Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Nine months.

Long enough to bring a baby to term.

Nine months.

Long enough for a conventional rocket to reach Mars.

Nine months.

Long enough to build 1.5 million new homes in the present US construction market.

Nine months.

Long enough to forget.

Thanks, Editor B., for reminding everyone AGAIN.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Speak of the Mayor

James Gill is not in the habit of handing out compliments. As a columnist for The Times Picayune, Gill has distinguished himself in both content and delivery, at least in my estimation, as the best writer in New Orleans.

Well, the best after Ashley Morris. And Adrastos. And there have been days when Seymour D. Fair and Mark Folse are kicking the can with style, too.

Okay, okay, shameless plugs for my favorite local bloggers, I admit it. But back to the topic, James Gill wrote recently about how we locals view our mispoken mayor. We know he's a good guy, no matter how much the media play it up that he's a kook, or that he's a bad leader, or that everything bad that happened because of Hurricane Katrina could have been handled better by anybody-but-Nagin--and Gill even includes his own paper among the guilty.

Check it out: Easily offended? Cover your ears

Simply put, Gill gets it right.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

All politics is local

I've been super busy at work the last few weeks. My Darling Wife uses the expression, "working you like a rented mule." The blogging has been slow as a result, but here are a few thoughts about recent political developments.

Mayor Ray Nagin bested Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu to win a second, lame duck term as mayor of New Orleans. It's no secret that I would have liked to have Mitch at the helm. But you know, I'm only slightly disappointed because I do think Ray will still be good for the city. I still think Hizzoner did a good job up until Hurricane Katrina, and I am hopeful that now he's assured of another four years on the job, he can make the tough, controversial and unpopular decisions that need to be made.

Nagin only has two obstacles to overcome: the City Council, who will, of course, continue to fight for their respective districts and threaten to pull the whole city down instead of working for the good of the whole, and the media, who will continue to assassinate his character and exaggerate everything he says or does to make him appear silly, crazy or loony. Stay tuned.

I know our fellow Americans out are already drawing quick parallels between Ray and other famous local politicians like "Dollar Bill" Jefferson and Edwin Edwards. Let me say it as politely as I can: anyone who attempts to link convicted felon Edwards and future-jailbird Jefferson with our mayor doesn't have a flippin' clue. Ray runs the city like his chosen hairstyle: clean and bright. Any editorial or blog that uses the word "corrupt" against Ray is not worthy even of the electrons needed to display on my monitor.

What is it with the Louisiana Legislature's love of Quixotic, symbolic measures? Fellow local blogger Dangerblond shreds the Louisiana Legislature for their preoccupation with trivial, time-wasting measures like yet another unconstitutional law to limit or stop legal abortions.

More than a decade ago Governor Roemer vetoed an abortion law that was patently unconstitutional because he said it was a waste of taxpayer's time and money. The Legislature overturned his veto, the law was challenged in court, the state spent tons of money on lawyers defending it, the law was overturned, and Buddy Roemer was right. Of course, voters later dumped Roemer in favor of a fourth term of Edwin Edwards. It makes me think that Louisiana voters prefer leaders who do the wrong things for the right reasons over leaders who do wise, rational things.

Another vital issue they are working on is a bill to make it a crime to burn the US flag in protest. The punishment could be up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail! Hello, Legislators? Free Speech calling--remember me? Hello? Hmmm. I think they hung up…

A colleague of mine recently commented that he's been hearing a lot of politicians saying we need to do this or that in order to "send a message." Here's my suggestion: Don't send a message, send a solution! By your deeds will you be remembered, not by your words!

Unfortunately, legislative silliness is not limited to Baton Rouge. A bill recently passed the US House that would require communities to make emergency plans for pets following a major disaster. Yes, pets. Not a suggestion, not a recommendation, but a requirement or communities could be denied emergency funding.

This is not the work of some crackpot lawmaker--this bill has 110 cosponsors in the house and 11 in the Senate! They haven't yet appropriated the money to fix the levees, but by gum, they're well on their way to making sure that Fluffy and Marmaduke will be safe. File this under "So bizarre, you can't make this stuff up." (See "Bill Considers Pets in Disaster Plans" in the Washington Post.)

And a big FYI America: how many Louisiana representatives are co-sponsors of this bill? You know, those nutty, irresponsible, corrupt politicos from the Pelican State--you wanna guess how many are goofy enough to back a pet welfare bill? The answer is ZERO.

We can at least claim sanity this once.

Friday, May 19, 2006

My letter to Ray

Dear Ray,

I hope this letter finds you and your family healthy and happy. I know I don’t write to you much, so I hope you don’t think it’s because I don’t care or have forgotten you. How could I? You’re on TV more than the president nowadays.

I realize you are quite busy with the campaign and all, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Our city has been through a lot these past months. It would be no exaggeration to say we’ve been to hell and back. We’ve all been through so much, none of it deserved. You especially, Ray, have been through the wringer.

I cannot hide my admiration for the way you’ve handled yourself through this crisis. Sure, there were moments of weakness when you gave in to remorse and anger, but even the bible admits to Jesus loosing it completely with the bureaucrats (and a fig tree). Who could blame you?

And much has been made of your “chocolate city” speech on Martin Luther King Day. Ray, I was not offended. I’ve always fancied my own ability to turn a clever phrase, and frankly, I liked the metaphor you borrowed from the song. You know more than anyone that no matter what you say or do, SOMEBODY will take offence, SOMEBODY will complain and send nasty letters. That’s just part of the business, as you know, as you so adeptly showed us your political savvy many times in the past few months.

But I need to get to the point of this letter. Ray, as much as I admire you, and as much as I respect and appreciate all your hard work, I just can’t vote for you again. This is a decision I have taken quite seriously, after much deliberation and thought.

Ray, this is simply not your time.

Four years ago, we needed a reformer, a person of business acumen to guide us out of the patronage and sleazy politics that gripped this city for at least two decades. Both Morials and Sidney Barthelemy ran City Hall like their own personal money machines. I thank you for making real improvements there, for running things free of the fingerprints of corruption. You did a fine job.

But in this post-Katrina New Orleans, what we need now is a visionary and a leader. We need someone who can inspire us to keep trying, someone who will coach us through the pain to victory. We need someone who can tell our story to the rest of the nation, someone who can communicate on a personal level with our peers in Baton Rouge. I think you know where this is going. Ray, it’s not that you’ve done anything wrong, it’s just you’re not that someone I’m talking about.

I hope you understand my reasons. We can have only one mayor, and as the incumbent, you are eligible for one more term. But this is not your time, Ray. The world we lived in when we elected you is gone. The world we live in now is drastically different. It requires a radically different skill set, which in my opinion, you do not have.

I hope you will know that if you are not re-elected on Saturday, it is not a sign of rejection. It should not be interpreted as a “throw the bum out” decision. It is simply a realization that the other guy is better for the current job description. We can’t risk being sentimental or sacrificing rational thought so that no ones’ feelings are hurt.

If you are not re-elected Saturday, I hope you will use this opportunity to spend more time with your wife and children. I hope you will find another place to put your wealth of talents and experience to good use, perhaps as a lawmaker in Baton Rouge. I’d certainly give you a fair hearing and might even vote for you again. And I would hope that time will be soon.



Thursday, May 18, 2006

Story time

We loved this book when my Precious Daughter was little (or littler, I guess). Looks like it's been updated since Hurricane Katrina beat up New Orleans and the Gulf coast...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Food, glorious food!

I suppose a lot of people would say their lives revolve around their children, their work, their pursuit of happiness in the consumer-driven capitalist free market of 21st century America…

But not mine.

We have a saying in New Orleans: Other people eat to live, but we live to eat.

Yes, I'm talking about food.

I know, I know, I've blogged about this before. But food is where it's at.

I had to go down to the CBD today for a meeting. (That's Central Business District for my friends in Bunkie.) I had wanted to catch lunch at a Japanese place called Hoyanora, but there was a line almost out the door. This puzzles me because you would think they could turn tables over faster in a sushi restaurant. I mean, it's not like they have to waste a lot of time cooking the food...

Anyway, I ended up at an old-fashioned lunch counter place called Gregory's at Baronne and Poydras. Slanted floors, mismatched tables and chairs, painted veneer paneled walls, old sun-bleached and water-stained posters of the Saints and Tulane football, a crust-covered bottle of Crystal hot sauce on every table--man, what a find!

About half and half business people in suits and construction workers covered in dust. Two waitresses for about twenty tables and not a busboy in sight. Labor shortages continue to plague this town.

No, I did not see Anderson Cooper, but I could easily imagine him in his safari shirt, melodramatically intoning about the desperation of thousands of displaced New Orleanians having to suffer in cities like Houston, cities full of sandwich shops but not one measly po-boy in sight, then biting dramatically into a dripping roast beef and asking someone off-camera for a napkin.

I was in a hurry, so I ordered a chicken salad on toast, dressed, and a coke. The waitress scribbled on a blank white pad. "Any fries?" Not today, ma'am.

When she brought the drink, I noticed it had a polar bear on the can. "Season's Greetings 2005." Hmmm. There was fizz, so I did not complain.

The sandwich came soon after, cut into sailboats and topped with a pickle slice. She also left the check, which said, "CHS TST A/W." I looked at it and wondered if I left her a nice tip, would she be able to buy some vowels?

All in all, a good lunch. A glimpse at life in the business district, amidst the tall office buildings that look like the tall office buildings in every other city in America. Well, except for the Hibernia Bank Building. Wait, no, the Capitol One building.

Heading back to the office I saw a large banner proclaiming "Now Open" at the corner of Carrollton and Earhart. Yes, it's finally here: Popeye's!

Once a week I take a turn at cooking supper. I think I know what’s for dinner this week.

Speaking of which, my Precious Daughter wanted a turn cooking dinner. At 9 almost 10 years old, the only things she can cook are a bowl of cereal and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But my Darling Wife thought it was time to get her started in the kitchen.

I came home to an apartment filled with good smells. “What is that wonderful smell?” I asked. “Garlic Lime Chicken.”

And let me tell you, it was good! The girl cooked up a real winner. With the vegetables prepared by my Darling Wife, this was one of the best meals we’ve had since coming back to New Orleans after Katrina.

I think the chef enjoyed her cooking most of all, taking seconds and thirds. No room for desert. Not tonight.

No matter what goes on at work, no matter what travails we endure, no matter where we call home, suppertime is always a happy time for our family. The food we feast on is the nourishment of love and the nutrition of encouragement and support. That's the food we enjoy the most.

We have a saying in New Orleans: Bon app├ętit!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The glimmer of dawn

Just before sunrise, the sky brightens. My neighbor's security light goes off, and his dogs shift restlessly. I can hear the birds getting busy already.

New Orleans is where I live, where I choose to be. It's a time of trial and frustration, when simple things are never so simple. But in the morning light, I know the sunshine will not be far behind.

My pretty little house in Vista Park sits idle. Still waiting for resolution of the fire investigation, still waiting for the okay to tear it down and start rebuilding.

I have two neighbors who are well on their way to recovery. Via the neighborhood email list, we've been chatting about our plans and our progress. Steve and Julie recently reached a major milestone in their journey to "normal." They write:

"We finally got the bid from our builder and we have a great house plan we can afford! YEAH! Will sign the contract Monday morning and it will probably be a month before he can start. Will share more details as we learn about them. Still aiming to move in by Christmas! I'm so excited!!!!!! We're coming home!!!!!"

Around the corner, another neighbor making that journey responds:

"yeah Julie!!! I'm right there with you, it's going to be a race to that steak dinner :) My contractor has the plans ready, they are being stamped next week and taken to safety and permits, they said it would take 10 days for the review process. We are also thinking it will be about a month before we start and still hoping for Christmas.

"Hey Julie, if we are both in our houses at Christmas we should have a "neighborhood" dinner....or maybe one of those dinners where you do a different course at each persons house!!"

And here's the amazing thing about it. I don't know if April and Steve and Julie knew each other before Hurricane Katrina. I don't know that they ever conversed so easily, so filled with hope and support for each other. I knew a lot of my neighbors before the storm, but I know so many more now.

We have so much more in common. Our fates are so tightly tied together we almost can't help but be friends.

Ronald Reagan talked about "Morning in America," about the hope and the promise of a new day. As I admire the first glimmer of morning today, I feel that same hope for a better day that my neighbors feel, that the whole city of New Orleans must feel if we are going to survive this catastrophe.

Good morning, New Orleans. Rise and shine!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Cave story

B at 8

Editor B posted a funny and piercing video status report about progress in New Orleans 8 months after Katrina. Co-starring Xy, shattered homes, crushed dreams, and a gaggle of uninhabited travel trailers. Two minutes, not rated.

Download it for free here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Media's New Orleans Burnout

I started blogging a few months ago for several reasons.

First, I felt the need to write about what I was experiencing. I realized this is a historic time for my city, my family and myself. I've often told my Precious Daughter that for the rest of her life whenever she tells someone she is from New Orleans, they will immediately ask her about Hurricane Katrina.

I also realized that I lost a lot of mementos and memories in that flood, and I needed to start a new collection of memories to replace them. And perhaps most of all, I needed to write about all these things just for the good therapeutic value.

And finally, it occurred to me one day that I didn't recognize any of the voices I was hearing on the news. The stories they were telling were not stories about people I knew, neighborhoods that I remembered, nor even the city I lived in. Sometimes the stories were touching, yes, but I felt distant from the people I heard and read about.

And that's how I came to realize the problem: Only a New Orleanian can tell this story. Only someone who has marched in a Mardi Gras parade, greeted a friend with "Where y'at!", and legally purchased and consumed a cold beer at 7:20 a.m. on a Sunday morning could relate to what has happened and is happening to this fair city.

I am New Orleanian, therefore I blog.

The reporting from major media is not all bad--I don't mean to say that. Some are doing as good a job as they can for folks not from here. The New York Times and The Washington Post both get kudos from me for their continuing attention to the ongoing catastrophe here. My fellow Big Easy bloggers have said it quite succinctly: We Are Not OK. Recovering, yes, but still not out of the hospital, not even out of intensive care yet.

Howard Kurtz at The Washington Post recently wrote an excellent column on this topic. Under the headline, "The Media's New Orleans Burnout," he describes it this way:

"After eight months you assume they must be making some progress. Downtown and the French Quarter basically look fine; the worst damage by now must be limited to a few of the hardest-hit areas, such as the Lower Ninth Ward.

"But then you come here and see the devastation up close, and discover that things are far worse than you imagined. And you realize that, despite the millions of words and pictures devoted to the hurricane's aftermath, the normal rules of writing, photography and broadcasting are just not equal to the task.

"When Katrina struck, television thrived on the dramatic footage of attempts to rescue thousands overwhelmed by water and wind or suffering under horrid conditions in such places as the Superdome. But the painfully slow reconstruction of a city taking place today doesn't yield great video; the absence of progress is the story."

Yes, even I can forget. From our comfortable apartment in the Sliver by the River, I sometimes go several days without leaving this oasis of normalcy. But then I travel down Carrollton and see once again the empty brown houses and the shuttered businesses, and I am surprised by it every time.

Thanks, Howard, for reminding America, and for trying to explain it to the many who have not been here to see it for themselves.

We Are Not OK.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Olfactory Update

I don't know about you, but I definitely smell a lot.

Uh..that is, well what I mean to say is, I use my nose to smell a lot.

New Orleans has always been a sensory playground--sights, sounds and tastes getting the most notoriety. But there's a lot to touch and smell here, too, and some of it is good.

When I returned to New Orleans right after Hurricane Rita came by in late September, there were all manner of new smells in the city. None of them were good.

As Katrina refugees became New Orleans returnees, the first thing a lot of us did was push our disgusting refrigerators to the curb--only a few very brave souls attempted to clean their refrigerators.

Because inside every one of those boxy billboards was a mass of smelly, rotting food. Sure, they were duct taped shut and secured to keep toddlers out and toxicity in, but the funk found its way out anyway.

My real home, near the London Canal breach on the north side of the city, sits in a neighborhood totally decimated by flooding. Driving to my house up Wisner Boulevard along Bayou St. John, no unusual or distracting smells are noticed. But as soon as I turn onto Filmore and cross the lazy bayou, the sight of empty brown houses is immediately joined with the smell of decay.

Rows of neat, brick houses and charming weatherboard homes have their windows open and doors removed to allow them to dry out. Back in September, the smell was generated by the decay of household goods and the grown of fungus. Every drowned lawn and garden contributed its composting odor to the air.

In recent weeks, the smell has changed from one of active decay to passive decay. The best way to describe it is that it smells like an old blanket left out on the porch for several months. Although dry, it has a dank, pungent smell that speaks of decay. It is an unclean odor that I know will be around for many, many more months.

My office is located by the mighty river where there's almost always a breeze. Back in September and for several months after, the morning walk to my office was highlighted by the smell of a thousand piles of anaerobicly decomposing organic mass--stinky, rotting food.

For those who haven't had the pleasure, most of the city smelled like the dumpster in the alley behind a restaurant, or a city dump on a hot, sunny day.

Air quality improved significantly as the debris was removed, and this neighborhood in the "Sliver by the River" has returned to its pre-Katrina quaintness. I write about this now because this morning the breeze brought the fresh smell of construction to my nose. Sawn lumber and drywall, smells that remind me of projects I undertook at my house once upon a time, and projects that I helped my Dad with as a young lad.

As Martha would say, "It's a good thing."

As Colonel Kilgore would say, "Smells like... VICTORY."

We are certainly a long way from declaring "Mission accomplished," but at least in some parts of the city, I smell progress.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The President's plan to save New Orleans

This from The Onion:

In his weekly radio address, President Bush reports on his efforts to save New Orleans.

To listen to the 1-minute broadcast, click here.