An Archive of Jacob Appelbaum’s Post-Katrina weblog

An interview by Esther Sassaman for an upcoming text

The following is a personal interview by Esther Sassaman:

Bloggers are known for strong political opinions and too much openness about their love lives. A growing number have taken the expressive power of the blog into new realms. Many bloggers of all interests and political viewpoints have debunked inaccuracies portrayed by the mainstream media, maintained compendia on rapidly developing stories more quickly than big broadcasters, and established their own live news services in conflict zones. Jacob Applebaum is one of this last category, publishing photojournalism from Iraq, Houston, and New Orleans that has often surpassed the news value, narrative power, and beauty of photography produced by longstanding news service photographers. Appelbaum went to Iraq in April 2005 as a photographer and to visit friends, and visited Houston’s Astrodome after Katrina to help set up a low power FM radio network and wireless service [] for details. He is currently in the poor, black Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, administering a data center at the behest of community organizer and former Black Panther Malik Rahim.

Jacob’s photographs have gained a new audience with the Houston Astrodome series [], which has become widely distributed. I reached him on Tuesday, the second day of his stay in Algiers. We talked about the situation in Algiers on Tuesday, but also about his personal motivations for coming to activism, and his background.

You can read the rest of the interview off site.


Power is out

Posted in algiers,electricity,housing,Katrina,neworleans by jacob on September 17, 2005

Just as I was about to post about two bad ass hackers from NYC who brought about 2k worth of equipment with them – the power died. We’re working on generator power but it’s comforting to know that it’s just our block.

Update: It’s back on now but we’re charging our UPS system so we can have enough power to finish staging our networks for deployment tomorrow. 

Radio Interview with Chris Pirillo

Last night I talked to Chris Pirillo for his weekly show. You can hear the interview on their site.

The media center is deployed by the community!

Posted in algiers,gear,housing,Katrina,media,neworleans,photos,supplies,wireless by jacob on September 15, 2005

Today was great. We accomplished much in getting everyone online. My method was to teach people how to teach other people. Everyone that learned from me went to teach others. They became the teachers and then they made more teachers. By the end of the day, no one was working with me at all, everyone knew how to fish. We now have 8 public terminals, custom ethernet cables, scavenged switches as well as other things. If you’re in the area we’ve got an open wifi network.

Community media center comes online

Here we have a photo of a local boy teaching a member of the Danish press how to setup a computer.

Community media center comes online

Here’s the finished product being used by the community that build it.

Joel is going to post about the actual tech involved tomorrow. I’m tired and for the first night since I’ve been sleeping in the Media center, I get to sleep on something other than a floor!

Supplies arrive from Austin, Texas

Posted in algiers,gear,housing,Katrina,neworleans,supplies,travel by jacob on September 13, 2005

Supplies arrive from Austin

Just as the curfew came, a large amount of supplies arrived from Austin. Fuel, food and bikes. Now the locals will have transportation, fuel for generators or cars and food to eat.

Naomi Klein comes for a visit

Naomi Klein came today with Avi Lewis (husband and cameraman) and they interviewed Malik. I was really happy with the questions she asked, she really hit the important ones home. She asked about class, she asked about race, she asked about displacement, she asked about the help they received.

Naomi Klien interviews Malik

I’m really happy that Malik has the attention he rightfully deserves. The people on the ground here are in a fight to get the help they need and he’s the leader they love. I’ve heard people repeat over and over again that he averted people from dying, he helped them to eat, he helped them to be calm and he brought everyone together. They put aside their differences and became a community over night. He talked about the armed white men in the streets pulling their guns on every black man they could see. He talked about their efforts to calm everything and how it worked.

While Naomi Klien interviews Malik this man interjects praise

The man pictured above interrupted the interview to speak at length about how Malik basically saved his life and the life of the community with no outside help. He talked about the hell of the Superdome and how it was suicide to go inside. He actually took over the interview with his emotional response but everyone was listening to him. Cameras were rolling.

I was really happy at how down to earth Naomi was. She spoke to me about the project she’s doing. She does really impressive work and it’s an honor to meet someone who actually does things to change the world! When people tell me that I’m doing something worth while I think about the work that Naomi or Kalle Lasn (Adbusters) are doing, it makes me remember that I have much further to go. People like Naomi are an inspiration.

 Naomi Klein interviews Malik

She’s filming for a documentary and I believe one of the main issues the film will address is the idea of displacement during natural disasters. I asked her what she meant and she discussed a number of subjects. One of them was how such actions could be viewed as colonialism (would this be called neo-colonialism?). Authorities often use disasters as a reason to rebuild “worthwhile” economic developments rather than homes for the displaced poor who once lived there. Perhaps this is the future of the parts of this city.

Really interesting stuff!

Houston Astrodome radio station update

Posted in algiers,batonrouge,fema,housing,Katrina,media,neworleans,photos,radio,supplies by jacob on September 12, 2005

This is being written from my Treo650.

The radio station at the Astrodome finally got the FCC permits needed to broadcast outside of the dome. Thus they have subverted the Astrodome authorities that clearly stood in the way of something useful. I really hope that this is put to good use. I’m not there and I’m a bit out of the loop but i’ve confirmed Houston Indymedia is hard at work on this.

Into the city center

Take a look at my flickr stream for the photos I took today. Leave a comment with a link to the ones you feel deserve the most information.

The date on my camera was screwed up and so today was actually split into two days as far as the camera is concerned.

A portrait of Malik Rahim

Posted in algiers,housing,Katrina,media,medical,neworleans,photos,supplies,wireless by jacob on September 11, 2005

Malik Rahim

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.

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