I’m happy to announce I’m writing a column for Mid-City Messenger. Here’s the first installment: “Happy New Year, Egg Roll Man.”
I was quoted in this recent article by Robert McLendon:
As residents started to trickle back into Mid-City after Hurricane Katrina, people looked at the mess around them and came to a realization: The storm may have been responsible for the wreckage, but the city was broken in many ways long before it made landfall.
Inequality. Exclusion. Low expectations. “It was a wake-up call that there were a lot of longstanding problems that people had just gotten used to,” said Bart Everson, who, along with his wife, was one of the first to return to the neighborhood.
Everson and his neighbors started to meet to talk about how they could change things, how they could make their neighborhood and the city more inclusive. Out of those meetings, and a blog manifesto that Everson cranked out in the early post-storm days, came the neighborhood’s master plan.
The article goes on to detail the disappointing implementation (or lack thereof) of the city’s neighborhood participation program.
But speaking of that grassroots planning process I helped jumpstart, it recently came to my attention that the Mid-City Recovery Plan, drafted by residents in 2006-2007 independently of any government sanction, is in danger of disappearing from the public web.
In the interest of posterity, I’ve uploaded this important historical document to Scribd:
This was true grassroots democracy in action. Did we get everything we wanted? Not by a long shot. Did it make any difference? I’ll let others judge.
Some details of this process were covered in Karl Seidman’s 2013 book, Coming Home to New Orleans: Neighborhood Rebuilding after Katrina. See page 177 ff. The passages about the Mid-City library branch make for especially poignant reading, in light of the recent announcement of its imminent (and thankfully postponed) closure.
People of New Orleans!
In six months we’ll mark the ten year anniversary of the flooding of our city. Already the media machinery is gearing up for all kinds of coverage, and ordinary citizens elsewhere in the country and around the world will be provoked to remember us for a brief moment. They may wonder how we’re doing.
So get ready for that. It seems to me there are two ways to play this. You may wish to:
1) Avoid it as much as possible. Tune it out. Weather the media storm. There was a lot of trauma around that time, and you may prefer not to have those memories stirred. There’s been a ton of books and movies about the subject, and as a rule I’ve avoided them all — except for those I’ve produced myself.
2) Be prepared to talk about it. Have your soundbite ready. I imagine a lot of people will be asking for an assessment of where things stand here in New Orleans. Have we made a full and complete recovery? Be ready to answer that question. Be ready to volunteer your own perspective. I’m certainly not going to tell you what to say, but I hope your answer reflects some of the complications and nuances of reality.
These may seem like mutually exclusive strategies but they’re not, really. You can tune out the media blitz while still answering questions from friends, relatives, visitors, casual acquaintances, and even the odd reporter. In the age of social media, such interactions are easier than ever.
Any other ideas? Forewarned is forearmed.
After many months of procrastination and distraction, this guy’s personal website is available for general public consumption. See it at BartEverson.com — I welcome any and all feedback.
The New Orleans Advocate has a nice story by Andrew Vanacore on the greenway, including a couple quote from yours truly.
Also, here are a a couple items which I should have noted when I posted last week:
- Yes, they are about to start work on the greenway. At last. As the Advocate article notes, it’s been almost nine years since I took my first hike along the Lafitte Corridor. Over the years the project has encountered many setbacks and challenges. I keep pinching myself, but this seems to be really happening.
- Not too long ago, Friends of Lafitte Corridor had their annual board elections. It was a historic moment, as the last of the founding board members rotated off at last because of term limits. I was deeply impressed by the slate of high-quality candidates. In a nutshell, it seems that FOLC is in good hands and there’s a lot of energy and momentum there.
Even more than winning that Hero award, this development has me feeling that FOLC will be around for a while. It’s stunning to me, not to mention gratifying, that something I helped start has taken on a life of its own. Sure, the physical infrastructure of the greenway will be great, but without a living, breathing friends group, it will never reach its full potential. Plenty to do. Rock on, FOLC.
When I got back to New Orleans, I noticed the “Save the Picayune” signs and tee-shirts around town.
With all respect to the good intentions behind this campaign, I feel it’s the wrong approach.
Let me explain why. This could take a minute.
A sick and hateful man killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. My heart goes out to the families of those who have been killed. A community has been wounded, and in some way we are all hurt by such violence. As Maitri notes, we are all in the gutter.
I’m quoted in the this article by the indefatigable R Stephanie Bruno. Continue reading New Orleans bicyclists enjoy improved conditions
I’m mentioned briefly in an article published by The Lens: Homeowner or homeless? St. Louis Street resident fights to hang on to what he has.
Hughes is convinced that the gathering momentum against him stems from backers of the Lafitte Greenway, the linear park planned along the abandoned railroad tracks that parallel the canal across from his home. Bart Everson, president of the Friends of Lafitte Corridor, said that while there have been conversations with Hughes about his use of park space for storing building materials and raising chickens, his house is not targeted by the project.
Indeed, the first I’d heard of this was when Karen Gadbois called me today while I was shopping at a thrift store in Vero Beach. I was only vaguely aware of Lane Hughes as the guy who (apparently) was raising some chickens on the old LIFT site, as I observed during our Greenway Ambassador training day.
I wish him the best of luck.
There is an unfortunate pattern which sometimes emerges in local reportage, wherein community groups are incorrectly depicted as opposed to economic development. In reality, most community groups merely want to be engaged in the development process to ensure the highest quality outcome. I’ve seen it happen before, and so I get a little nervous sometimes.
Happily in this morning’s paper we have a different scenario. It feels like we got out ahead of the story for once. Rather than being framed as obstructionist we are actually taking credit for generating investment. The reality is of course more nuanced than a single newspaper article will convey. I can’t say more without undermining the win, so I’ll shut up. You can read the story, in which I am quoted, and decide for yourself.
And don’t forget to read between the lines.
Continue reading Mid-City Market
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.”
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.
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.
News from around the world certainly has been interesting of late. Unfortunately it shows no sign of letting up. I call that unfortunate because “interesting” usually means “bad” so far as news is concerned. Even when bad news doesn’t affect me directly, it’s troubling and problematic for me in two different ways.
Of course it makes me sad to read of people suffering anywhere, but it’s more than that. Like many people, I often don’t know what to do or how to react. For example, I started following the story about the conflict in Ivory Coast months ago. This was before the revolutions and unrest started sweeping through other parts of Africa and the Middle East. I guess it caught my attention because I’m a fan of the reggae singer Alpha Blondy, who’s from that country. The conflict, revolving around a contested election, dragged on and turned bloody and eventually a lot of people were killed. I think the final death toll was tallied in the thousands. I’m not sure of the factual details. I could look them up, but why bother? In fact, I wonder more and more what is the point of being an informed citizen of the world?
Americans are notoriously uninformed about world events, and I find that aspect of our national character rather depressing; but on the other hand I personally am surrounded by plenty of intelligent people who are quite well informed, and I still have to wonder: Where does it get us? So we know about stuff going on all over the globe. Do we use that information in any kind of meaningful way? For many of us, our participation in civic life begins and ends in the voting booth, with a choice between two highly unsatisfactory candidates. Being aware of a bloody crisis in Ivory Coast doesn’t really factor into that decision at all. I often say voting is the least of our civic duties. Being an informed voter takes time and energy, as does keeping abreast of world events. I’d much rather see people actively engaged in their local community. It’s great if people can do all these things, but in my experience a lot of people are running around busy, busy, busy, overwhelmed by the stresses and demands of modern life. I’m certainly no fan of ignorance, but I’m just saying if you need to tamp down your vociferous news consumption to make time for active engagement, you certainly have my approval.
I was talking about this to MaPó a couple days ago and she turned me on to Kiva Microfunds. I’ve heard about microfinance, and Kiva’s been around for years, but I’ve never investigated this before. So I invested $25 in a loan to a shopkeeper in Uganda. It would have been more “poetic,” or something, to invest in Ivory Coast, but Kiva doesn’t currently have any partners in Ivory Coast. Faith needed that last $25 to complete her loan of $650, so it seemed like a good first-time investment for me. It’s not much but at least it’s some sort of way to be involved globally.
(I hope it’s self-evident that I’m not offering the above as an example of “active engagement” in the “local community.” It’s not. In fact, it’s the opposite. My friend Heather Duke shared a quote from Mother Teresa via Facebook: “Start by helping the person closest to you.” I’m down with Mama T on that one. My local involvements are well-known to anyone who knows me, and those efforts represent an investment of far more than $25, though I primarily give of my time and energy, rather than my money. Localism has to come first, in my view. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I’m advocating we all invest in Kiva while ignoring our neighbors because I that would be a terrible idea.)
The other reason I find world events problematic is more personal and trivial: I constantly feel I should be writing about them here, even though I don’t have anything interesting to say. This is a journal of what’s going on in my life. When I read about a conflict elsewhere in the world, it’s not a part of my direct experience. But it can become an emotional force that impinges upon my consciousness such that I feel I have to account for it. If I leave it out I’m missing a major chunk of my day-to-day thoughts and feelings. Yet I really have nothing of substance to add beyond what’s reported in the media. For me to pontificate on the ramifications of the conflict in Ivory Coast would be the height of foolishness. So I’m left in a quandary, damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
I’m quoted in a story which appeared in yesterday’s New Orleans Picayune. Many thanks to Annette Sisco for a fine writeup.
Continue reading Hike Story in New Orleans Picayune
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.
This caught my eye on the the front page of today’s Times-Picayune:
“It always amazed me that you had these two universities that were right next to each other but they didn’t talk to each other,” Bruno said. “Why do we have two libraries? Why do we have two cafeterias?”
For a brief moment I thought he was talking about Tulane and Loyola. Yeah, I thought to myself, they could really get some efficiency going if only they’d merge operations.
How silly of me.
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.
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.
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.
Two headlines from today’s news caught my eye. Each is bad enough on its own, but taken together they are exponentially more infuriating.
- BP to Challenge Government Estimates of Oil Spilled
“During the disaster, BP did whatever it could to avoid revealing the true flow rate of the spill,” Mr. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a statement.
- After the Spill: Few Signs of Life on Gulf Ocean Floor
Scientists researching the impact of this spring’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are dismayed to find little sign of life at the bottom of the ocean floor, a place that would normally be teeming with sea creatures.
So we learn a couple things.
Now it’s clear why BP was blocking access and obfuscating all attempts to estimate the flow of oil from their well. They’re on the hook for $4,300 per barrel spilled. Futhermore, we now know where all that spilled oil mysteriously disappeared. It’s at the bottom of the Gulf, and everything is dead there.
Of course, I’m not supposed to complain about any of this for fear a moratorium will further damage the local economy which is so dependent on offshore drilling operations.
When I was a teenager, I used to read the comics section of the newspaper on a fairly regular basis. For some reason I’ve gotten into the habit again over the last couple months. The comics have gotten smaller and my eyes have gotten worse. Some of the strips are mildly amusing, while others seem like a waste of paper. I like the form; I like how a miniature story can be conveyed so briefly, with just a few images and words. One thing I find interesting, these days, is how I see general themes of cultural commentary that are common across multiple strips. For example, social media and text massaging are popular targets. Every now and then, one strip or another will drop something that makes me do a double-take.
I have to admit that “Hi and Lois” is not, generally speaking, one of my favorites, but it is certainly familiar. This is a strip I grew up with, and the characters seem almost like distant family members.
So… that brings us to a certain strip that ran last week. Let me recreate the basic plot.
Hi Flagston walks into the living room. He sees his wife sitting in front of their flat-panel television. He asks her, “What are you watching?”
Lois replies, “Nothing!”
Hi seems mildly concerned: “You’re not just saying that, are you?” He notices something isn’t quite right.
Lois answers: “Staring at a blank screen is like meditating.”
That’s right, the television isn’t on.
To top it off, Lois is wide-eyed and smiling, looking vaguely desperate or blissed-out — I’m not sure which.
I believe staring at a blank wall is a practice in Zen Buddhism. I would love to see Brian and Greg Walker explore this new direction for Lois. Maybe she could start busting out some koans (like Zippy the Pinhead) or startling Dawg with a particularly piercing katsu.