Friday, September 01, 2006

Re: The Landrieus

July and August have proven to be busy months for me, and I'm only just beginning to tread back into the blogging wading pool. My apologies for being absent for so long over the summer. As we draw closer to the November elections, I foresee myself writing more frequent, wordier entries.

I am sad to have missed the Rising Tide Conference; I've looked forward to putting faces to the blogs I've so frequently read, but as always, something came up and I wasn't able to make it. A shame, because I would have liked to have been present for the Landrieu-bashing scene I've heard so much about.

While on the topic of the Landrieus, I'll soon be writing a paper on the family for my Advanced Non-Fiction Writing course. While the Louisiana blogosphere has done a fantastic job in the past months in explaining why exactly they like the Landrieus (particularly before and after the mayoral election), I understand little about those who dislike them. Some people seem to dislike the Landrieu because of Moon Landrieu's welfare reform (which I know little about); others seem to claim that Mary Landrieu was incompetent after Katrina (though she co-sponsored more Katrina-specific bills than her republican counterpart--who was under far less fire than she); but still, the most popular theory seems to be that the Landrieus have too much power in the positions they hold and that they are using it to their own advantage (has anyone ever found any such allegations true?). If anyone can shed more light on the reason for the local animosity against the Landrieu family (or can otherwise dispute some of the commonly-made claims), please feel free to share it with me; I hope by understanding their arguments, I might be able to refute them in my paper.

My professor suggested that I contact Mary Landrieu's office for further biographical information on the senator, and recommended that I consider contacting Mitch for an interview. However, after my last up-close and personal experience with a politician, I'm a little reluctant to schedule an interview with anyone in politics--even those that I find myself sympathizing with.

So, if anyone in the blogosphere would be willing to do an interview--either over the phone or in person--regarding the Landrieu family or the Landrieu family politics, please leave a comment. Personal experiences are warmly welcomed. If you know anyone else who might be interested in shedding some light on the Landrieus, please forward them to this entry. Thanks a million.

Olbermann aptly says what I've been trying to relate for months.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

On Returning to UNO

It's back to school for T., and while some things haven't changed since Katrina, a lot have.

For instance, there are these long, oblong bushes that lean precariously at the side of the business building; in the lot in front of the library, there's a picnic table performing the same acrobatic stunt. And worst, is inside the library, where a coffee house has settled in the lounge--a coffee house. I almost couldn't believe it.

Sometimes, it's strange how much things on campus have changed, but sometimes, it's almost shocking how things have stayed the same. While walking to the University Center earlier today, I discovered that in the newspaper machines cluttered together in front of the entrance, there was a copy of the New York Times.

Its date? August 24, 2005.

At times, it's actually nice to see some changes; the Lakeview area is looking immensely better. The big, blocky houses that lined Leon C. Simon Blvd. are being gutted, and many are repainted. With the exception of a few lots, the area is looking even better than it was before the storm.

Unfortunately, some of the changes at UNO aren't particularly impressive; as I've mentioned in an earlier entry, some of the best professors at the university have been laid off.

And then, there's financial aid. My cousin--a first-time college student--would have qualified for TOPS on any other year, but this year, it wasn't available to her. She managed to pay off some of her tuition with grant money, but for the most part, she's been forced to cash in college bonds that her middle-class parents bought for her when she was younger. For me, those college bonds have long disappeared, and my grant money has trickled to a meager $1,300/semester. Because of the new 'fuel recovery charge' (thank you, Entergy), university tuition has risen about 5%.

Leaving me with one month to figure out how I'm going to scramble up $700 before the end of October after spending over $300 on used school books--many that still haven't come in.

If I get the "Return 2 Learn" grant that was widely-advertised in the summer, I should have just enough money to break even; I'll have that $700 I need for my tuition, and I'll be reimbursed for the $300 I spent on books. But when I called Financial Aid this morning, they informed me that they weren't sure when these dispersements would take place--or even I'd even get the money before the Bursar's Office starts hitting me up for cash.

But last year--even without the formation of the "Return 2 Learn Program"--my grant money was enough to pay my tuition, pay for my books, and give me a little money to survive off during the school year. And my financial situation hasn't changed much since then.

So what happened?

Katrina happened.

I love UNO. I love the atmosphere, the students, and sometimes, even the professors. One semester at LSU--with the rowdy, obnoxious football loving, binge-drinking students--was enough to remind me how much that I love and appreciate about my home institution. But with an inadequate financial aid department at UNO and inadequate financial aid in the city, I have little reason to continue my studies at a university in the state when I graduate next fall.

Especially with my father promising to pay off the entirety of my tuition while I'm in graduate school--as long as I don't attend an institution in the area.

But even despite that promise, I wanted to stay in the city--and as long as my tuition was supplemented by the government, I had no reason not to; I, like many others, feel as though I have an obligation to the city that raised me into the woman that I am today.

But before, I had to choose between staying at UNO with my tuition fully paid, or continue my graduate studies at NYU fully-paid; now, I have to choose between staying in the city and paying $2,000+ a year for books and tuition, or continue my graduate studies in New York completely covered.

I don't have to make a decision today; I've still got a year to figure out what I want to do. But I'm not entirely confident that the situation is going to change much within the next twelve months.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Monday, August 28, 2006

Truer Words Have Never Been Said

Six things not to say to a Katrina survivor
Monday, August 28, 2006
David Crosby

Not too long ago, a well-intentioned fellow from somewhere else began to tell me what he thought we should do to return our city to "normal." I stopped listening immediately.

Processing the encounter later, I realized that I have reached my limit on helpful suggestions from well-meaning advisers. Outsiders may not realize how familiar residents of New Orleans are with our own failures -- before and since the storm. This list is crafted to help family members and friends avoid blunders that can kill a conversation or incite civil unrest. I've heard all of these questions and comments in one form or another over the last few months.

"Hey, why don't you guys clean up this mess?"

We're working as hard as we can. The implication that we have not been working is an insult and does not recognize the amazing expenditure of energy and time and resources in the flood zone this past year. I calculate that if every barge and train and sea-going vessel that visits the Port of New Orleans were to haul nothing but debris, it would take 18 months to clean up the destruction of our city. And that's if the debris were all neatly packaged and ready for containers. Just the ruined mattresses, lined up, would stretch from here to Chicago.

We've made a lot of progress in the first year. We fight the discouragement of knowing that we have just begun. This is going to take years.

"When my neighbor's roof sprung a leak, we all pitched in and fixed it."

No situation you have experienced in your past is anything close to the scale of this destruction. No neighbors are left to pitch in. Everyone's hammers and kitchens and garages and vehicles are gone. In fact, the neighborhood itself is gone, along with all its landmarks and stores.

"If you think this is bad, you should have seen Blanktown after the tornado."

You may believe that it will comfort us to know that you have seen worse. We just don't believe it. Multiply your tornado damage by 10,000 and you might get close to what happened to us. Every day I struggle again to fully comprehend the breadth and depth of this tragedy. It's the hardest thing I do -- experiencing the devastation visually and relationally every day.

"It's been a year. You need to get over it."

The problem is -- it's not over. Just yesterday my good friend announced his departure to Texas. An elderly couple decided they were too old to be part of this task and will move to Mississippi.

My insurance bill just arrived, and it's 80 percent more than last year. The countertops won't be here until October.

My child's friend lost her dad to suicide. Thieves stole my air conditioning unit. The parish clerk cannot find my marriage license.

No lawyer is left to render defense in a court system that's almost shut down. And 80 percent of the psychiatrists have departed permanently -- just when we needed them the most.

We are living in a continuing urban disaster of unprecedented proportions. It's living in emergency mode as a way of life. It's 12 hours of commuting and working, two hours of repairing bathrooms and kitchens, and six hours of "rest" in a FEMA trailer with the wife and kids.

I can't get over it, and I won't. What I have to do is somehow stay healthy spiritually as I integrate this into my heart and soul. So I am mustering all my faith and love and hope trying to stay positive in my upside-down world.

"God's not through. He's gonna wipe y'all out next time."

The Book of Job records that Job's friends came to see him after the disaster. They sat in silence for seven days and did not say one word. (That would be a good start for the person who made this remark.)

Then Job's friends made a mistake -- they spoke. Everybody would have been a lot happier if they had just sat in silence for seven more days -- or years.

Maybe God aimed Katrina at New Orleans. Maybe the Devil did it. Maybe it was highs and lows and prevailing winds and water temperatures in the Gulf. But one thing is for sure -- you don't know. So don't tell me you do. I don't want to hear it.

"Say, could I get your picture standing on what's left of your house?"

We're still a little sensitive about our stuff, even if it is piled out on the street. Maybe especially then. This debris represents the material accumulation of many years of hard work. It's junk now. We know that. But we're not too eager to pose with our pain yet. We haven't put on our makeup, and we look a mess. This may have been the most photographed city in America before the storm, and maybe that's still the case. But for now, I'll pass on the picture.

. . . . . . .

David Crosby is the pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans. His e-mail address is