Rising Tide 7

For the last several months I’ve been embedded, ensnared, and otherwise entrapped in the planning process for Rising Tide 7. I haven’t actually done any work, but I’ve observed other people doing lots of work, and I’m happy to take credit for their efforts.

Rising Tide 7

The poster for Rising Tide 7 riffs on the demise of New Orleans’ daily paper. You can bet there will be a very interesting panel on this topic, and many others, including the subject I’ve been writing about over the past week: The Education Experiment: Petri Dish Reform in New Orleans and Louisiana.

I may even be moderating a panel on parenting, Mardi Gras Moms and Who Dat Dads, unless we can sucker someone else into doing it for me.

Register now and save a few bucks. The ticket price will go up soon.

Poster credit: Line drawing by Melissa Moore, graphic work by Lance Vargas.


Ancestor’s Dinner

A bit discombobulated and disconnected for this recent holiday. Perhaps that’s because I was traveling just before — the POD Network traditionally has their conference at the end of October, and this one was combined with the annual conference of the HBCU Faculty Development Network, and we mustered our biggest contingent (four) ever. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

I got back to New Orleans last Sunday and immediately baked some pumpkin bread. Persephone came home from a friend’s with a Disney Snow White costume on. “Uh oh,” I thought. Sure enough, she refused to wear the costume lovingly made by hand by her grandmother (an Air Princess) because she was dead set on Snow White for Halloween. It’s amazing how much Disney princess stuff has infiltrated our lives even though we haven’t bought any. Truly, we live in the Age of Cheap Crap.

Even so, it was magical to follow my daughter around on a short jaunt through the neighborhood. It was her first night to ever do this and she was enchanted, as befits Snow White. Many of our neighbors were waiting on their porches, enjoying the flow of kids in costume. It’s a tradition to cherish, even as rampant commercialization threatens to spoil it and everything else we celebrate.


But I have to wonder: How many of my neighbors understand what Halloween really is? The “een” part gives us a clue. “E’en” is a contraction for “evening,” as in the evening before. So many of these ancient holidays begin the night before. The actual event is the next day. Christmas Eve has always seemed to me one of the most magical nights of the Christian calendar. How many of my neighbors celebrate the day after Halloween?

Well, actually, quite a few. This is New Orleans after all. The next day used to be a holiday at the University and dammit, I took the day off. It should still be a holiday in my opinion. When I passed by St. Patrick #1 on a quick errand that morning I saw plenty of people tending their family crypts.

My main activity of the day was masking of a different sort: covering up some lead paint. There were two strips on either side of our porch, about one inch wide and maybe ten feet tall, which the painters missed. I’ve been meaning to address these areas for a couple years now, ever since I noticed them. I used duct tape to remove as many paint flakes as I could. Then I covered everything up with a thick coat of high-quality primer, and ultimately a topcoat of paint.

Given that these two strips face outward to the sides of the house, where we never spend any time, this was probably not a critical fix, but I certainly feel better now that it’s finally done. I’m confident the lead paint will stay contained for years, by which time Persephone will be past the most vulnerable phases of her development.

Ancestor’s Dinner

That night we shared a delicious family dinner. Corn and tomatoes with bread. Our special guest: Glenn Dee Petty, 1923-1990, Xy’s dear departed grandmother. The main dish was one which Xy remembers Glenn Dee preparing. We had a place set for her with a photo on display. As we ate, Xy shared various memories. Since Persephone never met any of her great-grandparents, this is the only way she can really come to know of them. For that matter I never met Glenn Dee either.

It was a festive and sweet moment. I think we will expand on this concept and do it again next year.


Several weeks ago, a friend and co-worker, Dr. Mark Gstohl, was planning to shut down his Facebook account. He was finding some of his interactions more aggravating than enlightening. He has a wide gamut of friends across the political spectrum, and he was experiencing a lot of negativity. I offered to swap accounts with him. At first I made the offer in jest, but I became more intrigued as I considered the idea, and so I offered again. We agreed to give it a try just for the month of October. We briefly discussed the ethics of such a maneuver, but the issues at stake didn’t seem very serious. So we went ahead. We continued to use Facebook as we usually did, but we were logged in to each others’ accounts. So, Mark (who is an ordained Baptist minister) was posting Bible verses in my name. Further muddying the waters is the fact that we both have numerous third party services tied into Facebook. We didn’t swap any other accounts, so both our Facebook feeds comprised a mix of items generated by one or other of us. At the end of the month we took off the masks and reverted back to our real selves. Most people laughed it off, or scratched their heads in confusion, but my old high school chum Georgie said she felt “betrayed and tricked.” Maybe we should have taken the ethical issues more seriously. For what it’s worth, I apologized to Georgie and I think she’s forgiven me. This episode raises some questions about identity and expectations in the age of social media.

Bloggers Reception

Last night Arnaud’s French 75 Bar hosted a blogger’s reception to kickoff Tales of the Cocktail, sponsored by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac.

Naturally I was there.

Arnaud's French 75 Bar

It’s fascinating to me that blogging still seems to be on the ascendant. I met a number of local bloggers, including people I hadn’t met before such as Alan and Shercole, as well as old comrades like M Styborski.

The Cocktail Summit cocktail and the hors d’oeuvres were fantastic, and I learned that cognac flavors can be organized by season in an aroma wheel.

Posting may be a little thin here over the next few days as the program ramps up, but I’ll have a full debriefing when the conference is over.

Rising Tide VI

The center where I work is co-sponsoring Rising Tide this year. Here’s your official invitation from the conference organizers.

Rising Tide NOLA, Inc., will present its 6th Annual New Media Conference centered on the recovery and future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on Saturday, August 27th, 2011, 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. at Xavier University, 1 Drexel Drive, New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s time to register!

The one-day conference will feature speakers, panel discussions and break-out sessions on the status and future of the culture, politics, criminal justice system and environment of New Orleans. We’ll also be discussing Social Media as it relates to the city and the Gulf Coast. Past speakers include Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland, Harry Shearer, and authors Dave Ziren, John Barry, Christopher Cooper and Robert Block.

To learn about the conference’s history and keep up with details of this year’s event as they’re announced, please visit our website at RisingTideNola.com. You can also go directly to our EventBrite Registration page where you can sign up for the conference until July 1st for $25 ($18 for students). The registration fee includes the program, breakfast beverages with pastries, and lunch. There is also, as always, a Friday night social. All details will be announced as they’re finalized.

If you haven’t already, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for programming updates as they become available. You can also visit the Rising Tide Blog and leave us a message. We welcome your input through any of these channels, so please feel free to contact us. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Taking Requests

It must still be finals week somewhere because my “Study” mix is raking in the love.

As I was writing this a rare comment came thru: “I was procrastinating like crazy until I found this gem and put myself to work on my essay which btw is due tomorrow. Thanks!” So maybe it’s not a finals effect. Maybe it’s summer school.

I don’t get a lot of love on 8tracks. The numbers are rather meager, and none of my mixes have racked up more than a hundred listens. At 53 plays, “Study” is not my most listened mix, but with 29 “likes” it is my best-loved. It definitely converts at a higher ratio.

I think I first put this one together by special request of David B. back in October of 2009. Apparently that’s the formula for success.

So: If anyone else out there has any requests, just let me know.


This chart (via StatCounter) shows the long slow decline in monthly traffic to my blog since June 2007.


I wish I had stats going back further but I don’t. I suspect we’d see an even more dramatic pattern if we could look back all the way to Katrina. The first big spike on this chart corresponds to Hurricane Gustav.

I used to think this reflected a general decline in my overall relevancy, and perhaps it does. When I became a parent I had less time to read other blogs and that might also be a factor. But I’m also inclined to recognize the rise of Facebook and other social media and the general decline in blog-reading.

Social Media, Social Justice

Twitter Revolt Logo (burst)

After the Beyond Jena forum in January of 2009, I had the idea for putting together a one-day conference on the intersection of social media and social justice.

Alas, though I blew some hot air around the office, I never actually did it. A combination of distractions and personal lethargy (on my part) got in the way. I allowed the idea to languish while we looked for grant money to fund it, when in reality we could probably have done the whole thing on a shoestring.

But that’s all water through the spillway now. I’m looking forward to Rising Tide VI, and I may have a chance to program a panel on this topic.

Much as I’d like to think the title of this post says it all, perhaps I should unpack it a little. Social Media, Social Justice. More and more people around the world use blogs and social network services. Their power to connect people and publish diverse voices raises questions about the possibility of using new media as organizing tools for social change. For example, blogs played a crucial role in organizing protests in Jena, Louisiana, in 2007. I’m interested in examining the intersection and interaction of social media with the struggle for a more just and humane society. Do tools such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, et cetera, facilitate such work, and if so how? What are some concrete examples? We’ve all heard about the revolution in Egypt, but what’s going on locally? I’m also interested in critical perspectives. Does social media actually impede the struggle for justice? Are we just “amusing ourselves to death” (to borrow a phrase from Neil Postman)? Does new media present a new opportunities, or do we face the same issues as ever?

I have some ideas about who to ask to sit on the panel, but I’m curious to know if any of my readers have any suggestions. Ideally I’m looking for people who are equally versed in both halves of the equation. In other words, tech-savvy activists and socially conscious geeks, as well as scholars who have studied this issue. We’re looking for local folks with a New Orleans connection, so we can keep it real and relevant to the focus of the conference. Also we don’t have funds to support travel. Exceptions could be made for an exceptional speaker. Above all participants should be able to speak to the issue with passion and intelligence.


Twitter Revolt Logo (burst) / to the People All Power / BY-NC 2.0

HuffPo Rip-Off

The Lattice Dance

Ross Luippold & Carol Hartsell of Huffington Post used a photo of mine in their allegedly humorous feature, Eight Rejected Prom Themes.

How dare they!

I publish my photos on Flickr under a Creative Commons attribution license. All they have to do to be legal is give me credit. They don’t have to pay me. They don’t even have to ask me. Just give a little credit. But they couldn’t even do that. How pathetic.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what a proper attribution might look like. This could take different forms depending on context. This was generated via OpenAttribute, a tool I use daily which “makes it ridiculously simple for anyone to copy and paste the correct attribution for any CC licensed work.”

Prom 2 / Bart Everson / CC BY 2.0

See how easy that was? I think it took me two seconds.

Notice they even went to the trouble of cloning the lattice to make it fit their aspect ratio. Here’s the original if you want to compare.

Prom 2

So they did a fair bit of Photoshop work to set up their gag, but they couldn’t take two seconds to give proper attribution.

Unfortunately this is a pattern of behavior with HuffPo. Within seconds of posting this on Facebook, I heard from my friend Rachel W. who has been similarly ripped off. And I’ve actually been hearing of such shenanigans for a long time. It’s the kind of stuff I’d expect from a amateur blogger like myself, not a venture that was purchased for $315 million earlier this year.

Just so it’s clear, perhaps I should spell it out in no uncertain terms. Taking someone else’s stuff without permission is thievery. I’ve tried to make it easy for people to use my content, but when they violate the terms of the license under which I’ve published it, that’s thievery too.

All I required out of the transaction was to be given credit. Deny me that, and you’re stealing.

What to do? My friend Kelly S. (an attorney herself) recommends: “They deserve to receive some strongly worded letters written by an attorney willing to go further, if needed.”

Do I have any lawyer friends out there who feel like shooting off a C&D?

PS: Thanks to my old friend Kevin K. for spotting this.

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.

Strictly Narcissistic

Strictly for archival purposes: Here’s a snapshot of how my blog looks on the morning of March 14, 2010. This is the main page, showing the twenty (I think) most recent posts.


Of course, this is an absurdly tall and skinny image, 762 pixels wide by 22,721 pixels tall. If you want to see any detail you’ll have to look at the full size.

Footnote: The last time I posted a tall ‘n’ skinny pic was in celebration of hitting 666 friends on Facebook. Today’s post just so happens to be ID #6666. Spooky eh what?

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 2

In April, 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 tell five separate 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 second of the five stories. I welcome any feedback.


The American Zombie blog began on July 5, 2006, with a strident assertion.

I believe that as a patriot and one who loves this country, the best way I can honor it is to exercise the 1st [amendment] as much as possible. And perhaps to recognize that what we really have to fear, is those who would spread fear and manipulate it to their own end. The truth will set us free…I would like to find it.

To that end…I start this blog to help myself wake-up.

From that day on, the blogger known as Ashe Dambala has been waking up a whole bunch of people in the Greater New Orleans area. He didn’t waste any time getting down to business either. In his third post, just three weeks after the blog was launched, he dropped his first big bombshell, accusing Greg Meffert, former Chief Technology Officer for the City of New Orleans of influence peddling and other shenanigans.

I missed out on this first round of intrigue, because my wife and I were caught up in our own personal trauma. And, to tell you the truth, I’ve always found the American Zombie tough to follow. It’s a dark blog, scary and worrisome, full of dark allusions, full of esoteric knowledge and insider information, attributed to anonymous sources. I think a certain level of familiarity with the subject matter (which I don’t have) is a prerequisite to actually understanding the intimations and accusations on offer. Most of it is simply over my head. But it’s clear that plenty of savvy people understand exactly what’s being posted, and they are often alarmed by it. Sometimes they even want to sue.

For three years Dambala was a figure shrouded in mystery, known only by his net moniker. In case you don’t know, let me quote Wikipedia: “In Vodou… Damballah is the Sky God and considered the creator of all life…. In New Orleans and Haiti he is often depicted as a serpent and is closely associated with snakes.” See how it all fits together? New Orleans, Vodou, Zombies — one might expect the subject matter of this blog to be magic or religious experience. Au contraire. The Zombie’s stock-in-trade has been and remains dirty politics, or more specifically, public corruption.

In some ways Dambala provides a stark contrast to my previous subject, Karen Gadbois. He is (or was) anonymous and obscure; Karen was always transparent. Yet at their heart I believe Ashe Dambala and Karen Gadbois share certain core values. They both exemplify the idea of the citizen journalist. Both have drawn attention to corruption. Both have both invigorated the local journalistic milieu. And that’s why they’ve both been recognized with the highest award of the NOLA blogosphere, the Ashley Morris Award.

I hope to write more about Ashley, and Rising Tide, later. At this juncture, it’s just worth recounting the circumstances surrounding Dambala’s recognition at Rising Tide IV. Many were curious to see his true identity revealed, but they were disappointed, or perhaps amused, when Jacques Morial accepted the award on Dambala’s behalf. There were some who were more irritated than amused, in particular a couple of attorneys who’d attended the event specifically to confront Dambala. They said they wanted to bring suit for libel regarding some information he posted on the American Zombie. They had several “large and beefy individuals” in tow, a move which was generally perceived as an intimidation tactic by those in attendance.

And so it came to pass that Dambala gave it up in the pages of the Times-Picayune, to short-circuit the accusation that he was hiding behind his anonymity. His real name? Jason Berry. I did a double take, as did many readers, I’m sure. I knew that name. Berry co-directed the important and ambitious documentary film, Left Behind, which Xy and I saw in 2006.

But back to that TP article from August, 2009. Molly Reid sums up Dambala’s importance nicely:

In New Orleans, perhaps fittingly, the battle between blogger and subject comes in the arena of alleged City Hall corruption, which Berry says he hopes to help expose. His blog American Zombie has focused on City Hall contracts, especially the technology contracts, such as those for the city’s crime camera program, along with the Mayor Ray Nagin free trips to such exotic locales as Hawaii. He has repeatedly scrutinized former city technology chief Greg Meffert — now under investigation by the feds — and the array of companies he is connected with.

A couple months later, Greg Meffert (and Linda Meffert and Mark St Pierre) were indicted on 63 counts by the U.S. Attorney’s office. A year after that, Meffert pleaded guilty to a fraud and bribery conspiracy charge. The Times-Picayune credited itself for breaking the Meffert story in an article from September of 2006 about a certain yacht. But that came out a couple months after the Zombie’s first Meffert story — which also mentioned the yacht. Not to split hairs, but It seems to me that’s where Meffert “first came under scrutiny.”

Update #1: According to Dambala himself, “the TP was actually reporting on the yacht before me, I was the one who broke the credit card, trips, interoperability system and I was writing about the crime cameras a month before it reached da paper.”

As for the attorneys who were threatening to sue Dambala? I don’t know what happened to them.

Update #2: According to Dambala, “On the lawsuit, I met with the city attorney and his wife who were threatening the suit at my lawyer’s office. They decided to drop the suit and I agreed to publish whatever letter they wanted on my site….” For more details see the comments section.

I have to thank local blogger Liprap, aka Leigh Checkman, for pointing me to some key resources to help me construct this account, such as it is. For example there’s this panel, sponsored by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Jason Berry shares the dais with Kevin Allman (Gambit) and Campbell Robertson (New York Times); ironically enough the blogger is the only guy who went to journalism school. The video is worth watching if you’re interested in journalism generally and in New Orleans in particular. In it we learn that the American Zombie functions as a sort of “reporter’s notebook,” a way of sharing both original documents and (sometimes) unverified gossip for comment and scrutiny.

We also get this choice quote from Berry/Dambala:

There are writers that write for the paper and then there are journalists which I think are investigative journalists. And I think that those guys are a little off, and I’m one of them. Because they become completely obsessed with getting to the truth, and you have to be that way.

As well as this gem:

I’m pretty much a professional a-hole, in my blog.

See? He’s a professional.

Liprap thinks “he’s definitely become more sophisticated with his writing and storytelling as time has gone on, especially with regards to the recent City Hall real estate records series he’s been publishing in serialized form on Humid Beings.” I have to agree. If you haven’t read this, it starts here.

EZ Facebook Hack

My friend James called me this afternoon and asked if “the iPad thing” was for real. I had no idea what he was talking about. He quickly informed me of my latest Facebook status update, and when I got home I saw it with my own two eyes:

Finally got my iPad from that site! 5 days ago I signed up at [link redacted] as a tester and today I got my iPad. All you need to do is to tell them your opinion about iPad and you can keep it forever. You should hurry since i highly doubt this is gonna last forever

Was my account hacked? Not exactly. That is, I don’t think my password was compromised. It seems this status update was sent via Facebook mobile, which I’d set up a week or two ago. That allows me to update my Facebook status via text message, as with Twitter. The fatal flaw? My mobile phone number is readily available via my Facebook profile. Anyone who can fake a text message from that number can update my status. Seems like a big and obvious security hole, so I expect to see plenty more of this exploit.

I deleted the status update, and I’ve taken the rudimentary step of setting my mobile phone to be visible to “Only Me” in my Facebook privacy options. Previously it had been available to “Friends and Networks.”

As for the link included in the bogus status update, it takes you to a site called Your Reward Inside which tries to collect personal information from prospective iPad “testers.” The site is listed on Scam Checker Report. The site is dissected a bit more on Mea Vita.

Don’t fall for this, friends.

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I was just coming home from the first real parade of the carnival season, fired up and aglow with the love, and I get online and I check my e-mail and I find myself on Facebook, looking at a kindly invitation to enjoy the next night’s diversions, looking at the profile of a friend, and I can’t help but notice his significant other is not listed — and the reason is fairly obvious. Even in our present day and age, homosexual relationships are not acknowledged and accepted in many circles. So I go to the kitchen for a late snack, and skim the paper’s entertainment supplement, and read of a documentary about how gay carnival krewes pioneered gay rights in this country well before Stonewall. And ultimately I can’t help feeling a deep sense of outrage: What is wrong with people? I remain forever committed to the idea that all is permitted, so long as we’re not hurting anyone.