Category Archives: News Biz

Kindle, iPad, tablet: not the same, with good reason

I just ran across an article claiming that iPads are superior to Kindles because iPads are more than just e-readers.

I love my Mac, but I love my Kindle, too. I love them for different reasons. I love that I can play with Calibre, Stanza, iMovie, and all Teh Internetz on my Mac. I love that I’m seriously unable to get distracted by web-surfing and e-mailing on my Kindle, and that I don’t need Calibre or Stanza to create readable personal files (thank you, .doc files, e-mail, and

I use my Kindle for reading, annotating what I read, and occasionally hitting the wi-fi to download the daily paper, classics from Project Gutenberg, some feverishly-typed-up study notes, or copies of my favorite magazines. For people who read tons of text, have five too few bookcases, and need to avoid distractions, the paperback-book-sized Kindle is far superior to the iPad. One could send an e-mail in a crisis, assuming wi-fi or 3G capability was up, yet the Kindle’s deliberately too-small keyboard is an effective deterrent for those of us on a social-media diet.

I think of tablets as slightly too-small PDF-reading and e-mail-checking machines with limited typing capabilities–and I mean that as a compliment. Tablets are almost there, as far as research tools, but I’d like to see a true 8.5 x 11 screen size and the ability to highlight and annotate PDFs before I commit to an iPad (or to whomever meets the requirements first). I would love to take a tablet into the stacks with me to take notes (or scan/photograph images) and to fill it with tons of academic database articles and newspapers. (Hey, I’m a writer. I’m a grad student. I have been a reporter and likely will be one again.) However, the tablet/iPad would have to have native PDF annotating and highlighting capabilities to win my eye. And with the AARP about to stalk me, the eyes get priority.

I broke up with my iPod Touch because the mice-type was making me blind and I didn’t enjoy the “alternative” of reading novels half a paragraph at a time. On the Kindle, I can resize text for whatever my need is at a given moment. Resizing PDFs on the small Kindle is a non-starter. (Imagine covering half of a page vertically and then trying to read it.) I thought the big Kindle’s sumptuous 9.7-inch screen would solve both text size and readable-PDF-page problems, but the DX was too awkward and heavy for casual reading or one-handed key-poking, especially for someone with bird-bone wrists and tiny hands. I swapped my big Kindle for a small one and have been watching the iPad/tablet developers duke it out ever since.

I got a great deal on an Acer Iconia A500 for my partner, who was disappointed at not having won an iPad in a drawing at work. Of course the A500 isn’t an iPad, but because she has an Android phone and the A500 runs on Android, it seemed like a good fit. It also seems more practical, in that it has “gigs and gags” the iPad doesn’t, like a mini-SD card reader. She’s warming up to it, in her usual technophobic way. The A500 can talk to her Mac, which treats it as a USB device, and she has many free software options (no online purchasing needed). It talks to her e-mail and she can tap the address on a work order and pull up a Google map. She can take endless cat-worship videos with “The Eye”–“Oh! It has The Eye in the front AND in the back!” And, if you have The Eye, you can use Es-Skippy, just like on the regular computer. A technophobe who develops a secret passion for Google Sky on her phone should have no trouble adapting to the A500.

Why do manufacturers always load stupid games onto your new toy without asking? Why not let us choose the games we want? We’re not all 12-year-old boys trying to sublimate our testosterone rushes via combat sims. I like the occasional game of Asteroids or Pac-Man, and I admit to letting the iPod whip my butt at level-one chess a few times, but I really don’t play games on my e-toys. (Okay, I have played Scrabble online. My idea of portable-device diversion is WriteRoom. Or a fresh download from Project Gutenberg.)

I’d much rather have the option to choose, say, five or six basic productivity programs: a mind-mapper, a PDF annotator, a fully-functional suite like Pages or Office, a web browser, and maybe a Leitner-box flashcard set and a decent gradebook). Call it the iStudy package.

Another marketing tip: Don’t fake-load the program in demo mode, only for users to find out that they have to pay $14.99 to get a fully-functional version (ahem, DataViz…). If the Documents to Go icon shows up, I don’t expect to unwrap a hollow box–and I definitely don’t expect my partner to have to pay for what seems to be a gift. The first thing she asked to see was the word processing program. She didn’t want me to pay for Docs to Go. I thought we could download OpenOffice, but the open-source gods haven’t cobbled the Android tablet version together yet.

Quite a few iPad-armed colleagues would appreciate an essay-grading app. If we could edit the rubric criteria, this would be a must-have. However, if we can’t open and view the essay alongside the app, and iPad can only run one app at a time (really?), we’d still need to pick up paper submissions from students.

How would this make grading any easier for instructors and less confusing for students? It wouldn’t:

“I don’t understand why you didn’t mark up my paper! If you e-mail me comments, why can’t I e-mail you my paper? Why should I have to pay to print out my paper?…”

Really, Apple and other developers have overlooked this research/academic/writerly market niche for too long. Let us decide whether to download Angry Birds or Chess or whatever, but first give us the tools we actually might use with an iPad or other tablet. Include a few good market-targeted programs instead of junk apps priced into the deal yet destined for the recycle bin. That, and a slightly bigger screen, would convince me to part with a few hundred bucks, possibly for the October-surprise version of iPad.

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AWP 2011: Oye Como Va

This year’s AWP convention in Washington was one of the best I’ve ever been to. It was also one of the strangest. The far more serious matter of Egypt overshadowed everything–for me, anyhow–as did my other writing life outside of po-biz. The precise chronology of events is a bit fuzzy. I should fact-check like a good reporter; for now, here’s a poet’s pastiche:

DAY 0 (Tuesday): Drove from Atlanta, skirting the gargantuan storm system that kept many folks from flying into DC. Was almost the only person on road. Weather was foggy and misty in Georgia, not too bad in North Carolina, and extremely dense rain from Richmond up. Had the rain been snow, it would have been a blizzard. Listened to Tahrir Square events unfold on BBC World Service, CNN, and MSNBC via satellite radio, pondering geopolitics while driving through the storm.

After trolling from place to place until the wee hours, finally found room at the inn: a no-tell motel in “La Republica Popular de Takoma Park,” as the bumper sticker says. Slept on the unused of the two beds, still fully clothed. Contemplated adding both hammock and folding cot to survival stash in trunk.

DAY 1 (Wednesday): Thank you, IHOP. Thank you, strategically-located banks. Thank you, schedule, for not placing me in the bank when it was robbed four days earlier. Arrive at historic Omni Shoreham with its nifty diving rebreather history. Exceptional staff. Beautiful room. Clean room. Light switch cover that rests directly on wall surface. No DNA samples from previous occupants. A desk where I could line up 50 or so Katrina-poetry-related books, plug in my laptop, and refine my annotations. I watched TV as street fighting broke out between police and protestors, feeling the same dread I felt the first night of the (first) Gulf War, wondering whether I would see or hear people I knew get blown up during their liveshot. Finally removed to the hotel bar for a double and a call to my favorite newsheimer. Scary night, even now.

DAY 2 (THURSDAY): Friends arrive. Panels ensue. I hit the bookfair after the long hike across the street, down the block, down the stairs, up the elevator, through the hall, across the lobby, down the escalator, into the bookfair, and then back, and back, and back to small-press-hinterlands to see Louie, Palmer, and Pat at Pecan Grove‘s table. Hooray for Pat and her new book, Inherent Vice, which she kindly signed! Reverse-hustled through aforementioned maze to see “Trading Stories with the Enemy: Navigating the Cuban/American Literary Landscape” panel back at the Omni. On the sign outside the meeting room, someone has posted a note, along the lines of: “The Cuba panel has been cancelled. None of the presenters were able to fly out of the Midwest.” Shortages here, too? Is this how it’s gonna go? Oyame. It’s not often that I get to talk Cuban literature outside of my own house.

Meandered into overpriced hotel buffet and bumped into Nicole and Peter Cooley. Had old-home week with them and met Thomas Beller, to whom I apologize publicly for all the New Orleans-centric references.

Escaped from AWP to meet up with old pal at CNN’s Washington bureau. Got the nickel tour to see how the new setup works. Saw old friends and colleagues, more than one of whom asked,”So, when are you coming back? We need you!”

This gives me much to think about.

I’m thinking.

Went to Busboys and Poets with said pal to meet an old college pal of his. Had dinner, wine, great conversation. Then we get down to business, that being our 23-year relationship as dance partners. Regrouped at the funkalicious Madam Organ’s, where a badass Latin band did bossa nova interpretations of Nirvana, hipped James Taylor up to speed, and threw down some smokin’ Colombian dance music and Grateful Dead. Oye como va. Unfortunately, I was dead on arrival, feeling my age and his, and barely moved my exhausted gringa feet while he did all the work. Who are these tiny twenty-somethings with the 360-degree swivel hips? I want to dance like that when I’m 90.

We discussed the goat-decor’s pendulous appendages. I allowed as how they might function as mistletoe for guys betting on which girl they could catch.

Inexplicably, DC seems to put orange slices in all of its beer.

Beg for mercy because my feet hurt so damn bad.

Drag into the Omni lobby, exhausted but thrilled at seeing the old crew again. Who should I find in the hotel bar but my new crew–West Chester and FORMALISTA friends Marilyn and Kathrine? Drink, talk shop, show photos on various digital devices. Eventually drag up to bed, order room service (which arrives in even wee-er hours), fall asleep over $20 egg and revolution of people who would make far better use of both the egg and the $20. Self-indulgent poets and writers, spending all that money on hotel rooms and airfare. I can’t enjoy this.

* * *

DAY 3 (FRIDAY): Oversleep yet again, this time through Mezzo Cammin timeline panel. Hit the NEA how-to-apply-for-a-grant panel, only to discover that poets should read the website. Left with other poets who also have read the website, but were looking for finer nuances. Back to the bookfair. Hugs and catching up every few feet. And lunch with Marilyn, Kathrine, and Moira. And drinks with Mona Lisa and Sister Anne, talking about Catholicism and community and her upcoming trip to the Father/Mother Land Ghana, and especially about Mona Lisa’s finally disentangling the byzantine New Orleans permitting offices to pour the slab on the house in which she and five generations of her family had lived until Katrina took it. Every AWP since Katrina, we discuss the glacial progress that is rebuilding her piece of New Orleans. Six AWPs later, still no house.

* * *

I wasn’t organized enough to get new business cards before AWP. I zipped over to the copy center, whomped up something pre-fab, and had a very short run of cards made at the whopping price of about 26 cents each. I gulped and put it on the plastic. The place was slammed. The woman behind the counter dickered with the carpet installer about coming back after closing. He didn’t want to. She talked him into it. I figured I’d copy the bib in the morning.

Height of the night: the Floricanto reading, which blew the roof off the historic True Reformer Building. Highlights: Martin Espada’s poem about the marriage problem, Marilyn Nelson braving croakiness to read and run, the curandera/politician who read as if she were officiating at High Mass, Sonia Sanchez’s shaman-self channelling/chanting/exorcizing, and the room itself, which looked and felt like a church. Each reader was outlined by a white aura. Lighting? Energy? Spirit beings? Poets report. You decide.

* * *

Back in my room, still drained from faux-dancing effort, I tweaked an extensive bibliography of post-K poetry and poetics. I saved it to Gdocs. I saved it to my hard drive. I saved it to a jump drive. Multiple redundancies. The plan: print some copies and e-mail it to anyone who gets left out. Oye como va.

So then I start writing a few thoughts about poetry in and out of post-Katrina New Orleans. No big deal. I peeked in the mirror occasionally to see Egypt while I was writing what I thought was a quick and dirty set-up for the bibliography. And I kept writing. And writing. Nicole had asked me point-blank last year, “Why don’t you write about it?” And I stammered and said I hadn’t been there in the same way and that nobody really cared about my vantage point and all those things writers in denial say when they avoid writing. And then it was 4:37 in the morning, and I had this crazed, slightly disjointed essay about who has the right to say what. And it was a first draft, not anything I would read at the panel, but the makings of a really good essay for sometime in the near future.

Then I insisted on sanity and sleep, but just let me check my e-mail once first, and et cetera. So I open the ASLE mailbox, which apparently I hadn’t done since November. And there was an e-mail from Sheryl St. Germain about precisely this notion of outsiders speaking for locals, only from the point of view of nature writing. And from November. And, she was giving a talk about it at this same AWP, which hadn’t registered with me because I was only looking at poetry panels. So I opened her essay and it was a hell of a lot like mine, although clearly not a first draft. So I told her about this weird coincidence. Two writers plus one wavelength equals a certain kind of poetic zeitgeist.

We will explore further.

* * *

DAY 4 (SATURDAY): I have given up completely on all panels other than the one I’m moderating. The tubercular cough that’s haunted me all week inexplicably disappears in the oppressive mist that today coats everything. I eat lunch with Pat and Marilyn and Kathrine at the Lebanese place everyone’s been raving about. I hustle over to the copy center. It’s closed. The carpet guy is there. I ask you: who the hell decides to close the hotel bar and the copy center in the middle of the afternoon during a writers’ conference? Oh, it’s the hotel. Not my hotel, mind you. That other flagshippy one, where the ladies’ room looks like the Superdome’s by the third quarter. The hotel for which AWP probably paid a fortune because it had a copy center and a bar in close proximity.

Oye como va.

* * *

I don’t want to waste people’s time. Especially in the final session slot.

It goes like this:

Kalamu doesn’t make it. Peter has what he’s going to read. Julie has a DVD of clips from the Still Standing reading: Lee Grue and Paul Chasse. I bring the necessary dongles and cables to make the computer talk to the projector, but neither the audio nor the volume control appear. I am on my knees before a roomful of people, listening to Peter’s talk and making sacrifices to the computer idol. St. Fragile and St. Expedite intercede for us, in the form of the hotel a/v guy bearing an audio jack. Now we can all oye como va. I handed out cards to anyone who wanted me to e-mail a copy of the bibliography. And I felt compelled to read that strange essay.

We made it work.

And then we opened up the mic to the audience, as opposed to taking questions, and the room was energized.

They made it work even better.

Keep open to the poetry of the moment.

* * *

I rushed off with Peter and Nicole to the oil-spill reading, which overlapped the Katrina panel. This means I stood up my other friends and our vague plans. Oye como va. Anne Waldman did a Buddhist version of Sonia Sanchez’ exorcism, violently yoking rant and chant and manatee and humanity together. Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “If one woman were to tell the truth about her life, the world would split open.” I would like to see a Sanchez-Waldman reading. Just the two of them. That would split the earth in two.

Dinner at a little Ethiopian place. Again, I missed someone at home who knows more than a little bit about Ethiopia firsthand. The rest of the world was very much part of the little corner we call AWP this year, more so than ever.

Far more than choice of restaurants makes the matter pressing.

* * *

Day 5 (SUNDAY): The long leisurely drive back, but not before photographing plastic debris along the Potomac and visiting Mr. Lincoln. At the corner, another former colleague jogged past. I flagged her down, and we hugged and jabbered on the streetcorner. “Do what your heart tells you,” she says, and she is in a position to know what that means.

Many stops, a hike uphill in the snow, past deer tracks, hawks huddling in highway trees. Truckstops. Atop the mountain, after dark, Egypt by satellite and Cuba by radio skip.


You’re a writer. Do you choose to spend the rest of your days caught up in adminstrivia and makework? Do you write your way around the world? How does your writing serve the world? How does it serve your fullest possible remaining time on the planet? How much time will you exchange for money? For writing? For having written?

Can you hear how it goes for you?

The Old College Try(ing)

The fiction reading list expands to fill the time allotted, then overflows: literary Great Stuff oozing through the cracks of the intellectual shack I’ve cobbled together. Great Stuff expands, fossilizes, resists whittling down. Okay. I’ll say it. I’d be an idiot not to postpone comps until fall. I’ve got ten weeks before the exam and my particular reading list is a string of electrons pinging between servers. Even an English major with dyscalculia can do that math.

Here’s what studying great literature at a public university involves nowadays. See how well this squares with the ideal Oxbridge tutorial, that Ivy League privilege-anxiety foremost in current anti-intellectual discourse, that “Dead Poets Society” cave scene before youth, freedom, and discovery expanded into a synthetic blob of backstabbing, suicide, and kangaroo committees.

First, I’m lucky because I’m fully funded through Year Six. This is the middle of Year Five. Twelve years was, until recently, not unheard of for doctorates in the humanities, although that’s the outer limit of one’s scholarly welcome. Now, we are being prodded to finish in half that time or less, as opposed to the seven-year norm. For grad students in the humanities, being fully funded entails teaching. In the current academic climate (everywhere, not just at my alma mater), that means we are responsible for planning, running, and grading multiple introductory sections. We also have to attend this meeting, that meeting, the other meeting, in a kind of dry run for tenure-track Valhalla. One thing you’ll get at my institution is professionalization in excelsis. I admit that’s a good thing. All that extracurricular training gives us a sliver of an advantage in the academic job market, which itself is pretty thin.

Teaching assistants’ take-home pay may be about 1/3 that of a convenience store manager, but tuition is on the house. To make ends meet, I gamble on the future: I take out student loans to cover the rest of my (well, actually, our) very modest living expenses and to pay for conference travel once, possibly twice, a year. The People’s Universities no longer pay for their graduate students to present at regional or national conferences, which is where grad students go for the elusive academic job interview. That’s because The People’s Universities everywhere function at the pleasure of elected state officials, many of whom think “the gubmint” (reminder: that’s you and me, folks, not them) shouldn’t pay for anything (but sweetheart-deal private contractors). What little money comes the grad students’ way trickles down through layers of administrators and warrens of managers, many of whom (but not all) manage the university as a private corporation, not as a public trust. When the annual budget cut or the mid-year budget cut strikes, as it always does, our non-degree-program workload increases. Academic trench warfare means holding the line for graduate funding while finding more ways to justify graduate students’ presence at The People’s Universities everywhere.

It’s been this way for over a decade. It reminds me far too much of the oil bust that interrupted my undergraduate studies in (hello) the early ’80s. I know what it means to work three crappy jobs and go to school full-time, or to work one real job all night and then go to school 2/3 time on the quarter system. I hardly lack motivation. I just want to finish my reading and get on with whatever’s next. High on the list: paying off my student loans and trying to mitigate all those years of lost income/retirement savings. I’m not 25. I’m not single. I have grown folks’ bills. I will never sell my soul, but I will sell my time to the highest bidder.

One hungers for the idealized graduate life of yesteryear. Did it ever exist? Whither the corduroy-elbowed denizens of library carrels? Whither library carrels, for that matter? I’m not sitting around smoking a pipe and debating the merits of Hemingway’s vs. Faulkner’s prose in the campus pub with my three closest pals. (Whither the campus pub?) I don’t smoke a pipe–I don’t smoke anything–but I remember, by proxy, how grad school was in the 1970s and 1980s. My mother was one of those housewives who went “back to school” and is now happily doctored, published, and tenured. I watched her study; I studied alongside her; sometimes I even helped her study by reading manuscripts aloud while she transcribed them. My father, who never finished college but has read more than anyone I know, was a muckraking journalist. My family, it seems, was not the norm. They let me play with typewriters. I watched the Vietnam War three times a day. They did not censor my reading. By the time I was ten, I had read Wordsworth’s poetry, The Tempest, and The Godfather (wedding party and horsehead and all), all of my own free will, and my mother had vouched for me with the librarian because I’d read just about every book in the kids’ section. I was also writing poems and stories from first grade on, producing and peddling my own magazines in elementary school, and binding books by junior high.

I never had a chance. I was doomed to be a writer, a reader, a thinker.

Where I do this is immaterial; that I do it is vital.

I say this using my fancy college words. But I also know about smoke-filled rooms and lying politicians and putting my bus money in my shoe and acting crazy on the street when a shifty-looking guy is about to mug me. I sought my first craft training in newsrooms, not workshops. Like my dad, I can and do read on my own time because reading is its own reward–just you and the (in)glorious mind on the page. Seems to me, though, that a university oughta be the best place to read a lot in a short time.

So here I am, mixed diction an’ all, dawl.

My street sense tells me The People’s Universities are getting mugged, conned, jumped, jacked, and hustled by the folks with the purse-strings. And they never, ever will say, “Okay, I’ve got enough money now. Here’s your temporary fee increase back. And let’s expand the arts programs. Those guys in the Sports Palace have enough. It’s time for Our Fair State to develop world-class writers.”

This is why I have taken a 1.5 graduate courseload while teaching a .5 FTE load (plus professionalization, teaching portfolios, tutoring portfolios, editing publications, serving on committees, presenting at conferences, publishing, and all that professory jazz). For folks keeping score at home, that’s the equivalent of two full-time jobs, not one. When I started, I looked at how many years of funding I was guaranteed. Then I counted backwards from there and took the required core as quickly as possible. I had planned to take a year to study for each comp exam and a year for the dissertation (only because I’ve written a master’s thesis and a book already, have had the concept in mind since before I applied, and have been picking at the research and planning in odd moments). Sure, I “lost” a year or so with “unnecessary” forays which are, in fact, completely necessary supplements of or complements to my research interests. I flog my “advanced” Spanish whenever I can. I took a doctoral-level ed psych. I took a master’s-level screenwriting class. I took Old English, because I believe no self-respecting English Ph.D. should escape at least the rudiments of Old English. I took various lit courses which I never got around to during the previous two degrees, nearly all of which count as requirements. Other than that, I’ve gone straight through with no break. I teach every summer. I do the “voluntary” work required, in light of budget cuts, to maintain my preexisting level of funding.

And Lord have mercy, I have to reread every freaking novel and craft treatise I’ve read in grad school and a handful more that I’ve heard of but never read, much less studied.

This is not going to happen between now and ten weeks from now.

Part of me says, “Oh, hell, you’ve read most of this stuff more than once or twice, even if it was in 1992. Or at least once in the past five years. Maybe you can go get a trot like everyone else (surely not everyone relies on trots–do they? Grad students?!. . .).”

My real self says, “No way. This is not a capsule plot recitation. You gotta deal with some bad mofos struttin’ around with all their kaleidoscopic plots hanging out. You have points of comparison to consider. Swann’s Way. Moby-Dick. Your boy García Márquez. And you’ve never gotten around to Midnight’s Children. Or Housekeeping. And you want to read Tres Tristes Tigres in translation. And the incremental perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a complexified equilibrium. And you need to make fresh notes on all of it. Girl, you might have enough time between now and October. Maybe.”

So after several e-mail exchanges with my fiction advisor, I think I’ll need to apply a little TV news horse-sense to the situation: Restack the show. Dedicate this semester to reading and note-taking, and to generating the working draft of the diss, which is the working draft of what I prematurely describe to all as “my real book”–meaning my over-48-page-minimum-for-full-poetry-collection-status-in-the-world book–and take the fiction exam this fall. It makes more sense. I have all kinds of strike-force research trips planned this spring and summer, and there’s no law against working on the diss before finishing both exams. Plus, I’m itchy-antsy to stay in poetry mode while I teach poetry this semester.

Because no one (well, almost no one) is going to say, “Here, O Poet-scholar–take $30K and a year off to travel and work on your beautiful dissertation-real-book-manuscript,” I squeeze in tiny side trips on the way to and from other places. I become a poet-field reporter in full crash mode. I use my reporter brain and my poet brain, my emergency brain and my scholar brain.  (I also keep a backup light-up brain in my office, but that’s for real emergencies.)

Now I just have to keep all the Great Stuff from oozing out between now and October. And keep my dollar in my shoe.

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From the (real, not digital) archives

While I was in New Orleans last time, I managed to squeeze in a couple of hours at the UNO Archive, looking up as many old bylined Driftwood and Gambit articles as I could. It occurs to me that I missed a couple (I was rocketing through these bound copies at lightning speed two hours before closing), but here is a relatively complete list of my early newspaper work in New Orleans, plus some other stuff accounted for in less-than-resumé form:

UNO Driftwood (may be others ca. 1983-1985; missing one on visually-impaired tech lab)
18 Sept 86, “Russian enrollment reasons quite diverse”,11
2 Oct 86, “Funds allocated to Language Lab”, 3
30 Oct 86, “Lambda Chi Alpha opens haunted house,” 2
13 Nov 86, “Asbestos in library”, 2
13 Nov 86, “Psych, Bio animal labs get grant”, 18
20 Nov 86, “SGA treasurer resigns at meeting”, 3
4 Dec 86, “Boggs speaks about Congress”, 1-2
4 Dec 86, “Search committee members named”, 1, 3
14 Jan 87, “Coping with another hike”, 2
22 Jan 87, “UNO celebrates King holiday”, 1-2
22 Jan 87, “Professor published” (no byline), 2
22 Jan 87, “North: ‘Raise Contra money'”, 3, 10
22 Jan 87, “Damn this traffic jam”, 6
29 Jan 87, “UNO, Tulane, Xavier march in Georgia” (with photo), 2

Gambit (bylined pieces only–many, many more small news items not credited, esp. politics/environment–missing AZT story, cover story on public housing, perhaps others)
25 Apr 87, “Tales of Four Craftsmen,” 27
11 Aug 87, “Bump in the Night–A Word from Morgus’ Master”, 17
25 Aug 87, “Seniority counts…Sort of”, 23
1 Sept 87, “Two City Ballet: Risk Taking that Worked”, 23
8 Sept 87, “Collapsing Building; Collapsing Laws”, 12-13
29 Sept 87, “Medieval German, and Lots of Laughs”, 21
26 Jan 88, “A Hometown Wine”, 19
23 Feb 88, “Maunsel White: Changing New Orleans Forever”, 13
1 Mar 88, “Looking Up: Canal Street”, 17
8 Mar 88, “Public Education: The Voodoo of Statistics”, 14-15
15 Mar 88, “Housing Relocation: The Dallas Example”, 8
28 Jun 88, “Grand Isle’s Growing Pains”, 14-15
5 Jul 88, “Combatting a Stigma; Or a Story that Got Lost in Translation”, 18
26 Jul 88, (Cover) “Education in Louisiana. Is the bad image being erased?”; includes “Workshop Way: See Sister Grace Teach”, 13-15 and “The Politics of Higher Education”, 17
9 Aug 88, “The Politics of Cable Access TV”, 18-19
6 Sep 88, “Cable TV: The Past, the Promises, and the Future”, 13-16
27 Sep 88, “The Numbers Game: Rating New Orleans Radio”, 14
11 Oct 88, (Cover) Louisiana, The Disappearing State, 13-15; includes “Mister Sandman: A New Mayor Takes On Grand Isle’s Shifting Sands”, 14 (1988 Brown Pelican Award for Environmental Reporting with Errol Laborde and Stephanie Riegel)
25 Oct 88, “Dining Room Detente: Smoking or Non-Smoking”, 25
25 Oct 88, “Running the Show: Hotel Fod and Beverage Manager”, 43
1 Nov 88, “Streetcars: Modernization Vs. Preservation”, 8, 11
8 Nov 88, (Cover) “Dying for a Drink of Water”, 13-16; includes “The Brief and Strange History of Reveilletown, Louisiana”, 16 (also up for ’88 Brown Pelican Award, but we beat ourselves out with the coastal erosion issue)
6 Dec 88, “Dialing for Dollars: South Central Bell Has a Plan”, 15
13 Dec 88, “Lafayette: Bouncing Back”, 22
13 Dec 88, “Seattle’s Comeback”, 23
20 Dec 88, “Twilight Zoning: Rethinking the City’s Zoning Laws”, 14-15
27 Dec 88, “Bluesful Radio: Some Radio Stations Experienced the Blues, Others Play It”, 12
27 Dec 88, “Is There a Renaissance Along N. Rampart?”, 14
3 Jan 89, “A New Curriculum A New Year; Some people go back to school for fun, for others it’s a matter of survival”, 17-19
17 Jan 89, (Cover) “Encore! The Symphony’s Return”, 15-16 (17)
24 Jan 89, “Bar None: Return of the Coffeehouses”, 24
31 Jan 89, “Banding Together”, 24
31 Jan 89, “Who Is That Mask Man?”, 26-27
7 Mar 89, “Airport ’89”, 17-19
21 Mar 89, “The Vieux Carré’s Termite War,” 16
28 Mar 89, “Hidden New Orleans: As Others See It”, 164
4 Apr 89, “Watching the Kids: Questions of Child Abuse”, 16-17 [Last Issue]
4 Apr 89, “Passing Through: From the Pages of the Quarter’s Used Book Shops”, 27 [Last Issue]

* * *
Some other selected bits that include my writing relevant to New Orleans:

Freelance Stuff
Wavelength (N.O. music documentary)
New Orleans Magazine (some bylined, some not)
Louisiana Life (some bylined, some not)
The Advocate (dentists refusing PWAs treatment; mule carriage drivers mocking gay bar patrons)

ca. 1989 Hertz Rent-A-Car guide to New Orleans
AP Radio/wire (New Orleans bureau stringer; covered Angola Death Row execution)
freelance PR writing for Zehnder clients Sav-A-Center, Hilton New Orleans Riverside, others (as the only local on a four-person dot-com start-up; established local working relationships with NOPD, city, oriented staff to Carnival coverage, culture, etc. )
“Doubloons: The Shiiing Is the Thing” (article is occasionally plagiarized online, if that’s a compliment)
photo essays on Blaine Kern floatmaking, Aquarium of the Americas
Mardi Gras guide
other stuff

Various online pit stops
Show Your Colors
Every Poet Needs A Patio (dispatches from Saints and Sinners litfest)

Encyclopedia articles
Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature (Kate Chopin)

* * *
Some things aren’t on this list, like an early article about Brennan’s for Gambit, but I hope to make another trip to the archives soon. I’d like to reconstitute my physical portfolio, which has been thinned out over the years, so that I never lose it again.

And the Clouds Broke…

I’m back in Atlanta after driving all night from New Orleans. I’ll update this post after work. However, I do want to say that yesterday’s readings were better than church, better than therapy, better than the best literary fest you could attend. All my writer friends and I had church, as it were, with Mona Lisa Saloy‘s summoning the spirit by calling out, “My grandma and your grandma…” and all of us responding, “Sittin’ on the bayou…”, and Errol Laborde‘s benediction: “Come home. The city needs you.”

And as I headed east on I-10, as I began to tear up about leaving where I feel most at home in this world, the gray squall that had hovered over the city all weekend, that rain I was sure was the tears of all the living and the dead, broke open above the Danzinger Bridge. Across from that platinum brilliance, a full rainbow dropped over the mostly-unoccupied shells of apartments near Bullard Road. I wept, hot-faced, so hard that I had to pull the car over. When I was able to go on, John Boutte’ sang his Katrinafied version of “Louisiana 1927” and I pulled over again, this time at Bayou Sauvage, and I got down on one knee before this sign and took photo after photo after photo, as if no one would believe such a story otherwise.

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Ashley Morris Award – Rising Tide V


Made by Lee Checkman. Awarded to blogger who best exemplifies Ashley Morris’ spirit.


Rising Tide V: Levees, Dams, Failure


Tim Ruppert, Engineer/Rising Tide

1972(?) careful Congressional description of what a dam is. 1996, even more specific: “A levee is not a dam.”

Why should you care? You’re a few hundred yards from the river. Does the label matter? Yes, here’s why.

I’m a civil engineer. When designing/evaluating safety of a dam, 1st thing you calculate is: if this dam breaks, how many people die? How many living, breathing people will be crushed, drowned, killed otherwise? A dam is considered a life safety system. The more people involved, the more carefully we have to design, construct, and maintain our dam. Also calculate other potential losses later.

Compare this to how we design levees: 1st question engineer asks is, How much flood damage do the homes/businesses in floodplain sustain per year, and what would the damage costs be if we build the levee? Want to save as much $ as possible. Corps of Engineers has a rule: you can’t build a levee that doesn’t have a benefit. But does it benefit the taxpayer? We don’t consider it a life-saving system. We don’t ask how many people will die if it fails. We assume people will be evacuated. Not realistic. We know people die when levees don’t hold.

Testimony: “My past life died that day with Mother.”

1600 people died. That’s pretty horrific.

So how did we get to this point? Built dams to protect lives; levees to protect houses, carpets, furniture. This denial of killing potential of failed levees has huge consequences. If levee fails, just replace carpet/tv, right? And federal government will sell you flood insurance to pay for it.

Levee systems being created around N.O. right now designed to 100-year level of protection. Misleading name. If you live in flood zone for one year, your risk is 1/100 that you will experience the “exceedence flood.” Most people stay longer than a year. So here are some real numbers:

–within 30 years, 26% (before you can even pay off your mortgage). Russian Roulette has a 17% chance of disaster.
Who came up with this ridiculous 100-year standard? Goes back to national flood insurance. All about property: no death benefit. Homeowners/politicians forgot a levee protects far more than carpets/furniture. May be OK for some areas, but in densely-populated areas, 1/100 standard is irresponsible and dangerous–not just me saying this. Natl Academy of Engineers (specifically as it applies to N.O.) , Assn of State Floodplain Managers (500-year standard minimum acceptable in urban areas). 500 years = 6%. 100 years = 26%. Am Socy of Civil Engineers: have not recommended a particular level of protection–wants levees to be engineered by risk-based assessment (meaning, calculate how many people will die). I agree.

Say it with me: WHEN LEVEES FAIL, PEOPLE DIE. And we need to remind our elected officials of this.

Congress taking baby steps toward a program modeled after dam safety. But we have to push it all the way, including funding. Dams and levees share this: when they fail, they die. Those Americans who live with levees should not find that out the hard way.

SANDY FROM LEVEES.ORG: What can we do to help you get levees certified as dams?

RUPPERT: Bureau of Reclamation major player in dam safety. Agencies responsible for building levees take diff approach. Need to call congressional reps and get their full support for the National Levee Safety Program.

Data we use to extrapolate 100-year storm drawn from very small database, only since WWI (diameter of eye, windspeed, etc.)

Rising Tide V: Part Two of N.O.’s braintrust



Peter Athas, Rising Tide
Jason Berry, American Zombie
Clancy DuBos, Gambit
Jacques Morial, N.O. political expert
Stephanie Grace, Times-Picayune
Jeff Crouere, Ringside Politics

BERRY: American Zombie

DUBOS: Urban slush funds from 90s: Hotel-motel tax in 70s to pay bonds on Dome, based on what was then in existence. We built more hotels, got more tourists, thus more money than what was needed to pay off bonds. Legislature found other ways to spend it–set aside for separate Orleans-area slush funds. Senators got more than reps (higher-ranking). Jason asked, Why didn’t LSED (Superdome Commission) call bullshit on some of this? Well, that was the law. The Lege set up system to be abused. The LSED was in effect an ATM to give $ to various charities. Mitch Landrieu used his $ to put laptops in police cars, so some good effects. But basically, no rules. Each one got to sign off on a form explaining why this was a good thing, and the $ went out.

GRACE: There’s a reason the slush finds called that. Were timed to run out. When Blanco renegotiated w/Tom Benson…// what do you get when you get rural plus urban? A majority in the LA legislature. The Q to ask, was this business as ususal, with usual bad rules, or was this something that broke even those rules? Ex. Renee Gill Pratt and Jefferson: what we wrote wound up in the federal indictment. We think it’ our job (MSM) to do it with care and not rush into print w/o substantiating facts.

MORIAL: seen recent disclosures related to Public Belt Railroad–generally illegal for state agency to make donation to private org unless a particular statute. Not only a discussion for MSM, but for bloggers to advance. 2nd Congressional District elex we’ll hear more of that, especially if he advances to runoff.

DUBOS: Ed Murray and Peppy Bruneau were the masterminds, which shows $$ talks. Rolex = smoking gun. Bought in ’01, ’02. Cedric bought it in ’06, so I said “produce the receipt”–waiting for that. Allegation he got th Rolex on credit card for a charity doing biz with the state.

BERRY: Rolex not the issue, but the diamond bezel on it. Second smoking gun $60(?)K renovations to bldg that were never done. Was actually working with another MSM org on it–that reporter confirmed w/bldg owner that the work had never been done. Rules prohibit duplicate work in same area–a 2000-foot bldg would qualify as being the same area…on top of that, Cedric’s office was in the very same bldg, and grant states you can’t get any political gain from it. Now I’m going after the Desire Housing Project.

ATHAS: Due to complaints the panels left of center, brought in noted conservative commentator Jeff Crouere.

CROUERE: Want to congratulate Jason for breaking all kinds of stories others in local media not even touching. Slush fund problem black/white, Dem/Rep, for a long time, questionable nonprofits tied to legislators. As for Cedric Richmond, hope this generates more than MSM has done….Joseph Cao–how many other members of Congress reads these bills? Gets invited to football at WH? A former Jesuit seminarian. He’s a Republican but not a conservative. Independent voice, done enough to open eyes of some Dems and get some Democratic voters in general elex. Think he could do some damage to Cedric Johnson and should get the chance…has held more town hall meetings than Bill Jefferson has in 18 yrs. Has good chance to win re-election.

MORIAL: You say he has a good chance? You said at first he was going to win.

DUBOS: I think he has a shot–I don’t make predictions. Let me revise some of the facts, or delve deeper into the facts… When he did vote for some Obama things, your friends in the GOP cut off his funds, which is a form of punishment. He is unique, very very interesting political figure. Think he is one of the more sincere political figures on the scene today nationally, but tough row to hoe. This district created for an African-American to win. Last year, Cao got about 2-3% of black vote. Dec. 2008 turnout extremely depressed; this one larger–will predict a more proportionate black turnout, not proprtionate to white turnout, but closer. Given increased black turnout, how much can Cao pick up level of black support? Has worked very, very hard to serve that district balancing Rep affil with representing Dem district.

BERRY: I am a Dem, I may be helping the Rep candidate with what I wrote, but it transcends partisanship. Hope we get runoff and Cao pulls it out.

MORIAL: Think Cao will pay the price for voting vs. healthcare reform. Voted against extending healthcare to 88K people in his district. Either because GOP bosses told him to, or because the Archbishop told him to. Bigger question is do you want your elected officials taking orders from you or from GOP/Archbishop?

GRACE: Hearkens back to 60s, would Kennedy listen to church or Americans. He was actually in favor of many of the more controversial parts of bill that Dems favored, e.g. mandates. During town halls and “death panels” furor, he stood up and said “There are no death panels, and end-of-life care is important, and here’s why.” Every mailer he sends out tells why he did it, but think people don’t care. This is a district that wants this bill and wants Obama to succeed, so a lot of people in district take this personally. Pork barrel in good way–brings a lot of $$ back to district, but such a partisan season with House in play, early on Dems may give a lot more attention to this district because they can win it back more easily.

MORIAL: Cao entitled to own convictions, but the idea the health bill going to mean abortions is bullshit. Every Catholic group supported because they know this stuff about abortion was bullshit–the Catholic nuns in healthcare, everyone.

CROUERE: Cao got a lot of attention re: hara-kiri for BP execs. Think GOP going to give him a lot of attention and save up resources for runoff.

ATHAS: People calling Vitter “the Teflon douche.” (Laughter.) Does Melancon have a shot at all?

GRACE: Yes, but serious uphill battle. Whatever you say re: Vitter, brilliant strategic politician, knows how to run campaign/pick his enemies. He was the guy who was calling out Edwards at every turn. He has decided not to run against Melancon, but against Obama. Makes it about partisanship: really goes for the Fox News constituency, which is a very powerful one in this state..All the stuff re: prostitutes, the aide that attacked the woman, it’s all true, it’s all bad, I wouldn’t want him near my daughter (laughter), but we’ll have to see.

MORIAL: If Zombie was on that story, wouldn’t be having this problem… aide for omen’s issues assaulted girlfriend and held her captive w/knife. Vitter is a whoremonger and a criminal. He is. (wiretap)

DUBOS: Vitter could have been charged under RICO. Always wondererd why not indicted as part of co-conspiracy. Also interesting how prostitute killed herself : hanging. It is extremely rare for a woman to shoot herself in the head, whereas men will. Women do not hang themselves, yet Deborah Jean Palfrey was found hanged. I’m not saying they never do, but a lot of stats for Zombie to investigate.

BERRY: Something that needs to be looked into. History w/Vitter of carbombings and some really nasty stuff that went on. The reason I think he’s going to win is because Melancon is running one of the shittiest campaigns ever. If they wd just leverage the Huffington Post, they cd raise money.

DUBOS: Not sure that’s accurate–think well over half ppl in LA know he was involved w/prostitutes, they just don’t care. They know he’s a whoremonger, hypocrite, coward, but they vote for him because he’s got an (R) behind his name. Vitter wouldn’t have a shot in hell in any other state, but voters in Louisiana hate Obama more than they hate hypocrisy. All abut timing–Dems may hope for 1-2 more shoes to drop re: Vitter.

CROUERE: Melancon doesn’t have a chance in hell. Vitter running ahead in strong double-digits; this is the state McCain did 4th best in nation around 2008, just gonna tie Obama around Melancon’s neck every commercial; also Nancy Pelosi–even in the 2nd district, with different dynamic, this plays well statewide. Despite reumors more to come out, there was question in 2007 whether controversy would force him out, when wife did press conference “stand by him”, war chest pretty impressive even with that. Melancon’s campaign “pathetic.” If he could have faced competent opponents in ’04 and ’08, might be different story.

DUBOS: Chris John ran the dumbest campaign in all of LA Dem politics. Grossly miscalculated by saving it for runoff–never got to use it.

GRACE: This broke in ’07 under Dem. Blanco. Had that seat gone vacant, wd have been Dem appointee, so Reps rallied around him. Absolutely agreed Wendy Vitter’s statement important, but wrote in editorial that VItter shd send flowers to 2 women: Wendy Vitter and Kathleen Blanco.

* * *
BERRY: We’re breeding Republicans because no progressive voice in the media in New Orleans (in the most progressive city in the region).

DUBOS: See “The New Rules” tomorrow’s column. Basically, the new rules are the old rules. If we went back to old rules, open primary, only 2 people on ballot and Casieu (sp?) wd have won. You change the rules, you change the outcome.

QUESTION: Observation, really, that Vitter’s constituents like him because he’s racist.

CROUERE: He replaced David Duke in that district–has walked that district 7 times. You know how much time that takes?

DUBOS: It also takes a trust fund to walk the district 6 times. (laughter)

CROUERE: I agree with everyone here re: his character, and think more questions will be brought out, but he is an extremely hard worker. Re: Jindal, think he’s got his eye on some national position, but very disappointed in him, accomplished little, won’t serve 2nd term as governor.

DUBOS: He got lucky. If not gov, VP appointment or run vs. Mary Landrieu. After cliff year, bottom drops out. Will cut the budget. How do you cut adolescent healthcare in post-K New Orleans? Says send them across the lake? That’s the modern-day equivalent of “let them eat cake.”

MORIAL: Jindal is a hypocrite, too. Re: medical center, led around like a lapdog on a leash on transparency issue. Next year looking at removing 30% of constitutional mandates. Jindal says he won’t sign anything w/o revenue measure, will see university system closing, what’s left of Charity system, etc.

LOKI: What about expat New Orleanians refusing to move home until Jindal out?

CROUERE: Also talked to many people excited about moving back now that Nagin no longer mayor. Having a mayor (Landrieu) who comes on national TV and talks about the city in a compelling, articulate way.

GRAC: Thing to watch w/Jindal is where the universities go in our state. That sends a very strong signal.,

Rising Tide V: Bloggerfest for New Orleans’ digerati


I’m sitting in the Howlin’ Wolf, which has been transformed into an auditorium of sorts. The occasion: Rising Tide V, the post-Katrina blogfest aimed at rebuilding the city. The pre-registration setup was efficient, with the ambience of a couple of dozen high school A/V geeks doing setup. I’m Koozied and t-shirted and waiting for things to get started.

Cox Cable, which I dissed in the last post, redeems itself for the day because it wired Teh Internetz for Rising Tide. A long list of thank yous to sponsors and committee members (including Sharon Barnhart, who also is in exile in Atlanta). Tom Lowenburg is here, peddling a slew of all the wonderful new New Orleans books that have come out in the past few years. Loki has been running all over the place, making sure everything runs smoothly.

News from Second Harvest: Yesterday, 200 volunteers sweated it out at the Second Harvest warehouse, packing nine pallets’ worth of emergency food boxes as disaster relief for the Gulf Coast. Second Harvest is an enormously important service agency here–Louisiana has the highest hunger rate for children under five, and one in eight Louisianians don’t know whee their next meal is coming from.

* * *
New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas has a Ph.D. from UNO. Failed 3rd grade and dropped out of 11th grade as a teenage parent, and family in NOPD since 1914. How ya like dat, cher?

* * *
Peter Scharf, Tulane School of Public Health
Ronal Serpas, NOPD Chief
Jon Wool, Vera Institute of Justice
Allen James, Safe Streets Executive Director
Susan Hutson, Independent Police Monitor, City of New Orleans


Serpas: 1.5% of calls in New Orleans are murder, rape, robbery, assault. Ten times more calls are minor, and 99% of those are “false”. Exception of Danzinger erased from the history books the brave actions of those who waded through chest-high water to rescue citizens from Southern Baptist, Ninth Ward, etc.

James: Community does not view Danzinger incident as an anomaly. Info about case only came out after five years, thanks to doggedness of one family. Speaks to a culture of secrecy that is brutally enforced w/in the department.

Serpas: Today vs. 1994 when indiviuals did bad things: Antoinette Frank, etc. — the difference is that the system has gone off the rails (“if you lie, you die”).

Scharf: How do you change the police culture?

Hutson: In L.A., had to get them to make accurate reports–can’t just forget you set a body on fire in a car–and let them know there will be real consequences to not telling the truth. Also, on the streets here, people think they’re being disrespected and not getting good service.

Scharf: Some cops want to sit in cars and stay out of trouble–will accountability punish risk-takers?

Hutson: No, we’ll back the good ones up 100%

Serpas: Every time an officer does something right, we share that with them–it’s about leadership. One thing we have to do is set expectations: 4 major modifications:
1) “If you lie, you die” (meaning you’re fired)
2) False or inaccurate oral/written report = fired (not minor mistake, but coverups)
3) If you witness misconduct and don’t report, you will be sanctioned at same level you witnessed
4) If you withhold/fail to cooperate without cause in internal investigation, disciplined at minimum of same conduct being investigated.

The professional cops embrace it and say thank goodness.

It’s a cultural problem: cites doctors who don’t report misconduct, Toyota, etc.

2/3 of last recruit class didn’t make it. We’re making fundamental changes. That’s how you begin the process of changing culture.

Every day at roll call, tells cops to “tell people what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

SCHARF: How to deal w/My Lai-esque idea that it’s legit to shoot at looters?

SERPAS: The question of whether or not officials issued martial law orders not new; we need the people w/capacity to get to the bottom of all this do so–we ha to stop talking about it (because of feds’ investigation)–I think the best thing is to let them interview everyone who saw and heard anything.

WOOL: Trying to get all parts of the system to reemphasize the extraordinary use of resources on minor offenses (to focus on the real baddies). If focus is on number of collars, different influence than becoming a community liaison/investigating violence that has happened. Will help officers perform in a way that’s more supportive of the communities that they serve. People see cops as those who come in and take their family member away.

You all (bloggers) have some responsibility to change community, as well. Make clear to leaders that you set expectations for them, so they will set expectations for (cops). Example: massive numbers of people locked up each year for minor marijuana possession.

JAMES: Service commendations from civilian agencies should also be included in officers’ service files, not just complaints. …Most people in jail all look alike (i.e., are black).

SCHARF: Fear of dope-dealer retaliatory killings: how do we address this in African-American community?

JAMES: I don’t know. Must look at contributing factors: gun culture, 18c notion of defending one’s honor, which young people in street now call “respect”–that violence expresses itself as gun violence. Can’t expect not to have a lot of killings when you have poor people reduced to struggling very petty issues and nothing in their culture that helps them to resolve conflict constructively. Careful in my remarks because new to N.O. — not sure it’s drug trade as much as spontaneous hoodishness. I don’t really know that and that’s something we need to understand a little bit more.

SCHARF: Not buying it’s less violent than NYC, Newark.

SERPAS: Rate of cleared murder cases here going down every year since the 1960s. Last murder 4-5 days ago. Young men bumping chests in convenience store, rolled out into street in gun battle: “you didn’t respect me when I came through the door.” Allen (James’) point shouldn’t be lost on you. Columbo solved all those murders because the people knew each other. 80% of murders are committed by people who are intimates with the victim. Larger issue is: what systems are falling apart around these young people (no supervision).

WOOL: Share skepticism about how many murders are linked to drug trade. Think we have to ask why people turn to selling drugs: what are we doing to provide economic opportunity to people in the inner city? We invest roughly 1/3 of our dollars in inefficient law enforcement (incarceration) which has least benefit to public safety for minor offenses. Choice of livable wage and potential middle-class status, would you turn to selling drugs? Everyone in the trade knows they’ll wind up in prison, probably for the rest of their lives, and/or dead.

SCHARF: Average murder 4pm when guy’s on porch eating his lunch–it’ a whack. These are beefs. We need to do a drill-down and look at these cases to understand the etiology.

* * *
MY QUESTION (UNASKED): What can the NOPD (and its community oversight officers) do to interface with what’s left of the school system to create vocational training? That seems a desperately-needed no-brainer. The neighborhoods which are still in desperate disrepair are, not surprisingly, the high-crime areas. These “high-crime areas” are also communities, something which the white power structure tends to forget in its urban-planning fantasies about turning Felicity Street into drainage canals (something actually suggested at TEDxNOLA yesterday). If you want to offer people a way out of the drug business, then you must offer them a way out–and for many, learning a trade could be an empowering way of doing this. People who are trained to restore their own neighborhoods would be far more likely to keep them livable (meaning relatively crime-free).

* * *
Apparently something good came out of TEDxNOLA: Jim Carville’s handwriting. Jim Carville speaks for me.

* * *

Gee whiz, the feds can’t find any oil! Incredibly irresponsible reporting in this week’s ashington Post, to audience ofmany who had never been to N.O.–that “a visitor would have to go looking for any traces of Katrina’s destruction.” (Derision from audience.) Took a friend on a disaster tour, and she literally could not believe what she saw–and she’s the former research editor for Mother Jones, total news junkie freak. The reason she was so surprised was because of articles like this–just like the oil that has magically disappeared. None of these artices say ANYTHING about what Lakeview looks like. The guy taking us around is a prof at UNO (which is supposed to cut 35% of its budget). Same thing about charter schools best thing ever, but nothing ever about how this city’s public colleges and universities are being dismantled.

Same thing with the oil, under the sand, supposedly dissolved, more than 5x entire Exxon Valdez –and they don’t say that they still turn up LAKES of oil in Prince William Sound, or that those who took part in cleanup are also dead.

Those kinds of stories just make it easier for people NOT to think about things that they don’t want to think about.

“Contractually obligated to tweet.” I can’t tell you how many tips I’ve gotten this way. Grand Isle reporting due to “awesome lesbian couple that let me stay there” and BP/networks had rented out whole island–thanks to Twitter.

Certainly didn;t know Louisiana was going to shut down into some weird corporate police state immediately, but it was disappointing to learn the Obama Admin also couldn’t be counted on. Had people who were supposed to oversee cleanup, help press, etc.-they were not responsive, also trying to keep this culture of giving as little info as possible. Often didn’t even have the info we were looking for. Ex.: Coast Guard re: breakdown of number of cleanup workers. Answer: “Well, those are BP’s numbers. We don’t really have them.” Can you get them? “We can ask, but sometimes they don’t get back to us.” So not only was Coast Guard disseminating BP’s information, they weren’t even fact-checking that shit. There was no oversight of this info. To this day, haven’t been able to find that anyone is tallying the numbers of people actually involved in this effort.

I wrote a book about Burma, one of the most evil and secret regimes in the world. It was easier to get info from there than from fucking Louisiana, I can tell you it is easier to smuggle illegal refugees across Burma than to get ontp Elmer’s Island off Grand Isle. No shit.

The amount of spin: that really shocked me. Heartening to see that there is an appetite for that. They were skepical, and the only place to get that info is from people on the ground. Those photos end any conversation that any person can have with me about, “Where’s the oil?” That info is something you guys are positioned to get all the time.

Re: Economist photoshopping out parish pres. form Obama for cover photo: Stephen Colbert: “Don’t know why it’ a surprise–Louisiana residents should be used to being invisible by now.” Any reporter worth her salt knows it’s an honor to work with you community journalists, Twitter tipsters, etc. No one is going to be more valuable than you guys in telling the stories of this coast and this city. If your voices continue to expand, and community continues to build these voices of dissent, authenticity, truth, I think Louisianians should get ready to be less invisible than ever. (toast) Here’s to y’all!

* * *
Steve Picou, LSU AgCenter, New Orleans
Robert Verchick, Gauthier-St. Martin Environmental Law Chair, Loyola University
Len Bahr:

PICOU: We all know what’s going on, latest UN report that we’re losing 150-200 species per DAY. While we’re all fretting about one oil well, we’re all living lifestyles that kill 150-200 species/day, and we need to look in the mirror….I hear the footsteps of the next generation saying “get the fuck out the way–you didn’t fix it, so we have to.”

VERCHICK: On leave, commuting from DC on weekends (family is here). Book: Facing Catastrophe –starts with Katrina, moves forward. Now it’s time to move fwd not just for LA or rest of US, but for rest of world. We are exposed to natural disasters now more than ever. The sticker “Be a New Orleanian, wherever you are”? Everybody already is. Per OECD: #1 Miami, #2 NYC, #3 N.O. as to which cities have the most to lose from these problems. UN’s 10 deadliest disasters 1975-2008: half occurred in last 8 years. Why?

1. Population expanding.
2. We’re building where we shouldn’t.
3. We are destroying the natural infrastructures at an alarming rate (cypress swamps here, old growth forests in West, forests in Pakistan that protect against mudslides in quakes, mangrove forests in Myanmar/Burma)

BAHR: Spent 18 years advising 5 governors on coastal/enviro issues, words had little effect on gov’s and had to bite my tongue. Now free to say what I’ve wanted to say for many years. Heard former boss referred to as “douchebag”–not my boss anymore, so don’t have to cringe! Want to point out K+5, BP only symptoms of something that has been a century in the making. Think it’s important to sit back and consider this. This am on blog, link to a letter to the President prior to his visit here tomorrow. Never seen anything like it: EDF, NWF, Audubon Socy, signed by Jindal, Landrieu, Vitter, and 6 Congressional delegates; pleasding for him to restore the Guf Coast. As a scientist, that’s a big damn challenge Interesting that all the elected officials who signed are in complete denial about climate change. We’re the most vulnerable in N Am to sea level rise/acidification, Cong deleg in complete denial: “that’s our lifestyle” —

PICOU: Somebody has an idea for a coastal erosion diversion project, spend 20 years getting funding and find out not feasible. Need to look at watersheds as veins and arteries and land as skin of the earth. Cost-benefit analysis?

VERCHICK: Making decisions about longterm hard to do with a static model, an equation that says well I’m gonna imagine what the harm is and multiply it by the probability, and do just that much to fix the problem: insurance policies, building levees/dams/bridges–but not very good eqution when dealing w events w very low probabilities and very high stakes like Katrina–called “black swans”–intolerable to happen even once, then have to pay attention to something that has a .2% -1% chance of happening in the year, as Katrina was. Need to take this into account.

Only one of the 3 cities on that list that DOESN’T have the very beginnings of a comprehensive approach to climate change: that’s New Orleans. NYC, Miami-Dade County are way ahead of the game for next 50 years. Here’s what we have to b worried about: higher temps, precip patterns going haywire, sea level rise, extreme events like storms/floods. Not all about the wetlands. Ex.: heat island effect in cities; people don’t have a/c or afraid to open windows. In Chicago when this happens, hundreds of elderly/poor die. In Seattle, already trying to figure out how to rebuild poor areas w/shade canopy so low-income housing won’t be prone to creating a hotbox–in SEATTLE! Here, drainage, heat island issues we can work on at neighborhood level. We have lots of books on our nightstand tables, but nature isn;t going to wait for us. As Thomas Friedman says, “Nature always bats last and Nature always bats 1000.”

PICOU: Working w/many groups on n’hood drainage workshops. New Orleans S&WB incinerating sewage, so we’re “burnin’ the poo.” (“Most people’s shit stinks–ours is smokin’!”)

BAHR: nominated to be on mayor’s informal cmte on coastal issues. Only one meeting so far, but 2 poiints Landrieu encouraging about: 1. N.O. is a coastal city (denial!) and 2. SCIENCE. We’ve got an incredible wealth of scientific talent–the people who are world’s experts on Mississippi River Delta live right here, and they have not been tapped AT ALL during this BP incident. I blame the governor for an anti-science attitude (audience cheers). …most people don’t learn in high school about the two parts of watersheds: tributaries and DISTRIBUTARIES.

PICOU: Neighborhood drainage worksops: my goal is to teach everyone we’re all feeding the capillaries of the system. But Im finding the biggest obstacle is resistance to change, e.g., slowly cooking frogs. How can we expand that community buy-in thing? We’re the ones in trouble–the planet will be fine, it’s the human race that’s in trouble. Is there something we can do better to get people to (e.g., change to CF bulbs, which really do make a difference)?

VERCHICK: HAve to integrate it into what we want: good schools, pleasant neighborhoods you can walk around it. These are places easier to distribute enviro info in; nobody wants a river running down their street when it’s raining hard. Don’t have to tell them about climate cahnge. Can say, Wouldn’t it be nie not to have a river running down the street? Permeable surfaces, roof gardens–pretty, efficient, doesn’t crack your foundation. Find these small practical things that people want–you don’t have to engage them in climate change activism.

BAHR: Friend in Baton Rouge wanted to put in permeable driveway–couldn’t because he couldn’t get a permit to do so! Elected officials ahven’t been frank with the public–we’re going to have to retreat from the coast in a lot of these cases, and science is that you can’t just build more levees.

PICOU: If you can catch speckled trout on the street in Baton Rouge one day, that’s gonna suck. Project most optimistic about now is Bonnet Carre West–push freshwater into Lake Maurepas. (Then we can fight over who gets to cut down the trees.) As long as we don’t get freshwater into Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, cypress trees in City Park will keep dying. — Opening Bayou St. John will kill all trees that don’t like saltwater.

VERCHICK: Miami learning from us: expensive, high-electricity-use pumps… I said, “Why not use permeable surfaces?” They said, “Oh, you guys are really good at electric pumps.” Goes around in a circle.

BAHR: five year cycle: (conditions) marsh grass turned brown and died. Told Gov. Mike Foster this is a wakeup call; we can use every structure to put river water back into Delta; we didn’t have capacity to do it, and marsh recovered, but sign of what to come in Katrina. We go to sleep again until the next time.

PICOU: St. Tammany Parish Schools: can save up to 20% through behavioral changes–turning off lights/computers. Also living in greatest age of compassion in history of world. With this tech, we can text $10 within a matter of minutes. Potential never greater than now when we have ability to communicate. As we go through this messy process, it’s staring us in the face as never before in history of human race. My vision is that someday we WILL get it and leave a better world for the next gen.

VERCHICK: We’re all optimists, because all the pessimists left after Katrina. You can haul in any schoolkid and she’ll tell you that we’re losing a football field a minute due to coastal erosion–

BAHR: The tools we have now to be able to see climate change because of the computer is incredibly powerful– can predict hurricane 2-3 days before it arrives, so high hopes for future.

* * *
MOMENT OF ZEN: Friend Beverly Rainbolt is griping and texting, “Where ARE you?!” I just looked over and saw her. We’ve been sitting next to each other all morning and didn’t even know it!

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PICOU: If you have a house built slab on grade, SELL IT NOW! Because the slab is porous and so are the bricks!

Old News: From the Archive to the Present

This time, I’m not sure how I feel about being in New Orleans. It seems as if I don’t know half the people I run into, and the other half all stand around like cows in the rain, trying to figure out what to do next. We pretend to be hanging out as usual, but we have other lives in other places to go back home to in a few days, the lives that pay our bills someplace else, the lives we can’t import here to live where we would prefer to be. No time to see many people you want to see and who want to see you, but lots of time to try and figure out where, whether, if you fit into the scheme of all these new people who seem to have materialized from some other planet and taken over your life. Or, more accurately, the place where your life took place regularly–and still does, on occasion.

It rained like hell yesterday. I still love a good August thunderstorm in New Orleans. Today was a gullywasher–two or three inches of street flooding along Bayou St. John, and halfway up the wheel wells on UNO‘s almost-deserted campus. I wasn’t too worried about the rain, but I was worried about what might be in it. The imposing tall clouds form yesterday’s drive through Mississippi blew west, oddly, and came up the Rigolets into the lake, building into black squalls that dumped on UNO’s hapless Friday afternoon book-buyers. I hunted for alumni merch, found a couple of things, then waited in line. A couple with huge piles of stuff and the inability to decide which textbooks to ditch in favor of stuffed animals wearing “Somebody at UNO Loves Me” t-shirts cut in front of me and my little fistful of goodies. I had about a two-hour window to scour the archives for old Gambit articles I didn’t have anymore. I switched to the main bookstore line, which consisted of two registers, run by two confused students, supervised by two adults leaning on the counter and flirting with the three New Orleans cops guarding the entrance from whomever might want to knock over the UNO Bookstore.

After 15 minutes, I left the coffee mug, the alumni sticker, the t-shirt, the pin, and the stray book on a shelf, grabbed a quick salad, and trudged across the spongy turf, picking out the slight ridges in the soggy grass so as not to destroy my relatively new shoes. After wending my way to the front door of the library, I found the entrance walled off by great sheets of plywood, locks, and a sign directing patrons to the “other” entrance. Oh. So I walked around the library, which led me to a pitiful, run-down entrance that had never once been open to my knowledge ever in my undergraduate or graduate days at UNO. A librarian directed me to the stairs to the second floor, where I was to walk back across the library, then catch the elevator to the archive on four.

Finally, I was able to get my hands on bound copies of my old newspaper articles from the ’80s at Driftwood and Gambit. I didn’t have time to make copies, so I decided to write down the issue dates, titles, and pages as quickly as possible. It turns out that I’d written an awful lot more bylined material than I thought I had. Licking my fingers and flipping the newsprint (an archivist’s nightmare, to be sure), I managed to find almost every article of which I no longer had copies.

It was funny, reliving all those days fast-forward. Here again were the strange, clunky headlines to which my editor was prone. I would make corrections; he’d change them back. Here also: the exhilaration of getting paid to write about such luxuries as used bookstores, oyster sauce, terra cotta building facades, and duck decoy carvers. I got paid to do that. I got paid to do that without having a college degree. I was a lucky so-and-so. Long lunches, every day, particularly the one immediately followed by the entire brick structure collapsing thunderously after some idiots without a permit tried to enlarge a picture window in the side of the building. The shock on people’s faces as the cupola of the Cabildo crumbled in a fire so hot, we could feel it roasting our cheeks three stories down on Jackson Square. The afternoon meetings we’d have after putting the issue to bed, during which one of us was expected to put on some sort of creative diversion (water pistols, Carter’s Little Lizard Pills, etc.). There again were all the ad reps, doubling as models for the occasional fashion spreads. All those great columns. So much good, interesting, useful journalism we did in such a small space. People loved Gambit, with its quirky mix of civic policy-wonking, historical tidbits, quirky features, gumshoe reporting, arts coverage, music listings, and fashion and antiques and architecture spreads, and wrote us to say so.

Even then, we were screaming at the top of our collective lungs about the very issues that threaten to destroy New Orleans once and for all right now. We knew who was dumping what into the river and how they covered their tracks. We knew the coast was dissolving into the Gulf and falling off the continental shelf. We knew nothing but trouble would ever come out of Cox Cable.
And I can’t speak for anybody else, but I entertained the fantasy that people actually listened to what we had to say about all those desperately important issues. Going through the archives today only reminds me of how often I’ve harangued the TV in recent years, slavering and raving about so much of this being old news.

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