Oily CNN Wednesday, Jun 9 2010 

Now comes the flood of comparisons

It didn’t take long for reporters to start making comparisons between the BP oil spill and that infamous weather event of August 2005. In the first week of May, CNN’s reporter Stephanie Chen gave us this gem, which is a classic example of Katrina shorthand.

When Hurricane Katrina flood waters ravaged the area in 2005, customers avoided ordering seafood at restaurants even after the state declared the seafood safe, he said.

Here’s the link:


Missed that one

Oops. The e-mail notice of that particular alert got buried in my inbox. I didn’t submit a reply, but my regular reader can surely guess what I might have had to say.


Tacoma Gets a Spelling Lesson Wednesday, Jun 9 2010 

Drawing the wrong lessons

In early May, the Tacoma, Washington News Tribune reported on a project by that area’s levee board to shore up protection of their levees. Staff writer David Wickert consistently misspells the word “levee,” and he also provided some insightful comments by Councilman Shawn Bunney, whom Wickert quotes as saying the following regarding levee protection:

“Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Bonney Lake, likened the potential damage from flooding to that caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. ‘We don’t want to be caught sitting on our hands like those folks in New Orleans were,’ Bunney said last week.”

Here’s the link:


You’d never know it

As soon as a hurricane’s approach is predicted, lines materialize instantly and everywhere: banks (lobbies as well as ATMs), gas stations, groceries, everywhere. The level of activity around here doesn’t give evidence of people sitting on their hands. Ask anyone who’s ever lived here when a hurricane comes bearing down.

I wrote two letters in this particular case. Below is the one to the newspaper, following that is another letter to the councilman.

To the editors,

It’s good that you look to New Orleans for lessons to prevent flooding in Pierce County. But the proper cause of the flooding here was incompetence, negligence, and duplicity by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who were responsible for our levees. The hurricane of Aug. 2005 did not cause New Orleans to flood (note the relatively minor flooding in neighboring Metairie, where the levees held). Support for this claim comes from independent engineers and sworn Congressional testimony from the head of the Corps. The flooding here was from shoddy engineering, not some hurricane.

thank you,


P.S. “levy” is a verb meaning to impose a tax or tariff, of which the 3rd person singular is “levies.” The noun for a structure that holds back water is a “levee”, of which the plural is “levees.” –R.L.

This one went to the councilman:

Mr. Bunney,

You are quoted in The News Tribune of May 2 saying, “We don’t want to be caught sitting on our hands like those folks in New Orleans were.”  Not only is this insulting to us, it also displays ignorance of the facts.

New Orleanians awoke Sat., Aug. 27, 2005 to the first news that Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on us. The previous evening’s weather report predicted landfall in the Florida panhandle.  Check for yourself.

This is a population accustomed to weather events such as Katrina, and we know well how to prepare for such storms.  Look at the record.  We did what we do for _hurricanes_, and with only two days notice.  Individuals boarded up homes and businesses all across southeast Louisiana.  Those in homes secure enough for tropical weather events hunkered down with provisions.  We opened shelters for those living outside the levee system.  We enacted interstate highway contraflow evacuation (look up what contraflow entails — it’s huge undertaking).  All in two days.  We’re not “sitting on our hands” in advance of a hurricane.

We certainly were unprepared for a catastrophic flood, but that’s only because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers misrepresented the soundness of the levees they are responsible for.  New Orleans flooded because of federal levees poorly designed and sloppily constructed — by the Corps.

If you’re going to make comparisons to us, (1) get your facts straight, and (2) be more respectful.  If you’re going to learn from what happened here, the number one lesson is not to rely on the Corps of Engineers.

Sincerely yours,

WWL-TV branches out Wednesday, May 5 2010 

The future is here

It strikes me that television stations now produce written articles, distributed over the internet.  Used to be, a television newscast was sent out and that was it.  This article from late April, by WWL’s Maya Rodriguez, is about FEMA trailers still in use (there’s one just around the block from me, right on Elysian Fields — and they’re scattered around a lot of neighborhoods).

It has been nearly five years since Donald Jenkins lived in his Hollygrove home. Hurricane Katrina flooded his home with several feet of water, and even with his brother-in-law’s help, the rebuilding process is painfully slow.

It’s here:


Painfully slow indeed

There’s scarcely a better way to describe this process

Ms. Rodriguez,

Your article about lingering FEMA trailers mentions a painfully slow process. What’s painfully slow is getting media professionals — esp. in the N.O. area — to appreciate that the hurricane of Aug. 2005 flooded nothing in the city. The flood was an UNnatural disaster, a catastrophic engineering failure for which the Corps of Engineers is responsible. Yes, it is indeed frustrating to find that reporters still confuse this issue. It is no more difficult to write, “Levee breaches flooded his home …” than it is to name some weather event. In the future, please write what’s true rather than what’s convenient.

Thank you,

A convert

I got this very nice answer from Ms. Rodriguez, in which she gets it and pledges to do better in the future.  I sure appreciate her for that.

Hello Mr. Lang,

Thank you for writing to me. You absolutely have a point. In the future, I will make sure my writing reflects that the flooding was due to the federal levee failures following Katrina. In trying to write my story as succinctly as possible, (so it would run under two minutes), I neglected to be precise.

Thank you for pointing this out, though! It is appreciated.


Chalmetian Cinema Wednesday, May 5 2010 

Just gotta keep at it

It’s important that the Times-Picayune, the city’s newspaper of record, develop editorial practice that avoids Katrina shorthand.  But they still slip up a lot.  This was by Mike Scott about the reopening of Chalmette’s only movie theater.

Nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina washed away St. Bernard Parish’s only movie theater, the show will finally go on again in Chalmette.

Tryin’ to help ’em out… but

I’ve found it easy to come up with ways to distinguish the flood and the hurricane; and, in letters I offer a better way to express things.  However, reading this again after about three weeks, I think this letter’s tone is harsher than was necessary.  That’s a lesson for me.

To the editors,

Although the Times-Picayune won an award for its coverage of the catastrophe that happened here in Aug. 2005, you seem to have forgotten your own reports: neither the city, nor St. Bernard Parish, experienced flooding due to the weather event that month. Rather, the federal levees protecting the area, built by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, were revealed to be substandard. It was an engineering failure that washed away St. Bernard’s only movie theatre, not some hurricane. In the future, please report accurately on what happened. It’s no more trouble to write “levee breaches” than to name that storm.

Thank you,

Saltwater Wednesday, May 5 2010 

Maybe he got up to get a beer

The premier of HBO’s Tremé generated some coverage, and some of it was bound to have some K.s.  This was from the Salt Lake Tribune‘s writer Vince Horiuchi.  Perhaps he got up to get a snack or something during the scene when John Goodman chewed out the foreign reporter.

After the city was ravaged by a deadly hurricane in August 2005, incredible stories of loss and survival have remained buried deep in mucky sludge.

It’s here:


If he did see it,

He still didn’t get it, so I offer him a good take-away message.

To the editors,

If viewers take away nothing from HBO’s new series set in New Orleans, they should take away this: the flood was the problem, and the hurricane didn’t cause it, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did. Violent tropical storms strong enough to get named are naturally occurring events in New Orleans’ climate. People who live here know how to prepare and deal with them. We have for centuries. What happened in Aug. of 2005 was that the shoddy design and substandard construction of the federal flood protection levees was revealed. The city wasn’t ravaged by the hurricane. It fell victim to a catastrophic engineering failure by the U.S. government. It’s completely possible to protect against the kind of flooding that happened here. The Army Corps of Engineers simply chose not to do so.

Sincerely yours,

A minor matter Wednesday, May 5 2010 

Just a glancing reference

This was a toughie to write a letter about.  It’s primarily a forward-looking article by Cindy Chang dealing with our first single assessor for all of Orleans Parish: Erroll Williams.  The (old) 3rd District had been his; it was roughly half of the city east of Elysian Fields.  The other six districts were the western half of the city divvied up.  It was sort of an odd arrangement — but it’s over now.  The offending passage is about four paragraphs in:

As the winner of the first election for the citywide post, Williams faces the biggest challenge in his three decades as a public official: following through on that promise of reform in a city ravaged by a monstrous hurricane less than five years ago.

Here’s the link to the full article:


Just a gentle suggestion

This was the reporter’s first offense, so I just offer an alternative wording for next time.

Good morning Ms. Chang,

In your very fine article of March 29, on New Orleans’ transition to a single assessor, you refer to the catastrophe that happened here in 2005. It is very important to our recovery to be clear about what happened. The ravages endured by the city were not due to the hurricane. The city was devastated when federal flood protection levees breached. It’s no more difficult to write “…ravaged less that five years ago by catastrophic levee failures,” but it’s far more accurate and much less misleading. Over half the country’s population lives in counties protected by federal flood protection levees. We in New Orleans, of all people, should get this right.

Thank you,

California Dreamin’ Saturday, Apr 24 2010 

Picture this

New Orleans photographer Herman Leonard had an exhibit opening in Los Angeles.  L.A. Times writer Steve Appleford wrote this:

For Leonard, the exhibition is another step in his mission to rebuild his work and legacy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded his home in New Orleans in 2005, destroying 8,000 prints, a lifetime of work and everything he’d planned on leaving for his children.

Other than giving evidence that the writer doesn’t understand what happened here, it’s a positive column about Leonard’s career and his work.  Here’s the full article:


Less is more

I actually got a response from the L.A. Times on this one.  They thanked me, but the letter was over their word limit for printed letters.  I hav’ta learn to put a cork in it.

To the editors,

I’ve little doubt that Herman Leonard appreciates Steve Appleford’s tribute in the March 28 edition, despite the fact that you (again) mischaracterize the nature of the disaster that destroyed his home, thousands of his prints, and much of his legacy to his children. The weather event of August 2005 did not flood New Orleans. As has been well reported in the media, including the L.A. Times, confirmed by Congressional testimony, and corroborated by independent civil engineers, New Orleans flooded due to incompetence, negligence, and duplicity by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The federal flood protection levees are the responsibility of the Corps. The levee failures and breaches happened because the Corps failed to fulfill their legal mandate. One need only look to neighboring Jefferson Parish, where the levees held, to appreciate the difference between a natural disaster and an engineering failure attributable to human error. It’s no more difficult to write “aftermath of the levee failures, which flooded […] New Orleans,” but it’s a lot more accurate. Please stop blaming the weather for Corps’ malfeasance.

Thank you,

Umpire calls this an error Saturday, Apr 24 2010 

Sportswriters not immune to KS

In this late March article about baseball coach Ron Washington, writer Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle had this to say:

It was early September 2005, about a week after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to Louisiana, and as the New York Yankees took batting practice in Oakland, Jason Giambi went looking for Ron Washington. Then an A’s coach, and a native of New Orleans, Washington had been wiped out by the disaster. His property was in ruins.

Here’s the rest of it:


Nothing escapes our notice

Maybe they thought this would slip past.  It didn’t.

To the editors,

In the Friday, March 19 edition, sportswriter Bruce Jenkins paints a misleading portrait of the disaster that struck Louisiana in the late fall of 2005. New Orleans is where the disaster was concentrated, where the damages and suffering were concentrated, and where Ron Washington’s home was. The city was not “laid waste” by the weather event of the last weekend in August. Rather, the devastation resulted from incompetence, negligence, and duplicity by the Corps of Engineers. The federal flood protection levees are designed, built, and maintained by the Corps. They publicly stood behind the soundness of these levees, although they themselves knew better. The Chronicle does a disservice when it implies that a weather event common to this climate was the sole cause of the catastrophe. Please avoid this in the future.

Thank you,

From the Brookings Institution Saturday, Apr 24 2010 

New Orleans & Chile

It seems whenever there’s a true natural disaster, media types trot out comparisons to our unnatural disaster.  This is from an analysis in March by the Brookings Institution of the response to the Chilean earthquake:

This serious string of mishaps took place in a country with a generally effective government. Serious mistakes were made regarding the evaluation and maintenance of the old levees, the evacuation of citizens, availability of sufficient stocks of supplies before the hurricane, and in the coordination of rescue and recovery efforts in its aftermath.

The full article is here:


Failed analysis

One of the things (among others) that gets my goat is the implication that folks in and around New Orleans didn’t prepare properly — as if we’d actually been warned that the levees would fail.

In the March 5 column giving your perspective of the Chilean earthquake, Kaufman and Tessada mention the levee failures in connection with the New Orleans Flood of 2005. This is appreciated. Nonetheless, you omit or gloss over some details crucial for proper understanding of that event. (1) The levees weren’t that old: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dramatically enhanced and strengthened in the 80s — or so we thought; (2) evacuation, preparation of shelters, and stocking of supplies were appropriate for a hurricane, which was the expected and predicted event. Duplicity on the part of the Corps led virtually no one to expect (and, hence, to prepare for) the catastrophic engineering failure caused by Corps incompetence and negligence. The federal flood protection levees were squarely the responsibility of the federal government. The failures at the local level were small in comparison.


More KS from NYT Saturday, Apr 24 2010 

Police Business

In late February, the New York Times reported on the re-opening of the investigation into the Danziger Bridge killings.  This was the first line:

On Sept. 4, 2005, with floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina still standing in much of the city, Lt. Michael J. Lohman of the New Orleans Police Department arrived at the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans.

Other than the Katrina shorthand (KS), the article is helpful in shining a light on NOPD corrupt cover-up over this particular event.  It’s here:


More than a pet peeve

This was my response:

To the editors,

We appreciate the focus Campbell Robertson’s Feb. 24 article places on corruption and cover-ups pertaining to the Danziger Bridge killings. Unfortunately, once again, you perpetuate a patently false and distinctly unhelpful myth that the weather event of Aug. 2005 flooded New Orleans. It would be no more trouble, but factually correct, to write “…with floodwaters from the levee breaches still standing in much of the city…” This is more than a pet peeve for New Orleanians. More than half the country lives in counties protected by federal levees. You do your readers — and the general public welfare — a great disservice when you continue to blame the weather for what has repeatedly been demonstrated to be an engineering failure.

Sincerely yours,

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