When the levee breaks, I got no place to go Led Zeppelin, When the Levee Breaks

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has invited his people to return though hurricane season is only six months away and there isn't a levee in sight. President George W. Bush has promised the levees will be rebuilt by hurricane season, though a bunch of critics think that's a fantasy. Which means the people Nagin is inviting home might end up flooded out again. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whom some blame for the failure of the levees in the first place, says otherwise. Is anyone else asking themselves what's going on?

President Bush has a severe image problem in New Orleans. He stayed on vacation and toured other states while New Orleans flooded (Though he found the will to fly home immediately to keep Terri Schiavo on her feeding tube). He promised everything would be back to normal soon the day after the levees failed. "Brownie' was doing a 'great job' sending out memos telling FEMA workers to roll up their sleeves so it would look like they were working. The combined effect strongly suggested the President truly didn't give a hoot about New Orleans.

Unfortunately for the President's approval ratings the rest the country did care, and thought the President of the United States ought to do something when one of his major cities is practically wiped out. Bush himself may not care about New Orleans, but he does care about the polls, and so the best way to fake caring is to make promises. So the President made a promise to get the levees rebuilt before the next season in order to shore up his own popularity.

The question is can the levees be rebuilt by the next hurricane season? I've built a lot of buildings but not one levee, as levees just don't require much electricity. They're relatively simple in construction and work primarily on mass. You build a tall, thick, really honking thick earthwork and let pure mass do its thing.

Many of the critics claim that won't work because that much mass needs time to settle in order to firm up properly. They say you build a strong levee in layers, to give each layer time to settle before adding more stuff. This makes sense to me. While I haven't built a levee, I have done some excavating. Fill dirt settles, and it settles a lot. We back-fill our trenches with gravel first to reduce sag. If you back-fill with dirt you'll be way below grade almost overnight. And the sagging isn't done. Even after adding gravel I overfill with dirt, leaving a small mound so the dirt will look good next year. Until the sheer mass presses matters down the loose dirt cannot be so strong as it will be. If you don't think so try driving across a newly filled trench. I know because I've done it and it took a backhoe to pull the truck out. What the critics fear is that some of the sub layers may not compress correctly, leading to a zone of weakness.

But the spokesmen for the Corps of Engineers disagrees. Of course he works for the President and the Bush Administration has made itself a reputation for punishing people who say what they do not want to hear. Just ask the three generals the Administration fired (excuse me, retired) before the war in Iraq. On the other hand, the Corps may be right. There is a thing called calculus. Shrink can be calculated with reasonable confidence so long as large safety measures are observed. It may be possible to build a levee capable of lasting before the next hurricane season. But that may be with the proviso that nothing near the size of Katrina comes by for a few years as the levee settles into full strength.

That may be a good bet. No city gets plastered every year, and it seems likely that New Orleans won't catch it for a while. In that case the levee may serve as the security blanket people need to rebuild and re-populate what is one of America's cultural treasures. By the time a big storm strikes again the levee may be an adult and up to its job.

But if the bet turns sour and lightning does strike twice, then the Corps will take the blame for building a crappy levee rather than an immature one.

People do a lot of things they later regret when they are tired.

A lot of people are tired much of the time.

One of the things I've come to realize in the seven months I've worked in the human services field is that the pay rate for people in this field is so low that most of the people have to take second jobs to avoid having to live in a dumpster. The result is that many of these people burn out quickly. Those who went into a field where you work with people in need believing they could help and devote themselves end up being tired, cranky and bitter. They fight through a life where they rarely get more than four hours of sleep a night and work hard to manage a smile and a positive vibration for those they work with. Sometimes they come undone. In the short time I've been in the field, I've seen a couple of people burn out hardcore. It isn't pretty. They start to snap at people, make outlandish decisions, become paranoid and convinced they are the only ones who know how things need to be done.

Mostly it is because they are tired.

There was the one woman I worked with who became borderline obsessed with her importance to the shelter we work at. She always wanted to be called when anything went wrong and always felt she was the one most capable of dealing with any crisis. She came in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and in the middle of the night. She also had a second job cleaning houses so she could afford her two room apartment and her second hand car. She reached the point where she was almost an empty shell of her former caring and devoted self. She ended up being asked to resign after too many questionable choices. She did not have trouble finding work elsewhere, given her experience and her degree, but I envision a cycle that will soon begin again.

I've seen it before, when I used to work in a nursing home and rehabilition center for the elderly. Most of the people providing direct care and being asked to show compassion and understanding towards the client were paid little more than minimum wage, asked to work multiple double shifts in a row, and most had to hold onto second jobs to afford to live. It was rare that anyone outside of the registered nurses lasted more than six months. Often they ended up yelling at patients who were difficult, neglecting them when they needed help, and walking off the job in the middle of a shift that was already short on staff.

It is more ugly than you imagine, but also more beautiful.

There is no money to be made in the field, which is part of the problem. The owners of the nursing home I once worked at were obsessed with turning it into a profitable holding and paid the workers as little as they could get away with. Our society is set up in such a way that profits are the most important part of any real business. The fallout from this mindset is that most people turn a blind eye to the human residue of profit at any cost, preferring to believe that everyone is taken care of in some way because we are an enlightened people.

Most of the time there just isn't any money to pay people with.

I met a volunteer firefighter who burned his arm because he had been called in on a fire in the middle of the night after a week of working twelve hour days at his regular job. He just wasn't thinking when he reached into that window. He was tired. I met a EMT who screamed at a badly injured woman who was being difficult because she was working her third double shift in a row. She was tired. I talked to a woman who worked on a suicide hotline who just called the police everytime someone called because she was too tired to deal with anyone. I used to live with a woman who was working on her doctorate in psychology while working full time at a residential center for the mentally challenged. She pushed a mentally retarded man down a flight of stairs because he was being obstinate. She was tired.

On the other side, these people are devoted and caring. People mean something to them. They decided long ago to give themselves to a difficult and challenging line of work. They were idealistic. They believed they could make a difference in the lives of people who did not have it as good as they did. Some devoted themselves because of trials and troubles they faced in their own lives and wanted to help others avoid the same pain and misfortune. These are the beautiful people.

I made more money at a job where I packed bottles of shampoo and hair care products into boxes to be shipped out to salons than I do at my current job. All I did there was make certain I carefully packed the product so it didn't open or leak all over the inside of the box. It was all I did all day. I make two dollars an hour less working with teenage girls trying to recover from abusive parents, drugs and alcohol and self-destructive lifestyles. Our society puts more value on packing shampoo into boxes.

I think that is pretty interesting.

OK Gruner
Am not feeling well...think I may puke. Notice today that Goldman looks like Paul McCartney, am going to force him to wear pegged pants to work from now on. Holidays have been for suck. Worked 10 hours overtime until 2:30 a.m. on new database for my office to meet deadline. Still had to go to work the next morning. Worked overtime again until 5:30. Still did not meet deadline because database has some fatal flaws. Computer geeks working around the clock. No results as of yet. Am tired. Am swamped with end-of-the-year accounting and loads of whining geezers. Both Goldman and I are popping St.Johns Wort like nobody’s business. Life is futile.
Wilson



OK Wilson
Last night I was at a birthday dinner at which, with no encouragement from me, people began without warning to pass their IDs around the table (!)
Am real poorly. Suspect pneumonia is imminent. Chest feels wrapped in steel bands. Struggling for breath. Why am I at work? Have no sick time. Fear I will faint. Am running temperature. Hate everyone. Over and out.
Gruner



Gruner-
Sorry you are poorly. I am physically well. Could use more sun and exercise. Am flaccid. I hate everyone as well, barring you, Simon, Colombo, and Goldman. What is the abbreviation for number that Chanel uses? I must be losing my mind. Am in the process of planning summer holidays. Need to inform chimps I work for of my plans so they can make more informed decisions when it comes to screwing me over. If you or Tolentino have any brilliant ideas for joint holiday fun this summer, let me know. (Something along the lines of the Ricardos and the Mertzes go on vacation.) Otherwise I will torture Goldman with 4th of July holiday fun in Vale. Still believe life to be a fairly futile endeavor. Over and out.
Wilson
PS if I come into even a little money, I will come visit again soon. I think we should go to a day spa and get facials and body wraps.



Gruner-
Have not heard from you. Am concerned about you in light of your last message indicating you were in a real poorly state of health. (Doesn’t the phrase ‘Real poorly’ sound as if we were conversing via mail during the Great Depression within some region of Oklahoma? It’s good.) Please respond as soon as is convenient with an update on your condition. I recommend keeping up your daily dose of St. Johns Wort as well as adding a couple of doses of Emergen-C vitamin drink. I recommend using Canada Dry Seltzer Water. Simon turned me on to this. It’s real good. Over and out.
Wilson



Yo Wilson,
I too know the C powder of which you write. I encountered it in the kitchen of the Big House under the stewardship of one Simon F., only he told me it was speed, and I believed him. Now I know better. That man is a fiend for Vitamin C. I’m afraid I fear what a former professor of mine called the “explosive shits” too much to venture into truly hardcore C dimensions. Thus my cold lingers on, on and on. I have spent the last several nights getting bed rest, watching movies chosen by Tolentino, and hacking incredible reams of mucus into the plumbing and landfill systems. I am medicating with Echinacea/C drops, Zinc/C/Echinacea/Goldenseal tablets every two hours, raw garlic chopped into tomato juice (highly recommended. I cannot taste a thing), lemon/ginger/echinacea grog (very spicy, preferably warmed), and herbal teas of all kinds, not to mention the standard OTC sinus and mucus alleviators and the old favorite, 99 cent aspirin.
Will try to come up with vacation ideas. Perhaps Vegas is in order.
Later
Gruner

I am a god. I have actually succeeded in shaping reality. This has happened before, but never as clearly as this.

It all started yesterday as I was obsessively surfing the E2 database, spawning a new window every time I passed a word or phrase that piqued my interest. At one point I had nearly forty IE windows open at once. I discovered that there is an unusual amount of information here on the topic of physics. I mean, it could make your head explode. Somewhere between singularities and hyperspheres I ran across a hardlink to tungsten, something I heretofore knew nothing about, as well as a host of other strange materials and concepts.

At the end of the day, as I prepared to leave the office, it occurred to me that I would have loved to have pursued a career in physics, if I were not now completing a degree in political science and planning for law school. I got home, and read one of those infamous holiday family update letters over dinner. I discovered that my cousin, having completed her degree in political science, is now suddenly considering going on to study physics in grad school. Odd enough, but it could be a coincidence, right? Well...

As I settled in for a lazy night in front of the TV, I tuned the set to Seinfeld. I don't often watch the show, but if it helps for reference it was the episode where George Castanza's girlfriend contracts mono and Jerry gets bumped from Career Day. Somewhere along the line, George is on the couch watching Jeopardy and effortlessly answering all the questions correctly. That might be a staple of the show, I don't know. Anyway, so he blurts out to one of the clues, "What is tungsten..." There is a very brief pause, during which the recognition registers in my brain, and then he continues, "...or wolfram." I am blown away: wolfram is the former name of the element tungsten, and I only just learned this exceedingly obscure piece of trivia earlier that day, and found it very fascinating.

The only logical explanation is that I have somehow managed to single-handedly distort reality. Obviously, during the few hours I spent reading this intense material I generated enough energy to warp spacetime in ways I cannot begin to understand. This is too much. I am going to have to think about this.

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