this is very informative, and i commend you on your active participation in helping out. thanx for coming back and sharing with us. i hope at some point i get to go there to do something.

will, i think we SHOULD be able to look to the government to effect change, PLUS do things ourselves. the government has plenty of resources, and we the people need to make them accountable to the people. EVERYONE needs to pull together.

Will Luongo said...

Heiress: I think the problem though is that we claim to be a country governed by the people. It seems then unreasonable to do things as a government that the people are not.

Joslyn said...

Hey Dre!

It took me like three days to read your whole post, so sorry for the delayed response! :)

I'm glad that you had a "Damascus" experience with Naw'lins. The one and only time that I visited there, I found it to be a place rich with culture, GREAT food, and even better people (You know that I luuuve southern folk!)

I feel horrible that this tragedy is STILL happening to these people. You know that I viewed "When the Levees Broke" and could NOT MOVE from my spot in front of the TV until I watched all four parts. I felt like I was looking at my cousins.

However, Will's comment troubles me.

"Victims of the tsunami in India and Indonesia would sell their souls for the kind of relief that our government has "failed to provide" to New Orleans."

Regarding the first statement, I guess the same comparison could be made to Iraq and Naw’lins, right? We spent (still spending) over 1000% more money in Iraq that the people of Naw’lins would have “Sold their souls” for the kind of relief that our government has provided to the people of Iraq.

“…….and that we need to stop looking to the government to start effecting change, and start doing it ourselves.”


Isn’t that part of the government’s job and what we pay taxes for? Is it my job to make sure that bridges and levees are properly built or up to par? I can’t build a bridge for JACK! See, that’s the problem: There is a HUGE difference between an act of God (Tsunami) which can’t be prevented, or and act of human error (the levees) that was LOOONG noticed and over-looked. It’s the government’s job to FIX their mistakes. When I jack-up a case at work, I have to stop whatever it is that I’m doing and fix my error. Government-your turn.

Will Luongo said...

Joslyn: I'll start out by saying I am glad you find my comment disturbing, because I find it to be unnerving myself. That being said:

It seems you are deliberately diverting attention away from my point. Iraq has nothing to do with this. My point is natural disaster victims in third world countries don't matter to most americans, and you pretty much proved my point by responding we shouldn't be in Iraq.

Also, it seems strange. You seem to be implying that we should be spending the same amount of money in New Orleans as we are in Iraq. However, in prior postings you have indicated you do not think we should be in Iraq. Doesn't this mean that we shouldn't be spending money on New Orleans?

Further, don't many anti-war people argue that we in fact are NOT providing relief to the Iraqi people? Which makes me wonder: Why would people in New Orleans sell their souls for the kind of relief we are providing in Iraq?

When you think about it, the fact that people from new orleans who "lost everything" still have more than 5.4 billion people in the world, it has to make you wonder a little right? Or do those 5.4 billion people not matter?

As far as the government is concerned: Is your issue with the relief provided or the uncontrollable circumstances that lead to it? It also seems convenient to leave out that humans don't control hurricanes either.

And even if it is human error, how does that make it matter more? Shouldn't we find it more unfortunate for the people who suffered more through no human neglect?

I think there is a contradiction in your reasoning. You want the government to step out of Iraq, but doesn't the government need to accept the consequences of its mistakes? Or is that just when it is convenient for the government? Or is it just when it is more convenient for you?

Joslyn said...

“It seems you are deliberately diverting attention away from my point. Iraq has nothing to do with this. My point is natural disaster victims in third world countries don't matter to most americans, and you pretty much proved my point by responding we shouldn't be in Iraq.”

Will, first off, your tone in your posting seems just a little fiery. Let me warn you-I’m a pro.

I’m not deliberately diverting attention away from anything. My point is that the hurricane didn’t cause the majority of the problems in New Orleans…..the levees breaking is what caused it. Why do you think New Orleans was the most devastatingly hit city? Government officials KNEW and ADMITTED TO KNOWING that the levees weren’t up to par and chose to ignore the problem. So, in answer to this question:

“……….And even if it is human error, how does that make it matter more? Shouldn't we find it more unfortunate for the people who suffered more through no human neglect?”

NO! My first responsibility is MY MISTAKE! You seem big on personal responsibility, it’s like this: Let’s say I’m a bad child and I cause my mother to go into bankruptcy. While she’s in bankruptcy, I win the lottery. Instead of paying off my debts in which I caused my mother to have, I give it all to the homeless man down the street. That makes absolutely no sense!

Now as far as this statement goes:

“Also, it seems strange. You seem to be implying that we should be spending the same amount of money in New Orleans as we are in Iraq. However, in prior postings you have indicated you do not think we should be in Iraq. Doesn't this mean that we shouldn't be spending money on New Orleans?”

You’re making an assumption AND going off on the deep end at the same time. My point was that INSTEAD of spending money on a country that doesn’t even want us there; we should be spending it to help ourselves. Especially if the reason that we need help is our own fault! Then we can spend money on other countries that need it (i.e. India and Indonesia). Actually, America has enough money to do it all, it’s just not happening that way.

“….which makes me wonder: Why would people in New Orleans sell their souls for the kind of relief we are providing in Iraq?”

I meant that they would “sell their souls” (a term that I took from your first posting) for the amount of money that we’re spending in Iraq.
“When you think about it, the fact that people from new orleans who "lost everything" still have more than 5.4 billion people in the world, it has to make you wonder a little right? Or do those 5.4 billion people not matter?”

I have no idea what you’re saying here.

“I think there is a contradiction in your reasoning. You want the government to step out of Iraq, but doesn't the government need to accept the consequences of its mistakes?”

Of course! And we have enough money for the mistake in New Orleans and the mistake in Iraq.

“ Or is that just when it is convenient for the government?”

That seems to be what they think

Or is it just when it is more convenient for you?”

I really didn’t appreciate this statement, and you and I both know that it wasn’t necessary.

Joslyn said...


If anyone wanted to know, Andre is pretty sick and that's why he's not responding. I guess between going to N.O. and the drastic weather change, he caught a hellified cold. :(


Will Luongo said...

Joslyn: Aside from the last line, none of the tone of my last post should be taken as fiery. As for the last line, it may be taken out of context as an angry personal attack, which it was not. If it was perceived that way, please accept my sincere apologies. My point was not that you were bad, my point was that people often pick and choose what times rules apply for their convenience. It was worded poorly and I am sorry to have offended or hurt you.

I will return your warning however: I am literally a pro, I tutored and taught bioethics, logic and critical thinking for a number of years for a living. That doesn't mean I am always right, just that I have a pretty good idea how to argue a point. :)

"Why do you think New Orleans was the most devastatingly hit city?"

The connection I was trying to make with the bulk of the response to your post is this:

My initial response to Andre's post was directed almost entirely at the idea that the people in New Orleans should count their blessings, because even as bad as they have it, even as bad as their relief has been, they are still in the top ten percent of the richest, privileged people in the world. Since the people who actually went through the hardship are glad for the relief they have received (the media doesn't portray that, but Andre did... if only we had more honest people in charge of our media corporations) then who are we to say that they don't have enough, especially considering the fact that not enough to us, is more than the $800 or less a year most of the world is living off.

"NO! My first responsibility is MY MISTAKE! You seem big on personal responsibility, it’s like this: Let’s say I’m a bad child and I cause my mother to go into bankruptcy. While she’s in bankruptcy, I win the lottery. Instead of paying off my debts in which I caused my mother to have, I give it all to the homeless man down the street. That makes absolutely no sense!"

We are in complete agreement when it comes to personal responsibility, but let me give you an example illustrating my point:

Lets say for a second that the cutest little kid to live on the planet lived in our neighborhood. He is walking down the street, when a tree falls on him and kills him. Now, for a minute, let's examine two different scenarios based on this foundation. In one scenario the tree fell as a result of human negligence. Surely someone was responsible, as they had started to cut it down, but left it unfinished and ready to fall. Does their responsibility in any way assuage the loss? How much money will it take to make you or me feel better about the fact that this could have been prevented but wasn't? Sure, it is a great lesson for the people whose fault it was, but there doesn't seem to be any way to make it better for the people who lost, other than giving them someone to lash out against.

In the other scenario, the tree fell for no apparent reason, with no warning. It was no persons fault, the tree happened to fall when a gust of wind came. Because there is no one to blame does the loss of that child matter less? Having no convenient human scapegoat, how can we cope with the powerlessness? How do we cope with the idea that there is nothing humanly possible to change or rectify it?

Certainly both scenarios are tragic. Both would make me angry. But for me personally, the things I can write off to being results of stupidity or human corruptness are easier to deal with then the things for which I am tempted to blame God.

"I meant that they would “sell their souls” (a term that I took from your first posting) for the amount of money that we’re spending in Iraq."

But would they? And why should they? Some of them might, certainly. But (this ties into this point)

"I have no idea what you’re saying here."

The amount of money that we have spent on the people in New Orleans might seem inadequate to the privileged citizen of the United States, but way more than the standard of living enjoyed by most of the globe. Our inadequate efforts to return what was lost may have failed, but they would still constitute an amazingly better way of life than what is currently lived by most of the planet.

"Of course! And we have enough money for the mistake in New Orleans and the mistake in Iraq."

I do have to concede this point to you. I don't have any problem with sending money or help to New Orleans. I also have no problem sending money, troops, or supplies to Iraq (Well, when I say no problems I mean problems that aren't outweighed by my ideas of responsibility).

I do certainly think that the government accepts and rejects responsibility as is convenient, but unfortunately I think that mentality is mandated by the people that it governs. Maybe not you or I, but most of the people.

Andre: Feel better soon, I am anxiously looking forward to your ideas on this! :) (And of course, I want you to feel better for less selfish reasons than that...)

Will Luongo said...

Josyln: I failed to point out that generally speaking most New Orleanders enjoy a standard of living better than most of the Iraqi people as well.

Joslyn said...


I get your general point. My point is that no matter how bad life is in other countries, America's FIRST AND PRIMARY repsonsibilty is to America.

There is no logical reasoning to explain why we have spent almost a TRILLION dollars in a country that doesn't want us there, and whose problems are not our fault, and have places SERIOUS delays to our OWN people, in which the problem WAS our fault.

In your "tree" scenario, the situation is horrible in both situations. However, in the situation where there IS someone to blame, that person should seek the family out, and help in any way with any arrangements that can be made. Now whether or not the family accepts the help is a differnt story.

"Because there is no one to blame does the loss of that child matter less? Having no convenient human scapegoat, how can we cope with the powerlessness? How do we cope with the idea that there is nothing humanly possible to change or rectify it?"

The loss of the child doesn't matter less in the general sense. Of course not. A life is a life. However, when you prioritize a person's responsibilty to a situation, the first responsibilty goes to the "culprit". If there is no culprit, we are still responsible for helping one another.

My whole point is this: The US government has it's nose and it's wallet every where else in the world execpt at home, where it needs to be.

Cynthia said...

I'm with Joslyn on this one. It's unfair to say that just because the victims of the Gulf Coast are (allegedly) not as worse off as tsunami victims, that they are somehow not deserving of some of the basic comforts of living. In a country where celebrities are burning away millions of dollars on nonsense, the government is providing unprecedented tax breaks for the wealthy, some people are rich enough to own islands, and we're spending billions of dollars each week on some silly war, why shouldn't we expect for the least of us to be adequately taken care of?

Yes, people in the world are also suffering. But before we go around trying to be the savior of the world, why not start here at home? By the way Will, I'm curious to know YOU would feel if you lost everything and the government of one of the wealthiest countries on the planet responded to you the same way they did to Katrina victims.

It's easy to be apathetic and dismissive to people's suffering (i.e. saying their stardard is living is good compared to Iraqis)when you haven't walked in their shoes.

Cynthia said...

By the way Andre, great post. I got so caught up in the Will/Joslyn discussion that I didn't give you a shout out!

The H.C. said...

I been reading both you and Will's comments and have been trying to stay out. (As I should, since I respect you both) But as someone who knows Will I can assure you he hasn't had the easy walk through life you would associate with someone who is, quote; "apathetic and dismissive to people's suffering." To simply say that people who don't empathize in the same way that you do are somehow insensitive is a fallacy. I for one, think that giving people the notion that the government will save them is the same as sentencing them to failure. Where is the example of the government, or for that matter ANY government successfully saving anyone in a immediate crisis? All they EVER do is clean up after the mess. Most of those people suffered from being misled to believe the government would be there, (and who did that?) which never happens. Your far better off to look out for one another. Communities and Local organizations are the answer to crisis. (Like the one Andre was helping with). Demand that the Feds and State fund those and then get involved enough to be sure it's there when you need it. The further they (Government agencies) are from the problem, the more the bureaucracy, the slower the response. You can convince yourself it's their job, but that doesn't mean it can or will be done, and I promise you it never will no matter who's in charge. The only thing you can count on is the passing of the blame. I did however, enjoy reading both of your points which were well made.

Anonymous said...

Tsunami death toll= 283,000

Hurricane Katrina death toll= 1,300+

Tsunami Cost= $15 billion (US),,2-10-1777_1643267,00.html

Hurricane Katrina Cost= $200 billion (US)

The tsunami killed over 200 times the amount of people that Hurricane Katrina killed, and yet it will end up costing only 8% of what Katrina will cost to rebuilt (if I am interpretting the statistics correctly).

It really humbles you when you realize that you live in a country where a disaster with such a small (comparatively) loss life has such high economic costs. We could have rebuilt 13 tsunami disasters for the cost it will be to rebuild after Katrina.

Both disasters were very tragic, no doubt, but it is hard to compare the two. I think aid should go to those who are in the greatest need, whether or not they are from America. A human life is a human life, regardless of what nationality they are.

Besides, our hard earned American dollars will go ALOT farther and help ALOT more people if we send them to Asia, then if we send them to the FEMA to be abused and mismanaged.

Major Kudos to Andre for going down there to help. His man hours of work probably would have cost us around $50,000 of Government funds if we had paid FEMA to do the same thing. (That was a joke, but probably not that far off...)

Perez said...

That sounds like a lot of fun. I can't believe you didn't know how hard puting up fences is. But anyways, I am glad you have done something good for the world. I hope the government can get on the same page and get the city going again. Well take care-perez

Will Luongo said...

Josyln: Ok, I can concede that the government's first and primary responsibility should be America. That being said: By what standard of living should relief efforts be judged?

I think you hit on something important when you said:

"If there is no culprit, we are still responsible for helping one another."

But I think this is the first step of responsibility, not the last. It isn't the government's job to help people, it is ours. The government's job is to make sure we don't screw each other, not to be our parents. As long as we sit around and wait for other people to get the job done it won't. That's why what Andre did was so important.

The government's foreign policy aside, there has been a great deal of relief provided to the New Orleans area. Is it perfect? No. But considering the bulk of Americans sat on their asses and bitched about it while some like Andre got up and actually did it, I think it isn't turning out all bad.

Cynthia: It is funny you should ask how I would feel. I had a real job once. A job I lost because the management company that I worked for got ditched as soon as the property owner got the non-profit designation they needed the management company to get (I got laid off).

I had a house, and a car. I don't have either of these things any more. I was on unemployment for about two months, but the job market (I know this is a shock) in Flint isn't the greatest. So when I decided to go back to school, I decided at the expense of my unemployment. It seems that unemployment is for people seeking employment full time, and not for people seeking employment for the long term by going back to school.

I then tried to get some kind of governmental assistance, but was told I was ineligible because I had no children.

Mind you, I started working at Arby's to have some income, but this was approximately 10% of what I used to make. I didn't make enough money to pay my house payment, let alone anything else, and my two months of savings lasted, well, two months.

I can't help but wonder, is this somehow less meaningful because it was the result of corporate corruption, and not a natural disaster, that at worst was aided by human negilgence?

I live in a small (200 sq ft) efficiency with my wife. Together we make less than $6,000 a year. I just finished filing bankruptcy for all the things I had and lost.

In other words, I would love a trailer. I would love a musicians district, as I am by trade a musician. Funny, I also wonder how I would feel if lost everything and the government of the wealthiest country in the world responded to me at all (I am not even going to get into growing up in an abusive household that the government ignored time and time again).

Now that I am on my way back up I get food stamps. Yay.

It is extremely easy to be apathetic and dismissive to the vicarious complaining most people in America do about the lack of relief in New Orleans, when the people of New Orleans seem to be thankful for the help they get. Now there is a novel idea.

Did I mention I want a musicians district in Flint?

Anonymous has posted some interesting statistics. One might argue that perhaps it should be more expensive to provide relief to a nation than a small part of a state, but I am obviously too insensitive (some might call it objective) to be able to make such judgments.

I can't help but wonder:

Is it easier for you to make these decisions because you have walked those shoes yourself?

At the end of the day it is easy for any of us to point to tired cliches about moccasins, but when the rubber meets the road, we could say the same thing to the people in New Orleans.

How are they allegedly worse off? They have more now than most of the victims of the tsunami had before or after the tsunami. Do you want gross family incomes or something? I can assure you Indian people didn't get a musicians district... or FEMA trailers. Sounds worse off to me...

Joslyn said...

Hey "H.C."!

Sorry, but I never said that about Will....

*Whispers* Cynthia said that :)

The H.C. said...

Hey Joslyn,
OOPS, my mistake. Sorry.

Joslyn said...

To HC- Hey, no Prob! I was reading your post like...."HEY! I never said that!!!" LOL

To Will: I get your point. I think that we can both agree that the govenment SHOULD do more to help out, but unfortunately they don't. There's almost always a BIG diffence between what someone SHOULD do, and what they ACTUALLY do.

I still think it's a little unreasonable to assume that we should be held responsible for helping others. In the same way with the govenment, we SHOULD help out others, but unfortunately, we don't. For instance, Andre can go to N.O. anytime that it's convieient for him: He's single, no kids, excellent job (baller), etc. A girl that I work with, on the other hand, has a special needs child. All of her time and money is spent helping that child. How can I ask her to fly to N.O. to help out others and hold her responsible for that when her child needs her on a consistent basis? Take you, for instance: You said that you lost your job, filed bankruptcy, lost your house, etc. Is it fair for me to ask you to come up with the money to go to New Orleans? Is it fair for me to ask you to take money that you can't really afford to give and send it there? Unfortunately, this is the state of A LOT of Americans. Andre is in the minority (by the way, HC, great piece that you did on Andre). That's why it's the governments job to do this sort of thing because it's more capable. WE PAY THEM TO DO IT. When you go to McDonalds to get that cheesburger, you pay them $1 for a service. If it's cold (which mine ALWAYS SEEM TO BE) You generally don't take it home and re-cook it for yourself. YOu walk yourself back in the store and request that it be done correctly (with a special side of spit). :)

Joslyn said...

Sorry, clicked to soon.

My point is that you hold the McDonalds responsible for your cold cheesburger. If they give you something that causes you to become deathly ill, I'll garuntee that you sue McDonalds with the quick-ness for your doctor's bills. Why, because they're the responsible party. Now if you get sick on your own, then you wind up taking care of it for yourself. Either way, it's bad that you got sick, but they way that you choose to handle wach situation will be different. Okay now I gota get some work done. :)

Joslyn said...


Sorry, you wanted an example of when the governemnt quickly came to the rescue:

1. 9/11. The response to NY was overwhelming. The governemnt even made use of all the scrap metal from the buildngs and built a ship. Police, Fireman, Amy-You name it-was in NY before you could say "terrorsit attack". Think about it. Compare the difference to the response to NY vs. N.O

2. When small pox became a threat. We had an antidote in about a day or so

3. Anthrax mailings

When something could affect the rich folx in this country, believe me, the goverment shows up.

The H.C. said...

Your not the one supposed to be in my trap! But since you bit.

1)I could give you several examples of how the governments response to 9/11 was less than exemplary. (like the entire 9/11 report) but here's one;

2)Several newspapers condemed our the government lack of preparedness against smallpox but again here's one.

3) Need I remind you we still haven't caught the people behind sending the Anthrax? Not exactly a resolved issue.

That's why it was a trap. Condemning the response by the government to ANYTHING is what the press does full time.

HeiressChild said...

i'm not a pro, so i've just been reading along although i still stand by my comments: "i think we SHOULD be able to look to the government to effect change, PLUS do things ourselves. the government has plenty of resources, and we the people need to make them accountable to the people. EVERYONE needs to pull together.

i'm open to learning so it's good to hear other people's viewpoints. however, i have to admit i am in agreement with joslyn's comments.

The H.C. said...

I agree with both you and Joslyn in priciple about what the government SHOULD do. It just that people shouldn't put themselves in a position where if the government doesn't help them they'll fail. The truth is, the government does a horrible job at saving people, if you don't make some effort to help yourself your going to end up in a bad way. If the government should do what it's supposed to, Hallelujah! But I count on it failing and I'm usually right. It doesn't mean I won't hold their feet to the fire to try to make them do the right thing. Telling people to COUNT on the government makes them MORE likely to fail. The excuse (the government is supposed to help me) cripples them even though it IS true. Government helping you should be the suprise in the mist of helping each other.

HeiressChild said...

HC.....right, i said the government "should," which would definitely mean if they don't, then we continue on to the next step. i also said we do things ourselves, which means if the governement doesn't step up, then something is still being done.

the government does have plenty of resources, and i still think we the people have to MAKE them accountable to the people by speaking up, speaking out, using our elected officials, whatever it takes. sometimes it may seem like nothing's being done, but it also takes time to get and see results. so we continue to make them be accountable, but not just sit back waiting for them to move. that's where the people pull together and get things done.

however, we still need to hold the appropriate people accountable. i understand about getting it done ourselves, but if we keep doing it ourselves, and not make the government or whoever it is in office be accountable, they'll never do, knowing that we will. EVERYONE needs to pull together.

as you can see, i'm very big on people being held accountable. while i might assist in re-building or donating, or whatever it is that needs to be done, i won't let the ones responsible off the hook either.

i agree we shouldn't put ourselves in a position that if the government doesn't help, then we fail. that applies to anything. i really don't depend on anyone except God because i know He's the only One who won't fail me. i'm not saying depend on the government, but i am saying they should be accountable to us the people and we should expect them to be. i also think when we think negatively, that's what we will get. you said you count on it failing, and you're usually right. i count on it doing what it's supposed to do, and i expect to see positive results. i'm not saying, "people count on the government," but i am saying, "people, make the government accountable. we have the power to do it."

The H.C. said...

Well said! I thought you said your no pro.

HeiressChild said...

hi HC.....actually i'm not, but i just was writing my heart last nite. i still like hearing other people's viewpoints because it gives different perspectives on situations. thanx.

Malik said...

What you did was amazing, almost as amazing as the way that some people can talk about and treat other human beings as if they were nothing more than abstractions. As you reminded us, none of God's children are disposable.