Category Archives: Politics

I can haz e-books I paid for, Amazon?

I left this note–well, essay–on’s Kindle Customer Service board:

My dad bought me a nice new Kindle DX as a gift. Meanwhile, he loaned me his while I crammed for Ph.D. exams. I purchased a few books, downloaded many classics, and uploaded study notes, lists, individual docs, etc. All well and good. I decided I much prefer the smaller Kindle and so he’s taking the DX. However, it’s my understanding that, because I bought my obscure literary criticism on his machine, that I cannot transfer those titles to my Kindle.

This is a major, major DRM issue. I in fact purchased the book on his Kindle, and we in fact are swapping possession of our respective Kindles, both of which he purchased.

If you look at our accounts, you will see that we have spent TENS of thousands of dollars at over the years. I think that, as a goodwill gesture, you should do whatever is necessary to tweak the code on these individual downloads OR to issue an immediate credit back so that I might repurchase said books on my own machine.

If not, I would be extremely wary of continuing to use the Kindle at all, and would go directly to a more user-friendly version. I understand the issues with DRM and piracy, and (as an author) I strongly support protecting *author’s* rights. However, in cases such as this, clearly the customer who has paid for the use of this particular e-book should certainly be accommodated, as the book is not being pirated or even read/shared by two people.

You might counter that you have no way of knowing this. Given that each download has its own identification, I doubt that. It’s easy enough to see later whether I’d cracked this individual copy of Spiller’s _The Development of the Sonnet_ and sold thousands of copies on the international black market (think of all the sonnet specialists drooling for such contraband!– all 12 of us!).

Yet, cynically, retread versions of public-domain classics (often poorly formatted) are shamelessly sold on Sold? Someone downloads a work from Project Gutenberg, “designs” a “cover,” sells it on, and repeats the process?… And I can’t get a book that I paid for on my dad’s account into my account when it already exists physically on the Kindle I put it into? And he just paid for the new, expensive Kindle?…

In this case, I suggest that sound judgment should override mindless policy. I cannot afford to repurchase titles which I’ve already bought and being forced to do so is not in any way fair. I’m certain a judge would agree.

Surely this can be done on the back end via the users’ web interfaces. Create a particular link: “Transfer ownership”–make the person read and agree to swear to whatever legalese that covers the situation I’ve described–and then allow User Account A to e-mail the book(s) in question to User Account B ONE TIME ONLY via wireless. Your tech people could set up a database to track such transfers. And you most certainly should NOT charge any fee for doing so. If User B subsequently upgrades, he or she should be able to put all existing purchases into the new device.

Philosophically speaking, I think the current situation overreaches reasonable transfers. Again, I stress: I am NOT advocating that create a Napster– or LimeWire-sized venue for mass file abuse. I do think it obvious that situations like this offer an opportunity to demonstrate respect for its loyal customers.

Finally, I think it’s only a matter of time before some kind of system for transferring between users comes up. Whatever that might be, I hope that the author benefits from each use, just as recording artists and actors earn residuals when their works are played. I wonder whether ASCAP/BMI offer useful models for this.

What I enormously resent as a writer are huge publishing companies whose “pay” for, say, encyclopedia articles doesn’t even cover copy costs, yet who retain all digital rights and then resell MY work for enormous sums via library subscriptions, for example. I worry that, despite the savings on freight, paper, ink, distribution, etc. the middlemen and weasels will earn a disproportionate percentage of rights at the author’s expense.

Anyway, this is much longer than I’d planned. I hope you find this persuasive and that you will return my obscure literary analysis purchases as soon as possible.

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Oh, No! Not Another Meeting!

Grad School: Home of the Boiling Frogs!

I’ve been rearranging everything I know about poetry (and a lot more that I don’t yet know) all day long. I have stacks and stacks of notes from old classes, journal articles, chapters, outlines, practice exams of my own invention. A small two-branch library of matters poetical has taken over the guest bedroom at home and my desk at work. I have stashes everywhere: on Google Docs, in various binders, on my iPod, on the laptop, on La R.’s Mac, in various clustering programs on my machine and in the cloud. I feel that I have very little of it in my head, yet a tiny calm point inside me says it’s all in there… somewhere. Right now, my head feels like my office at home looks: trashed, chaotic, no one good place to start because everything needs immediate attention. My one hope is that I’ve artfully arranged my schedule, going into comps, to try and make up for all those two-hour blocks of time that were eaten up by meetings and appointments.

The Ph.D. has been difficult enough for the usual reasons. Call me naive, but I truly did think that doctoral study would involve more research and writing than quasi-faculty work. Budgetary matters and the economic squeeze have slowly ratcheted up our non-study-related workload each year. Call it “professionalization.” Or call it “training for adjunct life.” I have been very happy to hone my teaching practice over the past five years. At this stage, though, I’m not sure that writing more reflections and attending more meetings more often will help me be a better professor. More time spent on my own studies, however, would make me a better professor. How many different ways can one talk about CV-writing, LMS disappointments, and the need to attend conferences? Why the premise that such information must be disseminated by meetings? Why require people to go back to the same meetings, over and over, like Groundhog Day? Is the little time we have left over for our own studies, after teaching, meeting with our own students, tutoring, filling copiers, filing paperwork, building websites, editing journals, et cetera, no longer available for us to do our own reading and writing? The problem is especially difficult for creative writers, who need to generate not only research and conference papers but also art.

I’m older than most of my cohort; I have been teaching college English courses for a decade now as either a TA or an adjunct; and I come from a professional background that values quick, to-the-point meetings which last no longer than absolutely necessary. Thus, my patience for repetitive meetings is paper-thin. If you can convey the information via e-mail or print, please don’t call a meeting. Unfortunately, as we get more and more work piled on us, the number of mandatory (and you-really-should-be-there) meetings multiply. Grad-student meetings, all of which are required by various interests, and all of which are supposed to be for our own good, fall into one of several genres:

Quasi-group-therapy. In this type of meeting, you will sit in a circle with 30 of your closest friends. You will be asked to share. Keep your resentments to yourself. You can always tell your therapist about them later. Make your own concordance: space, transition, share, good with that, etc. Many nouns will be used as verbs. TRT: 1.5 hours.

Company party. This event is similar to the office party–with all that entails. Drink the free adult beverages in moderation. Don’t worry. Be happy. Avoid conversational gambits involving leading questions and broad hints. Hang out with the handful of friends you’ve been dying to catch up with all semester. Leave after two drinks and meet up with your friends someplace else. Talk about something other than grad school: your compost bin, your significant other, your kid’s swim team.

Sales pitch. The salesperson is always friendly. Sometimes he or she has PowerPoint issues. At least two colleagues will negotiate the interface while you eye the snacks across the room. Add ten minutes to whatever the scheduled time was. Collect free highlighters and Post-It notes. Catch the PowerPoint rerun next semester.

Stood-up. You are usually the person in charge of this meeting. It will always happen in the single hour of free time you have that week. It is the only time upon which at least seven out of 200 of you could agree. You, alone, will secure all rooms, tables, catering, byzantine permissions, party picks, and projectors. Wherever two or three are gathered, people will complain to you about the general lack of involvement. Delegate, then bail as soon as possible.

Peacocks in bumper cars. Usually, this is a smaller meeting. It often ends within a reasonable timeframe. Constructive ideas will be floated. Actions will be agreed upon. Then, someone ostensibly in charge will ask for volunteers. You will find out who is in charge forthwith. Should your project, suggestion, or idea be hijacked, cheer up! Now you have more time to focus on what matters: conference presentations! Sit back and observe, as Ms. Mentor advises, while the fireworks ensue. Popcorn?

Hey, do you smell something burning?….

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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Katrina, Five Years Later: Too Much Left Undone

Joan of ArcI thank God that I am in New Orleans today, writing this. 1,464 Louisianians are not able to give any testimonies of their experiences.

I am also grateful and overjoyed to have met so many fine bloggers and other dedicated New Orleanians at Rising Tide V. Seeing friends in person, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, and making new friends was the best possible therapy for this New Orleanian in exile. Rising Tide is New Orleans’ brain trust, and certainly its best grassroots think tank.

Today I’ll head over to Garden District Book Shop for the New Orleans: What Can’t Be Lost book signing. In attendance:

Lee Barclay, Christopher Porché West, Sunday Angleton, Jason Berry, Simonette Berry, Amanda Boyden, Julia Carey, Tara Jill Ciccarone, Joshua Clark, Morgan Clevenger, Lucas Díaz-Medina, Joel Dinerstein, Louis Edwards, Gina Ferrara, Lee Meitzen Grue, Sarah K. Inman, Julie Kane, Errol Laborde, Katheryn Krotzer Laborde, Louis Maistros, Alex McMurray, Maria Montoya, Kami Patterson, Valentine Pierce, Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy, Henri Schindler, Barbara Trevigne, Jerry W. Ward, Jr., Missy Wilkinson, and Kelly Wilson.

Then, I’ll hit Tulane University’s Kendall Cram Room for “Remembering Katrina: A 5th Anniversary Poetry Reading.”On the bill: Brenda Marie Osbey, Yusef Komunyakaa, Peter Cooley, Nicole Cooley, Kay Murphy, Brad Richard, Alison Pelegrin, and Martha Serpas. What an incredible reading this will be. You should get there if at all humanly possible.

Too many of the poor who have survived are still living in broken-down houses, in between too many boarded-up houses, with little hope from either the schools or from Baton Rouge for improving their economic and educational situation. The University of New Orleans continues to be slighted and is fighting for its life, along with every other public higher education institution in the state. Our President is going to speak about Katrina at Xavier today. I hope he gets around the city to places other than the usual advance-man scenic stand-ups depicting progress. Given the Gulf fiasco, I won’t hold my breath. On Friday, street flooding in the bowl where Xavier sits blocked northbound traffic on Carrollton all the way back to the Archdiocese within minutes. Clearly nothing is being done about that kind of street flooding. Moreover, adding drainage capacity is not enough to compensate for the greater volumes in the water cycle. We need federal dollars to rebuild and to clean up, but we also need federal mandates for green energy and transportation. If you don’t believe in climate change yet, please drive your SUV under the overpass at Carrollton and I-10 and kiss my purple, green, and gold ass. Until Americans change our fossil-fuel worshipping ways, we will continue to push the residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast under the oil-slicked, Corexit-filled water. As New Orleans and the Gulf Coast go, so goes America.

At some point, I’ll post a longer piece reflecting on the journey home, which is, even at this late date, a work in progress. And before I press the START button in the rental hybrid car, I’ll take a walk on the levee, the way I used to take for granted I would do all my life, and remember The City That Care Forgot.

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Rising Tide V – TREME in da house!!!!

Maitri Erwin, Back of Town: Blogging Treme founder
Lolis Eric Elie, Treme/ex-Times-Picayune/documentarian
Becky Northcut, VirgoTex
Davis Rogan, musician/Treme
Dave Walker, Times-Picayune TV critic
Eric Overmeyer, playwright/TV writer/producer, “Treme” co-creator

ERWIN: Your connections to New Orleans? (ROGAN/ELIE natives)
NORTHCUT: dad a shrimper… only news that mattered was on the blogs.
WALKER: Chicago, came here for job at T-P. Heard Wild Tchoupitoulas on WXRT in Chicago.
OVERMEYER: Grew up in Seattle, dad came here on business, bought back Oscar “Papa” Celestine record back, plated “Marie Laveau” over and over and over. Also would put on the Wild Tchoupitoulas record and people would come over and say I don’t get it.

ROGAN: Can’t portray lives of N.O. musicians and chefs w/o cursing and smoking pot.
ELIE: Out of towners re: Carnival on St. Charles, locals their own thing, but truth is you see Carnival from where you live. Tells story without excluding folks.

Dumbest New Orleans show/movie?
ELIE: “Orleans” w/Larry Hagman–played a sitting judge; alligator common La. lawn pets, so no surprise this character had one. What reality is this from? Recently did a tribute to “Frank’s Place” (applause)
ROGAN: Thought “Panic in the Streets” was excellent.
WALKER: I wrote 1001 columns about “K-ville.” I think it was a noble effort to throw production dollars at New orleans. Eric wrote great two-part piece on about what the challenge was for K-Ville; hope you go back and read it because gives insight into TV production biz.

ELIE: Eric and David have done their homework… what I bring to it, Davis and Tom as well, is how best to reflect the scene.
ROGAN: We (locals on Treme) kind of fill in the color.
OVERMEYER: In a way, it’s a historical drama, it takes place 4 yrs in the past, try to be as accurate as we can; take some liberties, sometimes make mistakes, but always trying to bounce it off what happened in Feb. 2006. New Orleanians have diff recollections about what happened around certain events, so sometimes say, well we have to go with that version because we can’t nail it down definitively.

ERWIN:How do you nail it down before the show?
WALKER: Knew would have to find a ay to deal w/torrent of cultural refs that are not necessary for N.O. viewers. So came up with a way to basically drain all the enjoyment out of the viewing experience. (Laughter). Usually I would get an advance screener on Friday–spent a lot of nice spring weekends inside–but found a way to get other people to [resources] … who Smiley Lewis was, why it was funny when Davis didn’t hear the knock at the door.

Becky ran a blog called Got That New Package (Ashley Morris, Ray Shea, Scout, Nancy, etc.)–Back of Town is basically a continuation of that effort. How did it come to be?

NORTHCUT: Shared political sensibility also shared w/this room, failed institutions. Was originally about The Wire— I think Ray may have known about the show (in process) in N.O.–I’d ask Ray, and Ray would say ask Ashley, and he’d say ask Nancy, etc.

ELIE: Dawn Logsdon came up with idea of documentary about Treme. We grew up in Carrollton. Wanted to give some historical context to the builders, craftsmen, etc. who grew up in Treme. Dovetailed with her father’s work (the late historian). It’s been a big part of what I’ve been able to bring to the table, Great theme song too–thanks to John Boutte.

–Wil Treme be similar to The Wire: characters changing, or will it always be about post-K recovery?
OVERMEYER-Fall06-Spring 07. Fall 07-Spring 08 if it runs another season. Always going to be about the recovery in some way. Feel compelled to repeat what David and I have ad nauseam, which is this show is not The Wire. Blessing/curse: extraordinary success of The Wire allowed HBO to do Treme–without that success, we wouldn’t be sitting here in this room. OTOH, a lot of viewers of The Wire who tuned in looking for gun battles disappointed because they got a secondline and a guy playing trombone and a cook in a restaurant sauteeing crawfish–cdn’t be more ifferent. Also interested in big canvas–story of a city– and of characters. Some similarities, but they’re as different as N.O. and Baltimore are diff. I think we’ve driven away people who were interested in The Wire #2 and gotten people interested in Treme.
ROGAN: “The Wire is War and Peace; Treme is Anna Karenina.”

[The flashback was David Mills‘ idea–applause]

ELIE: I hope we can give people a sense of why as late as 2006, everything was not OK. (applause)

OVERMEYER: cleared uses of Ashley Morris’ FYYFF and etc.

ELIE: I think time will make it a lot easier for people to watch the show who can’t watch it now.

RAY SHEA: Lot of people in N.O. who have never been to a second line and probably will never go, who have this Katrina experience as well…will the community of characters expand?

OVERMEYER: Will have all chars but Creighton…adding some, dealing with return of crime, breakdown of criminal justice system, where did the $ go, the school system to some extent, mental health issues…the thing about 2nd season: 2nd year harder than first for some New Orleanians.

KIM MARSHAL: I want more Aunt Mimi and more Phyllis Montana Leblanc!

(Will there be a schoolteacher in new season?)

ELIE: Trying to figure out how to address the charter school issue.
ROGAN: Think the whole ed system gives itself over to Overmeyer/Simon gray area that I would hope gets addressed.

ELIE: One of my complaints is that cultural development is primarily between Warehourse District and French Quarter, into Frenchman, but as it extends into other neighborhoods (Kermit Ruffins’, etc.), hope we can see that culture grow as well.

QUESTION: Diaspora thank you for show. Does racial harmony on show grow out of certain cultural scenes?
ROGAN: N.O. music scene more integrated–hope that is an accurate portrayal.
OVERMEYER: Getting into more difficult issues in Season 2.
ELIE: Not attempting toescape the hard q’s, but have to undertsand what gets in cluded in partic show in partic season. Crime issue not as significant in Fall 2005, therefore you don’t see it. Re: music, who plays w/whom, experiences folks have, try to look at various ways in which this music is made and by whom.

QUESTION: What are your guiding principles? What are the common principles that you might share as you strive to tell a certain type of story? Was shocked by Tulane professor who said, “Well! They’re keeping identity studies! Getting rid of engineering!” It kind of jarred.
OVERMEYER: That list was accurate. For Creihton we felt that this was accurate reflection of what his POV would be. You can’t confuse the staff with the characters…we have to serve the characters first That’s not to say–I’d be surprised if there’s a Republican on the staff–there are big disagreements–but it’s important not to use characters to make an (ideological) point–you need that (character development) for conflict and drama.
ELIE: I want to make it clear: We are free to write whatever we want to write. David and Eric are free to change whatever they want to change. A big one is to have a roundness of character, to have some sympathy to some of the things the characters do. An NOPD character: “you have no idea what it as like, I slept in the car for days,” etc. Give the character enough for you to disagree with the character. I hope it results in something approaching the truth.

ELIE: All the folks who came here to help rebuild the city are now ambassadors for the city…We do have viewers in other parts of the country who can see something that’s not totally contingent on being from here.
OVERMEYER: One of our concerns: can you convey New Orleans? Not entirely convinced it’s doable or possible.
WALKER: Early on, I think I wrote it was a challenging/difficult thing to do. Think interest is widespread–backed up by cumulative audience….I think it succeeds, but I know the subcultures better than someone coming completely cold to the show would. Interesting conversations with other TV critics in US–“don’t know but I’m going to find out”. Will have another audience with DVDs–think it has a long life and people will be discovering it years from now,


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!

* * *
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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