I just don’t know what to do with The Hate

For about two years, I’ve had a video clip of an ABC Nightline News broadcast on youtube.  It’s a segment from a show discussing violence in NOLA, and heavily features stories related to the murders of Helen Hill and Dinneral Shavers.  It’s personal, this event, and for New Orleans, it symbolized a larger political movement that continues now.  (I’ve written about these things here, here, here, here, and here.)

Every once in awhile a comment appears on the video and I get email notification of it.  The most usual comments have been from some guy who repeatedly wrote posts incriminating Paul in Helen’s murder — I have responded by deleting the comments and blocking the user.  After a few goes under two names, he stopped.  More recently, though, it’s turned into standard anti-NOLA crap.  The sort of comments you get from folks whose profile names are “LuvFOXNews”.  I’ve treated it like the others — like a nasty fly to swat away and forget.  But then another one showed up today.  And I guess I’ve started to have enough of the bullshit.  Maybe the ridiculousness around the responses to the President’s attempts at making our world better is pushing me over some edge or something, I don’t know.  But for whatever reason, I actually went to this person’s youtube page before deleting and blocking the comment, which was:

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chevyls1camaro has made a comment on ABC Nightline Jan 24th (New Orleans Violence):

Ummm well if you’re white and move into a black neighborhood especially with your TODDLER child you need your fucking head examined.

And it’ll probably be by the Coroner.

stupid stupid fucking people.

You can reply to this comment by visiting the comments page.

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Typical New Orleans hate.  Here’s chevylscamaro‘s youtube page.

I visited the page and found that NOLA hate, black hate, and just about any other kind of hate one can think of seems to be this person’s reason for joining youtube.  I dunno, hating others maybe this person’s reason for living.  I couldn’t think of anything to do with the information, except for sending it here, and writing about it.  I thought you all may have some constructive thoughts or suggestions.

Recovery and Rebirth
Violence

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Birthdays, Anniversaries… and NOLA-love surprises.

Cold Spaghetti is now five years old. My first post was written August 26th, 2004 — then on another site — and would move twice before ending up here in its own special domain.  I’m blushing as I admit this, but there is a lot of unfinished business on this site. One of my post-dissertation project-dreams is to re-vamp it, clean up old posts, set tags and labels, and properly archive everything in a cool kind of way (after all, it’s the closest I’m going get to cool).  That is how I’m getting through, you know… making all sorts of PLANS for what I’m allowed to do AFTER the dissertation.  Those AFTER plans?  They are BIG PLANS, let me tell you!  Life changing, earth-shaking plans!  In fact, I love to talk about the PLANS so much, that all the other stuff, like getting to AFTER, can fall to the wayside.  Oof.  If I’m going to make November, it may be time to raise the bar.  What do people do to finish a book, I wonder?  What drastic measure or extra-cool incentive helps others?  Should I deny myself chocolate or wear a chastity belt or something?   (Suggestions welcome.)

This week also marks the date of my inaugural post (granted, a cross-post, but a post nonetheless!) to NOLAFemmes — a website written by New Orleans women about New Orleans issues important to women. It’s a great site for information about local artists, events, and politics — and a good way to get an idea how the women of our city are healing our collective wounds, raising our future citizens, and carrying on life in this difficult, but beautiful place.

Most importantly, this week holds another anniversary in these parts. That of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. I don’t want to wax on about those pivotal events, only to say that we’re still here. The real work of recovery, of looking at our past and future and determining how to heal our inequalities, is just beginning. There is so much opportunity and hope; it is a really exciting time to be in New Orleans.

In honor of both events, I want to share the NOLA love. I’m hoping for comments from folks that read but haven’t commented before… just a lil’ shout out. I confess that since moving to coldspaghetti.org (two!) years ago, I haven’t been tracking traffic and I have no idea who is visiting or from where. (See, I wasn’t kidding about not being on top of the website.)

Make a comment here between now and September 1st — particularly if you’re new to coldspaghetti or never commented before — and I’ll send a NOLA-themed gift from a NOLA-based artist to one repeat commenter and one new commenter.  Selections will be made via random number and I’ll announce names on September 2nd.

Glasses raised to joie de vivre — no matter where you are!

Blogbits
Milestones
Recovery and Rebirth

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Thoughts on Rising Tide 4

I’m so glad Harry Shearer gets it.

He spoke compelling at today’s Rising Tide, poignantly describing the how New Orleans lost the media battle regarding the city’s story of Katrina, the Flood, and recovery.  He’s absolutely right, of course.  Read any article about New Orleans’ recovery and go to the comments; they are ripe with misinformation, sweeping falsehoods, and complete hatred towards this city and the people within it.  The reason it’s important for the people of New Orleans to continue to tell the story is because, somehow, the facts are still not understood: that this city was destroyed in a man-made disaster, a Flood that occurred when a Federally-funded agency failed to perform as it had been designed to perform because it was never built correctly.  And I can’t believe we still have to say this, again, but FOR THE LOVE, this city is NOT below sea level!  Can we move on now, please?

(See some video of Shearer’s speech here.)

A last minute cancellation resulted in my being a member of the Health in New Orleans panel (versus its moderator) — along with two well-known, established mental health professionals.  One is consistently named a Top Female Achiever in the City for her well-respected work with the police mental health crisis unit; the other, a psychiatrist and medical director for a large local non-profit.  I was an out-of-left-field addition to this group… I don’t have one primary affiliation with one organization, my scientific perspective is a bit different (public health), and I’ve spent nearly 4 years volunteering and researching how clients and health promoters navigate the waters of New Orleans social systems.

I wasn’t intimidated by the other panelists, but I definitely wanted to take the conversation to other places that I didn’t feel it was going (or maybe could not go).  Instead of sticking to questions and topics that had been pre-arranged, the my fellow panelists opened the talk to the floor to do a large Q&A.   What followed were a lot of discussions about local services, which I don’t find particularly useful in this type of venue: the panel wasn’t envisioned as a laundry list of mental health services for a reason, because people tend to not remember those sorts of specifics.  (If you want to list services or achievements or whatever, bring a resource guide and pass out copies.)  Panels, I feel, should build on that sort of available information.  A more productive conversation may be one that discusses how we can supplement existing programs.  As an example: what can be done to better support families to care for their loved ones transferred to facilities an hour or more away with the closure of NOAH?   Or maybe a discussion of the sorts of a strategies we all can use to handle our own stress and mental illness outside of seeking professional providers?   In my thought, the power of a group like RT is when you excite the room — after all, these are folks who write and read and write some more — so I think it’s important to try and throw out big issues.  Let people get charged up and see what types of good actions come out.

I did try to throw in a few cents — pointing out that health is so much more than access, more than doctors and medicines.  We are resource-poor in New Orleans, without a doubt, but focusing on access and getting more providers and opening more clinics and getting more people health insurance is ultimately a disservice to the people of New Orleans.  I’m not saying these things aren’t important.  I’m saying that in the end, these are not the factors that create healthy lives.  What does create healthy people are the more difficult, more sensitive, more POLITICAL realities of our lives.  Our physical living environments (FEMA trailers, polluted properties, abandoned structures, proximity to blighted areas), our work environments (are we respected? do we have benefits and fair pay? do we feel useful?), our school environments (are our children eating healthy lunches? are they learning? do they have pride in who they are?), our streets (can we exercise without fearing for our safety? are children safe walking home?), and our neighborhoods (can we buy affordable healthy foods close to our home? is there a clinic nearby to see a doctor for non-emergencies? can we get a medicine when we need it?)  All of these factors contribute to our health: they create stress, they weigh on our hearts and minds, and when not addressed in comprehensive ways, they make us sick.

And, since the feeling of having no control over your life is a key part of mental illness, (as mentioned by a panelist) perhaps involvement in some of the issues above on a community level would help individuals find more purpose and agency in their lives.  Just a thought.

But that’s not all.

And here is where I am embarrassed.  My one note, the one thing I most wanted to discuss, maybe even the most important thing to discuss within the context of health and New Orleans, did not get mentioned.  I didn’t know where to put it in without sounding like the crazy loon in the armchair throwing off the conversation… so I waited for a question from the audience that would let me bring it up.  Unfortunately, it didn’t come.  So I didn’t say anything about the issue of race and class… and neither did anybody else.

Which is a shame because we cannot consider the scope of health challenges of any kind within our city — access, stress, mental health, behavioral concerns, nutrition, whatever health issue one can think of — without discussing race and class.  Race and class shape any health experience regardless of the location.  But in New Orleans, it is a paramount issue.  For one, before 2005, New Orleans was the only city in the country that had a defined two-tier system with separate and (un)equal medical facilities for the haves and have-nots.  What has not returned post-Flood are those services for the have-nots.  So what isn’t being said is that the reason these services aren’t here, or are being taken away, is because they are for a population that many do not want here in the first place.  The rest of us work away at putting money and resources into community clinics (whose funding is not indefinite) and outreach and signing individuals up for public services — but how effective can we be in the long run if we never take a step back and look at the big picture?

In the panel that preceded ours, John Slade mentioned that the movement to re-open Charity Hospital was gaining support because Uptown whites were having to wait longer in medical facilities for treatment and were unhappy with the current desegregation of the system.  Although flip, I think his comment speaks to an important truth… at the heart of our health concerns about access, treatment, and who gets care are long-held ideas about race and class.  Until we address those base realities and histories with honesty, I’m not sure we can build a solidly healthy community — no matter how many top-of-the-line medical facilities we open.

Issues
Recovery and Rebirth

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Rising Tide 4

This Saturday!

The many talents of Harry Shearer are gracing this year’s event.  Panel topics include… the future of New Orleans food, music and parading culture; the state of New Orleans health care (moderated by yours truly), and politics in the Last Year of the Reign of Nagin.

Registration can be found here… and includes lunch from Cafe Reconcile!

NOLA
Recovery and Rebirth

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Where I ponder Charity.

Right after All Things Considered, just moments before the classical hour begins, our local public radio station has the owner of a consulting firm give advice in minute’s time.  They call it “The Louisiana Rebuilds Minute.”  We call it “The WWOZ Minute.”  (A friend coined the term, meaning that this is when he switches the radio to the local music station for that minute).

The idea of the Minute is that the people of Southeast Louisiana are too stupid to realize that it just takes a web search to find the answers to all problems related to an unprecedented rebuilding of an American city.  Since we’re too idiotic to figure it out, The Minute does it for us.  Paul and I have been joking for years that we would make a “Louisiana Rebuilds Minute” Generator — you just add in a common post-Katrina problem, throw in some patronizing ‘pull yerself up from yer bootstraps’ talk, and suggest that one consulting firm’s website has alllll the answers.  Insert those few tidbits, press enter, and BOOM, you’ve got your manufactured minute.

The point that The Minute doesn’t get is that JUST BECAUSE there is one organization out there with funds to build playgrounds, doesn’t mean that every school that needs one and applies will get it.  JUST BECAUSE one bus is available to a few folks who have the magic combination of ills and scripts to qualify for reduced medicines doesn’t mean that everyone who needs meds can get them.  And JUST BECAUSE The Road Home offered funds to some families doesn’t mean they have all that they need to rebuild their homes and lives.  Just because there are programs and grants and applications and dollars out there doesn’t mean that they are thought through, that they are honest, that they actual reach the people that they are meant to reach, and that they make any impact at all in the outcomes of our daily lives.

It is easy to get mislead.

It is easy to think that ideas are either good or bad.

I’m not so sure.  If I have learned anything from being a part of New Orleans’ recovery, it is that EVERYTHING is mired in thick, silty gray.

And in the middle of all that mess sits Charity Hospital.

One of the big discussions flying around Southeast Louisiana surrounds Charity Hospital.  Until Katrina, Charity was the second largest hospital in the country and one of the oldest continuously operating hospitals in the world.  It was the primary source for health care for many of New Orleans’ poor.  Actually, considering that many of Charity’s former patients have not seen a physician since Katrina, technically, Charity is still their source for health care… it’s just not open for them to receive it.

In fall 2007, Jim Aiken, the LSU University Hospital Chief of Emergency Medicine who worked the Emergency Department through Katrina and the aftermath, came to a class I was assistant teaching.  His fascinating lecture included discussion of Charity’s pre-storm emergency plans, his experience of the storm and flood from within Charity, how he helped coordinate emergency care in the extended aftermath, and finally some of the issues involved with long-term planning for health care for the city.  At every step, the issues are overwhelming at best — but what struck me was his passionate and pointed arguments for medicine, good medical care, and services to the community.  He left me convinced that we need to rebuild a top-tier medical facility in this city, one that serves the poor within it, both because it draws good doctors to gain experience within it and because providing care to those who wouldn’t otherwise receive it is as important in this community as drinkable water and drivable streets.

A little over a week ago, the Schweitzer Fellows held our second symposium.  This one was on “The State of Health in Louisiana” and Dr. Larry Hollier, chancellor of LSU health sciences center (encompassing the training programs for all allied health fields at LSU), was one of the speakers.  His presentation was about the new LSU health sciences center — a center which is desperately needed, but is incredibly controversial in how it plays out.

The issue is that Louisiana’s doctors come from LSU graduates… by no small amount.  The physicians practicing in the State are close to retirement age by overwhelming numbers, and the physicians coming out of LSU are not the type to stick around and take their places.  Even before Katrina, LSU was seeing a substantial increase in the numbers of foreign-trained medical students who were ‘matched’ to attend LSU for their residencies — these are students who tend to go back to their home countries after residency.  There were also increases in ‘matches’ with students for whom LSU was not a top choice… indeed, has not been a first choice for many in recent years.  In addition to bringing in students who are not necessarily going to stick around… LSU has not been attracting the best talent, who are going to get picked up by the more desirable residency programs.  Post-Katrina, these enrollment numbers have been even more dire, suggesting that the outlook for Louisiana to have competent, young physicians to support the State’s medical needs into the future is grim.  Dr. Hollier argued that plans for a new science center were in place long before Katrina, and that the need for an expanded, updated center for treatment, training, and research was critical to the survival of health care in Louisiana.

And I believe him.

Don’t get me wrong: my impression of the guy was that we’d have some seriously different views on just about any medical or social issue… but the numbers and his argument was compelling.  More than that, it completed echoed my experience as a student: my peers don’t stay.  Heck, *I* am having trouble figuring out how we’re going to stay.  Even if Paul had gainful employment, the fact is that the research dollars to study health inequalities in our city don’t go to researchers in New Orleans.  If I want to stay involved in research here, it seems like I need to move to Chapel Hill or Ann Arbor or Boston or wherever in order to do it.  (I’ll save this rant for a later date.)

I think that we need a commitment to a new, state-of-the-art facility to attract new talent, house research programs, and rebuild health infrastructure in the city.

Dr. Hollier spoke ONLY of the LSU plans — NOT the combined VA plans.  In the LSU plan, only 33 homesites are impacted over an area that encompasses more empty parking lots than businesses or homes.  (The VA plan, as outlined in a wonderful advocacy website, impacts many more people and historical properities.)  He argued rationally that the Charity hospital building could not be retrofitted to the needs of the new center and any expansion did not include parking or other supportive infrastructure necessary for that sort of facility.  He suggested the renovation of Charity as apartments for residents.

Everything that I know about New Orleans and the way things work make me question people in power — question their motives, question their reasoning, wonder about what they haven’t considered.  (In contrast, it also has shown me that New Orleanians are some of the most change-resistant people on the planet… but possibly for good reason.)  Yet, I am compelled to WANT this new center.  I WANT a place where I can collaborate and build and learn and serve.  I’m EXCITED about the possibility of this center… it makes me want to be here, stay here, work here.

Those first couple of blocks closest to I-10?  The ones that are predominantly occupied by empty parking lots?  I can’t think of a better use than to build a new science center.

But.  The rest?  Well.  I’m uncertain about this.  Because I feel that Dr. Hollier would drive through a community like lower Mid-City and not see a community worth saving.  He wouldn’t necessarily see a pattern of New Orleans rolling over yet another predominantly African-American community for the sake of progress.  Or, maybe he would — maybe he would but he would argue it was necessary for the common good.  And sometimes?  Sometimes I believe in the common good, even if it stomps all over individual rights.  Early public health efforts involved holding people down for immunizations against their will… and that is WHY we were able to control disease.  Sometimes common good is a good answer.

BUT!  Common good should come out of insight and input from the community.  That’s what it’s all about. I’m not convinced that LSU are taking alternative plans seriously.  I don’t understand why the RMJM Hillier plan isn’t feasible and while I am not convinced it is the right place to go, I do think it signals to LSU that it needs to look for compromise.

And I’m worried that this will be locked in years of debate and at the end, the people of New Orleans will continue to suffer for lack of a comprehensive medical center and a generation of medical talent will slip through our fingers.

There is no easy answer here.  And I’m sort of all knotted up inside over it because it involves my field (public health) and my passion (community-level advocating/organizing) — with one tromping on the other in the name of common good.

Got anything good for this one, Louisiana Rebuilds Minute?  What website of yours solves this??

(If anyone still reading has thoughts, comments, insight, or ideas… I’d love to hear them.)

Issues
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NOLA
Recovery and Rebirth

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Life in New Orleans, three months later

During my study breaks, I read up on the local and national news regarding our current chosen home, New Orleans. It has been exactly three months since the rain and winds of Katrina pounded the city. Tomorrow it will be three months since the Army Corps of Engineer levee system, built incorrectly by the federal government and misrepresented in its safety and construction, failed, drowning 80% of the city and well over 1,000 of it’s inhabitants.

Like many other tenacious and hardy folk, we have returned home. To those out-of-towners who have not seen the city in the flesh, who cannot grasp the reality of the devastation and heartbreak that is New Orleans, this is a sign that the city is coming back to normal. That life here is normal.

Nothing could be less true.

Three months after the storm, 4,000 people — 4,000! — are still missing. A small pocket of life exists along the banks of the Mississippi, where high ground and the action of the river protects our area of Uptown, including the Garden District, the Warehouse and Central Business District, the French Quarter, the Marginy, and the Bywater. We who live here are coming back. Businesses are slowly coming back, limited in staff and supplies. Power is slowly being restored. A few schools are opening to limited students and asking little or no tuition until the New Year. The community centers, churches, and schools that are functional still operate as relief stations, supply centers, and makeshift hospitals. Of the 8 hospitals in the city, 2 are partially functional. There is no trauma center.

The remainder of the city remains without power, without people, and under curfew. Homes are still being looted, bodies still being found. Driving through these areas is like entering a war zone. The little signs of life are tragic. Those who have come back live in tent communities in shopping center parking lots, awaiting trailers. Homeowners come out of their homes carrying the ruined debris of their lives, pausing to dry uncertain tears, and then go back inside for more. The lush green foliage that once covered the city struggles to survive through a blanket of silt, left behind by the murky, polluted water that blocked the sun for weeks. Stinking appliances await pick up on corners, the rotting smells pouring through the air regardless of how tightly sealed they sit. Mounds of debris, dotted with the muted color of a child’s toy, line front yards. Blue liner has become a welcomed, happy sight. It lies in protection on the rooftops of homes that have hope. In areas where the floodwaters took away any hope of a homecoming, there is no blue to be seen.

Anytime we leave the small strip of our neighborhood, this is what we see. This is the reality of the city we share. This is what it looks like to be here. And what does it feel like? A city forgotten and abandoned by its country.

If any other major US city had experienced a tragedy this profound, would the story be the same? Three months later, would there still be no commitment, no plan, for protection and rebuilding? Would we abandon other vulnerable cities — Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles — the way we have abandoned New Orleans? Is it so easy forget that a third of the country’s oil products, and much of the nation’s trade, flow through these ports? Is it that easy to dismiss the cultural heritage born, bred, and celebrated in these streets? Are we so arrogant that it feels better to insult and place judgment on the misfortune of living near water than it does to commit to making this a safer place to live? The “Big One” will come, over and over again, to Los Angeles and San Francisco, moving them slowly up the west coast… yet would we ever suggest not rebuilding them?

Below are a few pictures of our drive back into the city this Saturday. They represent a small scale of the widespread devastation that wraps our neighborhood. They are antiseptic compared to the experience.

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Tent homes


Tent homes, midcity. Posted by Picasa

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North Shore


Slidell, north shore. Posted by Picasa

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East


East New Orleans, near Six Flags, north of the bayou. Posted by Picasa

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North Shore


Slidell, north shore. Posted by Picasa

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