One morning about a month ago, Xy couldn’t get our car started, and she had to catch a ride with a co-worker.

I was all set to take it to the shop, but when I tried it an hour later, it started right up for me. So we dismissed it as a fluke.

This morning we had a repeat performance. Car wouldn’t start for Xy. I tried it too and it wouldn’t start for me either.

It had full electrical power, but nary a peep from the engine. Not a grind, not a click — nothing. Though you could listen to the radio if you wanted.

A couple hours later, it started up with no problems.

So now it’s not a fluke. It’s a pattern, and a rather aggravating one at that.

Other than this, the car runs fine. It’s a Saturn Ion 3 circa 2005.

What on earth could be causing this mysterious problem? We’ve racked our brains and can only think of a couple of common factors, which are probably red herrings. Both times, Xy had just filled up the gas tank the night before. Both times, it rained in the early morning.

I’m thinking about calling Tom & Ray on this one.

Dacryopinax Spathularia

Two and a half years after I took it, my picture of tiny orange fungi has finally been identified.

Tiny Orange Fungi

It is Dacryopinax spathularia, also known as sweet osmanthus ear in Chinese. It’s a jelly fungus.

This stuff still sprouts up on our deck from time to time. Apparently it’s edible, but I don’t think I’ll be sampling it any time soon.

Thanks to Djovani who identified it and posted a much more beautiful picture of same.

Edwards Et Al

It seems that in a few hours John Edwards will drop out of the Democratic primary. He’ll make the announcement right here in New Orleans, which is also where he started his campaign.

I’ve tried to remain neutral with regard to the primaries. After all, I can’t vote in our state primary (because I’m registered Green) so why bother to make up my mind? But I’m sorry to see Edwards go. More than any other candidate he focused on the problem of poverty, and he brought a some attention to the ongoing crisis in New Orleans — and those two issues are very much related, by the way.

Frankly, though, I always thought he was a little too good-looking to be president.

I suppose this means that our next president will be either Clinton, McCain, Obama or Romney. Despite what I said above about trying to remain neutral, I’d have to confess that of these four I’d most like to see Obama win it. A few days ago I predicted McCain would be our next president. I don’t like it, but I’m gonna stand by that prediction.

That doesn’t mean I’ll vote for any of them, of course. I’m kind of leaning toward Kent Mesplay.

Postscript: If you’re a diehard Democrat, don’t weep at the prospect of President McCain. Whoever comes in after Bush will have a hell of a mess to clean up. A Democrat friend of mine predicts that if we elect a Democrat this time, that person will be the last Democrat elected for the next twenty years.


Doesn’t it seem ridiculous that our collective mood should rise and fall based on what this guy says in his speech?

Tonight, the armies of compassion continue the march to a new day in the Gulf Coast. America honors the strength and resilience of the people of this region. We reaffirm our pledge to help them build stronger and better than before.

And tonight I’m pleased to announce that, in April, we will host this year’s North American Summit of Canada, Mexico, and the United States in the great city of New Orleans.

I don’t trust anything this president says. I don’t trust any president for that matter, but most especially this president. His famous speech at Jackson Square, in the aftermath of Katrina, was so full of broken promises. How could any of us trust him again?

And yet it is good to be remembered, unlike last year.

Yes indeed. It seems somewhat ridiculous.

Update: As usual, Oyster has a more insightful analysis.


This story in the paper made me feel ever-so-slightly vindicated about our decision to renovate.

A new study of home prices around the New Orleans area shows that buyers rewarded sellers who gambled and rebuilt in devastated areas like Lakeview, eastern New Orleans and Chalmette. Renovated homes in those areas recovered much of their pre-storm value last year, while prices continued to tumble on homes that were gutted but otherwise left untouched.

It’s not that I take any glee in seeing others lose out. Take for instance our next-door neighbor. He hasn’t even gutted his house, two and a half years after the flood. I’m not happy about that, and I hope he can get it together. I wish him well.

I’m just glad to know that we aren’t being punished for having done the right thing. We have no plans to sell our home, but if we did, we wouldn’t take a bath. There’s a little solace in knowing that.

Blizzard of ’78

Mom reminded me that today marks 30 years since the Great Blizzard of 1978. I’d just turned 11. I don’t remember much of it, except that there was a lot of snow, and we got out of school for quite a few days in a row. We had fun, and I was utterly oblivious to the fact that the storm was killing people.

Picture by Sis

Photo by Sister72

I found this photo on Flickr. It was taken in Boston but that’s pretty much what it looked like in Indiana.

A Visit to the Jock Doc

I wasn’t going to see a doctor about my ankle, but Xy suggested I should. So I gave my GP a call. I’m none too enamored of my GP, as I mentioned before. I’ve only seen her once and can’t even remember her name. But when I called, her staff referred me to an “orthopedic.”

So this morning I found myself visiting the Jock Doc. I call him that because he seemed primarily focused on sports injuries, plus he kind of seemed like a jock himself. He was more interested in telling me stories about athletes he’s treated than in hearing about my particulars. In fact I had to tackle him as he tried to leave just to get a few questions answered. He seemed to know his stuff once I forced the issue.

They x-rayed my ankle from three different angles (twice, because they came out “too light” the first time) and I guess nothing showed up as broken. Then he gave me an air brace, on the house, which I gather costs a few bucks, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much.

Hmmm. According to a recent study, I might get better quicker if I combine the air brace with an elastic wrap.

Dr. Jock was of the opinion that I should not ride my bike for ten days or so, which will make getting to work difficult. But I guess that’s what sick days are for.


I rented a buffing machine to clean our tile floor. It cleaned up OK, I guess, except for a powdery white residue everywhere. I thought this might be efflorescence, but upon further investigation I decided it’s probably just dirt, specifically drywall dust.

As I was carrying the buffing machine back out to the car, I twisted my ankle, probably because my shoe wasn’t laced properly. I dropped the machine, which is pretty heavy. Luckily I didn’t drop it on my foot. I tried to act like I hadn’t sprained my ankle, because I was so gung-ho to get a lot of work done on our house over this three-day weekend. I returned the machine to the store, came back home, wet-mopped the floor, then hobbled upstairs and discovered that my ankle was quite swollen.

I’ve been trying to practice the RICE method since.

Normally I would almost enjoy being laid up like this. It’s a good chance to catch up on my reading. But we are in the home stretch of this flood renovation, and Xy’s eight months pregnant, so the timing really sucks. I was in something of a foul mood, but I’m starting to accept my condition. It seems to be a mild sprain, and I anticipate healing quickly.

Update: As of February 7th (two and a half weeks later) I’m back to riding my bike to work. I’m still wearing a brace but the ankle’s healing, slowly rather than quickly.

Update: As of February 20th, ankle’s still stiff. I am only wearing a brace for the ride or for more strenuous activity. Stairs especially are difficult.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Title: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Author: James Tiptree, Jr.
Published: 1969-1981

He wails voicelessly as conviction invades him, he who had believed in nothing before. All the agonies of Earth, uncanceled? Are broken ghosts limping forever from Stalingrad and Salamis, from Gettysburg and Thebes and Dunkirk and Khartoum? Do the butchers’ blows still fall at Ravensbruck and Wounded Knee? Are the dead of Carthage and Hiroshima and Cuzco burning yet? Have ghostly women waked again only to resuffer violation, only to watch again their babies slain? Is every nameless slave still feeling the iron bite, is every bomb, every bullet and arrow and stone that ever flew, still finding its screaming mark — atrocity without end of comfort, forever?

The writings of James Tiptree Jr. are a revelation of pain. The above passage reflects the thoughts of a long-dead protagonist at some indeterminate time in the far future when the human race itself is extinct. He has been resurrected briefly by alien intelligences, and is reliving his life — but only the most painful moments. That’s all that’s left of us: our pain. “Was pain indeed the fiercest fire in our nerves, alone able to sustain its flame through death?” Tiptree’s answer was unequivocal.

He had a peculiar genius for bleak tales laced with emotional violence and sexuality and death. He wrote with an especially masculine voice and did a great job getting inside the male mindset. Yet he was also hailed as a feminist, a sensitive man who understood women, writing in a genre where that was rare.

How ironic, then, that he turned out to be a woman. James Tiptree Jr. was actually Alice Sheldon, and she appears to have been an extraordinary person. I expect to learn more about Tiptree/Sheldon in her biography which I’m reading next.

Each story in this collection is strong stuff. The extinction of the humanity occurs in roughly a quarter of the tales. Yet through all the misanthropy, there is also a keen sensitivity to that thing we call the human condition.

My favorite story in this anthology is “A Momentary Taste of Being.” In fact, it’s one of my favorite stories of all time. I encountered it years ago in a collection titled The New Atlantis. It’s really more of a novella than a short story, and it’s a tour de force of cosmic proportions. I defy anyone to read it and not have their mind blown.

I must add that I’m a little disappointed with the way the stories are presented in this edition. They are not in chronological order, and indeed I could find no logic at all to their sequence. Apparently in a previous edition they were grouped into thematic sections. This edition maintains that sequence, but without the sections I couldn’t make sense of it. A minor quibble.

My recommendation: Check it out. You can get it from Octavia Books right now. Read a story, then put it on the shelf, and maybe read another one next month. Tiptree’s nihilism is best enjoyed in small doses. Reading it through from cover to cover as I did (aloud at bedtime for Xy’s benefit) can be a bit overwhelming. Further, some of the stories have resolutions which are quite subtle and deserve to be savored. That kind of gets lost when you just turn the page and start the next story.

Update: One month later, I find that a couple other stories bear mentioning because they left a particularly strong impression. They linger in my memory more than the others. “The Screwfly Solution” is short but horrific. “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” is lyrical and disturbing; although it contains science fiction themes, I wouldn’t classify it as a science fiction story in the strictest sense. Interestingly, both these stories were published under Alice Sheldon’s other pen name: Racoona Sheldon.

I should also note that the original 1990 edition of this anthology had classy illustrations by Andrew Smith and an introduction by John Clute. (He has the good taste to cite “A Momentary Taste of Being” as “the finest densest most driven novella yet published in the field.”) The 2004 reprint I got has a cheesy cover, no illustrations, and a perfectly serviceable introduction by Michael Swanwick. Considering the above-noted arrangement of stories into thematic sections, I believe the original edition is superior, so get it if you can. If not, you can at least read Clute’s intro here.

You can read another review of this anthology here (second half).

Also, there’s a cookbook entitled Her Smoke Rose Up from Supper.

So Dark the Con of Man

I cajoled Xy into attending our local meeting of the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish on Tuesday night.

It reminded me of the infamous “Summer of Planning.” Specifically it reminded me of the America Speaks sessions which I never attended (having already been burned out by the Lambert process) but which I read about on many local blogs.

I got the general sense of being a square peg in a round hole. We got a form on which we could indicate if we were parents or advocates, but “concerned citizen” was not an option. They had each table designated for a specific school, and you were supposed to sit at the table for the school you were interested in. There was no table for “all of them.”

We did some kind of silly exercise that involved talking to other people at our table about what we hoped the schools would be like in ten years. Then we were instructed to imagine a visitor coming to the future New Orleans and checking out the schools and being very impressed. As they leave the city, what’s their overall impression of the schools? We discussed this with the people at our table.

Then Steve Bingler got up and made a presentation. In 2006 Bingler was the target of many a blogger’s wrath — or at least skepticism. He derided the old “factory school” model and hyped a new model which combines public amenities with schools.

Then we all answered multiple-choice questions on a form, while discussing them with our group. The questions were phrased in such a way as to be extremely leading.

For example (paraphrase):

How far should the school be from green space?
__ The school should be adjacent to green space.
__ The school should be no more than __ blocks from green space.
__ Proximity to green space is not important.

And so forth, with questions about the proximity of other public amenities. After the presentation we’d seen, I imagine most people would check the first option for all these questions.

One of the people at my table was a friend I know vaguely — we served together on the board of a certain local nonprofit for a while. He was extremely skeptical and suspicious of all these questions, and tried to get those of us at his table to think carefully before just checking the first box. Is green space near a school really an advantage? After all there’s a lot of really good schools in Europe with no green space nearby. True enough, I countered, but proximity to green space would be nice, all other things being equal. But if we check that, will they skimp on something else?

This conversation got even more ridiculous when we discussed the possibility of a public library near the school. Have you seen what goes on at the main branch downtown? It’s just a place for homeless people to wash up. Do you really want adults like that coming in with the children? This led me to suggest a bathing facility for the homeless be co-located in the school.

After the meeting, we talked some more. He saw a nefarious plot here to funnel work to a contractor who specializes in building schools of this model, with the presentation and the questionnaire all rigged to produce the illusion of support for this model. He started to sound so paranoid that Xy finally exclaimed, “So dark the con of man!” which I thought was pretty funny.

But the thing is, my friend is usually pretty well-informed about such matters.

On Being XL

I wanted to record my thoughts on being 40 years of age, but I frittered away the year. Now I’ve only got a few hours left.

There’s not much to say, except that physically I feel pretty much the same as I did at 30. The long slow inevitable decline may have already begun, but I’m not feeling it yet.

Except for my eyes. In the last couple months I’m having a little trouble focusing on objects that are extremely near — like a couple inches from my eyes. I assume this may be the earliest signs of creeping presbyopia.

Our Poor Floor

One feature that attracted us to buy our house was the beautiful terra cotta tile on the floor downstairs. People often ask if we installed it ourselves, but the previous owners get the credit for that.

Alas, the old floor ain’t what it used to be.

Poor Floor

It sat under brackish water for a couple of weeks back in 2005. We pressure-washed it with a mild detergent, but since then it’s been subjected to all the dirt and abuse of a two-year renovation project.

I despair of the floor ever looking as good as it once did. We merely aspire to restore a semblance of its former glory. But we’re not sure how.

Over the weekend Xy tried scrubbing a section with soap and water. After it dried you could hardly tell the area had been cleaned at all.

So… any bright ideas?

I Got a Golden Letter

We got our “gold letter” from the Road Home today.

The letter states that we did not qualify for any compensation. Or, as they so cleverly phrase it, “your compensation grant was zero.”

This is because they estimate our damage at $34,050.53. Our insurance company paid us $82,294.03. Both these figures are stated in the letter.

Couple interesting things to note:

  1. I think their damage estimate is on the low side. But it does generally bear out my feeling that, unlike so many, our insurance company didn’t screw us.
  2. We did not document our insurance settlement during our initial interview. It’s on my list of documents I need to gather, but I’ve been procrastinating. So they must have contacted our insurer. (Actually I’m not sure of the amount myself, but it sounds about right.) They have it listed as all flood money, but I’m pretty sure that part of that total was from our homeowners policy. A bit odd.

Easy come, easy go. We only applied to the Road Home because Blanco said everyone should. I guess we could appeal their damage estimate, but I doubt we will.

One Year Later

A year ago I gave a speech.

Sadly enough, I could give that speech again today. Not much has changed.

I would have to strike the reference to District Attorney Eddie Jordan — he’s gone. I would lose the line calling for more cops. But other than that, I stand by what I said a year ago, and I’d say it again.

Not much has changed. But really, I didn’t expect much would in just a year. We need deep and lasting change, and that won’t happen quickly.

If you think a march and a rally and some speeches could change a city overnight, or even over twelve months — well, that would be very na├»ve.

We didn’t march because we nourished some fantasy of sudden transformation. We marched because we were angry and afraid and ashamed. We marched out of an anguish we couldn’t bear alone, so we had to come together for a communal outpouring.

Not much has changed. But there have been some slender shreds of progress.

A year ago, I went to City Hall with thousands of fellow New Orleanians. Today, I went there with a few dozen.

It was one of those New Orleans days where it’s warm in the sunlight but bone-chilling cold in the shade, and City Hall casts a might big shadow.

I didn’t speak. I was a spectator. I watched and listened as Silence Is Violence held a press conference.

Press Conference

They read the names of all the people who have been murdered since January 11, 2007. Different people took turns reading. Everybody read the name of the victim (if known) and their age (if known). Some people read the method of murder too: “John Doe, 25, shot.”

Almost all the victims had been shot.

Jake Speaks

Then Nakita Shavers spoke, and Baty Landis, and Jake Hill, and Ken Foster. All the speakers were interesting, but Baty’s remarks got at the burning question: What progress has been made?

As I said, not much, but Baty highlighted the bright spots while acknowledging the challenges. She was polite and circumspect. She cited a number of public officials who had earned some respect by listening to the concerns of citizens.

Nagin was notable by his absence, both from the press conference and from Baty’s remarks. I heard from Leigh that he was giving a talk about sidewalk repair in the Quarter.

Afterward a guy with a sign that said TRUST JESUS started ranting/preaching while they were continued to read off the 200+ names of murder victims. It was quite disruptive and disrespectful and it just made me want to leave, so I did. As I got on my bike I looked back and saw Jake and some other guy had gotten the TRUST JESUS dude to quiet down. Good for them.

I rode home and painted some baseboards and trim.

Minor Revelation

I was just a-sittin’ and a-thinkin’ the other night, and somehow I had a minor epiphany which I might express thusly:

Indiscriminate cynicism serves the powerful almost as much as unquestioning obedience.

It may be obvious to the rest of the world, but I wish this had occurred to me a decade or two ago. I have tended toward an absolute cynicism.

Upon further reflection I’m not sure I’ve captured the thought properly, or even if it’s true. But it makes a fine aphorism.


I’m trying not to get sucked into the drama of the presidential primaries… but it’s hard. Here, then, is a diversionary tale of adversity and triumph to distract myself.

On my way to work one rainy day back in December, I noticed Entergy was tearing up the street near our house. Hmmm, I thought. That looks kinda half-assed.

So I took a picture.


The next day the workers were gone, but the hole remained. They had surrounded it with four barricades and yellow tape. (Sorry, no picture.)

I didn’t see the hole for the rest of the year, as I spent the holiday season cooped up in our house, painting painting painting.

When I finally emerged in the New Year, I was shocked — shocked — to see the barricades scattered about.

Fallen Barricades

Astute observers will note that this hole isn’t really anything by New Orleans standards. I’ve seen potholes bigger and deeper than this.

But I noticed the instructions printed on each barricade: CALL ENTERGY.

So I did.

Me: Hi, I’m calling to report a hole in the street with —

Entergy Customer Service Representative (interrupting): Entergy can’t fix a hole in the street.

Me: Well, I’m pretty sure Entergy dug the hole, but I’m calling because the barricades y’all put around it have fallen down. They said CALL ENTERGY so that’s what I’m doing.

Rep: Don’t you think they dug that hole for a reason?

Me: I’m sure they did, but don’t you think they put the barricades up for a reason? And don’t you think they printed CALL ENTERGY on the barricades for a reason?

Rep: You don’t need to yell at me, sir. I can hear you just fine.

It was not the most pleasant conversation. Eventually the rep told me they could send someone out, not to fix the hole but to reset the barricades, but it would be at least a week. I apologized for yelling.

Shortly thereafter I got a call from someone else at Entergy wanting more details.

The very next day I saw that the barricades and tape had been put back in place.

And yesterday I saw that the hole had been patched.


Amazing. Something got fixed.