Katrina +10: A Mercy Drowning

On Saturday, August 29th I’ll do it. Unless my friends reading this start hounding me about it, in which case I might do it sooner. I’ll drop it or throw it into some fairly deep body of water— a lake or river or a bayou or canal that are found all around here. It won’t be hard to find a spot that will be deep enough to keep it lost for a long time, maybe forever, but at least until it is corroded to the point of uselessness. I just don’t want anybody to see me do it. It could arouse unjustified suspicions about my motive. I think my motive couldn’t be purer.

The days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and leveled thousands of trees up here on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, a common feeling in the population that had remained or returned or awaiting to return was one of uncertainty, fear, and in some cases, defeat. The devastation was so complete, so undeniable, that it seemed life as it was could never be restored—and that life as it was now was one of desperate souls scratching out a survival, each one standing alone against this natural cataclysm and standing in competition with his fellow man. Reports of thievery, looting, armed confrontations, and even murder were some of the first news that made it out of the crippled news outlets. Patched-in news feeds from remote locations, whole news teams relocated to higher ground in Baton Rouge told the story of no good news from anywhere. Even in the expanses of  middle-class and gated stretches of the suburban Whites the situation was far from the mundane: with no power, no gasoline, no contractors to fix damaged property,and police forces stretched to the limit, a feeling of vulnerability showed itself to be closely related to fear. In a state of nature, Thomas Hobbes said life would be short, nasty, and brutish. For many, this came as close as anything had previously to that natural state of nature, if not real at least imagined. Days of the worst humid heat and the smothering darkness of night slowly shuffled into an unknown future as endless days reluctantly morphed into weeks, with the only break in stillness and boredom coming from rationalized emotions banging in one’s head, catastrophizing potential outcomes of post-storm Louisiana.

The city became a police garrison for the first several weeks, with a decimated and disarrayed police department taking positions, beating back looters, locking the city up—allowing in no one without credentials—followed by the fully militarized National Guard troops showing up to re-enforce those positions, make daring rescues, and set up distribution points for the tons of food and water relief that only began arriving 4-5 days after the area was drowned and flatted. They  added a sense of  safety and control over the chaos, though the huge presence was one that seemed as if it were here to stay for some time. Black or desert camo cargo pants with black t-shirts with POLICE or SWAT or FBI in block letters on the backs were the uniform of the liberators, the restorers of order. The urban combat fashion became a fixation; and here was me, in a total  middle-aged mindlessness, picturing myself with a pair of black cargo britches and service boots—and a gun.

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I thought I needed at least a handgun. I traded the only other pistol I’d had at a pawnshop, for a guitar. That was the right thing to do, because at the time I  had a young daughter in the house— the safety issue and all that. (I was also restarting my play-alone guitar career for the umpteenth time.) I was looking for something compact which could be kept in my vehicle or discreetly out of sight if I had to move it, or wear it.

When the sporting goods box giant  opened, I  picked out a small frame .380 calibre semi-automatic. That’s weapon used by James Bond I came to find out later. Gun enthusiasts say it doesn’t have the man-stopping, knockdown force of a .40 or .45 cal., or even that of a 9mm. But I didn’t know that at the time either, and anyway, I was looking at it more as something within my budget—about $350 with a box of bullets and tax. I and didn’t want to appear like a novice and ask too many questions. When salesmen think you don’t know much, they sometimes try to sell you more than you need; and I knew but wouldn’t admit that I didn’t even need this little pop shooter.

The uniform of black cargos and boots and tight t-shirts got put off after that, and I was left with my little pistol riding around, snugly fitted in two different vehicles over the next 10 years. Riding in hiding, and never firing, not once. At one point, it had rested in its hiding place so long it developed a small rust spot, probably from the continuous high humidity.

It didn’t take long to overcome the desire to assume the low fashion of the military look.

Whether or not the look was a fad of fashion by mirroring the garb of influxes of troops and police, an affinity to militarism and its trappings is palpable and pervasive.  Being involved with some war or another in 219 of the 239 years since the signing of our Declaration of Independence, it should be easy enough to say that this is a militarized society. An interesting and paralleling correlation are the statistics that the United States, with about 4.5% of the world’s population spends about 37% of the total world outlay on military spending. That same 4.5% population has 35-50% of the world’s civilian-owned guns. We shoot and kill people (including our own suicides) at a rate of about 32,000 people a year. With about 320 million in the country, it is  simple, power-of-ten math: 3.2 deaths per 100,00 population.

Gun related murder rates


The other side from miltarism in this equation of gun possession and gun violence is the fear factor—the motivation that, without protection you are susceptible, as you find yourself in times of natural or man-made disasters, with little or no police protection. Where adversaries in criminal networks create havoc almost as forceful a as natural disaster itself, and with the focus of intention, man becomes a power nearly equaling that of nature and disasters and becomes the most fearsome power of all. In the violence syndicates of the inner cities In the U. S., where unemployment and poverty reign, the law of the street payback is a blunt zero-sum game of life and death. Therein lives the prison yard ethic, spilled over into and occupying whole neighborhoods, sometimes migrating from city district to district. Inner city mayhem is the new brutish state of nature where to survive means arming oneself.

I am over this fear as I am done with looking military: that monster natural disaster Katrina is a decade past. I am privileged that I have never had to escape from the systemic shackles of the central city gulag. I am privileged and I have no reason to feel a need to continue being in this statistical death watch that gun ownership imparts on me. That little gun is more likely to kill me, either by accident or by purpose than it is to save me. And as long as I keep it, it destroys me in another way a little every day.

So Saturday, August 29, the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I will symbolically drown one source of cognitive dissonance that wracks me , an exercise in catharsis on a date perfect and ready-made.  I can then unhypocritically embrace the movement to repeal the Second Amendment.

I’ll be scouting out potential sites for an unceremonious gun-dumping. The deeper the water the better.

LOST GODS, LOST CAUSES

A short essay Celebrating Slaughter: War and Collective Amnesia,” (1) by political and cultural author Chris Hedges shares the related subject of war monuments with the following commentary and served as its inspiration.

Looming dozens of feet above their tenuously footed bases brood the concrete and cast metal icons of the white power of the Confederacy, maintaining a symbolic dominance  over the cityscape of New Orleans. They are silent but have gained a voice; motionless, but have been  prodded to move; blind, but are now blessed with Orion’s fortune of reclaimed vision. There they stand in gravitas and grandeur, revitalized, their spirits  re-emerging  from the quiet lifelessness of their metal castings, almost visibly wincing at the thought of the wrecking balls and warehouse curators carrying them away, now re-energized from the same fetid spirit that birthed them.

These are the dead ones— the staid, grim and gray monuments of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and P. G. T. Beauregard— President and generals of the Confederate States of America, the sleepy giants that have been called back to life, to reaffirm themselves at the urging of their present day rear guard as admirable players in a  history  of honor and glory and bravery,  disowning at the same time the lamentable saga of hatred, degradation and domination of humans by humans that it really was—and all that it ever will be. A fourth, decidedly non-human monument, the 25-foot obelisk commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place has previously demonstrated it’s lack of redeeming social value and relocated to a less conspicuous location on Iberville Street, “between railroad tracks and a parking garage.”

The phrase “Lost Cause of the South” as a meme has evolved a sleek and modern cultural phenotype; over-simplistic and expressed in a narrow and vague vocabulary, usually maxed out after “history,” “heritage,” and “pride.” Sometimes shortened to “Lost Cause,” it is “a term referring to a number of interpretations of the American Civil War from an effectively pro-Southern perspective,” (2) and is a good example of being in a state of denial. The mythos woven around  the concept are an amalgam  of antebellum nostalgia, historical revisionism, and unblushing naivite’ necessitated by inculpability—“ownership” issues. One bedrock principle, for example, is that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War; another is many, if not most slaves were happy with their station in life—well-cared for by their loving paternalistic masters.

Today the Lost Cause tropes have become little more than an excuse quarry; and the ill-defined concepts and loose confabulations of principle are being used in pro-active protests against removing the monuments to slavery and in honor of the Civl War that took 750,000 lives. The claim is that history will be denied, changed, or somehow disrespected. But history as recent as the Civil War cannot be changed; paper trails lead to encyclopedic stacks filling libraries, and web servers store terabytes of data and opinion on the subject. Their fear is that the evidence of an unbiased interpretation history has belied their mythos with a finality that precludes any moral interpretation of history that does not admonish slavery, racism, and those men that would wage a destructive and divisive war to maintain it, or allow for their denial of responsibility for crimes against humanity. Their war is responsible for delaying the beginning of a movement toward healing by four extra years, and helping to     extend a racist sickness in individuals, and the legal, economic, and social structures hedged against the oppressed through today.  Denial of these facts may no longer be used as a justification for the celebratory and reverential display of Jim Crow era artifacts in open public areas. If you are proud of a heritage of bigotry and human bondage and the war conceived to defend them, that is your freedom; but offensive reifications in the form of sculptured traitorous gods of war are reprehensible and unacceptable at public sanction or space. These are tributes to the leaders of a new aristocracy that was to be established in the American South, where the white planter class had absolute dominion over his land and his subhuman Negro machine that extracted that land’s bounty of cotton, tobacco, and produce with unpaid and brutal toil.

Eventually the monuments and every other construction built on New Orleans’ alluvial soil will  crack, crumble, and cave;  or be covered under the quickly-advancing rising sea to the south. These symbols need to be put out of our misery sooner rather than later.

The Timeline Toward Justice

June 24, 2015. Mayor Mitch Landrieu recommends opening the discussion about replacing the statue of Robert E. Lee.

July 8, 2015. Landrieu formally asks the City Council to begin the legal process for removing the statue of Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis, along with the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place as violations of the nuisance ordinance.

August 13, 2015. The Historic District Landmarks Commission and the Human Relations Commission endorsed Mayor Landrieu’s call to remove monuments.

September 3, 2015. The earliest date the City Council could vote on the matter under the nuisance ordinance, after receiving recommendations from  the city’s police superintendent, Chief Administrative Officer, city attorney, and Director of the Department of Property Management. As appointees of the Mayor, they are expected to approve the recommendation, along with the City Council.

December 17, 2015. After public hearings last week and today, the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 in favor of the proposal declaring the monuments in violation of the nuisance ordinance, and Mayor Landrieu signed, approving the removal.

Four organizations promptly filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the removal.

January 19, 2016. A $200,000 Lamborghini owned by  contractor David Mahler was found burned in a parking lot of H and O Investments, which pulled out of a contract with the City of New Orleans to remove the statues after receiving death threats.

January 26, 2016.  U. S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier finds plaintiffs case failed sufficient justification for overturning the city’s ordinance.

March 25, 2016. A three-judge panel of the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction preventing Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration from moving forward with the monuments’ removal until the court considers an appeal of the statues’ supporters.

April, 6, 2016. A proposed bill to create a new state agency with the authority to control removal of monuments was defeated by the Louisiana Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. The bill is expected to be re-introduced into the (friendlier) House of Representative.

May 23, 2016. City officials delay opening of bid process for removal of monuments until all appeals to prevent their removal have played out through the courts.

Week of July 5-8, 2016. “A new federal lawsuit seeking to block the removal of monuments to Confederate officials in New Orleans argues that the city unfairly discriminated against a Tulane U. professor by not seriously considering his argument that…the Andrew Jackson statue in Jackson Square must go as well,” reports the New Orleans Advocate, July 12. The plaintiff, Richard Marksbury, claims that the Jackson statue meet the criteria of the ordinance used to order removal of the other statues, but his right as a registered voter in the city to bring a complaint against a statue (Jackson) was met with a lack of action and therefore violated the equal protection clause.

September 24, 2016. Protesters assembled at Congo Square in Armstrong Park and then walked to iconic Jackson Square. The purpose of the event was to take down the statue of Andrew Jackson. “Leaders of the Take ‘Em Down NOLA Coalition said Saturday’s march was meant to protest the lengthy delay in removing the four other monuments as well as to challenge the idea of honoring Jackson, a U.S. president and hero of the Battle of New Orleans but also a slave owner.” reported the New Orleans Advocate. Seven were arrested on minor misdemeanor charges. U. S. Senate candidate and former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke was on hand to offer the authorities assistance in protecting the integrity of the monument.

September 28, 2016. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals listened to arguments from groups hoping to stop removal of statues before the District Court hears the full case.

October 4, 2016. U. S. District Judge Carl Barbier through out a separate suit filed by Tulane professor Richard Marksbury calling for the necessity to remove the statue of Andrew Jackson if the other statues were to be removed. Marksbury’s suit challenged the city’s procedure for determining when statues should be removed from public display. Inasmuch as Marksbury didn’t want any of the monuments removed and wasn’t specifically calling for the removal of Jackson’s, the called his lawsuit “a truly empty gesture.”

March 6, 2017. A panel of three judges at the U. S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city administrators that there was no legal obstacle for the city to remove and relocate three monuments on public property as mandated by a city council edict. This was likely the last recourse for groups opposing the removal. The early report from the New Orleans Advocate can be read here.

March 27, 2017. A bill was filed in the Louisiana House of Representative by Shreveport congressman Thomas Carmody (R). The bill would place all historic monuments under the jurisdiction of the state, and removing them would require the approval of voters.

April 4, 2017. Only one bid was submitted to the city by the deadline for the contract to remove the four monuments slated for removal. The bid was for $600,00., well over the estimates/private donations to the city for the project.

April 12, 2017. White supremacist and part-time political office seeker David Duke tweets out the name of the bidder, who subsequently received threats.

April 24, 2017. A crew began dismantling and loading the Battle of Liberty Place monument on a flatbed trailer at about 2 a.m. Monday morning. NOPD was on hand, and had several snipers positioned in case of an armed resistance from protestors or the possibility of opposing snipers. Supporters and opponents were on hand, but no physical confrontation ensued. Crew members wore tactical vests, helmets, and scarfed their faces. See it go:

May 2, 2017The New Orleans Police Department placed barricades around the Jefferson Davis Monument after a confrontation between pro- and anti-removal factions had a tense standoff, leading to the arrest of five arrests. “monument supporters have gathered near the the Davis every night since April 24, when city workers and contractors dismantled the Battle of Liberty Place monument at the foot of Iberville Street before dawn,” reported the New Orleans Advocate.

May 3, 2017. A bill requiring voter approval of any action to remove Confederate or other historical monuments in Louisiana was approved in committee and now heads to the full House in the legislature. It is not clear whether there would be time to prevent the removal now planned even if this bill approved, including Senate approval, and the signature of Governor John Bel Edwards.

May 7, 2017. The organizing group Take ’em Down NOLA lead a march of about 500 from Congo Square in Armstrong Park to Lee Circle, where the statue of R. E. Lee stands on a 60-foot pedestal. A group of about 100 representing opposition to the removal. Aside from a few minor scuffles and some heated verbal discussions, major violence was avoided. Another demonstration of about 30-40 was held at the Jefferson Davis monument in Mid-City. Nola.com has posted some video highlights

May 8, 2017. Richard Marksbury, of the Monumental Task Committee, filed a request for a temporary restraining order in Orleans Civil District Court to prevent the removal of the P. G. T. Beauregard statue at the entrance to City Park, claiming that the property is under the jurisdiction of the state, and an approval from the Lieutenant Governor is needed before it can be taken down. Marksbury’s last suit was ruled as “a truly empty gesture”. Today’s request was later denied by Judge Kern Reese, using the “Denied” stamp four times across the front of the request. A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday (5/10).

May 11, 2017. Crews began removing the statue of Jefferson Davis at around 3:00 a.m. Opposing groups expressed their approval and objections with cheers and hoots and howls, but no incidents of violence were noted. The statue was lifted with large straps and a crane with relative ease and swiftness, but the two pedestals proved to be more difficult, apparently cemented together or joined by steel reinforcing material. More details and videos from the New Orleans Advocate.

May 17, 2017. The statue of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was lifted from its large base at the entrance to City Park on Wednesday morning. The work began as early as 3 a.m., but the removal wasn’t complete until about 7 hours later. Two men were later arrested for spray painting “Gen. Beauregard CSA” on the remaining base and charged with vandalizing public property. Again there were no incidents of violence between the factions representing either side of the issue. Lt. Gov. Nungesser is said to have reached out to Mayor Landrieu to begin the planning stages of placing the monuments in a facility designed to house and showcase the  permanently. One offer came from the curator of Beauvoir, the last home and Presidential library of Jefferson Davis in Biloxi, Mississippi.

May 19, 2017. Police began cordoning the entire circumference of the area and streets around Lee Circle and crews began moving electric lines used to power the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. An official announcement was made that the statue of Robert E. Lee, 16 feet tall and perched on a 60-foot column and erected in that place in 1884, would be removed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Friday (5/19). Mayor gave a stirring twenty-minute address on the subject of the the long process and the reasons for the action. A crowd of mostly pro-removal supporters held a vigil from the early Friday morning hours until the monument was removed. Workers appeared to struggle to loosen the statue from its base, using wrenches and hammers for an hour after wrapping Lee with blue straps that look like cloth sheeting. At 6:03 p.m. the deal was done, and Robert E. Lee, with a tug from the crane, levitated above its base and was lowered to a waiting flatbed truck.

The End

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(1) Chris Hedges, “Celebrating Slaughter: War and Collective Amnesia,” Truthdig, October 5, 2009,

(2) RationalWiki, s. v. “Lost Cause of the South,” last updated July 16, 2015

Trump’s Trashing Bares His Party’s Flaws

Republicans, fashioned from fiercely independent, self-sufficient, frontiersman ilk, have always eschewed  political correctness —from the Urban Dictionary, 2nd definition: “n. An inverted fascist philosophy that absolutely no-one should conform to unless they are an ignorant, bleeding-heart liberal idiot.”

Is it any wonder any fiercely independent, self-sufficient Republican fellow would break a leg to avoid getting anywhere near the appearance of being politically correct? Telling it like it is can be the only way to truth, truth which should not be clipped, truncated, or parsed of inconvenient nastiness or cruddy reality.

This axiom holds Republican office seekers to an even higher standard of avoidance. Bowing to any pressure to be nice by biting one’s tongue is a clear sign of weakness.

This is, of course, a generalization, but a better case of it has never been so evident as in the current Republican crowd running for the nomination for President of their party in 2016. The irony is that The Donald Trump has made the technique of insult and defamation his latest construction project, and has brought the lowbrow trade of political  incorrectness to such an extreme level that it has become the issue itself, all other policies and platforms are mere asides: he leads in polls for no position or policy, the delivery and the style is the message, and he is heads above the others in the field of cussedness and bumptious narcissism. He’s the hardhat construction guy on a busy New York street catcalling the career women as they whisk by.

The rest of the contenders are now forced to do an about face on this thing they held in contempt for so long—but not for the reason you might think. You might think they know Trump has won this role, the part of the provocateur, and that no-one need even challenge him, that shtick is spoken for, taken. The Oscar has already been presented. They must retreat to the corner, tsking their indignation.

But his fellow contenders and their political backers and news collaborators real problem with his undiluted brand of “speaking the truth” is that he is exposing the bare bones results of the a government of corporatism that has rendered social and economic justice into a pipe dream of days past. This is their system too, one that they have been funded to promote but  they don’t like the jagged edges exposed, because they ultimately own them. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and a hubris of an American exceptionalism are now laid bare and celebrated by Trump before all who have the courage to look, while the unwritten rules had been to keep these injustices operating in a self-perpetuating but near silent mode are ditched in favor of the New Realism he brings to the debate. Stealth immigration by people seeking a better life became an “invasion” of undesirables, but let’s just quietly go about building a big wall, the others would say, as the money becomes available. Reproductive health care and personal decisions about family planning for women is slowly being turned into an issue of criminal rather than social importance, while legislative roadblocks to equal compensation for equal work are justified with the same illogical excuses that prop up opposition to minimum wage increases for the working poor. Comprehensive plans to deal with high unemployment and police thuggery in black and inner-city demographics are non existent. A system of for-profit incarceration has been set up to house other-worldly numbers of petty drug offenders, substance-dependent, or other mentally dysfunctional citizens, while at the same time padding the unemployment figures downward—you can’t apply for unemployment assistance if you are in jail.

On the international front, Trump has a plan to defeat ISIS—much the same as the Republicans have a plan to deal with Iran—and both being left unspoken, open for conjecture for the time being. That is because both involve war.

Trump’s apparent loyalty to only himself, and  his true commitment to the Republic ethos being questioned by his  refusal to support the eventual candidate of his party, along his previous life as a Democrat become another point of attack for his Republican opponents and right-leaning media. These realities—the in-your-face talk and party loyalty waffling— taken together turn out to be  ready-made red herrings, whether they realize this gift of circumstance or not. They have been given two fronts to challenge him on, and their true need to conceal the what-you-see-is-what-you-get society of massive inequalities in distributive and procedural justice is temporarily satisfied.

Donald Trump says he “doesn’t have time to be politically correct.” His adversaries may have bought a little more time for shoring up the house of cards that is the current state of the union, thanks to their newly-found political correctness.