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."

Friday, August 24, 2007


August 29th is the first day of classes at Tulane. It is also the second anniversary of when hurricane Katrina made landfall about 30 miles east of New Orleans. The widespread trope, spead hither and yon by featherweight 'journalists' like Anderson Cooper, is that this great 'natural disaster' occurred when the city was 'hit by a hurricane.'

This is bullshit.

The city was missed by a hurricane. We were hit with not the 'greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States,' as Cooper and the rest of the sob-sister tabloid pack would have it. The city of New Orleans suffered the greatest engineering failure in the history of the Army Corps of Engineers when their faultily designed and constructed floodwalls collapsed during what was, by the time it reached New Orleans after plowing through approximately 100 miles of marshland (this is absolutely NOT a 'coastal city') a strong category one, or, at worst, a weak category two hurricane. The floodwalls were engineered to a category three level of protection. This is not just my opinion. It is also the conclusion of the Corps own report, as well as those of three other independant engineering firms. It's why many people here don't call it "Hurricane Katrina" when they speak of this disaster. They call it "The Federal Flood."

The feds designed and built those cheesy little floodwalls. It was their baby all the way. And they did it for the worst of all possible reasons; to save money. To built a levee (as opposed to a floodwall) requires a lot of space, because the structure must have four feet of width for every foot of height. The Mississippi River levees, which did not fail, were built this way by the French in the 18th century. The floodwalls that broke like a cheap watch were built by the Corps after hurricane Betsy in 1965, and were touted at the time as modern engineering miracles. They were cheap miracles as well, because the feds didn't have to buy up a big swath of adjoining land, just sink sheet pilings on a narrow little strip. Real 'space age' stuff. People used to take out of town guests out to the floodwalls and canals to show them off. Homebuyers were told by their mortgage holders that flood insurance was unneccessary; they were on a federally protected floodplane.

Now that the shit has hit the fan, of course, it's all our fault. Our corrupt politicians 'squandered the money for levees on other things.' Never mind that federal water project funding is not fungible, and must be spent for it's assigned purpose. Or that 'corrupt local levee boards who failed to maintain the levees' faced an impossible task. It is not possible to 'maintain' a faultily designed structure up to code. But these are all accusations which are thrown at us now, along with questions about where "all that money" that was sent down here has gone. The answer is that most of it still hasn't arrived, and that which has arrived has so many strings attatched (like the demand that the local municipalities pay ten percent, or, in some cases, 100 percent, and be "reimbursed" after the fact) that it may as well not have arrived at all.

The nitpicking and hostility though, is almost preferrable to the indifference. In most of world, we're out of the news cycle now. People either assume that 'everything is back to normal' or that the town's empty. Like most things though, it's more complicated than that.

Rents are high (getting 80% of your housing stock flooded will do that), but wages are still low, creating a huge service industry labor shortage. Property taxes are going up by 30% or more (having 80% of your housing stock etc.) so rents, of course, are due for further increases as landlords pass costs (including hugely inflated insurance costs) on to tenents. The local power company (Entergy) is bankrupt (losing 80% of your customers will do that) and has increased rates, in some cases by several hundred percent, in order to bail itself out ( one month last winter my tab to heat a 1000 sq. foot house was $297. In the tropics). They'd requested a federal bailout, such as Con Ed received after 9/11, and were told to go Cheney themselves.

President Dumbass has just promised to veto a bipartisan Coastal Restoration bill. Too expensive, he says. So much for doing "whatever it takes."

Home Box Office re-ran Spike Lee's documentary "When the Levee Broke" last night. If you haven't seen it, please make every effort to do so. Darlene and I first saw it almost exactly a year ago, and it was interesting to see it again in light of subsequent events. There are quite a few people in it we know. And at least one (Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer Dinneral "Dick" Shavers, who was shot dead last December) who has since died. The film still has tremendous impact. Many people cry on camera. Darlene and I both cried watching it.

A recurring trope throughout is the notion that New Orleans, after the flood, ceased to be part of America. This was constantly reiterated by TV news anchors ("how can this be happening in America?" "This doesn't look like America. It looks like some Third World country"). I think, over the long haul, viewers internalized this, and decided that since a catastrophe such as this could not possibly happen in the United States, it in effect didn't happen in the United States, but in some corrupt shit-hole full of lazy negroes and welfare bums that had inexplicably attached itself to the geography of the good ole U.S. of A. and was now, mercifully, floating away, out of our collective conciousness and areas of concern. Those people couldn't possibly be Americans. Things like this can't and don't happen to real Americans. The possibility that they can and do is too disturbing, and must be driven from the mind.

Personally, I'm beginning to be okay with seceding from the union, if that's what they want. Because if we get to keep our royalties from the 20% of total oil production and the 30% of natural gas production that originates in the state of Louisiana (and that we've been getting screwed royally on) we'd be like Saudi Arabia; a bunch of coon-ass, ghetto sheiks driving Bentleys. Over a third of shellfish/seafood production happens here, and the city of New Orleans is the nation's third largest port (that's why it is where it is,dumbasses, so you can shut up with the "you people need to move the city to higher ground" stuff anytime). We'd be stinkin rich and wouldn't need any more 'handouts.'

Of course the present administration in the White House is very big on 'personal responsibility.' They like to lecture the rest of us on it all the time, although I've noticed they very rarely take on any themselves. Still it seems to me that if the feds, through the agency of the Army Corps of Engineers (a federal entity) are responsible for this mess, then they ought to clean it up. You broke it, you fix it. Until that happens, I'd prefer not to hear any more noise from President Pissypants about that Coastal Restoration bill being "too much money." He can go fuck himself.

With a chainsaw.


Comments on "Katrina"


Blogger Steve Bagnell said ... (12:16 AM) : 

President Pissypants?

Hey, I saw him on TV today visiting a nice shiny new school in the Ninth Ward, saying it was a pretty good day today, and that today was better than yesterday. So everything's OK down there. Right?

I can believe him - he's the President. Right?

Yeah, right.


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