What's In a Map

Things look different this morning.

I woke up to Google maps showing New Orleans completely intact. No cranes attempting to patch the levees, my mother-in-law's Gentilly home intact, and presumably the palm plants still on my Mid-City balcony.

I live in Illinois now so it's bracing to see the web jump 19 months backwards.

Poor Chikai Ohazama, Google product manager for satellite imagery, had to say in a press release that the change is because of numerous factors - "everything from resolution, to quality, to when the actual imagery was acquired."

The kerfuffle has led to the House Committee on Science and Technology's asking Google Inc. Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt to explain why "Google's use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history,"

And the story has already taken the spin that "locals smell conspiracy" because officials want to show progress. Who would these local be, and why would our local officials want to show progress that does not exist when they desperately need funding to make it a reality.

The words "New Orleans conspiracy theories" were also edited into the narrative, as if we are downloading maps while sporting tinfoil hats.

Would this gaslighting continue if Google showed -

The Towers Standing

Saddam's Statue Untoppled

Piza's Tower Vertical

Rome and Carthage Unpillaged

The Titanic Afloat

The Superdome without a single paint chip

And almost 3,000 New Orleaneans souls returned to this earth?

I was told about one more New Orleans suicide tonight. These dominoes are falling faster and faster and none of it is reflected in the maps of what is left of our landscape. Psychological or otherwise.


Why You Wanna Give Him the Runaround?

If John Popper’s Car were a Jeopardy category, the topic would be “Things that would have come in handy after Hurricane Katrina.”

My friend Nicky got one of the last groups across the Crescent City Connection (GNO Bridge) past Gretna, and this is the note he emailed:

“let people know that i crossed the bridge safely by walking out with a group of people. let them know to think safety. start the trip with lots of light, water, and as many people :safety in numbers. there are many tourists in a daze, grab them on the way out to swell the numbers. I did all this and walked out safely. on the other side about ten miles down the road is the location of disaster relief and it is getting closer to the bridge as help creates safer passages. who ever reads this letter, keep your head up and spirits positive, no breaks in the chain, no dissent and keep the group healthy. if you stay in new orleans, fire, disease and death is next, there is nothing possibly left to happen.”

Maybe John Popper heard about the Crescent City Connection. He was stopped by State Troopers in Washington State, now home of more billionaires than anywhere else in the country. The billionaires will be fine in increasingly challenging weather, but at least one Blues Traveler wasn’t taking chances as his friend tooled along at 111 mph.

Hidden compartments, a joint, four rifles, nine handguns, night vision goggles, a taser, switchblade, siren, emergency headlights and a public address system. Popper explained to officers he was prepared for a natural disaster. His car could have barreled right through the situation Congresswoman McKinney’s House Resolution 4209 describes:

“New Orleans authorities directed a group of individuals to evacuate New Orleans by crossing the Crescent City Connection Bridge . . . . Following these directions, the individuals, by all accounts an orderly group of men, women, and children, began their dangerous trek through streets flooded with contaminated water and littered with debris and corpses in an effort to reach safety.. As the group approached the bridge, shots were fired, and members of the Gretna law enforcement agencies confronted, threatened, and pointed their weapons at the group, thus preventing the group's entrance into the Gretna area. It is unacceptable to permit anything but the strongest response to the actions of the Gretna law enforcement agencies, which prevented the group's lawful exodus from a life-threatening situation.”

And the situation 18 months later? There are no beds available in the New Orleans Emergency Rooms with flu season ripping through the city and a shortage of medical care, writes Kate Moran in a NOLA.com article. My friend whose eyesight is getting progressively worse waited all day for a one-day free clinic last month, but didn’t make the cut as thousands of other patients were also seeking help.

Mental health is in crisis. Another friend called distraught after his psychiatrist committed suicide. In the 9th Ward today a mentally ill man on a bicycle waved a knife, threw a shard of glass at a National Guardsman, then brandished a BB gun. They shot and killed him as he ran into a rotting 9th Ward home which may have been his. His uncle told reporters he was terrified of police.

And an immigrant laboror was just crushed under the Kenner home he was attempting to raise in preparation for storm season. He had spoken of his fear of the house falling on him.

Our fears are coming true. My paranoid phobia is that the world moves on.

President Bush’s new agreement is going to provide programs to help the poor, hundreds of millions of dollars for families to buy homes, a Navy hospital ship for free health care services all totaling $1.6 billion annually. “When you total all up the money that is spent, because of the generosity of our taxpayers, that’s $8.5 billion to programs that promote social justice,” including education and health, Bush said.

He was talking about Brazil.

We need that Navy hospital ship docked in New Orleans. And John Popper? I’m waiting for the police auction on your car.


Common Sense - Give New Orleans Half the Surge

As of tonight, Surge, Clear and Rebuild is the slogan for 22,000 troops and $6.8 billion for securing the city of Baghdad. If ever there was a time to break ranks, do it now and give the City of New Orleans half.

Because, as you may have heard, the killers have returned to New Orleans. Unlike in Baghdad, you have a green light to enter these neighborhoods. We don’t expect your commitment to be open-ended, but please make it long term this time. We will not provide a safe haven in Central City for any outlaws. We are ready for fewer acts of brazen terror. Increasing safety in New Orleans daily life will give us the breathing space we need to make progress in other areas such as healthcare, electricity, schools and clean water.

Dick Durbin, since you do not love the Surge proposal, cut it in half and give us the extra. Trust us with the hard earned tax dollars you are about to spend. We dried off the French Quarter long ago and it is beautiful. It just needs to be safer, so send your Surge troops. They can call home without international rates.

And Norm Coleman, you say it is a mistake to put more troops at risk to address a problem that is not a military problem and create more targets. So spend half of those billions and that manpower to address our non-military problem. Give us taxation with representation.

There are now two New Orleans weapons of mass destruction. Fear and hopelessness. You are invited to impose security and stability. Strategy, slogans, a new direction, we’ll take it all. As securing Baghdad is already costing hundreds of millions a day, please make do with just 10,000 troops and $3.4 billion more. You are already marching toward escalation – please escalate to reassure a Katrina-weary New Orleans. We will forgive you for the decay and violence overrunning our city if you use the word mistake. We’re a very forgiving people. We re-elected William Jefferson.

With the new Surge, ordinary New Orleans citizens can see visible improvements in their neighborhoods. Benchmarks will include security, an improved economy and shared oil revenues for New Orleans residents. Empower local activist leaders and let us enter political life. Give residents flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance. Expand reconstruction teams to speed the transition to self reliance. Let our citizens move back from Houston to the city they love.

Becky Allen would be a wonderful cultural reconstruction coordinator with a play about rooting out Al K-Da. Draft Nash Roberts and stabilize the region in the face of extreme weather challenges. Mr. Go and the attack on the wetlands must be disrupted. Interrupt the flow of water into our city and seek out and destroy the networks allowing pollution to eat our coast.

Send Surge in for our yellowcake. Red velvet cake, king cake – any cake. Many of us now live where you can’t get a king cake. We will accept debathification. The volunteers gutting homes are halfway there. Dye our fingers purple and we’ll keep them that way all the way through Mardi Gras. There’s your benchmark and your photo op. And we are lousy with oil. Seriously, ask anyone.

Work with the governments of Gretna and Mississippi to help resolve problems along the border. Work through diplomacy with states like California and New York for a national compact for greater assistance. The loss of New Orleans culinary and musical culture would greatly affect all of these areas.

It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. Disenfranchised extremists have declared their intention to destroy our New Orleans way of life. The most realistic way to protect us is to provide a hopeful alternative and provide liberty to our troubled region. We would like a just and hopeful society from St. Bernard to Kenner. Millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence and want peace and opportunity for their children. Thousands are considering withdrawing and leaving the future of our city to extremists. Please ensure the survival of an irreplacable city fighting for its life.

Deadly acts of violence will continue and we must expect more New Orleans casualties before things get better. Victory will not look like post-Hurricanes Betsy or Camille. But give us your Surge of troops and funds, uphold the rule of law, respect fundamental human liberties and answer to our people.

A rebuilt Central City will fight criminals instead of harboring them. Embed a Surge brigade with every New Orleans police patrol. Build a larger and better equipped police force. Many American citizens think New Orleans is too dependant on United States funding. They want the phased withdrawal of FEMA trailers and tax dollars. But to step back now would force a collapse of New Orleans and result in killings on an unimaginable scale.

Please increase your support at this crucial moment and help us break the cycle of the gangs’ Civil War. Take the machine guns out of the hands of our teenagers. Then stay. Give us the help to make Central City less like Lord of the Flies and more like a disaster zone under reconstruction. The young insurgents will see it as a hostile measure, but it has to be done.

A few thousand more soldiers in a quagmire would not make a difference. A few thousand in New Orleans will make all the difference in the world.

Mobilize talented American civilians to deploy to New Orleans. Selfless men and women are already volunteering at Common Ground, MercyCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Americorps and Acorn. It is noble and necessary. They gut homes far from their families who miss them at the holidays. We mourn the loss of every fallen New Orleans hero like Helen Hill and Dinerral Shavers and owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.

As Congress weighs its options, please invest your political capital and actual capital to make this the point at which everyone goes on record as either supporting the reconstruction of New Orleans or the final abandonment of our city. And yes, we will accept a permanent base. There’s lots of room in the 9th Ward.

Rally your fellow congressmen. Call and voice your support and watch closely to see if more and more rank and file members sign on to support the New Orleans Surge. We have no time to lose. Hurricane season is 5 months away and the streets back up in a heavy rain. Drainage is still so bad, New Orleans residents empty the pods in front of their FEMA trailers as even the containers flood with rising water.

This is your last chance to step up or dissolve the city. The hurricane season ahead will set the course for a new century. These are times that reveal the character of a nation.

To the Current Administration:

Dear Sirs, here is a suggested addendum to your next fireside chat with the nation.

The Surge will put the National Guard in the crosshairs of New Orleans violence, but we are dying without it. This dialogue would have been better months ago but it’s not too late. Establish the ground truth of what is happening in New Orleans. It’s not a clean victory, and it’s a long process.

Go to the Map Room and address the nation with details educating us on why a strategy change in New Orleans is needed. If the results don’t come through, readdress the situation with benchmarks like schools, hospitals, quality of life, a comprehensive shared list of where the evacuees now live and what they need. Do not add a signing statement discounting the logic behind the New Orleans surge.

This is the opportunity to hang your Mission Accomplished banner over the Superdome and have it be true. The 8 billion Road Home program, once more than 99 grants go out, will be Lagniappe.*

Feel free to train our security forces. We’re 400 short, so leave a few. Outrageous acts of murder are aimed at innocent New Orleaneans. A vicious cycle of street violence is unacceptable to our people. We hope it is unacceptable to you. Failure in New Orleans would be a disaster for the United States. Gangs would gain new recruits and create chaos in the region. Loss of oil revenues would embolden our enemies. On 8/29 we saw what could happen on the streets of our own cities.

America must succeed in New Orleans. Violence has split the city into enclaves and is shaking the confidence of its citizens. Your administration must put forward an aggressive effort to reassure them. It is clear that there were not enough U.S. troops left after 8/29 to secure our neighborhoods. Give us a strong commitment.

If New Orleans does not get 10,000 troops and $3.4 billion to save her, get ready to at some point look into a camera and admit that once again the responsibility rested with you.

After all, it’s a different world after 8/29.


Bullet Celebrity

The only person who's ever told me he hoped to get winged by a bullet in the French Quarter was British folk musician Joe Topping who walked from Chicago to New Orleans to raise awareness for our New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund.

Vice President Dick Cheney came to town and shut down Canal Street the day of Joe's second line welcome along the river, so it wasn't the media event one would hope for after a blazingly hot summer walk. The Mayor was supposed to attend - I don't know what happened with that.

So after Joe's three month trek we were taking him out to hear Bob French, but Frenchman Street was shut down when some tourists were grazed by bullets. The next day we went to visit Bob on WWOZ-FM but it was his fall fund drive day off.

"A graze - they'd HAVE to write about that. Liverpool man shot after three month walk across country in support of New Orleans musicians," Joe said. It was probably partly heat stroke and partly wanting to get the mainstream media to notice New Orleans.

They've noticed.

One hundred and fifty shots were fired last night in one bar alone. A friend musing on the beautiful life still available for anyone who carves it out for himself in the French Quarter says, "You have to be pretty unlucky to get shot."

After already having taken a Zulu spear to the head from a balcony during Mardi Gras 04, I'm ready to go to Carnival as a giant rabbit's foot wrapped in four leaf clovers.

The Queen of Bikus this year is the ER doctor who cleaned my head, sutured it by making a mohawk knot, then medically glued it shut. She was dressed as a crash test dummy. After getting a round of applause for being a trouper, my husband pointed out it would be poor form to go home with a split head. So I got back on my bike, slapped on an icepack and kept rolling.

By the end of the day on Frenchman Street, whoever was loaded found it hilarious, and friends who were still sentient were taken aback by my garland of bloody flowers. This town used to roll with anything.

But according to the New York Times, we're a shaken tribe between the crime, the tornadoes and the red tape. After each mainstream article there's a contingent here that says if people would just stop focusing on the crime, tourists and evacuees would come back and we could bump up the police force.

The new New Orleans Recovery Czar could find us a nice Rasputin, and things would get rolling like his bicycle ride through the Gentilly area as New Orleans got the right kind of coverage.

Or someone could wing a folk singer. They're troupers.