Sunday, July 30, 2006

Red Dots for the UNOP

I just got back from the Unified New Orleans Plan Meeting. I'm glad I went because now I better understand the Herculean task that we're up against. This UNOP was formed basically to get federal funds into the city. The Louisiana Recovery Authority on the state level won't give New Orleans the federal money until we have a single city-wide recovery and rebuilding plan. That won't be easy. Today we were divided up into our districts. I believe there are 13 districts. The ultimate goal of the UNOP is to come up with one city-wide plan, as well as a plan for each of the 13 districts. But today's meeting was poorly planned. I believe they predicted about 150 people to attend, but there were more likely 1,000. The meeting started with the majority of people still in line. One of the bottlenecks was that people were asked to put a red dot on a large map representing where they lived. Then once inside, there were chairs for about 1/10th of the people. Most went home right away. I think my district, planning district 4, had the most people in attendance, but it also faces some of the biggest problems. We are a very diverse group, with neighborhoods like the Treme, Seventh Ward, Fauberg St John, and my neighborhood Mid-City. Before we could discuss serious business, we also had to put another red dot on another map showing where we lived. Here is our map:
Notice the dots show that at least three people are living in City Park. Our district's facilitator for the UNOP, Carlos, even had a red dot stuck to his glasses, as you can that see here:
Here is another picture of Carlos, he's "facilitating" with a lady named Jean(?) behind him.
Jean spoke to us like we had the IQ of a five-year-old. In the end we were basically told that we wanted one overall district planner. That's not what I wanted. Then we're actually supposed to vote on the planner in 48 hours after they make a 10 minute presentation Tuesday. This is one of the most important decisions in the history of New Orleans, and I feel like we're being manipulated. Very few people who live in New Orleans will actually have a voice in who we choose to be our planners. I've got to do quite a bit of research on these planners before Tuesday.

For further depression, read Becky Houtman's history of the UNOP, and Schroeder's "Res ipsa loquitur."
Also, check out Mark Folse's image of the convoluted recovery process. It's brilliant.

Later Note:Alan Gutierrez explains the inherent problems in the UNOP's voting system.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Chicken Mummy

As part of my Religions of the Ancient Near East course at Xavier, I have students make mummies. Some made mummies out of fish, some from onions and potatoes. My mummy was from a chicken. Here it is in process:
We pack them in salt at the beginning of the semester, and at the end we wrap them in linen dipped in a flour/water/glue mixture. I had two chicken mummies from before when I taught the class, only they were Katrina flood water victims.

Eleven Months Since Katrina

Today marks 11 months since Katrina. Things are happening to rebuild New Orleans, but damn it has been slow, confusing, and frustrating. In late June some relief workers who had been working on the December 2004 Asian Tsunami relief effort toured New Orleans and were shocked that so little had been done. They concluded that in Third World countries such as Indonesia, the people weren't hindered by government agencies and the insurance industry. Unlike my situation, they didn't need to wait on court cases against Allstate or government relief funds to clear federal, state, and city hurdles. Once the water left they started rebuilding. Not so here. On a larger scale, I've been very active in the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization as we try to have input from those of us who live here on just what our rebuilt neighborhood will look like. I've focused my energies on ensuring that we have great public schools, free wifi, and a state of the art neighborhood library. Others are working on bike paths, public transportation, economic development, zoning, governance, and several other important issues. It's been nice to see so many of my neighbors fighting for a better New Orleans. We only get one chance at this. However, some experts are sounding alarms. John McIlwain, the senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute, says that New Orleans lacks leadership from Mayor Ray Nagin and the City Council. He said we have to have a leader willing to make some tough and unpopular decisions. According to McIlwain, "You still have a chance to pull it together, but you won't have that chance for much longer. Over the next few months, the money is going to go out faster than the planning. There is no organization." Elections in April and May certainly slowed the process. In my opinion, I have been happy with the work of the new city council. I think their heart is in the right place, though they need to learn the ropes in a hurry. But Nagin has been missing in action. So in many ways it is crunch time. We'll have tons of media attention for the one year anniversary of Katrina. A bunch more when the Saints reinaugurate the Superdome September 25th. But then I fear we'll fade away from national attention, and we'd better have a clear plan at that point.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

FEMA Trailers

Today for amusement I called FEMA to ask how they're coming on our FEMA trailer. They said they noticed that we applied for one back in September 2005, and that we should have one in about two to four months. Honestly it's not an emergency, and we're doing fine living upstairs in our racked house as we wait on Allstate. We'll need a place to live after we finish with Allstate, when we finally get to start repairing our house. I don't think we could afford to keep paying our mortgage and also to pay for an apartment's rent. Plus, most apartments wouldn't take our dogs. So hopefully someday soon our own trailer will show up. Our children feel like they are missing out on the whole Katrina experience without a FEMA trailer, as all of their friends have one.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why Allstate Stock Is A Wise Investment

About a month ago we filed a complaint against Allstate with the Insurance Commissioner in Louisiana. I read today that we are but one out of 1,287 policy holders in Louisiana who haved filed a hurricane-related consumer complaint against Allstate. Allstate has had more complaints than any other insurer. They are the state's second largest insurer with just over 20 percent of the policies, Statefarm is the largest with about 32%. Allstate recently reported $1.2 billion for second-quarter profit. Allstate's Chief Executive Edward M. Liddy said it was a strong year, and that "we are growing our business and generating strong profitability while at the same time we are managing down our exposure to catastrophes in the lines of business and areas of the country where the risk is the greatest." So buy stock in Allstate if your goal in life is to make money at any cost. Suprisingly, at about $57 per share, it is more affordible than 30 pieces of silver. And they've got quite a racket going for them. They get fools like me to pay them money every month for several years thinking I am insuring my house against wind and flood damage, and then after the largest natural disastor in this nation's history, they don't pay us. Instead, they pay some hack engineers to say it wasn't windy enough during Katrina to make a house lean. And when it goes to court, Allstate will be able to claim they were simply relying on the opinion of "experts" and won't be directly liable. And now Allstate has threatened to pull out of Louisiana if they are not able to drop coverabe for 30,000 homeowners who they feel are too much risk. That would leave 220,000 homes without insurance. I had hoped that Katrina would have woken us up, and we would finally realize that our society needs more of a measure than just profit alone.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


I'm morally opposed to war. In fact, I can't think of a single situation in which I would favor such a horrible thing. I'm ashamed of the United States for invading Iraq and Afghanistan. And with recent developments involving Israel and Hezbollah, as the world spirals towards WW III, I don't understand why the U.S. doesn't support an immediate cease fire in the region. It is my opinion that the United States not maintaining a more balanced approach to the Middle East is a root of major problems in the world today.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Medical Murders and Arresting Developments

Yesterday the Louisiana Attorney General, Charles Foti, arrested a doctor and two nurses charging them with injecting lethal doses of painkiller to four geriatric patients three days after the levees broke. Charles Foti kept repeating in his news conference “This is not euthanasia; this is plain and simple homicide." You can read more about the case in the NYT or Times-Picayune. This is not really a surprise, as back in mid-September Mr. Foti stated he would be investigating the deaths of 45 people at Memorial Medical Center, which is where the accused worked.

In the immediate days following Katrina, I was only directly responsible for the well-being of my two dogs, my daughter’s sugar-glider, four finches, and myself. Today I am happy to report with confidence that despite some deep and haunting memories, we're all doing fine. Except for the finches. I let them go before evacuating my house. I hope they are well. After New Orleans flooded it was way beyond miserable. It was nearly 100 degrees every day, and the nights were hot as well. There was little communication, and even less civic order. On my radio I heard many frantic phone calls from doctors, nurses, and volunteers at medical facilities who were crying from the stress and frustration. I cried as well. Thugs were robbing their pharmaceuticals. Their generators weren’t working, and hundreds of patients were dying while government officials were holding news conferences congratulating themselves on how republicans and democrats were working together. The frantic callers didn't understand why their critical-care patients weren't being rescued, or why new supplies of medicine, oxygen, and fuel for their generators weren't being delivered. People with relatives in hospitals and nursing homes called in as well and begged for someone to help their loved ones. Even if they personally wanted to rescue them they were not being allowed into the city. It seemed everyone thought the hospitals would be evacuated immediately if something like this happened. Memorial Medical Center wasn’t evacuated until four days after the levees broke, one day after the alleged lethal injections.

I used to work at several nursing homes and hospitals, and I think that the medical caregivers who stayed behind to look after patients are real heroes. I also know several doctors and nurses who fought their way into the city to help people. Along the way, they met quite a bit of resistance from government agencies. Perhaps Foti should arrest himself. Or he should arrest all of the FEMA and law enforcement workers who cancelled rescue efforts and refused to enter New Orleans because of a rumor that a young African American man was firing a stolen gun at helicopters. For example, Scott Delacroix is a surgeon who helped countless in New Orleans, many at the Causeway Concentration Camp where I spent a few hours, and his story about the difficulties he faced in trying to help people is a must read (you have to register, or use login: mmhoman, password: Katrina). Or there is the case of the Pennsylvania orthopedic physician, Mark Perlmutter, who was ordered by a FEMA official to stop giving CPR at a makeshift triage center set up at the airport. Why? Because he wasn’t registered with FEMA. Dr. Perlmutter thinks he could have saved several lives if he would have been allowed to do his heroic volunteer work. Charles Foti could arrest the Army Corps of Engineers, who are responsible for the deaths of more than 1000 people. He could arrest the Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson who ordered his troops to stop evacuees from crossing a bridge out of the hell that was New Orleans in anarchy. While Foti is at it, he might arrest President Bush, because for the first time in his presidency, he took responsibility and said that he accepted blame for the Federal Goverment’s failure in the Katrina response. I personally see the arrest of these three medical workers as a charade meant to divert attention from the more important issues.

And if you would like to see some of these same dead bodies that I witnessed in the days following the break of the levees, you can see these graphic photos of the deceased here and here. I think about these poor people and their loved ones every day.

**Later note: Read the post by Adrastos on this topic and the comments, especially by Dangerblond.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Holy Grass & Unholy Sod

In 1987 Pope John Paul II visited Xavier University and from a balcony in the back of the Administration Building he addressed all the presidents of Catholic Colleges in the U.S.
Xavier was justifiably proud of that moment. But over time, the grassy area on which the people sat while being addressed by the Pope grew in cultic status. One day someone decided that the grass in that courtyard was "holy." Every Xavier student since then can retell with a smile about how at least one point in their tenure as a Xavier student that a nun yelled at them to "get off the holy grass!" We could only look at this grass and admire it, as walking on it was not only impolite, but blasphemous. After Katrina this holy grass was in pretty good shape. Maybe God or the recently deceased Pope spent their days making sure the holy grass survived, but I sort of doubt it. But then, as part of a major resodding program, some tractors dug up all the grass on campus, including the holy grass. This is what it looks like today.
So all of this raises some serious theological questions. We know that sacred space in the ancient Near East was recycled. But will the new grass that comes from presumably unholy sod fields absorb the holiness that made the pre-Katrina grass so sacred? Will students be able to walk on this new grass, even walk on it with shoes while listening to i-pods, and if so, when? Certainly this raises more questions than it answers, but I sure wish they had left the holy grass alone. I feel like if any plant survived Katrina, it ought not to be dug up, but instead, be welcomed, appreciated, and admired.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Possible Chee Wee Hairstyle Puts Me in Danger

Sheriff Strain in nearby St. Tammany Parish recently said "I don't want to get into calling people names, but if you're going to walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy." Oh shit! I don't know what a chee wee hairstyle is, and what if I have one and wind up in St. Tammany Parish? I don't want to go to jail for having a criminally orientated haircut. I thought I'd ask my students, as they're pretty hip, or at least pretend to be. But they didn't know either. They said "Dr Homan, you would have to spend quite a bit of time in the sun before you'd be in danger in St. Tammany." But I'm still afraid. So I'm asking you, internet world, please tell me if I have a chee wee hairstyle and if so, what can I do to make it less threatening to the sheriff in St. Tammany Parish.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Allstate Battle Continues

Some of my friends are quite a bit further ahead of us in the rebuilding process, and sure I'm jealous. After we cleaned our house extensively in October, we've done virtually nothing construction wise to move forward. That's because we can't even gut our house until the structural issues are addressed. Essentially we need to straighten our leaning house out before we can do anything else. Someday soon, we hope, we will be able to gut our house, replace all the walls, wires, plumbing, and all of the other stuff necessary to rebuild. But for now we're still waiting on Allstate. We can't straighten the house until we settle with them, as our leaning house is our best evidence. We're not waiting passively though. We hired the attorney Greg DiLeo to represent our wind damage claim. He said we have the best case of bad faith that he has yet seen. It's not because of the horrible report filed by the Haag engineers hired by Allstate. Mr. DiLeo said that Allstate won't be liable for that. But we did file a proof of loss back in December for wind damage, and we were insured for both wind and flood with Allstate. "They can't have it both ways" said our lawyer. They will have to total your house for either wind or flood. Also, the senate bill for which I testified, Murray's SB 620 passed and was signed by our governor into a law last Friday. It becomes effective August 15th. That means there will be many many claims filed after August 15th and before the August 28th deadline to file. Specifically, this statute provides for increased penalties of 50%, and an award of attorney's fees if the insurance company is deemed to have been arbitrary, capricious, or without probable cause in either denying or delaying payment on an insured's claim. That is us in a nutshell. Another bill (Morrell's) passed that allows a one-year extension of the statute of limitations. The question still remains, though, as to whether this will be judged to be constitutional. I'm not taking any chances, and will make sure we file our suit before the one-year deadline. We're also finishing up a supplemental claim for flood that we'll submit as another proof of loss. Then, this Friday, we meet with the folks from Louisiana Road Home in Baton Rouge to discuss our house. Oh how the fun keeps on comin'

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

America, Social Studies, and New Orleans

On Friday, August 26th, 2005, Miss Perlik wrote the following on the board at Dibert Elementary School here in New Orleans:
This school, like much of New Orleans, has been virtually untouched since Katrina. It makes me think about how archaeologists love destruction because it freezes a moment in time. It also makes me think about what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, and I wonder if Miss Perlik was teaching today at Dibert, would she still write that New Orleans is part of the United States of America? Just sharing my depression on the 4th of July.