Way of the Condor

A friend of mine from Indiana recently wrote the following in an online discussion:

I don’t want to argue the point as I don’t have time, nor do I want to diminish what it is you want to accomplish [in New Orleans], but the California Condor has had millions and millions of dollars spent on it since 1950. Yet every time hatchlings are released they have to be recaptured. The Condor is essentially a dinosaur and maybe, just maybe, it is natural it should go extinct. The hard thing to get one’s mind around is America (the whole) seems to have recovered from Katrina. Maybe there is some moral imperative on rebuilding NOLA to previous levels, but the arguments on how to do so have yet to be made on a practical level the country can understand.

I don’t know what to say about this. It hurts to read it. I have a very visceral reaction. Perhaps it’s an irrational reaction.

I remember reading about a WWII veteran who lost everything in the Federal Flood. The paper had a picture of him standing in the ruin of his home that was just heartbreaking. I’d like to take my friend from Indiana to visit that old man. Just to sit down and have a conversation with him.

That’s the only response I can come up with, and it probably doesn’t make any sense at all.

20 Replies to “Way of the Condor”

  1. A city is not a rare species.

    I could suggest that New Orleans’ culture is a rare species of American culture but if your friend is willing to let the condor go, such an argument wouldn’t go far with him.

    I could assert that the contributions made by New Orleans in the past make it more valuable than whatever suburban sprawl he occupies.

    But there are really only 2 really telling arguments:

    We’re here and we’re working on fixing it ourselves. Our future will be better than our past due to the intense love of oure city we have.

    Your friend is willing to let a city go ? What kind of third world attitude is that ?

  2. B- my heart sank when i read this post. My hope is that nola is coming back! Although I hope for changes with better levies etc… so that this magnitude of chaos never happens again. I hate the argument to “just let nola go” how does that even happen?? I think it is a problem with our society as a whole that if something isn’t in our face daily we just move on and forget. Perhaps your friend would feel diferent if his home had been flooded- if he had lost everything. Perhaps instead he could voice his concerns to you regarding the rebuilding of nola and then ask how he can help- what he can do to make a difference. My husband and i are teaching our children that you CAN make a difference, and we MUST make a difference, especially when such an injustice has occurred in the way that nola has been treated so horrifically by our own government. This blgtn. indiana resident supports you- stay strong- Peace

  3. “More valuable than whatever suburban sprawl he occupies.”

    Sneering at others is a fantastic way to get people on your side. And he has committed the ultimate sin against the people–he lives in–gasp!–SPRAWL!

    Ohhhhh, noooooo!

    Let’s round him up and everyone like him for reeducation.

    Seriously, though, this part, “the arguments on how to do so have yet to be made on a practical level the country can understand,” is a lot to chew on, even if you disagree with everything else said prior. The most creative and innovative ideas for rebuilding have been creamed by politics, so a lot of disinterested observers from afar shrug their shoulders. For example, not allowing any houses to be rebuilt in the lower 9 and putting in a greenway/spillway was a creative solution, and it made simple sense to a lot of people.

    Is there a way to take care of the residents on a micro level but not necessarily on the macro level? e.g., we can’t undo the flood, but what does that WW II vet want now? What compensation is acceptable? Is it possible to take care of *him*, on the micro level, that doesn’t involve rebuilding an entire city? Yes and no. A person’s life is more than the sum of his possessions. He wants his favorite restaurants open and the parks and shops and everything else that made his life, his life. So these things aren’t really separable, but to some outsiders, they think, “Just pay off the guy. What more does he want?” Because, after all, that’s what the safety net is supposed to be, to keep one from crashing on the ground to certain death. But others would argue that a safety net should not only catch you when you fall but spring you all the way back up to the tightrope upon which you trod. Reasonable people disagree on all kinds of things.

    If my home were flooded and my city were wiped out, I’m not sure I have any special allegiance to my city that would compel me to stick around and see that it were rebuilt. I would do what’s best for my family, which in my case, would likely mean to move on.

    Maybe that’s where some of the misunderstanding is: N.O. inspires that kind of allegiance that most folks don’t get in their cities, so they don’t understand it. So you think they’re dicks for not “getting it”, and they think you’re fools.

  4. Perhaps I should note that my friend does not live in the suburbs but the country. In addition he seems to have a severe anti-urban bias, which I fear is rather widespread these days, at least among non-urban Americans.

  5. Seems like a pretty poor comparison. Several honest efforts over fifty years with everything imaginable done to try to save the condor and the money actually going to that purpose.

  6. I see both points B.

    From a “country as a whole” perspective, NOLA isn’t a worry? anymore. At least not what it was in the months following Katrina and Rita. The main reason is because we (persons outside of the NOLA area) don’t have to live with it. Almost the “out of sight, out of mind” mindset.

    On your side, I understand NOLA’s historical value, and it’s economic impact to this country. Nothing will ever replace or repair all of the memories or lives lost, but we can rebuild. If not for the next generation, in memoriam to the ones who came before us.

    You have lived a very interesting life, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for what you do, and how you do it!

  7. Garvey said, “N.O. inspires that kind of allegiance that most folks don’t get in their cities, so they don’t understand it.”


  8. small comfort, perhaps, but the whole condor things is just wrong. the species is reestablished and breeding in the wild, as far as I know:


    “Beginning in the 1980s, a captive breeding program was undertaken to try to restore the species. Condors were released in 1991 and 1992 in California, and again in 1996 in Arizona near the Utah border. Though the birth rate remains low, their numbers are increasing steadily through regular releases of captive-reared adolescents. The Vinny Segretario Vulture Society is helping to ensure the safety of the California Condors.

    Unanticipated deaths among these populations occurred due to contact with Golden Eagles, power lines and other factors such as lead poisoning. Since 1994, captive-bred California Condors have been trained to avoid power lines and people. Since the implementation of this aversion conditioning program, only two condors have died as a result of contact with power lines. [3] Lead poisoning due to fragmented lead bullets in large game waste is a particularly big problem for condors due to their extremely strong digestive juices (Thacker, 2006); this lead waste is not as much of a problem for other avian scavengers such as the Turkey Vulture and Common Raven. This problem is expected to be addressed by a requirement that hunters use solid copper bullets when hunting in condor ranges.

    In 2003 the first bird fledged in the wild since 1981. In March 2006, a pair of California Condors attempted a nest in a hollowed out tree near Big Sur, California. This was the first time in more than 100 years in which a pair of California Condors had been seen nesting in Northern California. [4][5]”

    Your friend is an ignoramus who believes myths promulgated by the right in the interest of alienating ourselves from our own interests. I was unable to determine the correct budgetary expenditures associated with the condors, but it seems clear the initial statements are mere fear-mongering.

    This comment should be correctly interpreted as a firm and confrontational slap directed at the the Hoosier you cite.

  9. Googling “California Condor has had millions and millions of dollars spent on it” yeilds a shining treasure trove of rightist anti-EPA propaganda. I’m not qualified to evaluate the sites for accuracy, but it’s clear that the condor is a righitst poster child, and, I presume, an easy talk-radio touchpoint. Your friend appears to be swimming in some mighty bad-smelling media, from where I sit.

  10. The answer is really simple. Just tell him this:

    We have let New Orleans go. This is what leaving a city to die looks like. It’s just that the nation has chosen the most painful, anguishing, sadistic way to do it. A death by a thousand cuts method, certain to bankrupt and destroy the lives of as many hardworking Americans as possible, and salt the wounds with a mock debate about whether “New Orleans should be saved” or how lies about the help we received. Not enough funding to succeed, but just enough to appear like a thin reed of hope, which is anchored to nothing. This is the path our Government has chosen, this is what our society has produced, and God help your friend should disaster ever strike him.

  11. What Celcus said….

    I was asked to give a group of people from The D.C. area a tour of the City the other day. Some of them were insistant on asking why people stay. At one point I asked that each and everyone go home and find out what projects in their communities are under the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers.

    I wonder what people think the City will look like when it had been aandoned? A large swamp clean and devoid of the past? Or maybe just exactly what it looks like now.

  12. The first thing to say to a guy who lives in a rural area in Indiana is to ask him how he thinks the grain in his state gets to the rest of the world. They aren’t putting it on railroad cars to the east or west coast. They are floating it down the river to us.

    The second thing, economic arguments for the city have always made more sense than cultural arguments. On the cultural side, there are people who can ask with some degree of legitimacy “sure you guys invented jazz and stuff but what have you done for me lately? bounce?” And thats because, in many ways we walk around here tied to the past with no sense of what a future would look like. Until we start defining a vibrant present and a more encouraging future it’s going to be hard to get anyone who is only looking at the daiquiri shops on Bourbon street to find much to preserve except some old buildings.

    The geo-strategic arguments are better. I like to say Jefferson paid for New Orleans and got Iowa for free. What was true in the 18th Century is still, to some degree true today. Whoever controls the mouth of the Mississippi controls the wealth of the nation. (yeah, there are some caveats to this but it is basically true) We need to start acting like a city that can have some money in it. We need to start saying yes to investment. I don’t fear for the culture. The culture is resilient, it’s the infrastructure and the social fabric which is fragile. We need to to make this a city that, economically, is worth protecting. And the best way to do that is to get a lot of other people, people who may or may not live here, to make the bets we’ve all made by re-investing in our lives in New Orleans.

  13. Point out to your friend that he and the rest of America are (so far) able to feel that they have “recovered” from Katrina mainly because due to practically superhuman effort from New Orleanians, Louisianians, and a lot of volunteer (as opposed to “official government”) help most of the features of NOLA and southeast LA that the rest of America depends upon are back up and operating at near pre-storm levels.

    Mr. & Mrs. Midwesterner can come down and have a slightly “naughty” weekend, and do all of those things that they yearn to do but don’t dare let the rest of their community even suspect they may be interested in because we’ve busted our butts and spent a shitload of money to get the hospitality industry back up and running; the hotels, the bars, the restaurants…the cultural draws like music and museums, and so on.

    They can also “recover” from Katrina because we’ve expended an enormous amount of effort to ensure that the Port was quickly back in action at as near pre-Katrina efficiency as possible. So Mr. & Mrs. Midwesterner can live in communities that have not been disrupted by the economic upheavals that would ensue if the worldwide demand for American grain were suddenly diminished because the increased shipping costs of moving the product by train or truck had to be built into their prices and because some overseas markets are lost because it’s no longer cost-effective to ship that far…the grain no longer able to be moved cheaply by barge because of the lack of the transshipment port where the product would be switched from barge to ocean-going vessel.

    Mr. & Mrs. Midwesterner can tool around the property on the tractor or combine all week before hopping in the pickup for the thirty mile trek to the feed store for a bed full of petroleum-based fertilizer and feel like they’ve “recovered” from Katrina because Louisianians kicked ass when it came to keeping the oil and gas flowing from the Gulf to the rest of the country like it always has.

    But we New Orleanians and Louisianians can only keep up the effort it is taking to stay at these levels for so long…there are limits to human endurance. At some time in just about every American’s life they’ve probably worked at a job where they may have felt like someone else was working to stymie their efforts, whether the culprit was attempting to make theirself look good at their expense or was just a contrary bastard. Well, right now in New Orleans we ALL work at those jobs–EVERYONE seems to be doing EVERYTHING they can to put every road block possible in our paths to our own “recovery” from Katrina. For example, I’d love to have my contractor going full speed ahead now that I’ve finally got him, a fairly decent price, and the money to cover that price all together in the same sentance, and get our butts out of the FEMA tin can…but Safety and Permits seems to have some reason to want that delayed. I’m guessing we’re on our fourth or fifth “attempt” to get the building permit. The first trip up there produced a demolition permit, but the set of plans with the engineer’s live stamp and signature had to become TWO sets with the engineer’s live stamp and signature. A week later after I’d secured the additional set, it was a benchmark elevation certificate that I’d need. A week or so later we bring the certificate down…and after another week we find out that they won’t take that certificate because the surveyor put it on a “generic” form rather than on the “official City of New Orleans” benchmark elevation form. I make yet another trip up there to speak to the “plan review” staff about our plans and a permit, and find out they’ll be sending a letter to my engineer that he will have to reply to point by point before I can get a permit. Point Number One? “Applicant should supply a set of plans with a live seal and signature…” Now, sitting on the table in front of both of us is one of the sets that I’d supplied a month or so before, with the live seals and signatures on every sheet. I point this out to the guy, and his answer is “Well, when the letter arrives to the engineer, he can just reply in his letter that the plans have already been supplied.” Now, my contractor has to sit and wait for this exchange of letters to take place, mind you (as of a week later, the engineer still had not received the “official” letter from the City which he has to answer), while we’ve both agreed that the plans they’re asking for are in fact sitting right in front of us on the table up in Safety and Permits. Another point? “Applicant should supply a benchmark elevation certificate…” I pointed out that we’d gone through that already, and had supplied said certificate as well, and got the same “Well, just state in the reply letter that you already gave it to us, and when we get the letter we’ll look for it.” One of the best points keeping us from getting the permit was the fact that while we showed that we would be supplying a ventilation fan in the bathrooms, we didn’t specify that the fan would move a minimum of 50 cfm. “Just write in the letter that you’ll meet that stated requirement, and we’ll staple that to the plans.”

    The President wants to keep Congress from moving to waive the 10% match (and more importantly, the onerous paperwork involved); the SBA wants to reduce the loan they calculated out to cover the cost of rebuilding my home by the amount I’ll receive through ICC to demolish parts of the home even though they didn’t include the cost to demolish in the amount they approved for the loan; I’m waiting for my insurance company to tell me that since I increased the coverage on my policies to reflect actual values of the home, rather than the underinsured values my FORMER agent had in place for Katrina that I’ll have a NEW policy that can be cancelled. We’re getting beat on from all sides, and eventually, we won’t be able to keep balanced on the tightrope we’ve been walking. Enough people will be out of here such that the port becomes less efficient and more costly due to some of the same personnel problems that every other business here is already dealing with. Likewise the hospitality businesses. And when that happens….when it costs one and a half times as much to ship a bushel of wheat, for example, or the price of an SUV skyrockets because it costs twice as much to ship steel over the road or by rail compared to by barge…but it won’t matter that much, because the gas to run the SUV will cost $5 a gallon because it’s costing a helluva lot more to get it produced after all of the Louisiana oil patch workers finally gave up and shipped out.

    Anyway…point out to your friend that just because America has “recovered” from Katrina (for now), it doesn’t mean that New Orleans has “recovered” (for good)…and because New Orleans still teeters, America can’t be considered to have “recovered” for good, either.

  14. Ah, b.rox, it breaks my heart too. And here I am in the wasteland, stuck in exile, but still waiting tables and listening to these idiotic comments come out of actual human pie holes. So, I tell ’em, we can pay to rebuild the coastline and the city or we can let NOLA die. Then we will pay every single day: more for petroleum products, coffee, sugar and the loss of that port will make every single item purchased regularly by Americans double in price. I don’t bother to point out that a dollar amount can’t be assigned to the loss of our culture, humor and beauty. Nor do I say to them that an America without New Orleans just isn’t worth supporting, believing in or even living in.

    These people think nothing of telling me that San Francisco is not nearly as vulnerable as New Orleans: but to me NOLA’s vulnerabilities can be minimized and even eliminated. No matter what is done in SF, the San Andreas and those 4 other faultlines aren’t going anywhere.

    Some people have great empathy and some even try to understand the complexities of our situation, but there are a lot of jerks out there who don’t mind coming down to New Orleans, drinking, eating, partying, running around flashing stuff we don’t care to see, but they will go home and tell all their friends and neighbors that it’s just Sodom and Gomorrah down there in the Big Easy! And some, think New Orleans is up north somewhere.

    I just don’t find thinking, examining, questioning intelligent people out here in the wasteland. I miss my BS free life, I miss each and every one of you. I know how hard people are working to put things right and since I was there during the storm and immediately afterward, I have a good idea of what you’re having to deal with on a daily basis and I respect y’all and pray for you. But it’s no picnic out here with the missing links even though the power doesn’t go out as often.

    Whatever you is, be that dawlin’

  15. “America (the whole) seems to have recovered from Katrina.”

    But New Orleans is part of America, thus America (the whole) hasn’t recovered from Katrina, though I’ll concede that Indiana has probably fully rebuilt from the effects of Katrina and the levee failure in New Orleans.

    Most of us have difficulty getting our heads around the situation. Unfortunately, your friend is kind of taking the easy way out. He’s thrown up his hands in frustration. And he’s made a flippant decision that New Orleans should go extinct. Problem solved, helplessness gone.

  16. I can’t speak for the nation (who can? besides pollsters) but whenever I read one of Bart’s touching posts about the recovery struggle, I feel the same way I do about Iraq. It’s another Bush fuckup that makes me actively dislike the half of the country that voted for the jerk.

    When exactly is the government going to start demolishing abandoned buildings and picking up the garbage on a regular basis? Is there any way to recall Nagin?

  17. Joining this a little late, but your friend seems to have bought into the laissez-faire attitude that led to the flood in the first place: the idea that government isn’t obliged to actually perform any functions that would help people.

  18. I was born in New Orleans and lived there for 27 years and I still live nearby in neighboring Jefferson Parish. I can understand where the man in Indiana is coming from. We have a city full of people who have a victim mentality and expect the government to take care of them. That is why they were on TV after the storm saying demanding to be rescued. I understand that some people did not have cars and there were old people and ill people that could not evacuate on their own but that was a small minority of the people that were left after the storm. the majority of the people who stayed were too lazy or stupid to leave and then when they realized that they were royally screwed placed the blame on someone for their stupid decision.
    The only solution I see for my hometown is to get rid of the dead weight. Tell the people who believe that their problems are not their fault or the one’s who believe that the government should take care of them that they are no longer welcome here. You need to get off your lazy ass and become a producing member of society or be thankful that you got a free ride out of the city and you really should consider staying where you landed.

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