An Archive of Jacob Appelbaum’s Post-Katrina weblog


Some thoughts on my first night in New Orleans

How many times must a mosquito bite you before you stop noticing? I think I’m up to a few dozen in the last hour.

I feel like I’m back in Iraq with Tyler and Jayme. The powers gone out again and the emergency generators are kicking power into the vsat uplinks. Only we’re using EVDO and the latency is better. Tyler and Jayme aren’t here but I think they’d feel right at home. The air smells polluted, the bugs are biting, the weather is easily 40C and it’s nearly 01:00am. The humidity is so thick your glasses sweat. My forehead is covered in sweat and I’m just sitting in a chair typing. My arms are breaking out into a heat rash, I’ve been spoiled by San Francisco’s cold ocean air. Much like being in Iraq, I wonder what the EPA has to say about living in this area. I’m pretty sure people are shaving off decades if they swim in the river or if they drink the local water they’d likely die.

On the drive into the city I swore I was in some horrible science fiction movie about doomsday in America. Army Humvee after Army Humvee. Check points, automatic rifles, helicopter after helicopter.

As I’m sitting here, the only light I can see is the light of my laptop illuminating my fingers. My cell phone would light up if people could call in. Only rarely does that work, no one has left voicemail but when they do get through they tell me they’ve rung for hours, upwards of two dozen times.

We didn’t have to pass through a single check point to enter the city, we simply went around them. There was much debate about the amount of danger we would be in by coming here and so far I feel pretty safe. We didn’t bring a gun, partly because we didn’t want to believe it would be so bad that we would need one and because it was probably impossible to get one at such short notice. I don’t think that was a mistake, we don’t need firearms. I do find it pretty surprising that the American government has recently hired Blackwater security forces to patrol the streets here. At the same time they’re removing firearms from citizens who rightfully feel they need them. It’s a strange future we’re living in and have no doubt about it, we’re living in the future. It’s too bad that we’re living in that other future, the dystopian one. The one with terrorists, murderers, corruption at the highest government levels, global wars and a world with an environment being destroyed by serious pollution. A world where people are now literately drowning in it.

Every few minutes a red beacon light swings around in the plastic dome of some patrol truck looking for people breaking curfew. I assume they’re police out for looters or survivors or whatever you’re calling people doing what ever it is they’re doing out after dark. When we drove in to the city, we didn’t know the curfew was at 18:00 hours, we arrived at 18:30. We’re lucky the sun was still up as it’s not a good place to be driving around in a big unmarked van. We have the benefit of being white but I suppose when you’re shooting people in the pitch black of night you only see the targets face when the tracers accompany the welcoming party.

The sound of helicopters that don’t seem to have lights is familiar, I can’t put my finger on where. Some warzone, somewhere. Right?

It’s late and I have to be up in the morning because the military is going to march down the road here in some sort of security exercise. I want to photograph it because I can’t believe it’s happening in an American city. It’s amazing to me to see a city basically under martial law. It’s clear that the people on the ground here are authorized to use lethal force. At the moment I’m breaking one of own traveling rules, I have my back to a door. I can’t hear someone if they walk up and I suppose it’s out of hope that this place isn’t so dangerous that I can’t sleep safely.

We recently got video streaming working from one of our laptops. Some of the best hackers on the planet decided that our neo-gonzo journalism was worth some bandwidth, I’m pretty flattered and I hope I don’t let them down. I hope they’re ready to watch Joel and I cook food, build computer networks, scout antenna locations and otherwise talk about the current state of New Orleans.

There’s that light again, the patrol seems to be pretty frequent. The helicopters are flying overhead again. I wonder if they have thermal imaging gear? Certainly they’re working overtime to patrol the skies but I wonder what they’re collecting data on and what they plan to do with it.

The people on the ground here, Malik being the main man, are really righteous people. They’re getting ready to help the citizens of this parish to live, to eat, to be clean, to sleep safely, to communicate with the world.

Helicopter again. It’s like clock work and you can hardly see them. I wish I had my night vision goggles. Of all the times to leave them in the closet at home I had to pick this time.

Hopefully all the plans we have will actually work out, hopefully we will be able to get more fuel into the generators, hopefully we’ll get more generators on the ground. Hopefully we’ll be able to get better uplinks without having to resort to using the cell network but it seems doubtful. I haven’t heard back from the people at DirectNIC. I suppose they’re busy with something else, hopefully someone else can supply these people with uplinks to the real world.

I hear some animals whelping in the background and it makes me nervous about having my back to the door. I can’t hear footsteps over the sound of the generator. Stray dogs barking, generators generating, helicopters chopping and the smell of oil in the air.

On the way into the city we didn’t have the same confrontation with death as we did when we entered Louisiana. It smelled like slow swamp death just waiting for you to lose control of your car.

I wonder if the reporters are being censored here. I wonder what will happen to me when I enter the main parts of the city to find an uplink or other people who need a connection. I wonder how things will fare in this city that’s under the boot of a general, the water of a storm, the eyes of the nation and on the tip of every tongue in the world.

It’s the 4th anniversary of September 11th.

I remember laying in bed four years ago waking up to a phone call that changed my world. Only a few days prior I had considered joining the military because I wanted to find some sort of direction in life. I slept on it and when I woke up I found my answer. I knew that my job in life wasn’t to be a solider and to follow orders of a political machine. I knew that I had to guide my life by an ethical standard that never bent to misusing faith in the lord or simply a luck of votes.

Somehow along the lines I’ve come here; to New Orleans in the middle of what feels like a war with an enemy that has no face. An enemy that cannot be beaten because it can never die and a world full of chaos where we constantly try to bring order.

My fiancee lives in Canada. She has no idea that I’ve made it in safely unless she’s checked her voicemail. I wish I could tell her that I was alright, I wish I could tell her all will be fine. She can’t call into my phone and she’s currently away from a number I know how to reach. Some future. I guess Gibson is wholly correct when he says that the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

I know my partner would like to know if I feel safe. She’s like to know if I’m worried about my safety or the safety of those around me. I’d like to think that the government is going to keep all of us safe from the so called looters. That the militias and private citizens will keep us safe from whatever government actions might take place. I’d like to think mercenaries working for the government won’t ever come into view and they’ll never have to use deadly force.

I’d like to think that because the government says they’ve dropped the media ban that no one gets harassed or has their equipment destroyed. I’d like to hear that the reports of media personnel being shot was a rumor. I’d like to hear that no one has guns, locked and loaded, pointed at their face again for documenting some objective truth regardless of how terrible it might be.

Ultimately I think media, independent media and even corporate media will keep us all inline, online and connected. We’ll keep ourselves in check when we know the world is watching. If not, the world will be our judge, jury and executioner.

Right now I’m feeling tired, I’m covered in sweat and all I can hear is helicopters, generators and dogs barking. It’s so strange to be able to hear past all of that noise and know that it’s silent in a city that’s dark.

41 Responses to 'Some thoughts on my first night in New Orleans'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Some thoughts on my first night in New Orleans'.

  1. vaara said,

    A superb post.

    What sort of epitaph are we writing for those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and for those who are dying in New Orleans now?

  2. heatheranne said,

    It is a crying shame that here in America you should have to think about things like this. I hope one day we as the richest country learn how to care for our own. This was a fantastic post. Thank you so much for another perspective, one that is thought provoking and insightful. I wish you safety and I hope you are soon able to communicate with your life partner. My best wishes to you, and please, keep writing.

  3. papabean said,

    Thank you for the work you’re doing. This kind of reporting is the past and future of journalism. The human perspective without corporate restraint or restriction. These are the stories of our time, the documentaries of our age.


  4. What a story you tell! I am in the UK, buffered by Fox and CNN to hear only their sides of the story. You moved me to tears with this writing – please do not stop – please take care – please be safe.

  5. Animal Farm said,

    I agree with papabean that this type of journalism is a very strong and powerful medium. But there lies a problem with this type of digital history, how is it going to be made available for prosperity? A website can create its own archives but how will it remain for future generations to gain knowledge from?

  6. david said,

    Our govt today: Blind, deaf, and weilding a big stick. One more sign of an oppressive state.
    By the way, every BART train still has a poster for “AIDS marathon New Orleans 2005″. I wonder why they haven’t been taken down? I suppose they’ll stay until the advertising contract expires. Just another one of those things that makes me think there really is no light in the attic.


  7. [...] We didn’t have to pass through a single check point to enter the city, we simply went around them. There was much debate about the amount of danger we would be in by coming here and so far I feel pretty safe. We didn’t bring a gun, partly because we didn’t want to believe it would be so bad that we would need one and because it was probably impossible to get one at such short notice. I don’t think that was a mistake, we don’t need firearms. I do find it pretty surprising that the American government has recently hired Blackwater security forces to patrol the streets here. At the same time they’re removing firearms from citizens who rightfully feel they need them. It’s a strange future we’re living in and have no doubt about it, we’re living in the future. It’s too bad that we’re living in that other future, the dystopian one. The one with terrorists, murderers, corruption at the highest government levels, global wars and a world with an environment being destroyed by serious pollution. A world where people are now literately drowning in it. Some Thoughts on My First Night in New Orleans by Jacob Appelbaum [...]

  8. Nate Cull said,

    This is the kind of story that gives me hope.

    I want to see more of this kind of citizen techno-journalism. It’s got to be better than what we’ve got now.

  9. Saha said,

    I agree with papabean that this type of journalism is a very strong and powerful medium. But there lies a problem with this type of digital history, how is it going to be made available for prosperity? A website can create its own archives but how will it remain for future generations to gain knowledge from?


  10. [...] More Katrina News More shocking news about the situation in New Orleans. Jacob Appelbaum and Joel Johnson are in the New Orleans area, helping with communications reconnect efforts and documenting what they witness. Jacob writes: It’s a strange future we’re living in and have no doubt about it, we’re living in the future. It’s too bad that we’re living in that other future, the dystopian one. The one with terrorists, murderers, corruption at the highest government levels, global wars and a world with an environment being destroyed by serious pollution. A world where people are now literately drowning in it. [...]

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