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.

zombieWEB1.0

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.

10K Classroom

This photo just turned over 10,000 views on Flickr.

New Classroom

This is the fourth such photo of mine to achieve such popularity — and thus far all of them feature Xy. Only two are sort of vaguely cheesecakey. One you can’t even tell if it’s a man or a woman or what. And in none of them can you see her face. So I tell her not to get a swelled head.

This particular photo, “New Classroom,” I took in December of 2005. I was helping Xy set up her new classroom at Eisenhower Elementary. She felt fortunate to have landed that job so shortly after all public school teachers here were fired. I didn’t have anything better to do than help her get set up, since the University where I work was still closed for repairs. Actually this photo was taken on a Saturday afternoon, but the point’s still relevant. I’d spent several days pilfering her old school for supplies to bring to the new school.

At the time, I was more excited about getting our generator hooked up, and so I never posted this photo here. But it’s been posted plenty of other places.

See for example:

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As of this moment, it’s my 25th most “interesting” photo, my 4th most viewed and 3rd most favorited. As one might discern from that final link, the photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, allowing people to use it for whatever they like at no cost.

Sometimes Creative Commons is not enough. Flickr partnered with Getty Images some time ago, and I’ve had at least one request to license this image commercially. However, I found the paperwork to be onerous. A “model release” is easy enough; Xy will sign anything I stick under her nose. But a “location release”? Are you kidding me? Let’s see, this is a public school run by the Algiers Charter Schools Association. Xy no longer works there and the principal has moved on as well. Who would I even ask? Why would I even bother?

As for explaining the popularity of this image, I think it has to do with the motion blur. Not only does it lend a sense of energy to the photo, it anonymizes and generalizes. Xy becomes every teacher in this picture.

I wish I could say I planned it that way, but in reality I just hate taking flash photos. I knew if I turned off the flash and braced the camera on a solid surface I’d get a decent shot. It kind of bugs me that the desk legs are out of frame at the very bottom. But, all in all, I’m happy with this photo, and I’m curious to see if its popularity will continue.

Fixed Vote = No Vote

Fixed Vote = No Vote

This sign is on a house on Canal Street. I’m not sure but I strongly suspect this may have been placed by a guy calling himself shaman_nation who popped up on the Mid-City discussion group and started posting the most inane conspiracy drivel I’ve ever read.

He’d post some links and then add:

But, I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of stuff we need to worry about before the FIXED VOTE…

IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE FACT THAT WE HAVE NO REAL VOTE AND NO WAY TO CONTROL A GOVERNMENT THAT HAS GONE MAD WITH POWER AND GRAFT.

One neighbor very politely tried to make the point that such assertions were off-topic.

Imagine you’re at a meeting in which everyone is dicussing agenda items relavant to How to Fry Bananas. And you are stand on your chair shouting about DOOR WAYS !!! DOOR WAYS !!!!

Does that make any sense, to shout about door ways in a meeting about frying bananas?

This email group or listserv is about the quality of life in MidCity. Crime stats, zoning, water main leaks, what number to call when VooDoo parkers block your driveway, etc. Not about affecting changes in how this country’s Government operates.

Also, please stop shouting. ALLCAPS is generally considered the equivolant of shouting and in a forum such as this listserv is considered rude.

Of course he had one answer for all such criticism. He accused them of being part of the conspiracy.

Thanks for the lying scam BS about all caps…

Oh, that’s right MID CITY IS THE ONLY PLACE IN THE US WHERE THE VOTE ISN’T FIXED.

SURELY, THE FIXED BLACK BOX VOTE THAT HAS BEEN PROVEN DOESN’T EFFECT MID CITY.

There’s a mix IT’S NOT ALL CAPS. JUST LIKE THE BS YOU POSTED TO SCAM PAST A FIXED VOTE.

LOL, bananas… we are voting on bananas… SURELY A FIXED VOTE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BANANAS OR ANYTHING THAT SUPPOSEDLY COMES TO A VOTE.

AMAZING, There always seems to BE SOME REASON THE FIXED BLACK BOX VOTE NEEDS TO BE IGNORED.

Fascists, that need to be on trial for Crimes Against Humanity, and since WE ARE AT UNOFFICIAL WAR – based on lies/torture/rendition/etc – TREASON via subversion of the vote. THE ONLY POWER THE PEOPLE HAVE.

These exchanges led Michael to post the following which still cracks me up:

Since MCNO is now the forum for voting conspiracy theory, I would like to add that I have some serious questions about the Kennedy assassination. Single bullet? YOU ARE FOOLING YOURSELVES PEOPLE OF MID-CITY!!!. I also have good evidence that the annual Mid-City bonfire that used to be so much fun was squashed not because of permits, but because of secret documents Lee harvey Oswald buried in the walls of Thurgood Marshall (Beauregard) UNEARTHED DURING THE RESTORATION POST FLOOD which proved that Jacqueline Kennedy choked Marilyn Monroe with a banana purchased from Mr Okra. I SAID IT—MR OKRA!!!!!

Need I add that the URLs on the sign don’t work?

Facebook = Beast

Just noticed I have exactly 666 “friends” on Facebook.

666

Damnation. Now I can’t add anymore friends unless someone unfriends me. Because, of course, I am an ardent hexakosioihexekontahexaphile.

Update: It took me a while to figure out how to save an image showing all 666 “friends.” (Abduction by Rowan Lewis proved to be the key.) The resultant image is over 14,000 pixels tall, so view at your peril.
Continue reading “Facebook = Beast”

What’s Up with FeedBurner

Folks who subscribe to e-mail updates for this blog (via Feedburner) may have noticed they aren’t coming regularly. This problem has been ongoing for about a week and I really have no idea why.

Antisocial Networking

Here’s what I want: A social media platform which allows me to connect only to people who don’t know me in real life. As soon as we meet “in the flesh” we’re disconnected online. Yeah, that would be cool.

When I started my blog, very few people read it, and many of the those who did were people I never met in real life. In essence they became a second tier of quasi-friends, cyber-only friends if you will. Now my mom and dad read my blog, and my mother-in-law and father-in-law, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s constraining in a way I didn’t feel back six years ago.

(Oops, make that seven years ago. Have I really been blogging that long. I guess so.)

Social media has evolved since then. Now there’s much more emphasis on recreating one’s real life networks online. But there’s some value in the virtual network too. I still have a number of cyber-friends that I’ve never met in real life, and I have a passel of folks I know primarily through the ether though we might rub elbows on rare occasions. They feel like an extension of my own mind, in some weird way.

Part of the joy of communication is complaining, bitching, moaning and whining, and the primary object of such bellyaching is other people, and all the important people in what is laughingly known as my “real” life follow me on Twitter or Facebook or read my blog, so I can’t really vent without hurting these people’s feelings, and as we all know I may be a jerk but I’m not that much of a jerk.

Moreover, I seem to have a compulsion to communicate, to write about what’s going on in my life and share it with others, but I don’t necessarily need social media to share with real-life friends. Tried and true methods like conversation seem adequate to that purpose.

And so I wish there was a social network that allowed me to share only with strangers, and blocked anyone who knows me in real life.

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 1

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. This, then, is the first of five stories. I welcome any feedback.

Karen is a Terrorist

I still remember the first time I met Karen Gadbois. It was at a recovery meeting in Gert Town back in May of 2006. I even wrote about it — the meeting, that is. I didn’t write about the crazy lady bending my ear. I didn’t know her name at the time but I’m pretty sure it was Karen who left this comment on that same post:

you have to go just to witness..it is like a farce played out as a drama with great lines tossed out by those who know..and the ones that wished they knew and the ones that hope you don’t know..i believe we should jam the process by over attending..go to every meeting for every district..pack the place..

Of course ultimately it turns out Karen wasn’t so crazy after all. She was pissed off and paranoid, as was I, as was everyone with half a brain.

Over the next year, I got to know Karen better. She started a blog called Squandered Heritage, with a first post on August 15, 2006. (Actually the original site was called Blighted New Orleans, but the Squandered Heritage title was suggested in the discussion on that very first post.) I have to admit I didn’t quite get the concept at first, but in retrospect Karen’s focus was clear. She was concerned with what she saw as a rush to demolish many buildings too quickly, destroying cultural assets without due consideration of alternatives. With great rapidity she began posting photographs of many homes that were slated for demolition. She was also an outspoken critic of plans for a drugstore at a prominent intersection, plans which would have required substantial waivers from the City’s regulations. She labored in relative obscurity, at first, though an editorial by Bryan Batt labeled such efforts as borderline terrorism.

By the summer of 2007 Karen’s work was getting some attention. Then the city published a list of over 1,700 properties that were designated as “imminent threats” to public safety, in need of immediate demolition, circumventing whatever legal process was in place. Some of these houses were truly unsalvageable wrecks, but some were in pretty good shape. Meanwhile, plenty of houses in danger of collapse were not on the list. My next-door neighbor was on the list, much to his shock and alarm. It was maddening. Karen and her compatriots were documenting the madness; local bloggers (such as Ashley Morris, about whom more later) helped by constructing interactive maps from the demolition lists or writing about the issue on their blogs.

The corporate media continued to ignore the story, locally. But then in August the Wall Street Journal ran an article on their front page, and so at last the issue got some local press, and (perhaps?) a measure of sanity was restored to the process.

Fast forward another year. In the summer of 2008, Karen began asking questions about New Orleans Affordable Housing (NOAH) on her blog. At first, it looked as if the City was allocating FEMA money to NOAH to gut and remediate houses, and later spending more FEMA money on demolishing the same houses. But it turned out to be much worse than that. Karen discovered that many NOAH houses hadn’t been worked on at all. But someone was certainly collecting the money.

Local television reporter Lee Zurik picked up the story from Karen. The mayor resisted fiercely, but soon the FBI was involved and NOAH was shut down. Here’s an excerpt from a story in the NY Times:

The F.B.I. on Monday raided the agency running the program, the local United States attorney announced last week he was investigating, and Mayor C. Ray Nagin, hauled grudgingly before the City Council, complained about what he called “amateur investigations,” a reluctant nod to Ms. Gadbois and her followers in the news media.

The investigative work of Karen and Lee garnered some awards, including a Peabody and an Investigative Reporters and Editors’ IRE Medal.

Here’s what Zurik had to say about Gadbois and bloggers in New Orleans (Where Yat):

They’re a valuable part of our community because first of all, they’re opinionated and they pay attention to everything. Where the media sometimes doesn’t get to watch over everything, they become another watchdog of what’s going on. It’s important. In the NOAH story, we got our initial tip from a blogger, Karen Gadbois (www.squanderedheritage.com), which shows the value and importance of that community. It’s different from what we do. We have to get both sides or we should. We should be objective. It’s different but they have still become an important piece of the city and how the city functions. I go to a handful every couple days just to see. For me, it’s good as a reporter. You want to get a sense of what people are thinking and what people are feeling in the community you cover . . . It’s obviously not the feeling of everyone here, but it gives you a sense of what some are thinking and feeling, and that helps on a daily basis when you do cover the news and try to decide what to cover and what not to cover.

Personally, I’m amazed at the tenacity Karen showed in pursuing her leads and sticking by her guns. When she started she didn’t have much support. Neighborhood activists are often dismissed as nutty, even by people who should know better (see above). It’s a real challenge to keep after something like this day after day, year after year, when the powers that be are arrayed against you. Karen’s courage and determination make her a hero for me and many others.

Karen has gone on to found The Lens with Ariella Cohen. It’s the first nonprofit journalism venture in the city of New Orleans.

Goals

I’m not much for resolutions but I do have some goals for this year.

  • Finish ROX #96. Really need to wrap this one up. It’s been four years since our last episode. Where has the time gone?
  • Prepare a presentation on “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans” for the AERA 2011 SIG IT. I mentioned this a couple months ago and I will be sharing my research as it progresses. Stay tuned.
  • Complete the Wheel of the Year. I don’t mean just surviving the calendar year, though I aim to do that as well. Rather I’m talking about completing a series of celebrations which began last year at Lammas or maybe Beltane. I’m not really sure. I don’t remember what, if anything, we did for Midsummer. Anyway, I want to complete the cycle and see where that gets me.

Is that all? I’m sure there should be some other stuff listed here, like our annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor. But I like a short list.

In Praise of Audio

I’ve produced quite a bit of video in my day — well over a hundred programs, though probably less than a hundred hours all told. I don’t do much video production these days, but I’m called upon routinely to advise people who want to make a video, or think they do.

My most frequent advice: don’t.

That’s because, most of the time, what people really want is audio. In most of the cases I encounter, the subject in question is a single speaker, or perhaps a panel discussion. What is the crucial component there: a static view of the speaker’s head, or the words that are being said? If you said the latter, congratulations, you’re right.

We can prove this with a simple thought experiment. Imagine you’re watching a video of someone making a speech about a topic that is simply fascinating to you. Imagine that it’s poorly shot. It’s dim, and the image is grainy, and the camera is shaking all over the place in a way that induces nausea. But by some miracle the audio track is pristine — crystal clear — you can hear every word in the highest fidelity.

That’s a good video. Even though it’s bad. Back in the days of analog TV broadcasts, people would squint through fuzzy reception as long as they could hear what was going on.

Now, by contrast, imagine the reverse. The image is crystal clear, the lighting is beautiful, you can see every twinkle in the speaker’s eye in high definition. But the sound is off. The mic wasn’t plugged in, or something. It’s muffled, barely audible.

That’s a bad video. Do you get my point?

In short, for many programs, the audio is the most important component. Obviously there are exceptions, programs where the audio is virtually irrelevant. Sports come to mind. But for the vast majority of programming, the audio is more important than the video.

People think they want video because it’s got a certain techno-luster. Video is, in the common parlance, sexy. Good video can indeed convey crucial information with great economy and clarity. But by the same token, producing good video is hard work. Even producing a bad video is hard work. Trust my years of experience when I say that for most people, most of the time, it ain’t worth it.

Even if you’re willing to do some work, it may be counter-productive. Video is such a headache, and such a distraction, that all the effort gets sucked into the video aspect, and the audio is totally neglected.

Also, remember the following: No one really wants to watch your video anyway. Life’s too short. But they might just put your audio recording on their iPod and give it a listen during their morning jog.

So I advise people to focus on what’s really important, and aim for a decent audio recording instead.

The advantages of focusing on audio are manifold. Audio tools are cheaper than video. Working with audio is easier, both in production and post-production. Moving audio around is easier. You can buy a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder for about $140, and you will have a recording device that is easy to use and produces really good recordings in the form of digital files which you can transfer to your computer via USB.

Perhaps most important of all, audio is doable.

So: forget the video, and focus on the audio; you might actually get a quality product.

Moderation in All Things

After much dithering and even more mulling, I’ve decided to implement a new policy regarding comments on this blog. From this point forward, I’ll be moderating all comments. In other words, until I approve a comment, it won’t appear here for public view.

In the past, this was semi-automated. Certain posts would be flagged for moderation, but most comments from actual human beings (as opposed to automated spambots) would just come right through.

I’m a big fan of the first amendment and freedom of speech, but that applies to the public sphere. This blog is akin to a personal newsletter, privately published by yours truly, primarily to gratify myself through narcissistic ego-tripping. I enjoy sharing with others, and hearing back from readers. However, this not a constitutional forum and has never functioned as such.

So far, I’ve been fortunate to have a base of readers who are extraordinarily respectful and thoughtful, with very few exceptions over the years. But this being the wide open internet, there’s no guarantee that such good behavior will continue. Someone could post a death threat here tomorrow. I’d feel pretty bad about that.

Given the highly personal nature of my writing, and the fact that I now have progeny to worry about, it just doesn’t seem wise to leave this venue wide open for any and all to say whatever they want.

So I’m going to exercise some prior restraint. Actually, prior restraint is a technical term, and I’m probably using it incorrectly. What I mean to say is that all comments will be held for review from this point on. Given the generally low volume of comments here, I don’t think this will be overly burdensome.

Inquiring minds will wonder what sort of criteria I will use to separate the wheat from the chaff. I regard the comment section here as akin to a discussion in my living room. That’s the level of decorum and civility I hope to see. Any dialog that I wouldn’t tolerate in my living room will also not be tolerated here. Negative examples include:

  • Blatant spam
  • More subtle varieties of spam
  • Hate speech
  • Threats of violence
  • Incoherent ranting

That’s not an exhaustive list, just some ideas off the top of my head.

Let me also make clear this isn’t about shutting down oppositional viewpoints. I love hearing from people who disagree with me. I enjoy a good challenge to my deeply held convictions. Longtime readers can vouch for this.

But make no mistake — by exercising prior restraint (or whatever the correct term might be) I may actually be taking on a greater level of culpability. Since I am manually approving everything, the legal view might be that I am tacitly endorsing what you write. Therefore, I will err on the side of caution. If you don’t come correct, your comment will not be approved. You will not be notified. Your words will softly and suddenly vanish away. That’s all. There will be no recourse, no appeal. If you don’t like the policy, you are of course free to start your own blog.

Hopefully I’ve been clear and this makes sense to everyone. If you have questions, you can post a comment.

Five Biggest NOLA Blog Stories

I’m going to be making a presentation to a special interest group at the American Educational Research Association’s upcoming conference.

My topic? Blogging in post-Katrina New Orleans.

My idea is to recount five or so of the biggest stories to emerge from the local blogosphere since the flooding of the city in 2005. I mean “stories” in the broadest possible sense, not just investigative journalism or any other narrow conception of the term.

So I’ve compiled my list, but I thought this might be a fun game to play — and also a helpful reality check for me. What are the top five stories in your opinion? I will share mine in due time but I’d really like to see what people say independently first.

I would love to hear your take, and as I said it will help me as I prepare my talk.

Finding a Grave

We went looking for this grave after seeing a request on Find a Grave.

Witsell

After some help from “Big Bad John” at the cemetery office, we found it. (The office for Cypress Grove is across City Park Avenue in Greenwood Cemetery.) Turns out I could have just gone to the website and done the search myself.

I took a photo, posted it, and quickly got a note of thanks from the requester in South Carolina.

An old friend from high school, Georgie, pointed me to Find a Grave after noticing that we seem to visit the local cemeteries a lot. And it’s true — since we moved a year a go we’re closer the city’s big cluster of thirteen or so cemeteries. They’re closer than the park, very peaceful, and plenty interesting. Persephone likes to look for “fall down flowers” and put them back in their vases. I just enjoy the general atmosphere. If I can also take a photograph that will help someone in a remote place with their family tree, that just adds to the fun.

I did notice that the Cypress Grove and Greenwood Cemeteries were both much more crowded than usual, probably because All Saints Day is approaching. It falls on a Monday this year. All Saints is still a big deal in this Catholic city, a time to remember ancestors and spruce up the family tomb. It used to be a holiday at the University, but it seems to have fallen off the calendar in recent years. Xy also works for a Catholic school, yet they aren’t taking the day off either. That’s a shame in my opinion.

My Cake Explodes

All of a sudden I’m getting a surge of traffic to this old photo of my birthday cake from 1984.

Rated R Cake

I trace the hits back to a tweet from a journalist in Paris (with a Troll 2 background no less) named Alex Hervaud. Dude’s got 6,718 followers. Here’s the tweet:

Si j’avais fêté mes 17 ans aux States, et si je m’étais appelé Bart, j’aurais kiffé qu’on m’offre ça http://bit.ly/9Q1DXI

My French is a little rusty (as in nonexistent) but Google Translate tells me this means, roughly:

If I celebrated my 17 years in the States, and if I had called Bart, I’m offered that I kiffe http://bit.ly/9Q1DXI

OK, I think I get the general idea. Still, something seems to be lost in translation. The message in question was retweeted by two other people. So there must be some humor I’m missing.

And what does kiffe mean? According to the infamous Urban Dictionary:

Kiffe comes from an arab word (kef) which means to like, to enjoy, a pleasure… which has been “imported” into France by North African people… and became “kiffe”.
It simply means “to really enjoy someone or something!”
e.g: I kiffed that trip!
I would kiffe to meet her;
She really is kiffable
What a kiffe to drive that car!

Because it comes from some sort of French suburb slang (langage des cités), but is now used by everyone (though it is still ‘slangish’), you can use it how you want to!

There are also some sexual definitions for kiffe, but I’m going with the one cited above. After all, my mom made that cake, so let’s keep it clean — eh, M. Hervaud?

Domain Games

There’s a certain domain name of which I am part owner, the other owner being my friend in Missoula. This domain is a three-letter dot-com and as we all know there are a limited number of those, therefore they have a certain value. I’m not naming the domain here, but I think the perceptive reader can figure it out.

A friend helped us register this domain back in the early nineties, when it was free. Since then, we have used it for a legitimate purpose; we are not cybersquatters.

Over the years, as the registered owner, I have gotten frequent inquiries about selling the domain. Most of these inquiries are not credible. They most often in the form of a one-liner e-mail, “Hey, you wanna sell that?” They rarely offer a price; it’s more common for them to ask me, “How much you want for that?” I find that sort of approach annoying and unprofessional.

Three years ago, my partner and I talked about actively seeking to sell the domain. We share a sentimental attachment to the domain, and I use it daily, but it’s the content that matters more than the address. We could move that content to another domain. We are not making money off the domain, and if someone else has a plan to do that, why not sell it and reap a little profit?

So we discussed it and came up with a price that we both found acceptable. My partner did most of the work in terms of research and arranging for an auction. But for some reason which eludes me now, we never went through with it.

Fast-forward to the present. Monday morning I got a voicemail and an e-mail from a broker looking to buy the domain, and they actually named a price — $10,000. I responded politely that the domain was not for sale. Soon I got a follow-up offer which was five times the original. I still said no. The broker made a third offer of $60K and asked “what price it would take” for us to part with the domain. I named the price my partner and I had cooked up three years ago. Now the broker wanted to know why our price was so high. She revealed their “dedicated pricing team” had appraised the domain. I won’t mention the figure here but it was substantially higher than her best offer but also much lower than our asking price.

$60K may sound like a lot of money, but keep in mind the broker would take a cut, and then my partner and I would split it, and then we’d have to pay taxes on it. I’d be lucky to see $20K. That’s still a good chunk of change, I suppose, but a dollar is definitely not what it used to be. As a matter of comparison, a couple years ago I pissed away $10K on the stock market, our tax refund this year was $9K, and Xy recently took a $20K pay cut. More money is always welcome, but I know we could absorb $20K into our annual living expenses and not even really notice.

My partner’s financial situation may be different, of course, and I need to be sensitive to that. Still, I don’t regret saying no yesterday. When I told Xy I’d turned down an offer of $60K for the domain, her response was “One million dollars, and not a penny less! Tell ’em your crazy wife said so!” I think if we sell the domain it should be on our terms, as a result of proactively seeking to sell it, rather than waiting for a deal to fall into our laps. That would seem the best way to assure we get a good price. But what do I know? I’m simply not motivated at this point to do the work necessary. And if we are unable to sell it for the price we desire, I am willing to accept that.

Coincidentally, as I was responding to these inquiries, I was also trying to untangle a confusing and messy situation regarding a domain name that belongs to a local civic organization. My head was abuzz with domain names and other contingencies and by the end of the day I was experiencing a bit of cognitive overload. But at least I got a good night’s sleep.

Cliff

I’m an unapologetic narcissist, as most of my writing here will attest. I write mostly about myself and my experiences. Yet for a long while I’ve thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about other people, perhaps as a regular exercise. When I say “good idea,” I mean good for me; I don’t delude myself that I’d be doing my subjects any big favor. I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow through with it, but I’m going to try.

I thought I’d start with someone easy, namely, Cliff.

Cliff

I say Cliff’s “easy” not as some kind of commentary on his moral stature, but because he’s a blogger. That makes it extremely easy for me to write this. All I really have to do is point to his blog: Cliff’s Crib. Go on, check it out, and you will learn far more about Cliff than I could ever tell you. You’ll also learn a good deal more about the current state of New Orleans than you’ll learn here. He writes in a highly personable, engaging and entertaining style, but most importantly he write from the heart, and that comes through in every line.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Cliff won the Ashley Morris Award at Rising Tide 5. He mentioned getting comments from a guy who gave him encouragement and offered to get together and smoke a cigar with him. I gathered that was Ashley himself. I’m not sure if they ever did hang out together, but I can testify that on reading some of Cliff’s posts I’ve wanted to go have a brandy with him. There’s something about his online voice that inspires that sort of response.

I think of Cliff as a friend even though we don’t really know each other except through this medium of writing. That’s odd, but I have my share of people who regard me as a friend because I come into their living rooms via that TV show. Only rarely have we rubbed elbows in real life. I guess I’m really more of a fan. I’ve invited Cliff to participate in two panels here at the University, and he contributed greatly to both. I’m not sure when I first became aware of his blog, but that first panel was in October of 2007, so it must have been some time before then.

I see I’ve manged to turn this into being “all about me” after all. Old habits die hard. So let me just finish by repeating my exhortation to check out Cliff’s Crib.