Monday, November 20, 2006

The Speech

Sometimes you just need The Speech. Today is one of those days for me. What in the hell is the Speech? What am I talking about? I'm actually referencing a scene from a T.V. show that has been off the air for a few years. The program, "The Practice" was on the air for a few years ( In the last scene of a specific episode, one of the characters, a male Assistant D.A., looks at a coworker after a particularly bad day and says, "Helen I need the speech." Helen looks at this man and explains, with a passion and power derived from Hollywood writers, exactly why they are doing their work, why their given profession is so important to the fabric of society. Today is one of those days for me.

I'm a Special Education Teacher, and some days are more difficult than others. This year as a whole has been wonderful, but the last few days have been rough. I'm certain that I can speak for many people when I ask, “Why am I doing this?"

I went in search of the answer from a coworker and almost had to laugh. As I approached, she was nice enough to wave me into her room. She greeted me, and then I noticed what she was doing. In her hands was one of the most thoroughly filled out student discipline reports I'd ever seen. Student Discipline reports are filled out when the student in question is so unruly that security must be requested. Unfortunately, I am well acquainted with the student in question. Realizing that she had her hands full, I wished her a good weekend and went on my way.

I've now decided that I will abide by the old maxim "Physician Heal Thyself". I am going to devote the rest of this post to giving the Speech to myself, as well as anyone else who happens upon it. The question before me is, why do I do this job? In a more universal way, why do we do the jobs we do each and everyday to the best of our God-given ability?

I do this job, and today it feels a heckuva lot more like a job than a profession, because it is a good job. I'm making the world around me better. I can honestly say that the students I work with are better off for having me as a teacher. They are also much better served within this school setting than if they were on the street, not getting educated at all. (It has already been determined that they are not suited for a regular classroom.) When I was worked in programming, I got pleasure from solving the problems that arose in coding. When I worked in the service industry, I got satisfaction when a customer returned and asked for me. Knowing that my students are better off for having worked with me, that is why I do what I do

Teacher salaries are not very good, but then again, teachers know that going in. However, working with at risk youth gives me other rewards. Showing someone the importance of staying off the street is important. When the student accepts this, I’ve made a difference. Helping the generations behind me work their way out of hopelessness and build self-esteem that will help them make better choices, that is what I do what I do.

Showing a student how to take the steps necessary to go on to Community College, or even just get a G.E.D., rather than dropping out of school, helps them. If these students gain enough skills and self-esteem to stay off the streets and out of trouble, I am not only helping them, I am helping myself.

A bonus of my profession is that it gives me interesting stories to bring home to my family, because my days are rarely boring, and it gives me lots of vacation time to share with them.

For myself, I was raised with a need to make the world a better place than when I found it. --- This job definitely does that, even if it is on a very small scale. I am able to feed my family, and know that the job I do is important and honorable (even if you take an oath of poverty).

I feel a bit better now....

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Whatever happened to Whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans

What the @#$% happpened to "Whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans"? I guess it goes along with the "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. Does George Bush have a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder?

Below you will find an editorial from the Times Picayune about the Army Corps of Engineers lack of progress rebuilding the levees....

EDITORIAL: Naked levees

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The need to armor levees and floodwalls is an obvious lesson from Hurricane Katrina: every examination of the levee failures -- including the Army Corps of Engineers' -- recognized the role that scouring played in their demise.

In fact, the corps' Interagency Performance Task Force said that overtopping and erosion caused all but four of the 50 major breaches in the flood protection system.

Unfortunately, understanding doesn't guarantee action. The corps did armor some damaged areas after the storm, but it scaled back an initial request for armoring from $600 million to $170 million -- at the Bush administration's request. The larger amount would have armored most of the 360-mile levee system, but now there's only enough money to armor those areas deemed most vulnerable.

Only two levees -- a section in eastern New Orleans and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet -- made the list. And they won't be protected anytime soon: According to the corps' schedule, armoring won't be complete until the start of hurricane season 2010.

That's too little, too late. The corps is gambling that we won't be hit by another major storm for three more years -- a reckless position to take in the midst of a more active storm cycle. This year's uneventful season was the exception, not the rule.

The corps also is making the dangerous assumption that it doesn't need to armor levees that made it through Katrina undamaged, even though their survival might have more to do with the fact that they weren't hit with Katrina's worst surge and wave action.

Louisiana State University hurricane expert Ivor van Heerden and engineering professor Robert Bea, who studied the levee failures for the University of California-Berkeley and the National Science Foundation, say that the armoring plans are inadequate and show that the corps doesn't have a sense of urgency.

That's a valid criticism. The corps sees armoring as part of work to raise and strengthen the flood protection system. "You don't want to armor now and have to rip it out when it's time to raise the levees," a corps official said, arguing that the agency is trying to make the best use of its money.

That's a horrifying argument from an agency whose lack of foresight and competence caused a deadly and costly catastrophe. Leaving people and property at risk is not good economics. Neither is rebuilding levees that could be washed away if they're overtopped.

"The bottom line is, New Orleans is unsafe, and the Mr-GO levees are unprotected, as are the Lake Pontchartrain levees," Dr. van Heerden said. He and Dr. Bea both say it would be more prudent to move quickly to armor the front and back sides of all levees that are exposed to the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain.

There are several ways to do that on a temporary basis while the corps works on its final plan, Dr. van Heerden said. For example, the corps could spray a temporary layer of blacktop on the MR-GO levee, which already has gullies worn into it from erosion.

That's what the corps needs to do, instead of falling back on the excuse that the job and the bureaucratic process are complex. Some things -- like the importance of armoring levees -- are really pretty simple.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Here is a great article from The Nation

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This article can be found on the web at

Don't Mourn, Link


[from the September 18, 2006 issue]

By the first week of September 2005, New Orleans was in effect a virtual city. Most phones, cell and otherwise, were useless; only e-mails brought news to and from evacuees. Instead of neighborhoods, there were neighborhood forums on the Times-Picayune's website, for those trying to locate relatives and friends.

By then, activists had also discovered that the Internet was the only way to send and receive reliable information about what was happening on the ground in New Orleans. First-person accounts of the flood and its aftermath began circulating widely, including "This is Criminal," written by former Black Panther Malik Rahim, as well as a detailed account of a blockade that prevented New Orleanians from crossing to safety over a Mississippi River bridge, first posted by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky on the Socialist Worker website.

A year later, the Internet remains a crucial link in the effort to rebuild New Orleans and its communities. "The Internet is now used like a telephone tree," says Greg Peters, a Lafayette, Louisiana-based cartoonist and blogger who last fall helped evacuees access computers in that city's Cajundome shelter. "When someone finds out about some hastily called planning meeting, they alert everyone through the blogs and get a crowd there to see what's going on."

After posting "This is Criminal," Rahim relied on the Internet to raise funds and contact volunteers for the new Common Ground Collective, a community-based relief organization. Greg Griffith now works as legal liaison for the Common Ground Health Clinic; he recalls how he had just started fall classes at Kent State University in Ohio when he learned about Common Ground. He withdrew from his classes and went to New Orleans. "The good stuff, the grassroots efforts, you had to learn about online," he recalls.

New Orleanian Sandy Rosenthal was living in Lafayette, Louisiana, after evacuating from New Orleans when she founded the organization; her 15-year-old son acted as webmaster. This summer used e-mail alerts to generate more than 9,000 letters urging Congress to acknowledge that massive engineering mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers led to the flooding of New Orleans.'s campaigns played a significant role in the recent passing of the Feingold-McCain amendment to the Water Resources Development Act of 2006, which created an independent peer-review process for Army Corps projects. "When we started, I wasn't in my home, and all I had was a computer and a cell phone. The Internet was the only way we could have done what we did," Rosenthal says.

One year after Katrina, more than a hundred local blogs now provide on-the-ground reports, photos and videos from New Orleans. Many are written by bloggers who go online in the off hours between gutting their houses and fighting with their insurance adjusters. Most bloggers say their primary duty is to counter prevailing myths: that the flood was a natural disaster, not an engineering debacle; that the city lies so far below sea level that it's not worth rebuilding; that people in New Orleans are now doing just fine and have adequate federal assistance.

"G Bitch," who blogs anonymously, is one of the few African-American bloggers in the city. "Just by looking at the flood patterns, I knew there were few people in the black middle class in New Orleans who could go online at that time," says the New Orleans native and college composition teacher, who started her blog in January 2006, and who says she doesn't want to reveal her identity publicly because she sometimes writes about her employer. "It's important to keep reminding the nurses, the teachers, the social workers and everyone else who is scattered that they are important and that they have a right to a place in the city."

For the Katrina anniversary, Mark Moseley, who posts on his own "Your Right Hand Thief" blog, helped organize a first-ever conference for New Orleans bloggers. The Rising Tide Conference ( took place August 25-27 at local sites, including the New Orleans Yacht Club, a once-flooded facility chosen in part because it was a contact point for evacuees during the disaster. A day of panels was followed by a day of salvage recovery work that brought bloggers together with the Arabi Wrecking Krewe, which guts houses for members of the local music community. The work in the mold-infested structure gave conference participants a chance to "smell it, feel it, taste it," says Moseley, who hopes the conference will help deepen connections among bloggers, as well as between bloggers and direct-action groups. "There was too much content--literally too many life-and-death issues--to let this anniversary go by," Moseley says.

Speakers at Rising Tide included Morwen Madrigal, who explained how she used her "Gentilly Girl" blog and a neighborhood e-list to help form the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, a twenty-two-neighborhood group that advocates for the mixed-income, mixed-race Gentilly neighborhood in the city-planning process. For G Bitch, who also spoke at the conference, the next step is to find ways to make the Internet more inclusive. "There are populations in the city that aren't represented at all online," she says. "New Orleans is not monocultural; it never was and it can't work that way. There are a lot of people who aren't into the technology, but they still need to be heard."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Say Goodnight Gracie

The average voter does not appear to be buying into the party of Abramoff, Foley and Iraq. A good number of Democrats were voted in to create a counterweight to the power that President Bush has exhibited the past 6 years. In the words of Donald Rumsfeld "The American people eventually make the right decision". Hey Rummy I agree with you. By the way don't let the door hit you on the... well anyway.... President Bush has seemed a bit more conciliatory toward the Democrats in the past two days. He even said that he was more focused on the election than Rove was...Now Karl is someone who appears to have lost favor. The Democrats have won the House and the Senate, how did that happen? You can go to any number of websites and get the breakdown. Trust me I've seen them. Stats are a wonderful thing, the Republicans lost this demographic or that demographic; to me those details are irrelevant. The enduring Rovian Republican majority disappeared almost as quickly as the 1000 year Reich.

Let's focus on the important facts. My daughter Cassie went to bed when CNN announced that Nancy Pelosi was going to be the next Speaker of the House... I could swear Cassie looked at me and said, "I'm going to be the next Speaker, daddy". Whether that really happened or not is for you all to decide.

What changes can we expect? How will the minimum wage hike affect the economy? What will it take to implement the 9-11 commission proposals? Who is replacing Rumsfeld? What are Harry Reid's goals in the Senate? I will be examining each of these questions in detail over the coming weeks, for now we can just appreciate the victory and a bit of balance brought to the process of government. As I was watching the returns in the early morning yesterday, I was trying to frame my thoughts for this post. Is it Morning in America? Lee Atwater probably wouldn't agree. I'm hopeful for a Renaissance after 12 years of the Congressional Dark Ages. That still doesn't strike the right chord, though. It came to me after my 2nd Rummy and Coke, as Conrad Burns and George Allen were headed for defeat. I figure the Republican show is over. I expect Congresswoman Pelosi to be a long-term star in this new reality spin-off ... Survivor: Capitol Hill.