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

Pay the Crooks More

I guess I’m in a very small minority with this opinion, but I actually support our Louisiana state legislature’s efforts to give themselves a huge salary increase. It’s not because I think they deserve a reward them for a job well done. It’s not because I like big government or higher taxes. It’s because when I looked into the prospect of running for the legislature myself (yes, I know, ha ha ha) I have to admit the salary was a nonstarter. I understand public service entails some sacrifices, but the pay really is paltry — a joke. What is it, like $23K? Oh, it’s supposed to be a part-time job, but that’s a joke too.

I certainly understand the kneejerk reaction against the pay raise. But I find myself, surprisingly, in the camp that says we get what we pay for, and maybe if the job paid a decent wage we’d getter a better quality of applicant. In any event, if people are frustrated with the incumbents, they should vote them out of office.

Update: I’ve modified my opinion based on learning more about the issue, in so small part from the many fine comments left on this post. I still think some level of pay raise is appropriate, but this is not the way. It’s not being done right; the devil is in the details. Therefore I oppose the legislation as it is currently being proposed.

Recycling Survey

A neighbor alerted me to a recycling survey, from the city’s Dept. of Sanitation, on the department’s website (halfway down the page).

www.cityofno.com/Portals/Sanitation/portal.aspx

It has to be printed and mailed, so I wouldn’t call it an online survey. (A print version, for mailing in, was “prominently” placed in yesterday’s Times-Picayune, on the next-to-last page of the Picayune section.) I printed a copy and started filling it out, but this question stopped me in my tracks:

If the City offered curbside recycling, would you be willing to pay a portion of the cost? If so, how much?

The multiple choice answers range from “Nothing” to “Over $10 per month” with some increments in between.

The reason this give me pause is that we are currently paying a private company $15 per month to pick up our recycling. But how much would we be willing to pay for a City service? I don’t trust this administration, especially when it comes to waste disposal.

Regardless of the trust issue, I feel like municipal recycling should be funded by all taxpayers and available to all residents at no extra charge. Make it easy as possible to participate; that’s the way to get the broadest participation. So I’m checking “Nothing.”

A Walk Around the Block

We took our first stroll around the block yesterday.

Stroll

Many of the sidewalks are impassable, so we had to push the stroller in the street. On Iberville I saw a renovation underway; they were sanding, with clouds of lead-based paint dust going everywhere. (I’ll be placing a call to the city’s Department of Environmental Health tomorrow morning, but who knows if it will do any good.) There are abandoned and crumbling buildings everywhere, and piles of debris make navigation a hazard.

It will certainly be a challenge, raising a child in a disaster zone.

Primarily

I salute the people of Louisiana who made it to the polls Saturday. Obama beat Clinton by a big margin; Huckabee beat McCain.

Locally, a few friends and fellow bloggers were in the running for some Democratic executive committee seats. Karen and Danger won, Michael and Oyster did not. I was also glad to see Ed McGinnis and Deborah Langhoff score victories.

I’m not a Democrat, but I respect what these folks are trying to do — reform the local Democratic party from within. Does it need reforming? I suspect it does. So hats off to them.

Get full primary results from the Secretary of State.

Footnote: One friend suggested that I was abdicating my civic responsibility by not registering Democrat and participating in the party primary. I disagree. I hope some day to be voting in a Green primary here in Louisiana. Greens in Illinois just had their first primary, and by all accounts it went very smoothly — not.

I Got a Golden Letter

We got our “gold letter” from the Road Home today.

The letter states that we did not qualify for any compensation. Or, as they so cleverly phrase it, “your compensation grant was zero.”

This is because they estimate our damage at $34,050.53. Our insurance company paid us $82,294.03. Both these figures are stated in the letter.

Couple interesting things to note:

  1. I think their damage estimate is on the low side. But it does generally bear out my feeling that, unlike so many, our insurance company didn’t screw us.
  2. We did not document our insurance settlement during our initial interview. It’s on my list of documents I need to gather, but I’ve been procrastinating. So they must have contacted our insurer. (Actually I’m not sure of the amount myself, but it sounds about right.) They have it listed as all flood money, but I’m pretty sure that part of that total was from our homeowners policy. A bit odd.

Easy come, easy go. We only applied to the Road Home because Blanco said everyone should. I guess we could appeal their damage estimate, but I doubt we will.

One Year Later

A year ago I gave a speech.

Sadly enough, I could give that speech again today. Not much has changed.

I would have to strike the reference to District Attorney Eddie Jordan — he’s gone. I would lose the line calling for more cops. But other than that, I stand by what I said a year ago, and I’d say it again.

Not much has changed. But really, I didn’t expect much would in just a year. We need deep and lasting change, and that won’t happen quickly.

If you think a march and a rally and some speeches could change a city overnight, or even over twelve months — well, that would be very naïve.

We didn’t march because we nourished some fantasy of sudden transformation. We marched because we were angry and afraid and ashamed. We marched out of an anguish we couldn’t bear alone, so we had to come together for a communal outpouring.

Not much has changed. But there have been some slender shreds of progress.

A year ago, I went to City Hall with thousands of fellow New Orleanians. Today, I went there with a few dozen.

It was one of those New Orleans days where it’s warm in the sunlight but bone-chilling cold in the shade, and City Hall casts a might big shadow.

I didn’t speak. I was a spectator. I watched and listened as Silence Is Violence held a press conference.

Press Conference

They read the names of all the people who have been murdered since January 11, 2007. Different people took turns reading. Everybody read the name of the victim (if known) and their age (if known). Some people read the method of murder too: “John Doe, 25, shot.”

Almost all the victims had been shot.

Jake Speaks

Then Nakita Shavers spoke, and Baty Landis, and Jake Hill, and Ken Foster. All the speakers were interesting, but Baty’s remarks got at the burning question: What progress has been made?

As I said, not much, but Baty highlighted the bright spots while acknowledging the challenges. She was polite and circumspect. She cited a number of public officials who had earned some respect by listening to the concerns of citizens.

Nagin was notable by his absence, both from the press conference and from Baty’s remarks. I heard from Leigh that he was giving a talk about sidewalk repair in the Quarter.

Afterward a guy with a sign that said TRUST JESUS started ranting/preaching while they were continued to read off the 200+ names of murder victims. It was quite disruptive and disrespectful and it just made me want to leave, so I did. As I got on my bike I looked back and saw Jake and some other guy had gotten the TRUST JESUS dude to quiet down. Good for them.

I rode home and painted some baseboards and trim.

Lil Red Gets Married

It’s not all drudgery. We’ve taken some very pleasant breaks from working on the house to visit friends. Today we went to Li’l Red’s wedding in Madisonville. Li’l Red is one of Xy’s co-workers, a young Teach NOLA recruit slugging it out through her first year as a teacher in our public schools. I’d never been to Madisonville before, but I’m always up for a wedding. Still, it was strange to attend a small wedding for someone I don’t really know at all.

Xy wanted me to take a picture so her parents can see how pregnant she is. We used her cameraphone.

Xy at 6 1/2 Months

It’s really not that evident in the picture, but because she’s so petite to begin with, she feels quite large. It’s hard to imagine that she’ll get much, much bigger — but she should, inshalla.

Conflicted

I wish I could take comfort in the unity of our City Council today, as they closed ranks and voted for the redevelopment of our public housing projects. I wish I could believe that the planned redevelopment will truly lead to a more just and humane society, with greater opportunity for all.

But I can’t.

So I find myself wishing that I could embrace the mindset of the protesters: outraged, indignant, furious, sad. I wish I could share their conviction that this is a ruse to further disenfranchise the poor and powerless. At least I could be secure in my righteousness.

But again: I can’t quite share that view.

I’m confused and uncertain and nervous about the whole thing. I have more questions than answers.

It seems ironic that I’m going to be on National Public Radio tomorrow morning talking about this. The show is the Bryant Park Project. I tried to tell Alison, “I’m not sure I’m the best person to speak on this issue. I’m deeply conflicted about all this. I don’t know what to think.” Unfortunately, she ate that up.

Based on a recent blog post, I’m guessing they lean more toward the opposition. I suppose that means I’ll lean slightly toward the establishment… and I hate that.

Maybe if the conversation veers the other way I can keep my anarchist street cred intact.

Update: Well, the conversation did veer the other way, a little. You can listen here. Also I should mention that I got my names confused; I spoke on the phone not to Alison (the host) but to Angela — the same Angela who put a slideshow of my photos online with Village Voice back in the summer of last year.

Oschner Screwed Us

For most of the year a rumor has circulated in our neighborhood regarding the Lindy Boggs Medical Center. That’s the hospital at Jeff Davis and Bienville which old-timers still call Mercy. It’s the same hospital that was knocked out of commission by flooding. Most recently it was in the news when Tenet Health Care sold the property to Victory Real Estate Investments for redevelopment as a massive retail outlet.

After Katrina, when Oschner bought a number of properties from Tenet, they took a pass on the Lindy Boggs facility. And that’s where the rumor comes in: Supposedly, as a part of the big deal between these giants, a covenant was put on the Lindy Boggs facility stipulating that it could not be sold to any health care provider for some number of years.

Standard business procedure, eliminating potential competition. But in a community recovering from a massive disaster, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Lindy Boggs

It was never covered in the media to my knowledge, but that rumor now seems to be confirmed. A group of physicians was poised to buy the facility and re-open it as a hospital. They would have paid what Victory paid. But they couldn’t close the deal, apparently because of the covenant. My source is a doctor who has first-hand knowledge of the deal.

So there you have it. Oschner screwed us. Instead of the restoration of the health care facility we desired, my neighborhood gets a shopping mall. I have friends who work for Oschner, fine people, and I’m sure they provide decent care. It’s all in the past now anyway, water under the bridge. But I’ll never forget.

I’m so angry I could puke.

Roy

Old Roy came over to borrow a shovel today. He owns the house across the street, which he’s still repairing from flood damage lo these many months. Roy just turned 90 last week. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in fifty years, but borrowing a shovel at his age is pretty impressive.

What’s not so impressive are the racist jokes that he loves to crack:

Roy: “Do you know what the AFL stand for?”

Me: “I’m afraid to ask.”

Roy: “Why?”

Me: “Because I’m afraid of what the answer might be.”

Roy: “The AFL is the American Football League.”

Me: “Oh. Yeah.”

Roy: “Only now it’s the African Football League.”

Me: “Uh oh.”

Roy: “You know what the NFL stand for?”

And so on…

I’m not gonna disrespect a 90 year-old man. But damn Roy. Even if I could get down with your aggressively racialized worldview, that joke isn’t even funny.

Third Person Plural

The pundits have been remarking on how nice and polite the race for City Council At-Large has been, but yesterday the attack ads hit the radio.

We also got a mailer from the “City Council Integrity Committee.” (Looks like Varg got it too.) It’s allegedly humorous theme is “Mission: Impossible.” The facts are attributed to LouisianaTruth.com, a site about which Google knows nothing. Strange.

View the front of the mailer, the back, and here’s the inside:

Nagin's Political Mission

This text kind of jumped out at me:

If they succeed in electing HER At-Large,
they will elect her replacement next!

Interesting use of the third person plural. I wonder who “they” are. At first, I thought this was some kind of racial language. But on second glance I think it’s an inept attempt to refer to the politicians pictured at the bottom. I also wonder who the “City Council Integrity Committee” is. Any theories?


Update: My friend Paul in Indiana did the research I was too lazy to do. Here’s what he sent me via e-mail:

This is like the FEMA fake press conference — attribute stories to a site you’ve just made up and filled with your own text as “research”. The site is registered through Godaddy with Updated Date: 14-nov-2007 Creation Date: 04-sep-2007. The registration went through Domains by Proxy which is a domain ownership concealing agency.

They’re trying to be manipulative and clever, but are merely achieving ham-handed disengenousness. Probably because they were in a hurry to spread deception.

Update: Apparently this isn’t the only questionable mailer floating around. See We Could Be Famous.

Three More Votes

We’re voting again Saturday. In the fifth precinct of the fourth ward we’ll have three items on the ballot: Attorney General, Judge, and City Council At-Large.

Attorney General
It’s a Republican named Royal versus a Democrat named Buddy. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. I’m really note sure who I’ll support, but if Royal wins, the Republicanization of Louisiana will be complete.

Judge, Criminal District Court, Section A
I’m inclined to support Laurie White over Juana Marine Lombard solely on the strength of Dangerblond’s advocacy. However, for those who like to think for themselves, Silence Is Violence has a forum planned for Wednesday, November 14, 6:30pm at the Sound Cafe (2700 Chartres).

Councilmember at Large
Oooh. The tough one. Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson versus Cynthia Willard-Lewis. They’re both old-school New Orleans politicians. Willard-Lewis is a district councilmember now. Clarkson was a district councilmember for many years; she ran for this at-large seat in the last election but lost. They are both “part of the problem.” If their leadership was really so great, then New Orleans would be in better shape now. We need fresh blood.

I was inclined to support Willard-Lewis because her victory would create a vacancy in District E and thus we might get some fresh blood there. (But Michael said I should be careful what I wish for.) Rumors abound that she’s under investigation by the feds, that she’s actually wearing a wire now. The extremely cynical calculation is that we should vote for her because if she goes down, we’ll have two new slots on the council. I forget where I read that. I’m not sure I can roll like that.

Questions about Willard-Lewis’ role in Garbagegate [TM] have made me reconsider. But those questions were raised in my mind largely by the Times-Picayune, which paper today endorsed Clarkson. Can I really trust the Picayune’s coverage on this issue?

Right-Wing Nutjob

Yesterday I referred to Bobby Jindal as a “right-wing nutjob.” I regret that, as I prefer not to call names. I got carried away.

I should have said that he seems like a right-wing nutjob. A friend of mine says Jindal acts like that to get the so-called “Bubba vote.” He says Jindal has to play that game because those voters are skeptical of his skin color. I find that a little hard to swallow.

It looks like he will be our next governor — no surprise there. I hope for the sake of Louisiana that he does not govern like a nutjob. I understand he’ll be the youngest governor in the country, and the first non-white governor of Louisiana since P.B.S. Pinchback. And as everybody knows he’s super-intelligent. We could do a lot worse.

PS: In the end I voted for Campbell.

Voting Philosophy

My voting philosophy is pretty simple. Here are my general rules:

  1. Vote against the incumbent, if there is one.
  2. Don’t vote for a candidate of either of the two major entrenched parties.

These are not rigid by any means. I’ll make an exception if I believe in a particular candidate or if some other calculus suggests itself.

Of course, following these rules often means voting for someone I don’t know too much about, or voting for someone who has values that are antithetical to my own. But I’m OK with that. These candidates usually don’t have a prayer of winning anyway.

For the record, I don’t consider voting for a no-chance candidate to be “throwing my vote away.” It’s a protest vote. This is not a frivolous choice. Given the current state of affairs, I think protest is the only rational approach. When the top contenders do not inspire, there’s no other way to express one’s displeasure. I wish we had a “None of the Above” option in many cases.

If I follow those rules tomorrow, I might vote like this:
Continue reading Voting Philosophy

Early Voting

A friend of mine voted early and sends the following report.

Since you gave me some advice, I’ll tell you how I voted. Just a little FYI. When it’s relevant, I’ll tell you why I made the choice I did. Generally, I don’t vote for Republicans. Also, when I’m trying to make a decision on the more obscure races, I go to each candidate’s web site. I’m looking for education, experience and positions. If they don’t have a web site, it means they’re not mounting a serious campaign, and I disregard them. I made two exceptions to the no-web-site rule though, Marcelle and Alfone.

  • Governor–Campbell. I like him because he wants to make taxation of the oil and gas industry the cornerstone of the state’s revenue, and I like that. Admittedly, I don’t know a damn thing he stands for otherwise.
  • Lt. Gov.–Landrieu. I think he’s done a good job with film and tourism in the state, which is his main job.
  • Sec. State–Wooley
  • Att.Gen–Caldwell. The only non-Republican alternative to Foti. I’d actually vote for a Republican to oust Foti, after his attempted prosecution of the hospital staff. If I had to do that, I’d run home, take a “Silkwood” shower, and cry myself to sleep.
  • Com. of Ag.–Odom
  • Com. of Ins.–Crowley
  • BESE Dist 2–Marcelle. I found out the incumbent has been sued by the government for corrupt election practices.
  • Sen. 5th Dis.–Gray. A local girl with a BA from Standford and a JD from Tulane, so she’s smart.
  • Rep. 91st Dis.–Alfone. “Toke up, bro. . .” Sure, I’d give him a try.
  • Judge, Crim, Sec A–Wainwright. Though I hate Nader, I am completely sympathetic to most of the Green party’s concerns. And certainly, on the local level, I’d welcome a successful alternative party. Actually, I’d welcome a successful alternative party on the national level, too, but you’ve got to crawl before you can walk. Hence, my vote.
  • Council at Large–Suber. If MosDef says he’s the man, HE’S THE MAN! I liked his positions on his site.
  • Judge, Mun–Davillier
  • For all the amendments.

I only shared this, because I remember your telling me my choices in the last election had influenced you. (And look at how much good it did.)

Interestingly, my friend ended up voting for all three of the candidates endorsed by the Green Party of Louisiana: Suber, Wainwright and Alfone. Wainwright’s the only registered Green, so he’s the only one who will actually have the word “Green” by his name on the ballot. You can meet all three of these candidates tomorrow night.

Reminder: The election’s on Saturday, October 20th. You can vote early at the registrar of voters office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Oct. 13.

The Rock Next Time

Remember the guerrilla art installation I wrote about in November? On the Jeff Davis neutral ground, a pitcher of water was suspended over a map of Louisiana drawn in sand.

Over the months the sand image of Louisiana became formless and then dissolved into the grass. The pitcher of water disappeared recently, and I considered removing the empty cable which held it myself.

Then, yesterday, I noticed the pitcher was back. Only this time, there’s no water but a rock inside the pitcher.

Rock in Pitcher

Sand Louisiana

Our Precarious State, Part II

There’s no mention of the refurbished installation at Art in Action, at least not yet. I assume this is the work of Jonathan Traviesa, but who knows? Who knows what it means?

Update: Art in Action has posted the full story.

Favor

This one is for my friends and readers who don’t live here in South Louisiana.

Do me a favor. Please.

First, when you’ve got a few minutes to spare, take a look at this interactive multimedia presentation. It requires Flash and you’ll want to have your speakers turned on.

(For extra credit, you can read the three part series from the Times-Picayune.)

Then, please share that link with others.

See, it’s like this. We’ve known for a while that coastal Louisiana is disappearing at an alarming rate. But scientists are now saying we’ve got much less time than we thought. They’re saying ten years or less before the land loss becomes irreversible. We’re now losing the equivalent of a football field every 45 minutes. In short order, we will have an ecological disaster of epic proportions, not just for those who live here, but for America as a whole. As the paper says:

The entire nation would reel from the losses. The state’s coastal wetlands, the largest in the continental United States, nourish huge industries that serve all Americans, not just residents of southeastern Louisiana. Twenty-seven percent of America’s oil and 30 percent of its gas travels through the state’s coast, serving half of the nation’s refinery capacity, an infrastructure that few other states would welcome and that would take years to relocate. Ports along the Mississippi River, including the giant Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana in LaPlace, handle 56 percent of the nation’s grain shipments. And the estuaries now rapidly turning to open water produce half of the nation’s wild shrimp crop and about a third of its oysters and blue claw crabs. Studies show destruction of the wetlands protecting the infrastructure serving those industries would put $103 billion in assets at risk.

The fix is mind-bogglingly expensive. Of course it is peanuts compared to what we are spending in Iraq, but the obstacles to spending this money here are enormous. We need to come together as a nation to do this. And that’s why I’m asking you to check out the above links, and share them with others. We need to get evangelical about this.

More Guerrilla Art in Mid-City

Spotted this morning on the way to work on the Jeff Davis neutral ground:

Art Installation

It’s a pitcher full of water suspended above a map of Louisiana made of sand.

Pitcher on a Wire

Louisiana Sand

A strange, elegant, and disturbing metaphor for our current situation.

I have no idea who’s behind this. Could it be the same person (or people) who put up the flood marker? Whoever it is, I salute you.

Update: Thanks to Courtney Egan for revealing that this is a project of Art in Action! This specific piece is Site #6, “O Water!” by Jonathan Traviesa, the same guy who put photos on Bayou St. John a year ago. You can read about the installation or, if you’re in New Orleans, you can go down to Jeff Davis and D’Hemecourt and see it yourself. It was still there this morning.

Jonathan Traviesa, I salute you.