Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


By now I hope you’ve all seen Spike Lee’s documentary on the Great Flood. I haven’t. We don’t get HBO. Hell, we don’t even have cable. We get one snowy channel over the aerial and it’s a Fox affiliate so we almost never watch it.

I have read some reviews though, and two things jumped out at me. One was a local Times Picayune reporter who had his panties in a bunch because there weren’t enough white people in it. There’s a trope going around these days that this was an ‘equal opportunity flood,’ that both whites and blacks were affected, and that by insinuating that blacks suffered in disproportionate numbers compared to whites Lee, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and others are ‘playing the race card’ (this is conservative-speak for ‘pointing out obvious and existing race-based disparities that make us look bad’).

It’s true that white people were affected. My bass player buddy Jim Markway lost everything but two upright basses. I also know a number of middle class folks who lived in Lakeview who were flooded out. One couple now live in Alabama. They both have jobs, and recently purchased a fine new house. Meanwhile most lower 9 residents are still sitting, god knows where, without a pot to piss in. This is a year later.

The second thing I noticed was Lee’s ‘failure to refute’ the notion held by some black New Orleanians that the government deliberately dynamited the levees to flood them out. This is seen by some white commentators as evidence of persistent paranoia in the black community (the same rumors circulated after Hurricane Betsy flooded the 9th ward in 1965). I hope Lee has included the fact that those rumors in ’65 were a result of the well documented fact that the city fathers of New Orleans (with the collusion of the federal government) actually did dynamite the levees in 1927 to prevent flooding further upstream. The resulting flood decimated the areas of what is now the lower 9th ward and St.Bernard parish. No one knows how many people died as a result, because dead Cajun trappers and people of color were not considered worthy of enumeration in those days.

Meanwhile, back here in the supposedly enlightened 21st century, we’re coming up on another significant date besides the one year anniversary of Katrina, and that is the running out of the statute of limitations for suing one’s insurance company. Many people are choosing not to do this, since the chances of a private citizen prevailing against a huge corporation with vast legal resources are Slim and None. And Slim is out of town. Playing devil’s advocate with a friend of mine who is still trying to get his insurance company (Allstate) to approve funds to repair his roof before wind and rain from the current hurricane season damage it even further, I suggested that these companies have huge exposure in this event, and may be fighting for their continued viability. He pointed out that Allstate posted record profits this year. They’ve been using the example of Katrina in their television ad campaigns all over America to persuade people to buy additional coverage. In Lee’s film, there is a man who paid insurance on his modest home for 50 years. He has received nothing. This scenario is being played out thousands of times across this city.

One last thing. In my travels people sometimes express surprise to me at the slow pace of rebuilding here. Some of the more uncharitable ones even suggest that we ‘need to help ourselves’ and wonder what we’ve done with ‘all that money the government sent down there.’

For the record, that money is still hung up in congress. Except for federally mandated emergency relief funds which the government is legally obligated to pay out in any disaster (and which the Bush administration likes to fold into it’s larger totals to make itself appear more beneficent), the feds have sent us, so far, not one fucking cent. The work you see here is being done by people on their own dime, through private funds, church groups, and plain old sweat equity. The initial cleanup work, rather than being offered to displaced New Orleanians, many of whom would have been delighted to come home and help, was instead given in no-bid contracts to four well connected companies who brought in foreign (mostly Latino) workers on guest worker visas. It appears now that many of these workers have been paid nothing, or only pennies on the dollar.

One can only hope there is a special place in hell for these people, since, with the present administration in Washington securely in place until at least 2008, there is little chance of their being brought to account in this life.



Blogger Haze Ablaze said ... (11:11 AM) : 

I hope Lee has included the fact that those rumors in ’65 were a result of the well documented fact that the city fathers of New Orleans (with the collusion of the federal government) actually did dynamite the levees in 1927 to prevent flooding further upstream.

He most certainly did!

I'm almost surprised at how surprised I was regarding how insipid that Times Picayune review was. Gawd.


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