Bucket & Torch

I was talking to Howie and he shared this passage with me:

Education is now prized not because the culture values truth and wisdom, or views scholarship as a lifetime vocation, but because it is the means to economic success. So the study of science, engineering, and business takes precedence over theology, philosophy, literature, and history as the ultimate questions raised by these disciplines become unimportant. Schools and universities, forced to justify their utility in the market’s terms, employ the latest technology to “measure” the immeasurable and to ensure the production of better workers. Students elevate grades over ideas, and either feel the pressure to forego what interests them or never ask themselves what interests them in the pursuit of a marketable skill.

— Stanley Hauerwas The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics

Which reminds me of an aphorism from Yeats which I recently encountered:

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Yeats is more poetic (surprise) but I think they’re getting at the same thing. One could quibble with Yeats for his strident rhetorical flourish; I believe we need to both fill the bucket and ignite the torch. But I think Hauerwas is saying that in our particularly historical moment we are in danger of losing the torch entirely.

And I am inclined to agree.

Blakely Quote

I’m quoted in an AP article about Ed Blakeley:

Mid-City resident Bart Everson said that after Blakely started work in January, he saw him as the “last, best” hope for leadership in the city’s recovery. He said he still does, “but I haven’t seen the evidence of anything getting accomplished.”

“I still hold out hope something is going to happen,” he said. “He hasn’t left town yet.”

Wow, a writer who actually quotes me accurately. Hats off to Becky Bohrer.

Screaming & Kicking

For the last century, almost all top political appointments [on the planet Earth] had been made by random computer selection from the pool of individuals who had the necessary qualifications. It had taken the human race several thousand years to realize that there were some jobs that should never be given to the people who volunteered for them, especially if they showed too much enthusiasm. As one shrewed political commentator had remarked: “We want a President who has to be carried screaming and kicking into the White House — but will then do the best job he possibly can, so that he’ll get time off for good behavior.”

— Arthur C. Clarke, Imperial Earth, 1976

Zogby on Katrina

Back in September of 2005, I wondered if Katrina would become an campaign issue in 2008. Now pollster John Zogby says it just might:

73 percent say the U.S is in a serious crisis, according to our recent polling.

This suggests a need to redefine the very nature and structure of U.S. federalism. In our post-Katrina polling, we found a hunger nationwide for a new model for the federal government. In many ways, I believe Katrina, over the long haul, will prove to be more of a defining moment in American history than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Update: Leigh Graham has some additional analysis.

Garbage

I was just getting ready to post about how sick I am of living amidst piles of garbage, when I came across the latest from our mayor:

“Let me tell you something. I want you to go to Philly, and you will appreciate how clean New Orleans is. Just go and walk around Philly a little bit,” Nagin told the crowd Saturday in New Orleans. “You will appreciate – am I lying? You will appreciate New Orleans. We still have work to do but we definitely beat them by a long shot.”

(I found the link on Library Chronicles.)

All I have to say in reply is this:

Garbage

I took that picture Friday on the way home from work. Such piles of garbage are everywhere. They’re not related to rebuilding. This is just irresponsible, lazy, illegal dumping.

New Orleans is full of garbage. If we’re cleaner than Philadelphia, that’s truly frightening. But I suspect that our mayor is full of garbage too. Yes, I’ve heard that the French Quarter is cleaner than ever. Maybe that’s what our mayor is bragging about. But come around to my neighborhood, Mr. Nagin, and you won’t feel like bragging.

“I’ve lost all sense of what’s normal.”

I’m famous at last, quoted in an article on the Village Voice website by Anya Kamenetz, a former New Orleanian.

“I’ve lost all sense of what’s normal,” says New Orleans resident Bart Everson. His house, which took on five feet of water, stands at a crossroads in the city’s recovery — one of the points where people staring at destruction must decide whether to stay or go. At the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife are back in their Mid-City home, in a neighborhood where fewer than 30 percent of the families own the place they live in and which most visitors might see only on their way to Jazzfest.

Absentee landlords have abandoned more than half the nearby buildings in his district. His neighbors across the street, an elderly African American woman with her three grandchildren, are gone, replaced by someone who seems to be a squatter. Newly arrived Hispanic laborers are paying twice the pre-Katrina rents, yet some have no electricity or gas. Some pile their unbagged garbage in the street. The block around the corner is full of FEMA trailers, and across the street is a grocery store untouched since the storm. Inside, rats scurry over a floor slick with rot.

And yet Everson, who works at Xavier University, and his wife, who teaches school, have no plans to leave. They are renovating their flooded first story. They complained to their City Council member about the garbage and the rats, and used Spanish-language flyers to persuade new neighbors to clean up. And most of all, the Eversons are active in their neighborhood organization, which like dozens around the city is working independently to devise a plan for rebuilding. Their group is proposing to form a community redevelopment corporation to buy blighted houses and provide a path to homeownership for those willing to renovate them.

“We want to give people a reason to move to Mid-City,” Everson says, especially people from more wrecked neighborhoods who can’t afford to buy in the areas that stayed dry. “I really think we are the best of the worst, as far as a flooded neighborhood that’s coming back.”

Also quoted: fellow NOLA bloggers Maitri and Karen Gadbois of Northwest Carrollton.

They also put up a slideshow of my photos. They even paid me ($150) for the photos, a totally unexpected windfall and ego-boost. The photo editor said I should shoot for money. How flattering is that?

Prayer for God’s Protection during the Hurricane Season

I’m not the praying type, but all the same I thought I’d pass on this prayer, written by Sr. Loretta McCarthy, SBS.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. You who hovered over the waters and brought all into being, grant us the grace to be people of peace and hope during this 2006 hurricane season. Help us to trust, to make wise choices, and to offer all we are and do each day for the good of all your creation. In the name of the one who calmed the waters and winds, Jesus our Brother, we pray. Amen.

“Act the Part Out”

So you are tired of your life, young man! All the more reason have you to live. Anyone can die. A murderer has moral force enough to jeer at his hangman. It is very easy to draw the last breath. It can be accomplished successfully by a child or a warrior. One pang of far less anguish than the toothache, and all is over. There is nothing heroic about it, I assure you! It is as common as going to bed; it is almost prosy. Life is heroism, if you like; but death is a mere cessation of business. And to make a rapid and rude exit off the stage before the prompter gives the sign is always, to say the least of it, ungraceful. Act the part out, no matter how bad the play. What say you?

— from A Romance of Two Worlds by Marie Corelli, 1886.

Insurance

I recently got an update to our homeowner’s policy. It’s something like a hundred pages long. Past updates were only a few pages. I’m supposed to wade through all this legalese? I’d have to hire a lawyer just to find out how badly we’re getting screwed. A quick glance reveals there’s a “trampoline exclusion” and a “hovercraft exclusion.” I am not making this up.

And to quote:

A specific exclusion for hovercraft liability is added. Hovercraft are also known as ground effect vehicles or air-cushioned vehicles and were excluded in your former policy as motor vehicles or motorized land conveyances.

On the other hand, I note that our policy covers our grave markers (or mausoleums) for any damage caused by fire, lightning, windstorm, hail, explosion, riot or civil commotion, aircraft (including self-propelled missiles and spacecraft), vehicles, smoke, vandalism or malicious mischief, theft, falling objects, weight of ice, snow or sleet, accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam, sudden and accidental tearing apart, freezing, sudden and accidental damage from artificially generated electrical current and volcanic eruption — for up to $5,000.

No coverage for nuclear hazards, though.

Call to Carnival

When I moved to New Orleans back in 1999 I didn’t really know what to expect. Certainly I didn’t anticipate that at age 32 I’d discover a whole new holiday. And not just a new holiday, but an entire holiday season.

I’m talking about Carnival, of course, and Mardi Gras, and it’s not really new at all. In fact, tomorrow will be the 150th Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.

But it was new to me. Mardi Gras was in a cultural blind spot. I really had no idea what it was all about.

I still don’t. That’s part of the charm. It’s too big and too weird to grasp fully. Like any major holiday, it is many things to many people.

And make no mistake, Mardi Gras is a major holiday here. They say it defines this city, and I believe it.

I just got this poem (via e-mail) from Cristophe, the magistrate of the Krewe of Clouet, which evokes the spirit of the day:

CALL TO CARNIVAL

Hear Yee, Hear Yee revelers all!
It is once again time to heed the call
Of the pantomine and ribald of carnival.

Be a king or a queen and wear a crown,
A jester, a muse, a siren or a clown.
The day is marked for fantasy and mirth,
A day set aside by our mother earth,

Who in her wisdom conjures the spirits of jest,
For her children one grand day to fest
And invoke the heros of myths and odes
To raise joyous toasts as mysticism unfolds.

Join with the masks, the capes, and the plumes.
Don the cloak of a thousand costumes.
Be led by the music and move with the dance
For the day starts early and well in advance.

Thus informed partake with your friends
And celebrate the magical distant ends
Of Mardi Gras and all that it lends!

And today is Lundi Gras. We’ve got friends from out of town staying with us, and more friends coming over to visit soon. My toenails are painted bright green and my costume is coming together. It’s the most weirdly wonderful, wonderfully weird time of the year.

Happy Carnival, y’all.

Sorry State

I watched Bush’s State of the Union address last night. It was the first time I’ve watched this political spectacle in years, I think. I tuned in because I knew he was going to say something about Katrina and the Gulf Coast.

I waited and waited, as he talked about Iraq and Iran and our addiction to oil. He talked for about an hour, and towards the end he made a brief passing mention about us and our situation down here.

I didn’t expect much. I didn’t expect he’d expand the federal commitment to hurricane recovery. I didn’t expect anything bold.

But I expected more than this. I hoped he’d at least reiterate some of what he’d said in his Jackson Square Speech. It would have had some symbolic value.

This tells me that we are slipping further and further from the national consciousness. This saddens and alarms me.

A co-worker said to me the other day that we may have to “wait out the Bush presidency” to get real help. But I wonder. Will Katrina become a campaign issue? That seems unlikely. I’m trying to imagine a candidate selling hurricane relief in the heartland. I’m skeptical.

But at least one local guy thinks otherwise. And he’s got a point. The way things are shaping up, Democrats might have a shot at Louisiana. I don’t know about Mississippi.

Anybody outside this region might not really understand what we’re facing. Apparently Bush doesn’t understand, and he’s the President, with a whole staff to inform him, so why should the Average Joe understand?

Another local blogger puts it well:

He said the state of our Union was strong, when a major city in the Union has entire neighborhoods unfit for living, where the residents are still only allowed to “look and leave” five months after Katrina hit and the levees failed. Power is not restored to the entire city. Gas is not restored to the entire city. Healthcare in the city is crippled. Half of the residents haven’t returned or can’t return. Almost 3000 trailers are acting as homes for residents who have returned and 17,000 more have been requested. Some streets are still blocked by houses knocked off their foundations.

Or try these numbers:

Nearly 1,100 Americans are dead and 3,600 are still missing on American soil, yet George Bush barely spoke 163 words about this out of 5300 words in his State of the Union address.

Over 200,000 homes are destroyed, yet George Bush barely spoke 163 words about this out of 5300 words in his State of the Union address.

Over 400,000 Americans are displaced, yet George Bush barely spoke 163 words about this out of 5300 words in his State of the Union address.

An entire American city is in the throws of death, yet George Bush barely spoke 163 words about this out of 5300 words in his State of the Union address.

Maybe it’s time for a mock secession. Or maybe something more substantive.

Hmmm… This is gonna get interesting.

Mid-City Geo-Politics

I’m pained by what I read on a couple local blogs this morning.

Jim Louis writes:

I have been more or less geographically rejected by the Mid-City Association and will not in the future ever refer to my neighborhood as Mid-City. I have in fact only been doing so recently as a convenience to outside readers who may need a little geographical crutch to picture my area. This exclusion makes me not even a little bit sad. I live in the Bienville Corridor or my self-named Faubourg Louisville, and don’t want to be, nor did I ever, want to be, associated with the politics of Mid-City.

Laureen writes about her meeting with Jim Taylor, the president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization:

I really wanted to ask him about this area, the Iberville Corridor, Louisville, which has always been included in Mid-City but never really seemed to be represented in the organization. I just had to put it on the table. I knew what the answer would be. Taylor said he’d like to see the boundary stop at Broad for Mid-City proper. The two neighborhoods are starkly contrasted with the gentry up there near the park and the Iberville and Lafitte housing projects at the southern boundary. It was going to take a great effort to bring the two together for this viability thing and I just didn’t see an effort on the part of the organization to extend a hand… Taylor also said they are conducting surveys in Mid-City on their own to determine the number of residents there but you won’t see them down there below Broad.

I don’t want to defend the MCNO’s choice of geographic boundaries. They were established years ago, from what I can tell, and frankly I don’t care for them. My cognitive map of Mid-City embrace the blocks from Broad all the way to Claiborne. The Falstaff Brewery and Deutches Haus and Dooky Chase and Betsy’s Pancake House — aren’t these all in Mid-City? But it’s confusing, because people often use the term Mid-City to embrace a very large area, too big to be a true neighborhood. I’ve argued the MCNO should extend its outreach to Galvez or Claiborne, but I don’t think this will happen.

Nevertheless, the block where I live feels like it has more in common with the block where Jim Louis lives than the area above Jeff Davis.

In fact, the city’s 2005 Action Plan defines this as one of seven “strategic improvement zones”:

Mid-City/Bienville

The area is bounded by N. Claiborne Avenue – N. Jefferson Davis Parkway – Canal Street – St. Louis Street

Maybe we should form a Bienville Corridor Neighborhood Association. Jim, MaPó, you interested?

“A Familiar Third World Story”

An oddly-titled article, “Katrina sweeps us pride” by Tushar Charan, has been published in the Asian Tribune. The “pride,” I gather, is in regard to how countries in Asia have responded to recent disasters. I was fascinated to see how the Katrina debacle is viewed from foreign shores.

Choice quotes:

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has amply exposed the vulnerability of the United States and showed to the world that the US is more at home attending to problems like deficiency of democracy in distant lands than the travails of disaster victims within its own walls.

And:

People in the condemned Third World need not derive any ‘satisfaction’ from the tragedy in the US. In fact, every country should draw lessons from what Katrina has done to the Americans and why. It appears that it was the system that failed in the US and the poor persons had to pay the price for it. Oh, but that sounds like a familiar third world story.