Notes from Atlantis

Random Thoughts from the Crescent City

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Notes from Atlantis 8

Dear Folks,

Alright, I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore. It’s Sunday night and I’ve just watched 60 Minutes and they aired a segment called “New Orleans Is Sinking”. Various “facts” were trotted out as gospel: in 90 years New Orleans will be underwater...or a fishbowl, surrounded by towering levees. The coastal erosion of Southern Louisiana is irreversible and it will cost untold billions to rebuild the city after Katrina. Untold thousands of houses will have to be demolished (which is in fact a flat-out lie). We all need to think about abandoning the city and orchestrating a gradual withdrawal to higher ground... etc. etc. etc, to the same old drum-beat of New Orleans Was Stupid To Build There In The First Place And Now We Should Just Make It Wake Up At Long Last And Be Like Everywhere Else.


Okay, first of all. Aside from any issue of was New Orleans built where it was because of important logistics (i.e. it’s at the mouth of the biggest river system in the U.S., and there’s huge resources of oil and natural gas and fish and rice and farmland here)....NEW ORLEANS DIDN’T FLOOD BECAUSE OF NATURAL CAUSES!!! It flooded because of human error and human greed. The canals were improperly constructed. It’s now open knowledge that the canals (not the levees, which did not break) were built according to imperfect plans, and that the construction itself was shoddy: steel pilings which should have descended for 20 plus feet were only mandated for 17 feet by the Army Corps of Engineers, and were in fact constructed for only 10 feet. Who pocketed the price of that extra steel? Who knows? (Let’s hope whoever it was built their mansions at Lakeside and were themselves inundated). The best engineers at the time (1960s to 90s) suggested “inverted T’s” as a way of anchoring the retaining walls. Were they listened to? Of course not. The old “I” wall construction was used, and under the pressure of water without and wet soil within, the walls collapsed. Basically, New Orleans was sitting there with levees and canals built to the specifications of hacks and constructed by crooks with half the protection they’d promised, and a big hurricane hit and...guess what? The house of straw fell down. Was this because New Orleans is in itself an unviable concept, on a par with building hanging gardens at the South Pole? Of course not. New Orleans drowned because nine decades of neglect and graft allowed it to. If the retaining walls supporting the underground foundation of the World Trade Center had been built that badly, the twin towers would have fallen down too, without the intercession of any terrorists. Would Americans have then called for people to stop buiding skyscrapers on Wall Street? I think not...but America has always had a prejudice about the South, which I’ve only come to realize lately.

I know, there’s a lot you can criticize about the South. In the popular mythos of our times, all our country’s problematic hatreds of other races, other nationalities and other creeds have been seen as being rooted in the South--as though racism, prejudice and insularity didn’t exist in the North as well. I know a lot of you still think of the Deep South in terms of “Strange Fruit”, and of course you have a point. But still, get over it. This country, this world, was built on blood from the first human settlement on down. If we deserve the fate of Noah, then there’s no hope for any of us. But surely, at the very least, we should leave our damnation in divine hands rather than exacerbating it, first with human error, and then with human disdain.

For too long, New Orleans has been viewed as this country’s it’s it’s toilet...and as it’s whore. And yes, that’s partly New Orleans’ fault, since allowing itself to be seen as “the Big Easy” brought in tourists. So like any generous fool, New Orleans is now suffering the result of its own largesse. Lawmakers, political theorists obsessed with their own master plans, and media pundits have latched onto the new story-line of the moment,which is that New Orleans’ very existence is somehow debatable. Three years ago, the story-line of the day was that Saddam Hussein was a world threat and had atomic bombs. Everyone parrotted that popular wisdom...and only woke up to the fact that it wasn’t true when it was too late.

Now our lawmakers are debating whether to spend any money rebuilding New that could otherwise be spent on star-wars missile defense systems, or protection against non-existent bird flu, or on bridges to nowhere, or to fund further tax cuts, or to start new wars. Are we insane? No country on earth just lets a major city die. No country on earth just lets a major part of its transportation system wither away, or lets a major part of its culture disappear. The only reason this debate is even happening right now is because the rest of America doesn’t view New Orleans as a major city, or a major transportation hub, or a major cultural entity. It views New Orleans as unnecessary. It views it as an eccentric excrecence, a kind of 42nd Street or Haight-Ashbury or Disneyland or Hollywood backlot writ large. For Christ’s sake, right now Las Vegas would get more support if it were damaged than New Orleans is getting! We wax nostalgic about things once they’re gone that we don’t really care about protecting while they’re present, and I’m terrified that New Orleans could end up being one of them.

Fortunately, there’s something we all can do, and I expect you all to do it. The Times-Picayune recently published a list of lawmakers to contact to request, demand, that New Orleans get the money it needs to properly build its hurricane protection and properly rebuild its infrastructure. Here are there names:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn; 509 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, 20510; (202) 224-3344;

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R.-Miss; 113 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, 20510; (202) 224-5054;

Senator Robert Byrd, D-W.Va, ranking member Senate Appropriations Committee; 311 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; (202) 224-3954;

Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, member Senate Appropriations Committee; 522 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, 20510; (201) 224-3004;

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H.; 393 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; (202) 224-3324;

Senator Kent Conrad, D-N.D., ranking member Senate Budget Committee; 530 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; (202) 224-2043;

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chariman James Inhofe, R-Okla; 453 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C, 20510; (202) 224-4721;

Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., ranking member Senate E and PW Committee; 511 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; (202) 224-2651;

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill; 235 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-2976;

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo; 217 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-6536;

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif; 2112 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-5861;

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., ranking member House Appropriations Committee; 2314 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-3365;

House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa; 303 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-2911;

Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., ranking member House Budget Committee; 1401 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-5501;

House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif; 2411 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-1947;

Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va., ranking member House Resources Committee; 2307 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-3452;

House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska; 2111 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-5765;

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., ranking member House Transportation Committee; 2365 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; (202) 225-6211;

If you love Bill and me, if you love New Orleans, if you love the secret part of yourself that values beauty as much as comfort and ease, please take the time to contact these people. Please help my beautiful city to live. I’m begging you.



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