Sunday, August 31, 2008


I've loss count how many times we've evacuated. Georges, Ivan, Katrina, others I suppose. And now Gustav.

Jarvis DeBerry has an excellent perspective in The Times-Picayune today, writing about the fear of losing again what we've only just regained after losing it three years ago.

We only just moved into our new home in May, just 4 months ago. As we readied to leave in the predawn hours this morning, my Darling Wife stood in the kitchen and covered her face with her hands. I know what she was thinking; she was terrified that after so much effort, so much work and expense, we were still having to evacuate from an oncoming hurricane. We were still not safe.

A moment later she was ready to go, and as we drove out of the city, we held hands.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurricane Katrina Quiz: Third Anniversary

Social justice, anyone?

Try this quiz from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and find out the good, the bad and the ugly about recovery help for the most vulnerable citizens of New Orleans.

(Thanks, Loki!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Still more notes on Rising Tide III

Some random observations:

- Just before keynote speaker and author John M. Barry spoke, I counted almost 80 people in the room and 11 glowing laptops.

- Cade Roux was blogging on a wacky mint green notebook computer that looked like it was half the size of a full-grown computer. Turns out he borrowed it from his kid for the day. Which worked out well because between panels Varg learned to play with Zwinkys.

- The Rising Tide III poster, shirts and other promotional items featured images of origami cranes. This was a play on so-called "Recovery Czar" Ed Blakely's comment in March 2007 that, "By September, we hope to have cranes on the skyline." Just shy of a year later and no cranes in sight, artist Greg Peters thought the paper cranes might be helpful. Mominem brought a large origami crane to display, but alas the paper was limp and ineffective--just like Blakely.

- Beyond jabbing at the city leadership's ineptitude, I recently learned that in Japan the origami crane is considered a symbol of peace. Legend says that a person who folds 1,000 cranes will have a wish come true. There had been talk of folding a large number of cranes to bring to City Hall, but even though the origami protest did not come to fruition, it pleases me to know that Rising Tide is now a part of the peace movement.

- Clay showed that engineers are not fashion-deaf, arriving Saturday in a sporting summer jacket and a dashing country-club hat. Not to be outdone, Dangerblond wore a vibrantly colored "mood dress" and Clancy DuBos wore the bright blue RISING TIDE III shirt. Which proves the room was just chock-full of genuinely bright people.

- Ashley Morris, the man who loomed so large among NOLA Bloggers, was felt and seen at this year's event. Varg made sure to place Ashley's face at the lower right corner of the conference schedule which was projected on the big screen for most of the day.

- At the conclusion of panels and speakers, Oyster and Leigh handed out the first three Ashley Awards for excellence in blogging. Ashley was the first recipient of the award bearing his name, and the room rose to its feet in applause to honor him. When Karen was given her Ashley Award, she said a few kind words of thanks, and then shouted loud and proud, "FYYFF!"

- Ray has large biceps and I don't. Ray has lots of fancy ink and I don't. Ray refrains from alcohol and I definitely don't. But something I noticed this Saturday we do have in common: we bounce our legs when seated.

- Friday night at the social at Buffa's, Robert Cerasoli waded through the beer and wine glasses to meet the NOLA Bloggers. The Inspector General of New Orleans walked up to meet Jeffrey and immediately declared he was a fan of the yellow blog. We thought it might just be polite banter until Cerasoli began to discuss specific issues presented on the snarkiest blog in the western hemisphere. You would think Jeffrey would have been pleased to have a fan in such a notable position, but no. Jeffrey instead said he could not believe Cerasoli would waste his time reading such a rambling, pointless blog. "Could be worse," I said. "He could be reading the comments at"

- Lunch was great thanks to J'anita's on Magazine Street. As I was enjoying the BBQ beef and pulled pork, I remarked to others, "This is really good! I'm so glad no one sponsored lunch and I can eat."

- RISING TIDE swag was all the rage this year. As noted above, Clancy DuBos wore the official imprint shirt all day Saturday and Dangerblond and racymind used their koozies at the after party Saturday night. I guess I waited too long to get over to the merchandise table because when I did they only had XXL shirts. I bought one anyway to "support the cause" and now Precious Daughter is enjoying her new nightshirt decorated with origami cranes. Peace, my girl.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Notes on Rising Tide III

The RISING TIDE III journalism panel was almost as much fun as the keynote speaker. First of all, because the topic was of great interest to me. And second, because the panelists maintained an engaging yet humorous tone.

No need to blog about TV's Lee Zurik and the eyebrow-raising comments of the assembled NOLA Bloggers—others have that story covered. I will simply say that Zurik was a plucky sport and withstood the tweezing questions with aplomb. My Precious Wife says it’s not the eyebrows that cause her to wonder. Instead she wants to know, "But does he wear eyeliner?" She will tell you he looks like a prince of Egypt, which I guess is not too shabby a compliment. But eyeliner? That will have to be a question for another day.

Zurik was not only unpretentious, he proved he reads blogs and readily shared credit for busting the NOAH scandal with NOLA Bloggers and "amateur investigators" Karen, Sarah and Eli. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that people who are eager to share credit with others are the most confident and accomplished, so Zurik's stock is up on that account.

And on the NOAH scandal, there was one particularly interesting thing Zurik said that's worth exploring. Essentially he gave our NOLA Bloggers credit for uncovering and researching the story and himself the credit for transmitting that story to a wide audience. Very few bloggers have more than a few hundred regular readers, and none has the daily reach of a news program on a local network affiliate, even in a small market like New Orleans. So that's how the cooperative works according to Zurik: NOLA Bloggers found the story, TV distributed it.

It makes perfect sense because surely there are more people watching television than surfing the Internet. But think about that for just a moment. What will happen in say, 5 or 10 years, when there are just as many people online as in front of the tube? What will happen when consumers of blogs outnumber the consumers of TV news? Once that happens, what added value would TV news bring to the table? Now I'm not going out on a limb predicting the demise of everything Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite created, but it makes for an interesting vision of our possible future.

Kevin Allman was the most introspective of the journalism panel, claiming that journalism is a civic duty. He also cited the ugly willingness of capitalists to take the creative work of bloggers to make money. I agree in large measure with his concerns, but I wanted to tell Kevin, you know, this goes both ways. I and so many other bloggers run our blogs at no out-of-pocket cost thanks to the dozens of totally free web services. I take full advantage of free photo sharing and free web email. At what point do you say, "Hey, freeloader, you have to pay to play"?

I'm all for creative control, but we all know this stuff ain't really free. Somebody is paying for upkeep of the code and the servers and all that entails. They must see financial advantage in giving away these services at no charge, and we are all to willing to oblige them. So we should not be so shocked when schemes arise to recoup on all that investment in the "free" realm of the Internet. I'm just sayin...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Notes on Rising Tide III

Of course John M. Barry was the highlight of the conference. Perhaps the most learned and easily the most accomplished of speakers and panelists gathered for Rising Tide III, Barry was also as charming and friendly as anyone could have hoped for. He autographed a stack of his books prior to speaking, scribbling "John Barry" in all except for Sophmom who asked for and received a personalized imprint.

I think Barry’s presentation was exactly what the conference was hoping for: historical background, scientific facts and a passionate belief that New Orleans not only can be protected but must be.

And none of this namby-pamby "New Orleans has great food" and "New Orleans has great music." Barry went right to the jugular in pointing out that without the deep-draft ports that stretch some 70 miles in and around New Orleans, ports throughout the interior of the United States would be reduced to hauling corn and manure amongst themselves. If New Orleans is lost, Barry said there will be no more international trade on the waterways in the heart of America.

Will it be expensive to protect New Orleans? Barry did not flinch or attempt to hide the cost, which he said would be at least $100 billion. But how could it not be worth it?

Barry also talked about the challenge of protecting the port city, which by necessity is both close to the sea and close to sea level. He noted that sediment which used to be carried to Louisiana by the Mississippi River has decreased sharply with development upstream, particularly with the installation of locks and hydroelectric dams. (Where have we heard that before?) And because of levees to prevent river flooding, almost all the remaining sediment ends up dumped off the continental shelf into the Gulf of Mexico.

Still, Barry was optimistic. He’s no engineer, but he does seem to have an informed view of the complexities involved in preserving coastal Louisiana. Barry was clear in his conviction that solutions are possible if only the will exists to make it happen.

Overall, it was an excellent presentation and I cannot recall a single statement made by Barry to which I would take exception. Rising Tide participants gave Barry a standing ovation at the conclusion of his talk and Q&A. This was surely a sign of the respect and appreciation we have for all he’s done for New Orleans, including serving on the levee board and writing magazine articles and newspaper op-eds defending and promoting our city.

Still, I’m worried for him. At no point did Barry place full and square blame for the flooding of New Orleans on the Corps of Engineers. When talking of projects that tended to make the coast more vulnerable to storm surge and saltwater intrusion, Barry said, "People built the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. People built the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet."

Recall how Sandy attacked the American Society of Civil Engineers for making presentations to engineering groups and students about Katrina. ASCE spoke of engineering failures and system failures, which Sandy interpreted as a whitewash of the federal government’s culpability and a cover-up for the Corps. If Sandy is consistent in her reasoning and conviction, Barry should expect a harsh press release in the next few days. After all he's done he does not deserve such treatment, so I hope he is spared the assault.

John Barry was an excellent choice for keynote speaker. The organizers of Rising Tide III deserve heaps of praise for their excellent work on this year’s event. And John Barry, too--thanks!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A great event filled with great people

RISING TIDE III was a big success. I have much to say and write about it in later blog posts.

For now I will simply note that one of my favorite moments was when venerated journalist Clancy DuBos declared, "Ich bin ein Blogger!"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ride the tide!

You still haven't registered for RISING TIDE III?

So what are you waiting for? An engraved invitation???

Okay then--here it is (click to enlarge):

Your invitation to Rising Tide III - A Conference on the Future of New Orleans.
For more info and to register, visit

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"A scar that won't quite heal"

John McCusker succeeded where I failed: he demolished his slab-on-grade house in the Vista Park neighborhood of New Orleans and built a new, elevated home for his family. For that, John has both my admiration and praise for what he's accomplished and the setbacks he's overcome.

Still, the streets are haunted by what used to be and by what happened there when Hurricane Katrina came roaring into town. He tells his bittersweet story in last Thursday's edition of The Times-Picayune.

Welcome home, John, and best wishes to you and yours. As you have demonstrated, it's all "up" from here.

UPDATE: JudyB showed me a slideshow featuring John's original music and a reading of his essay. One photo in the set is of the house of my friend the rocket scientist, who I'm glad to say didn't move to Denver--they only got as far as Metairie. I miss you, Vista Park.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I'll take Atlanta 1996

The Olympic Games are underway and receiving a lot of attention from news reporters, sports fans and the general public alike, but don't expect to hear me talking about it. That's because the games are taking place in China this year.

The country of China is run by a totalitarian regime. Many things can be found in abundance there, but liberty remains painfully scarce. You can count me out of supporting nations that ban or severely limit freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

So instead of talking about the 2008 games, I'd like to blog about the 1996 games. Instead of joining the chorus of "Oooos" and "Ahhhhs" over the recent opening ceremony from the police state of China, I'd rather talk about the night Atlanta hosted the Olympic opening ceremony and the man who was the final link in the long torch relay to deliver the flame to the games.

In my book, that was the greatest opening ceremony in Olympic history. And it featured the man who coined himself "The Greatest," and most people agreed with him.

The last torch bearers that night were themselves acclaimed Olympic athletes. They carried the flame into the stadium and around the track and up a high ramp to hand it off to the final man in the relay from around the world.

That man stepped slowly, deliberately from the shadows. It was obvious he probably could not have run even if he had wanted to. Holding an unlit torch in his right hand, his left arm shook uncontrollably with the unmistakable jerks brought on by Parkinson's syndrome.

Muhammad Ali, a gold medal athlete from the 1960 games, didn't look all that different than he had when he was known as Cassius Clay. His face remained focused and serious as he touched his torch to the runner's torch to receive the flame. And then, even as his left arm continued to wobble in muscular dysfunction, Ali turned toward the gathering of athletes and dignitaries who filled the stadium and lifted the torch up into the air.

The crowd roared.

Ali did not smile; perhaps it was not possible for him to do so. The man who was in many ways the loudest, boldest symbol of black power, the man who refused military service in a controversial conflict and suffered the loss of his boxing title as a result, the man who defied the conventional model of humble African-American athletes who came before him, the man who was for many years the essence of strength, endurance, and confidence, stood before his peers and the world, barely able to walk and hold a torch.

But no one could doubt in that moment who he was.

He was The Greatest.

And he remains The Greatest, now and always.

Keep China 2008. I’ll take Atlanta 1996.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We know better than anyone what we have

My sister-in-law was in town with her children to attend a family wedding this weekend. The groom was a nephew, a boy by many measures and yet man enough to enlist in the Army and get married.

He arrived in his Army greens, the brass on his lapels shining almost as much as his shaved head. Everyone thought he looked more handsome and healthier than ever before. I asked him about his assignment in Colorado. He said it was okay, but he fully expected to be "downrange" within a year or two. I immediately understood what he meant, and I was surprised with how easily he spoke of it.

His bride was a slim young girl wrapped elegantly in a beaded white gown, shoulder-less to reveal her tattoos. She had a scorpion on her shoulder blade, and it occurred to me that my soldier nephew might just enjoy a few months with his new bride before having to encounter the real thing in Iraq or Afghanistan. It was a happy occasion trimmed with somber realization.

Earlier that day I had taken my own Precious Daughter and two of her little cousins to City Park. We tried out all the features of the playground, then took our skills to conquer the trees. Ancient, heavy trees. The park is loaded with oak trees, many which might recall the distant sounds of battle when General Jackson turned back the British, and when gunboats steamed up the river during the Civil War.

"This tree is falling down," said one of the children happily as he walked on a branch that stretched horizontally along the ground almost as far as it reached up to the sky. "Gravity eventually overcomes all of us," I said to my own amusement. My response neither informed nor interested him and he continued to explore the ancient oak on his own terms.

The heat eventually drove us toward the old casino building where we found food and drinks and ice cream. My Precious Daughter said it had been closed since Katrina, but was glad to find it recently reopened. Almost three years it had been closed. Three years since the hurricane and flood had soaked our city.

An old song tells us "you don't know what you got till it's gone." That's a true enough observation that I'm sure applies anywhere. But here in New Orleans, where the loss is still so real and present, I'd like to think we know better than anyone what we have. And I hope we can appreciate what we have. I know I'm trying.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Tidal exchange

Meet and greet, think and drink, listen and learn, orate and organize...

You can do it all at the third annual gathering of NOLA Bloggers later this month.

It's called RISING TIDE III, running from August 22 to 24, right in the middle of New Orleans and the 2008 hurricane season. If you have not signed up yet, now is the time.

Not a blogger? It's okay, nobody will know. Come meet some great people anyway.

This year RISING TIDE features none other than the celebrated author John M. Barry.

Currently a commissioner on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, Mr. Barry also just happens to be the author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, the definitive book on the flood that dared America to control the Mississippi River.

And check out the official conference poster created by Greg Peters.

Rising Tide III - A Conference on the Future of New Orleans.

Click on the poster to get all the details. Hope to see you there!