Victory (Not)

I picked up the paper off the porch this morning looking forward to reading another story by Stephanie Bruno about our renovation, the 18th in an ongoing series.

But I was somewhat distracted by the headline on the front page:
Giant Mid-City retail project planned

A Georgia development company has been quietly working to assemble a vast swath of Mid-City, including the Lindy Boggs Medical Center, to create a nearly contiguous 20-acre site for 1.2 million square feet of retail space for national chains that until now have been unable to find a home inside the city.

I was disheartened. I’m not talking about the revelations of the story itself. We’ve known about this developer’s plans for a while now.

Rather, this headline represents a missed opportunity for the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization and the Friends of Lafitte Corridor to control the message, or at least frame it in our terms.

Our community engaged in a long planning process last year. We have a vision for our neighborhood. Any proposed development should be viewed in the context of that vision.

Instead, the article in today’s paper gives a sense of inevitability:

The site being assembled by Victory Real Estate Investments LLC is huge, covering more than half a square mile from Jefferson Davis Parkway to Carrollton Avenue and from Toulouse to Bienville streets.

A second phase being discussed would involve an additional 9 acres on the lake side of North Carrollton, across the street from Sav-A-Center. Victory owns the Sav-A-Center and the former Winn-Dixie store that was converted into a small Home Depot last year.

If we’d taken our message to the press first, we could have been proactive and positive. As it is, MCNO comes off as negative and reactionary:

“We don’t want a suburban-style development plopped in the middle of an urban area,” [MCNO] member Janet Ward Pease said.

I’m not criticizing Janet. The story is simply written this way. The big lead is the developer’s initiative, and a community organization like MCNO is shown as merely reacting to Victory.

The Lafitte Corridor is not mentioned at all, despite the fact that the proposed urban greenway runs right through the heart of the proposed development. That’s a shame, because the Lafitte Corridor is our best opportunity for framing the issue in terms of what matters most to this community. The Lafitte Corridor offers a positive vision of the sort of development we want in Mid-City.

I believe MCNO and FOLC made a mistake in not taking our story to the press. (I’m on the boards of both organizations, so this is self-criticism.) We were well aware of the situation, but it was a mistake to think we could afford to wait. We had a chance to exert more control over the message in the media, and we blew it.

The lesson I hope to remember is this: Seize the opportunity!
Continue reading “Victory (Not)”

A Night in Jail

A co-worker’s son spent last Friday night in jail here in New Orleans. Of course, people have to deal with our dysfunctional system all the time, and their voices are usually not heard, or they are ignored. But it just so happens that my co-worker is a writer and a blogger, so you can read all about it.

Car Trouble

Xy found the car wouldn’t start this morning. Or rather, it would start sometimes and run for as long as thirty seconds and then die. Other times it wouldn’t really start at all. We called a cab but she ended up getting a ride with the neighbor across the street. I got Trep’s to come tow the car to their service station. Of course, it started right up for them, and stayed running. But their tests showed low fuel pressure and they found oil in the coolant. Could be a blown head gasket — or a cracked block. Or who knows. They couldn’t handle it at Trep’s so I took it to Angelo’s in Gentilly. Hope to hear something tomorrow.

This Saturn is nine years old. Fred (who gave me a ride) says it’s time to buy another vehicle.

I hate car trouble. I hate cars, actually, because they’re nothing but trouble.

On a related tangent, a co-worker (who I recently learned is royalty) just begged me for help with her computer, a Mac with a display that was inexplicably black and white and very strange looking. She said it started when someone leaned on the keyboard with her arm. Her son had already Googled the problem and called tech support to no avail. I noticed the display was not only monochromatic but inverted with regard to luminance. In other words, everything was negative. Google’s homepage was black. So we Googled “mac display black and white inverted” and instantly found the answer. Seems there’s a keyboard shortcut that does this trick: Ctl-Opt-Cmd-8. If you’ve got a Mac, try it. Or better yet, do it to a friend’s Mac when they’re not looking.

Update: Angelo’s called back and said the leakage is so bad the engine would probably have to be replaced, and said we are probably better off getting a new car.

Oh, and rcs posted a screenshot of his inverted screen of this very post!

RSS Inverted

A Busy Week

Looking back at the last seven days or so, there’s a lot of stuff I haven’t written about.

On the political front, there was controversy over Mayor Nagin’s comments to a conference in DC, and Governor Blanco announced she will not seek re-election. Also, Congress passed the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act, which local housing activists are celebrating as a victory.

At work we interviewed a candidate who could potentially be my new boss, and who is intimately connected to another local blogger. I probably shouldn’t say anymore at this point since negotiations are ongoing and I wouldn’t want to jinx it.

Schools across the state spent the week administering the LEAP and iLEAP. The LEAP is Louisiana’s high-stakes “No Child Left Behind” test, administered in the 4th and 8th grades. Students who don’t pass it can’t move on to the next grade. Students in other grades take the iLEAP, which is merely diagnostic. This means Xy didn’t have to plan any lessons all week, but it was no cakewalk. Stress and behavior problems hit an all time high and she had some really tough days. She feels her students were well prepared for the subject matter, but the questions were phrased in such an arcane manner that she fears they’ll score poorly. Michael predicts the LEAP results will be used to justify the further privatization of our public schools. (Xy works at a public charter school which shut out the union. Imagine our surprise when a union rep stopped by our house a few days ago. I guess they’re trying to reorganize.) Today I saw the Fyre Youth Squad marching down Canal Street, just a block from our house, to demand that LEAP scores in New Orleans be used for diagnostic purposes only, at least this year.

I attended the usual mix of meetings: MCNO Communications Committee, FOLC Board, a confab between Urban Conservancy and FOLC regarding a Bikes Belong grant, a conference call for Think New Orleans. I was elected FOLC Chair, which means that I will run the board meetings. I’ve had a little experience facilitating meetings over the years, so I figured this responsibility would not be too onerous, but I should probably review my copy of the Democratic Rules of Order.

The weather continues to be beautiful. Last weekend we went to the art museum to see Femme Femme Femme, a collection of French paintings of French women. Apparently half the city had the same idea because it was crowded with more cars parked along Lelong than I’ve ever seen. Good thing we rode our bikes.

And today I did my taxes, which are more complicated than ever but still only took a few hours.

Netflix Friends

I read Dangerblond’s musings on how to put a man to sleep. (Personally I think the Architectures documentary series sounds fascinating, and I don’t think it would put me to sleep at all.) Anyway, I invited Danger to be on my Netflix friends list. She accepted, and according to Netflix we have a 71% similarity in cinematic taste. That puts her second only to HammHawk (84%) out of the nine friends on my list.

Then I noticed Netflix provides a second method for adding friends, via a link. I’m inclined to regard anyone who bothers to read this as a friend, so I’m putting the link here. If you subscribe to Netflix, you can be my friend just by clicking.

Another friend of mine has expressed skepticism about this whole proposition. She doesn’t want me looking at whatever movies she’s renting. But the appeal for me is not snooping someone’s queue. What I like about the system is that you can see how your friends rated different movies. You can also leave notes about movies, but they’ve fiddled with this system over time, and in my opinion it could use a little more fiddling.

Of course this is just another distraction from the problems we face. The world and our city is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket. Are we are amusing ourselves to death? Or are these distractions necessary to maintain sanity and thus being able to fight the good fight? I don’t know anymore. I just know I like chilling with some good video every now and again.

Properties on Notice

According to a story in the Times-Picayune:

New Orleans officials Monday said they have started handing out notices to owners of any property deemed to be an “imminent health threat,” giving them 30 business days to clean up the sites before the city sends in crews to demolish or gut delinquent buildings.

Someone sent me a listing of some properties in a couple of Excel files. I took the addresses in one file and threw them up on a map.

If you click on a dot you’ll get more info — much of which is inscrutable, but some of which makes sense, like if the property is targeted for gutting or demolition.

For what it’s worth, I believe it’s long past time the city moved to doing something about hazardous properties. Buildings that are in imminent danger of collapse should be torn down. But at the same time, I’m so used to the city bungling things that I think we have to keep a close eye on this process. I hope this helps.

Please note: The file I used listed only 186 addresses, though the article cites 267 properties. I don’t know how to explain the disparity. This map should not be considered exhaustive or authoritative.

Update: Here’s a map which lists the 20 properties in my zip code (70119) — most of which were not included in the previous map.

Sky Watch

So I’m down in the Quarter Friday afternoon to get a haircut, and I see this strange contraption on Bourbon Street.

NOPD Tower at Rest

What on earth is this thing? I wondered. Imagine my surprise when it unfolded rose up to a height of about two stories.

NOPD Tower

Given that it’s on Bourbon, you might expect this is some new way to get tourists drunk, but no. It’s a mobile surveillance tower for the New Orleans Police Department.

NOPD Sky Watch Booth

Apparently it’s called “Sky Watch.” (Thanks to boxchain who took a picture of it back in January where you can see the name.) Apparently NYPD has one.

I’m extremely skeptical. Granted, it is bizarre, and I’m a big fan of bizarre. But it also seems obnoxious, intrusive and ugly. I don’t see how it will really help much. It seems more like a shiny new toy that probably cost a bundle.


Xy and I did something today that we’ve never done together before: We went to church.

Oh sure, we’ve gone into church buildings together. We have even attended worship services together at least three times, but those events were occasioned by obligations either to my family or her employer. I don’t count them as legitimate expressions of religious interest.

Today, we went to a Unitarian-Universalist service. Both New Orleans UU churches were flooded, so they were meeting in combination at a Presbyterian church in Jefferson Parish.

One of my principal objections to participating in worship services has been stuff in the liturgy I don’t agree with. Some people don’t understand this objection. They think I should just “go along to get along” but I disagree. There’s nothing “respectful” about mouthing words I don’t believe. That it makes a mockery of the whole practice. That’s hypocrisy.

I was happy to discover none (or very little) of that in the liturgy of the service we attended. Nothing we said, nothing the minister said, none of the lyrics we sang struck a discordant note. Nothing seemed wrong or false or objectionable.

However, the whole thing was a little — how shall I say this? — boring. While nothing was offensive, by the same token the whole enterprise doesn’t seem particularly necessary. “Not wrong” doesn’t equate to right; “not false” doesn’t equate to true; “not objectionable” does not equate to compelling. Obviously that’s in the eye of the beholder. I am happy for those who find the experience worthwhile.

The idea of being part of a faith community is attractive. As we contemplate possibly becoming parents, I think I would like my child to be at least somewhat familiar with religious practices.

We are going to have to keep looking.

Indian Anxiety

When I moved to New Orleans, I noticed that there were McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chickens, and I thought to myself, this place is as homogenized as the rest of the country (and much of the planet). The culture here isn’t so unique and different, I said to myself.

Then some friends took me to see the Indians come out at Bayou St. John on Super Sunday, and I realized I was wrong. This was my “New Orleans moment,” if you will, the point at which I realized that New Orleans does retain unique cultural traditions. To a white boy from the suburban Midwest, these “unique cultural traditions” are strange and freaky and weird and otherworldly and wonderful. They are what makes this city worth fighting for.

If you’ve never seen the Indians in the psychedelic finery, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, and I’m not sure I can describe it. Words fail me. So, check out this picture by the New Orleans Lady:


She has many more photos you can peruse. Or if you want to know more, read the Wikipedia article. Yeah, the costumes are fantastic, but trust me when I say it’s much more than just costumes. It’s an assemblage of traditions and songs and music and stories and behavior and art that proves culture isn’t just something that you see in a museum.

Everyone calls them Mardi Gras Indians, but that’s a misnomer, because they don’t just come out on Mardi Gras. In fact, my favorite time to see the Indians has always been Super Sunday, which is usually the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day. It’s “super” because Indians come out and parade in two different locations around the city, both uptown and downtown.

But since Katrina, Super Sunday just ain’t so super anymore. It was only uptown last year, and this year looks like it might be the same.

That makes me sad for a number of reasons. The downtown mustering ground was on Bayou St. John. Besides being a few blocks from my house, and being a beautiful open space, there’s also a historical resonance, because the bayou was used by Native Americans since Pre-Columbian times.

Will they ever come back downtown, back to the bayou?

The downtown Indians are mysterious, and the downtown route was never published in advance, so I don’t really know for sure what will happen this Sunday afternoon. That’s the source of my anxiety — not knowing.

The greater anxiety is knowing how this whole tradition is at risk. It’s been at risk for decades, I suppose, but now more than ever, what with the flood and the diaspora and the plodding recovery.

House of Pain

This morning on the way to work I stopped by Paul & Helen’s house in Mid-City. I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened because I was on a different route running an errand. I took a few moments to take a few pictures and shed a few tears.

Paul & Helen's House

click photo for set

We will never forget you, Helen.

What can we leave here in lieu of flowers?

How I Prepared for Daylight Saving Time

Sleep deprivation on the Monday following the time shift is a widespread phenomenon. There is even evidence that it results in an increase traffic fatalities. I know I personally tend to feel groggy. And so…

This year, a week before Daylight Savings Time took effect, I started setting our alarm ten minutes earlier each day. During the school year Xy and I generally keep our alarm set for 6:00 a.m., but by Friday we were at 5:10 a.m. I hoped this would make the transition to DST less jarring when we set our clocks ahead over the weekend.

I think it worked. Monday morning, our alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. (really 5:00 a.m. “sprung forward”) but we didn’t have much trouble getting out of bed, and I haven’t felt particularly tired.

House of Crocs

Just when I thought I’d seen it all in this crazy post-Apocalyptic city of ours, I discovered the bizarre mystery that is… The House of Crocs.

Mardi Gras Colors

Enter… if you dare.

Update: As noted in the comments, the shoes in this house are not Crocs but Orthotebbs. They were actually invented by a New Orleanian. The holder of the patent is the same person who owns the house. Someone contacted me on behalf of the owner and asked me to remove the photo, which I did. I also urged them to take steps to secure the property. It took a few weeks, but finally they boarded up the open doorway. Now I see that the building has been condemned.

Story #17

I believe the story in today’s paper is the 17th installment that Stephanie Bruno has written about our renovation:

Saturday, March 10, 2007
By Stephanie Bruno
Contributing writer

NOTE: When we last visited Bart Everson and Christy Paxson, work on their Mid-City home was progressing sporadically, and the recent murder of their friend Helen Hill had dealt them a blow. Now, repairs are proceeding more predictably, but additional worries are clouding their horizon.
Continue reading “Story #17”

Desperate Living

If you want an idea of how screwed up things are here in New Orleans, consider this. Earlier this week a hotel caught on fire. It’s the Economy Lodge Motel, located right downtown. It took firefighters all night to put the fire out. The hotel hasn’t been operational since the flood. That was eighteen months ago. Turns out this is the fourth time it’s caught fire since then. Turns out there were between 30 and 70 squatters living there. No electricity, of course, and no water, since the copper pipes were stolen long ago. Truly, people are living in desperate circumstances.

A Dream

Yesterday some friends were discussing their dreams of departed relatives. I reflected that I haven’t remembered any of my dreams for a long time.

Then, last night, I dreamed that I was at a gathering of some sort. I was talking to a woman about all the songs that had been written about Helen Hill: a song by PJ, a song by Dave Cash. In the dream there were many more.

The strange thing was that the woman I was talking to was none other than Helen herself. And it wasn’t weird or sad that I was talking with her about songs written after her death. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

The strangeness only struck me when I woke up.


This one is for my friends and readers who don’t live here in South Louisiana.

Do me a favor. Please.

First, when you’ve got a few minutes to spare, take a look at this interactive multimedia presentation. It requires Flash and you’ll want to have your speakers turned on.

(For extra credit, you can read the three part series from the Times-Picayune.)

Then, please share that link with others.

See, it’s like this. We’ve known for a while that coastal Louisiana is disappearing at an alarming rate. But scientists are now saying we’ve got much less time than we thought. They’re saying ten years or less before the land loss becomes irreversible. We’re now losing the equivalent of a football field every 45 minutes. In short order, we will have an ecological disaster of epic proportions, not just for those who live here, but for America as a whole. As the paper says:

The entire nation would reel from the losses. The state’s coastal wetlands, the largest in the continental United States, nourish huge industries that serve all Americans, not just residents of southeastern Louisiana. Twenty-seven percent of America’s oil and 30 percent of its gas travels through the state’s coast, serving half of the nation’s refinery capacity, an infrastructure that few other states would welcome and that would take years to relocate. Ports along the Mississippi River, including the giant Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana in LaPlace, handle 56 percent of the nation’s grain shipments. And the estuaries now rapidly turning to open water produce half of the nation’s wild shrimp crop and about a third of its oysters and blue claw crabs. Studies show destruction of the wetlands protecting the infrastructure serving those industries would put $103 billion in assets at risk.

The fix is mind-bogglingly expensive. Of course it is peanuts compared to what we are spending in Iraq, but the obstacles to spending this money here are enormous. We need to come together as a nation to do this. And that’s why I’m asking you to check out the above links, and share them with others. We need to get evangelical about this.