Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Don't Pick on Emeril, a somewhat tardy post

The last couple of weeks haven't been good for blogging, but there are a couple of other reasons why I never made my point about city finances. For one thing, I do sometimes feel a little guilty about concentrating on local leaders and the local media when there's so much educating still to be done at the national level:
Because of the media's selective coverage, the rest of the world thinks that New Orleans was hit harder than the Miss Gulf Coast and this simply is NOT true. What happened in New Orleans was that the levys broke and flooded parts of the city, not Katrina. True the levys were weakened by Katrina but the levys should have been beefed up enough to do their job by the government officials in that town.

Also, I planned a post about how much I, as a laid off city worker, shared the sentiments of a resident (the letter writer quoted at the end of this post) who gave up and left in disgust at the delay in getting his home wiring inspected. While I think it's worth asking what anyone who's left, or thought about leaving, can reasonably expect from the city, I had to scrape that post because it was too negative. I'd never apologize for being cynical about the city's leadership or press corps, but that one was cynical about the city as a whole.

However, the thought occurred to me that the city missed a golden opportunity when Chris Rose's ridiculous column about Emeril Lagasse's (alleged) comments caused enough uproar to force a retraction/denial. Reread the (alleged) comments:
Nothing. The mayor's a clunk. The governor is also a clunk. They don't know their (nether sections) from a hole in the ground. All my three restaurants got hit. I've reopened Emeril's, but only a few locals come. There's no tourists. No visitors. No spenders. No money. No future. No people. It's lost. It'll never come back."

So what was (or would have been) the big problem? Admittedly, it wasn't the best time to express pessimism about the city, but the only real cynicism was about the leadership. I think the mayor and governor could have benefited from criticism from people who had a soapbox but no political ambitions of their own. We'll never know, instead Chris Rose got his attention and potential critics were possibly intimidated.

It's harder to defend Emeril's (or Wynton Marsalis') part in recently planned foolishness, but, if you've ever taken an intro psychology or sociology class, you should be familiar with the concept of "group think." I would assume that our businessman mayor would have heard of the concept in a management class. It's not surprising that people came up with stupid ideas while caught up in group enthusiasm, but I can't believe that nobody among the mayor's first rate management team had second thoughts between the time that the plan was conceived and it was announced. Instead, once there was strong criticism, the mayor blamed everybody else involved, including the two celebrities.

Okay, it's been three weeks (like I said, it's been a busy couple of weeks), but there's one thing that I'm little surprised didn't get more attention. Lagasse was widely reported (correctly or incorrectly) to be dissatisfied with Nagin's leadership and Marsalis endorsed Landrieu. Two famous New Orleanians decide to bury the hatchet and work with mayor, presumably out of a desire to help the city, but things don't quite go according to plan. Then, instead of taking responsibility, the mayor hangs them out to dry. I don't know whether I was impressed or angered by their silence in the matter, but there's certainly a lesson in there somewhere.

BTW I've always liked Chris Rose. Well, I liked some of his columns, disliked others, but when I knew him socially (it's been a few years), I thought he was a nice guy to have a beer with. But that column pissed me off, mainly because I thought the reaction was disproportionate to the comments. However, I don't know what gives anybody the right to be that judgmental on behalf of the entire city, and it was part of a pattern that began soon after Katrina and has continued since. Looking for reasons to take offense distracts from real issues and generally does more harm than good. As it is, I think that some locals are almost hoping that the rumors about a famous business owner leaving are true so that they can parse his announcement for any excuse to rake him over the coals. I don't know if they are, but who cares if he's been supportive of the city since Katrina? And I do think we should all ask what people can reasonably expect from the city.

A sensible perspective. Nicely done. Thanks.
Are you still unemployed, or underemployed? In Australia we don't get to hear much of your world.
Thanks for the interest from Australia, Vamead. I started a new job in May, I actually make less working for a university library than I did for the public library, but I don't know if it's enough of a dfference to qualify as underemployed. The problem most people have is that rents have gone way up, due to the housing shortage--I got lucky in that department.

I don't want to give anybody the wrong impression, the federal government admits at least some responsibility for the damage to New Orleans, yet it's more sparing in its aid to N.O. than to places that have been hurt by purely natural disasters. At least it's given less aid relative to the damage done. I'll be kind and assume that it's because the amount of damage makes the price tag much greater. That, more than anything else, is the city's main problem. Still, I think the city government has gotten away with an incredible amount of negligence in its handling of its limitted resources.
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