Twenty-five years ago tonight, I was at a bonfire in northern Sweden. I was astounded by the size of the thing — like a house burning.

Walpurgis Afton

It may not look like night in these photos, but remember that we were very near the arctic circle. By late June it hardly got dark at all.


Note the snow still on the ground.

The occasion was the last night of April, the beginning of May. I noted it in my journal as Walpurgis Afton, though now I read the proper term would be Valborgsmassoafton. In English it’s called Walpurgis Night, but the German name Walpurgisnacht is perhaps more famous. Beltane and May Day are also at this time. People call these spring festivals but I think they represent the beginning of summer. I wish we had a fire pit for a little bonfire tonight. Ah well. We are filling up the pool and having a party tomorrow. I’ll be serving cucumber-mint gimlets. We may even have a maypole. Stop by Sunday afternoon (roughly 2-6 p.m.) and join us.


Discipline sleeps on La Rambla

This morning Persephone smacked me on the chest as I was carrying her into her bedroom to get dressed. I don’t remember why. She is so tiny I don’t think she could hurt me even if she hit me with all her strength. So in some ways it was no big deal, but I decided to make it into a big deal. Not at first, actually. First, I asked her for an apology. I asked her repeatedly. But she refused. I told her she’d have a time out if she didn’t apologize. Still she wouldn’t say it. So then we proceeded to have the longest damn time out we’ve ever had. It was not easy for either of us. I told her that she’d have to sit there until she apologized, and for her part she fussed and cried but mostly just sat there in silence. It seemed to me that our conflict had become an absurd contest of wills, a mere power struggle divorced from any notions of right and wrong. I kept explaining and re-explaining that if you hit someone you should apologize. And despite my misgivings I’m pretty sure Persephone understood exactly what this was all about. At one point, when I’d reiterated for the thousandth time that she could end this absurd standoff by saying sorry, she whined, “But that’s not truuuue.” She knew what I wanted but she did not want to give in. She stuck to her guns. I admire that. And of course I was feeling the pressure to get ready for school and work, and she was not, but I stuck to my guns too. I was seriously considering the expediency of spanking, but I stuck to my guns. And finally I won. Er, um, wait, no, this wasn’t about winning and losing. I mean finally my daughter saw the error of her ways and embraced right behavior. “I’m sorry.” Was that so hard? Apparently so. It sure took a while to get there. I’m not sure how long it was. Twenty, twenty-five minutes, I guess.Afterward I was wondering if this was a sick and pointless exercise in dominance and submission. But a subsequent incident makes me think it may have been worthwhile. She took an old doll down to the breakfast table. She noticed it had a hole in its chest. I almost dropped the granola when I heard her say “I’m sorry” to the doll. “I’m sorry I made the hole in your chest.” So maybe she did learn something after all.

Discipline sleeps on La Rambla / Chris Beckett / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Spring Thaw

Kalix, April 28, 1986 (twenty-five years ago today)

Spring Thaw

Spring Thaw

Spring Thaw

All of a sudden Sweden melted and I found myself in the Garden of Eden. No kidding. Today it got up to +10ºC. There’s still snow on the ground in lots of places, but much of it has melted now. Parched-dry streets streaked with rivulets of flowing water! Mirror-like pools in people’s front yards, reflecting a brilliant sky and an unclouded sun. The wind could be chilly, but you only felt the wind on certain streets or on a certain side of the building. And out of the wind it was warm. I lay down on a park bench and slept. Outside! Unbelievable.

Footnote: 10ºC = 50ºF. I had to look it up, because I’ve forgotten my Celsius just like most of my Swedish. Anders Celsius was a Swede, by the way. He died 267 years ago this Monday.

Mostly Wasted

Waiting for the Electricity

Yesterday was a strange one. I busted my butt to get on campus in a timely fashion. (Persephone had a bad case of back-to-school blues — not a fun morning.) But when I got here I found the lights were flickering. We had partial power — half voltage or something like that. My boss said her printer was making weird noises of its own volition. I was able to boot up my computer and get online briefly, but I soon lost the connection and then we lost all power. The phone system was also having problems. I was supposed to shoot some video of a faculty member who’s won an award; I tried calling him but couldn’t get through. Of course the elevators were not working, so Jim and I went down four flights of stairs and over to the next building and back up three flights. I’d figured we’d have to postpone the shoot but it turns out the faculty member’s research area has emergency backup power. So we headed back down the stairs and over to a third building, and up four flights. Fortunately that elevator was working. We had to wear biohazard gear: masks and coveralls and gloves and footies and hairnets. The gear was uncomfortable and the whole experience was unsettling. It was an animal research facility. I’d vaguely known it existed, but I’d never been there before. I found myself ethically disturbed. I guess that’s the best way of putting it. But we shot the video. I spent the rest of the day waiting for the power to come back on. But when it did the net was still not available. There’s not much I can do offline. It was “Quiet Day,” the day between classes and finals, and for once Quiet Day was really quiet. I talked to one faculty member who came to campus just for a meeting, which had to be canceled because the convener couldn’t access her e-mail to retrieve the agenda. Finally I headed home, and I had to agree with a co-worker who said the day was “mostly wasted.” I was patting myself on the back for being one of the few people who actually got something done. But then today Jim pointed out that the video we shot is probably not viable because our subject is wearing a facemask. You can’t see who he is. The Administration may also have concerns about the location and subject matter; animal research is a touchy subject. We’ll have to shoot it again. So the day was pretty much a bust after all.

Wet Monday

Śmigus - dyngus

So we’ve had Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Hellacious Saturday, Resurrection Sunday. Now what about today? “Easter Monday” certainly doesn’t cut it.

How about Wet Monday — also known as Dyngus Day? Sounds like Central and Eastern Europe is the place to be:

Dyngus Day or Wet Monday (Polish Śmigus-Dyngus or lany poniedziałek) is the name for Easter Monday in Poland. In the Czech Republic it is called velikonoční pondělí or pomlázka. In Slovakia veľkonočný pondelok (Easter Monday) is called Šibačka/Polievačka or Oblievačka too. All countries practice a unique custom on this day.

In Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic traditionally, early in the morning boys awake girls by pouring a bucket of water on their head and striking them about the legs with long thin twigs or switches made from willow, birch or decorated tree branches…

That sounds like a hoot. I wish I’d known about this earlier. I could have started my girls’ day off with a bang.

…Dyngus and Śmigus were twin pagan gods; the former representing water and the moist earth (Dyngus from din gus – thin soup or dingen – nature); and the latter representing thunder and lightning (Śmigus from śmigać or to make a whooshing sound)…. The custom of pouring water was an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility. It is alleged that the pagan Poles bickered with nature/Dyngus by means of pouring water and switching with willows to make themselves pure and worthy of the coming year…

Most recently, the tradition has changed to become fully water-focused, and the śmigus part is almost forgotten. It is quite common for girls to attack boys just as fiercely. With much of Poland’s population residing in tall apartment buildings, high balconies are favorite hiding places for young people who gleefully empty buckets of water or more recently throw plastic bags or water balloons onto random passers-by.

Of course here in the U.S. we have our own version. Most notably, folks in Buffalo, New York, apparently have the world’s largest Dyngus Day celebration. But, as a recovering Hoosier with some Czech heritage, I was most intrigued to note it’s also a big deal in parts of Indiana, particularly South Bend and (gulp) Terre Haute.

In scouring the net for more info, I came across a reference to slivovitz. A search on slivovitz dyngus led me straight to my old stomping grounds of Bloomington, Indiana, and Yogi’s Grill and Bar (where we used to screen episodes of ROX. At first I thought Google was maybe privileging Indiana-related links because of my history of interest in the area, but even logged out this story from the IDS comes as the top result. What are the chances?

“Dyngus Day is like St. Patrick’s Day on acid,” manager Chris Karl said.

“Slivovitz is disgusting, it’s gross,” Bloomington resident Mitch Taylor said.

Most party-goers agree with Taylor, but say it’s essential to do a shot of the Serbian liquor on Dyngus Day.

The reason slivovitz got my attention is because it figures in a book I finished — on Easter Sunday. So now that we’ve come full circle, you’ll excuse me. I’ve got work to do and then I’m off to pick up some Cipro and hopefully knock this crud out of my lungs for good.

Thanks to Deke Hager for jogging my dyngus, I mean memory.

Śmigus – dyngus / daniel kowalewski / BY-NC-SA 2.0

Thirty-Eight Months


Dear Persephone,

You’re thirty-eight months old today.

I knew this month was off to a good start when you told me your own version of an old knock knock joke. It was the old “orange you glad” joke which I’d told you a month or two before. An old friend from college had reminded me of it. Here’s your version.

Knocky knock.
Who’s there?
Carrot who?
Carrot you glad I didn’t say banana?

Clearly you got the structure but the pun eludes you.

Knocky knock.
Who’s there?
Tangerine who?
Tangerine you glad I didn’t say orange?

I love that.

This was the first April Fool’s Day you’ve been able to appreciate. You proved remarkably easy to fool. I could point to the window and say, “Look! It’s the abominable snowman!” And you’d look every time. You loved it, though. We even cooked up a plan to tell the people at your daycare that your lunchbox was full of poop. But you were overcome by modesty at the last minute.

You had some pieces of tomato on your plate one night. You said one looked like a wheel, one looked like a rainbow, and one looked like a Muse’s shoe.

You are beginning to ask more interesting questions. For example, a few weeks ago, a sermon came on our house mix and you asked me who was talking. When I said “a Christian preacher,” you thought for a minute and then asked, “What’s a Christian?” I replied, “Someone who follows Jesus,” which led to some more interesting questions. Now I’m bracing for the inevitable: “What is God?” I’m sure you’ll ask that some day soon. Perhaps I’ll draw inspiration from a recent blog post I read and say something like, “God is an idea that helps people understand the world around them.”

Another question you asked would seem easier: “What is Google?” But actually this one stumped me. How to explain Google in terms a three-year-old can understand? It’s complicated.

For a few weeks you had an intense craving for stories. It seemed you were asking me to tell you a story from the moment you woke up until bedtime. As soon as I’d tell you one, no matter how good or bad it was, you’d ask for another. But this seems to have subsided at last.

Your speech grows more sophisticated daily, but you still have lots of funny expressions. For example, You say “talk it” instead of unmute. Like when we have the TV on, and we mute the commercials, and the program comes back on but the audio is still muted. “Talk it!” Which makes sense. For what it’s worth, my spellchecker doesn’t recognize unmute either.

You remain a great lunar enthusiast. Last week, when playing with your friend Lala, you noticed the moon was out and very nearly full. Lala said, “It’s the sun!” You hauled off and hit her in the face. It wasn’t a nice thing to do, obviously, and given that Lala’s nearly twice your size you are lucky you didn’t get stomped. But eerily enough it reminded me of my admonition a few months ago to “strike a blow for the moon.” Have you been reading my blog?

Sometimes you pretend that I’m the Big Bad Wolf. “Can you get me a glass of seltzer, Big Bad Wolf?” Then you’ll wave your wand and turn me into a prince or a king.

Best of all you have begun to spontaneously say things like, “I love you.” Just a couple days ago you came up to me while I was sitting on the deck and, without any prompting, you said, “When I grow up I want to be just like you, Dada.” You said it twice. Amazing.

Science Fails

IMG_6994 sample image for map stitching - aerial photography -

It’s the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo/BP blowout disaster catastrophe oil spill. I don’t know how much coverage it gets outside the Gulf Coast, but oil is still percolating up in marshes here, and it’s very discouraging.

Generally I have supported science and the scientific worldview, but this debacle has shown how science is just a tool to be used and abused by the powerful.

We should know exactly what happened a year ago, and why. We don’t. We should know how much oil flowed out into the Gulf. We don’t. We should know how bad the environmental consequences are. We don’t.

Our ignorance is appalling.

A while back I saw conflicting reports on the safety of seafood from the Gulf. One scientist sounded cautionary notes, while another scientist gave the all clear. They were funded by opposing sides in the ongoing legal battles that have emerged from this catastrophe. The best science money can buy! I wish I’d clipped the article so I could cite it properly now, but at the time I was just too depressed.

Since I can’t even cite my sources, you’d probably do better to look elsewhere for informed commentary. I highly recommend this brand new article by John Clark:

Life in Louisiana, and on Earth, Struggles to Survive

But what, in reality, have the dominant extractive and petrochemical industries, and especially oil, brought to Louisiana? We are one of the poorest states. We are one of the least educated states. We are one of the unhealthiest states. We are one of the states in which government is most abjectly subservient to industry. We are one of the states most scarred by rampant corruption. We are one of the most environmentally devastated states. And now, the oil industry has damaged coastal wetlands and Gulf ecosystems, quite possibly for a considerable period into the future, in the worst marine oil disaster in history.

It’s enough to make anyone crazy mad.

I suppose I should make the connection: It’s stuff like this that fires me up to work on a project like the greenway. Active transportation is one way to reduce consumption of oil. It’s a very small sling against a very big giant. I’m not trying to put myself up on a pedestal; I’m just saying, do something. You’ll feel better, and it might just make a difference.

Oh, and by the way, some of my best friends are scientists.

IMG_6994 sample image for map stitching – aerial photography – / cesar harada / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Test Results


I got the test results back from my doctor. No charge for the office consultation, though it would have cost me ten bucks to talk on the phone. They have a new online system which allows me to see all the results myself, so allow me to copy and paste.

Test results 04/12/11

GLUCOSE 90 mg/dL N
eGFR NON-AFR. AMERICAN 109 mL/min/1.73m2 N
eGFR AFRICAN AMERICAN 126 mL/min/1.73m2 N
SODIUM 141 mmol/L N
POTASSIUM 4.8 mmol/L N
CHLORIDE 105 mmol/L N
CALCIUM 9.8 mg/dL N
ALBUMIN 4.8 g/dL N
GLOBULIN 2.6 g/dL (calc) N
AST 18 U/L N
ALT 22 U/L N
VITAMIN D, 1,25 (OH)2, TOTAL 36 pg/mL
VITAMIN D3, 1,25 (OH)2 36
VITAMIN D2, 1,25 (OH)2 <8
MCV 90.9 fL N
MCH 30.9 pg N
MCHC 33.9 g/dL N
RDW 12.0 % N
PLATELET COUNT 174 Thousand/uL N

I don’t know what half this stuff means, but the doctor talked me through a few items. I’m happy to learn that I am HIV negative. Also, I don’t have asthma. That isn’t listed above but they tested for it last week. Mostly, it’s a clean bill of health.

Except for one thing: I tested positive for mono. That’s EBV infectious mononucleosis, a.k.a. glandular fever, a.k.a. Pfeiffer’s disease, a.k.a. Filatov’s disease, a.k.a. the kissing disease. But mostly around here we just call it mono.

I was diagnosed with mono approximately twenty years ago. At the time I had three different doctors tell me three different things about my long-term prognosis. I was told you can only catch it once. I was told it can recur. I was also told I’d be feeling the aftereffects for the rest of my life.

According to Wikipedia:

Once the acute symptoms of an initial infection disappear, they often do not return. But once infected, the patient carries the virus for the rest of his or her life. The virus typically lives dormantly in B lymphocytes. Independent infections of mononucleosis may be contracted multiple times, regardless of whether the patient is already carrying the virus dormantly. Periodically, the virus can reactivate, during which time the patient is again infectious, but usually without any symptoms of illness.

Over the years I’ve noticed my lymph nodes have a propensity to swell up, often for no apparent reason. Sometimes they stay swollen for a long time. Since the mono virus lingers in the lymph system, this positive test result would seem to lend some credence to the idea that there’s a connection. I would not describe my immune system as particularly robust. Perhaps there’s something I can do to bolster it. I’ve been getting into herbal teas a lot lately. Perhaps a little echinacea and astragalus.

As for the lingering bronchitis, the antibiotic seems to have done the trick. I’m feeling fine, and better than fine. Hopefully I won’t relapse when the Z-Pak runs its course.

P1100765 / Thirteen of Clubs / CC BY-SA 2.0

Hike Report 2011

We had almost 400 people hiking the Lafitte Corridor this year. We had two City Council members and a Senator. We had planners from Design Workshop. But there were two people in particular I was especially happy to have with me.

Stroller Hike

This is the first time Persephone or Xy made the hike. Persephone can perhaps be excused for missing the first three, since she hadn’t been born yet.

There were a few problems. For example, I got a bit of a sunburn. Yes, I applied sunscreen, but not in all the right places, apparently. The backs of my calves got it especially bad. But all in all I was happy with how everything came together.

I’m utterly astonished at how this event has grown — from three people in 2005 to something like 380 or 390 this year.

Hike Growth

This is way beyond anything I could do on my own. It was a team effort more than ever this year. Even compiling a list of all our sponsors and partners and helpers is a challenge, there are that many.

Not bad for a small group of volunteers working in their spare time. And the trail hasn’t even been built yet.

And to think it all started with an offhand comment my friend David Bryan made as we walked by the bayou one day six years ago. To think how much has gone down since then, and how much has changed, how much we’ve lost, and how much we’ve accomplished, and how much remains to be done. It makes my head spin.

I’ve posted a few more facts and figures and choice quotations on the FOLC website, so if you’re interested check it out.

The Good News

Good News

I’ve been walking around with a big goofy grin for the last week. I got the news last Thursday. It seems that the City of New Orleans has at last signed the contract with Design Workshop that will allow the planning and design and eventual construction of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor.

Finally! This is something I’ve been working on with Friends of Lafitte Corridor for five years. (In fact it’s been a personal vision of mine for six years.) We were excited when Design Workshop was selected last summer. Since then, we’ve been on pins and needles wondering when the contract would get hammered out and signed by all parties.

Not that we’ve been idle. We’ve continued to work on a multitude of initiatives to ensure the greenway idea continues to advance. We believe this will be a positive and deeply transformational project for the city of New Orleans. Consider the possibilities for sustainable water design. If this project eventually leads to less street flooding — how cool would that be? And that’s just one example.

Such things don’t just happen by accident. I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve done much of anything by myself. All progress to date is the result of lots of hard work by lots of talented and passionate and committed individuals. We’re not superhuman; we’ve faced issues of fatigue and burnout and impatience and frustration just like everyone else.

That’s why good news like this means so much to us.

This is actually the second time Design Workshop has been selected for this project. Under the previous administration, we got as far as a signed contract, but a “notice to proceed” was never issued. When that contract was terminated, it was a major setback for the greenway, and very discouraging to all of us. Now, in the space of a few days, we have not only a contract, but also the “notice to proceed.” It’s heartening to see this indication of Mayor Landrieu’s commitment to the greenway. We look forward to working with Design Workshop and the City of New Orleans to engage the community in the planning and design process. Very little has been decided yet. The fun is just beginning. This is what we’ve been working for.

We’re still waiting for the City to issue their official press release, but I’m sorry — I just couldn’t hold back any longer.

Good News / Jonathan Moreau / BY-NC-ND 2.0

Medical Madness

Medical Madness

Even though I’ve been feeling much better after my initial bout with bronchitis, I’ve continued to have minor relapses. I exert myself and then feel funny in the lungs and fatigued.

So I made an appointment to see my doctor Tuesday morning.

And it was such a strange doctor visit.

  1. I was informed that my doctor would now be charging $10 for phone calls. In fact, I was given a letter about it, and I had to sign to confirm receipt. The nurse-receptionist blamed “Obamacare” but the letter blamed Congress. So if I get some lab work done, I can either make a standard appointment to discuss the results, or I can pay ten bucks for a phone consult. My insurance will pay nothing for phone calls, but my co-pay for an office visit is $30.
  2. Once I got into the examination room, I was told the doctor now wants patients who can type to enter their own symptoms directly into the system. In the past a nurse or intern would talk to me and take notes. I can indeed type (in fact I’m typing right now) so soon I found myself typing my symptoms into a computer. I actually don’t mind this because I’m fairly articulate and I can know exactly what’s being entered. Still, it seemed weird.
  3. The doctor’s first impulse was to test me for HIV. Since I’m having trouble shaking an infection, perhaps there’s a problem with my immune system. I guess that makes sense. I’ve never been tested for HIV, so I guess it’s a good idea on general principle. I just thought it was odd that this would be at the top of the list. He also tested me for asthma but that came back negative. I’ll get the HIV results next week.

For what it’s worth, I’m on an antibiotic now and feeling better than ever.

As long as I’m talking about medical issues, I should mention the other symptom that prompted me to see the doctor. I seem to have quantity of fluid in my maxillary sinus cavity. I can feel it draining from side to side when I lie down. Yet my nasal passages are mostly clear — I’m not blowing snot. I finally blew some last week, and it was an alarming color I’ve never seen before, a very dark brown. Might be some old blood in there, as I was having bloody noses a month ago. I’ve been doing sinus rinses daily but they don’t seem to wash anything out. I don’t think the antibiotic will get the mucus out of my sinuses. What to do? What’s going on here anyway?

Medical Madness / Juan Calos Herrera / BY-NC-SA 2.0

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 5

Sunday night, I made my presentation, “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans,” to a special interest group of the AERA. Even though the presentation is over, I’m still playing catch-up here on the blog.

Rising Tide 5

And so I come to my fifth and final installment of stories that have emerged in, around, through or about the local blogosphere since the flooding of New Orleans in 2005.

Rising Tide is an annual conference organized by bloggers. It convenes on the last Saturday in August, the anniversary of Katrina. I was there at the first one, and I was so impressed by the event that I’ve been back every year since.

As I tried to reconstruct what I know of this event’s history, I briefly fantasized that Rising Tide had grown out of the first Geek Dinner, hosted by Alan Gutierrez in July of 2006. This was probably the largest gathering of local bloggers to date, which prompted Schroeder to remark:

The New Orleans blog movement has become an incredible network of information dissemination, storytelling, and mutual support, and I would argue that the New Orleans movement has emerged as a stronger expression of community than in almost any other forum of “extra-personal” (i.e., non-interpersonal) communication anywhere else in the world.

True, that’s a bold statement to make, but I still think the New Orleans blog community is a nascent, fragile community — for a lot of reasons. Nevertheless, what one finds here is remarkably enriching, providing a profound sense of shared values and commitment to a common cause.

Moreover, the dinner also elicited a post on Your Right Hand Thief with the title, “There is a Rising Tide forming.” It does not mention the conference explicitly but that title is evocative. This post also sees a comment from Gentilly Girl which could serve as a mission statement:

I also believe that get-togethers like this will serve what we are doing as “reporters” of reality here in New Orleans.

Remember… we have a job to do, and that is to tell the story of New Orleans and our lives post-Deluge. We also need to party sometimes.

But in reality, Oyster was kicking around the idea of the conference — he called it a “convention” at the time — well before the Geek Dinner. He put out a call to action (“Katrina bloggers, activate!”) on July 5, 2006.

Think of it: bloggers from all over could get together, and talk about the Katrina aftermath, and blog, and argue, and party, and share information, and podcast, and effect political change, and meet each other in person, and have a “work day” in a flooded neighborhood, and actually do something, and have panels and guest speakers and t-shirts and stickers, and we could get some press and everyone would leave feeling really good about their experience in New Orleans, and would blog about it, and want to do it again…

Oyster credits Scout Prime of First Draft for floating the idea some weeks earlier, but I can’t find that, and don’t even know if it was online. Clearly Oyster didn’t act alone, as he soon reports a planning meeting with other local bloggers. But I think everyone acknowledges Oyster as the main instigator who got the wheels in motion. For that reason alone, I have long thought of Oyster as the dean of NOLA bloggers.

The conference may be organized by bloggers, but it’s billed as an event for anyone who cares about New Orleans. In my experience, that’s accurate. Who are bloggers, anyway? For the most part, they are people with a passion for a topic who use writing to express themselves. In this case, the topic is New Orleans. The “bloggy” aspect of Rising Tide is not hugely relevant to the content of the conference as such. It’s quite simply a venue for learning about the past and future of this city, and to discuss and debate all the complex issues that entails.

However, there is one tradition that’s emerged that’s very much blogocentric. (Did I just coin a new word?) That’s the Ashley Morris award, which is given each year to someone who exemplifies Ashley’s passion. So far, I believe all the recipients have been bloggers: Ashley himself, Karen Gadbois, and Ashe Dambala, all of whom I have already profiled, and also Matt McBride and Clifton Harris, both of whom both deserving of a profile in this series if I hadn’t already hit my self-imposed limit.

Each year, around Katrina anniversary time, there are a slew of events along the Gulf Coast designed to commemorate those who lost their lives, and all the other things that happened here. Most of these events are symbolic and ritualistic, which is good and necessary. But as far as I know Rising Tide is the only attempt to look at the complex issues at stake in a critical fashion.

That’s why I had hoped to host Rising Tide here at the University where I work last year, on the fifth anniversary of Katrina. It didn’t work out, and that was just as well, because a certain highly-placed political figure (some guy named Barack Obama) decided to make an appearance here on that day, which would have certainly thrown a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans. But I made the case again this year, and the stars seem to have aligned properly. I just got confirmation from the organizers even as I was working on this post. Funny how that works — but I will let them make the announcement.

Rising Tide 5 / Maitri / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 4.5

Yesterday evening, I made my presentation, “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans,” to a special interest group of the AERA. I related five prominent stories that have emerged in, around, through or about the local blogosphere since the flooding of the city in 2005. Even though the presentation is over, I’m still playing catch-up here on the blog.

Jena, Louisiana: Rev. Jesse Jackson

I wanted to cheat a little bit and sneak in an extra story, so I’m calling this one 4.5.

The story of the Jena Six is complex and has been recounted extensively so I won’t attempt to revisit the details here. Rather, I just wanted to make mention, briefly, of the protests in Jena, Louisiana, which took place approximately six months after the March for Survival in New Orleans.

Granted, it’s a stretch to call this a story of the post-Katrina New Orleans blogosphere. Jena is over 200 miles from New Orleans. Northern Louisiana did not feel the impact of the hurricanes in the same way as the communities nearer the coast. Nevertheless, this was the largest civil rights protest in decades, much larger than the March for Survival, and there is a blog connection.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the demonstrations in Jena were “a civil rights protest literally conjured out of the ether of cyberspace, of a type that has never happened before in America — a collective national mass action grown from a grassroots word-of-mouth movement spread via Internet blogs, e-mails, message boards and talk radio.”

Therefore I think the protest in Jena deserves at least passing mention in any history of New Orleans’ post-Katrina blogosphere. For more discussion on this topic, please check out the audio archives at BeyondJena.com.

Jena, Louisiana: Rev. Jesse Jackson / everett taasevigen / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 4

In a few days, I’ll be making a presentation to a special interest group of the AERA titled “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans.” My plan is to relate certain prominent stories that have emerged in, around, through or about the local blogosphere since the flooding of the city in 2005. I thought I would share my notes here as I complete them. So this is the fourth of the five stories. I welcome any feedback.


My first three installments in this series might have given the impression that I was doing personality profiles. That’s not my intention. I mean to look at the top stories emerging from the post-Katrina NOLA blogosphere, not personalities per se (though in Ashley’s case, the personality is the story). Hopefully this installment will make that clear.

On third-to-last day of 2006, Dinerral Shavers was murdered in a senseless act of street violence. On the fourth day of 2007, Helen Hill was murdered in a bizarre home invasion. Dinerral and Helen weren’t the only people killed during that week. I believe there were at least ten others. But Dinneral and Helen were prominent exponents of New Orleans culture. Dinerral was a musician, a drummer in the Hot 8 Brass Band, a music teacher at Rabouin High School, the founder of that school’s first marching band. Helen was an artist, an award-winning filmmaker, and a friend of mine. Both were well known and much-loved in the local community. Also, it should be noted that Dinerral was black and Helen was white. Dinerral was a native New Orleanian, a product of the public schools, while Helen was an out-of-towner and a Harvard graduate — a fact I never knew until I read her obituary, but all of this factors in to what came next.

The loss of either of these individuals would have raised a public outcry. Their back-to-back murders sparked an inferno of discontent. Violence in the city had virtually disappeared after the flood waters receded, but as people returned, so did the bloodshed. The body count began to rise, and so did public concern. Five young men were murdered in a single incident in the summer of 2006. But it was Dinneral and Helen’s murders that galvanized the city as a whole. Their sociability and their divergent backgrounds meant a huge segment of the local population was in mourning. Within days a public march and rally was organized. Thousands of people from disparate neighborhoods converged on City Hall as the world watched. This may have been the largest public demonstration in the history of New Orleans, or so I’ve speculated. I do know that I’ve attended many protests over the last decade in New Orleans and this was far and away the biggest one I’ve ever seen.

So what does this have to do with blogs? The March for Survival, as it was called, would have happened without blogs, but blogs did play a role. Bloggers were writing about the issue of violent crime before, during and after the march. I wrote about Dinerral’s murder and of course Helen’s. Through connections made in the blogosphere, Karen Gadbois and I were among the dozen speakers at the rally. I posted the text of my speech on my blog minutes before joining our march from Mid-City. My boss read it and sent me a brief critique; I got his message on my Blackberry as we marched down Canal Street with Anderson Cooper and incorporated his revision at the very last minute.

My speech at the rally was a defining moment in my life. Four years later, I have to say there are one or two more revisions I wish I’d made, but for the most part I stand by my words. The repercussions continue to unfold. As a result of that speech, I got to attend a week-long leadership seminar at Harvard — and these days I’m the president of a grassroots organization which aims to build a transformative project in the heart of New Orleans. It is impossible to show direct cause and effect but I believe all these things are linked.

But this isn’t about me, or any one person. What makes this story salient is that it was a come-together moment for the city. A necessary moment. It was the time when we looked at each other, we who had lost so much, and said we can’t allow this. We can’t allow New Orleans to continue with this astronomical murder rate. As Rev. Raphael said, in a speech so much more eloquent than mine, we came together “to declare that a city that could not be drowned in the waters of a storm, will not be drowned in the blood of its citizens.”

Of course, no matter how well-attended and well-intentioned, a march and rally don’t bring an end to violence. It would be naïve to expect that. We are still struggling with the highest murder rate in the land. Nevertheless, the march was something that had to be done, and it was an important statement of civic priority. On that day, with the world watching, we showed that the City That Care Forgot is not the city that forgot to care. The hard work of actually improving the situation on the ground continues to be pursued by organizations like Silence Is Violence and others. And bloggers continue to write about this issue.

Once again, HBO’s Treme provides further validation of this story’s status. The March for Survival will be portrayed in the second season.


Some months ago, at a meeting with some folks from the Rails to Trails Conservancy, I was bemoaning the difficulties of sustaining our outreach efforts in Friends of Lafitte Corridor. As an all-volunteer organization, we often run into limits of time and energy, and burnout is an ever-present danger. Kelly Pack suggested the idea of creating an “ambassador” program, and while I might have been skeptical at first, I soon saw the light.

See, over the last couple years, our annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor has gotten so large that we’ve been thinking a new approach is necessary. In 2009 I essentially led a group of 200 people on a three-mile hike all by myself. Oh, I had some help, but it was mostly me. It’s a far cry from how we started in 2005 with just three people.

And so it dawned on me that an ambassador program could solve this problem. Our primary outreach event is the hike, and so that could be the first thing for ambassadors to do. We could break the single monolithic horde into small groups, each led by a Greenway Ambassador.

A fantastic idea — which would have remained as nothing but an idea if it was just me. I don’t have the capacity to make that idea a reality. Fortunately FOLC has recently gotten an infusion of fresh blood. Our years of organizing seem to be paying off. We now have a critical mass of committed people working together such that ambitious ideas like this can be realized.

I saw the proof Saturday morning at Delgado, at our first Greenway Ambassador training.


Look how many people are in that photo! Adding in the off-camera organizers, we were at capacity with thirty people in attendance. I hasten to add that I didn’t do a damn thing to put this together. I just showed up and made my standard presentation. This event was organized by other people, namely Maggie Tishman and Matt Rufo. I can’t express how excited I am by that fact.

I mentioned being at capacity. We had two vans, fifteen people each, and every seat was full. We shuttled down to Armstrong Park and started walking.

Pre-Hike Begins


You never know what you might see when you get out and start walking.


Festival of Bulbs


X Spot

Thanks also to Rails to Trails Conservancy for underwriting lunch at Bud’s Broiler.


If you’re interested, you can see even more photos of the day’s events.

Please note this was not the annual hike. Think of it as a pre-hike. The real deal is April 16. I hope you’ll join us — you can register now.


Here’s a little neighborhood detail I recently noticed.


Look Familiar?

The posts surrounding the yard of an old house on Banks Street are the same as a single post near the front gate of Cypress Grove Cemetery on Canal Street.

I guess it’s just a case of a product being purchased from the same source, but still I find it a little weird and intriguing. I wonder who made the posts, and when. Are there other examples around the city? Around the country? And what’s the story with that single post at Cypress Grove? It appears to serve no purpose.

The pattern on the post looks like a stylized face to me but I’m not sure that’s intentional.