Three cheers for Steve Volan. He’s blogging again. He’s writing about a hot topic in New Orleans. And he’s the only person on the City Council that I look up to.

I mean that last part literally. They call him “Tall Steve,” and there’s a reason for that. Did I mention he’s on the City Council? In Bloomington, Indiana, that is. But trust me, the folks on the New Orleans City Council aren’t any taller.

Regardless of his physical stature, I’ve always been impressed by Steve’s towering intellect. I’d recommend his blog to anyone interested in local governance issues, especially as they play out in Bloomington, but also with an eye to bigger national and global issues.

In a recent post, Steve takes note of the current plan for a LSU/VA hospital. Even from a distance of 800 miles he can see the misguided nature of this plan. Why can’t our local leadership see as clearly?

I don’t share Steve’s inherent distrust of campuses. I suppose that’s because I work on a campus and love it. But I do understand where Steve is coming from. His perspective is undoubtedly influenced by the prominence of Indiana University’s campus in Bloomington. I think of Bloomington as a small (but sprawling) city wrapped around a big campus. When I moved to New Orleans I found the world I’s known inverted: Now I’m working on a tiny campus in the heart of a big (but shrinking) city.

Malik’s Money

We got our Malik Rahim campaign sign, and it is proudly on display in front of our house.

I chatted with Christian Roselund a bit when he dropped the sign off. He informed me that Malik’s candidacy has caught the attention of many Greens across the country. Some of them are, as one might expect, a little flaky, bless ’em. But the monetary support is pouring in, and the campaign is using that money for media buys.

Therefore I read with some interest Michelle Krupa’s article in this morning’s paper, about the Republican candidate’s fund-raising efforts. After detailing Anh Joseph Cao’s financial situation and comparing it to William Jefferson’s, toward the end there is a mention of Malik’s campaign.

Jefferson’s other two challengers do not appear to have had much success raising money. Rahim reported that he collected about $2,000 from individual and corporate donors during the six-week period starting Oct. 1, and had pumped another $3,000 of this own money into the campaign. Records show he spent $900 on T-shirts.

But that is substantially less than the numbers mentioned to me by Christian. Sure enough, Christian has since confirmed by e-mail that, according to the SEC, Malik’s campaign raised a total of $10,985. He even supplies a link. He adds that by this time the campaign has raised closer to $20,000.

It’s also worth noting that Stephanie Grace’s recent opinion column made no mention of any candidate other than Cao and Jefferson.

Happy Thanksgiving

Today we gathered with friends and family — well, really it was just our little minimalist nuclear family and our friend James.


We thanked Dame Fortune for the health of our new child, for all our friends, and for gainful employment in these grim economic times.

We had a fantastic meal. I made the smoked turkey legs in a satsuma-honey glaze — second year in a row for these, and I’m closing in on perfection. They were pretty good, but the skin was almost black in some spots rather than that deep dark golden brown. I think the grill was too hot at first. Also, I think mesquite would be a better choice than hickory. But the glaze was a screaming success: honey, oil and freshly-squeezed satsuma juice, with a dash of cayenne, salt and pepper, fresh rosemary and sage from the garden, and just a dash of Rhum Clément Creole Shrubb liqueur.

I also made dressing for the first time ever. Frankly I’ve never liked dressing. I’ve never even understood dressing. But then I’ve never had oyster dressing. Never even heard of such a thing until we moved down here to New Orleans, though it turns out Xy’s uncle made it every year back in Evansville, Indiana. I found a recipe and gave it a try, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t pretty tasty. James, a native New Orleanian, pronounced it similar to what his Mom used to make, which I consider a high compliment.

Also on the menu: salad in imitation of Venezia, mashed potatoes and yams, and fresh-baked bread.

But the highlight of the day? No doubt. That came early when Xy organized a cleanup of the overgrown vegetation in front of the derelict property next door. Here she is with Josh and Lamar:

Hard Work on Thanksgiving Morning


Ear Hurts

The results from yesterday’s doctor visit confirmed our suspicion: Persephone’s ear infection never entirely cleared up, even though she took a full course of antibiotic. In fact she now has sinusitis. So the doctor prescribed something stronger, and she seems to be feeling much better today. This picture was taken Sunday when she was still slightly feverish.

Xy had a series of painful ear infections when she was little. She still remembers them. We hope our girl has better luck.


The girl was a bit feverish over the weekend. It seems like she’s been in various states of getting sick and getting better ever since she got her first cold a couple months ago. As everybody seems to eager to remind me, this is not uncommon for kids in daycare.

Still, it seemed like a visit to the doctor was advisable. Since Xy is off work this week for Thanksgiving break, I figured she could do it. She had a dentist appointment this morning, but since the girl was still good and feverish, she had to reschedule. (She actually asked me to watch the girl while she kept the appointment, but I just took half a week off, so I said no.) Somehow I ended calling the doctor’s office to arrange things. I was on hold so long I made it halfway to work before I spoke to the nurse — and then they were so busy they had to call me back.

Got the return call at 9:20 AM. Turns out, the girl had an appointment scheduled for 8:30 that morning. In other words, while I was on hold trying to schedule an appointment, we were actually missing an appointment. Oh, the irony. It seems Xy scheduled that appointment when she took the girl in for her seven month checkup; I had no record of it, and Xy obviously had forgotten about it.

So. I made a new appointment for 10 AM, then called Xy to advise her. No answer. I called again a couple minutes later. Still no answer. A third call, no answer.

What to do? Hm. It was now 9:30 AM. If Xy didn’t get moving soon, she’d miss this appointment too.

So I rode my bike home as quickly as I could. I burst into the house all sweaty and out of breath. I may have been a bit brusque in explaining the situation. Xy asked me to change the girl’s diaper while she got ready upstairs. A couple minutes later, as I’m finishing up, I hear the sound of splashing water. Is that — Could that possibly be — No way, she wouldn’t — Yes, she is! Xy’s taking a bath.

I told her that I felt she didn’t share my sense of urgency.

Eventually we got her out the door. She even partially redeemed herself by finding my missing car key.

As of this writing she’s still sitting in the waiting room. She thinks she’s being punished. That motivated me to forgive her.

Got a New Phone

Whenever something happens to one of our cellphones, it precipitates drama. I guess it’s an unanticipated side-effect of not having a landline. Anyway, Friday was no exception. When T-Mobile confirmed my phone was busted beyond repair, I decided it was time to join Xy on Verizon. By complete coincidence, Friday was the day the Blackberry Storm rolled out, RIM’s answer to the iPhone, available only thru Verizon. The Verizon website was basically unusable. Luckily when I drove out to the store, the storm had passed, so to speak.
Continue reading Got a New Phone

Nine Months


It’s been nine months since you were born. That means you’ve been out here in the world roughly the same length of time you were in your mother’s womb. So how do you like it? Which milieu do you prefer? Hopefully you’re enjoying yourself out here because, after all, there’s no going back.

My new phone arrived the day you were born; I dropped it yesterday and it’s out of commission. You’ve taken a few hard knocks yourself, but so far you’ve held up better than my cell phone.

People still say you look like me. Your mother calls us “the twins.”

You’re much more mobile now, but still not crawling. You do a sort of belly flop that requires a great deal of upper body exertion. Yesterday you belly-flopped halfway down our hall (which is a long way) to visit Folds. You did a classic hands-and-knees crawl for just a stroke or two. So it won’t be long, I’m sure.

A couple days ago, you were sitting in your high chair (generously donated by Carmen and family) and chewing on a gear-shaped toy. You dropped the toy just on the edge of your tray. Try as you might, you couldn’t quite reach to get it back, but you kept trying, and started making a fuss about it. Finally I handed the gear to you and you were happy again. That might not sound like much, but it was the clearest expression of desire, frustration, and satisfaction that I’ve seen from you yet. You are emerging as a person.

Something Got Done

I took the day off yesterday to make some repairs to our deck. Specifically, I replaced three old warped and worn-out boards with new lumber.

Three New Boards

The amazing thing to me is I actually got it all done. Moreover, all in one day: buying the lumber and the deck screws, removing the old boards, cutting the new boards to length and screwing them into place. Even the cleanup.

So often any project I take on seems to have a way of mushrooming and getting beyond me. For once that didn’t happen. Hooray.

Of course, something did go wrong. It had to. I dropped my phone and apparently killed it. It thinks it has no battery, and won’t even run off AC power. So don’t try to call my cell phone please.

Avoiding Debauchery at Mardi Gras

So my parents want to come visit for the girl’s first birthday. That’s cool. Her first birthday falls on Samedi Gras — the Saturday before Mardi Gras. That’s a special day for us, as it’s the only day when Carnival comes to our Mid-City neighborhood any more. We usually have a party on that day, a big blowout with a keg of good beer and live music, and this year it will be extra fun because it will also be the girl’s first birthday party. Super cool. Come on down, Mom & Dad! They can even do some volunteer work at Camp Restore.

But, of course, as long as they’re here, they really ought to stay for Mardi Gras. Everybody should experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans at least once in their lifetime.

And that’s where things get a tad complicated.

In a recent e-mail, Mom says:

Now I have to convince your father that we should do this. He doesn’t want to be part of any debauchery, I guess.

And that cracked me up: the image of my respectable, somewhat conservative, slightly puritanical Midwestern father trying to enjoy Mardi Gras while avoiding debauchery. It’s a funny thought, and I mean that in the most loving and sympathetic way possible.

Of course, locals know Mardi Gras really is a family-friendly event. But an air of cheerful debauchery does prevail. That’s one of the things I love about it. Mardi Gras wouldn’t feel complete to me without venturing to the Quarter. One definitely will glimpse some debauchery there. But I wouldn’t be afraid to take my one-year-old daughter, or my parents — if they can get in the right frame of mind.

Masking is essential. Mardi Gras is so much more fun if you’re dressed up in costume. It doesn’t have to be salacious — though that certainly helps. The main thing is to don something truly outlandish, such as you’d never wear in ordinary life.

I guess I really need to get on the horn and talk to the folks about this, but I dropped my phone while replacing some boards on the deck this morning, and apparently I’ve killed it. And since we no longer have a landline, that means I’m vox incommunicado.

So, since I know they’ll read this:

Dad, think of it as an athletic experience. We’ll rise early, breakfast at a friend’s house in the Bywater (hopefully) then walk through the Marigny, colliding with the Societé de Sainte Anne if we’re lucky, then through the Quarter. We’ll take a gander at one of the big parades on Canal Street, then retreat back to the Quarter, get some lunch, visit the river, and then we’ll slowly make our way back to the Bywater. And we do it all in costume, with an infant, while drinking a few beers along the way. No, we won’t get drunk, but we’ll see some people at various levels of intoxication. We’ll see a few rowdies and a few risque costumes. We might catch a whiff of a funny-smelling cigarette or see someone just plain acting a fool. But mostly we will see all manner of folk — all ages, races, classes, nationalities — having a great time at a great party and dancing to great music while decked out in the most eye-popping, hilarious, beautiful outfits you’ve ever seen in your whole life. It will be fun, and an unforgettable experience. I can guarantee you that. And as you might note from that itinerary, it will tax our stamina. We’re usually back home, exhausted, by early afternoon. But with the added challenge of bringing the girl along, we’ll need all the help we can get.

Those who think I’m discouraging my parents don’t know them. They are world class athletes, in much better shape than Xy and I. The athletic angle might be just the ticket to transforming Mardi Gras from frightening debauchery into fun sport in the eyes of ole Grandpa Ray.

I should note too that our friends in Tuscaloosa, Herb & Jenny, will be joining us for Mardi Gras, and might be bringing their bairns too. At least I hope so. More is merrier.

Of course, if Dad doesn’t really don’t want to come, if what I’ve described above doesn’t sound like a good time, that’s OK too. No pressure. Forced merriment is the worst thing in the world. There are plenty of locals here who flee the city at Carnival time, to escape the crowds and the madness. So come at Christmas or Easter instead, or anytime.

Dad, I hope you’ll feel free to post comments here. Mom too. And anyone else for that matter. Let’s hash this out, address any concerns you might have. If you’d rather discuss privately, that’s fine too. But I think right here in the open might be more fun, and that, after all, is the spirit of Carnival.

A Letter from Malik

I’m passing the mic to Malik Rahim who has sent out the following campaign letter. — B

November 19, 2008

Dear friends in the struggle,

As you may be aware, I am seeking election to the United States House of Representatives on December 6. I apologize in advance for the impersonal nature of this letter. I wish I would have had time to call my friends to discuss the details of this campaign. I’m sending this message because I need your help.

Four days after Hurricane Katrina and two days before founding Common Ground I made this decision to run for Congress. This decision was made due to the lack of government response to Katrina. My hope is that never again will any disaster turn into such a tragedy.

This is a winnable seat; a seat not just for residents of the New Orleans area but a peoples’ seat for all those who stand for environmental peace and justice. This goal can only be reached with your support.

I will provide concrete alternatives to the wars being waged against our communities at home and to the wars continuing abroad. Our communities deserve no less. I will continue to advocate for safe, affordable housing, the establishment of universal healthcare, and invest in a comprehensive storm protection system and wetland restoration. I would initiate repeal of the so-called Patriot Act , author legislation to remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security, demand an end to the costly and senseless incarceration of nonviolent offenders, and advocate for full funding for our schools. Running a viable campaign requires funding.

Now with less than three weeks away, the campaign has set a goal of raising an additional $20,000 by Friday November 28. With your help we can achieve that end. You can contribute on the campaign website at

I also urge you to get active with our campaign. Canvass your neighborhood and tell your friends and family. If you are out of town, we need additional volunteers on election day and the week leading up to the election. You can phone bank remotely from home or promote the campaign online.

In closing, I want to remind you that I will work tirelessly for the people of District 2. But even if you are not in my Congressional District, your cause is in my heart; you will have not only a committed advocate, but an office to work out of on the Hill.

In the struggle for environmental peace and justice,

Malik Rahim

Send your donation today. Individuals may contribute up to $2300. Use the attached donor form to make as generous a donation as you can. Then forward this email to your friends, co-workers and neighbors, and be sure to Vote Malik in the December 6 election.

Please donate online at or make your check or money order payable to “The Committee to Elect Malik Rahim” and send to:
The Committee to Elect Malik Rahim
331 Atlantic Ave. New Orleans LA 70119

The Federal Election Commission requires the following:

* Donors must provide their name, mailing address, occupation and name of employer.
* Contributions must be from U.S. citizens or legal residents.
* Contributions to the Committee to Elect Malik Rahim are not tax deductible.
By submitting this donation, I declare that I am a US citizen or permanent resident; this contribution is made from my own funds; this is not a corporation, labor organization or federal contractor.

Federal Election law requires that we ask you for all of this information.

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Hot & Cold & Inside-Out

The weather has been a bit on the cold side this week, by which I mean highs in the 60s. It was in the 60s in my office when I arrived Monday morning. But by Monday afternoon it was sweltering, over 80º F. Not outside, inside. And the internal temperature continued to run hot as the week progressed.

I don’t mind it a bit cool inside when it’s cold outside, just like I don’t mind if it’s a bit warm inside when it’s hot outside. But somehow when it’s the opposite — hot inside when cool outside, or freezing cold inside when warm outside — that’s beyond aggravating. It makes me feel physically sick. It also makes me angry at the sheer absurdity and wastefulness of it all.

I know a lot of big office buildings have climate control issues. We seem to get more than out fair share.

I’m taking Thursday off to work on the house. But if they don’t get this problem corrected soon, I may just have to take Friday off as well. I can’t think clearly in that environment, and that’s a big part of my job description — thinking clearly.


This month’s Harper’s Index contains the following nugget:

Year by which New Orleans is expected to be rebuilt, at the current pace: 2028

Their source is listed as the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute but I can’t find the specific citation.

Anyway. 2028. That prediction sounds about right to me. The girl will turn twenty that year. I wonder how the world will look to her, growing up in these circumstances?

Of course, a lot could happen, or not happen, between now and then.


I first got the idea to use this kind of heating unit a year or so ago when I went into Ken Brown & Sons to buy some plumbing stuff. They’re a plumbing supply shop located here in Mid-City right smack in a residential neighborhood — one of those many weird juxtapositions I love about New Orleans. They were heating the place with a big unvented natural gas unit. I made a mental note.

Last week when the girl was illin’, I went back to Ken Brown’s with her in tow. I hardly recognized the place. It was getting back to its original pre-Katrina configuration. In any event, I purchased a HearthRite 10,000 BTU vent-free natural gas heater. The rep I was dealing with was very helpful. In fact I’d say he took pity on me, possibly because I had a cute baby girl strapped to my chest and seemed utterly clueless. He even went so far as to find me a passable base for the unit, cutting a hole in the metal to make it work, and throwing in some screws and a couple connectors at no extra charge.

Over the weekend I managed to get the base attached to the heater. Yeah, it’s supposed to be wall-mounted but we don’t really have a good place for that. I was going to hook it up but when I read the instructions I got intimidated and decided I’d call my plumber.

Then this morning I discussed it with my coffee klatsch (more about them at some future date) and they gave me the confidence to go ahead and do it myself. So here it is in all its glory.


I need to get a longer connector because current placement is not optimal. But all in all I’m pretty happy with the results. This thing is small but it puts out some serious heat.

Sacred Music

I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to a certain kind of music on Sunday morning, especially if I get up before Xy, usually with Persephone but sometimes alone. I think of it as sacred music, but I’m not sure if that’s the best way to describe it. The core of my collection in this vein was initially composed of churchy Western European art music and plainsong chant. (Is plainsong art music?) When I say churchy Western “European art music”, I’m thinking of things like Allegri’s “Miserere” for example.

But recently I’ve been making a conscious effort to branch out and find sacred music from other traditions, other cultures. So I’ve also been listening to Tibetan chant and Indian ragas and Native American drumming. I’ve also been interested in New Age-y and neopagan approaches.

All of which gets me to wondering about the whole concept of “sacred music” in the first place. What is it? What does it mean? It doesn’t seem sufficient to say it’s music dedicated to God. I have plenty of music in my collection which is explicitly Christian — gospel and (some) bluegrass, for example — but which I don’t consider sacred for some reason that I can’t quite discern. I’m definitely not listening to Stryper on Sunday mornings. So what’s the distinction?

I guess I’m listening for something that evokes a sense of otherworldliness, a sense of time set aside from the ordinary. I suppose gospel and bluegrass are just too suffused with the structures and conventions of popular music to qualify.

We usually switch over to reggae after breakfast, liberally interlarded with ska and dub.

More Recycling Blues

As I’ve mentioned before, we are paying approximately $15/month to a private company to pick up recyclables. I’m not happy about the situation; in my opinion this should be a standard municipal service like trash collection. But we haven’t had it since the floods of ’05. So we’re contracting for it privately out of a vague sense that it’s the “right thing to do.”

We’ve been with Phoenix for over a year, and they’ve provided excellent service. One nice thing is they take even more materials than the city did pre-Katrina.

Until now. Over the last week, word came down that they’ll no longer be taking cardboard of any kind — or glass. I think it has something to do with the downturn in the national economy. The economics of recycling are a tricky business, and I understand Phoenix has to make these cuts to stay viable. Still, it’s a shame. I always liked the idea of recycling glass, because it’s so efficient. Melt it down and you get almost 100% reuse.

Already our kitchen garbage is noticeably heavier. We’ll be sending plenty more stuff to the landfill, looks like.

Update, November 17: They’re taking cardboard again.

Flu Shot

Got my first-ever flu shot yesterday. At least I think it was my first ever. I don’t remember getting them as a kid.

When I was at the doctor’s office, I noticed he’s dropping my insurer. If I want to stay with him, I need to get health insurance through another provider. Of course, I don’t have much choice in the matter. My insurance is dictated by my employer. There’s no way I could afford to drop our group plan and buy my own insurance. Therefore I need to find a new doctor. So sayeth the Corpocracy.

What a system.

Update: Adding insult to injury, my insurer’s online directory of physicians in my neighborhood includes numerous listings for doctors at 3535 Bienville Street. That’s a building attached to the Lindy Boggs Medical Center, which of course has not re-opened since Katrina. So that information is obviously over three years old and no longer valid. Thanks, Humana!