They are not OK.

Two years ago, Hurricane Katrina did her best to destroy a great American city. (I know I’m going to get a raft of shit from Ashley for that, because he contends that what did New Orleans in wasn’t the storm, but the crappy levees, but let’s at least agree that the storm had something to do with it, OK?)

In the time since, I’ve had a variety of reactions to the rebuilding effort, but ultimately I come down with Ashley and his profane cri de coeur, FYYFF. It might not make sense to rebuild a city below sea level, but lots of cities flood — Fort Wayne, Indiana, to name but one — and when those places go underwater all we hear about is improving the dikes and giving the Army Corps of Engineers another chance with the riprap and bulldozers. Anyone could argue New Orleans has been more important to the country than the Fort — first night baseball game notwithstanding — and deserves better than the endless incompetence at all levels of government they’ve had to suffer since.

It’s complicated, I know. But since we’ve decided to shit rather than get off the pot, let’s get the shit built.

David Mills at Undercover Black Man marked today with a link to the Dixie Cups’ version of “Iko Iko.” My version of the song is called “Jockomo,” by James Sugarboy Crawford; I think I burned it off a disc that passed through my life, something called “The New Orleans Sound.” (iTunes tells me I also toasted “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday” and “A Certain Girl,” by Bobby Mitchell and Ernie K-Doe, respectively, from the same record. If you’re taking notes.) I don’t generally share music here; I believe in copyrights (most days). Sugarboy Crawford claimed to never have seen a dime from Jockomo/Iko Iko. I can’t even tell if he’s still alive. Maybe Ashley knows. If so, I’d be happy to Paypal him $20. The link will be deleted after 24 hours, anyway. If you get here late, well, that’s the fate of New Orleans if we don’t get moving.

The title of this post comes from a piece of art Ashley’s displaying on his site today.

Enjoy Sugarboy. He played with a group called His Cane Cutters. Clever.

UPDATE: John points, in comments, to this excellent 2002 interview with Crawford. Amazing what could end a career back then:

Sugar Boy and his band were on their way to a job in North Louisiana in 1963, when state troopers pulled him over for the then-crime of being a black man in a flashy brand-new automobile. One of Louisiana’s “finest” took exception to Sugar Boy’s attitude and proceeded to pistol-whip him on the side of the road. Sugar Boy spent three weeks in the hospital and was incapacitated for two years. He attempted a comeback, but after 1969, he confined his singing to church. He then went to trade school and learned to become a building engineer.

Posted at 11:53 am in Current events, Popculch |

12 responses to “They are not OK.”

  1. John said on August 29, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Alive as of 2002 .

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  2. ashley said on August 29, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks, Nance.

    I’ll look into Sugarboy for you.

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  3. deb said on August 29, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    nance, thanks for that link to FYYFF — i missed it the first time out. sent chills down my spine. thanks, ashley — god knows it needed to be said. over and over.

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  4. tgpc said on August 29, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    whomever says it was the levees and not the hurricane need only the footage of cnn reporters that noon saying “new orleans seemed to have dodged a bullet last night as katrina came ashore. we are hearing reports of a small breach in the levee, but the city looks to have been spared”.

    anyone else remember watching at around noon that day?

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  5. LA mary said on August 29, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    I remember it. Then the whole city seemed to fill with water.

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  6. MichaelG said on August 29, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    I must have missed something. When was there ever any doubt that the NOLA disaster was a flood resulting from a levee breach? Sacramento is a levee bound city and folks here are very conscious of these things. We do not have disastrous winds here but there have been some horrible floods in the area over the last 20 years caused by levee problems. Levee maintenance and repair is a major issue in this area. The levees here are ancient and in dismal shape. The whole downtown area of Sacramento was raised about 10 feet around the turn of the last century. It is most interesting to tour old downtown buildings and see the bricked up windows and doors in the (now) basements. Today’s street level is at what would have been the 2d story a hundred and some years ago. Many older houses including mine are raised 8-10 feet off the ground. This whole levee business is a national disgrace. Sacramento is one good rainfall away from being the next NOLA.

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  7. nancy said on August 29, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    I wasn’t unclear on it. Obviously the storm played a part; the levees were stressed by the storm surge.* That part about dodging the bullet is true — the strongest force of the storm hit the Gulf Coast, and their damage was wind and water, but Nola, was a levee disaster. I think what tgpc is referring to is just the clueless first reports on CNN and elsewhere.

    I didn’t know that about Sacramento. Interesting.

    * Maybe it’s not storm surge I’m thinking of. When the wind pushes the water one way and then the storm passes, and the water rushes back, like sloshing in a bathtub? There’s another term for it, but I can’t think of it now.

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  8. MichaelG said on August 30, 2007 at 7:47 am

    San Francisco will experience flooding over the Embarcadero and down by Fort Point when Dec-Jan high tides coincide with storm surges.

    Sacramento is located at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers. The American comes straight down from the Sierra bringing the snow melt. Combine the snow melt with a good rain and we have floods even without levee failure. The Sacramento comes down from the Northern end of the state and regularly floods small communities on its way to Sac. In addition there are several large creeks that regularly (every 10 years or so) cause severe flooding. There are whole neighborhoods built right up against the levee which is higher than the houses it protects. At any rate, a combination of warm temps causing an early snow melt, heavy rain and a levee failure could cause disaster. It’s happened before and will certainly happen again. The only questions are where, when and how bad.

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  9. Jolene said on August 30, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Seattle has a similar history. Most of the business district burned to the ground in the late 1900s, and the area was rebuilt at a higher level to prevent flooding.

    My memory of this was a little fuzzy, so I googled “Seattle underground” to make sure I was saying the right thing. In doing so, I found this interesting detail.

    The new street level also assisted in ensuring that gravity-assisted flush toilets didn’t back up during high tide in Elliott Bay.

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  10. Julie Robinson said on August 30, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Perhaps wiser minds than I can discuss what can be done about NOLA and other infrastructure problems. I haven’t been able to watch or read lately because I’ve been helping my mom through her own flood here in northern Illinois. Mom, 75, and a cardiac patient, had over a foot of water in her basement and landed herself in the ER trying to haul everything out before we could get here.

    A week later, I see the larger problem for her is emotional, not physical. Even with her two daughters here, she is spiraling downhill. We called the doctor this morning to see if he could prescribe some meds to help her through.

    Ashley, how are you really doing after two years? How is NOLA really doing? How can we make a difference from a distance?

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  11. ashley said on August 30, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    “Ashley, how are you really doing after two years? How is NOLA really doing? How can we make a difference from a distance?”

    It’s very hard to say.

    The quarter is immaculate…most everything there is open, and a tourist could fly into Louis Armstrong International, take a cab to the Quarter, and never see a speck of disaster.

    Then again, I always take my tourist friends to places that still don’t have water or electricity.

    I’ve never seen a group of people fight so hard for something. Most people’s idea of community involvement was sorting your recycling box or mowing the neutral ground. Now, you have guys like the mow-rons spending their weekends mowing public parks and picking up trash. I’ve gutted houses, my wife has volunteered at schools — the kinda stuff I personally would have never done.

    The talk from the country about abandoning NOLA and not spending tax money here has created a true bunker mentality, so that many of us don’t trust anyone not living in this. See, for example, me lashing out at Nance in her prior post yesterday.

    OTOH, we have people that have looked at disaster as a simple way to line their pockets. Most of those aren’t local, but some are, and it hurts. Our politicians are for the most part either inept or corrupt, but we did manage to put in 4 new council members on a board of seven. Of cours, one (of the old ones) just resigned due to a federal corruption investigation. “Family Values” Senator David Vitter was caught displaying a diaper fetish with prostitutes. Nagin is inept and dangerous. I feel that political reform is coming, whether the pols want it or not, and a big reason for that is the grass roots fighting of the neighborhood organizations.

    My friend Karen Gadbois was on the front page of the WSJ last week for her work in keeping architecturally significant homes from being demolished. She was even stippled!

    One of our new council members even wrote an open letter slamming Bush for his worthless visit yesterday.

    Still, our electricity and gas bills have tripled, our food and gas prices have gone up dramatically, our homeowners insurance is doubling or tripling, and who knows if you can even sell your house.

    But still, NOLA has got the best people, best music, best food, and it’s the most fun place to live in the world. If I have to leave here, it won’t be to another place in the US — we feel too abandoned to try to live there.

    So it’s doing well from a tourist perspective, and we’re working to get there from a local’s perspective. The bottom line is that nothing will happen substantial until the federal levees are rebuilt, and rebuilt correctly. Until then, it’s mission accomplished.

    Personally, I think the 2 best things someone can do are 1) come down here and see what it’s like. Tell your friends, write a letter to your local paper, let everyone know what a disgrace it is that the federal government is spending millions to rebuild wetlands — in Iraq, but we get this. 2) look at the list of which congresspeople have visited and which have not. Then write them a letter and let them know that it’s important to rebuild NOLA, for America.

    Remember, Our fate is your fate.

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  12. Julie Robinson said on August 31, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Wow, that congressional list is embarrassing to the state of Indiana. But I know lots of church and school groups who have been there to work for a week or two. For the average suburban teen, it can be life-altering; the first time they have seen outside themselves.

    A retired pastor and his wife we know spent about 8 months in a nearby community, organizing, serving, counseling, cooking, providing day care. I have begun to think that individuals and small groups can accomplish much more than the government and NGOs.

    Case in point: five days after DeKalb’s flood, the Red Cross showed up doing a survey and telling us about their emergency shelter and clean-up kits. Just a little bit too late! I don’t think they have done any physical work yet.

    Similar thing happened after the hurricane that hit South Florida two years ago, right after Katrina. My sis had no power and no way out of her apartment complex for 10 days (trees blocking the parking lot). No one came by to help. Not only is our fate your fate, but we are all on our own.

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