Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Second Battle of New Orleans

Some months ago, I watched some special on the 'History' channel, I believe, about the War of 1812; the special indicated that the war truly signified the beginning of the existence of the U.S. as a nation.

A crucial event, which occurred after the war, was the Battle of New Orleans, led by the future president Andrew Jackson, was notable in another regard. According to A. Wilson Greene, former manager of Chalmette National Historical Park:

"Never has a more polyglot army fought under the Stars and Stripes than did Jackson's force at the Battle of New Orleans. In addition to his regular U.S. Army units, Jackson counted on dandy New Orleans militia, a sizeable contingent of black former Haitian slaves fighting as free men of color, Kentucky and Tennessee frontiersman armed with deadly long rifles and a colorful band of outlaws led by Jean Lafitte, whose men Jackson once disdained as "hellish banditti." This hodgepodge of 4,000 soldiers, crammed behind narrow fortifications, faced more than twice their number."

And how did "Ol' Hickory" view the contributions of his 'colored' soldiers? In a letter Jackson issued through his aid de camp, Col. Butler, on December 18, 1814, he effusively praised the efforts of these men:

"SOLDIERS! When on the banks of the Mobile, I called you to take up arms inviting you to partake the perils and glory of your white fellow citizens, I expected much from you; for I was not ignorant that you possessed qualities most formidable to an invading army.

I knew with what fortitude you could endure hunger and thirst, and all the fatigues of a campaign. I knew well how you love your native country, and that you, as well as ourselves, had to defend what man holds dear: his parents, wife, children, and prosperity. You have done more than I expected. In addition to the previous qualities I before knew you to possess, I found among you noble enthusiasm, which leads to the performance of great things."

The strategic and economic importance of the New Orleans area and the Gulf Coast region, as well as its historical and cultural importance, are realities that Hurricane Katrina re-taught our nation (hopefully, we're re-learning in time to do some good).

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The people of the Gulf Coast, who have been, and are being helped back on their feet by our fellow Americans, will need our continued, long-term assistance in a variety of ways, in order to reach economic sufficiency again. Unfortunately, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, charities helping in relief efforts are already noticing a slackening off of donations.

You may ask why is money needed? After all, organizations have received massive goods donations from all over, so why is money needed as well? A quick answer is simply that money offers flexibility, with which organizations can purchase things which are not easy to transport, or anything which folks might not have thought to provide, but which are still needed. Examples of such things would be fuel for trucks and vans to transport supplies, communications equipment, you name it. Although the Red Cross and Salvation Army are two of the most well-known organizations providing relief services (and the Red Cross could always use blood donations), you might consider donating to other organizations, as well.

The NAACP has launched a relief drive, the United Way has a drive to purchase school supplies for displaced students, and Save the Children provides children spaces to gather, play, and learn, while awaiting settlement and faciliting searches for their parents. People can volunteer housing, or seek temporary housing, through, which has a large number of listed spots in the southeastern U.S. (Via You can also donate money to a Louisiana chapter of the United Way through the web site of the Tabasco company, a site which also has cool gift ideas, recipes, screen savers, and wallpaper. (Yes, it's operating once more.) [Tabasco's chipotle hot sauce is a marvel; I now understand why it's only sold in the larger bottles--once you taste it, you can't leave it alone, you must use it in just about everything.]

Solid general pointers and guidelines on how you can effectively get involved in relief efforts, either as a direct volunteer or by donating, can be found at the Points of Light Foundation (who knew?), as well as NVOAD (which helpfully lists many of the smaller organizations involved in relief efforts, through which you may wish to lend a hand).

The Katrina catastrophe starkly illustrates that, truly, no man is an island.

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The destruction wrought by Katrina has certainly brought home the message of September as being Emergency Preparedness Month for those of us not immediately in harm's way. Also, we've found out that if you're waiting for help, you may have to wait two or three weeks for someone to rescue you! Merely the electricity being out for a number of days would leave you unaware of what's going on, or for how long. What would be some basic, easy steps to prepare for that possibility?

Recent events have shown the truth of the aphorism, "Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink," as the availability (or lack thereof) of safe drinking water was an immediate concern for hurricane survivors. The Washington Post's Sally Squires has an informative article on the types, and amount, of food and drink you may want to keep on hand, just in case. A recent New York Times [free regi. req'd] article warns, "If you take nothing else away from this article, at least heed this advice: stock up on water." (Actually, that article has quite a few other useful pieces of advice, so read up. Interestingly, the advice offered at the very end of that article, that the best security was neighbors you can trust, was echoed in, of all things, a survivalist web site article!)

Decent information on safety and emergency preparation can be found in such places as the parent safety tips section of PEPCO's web site, and even (don't laugh too hard) site for the various state FEMA offices, such as Maryland's (known as MEMA).

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A major deficiency in this hurricane emegency was lack of communication, which caused all kinds of rumors to swirl as rapidly as the flood waters. It might be a good idea to consider buying inexpensive items that don't even need batteries, for even if you stock up on batteries, you neve know if they will work when you need them, especially if they've been stored a while. In one sense, you may want to go back to the future, technologically speaking. Radio Shack offers a line of Grundig radios which are not very expensive, at least one of which an be operated by hand crank! The Solardyne company has been running specials on some of its smaller products, which might prove handy in emergency circumstances. There is currently an adorable 'solar mini radio' on sale, as well as three (count 'em!) solar flashlights on sale, including a combo flashlight/radio/siren! There are also, would you believe, hand crank cell phone chargers.

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Gas prices got you down? The local Toyota dealer all out of Priuses, and there's a waiting list for them a mile long? Canadian Driver recently did a challenge of 10 non-hybrid compact cars commonly available in North America, and drove them through southern Quebec and eastern Ontario until their tanks ran dry, to see which car(s) lasted longest on a tank of gas. After 14 hours of driving, the two cars that were still running were the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla, respectively. (Disclaimer: I have a 2003 Corolla.)

The drivers in this challenge had this to say about the cars they drove:

"And you don't have to endure tiny vehicles with no creature comforts to achieve these results. All the vehicles in this class came with air conditioning, a CD player (except one) and remote keyless entry. Many had power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, side impact airbags, anti-lock brakes and automatic transmissions. All were comfortable, peppy and felt solid on the road. All were pleasant to drive.

Our conclusions? If you're concerned about fuel economy, and you use a car regularly, the compact class is the way to go. If you need a really big vehicle or an SUV, maybe you also need a compact for general duty. It could almost pay for itself in fuel savings!"

I can attest to the general comfort of the Corolla (the seating is quite roomy [I'm not a short person], and the trunk is surprisingly large).

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Maybe you're not in the market for another vehicle of any kind, but would still like to make your gas go further. (Who doesn't, these days?) Which gas saving tips really work, and which are a bunch of hokum? The folks at tested four common fuel economy tips and attempted to see which of the four yielded a measurable difference in fuel economy. The tip that made the most difference (drum roll, please!), with "major savings potential," was feather-foot driving (as opposed to lead-foot driving). Of course, being a feather foot might also yield other savings (such as less wear and tear on your vehicle, not to mention yourself and your passengers). And frankly, haven't most folks had more than enough unnecessary wear and tear recently?