Friday, December 26, 2008

Benching New Orleans

I once worked for a radio program director who loved pie-in-the-sky. Hated everything else -- and not only that, he saw no need to do "everything else" well . . . or at all.

Trouble is, it was such mundane skut work that actually kept the station on the air.

One day, after this doofus had dumped half of the work in his job description on top of all the drudgery in my job description, I had had it. I didn't particularly care whether it cost me my poorly compensated job or landed me in a fist fight with someone who outweighed me by 100 pounds.

"You're the laziest SOB I've ever seen in my life when it comes to doing the skut work nobody wants to do but has to be done," I told the guy . . . my boss. And it was the truth.

LEADERSHIP IS not an entitlement program, nor is it a license to dump your burdens onto others' shoulders. Leadership is figuring out what needs to be done, then getting it the hell done.

For that matter, good citizenship is all about discerning what the hell needs to be done, then getting on board with the work of making it happen. That's where your tax money comes in. Voting, too.

It's the skut work of civic life. It's what people need to get around to before the "visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads."

NEW ORLEANS and its leaders -- and its people, some of them -- remind me of that discombobulated boss I now am well rid of.

The Crescent City is one of those places -- another one is my hometown, Baton Rouge -- that never tires of chasing after grand schemes as if wishes really were horses, allowing all the beggars a free ride. In the wake of Katrina, feckless Mayor Ray Nagin made a big to-do of plans to reimagine downtown and create 6,500 jobs with the construction of the "Hyatt Jazz District" near the Superdome.

Of course, that never happened. Nor will it.

Nor have New Orleanians found any relief from a staggering murder rate, unreliable and expensive utilities, a dilapidated infrastructure, a struggling school system . . . or the little-abated threat of being another Katrina away from oblivion. One from which, next time, there will be no recovery.

America's soggy Pompeii . . . is what we're talkin'.

New Orleans -- and, indeed, Louisiana as a whole -- have found tender mercies flowing from their leaders (and, to be fair, from its citizenry at large) rather like waters from a dry well. In the Mojave Desert. In July. During a particularly dry year, even by desert standards.

WHAT NEW ORLEANIANS, and Baton Rougeans . . . and Louisianians, fail to apprehend is some basic "inside baseball" stuff. Namely, it's highly unlikely you're going to hit a three-run shot if you can't even manage a bloop single. First things first.

Thus we have a city, and its leaders, with visions of sugar-plums, bullet trains and jazz districts dancing in their heads when they can't even manage to put bus benches at the city's bus stops.

Well, at least they couldn't until a band of extraordinary ladies got together -- and got some saws, screws, paint and drills -- and set out to "bench" the city of New Orleans. And this they are doing, as the above video shows us.

These patron saints of mass transit may not be able to take the load off of working-class New Orleanians' shoulders, but they can take a load off their feet. Every little bit helps.

One gets the impression if it weren't for isolated bands of the extraordinarily civic-minded in that woebegone city, there would be no recovery there at all . . . 3½ years après le deluge.

MEANWHILE, in "the city care forgot," this is what has brought Mid City residents to the barricades:

NO FUNCTIONING CITY? No problem. No big-ass bonfire with thousands of people running around it -- and throwing fireworks in it? This is war.

What is wrong with this picture? Probably the same thing that caused someone on the SaveTheBonfire blog to think it necessary to post this on it:

I don't speak on behalf of anyone other than myself, but if you wish to see the bonfire continue:

* Do not throw fireworks or other foreign matter into the fire.
* Respect the directions of fire fighters and police, and identified bonfire marshals.
* Keep your clothes on (this is a family event; we bring our kids)

Do not get dangerously close to the fire, and respect any barricades that may be erected.

FIVE DECADES and change ago, CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow closed a landmark See It Now broadcast taking on Sen. Joseph McCarthy by quoting from William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." If you replaced the words "senator from Wisconsin" with "mayor of New Orleans," you'd have a pretty damn good epitaph for New Orleans:

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Good night, and good luck.

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