Panel #1 (cont.)

Yesterday I posted some thoughts on a panel discussion, but I forgot that I had a written version of my opening statement which I might as well share. Curiously, I also forgot to bring a written version to the event, so I had to extemporize. I wrote this after meeting with some representatives of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Fund, and it’s a little rough, but it represents my thoughts such as they are. Anyway, here’s what I said, more or less.

Shortly after Katrina, President Bush said that “the storm didn’t discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort.” It was an admirable notion, and most Americans surely approved of the sentiment.

But there have been rumblings and grumblings ever since. Some have alleged that there are racist plots afoot to engineer a demographic shift, to keep certain New Orleanians from returning. However, one needn’t to resort to exotic conspiracy theories to see inequities in the recovery. Simple logic dictates that those who have money and own property will have an easier time recovering, on the whole, than those who don’t.

In other words, it was easy to predict that the recovery certainly will discriminate on the basis of class. We also know that there’s a high correlation between socio-economic standing and race. Therefore, inequities in the recovery will also tend to break down along racial lines.

Since the flood, we have seen this play out exactly as one might have anticipated. Who’s been able to come back? Who’s been able to recover? We don’t have census data, but we look around our neighborhood of Mid-City and the truth is plainly obvious. Our white, middle class, property-owning neighbors have bounced back much more quickly than our neighbors who are renting, who are working class, who are African-American. Before the flood, the latter group(s) represented the majority of Mid-City residents. Even now, more than two years since the flooding, a great number of these residents remain displaced, and with every day that passes it is less likely that they will be able to return.

To put it bluntly, the recovery is indeed discriminating, and demographic shifts are indeed taking place. And while that’s hardly surprising, it is disheartening.

As author Naomi Klein writes:

Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social leveling, rare moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled together. Today they are moments when we are hurled further apart, when we lurch into a radically segregated future where some of us will fall off the map and others ascend to a parallel privatized state…

We see these broad forces at work in our city and our neighborhood. But the people of Mid-City will not allow this disaster to tear us apart. We will not be divided. We recognize that our diversity is our strength. Our community spoke very clearly in our neighborhood recovery plan from 2006:

Mid-City is a unique and historic New Orleans neighborhood that was severely flooded due to levee breaks on August 29th, 2005. As Mid-City recovers from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, we envision a neighborhood where people of all races and economic backgrounds can find and enjoy a high quality of life together and find opportunities for meaningful employment and home ownership. We want a safe walkable and bikeable neighborhood with plenty of green space. We want mixed-use buildings, with appropriate locally-owned businesses interspersed intelligently with private residences. We want an increasing number of owner-occupied homes. We want to preserve the historic character of our neighborhood while expanding modern amenities. The recovery of Mid-City should be just, humane and democratically controlled by the people of Mid-City.

So this is the fight in Mid-City. I am encouraging the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization to rededicate itself to the values articulated in our neighborhood plan. We will fight for an equitable recovery that does not discriminate on the basis of race and class. To achieve this we must aggressively combat underlying social inequities. But our effectiveness as an organization is a function of how truly representative we are of all the people of Mid-City. To this end, we must also rededicate ourselves to organizing in the whole community, in as broad and inclusive a fashion as possible.

Jordan the Hero

Often there’s little glory in doing the right thing. It can’t be easy to step down from a powerful political office. But Eddie Jordan did just that today. If we take him at his word, he did it for the good of New Orleans.

In January I said, “Shame on you, Mayor Nagin, Superintendent Riley, District Attorney Jordan. You have really let us down.” Months later I joined other local activists in calling for Jordan’s resignation.

In spite of all that, I am not jubilant over Jordan’s resignation. I can find no joy in another person’s pain. And surely this must be a painful moment for Jordan.

Recall that Jordan entered with impressive credentials. As US Attorney he’d prosecuted former governor Edwin Edwards. He was the first black DA in the history of New Orleans. Furthermore, he had an unparalleled flair for old-fashioned haberdashery.

But something wasn’t working for Jordan. The breaking point for me was when he dropped a quintuple murder case under extremely questionable circumstances. Some people say he was played by the NOPD, but I’m not sure I buy that. Then again, what do I know? Only this: something wasn’t working.

Jordan had a rare opportunity to make a painful choice for the greater good. Few thought he’d actually do it. But he did. You can view him as a sacrificial lamb if you like, but I prefer to think of him in a nobler light, as somebody who did the right thing even though it must have been difficult.

It must be noted that Jordan’s resignation doesn’t improve anything in itself. But to remain in office was detrimental to the recovery of New Orleans. Therefore, I salute Eddie Jordan as a hero, not for what he did as DA, but for being brave enough to confront his weakness and stand down for the greater good.

Panel #1

It’s been a couple weeks since I participated in a panel sponsored by Xavier University’s Communications Department. It was titled “Media, Communication and Community: Private and Public Interests in Rebuilding New Orleans.” On the panel with me was Sakura Kone of Common Ground; Jarvis DeBerry of the Times Picayune; Rebecca Snedeker, the filmmaker who made By Invitaton Only; and Nick Slie, who is co-founder/co-artistic director of Mondo Bizarro. It was moderated by Bruce France, the other Mondo Bizarro guy who also used to teach at Xavier.

Other than Kone, I’d never met any of these folks before. I was honored to be on the dais with them. Of course I’ve read DeBerry’s column in the TP for years, but I’ve never met him in person. Despite seeing his photo every other morning, I didn’t recognize him at first.

DeBerry also said something that got my attention. He talked about the history of New Orleans East. Apparently New Orleans began to lose population around the time that New Orleans East was developed, so that the city was actually expanding geographically even as it became less populous.

Fascinating trivia, but the point he wanted to make was this: Talk about shrinking the footprint does not equate to shrinking the population. That’s an important distinction. “Shrinking the footprint” is a phrase that raises the hackles on many a neck, at least in part because of the implicit assumption that a shrunken city is one to which all may not return.

Later, the conversation turned to property rights, with Kone talking about the high rate of home ownership in the Lower Nine and how nervous people were about losing their land. DeBerry made reference to an editorial that appeared in the Times-Picayune about a corner grocery overrun by rats. Of course, that editorial was written by me, and that gave me a good segue to talk about how very different the situation is in Mid-City compared to the Lower Nine. Irresponsible absentee landlords are a plague on our neighborhood, and we desperately need property owners held to account.

I enjoyed the experience of being on this panel. But after the event, I eavesdropped on DeBerry as he chatted with a Xavier student from Seattle. The student was not very impressed by the whole affair. I didn’t listen long enough to get the whole gist, but he seemed to think the panel would have been more engaging with someone like Jay-Z on it.

Parenthesis Eye was there and took some notes.


Just found out the sex of our impending child, via text message from Xy. However, I’m not posting it here. We need something to announce in March, right? Also, I need to sort out just how much of this child’s life is going to be subject to my compulsive communicating. And finally, it’s another opportunity for me to say: I know something you don’t.

More importantly, today’s ultrasound returned a clean bill of health: the usual number of limbs and organs and whatnot. So far, so good. Xy’s also checked out fine.

Slowly but surely, this abstraction is becoming a reality.

Dating the Severed Head

Olivia and the Disembodied Head

Olivia brought this thing into the office last week. Press the button and it comes to life and recites a variety of different spooky-humorous messages.

Update: I assumed this item would be put in storage once Hallowe’en had passed. But Olivia tells me that “since our boss is a psychologist” she plans to leave it in place in perpetuity.

Pumpkin Cycle

Xy doesn’t always get into holiday traditions, so I was surprised when she brought home four pumpkins last week. She attached notes to three of them saying they were from “the Great Pumpkin” and had me deliver them to three young neighbor kids. Those pumpkins have since been successfully carved into jack-o’-lanterns.

Last night I carved ours. Instead of a candle, Xy bought a battery-powered light that changes colors, which gave me a chance to use the camera’s “multi-shot 16” feature.

Pumpkin Cycle

We tried roasting the seeds, but Xy used too much salt and they were basically inedible.


Have I mentioned Lamar? He’s Justin’s younger brother. He’s about 13 but you might guess he’s ten. A sweet kid, but I worry about him.

He reminds me of myself at his age, kind of quiet and a little bit shy. I was very quiet and painfully shy.

I found refuge in books, and I’ve tried to interest Lamar, but he doesn’t seem to have acquired the reading habit. His current goal in life is to be a bus-driver, and he watches in fascination as the streetcar rolls past on Canal Street.

We played Frisbee in the street for a while yesterday. He’s got no father in his life, and I sometimes find myself seeming to play a stand-in for that role. Sometimes I help him with his math homework, when the instructions are oblique enough to stump his mother. As a student in the local public schools, he’s not allowed to take any textbooks home.

He often helps us with our groceries. He knows all our cats by name and likes to say hi to them when he comes in the house. Sometimes Xy gives him a little treat, like ice cream. Today when Lamar was eating his ice cream he suggested Xy might want to make Halloween cookies. “You know,” he suggested, in his thick and slightly slurred New Orleans accent, almost incomprehensible to me, “black cats, pumpkins… You could make them tomorrow!”

He’s a walking weather report, and he can always tell you the forecast. He’s excited about Halloween. 20% chance of rain. He’s planning to dress as a clown. Xy and I have both tried to interest him a godawful velvet clown painting I plucked from a local debris pile, but Lamar has proved a tough customer.

Sworn to Secrecy

I really hate this. I just got a call from a well-informed person in city government, who shared some juicy info that I’m just bustin’ to share. It concerns some dirty dealings related to a recent post on this blog. Problem is, in order to get in on this fascinating dope, I had to promise not to put it into writing. So, I can’t write about it. This is killing me. But at least I can say: I know something you don’t.

Rude Comments

I try to keep it civil, both in real life and here on this blog. I try not to call names. When I got worked up and called Jindal a “nutjob” I felt compelled to apologize for it.

And I appreciate how, for the most part, people who comment on what I write here also keep it civil. People sometimes disagree with me, and I don’t mind that at all. In fact, I appreciate it, because it makes me think. Sometimes the comments might get a little sarcastic, but they don’t cross that line into outright rudeness.

With a few exceptions.

For example, yesterday Terry Wilson left a comment calling me a “know it all” and a “bleeding heart.” That provoked another reader called him an “irresponsible prick,” and the good Mr. Wilson came back this morning to ladle out another helping of scorn.

Somebody calling himself Albert Dorkland left a comment back in July saying that I’m “ripping off honest people.” He also said I wouldn’t allow his comment to be posted because I’m so dishonest. Obviously he was wrong about the last part, at least. As to the first part, I’ll leave that moral ambiguity for the reader to resolve.

Footnote: I rarely censor comments, but I made an exception after America’s Most Wanted aired a few weeks ago. Predictably, some viewers Googled my friend’s name and found my post commemorating her. One ass thought it was appropriate to leave a comment urging the police to investigate her husband, that he might be the killer. That’s so offensive I just couldn’t let it pass. Another person left a very polite comment advising everyone to arm themselves. In other contexts I wouldn’t censor such a comment, but that post has become like a shrine to the memory of my friend and it just seemed wrong there.

What a Pile of…

This summer FEMA scaled back the amount they’d pay the Army Corps of Engineers for debris removal, meaning the City of New Orleans would have to pick up more of the tab. The City said they couldn’t afford it, so it would fall on the private citizen. Predictably, however, most people didn’t get the memo. And we’ve all gotten used to piling debris on the curb.

Case in point: 3319 Iberville. Around September 20, the flooded contents of this house were finally removed and piled on the sidewalk, spilling into the street.

The pile was quite impressive, taller than me.


Over a month later, it’s still there. It’s settled a little, so it’s not quite as tall, but it does encroach on the street a little more.

I’m sick of looking at it every damn day. So I called the City of New Orleans hotline and reported it as a case of illegal dumping. (It took two calls. On the first try I got an operator who just wanted to read me a fact sheet of facts I already know like some kind of robot.) I was given a reference number: #2020403.

I don’t really expect the city to do anything about it, but hope springs eternal.

Incredible Headlines

I was amazed by the front page of the paper this morning. Apparently a robbery suspect took refuge at the house of District Attorney Eddie Jordan, before rushing off to shoot a cop and his wife. This happened earlier in the month but is only coming to light now.

Separate but related story: The D.A. owes almost $4 million to the people he wrongfully fired when he was elected, and now the City Council is saying the city can’t afford it. I was one of those people picketing in the rain for Jordan to resign but I almost feel sorry for him now. Almost.

Final knock-your-socks-off story: State Senator Derrick Shepherd comes out swinging against the FBI, who interrogated him and insinuated he’s been doing some money laundering. I’ve held a low opinion of Shepherd ever since he embarrassed the state with his “Saggy Pants” bill, but his counter-offensive against the FBI was truly impressive. Everybody’s in a tizzy because he says the feds wanted him to cough up dirt on Mayor Nagin and State Rep. Karen Carter. He said “hell no” and that’s when they started sweating him.

Update: Listen to Jordan and his girlfriend give their side of the story on the radio. (Hat tip, Varg.)


Dang, it’s cold. Ever since the big rains that came through with the front on Monday, it’s been cold. All my life I’ve had central air and heat, until we bought our house in 2002. We have a couple wall furnaces, and they do the job, but you have to light ’em manually and we just don’t see much point when we know the weather will warm up again. So we suck it up. But that means it was in the upper forties/lower fifties in our bedroom this morning. Brrr.

Fire & Water

While New Orleans was getting soaked yesterday, San Diego was encircled by wildfires. Today comes the news that 300,000 people are being asked to evacuate in San Diego county alone. Dangerblond says that’s more than Katrina. I’m worried about my friend Mary, who sent this e-mail yesterday evening:

San Diego is surrounded by fires in a big semicircle. 911 reverse called us and told us there is a voluntary evacuation of my area. (I’m near the ocean but the smoke gets people too). I went to the store to buy water, but there wasn’t any. I’m trying to decide what to do and where to evacuate to. I’d have to drive north of LA to get out of the ring of fire, and with the traffic, I may make it by the time [my baby daughter] is old enough to drive…

If I go south, I’ll still be trapped, but the fires are further east, at least.

I haven’t heard from Mary since then. I hope she and her daughter are OK.

As Michael notes, the people of the Gulf Coast have sympathy for the people of California. It sucks to have your home destroyed by forces beyond your control. The devastating storm surges of 2005 may seem very different from the wildfires, but they too may be exacerbated by global warming.


It was raining heavily this morning. I got pretty soaked on the ride to work. There was a foot of water standing on parts of Drexel Drive. I could see air bubbling up from cracks in the street as I rode past. During our staff meeting word came down (via the text messaging system, run by e2campus) that classes had been canceled after noon. So we went home early. I got well and truly soaked on the ride home. Michael says the water is waist-deep on some blocks in his part of the neighborhood.