Monday, September 22, 2008

Mars is a Third World Country

From the beginning of this blog I've wanted to have a positive outlook in my blog posts. People write blogs all the time where all they do is whinge and complain about things, and I didn't want to do that. That isn't to say that I didn't want to say anything negative--because to look at life with rose-coloured glasses is just as bad as always whinging--but when possible I wanted to take a view that things could and would get better. In other words, always look on the bright side of life.

Unfortunately, this is something I can't just gloss over.

The whole punch line regarding this blog is the fact that Franklin is very different from the environment that I grew up in, which is odd considering I grew up in pretty small towns. As amusing as it is at times, it's also extremely frustrating. If you remember back in my Hurricane Gustav Lessons Learned post, I was pretty blunt in my criticism of the town of Franklin's communication skills regarding the post-Gustav situation. Unfortunately, they haven't been reading my blog, so they haven't learned their lesson.

Since I got back from Gustav, I've noticed the water tasted funnier than unusual. Now after my first drink of Franklin's water I went to Walmart and picked up a water filter pitcher and have enjoyed crisp and clean drinking and cooking water ever since. However this time the taste, which was quite saline in nature, was seeping through the filter. "It couldn't have been from the storm surge..." I pondered since, after all, there was no storm surge because we were on the western side of the storm when Gustav made landfall. Then came Ike, and the water was simply salty. Not quite sea water-tasting, but it was apparent that the town's water source was contaminated by salt water. Did I get any news regarding this? Of course not. I did get a letter telling me that they found chloroforms in water samples. According to the letter they were found twice. But since they didn't find it in the third test, everything was A-OK. Gee, so comforting.

At school we received several cases of drinking water to hand out to the students if they were thirsty rather than use the water fountains. I thought that was nice and all, but what about us? Was the town going to let us know what was going on? A letter? An announcement on the news? The Newspaper? As I pondered this as the days went by, I went back to my parents and gathered 50 gallons of water from their water well that was not inundated by salt water for me to use. I guess I was one of the lucky ones.

On a whim, I decided to look at the website of the local paper, the Franklin Banner-Tribune and lo and behold, a news story about the water quality issues. Apparently water is available for me to get for drinking purposes. I wonder how long it would have taken for the town to let me know? Heck, I bet there's people here in town who still don't know they can get fresh water from a distribution site. Sucks to be them is what I guess the town's opinion on the matter seems to be.

This lack of communication by the government and the resultant acceptance of mediocrity by the citizenry infuriates me to no end. Like I've stated on several occasions, I didn't grow up in a big city, but the expectations I have of my local government as well as my view on progress and success is such that this sort of behaviour is simply unacceptable. Because of the storms and buying a new car, I haven't had a chance to get out and ride about and get a feel for St. Mary Parish, so I wasn't sure if this was a Franklin thing or a St. Mary Parish thing.

Today I was at the Six Traits of Writing seminar at the School Board office (I had an absolutely stupendous time, reinforcing what I've known about the six [plus one] traits of writing as well as some fun writing exercises. Kudos to the folks who put it on!) and during lunch I started up a conversation with a teacher who was at Project STAY with me. It started with me discussing where I was from and quickly turned to the culture of St. Mary Parish, as she was born and raised here. I described to her what I stated above and she quickly let me know that my fears of the parish being mired in complacency with inefficiency if not outright ineptitude in some cases being the norm. She was quick to point out that some places they pride themselves that, according to her "their ineptness is much more efficient that other places around here." It made me laugh and whimper at once.

Great. It's not just a Franklin problem. It was reassuring to find someone who was born and raised here that's in my age bracket that lives here with the same views on how things should be done (If you're reading this Dr. Chet, typing that phrase made me think of Lenin's pamphlet "What is to be Done?" which we talked about all the time in the 20th Century Russia class. Even though you're a freakin' Commie, I still love you and your Hawai'ian shirts Dr. Chet!) but the fear is that the majority of folks here don't think this way, and since they're the majority, we're stuck with the same people running the government. Le sigh.

I didn't need to go any further for an example than the report from the monthly council meeting where an engineer scoffed about the concept of putting floodgates to shut the Franklin Canal in times of tidal flooding as not a good option because "We'll have the same protection we have now, and that is 6 feet. The levees that surround our community are about a 6-foot elevation. We had a 7-foot tidal surge." I suppose limiting the storm surge to only a foot of water coming into the town rather than allow a seven foot surge pour through a fifty-feet wide gap in the levee system right into the centre of town would be a good idea to him. No need to change if the untenable situation requires innovative solutions it seems. And based on the rest of the report, no one argued with him either. Hmpf.

This situation isn't just exclusive to here, as it's endemic across Louisiana all the way up to the State Capitol building. Governor Jindal and Co. seem to be trying their best to change things, but to expound on an idea presented by my geography professors, essentially Louisiana is stuck being a Third World Country for the most part.

Now I can hear the screams from here already. "But we're in America! We have all the perks of the Western World! There's no way we can be Third World!" But think about this; if we were to take Louisiana's location on the map out of the equation and look at the basics, the similarities are all too clear. A state with depressed per capita incomes and education levels compared to normal, a single primate city, a single major state university with a disproportionate amount of the state education budget that uses political influence to keep its financial and educational status secure, endemic political corruption veering in isolated cases to outright kleptocracy, and an economy that is centred on the extraction of natural resources and agriculture. It isn't Guinea-Bissau we're talking about, but unfortunately Louisiana.

This is rather depressing really, and I know there isn't much I by myself can do about it, especially since the best and brightest usually figure this out in a hurry and leave in equally hurried fashion, leaving us here to fight it out with the mediocre-lovers, but unlike others, I'm a teacher, and I can impact so many more than a normal person because I can show my students that the status quo isn't acceptable and it's OK to demand more than what's expected. Can I create an army of reformers? Who knows. I have the attention of four students so far, so that's a start.

No comments: