Six Month Warning

Flood Line

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.

No Thanks but Lemme Ask My Roommate

I was alarmed to see this report because the location is not far from our house, but the details are kind of interesting.

Armed Robbery, 3900 Block of Banks Street

On February 21, 2011 at approximately 10:15 AM, First District Officers responded to an armed robbery in the 3900 Block of Banks Street. The victim reported an unknown black female wearing a purple shirt and blue jeans knocked on the back door to the residence and asked the subject if he wanted to have sex for money. The subject told her no but stated he would ask his roommate who was asleep.

The subject woke the victim and went back into the kitchen. The witness stated when he came back into the room, the black female had a small black revolver in her hand and the victim’s wallet. The subject stated the female left the residence with the wallet.

A spanish speaking officer arrived on scene and spoke with the victim. The victim relayed the same information received from the subject # 1 including his wallet had been sitting on a small table near the door at the time the female grabbed it.

A neighbor stated the female left in a blue minivan, possibly a Dodge. Both the witness and victim stated they had not seen this female before. The victim stated he had approximately $600 in his wallet.

Sent by Officer Melody Young -1st District NOPD.

As I read this a second time, I kind’ve gotta wonder if the subject #1 or the victim can be trusted in this case. It kind of reminds me of an incident at our old homestead.

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…


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…






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?

Pull Quote

This caught my eye on the the front page of today’s Times-Picayune:

Pull Quote

“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.

Recreating a Moment

As previously mentioned, HBO’s Treme is recreating the 2007 March for Survival. I’m trying to “drum up” some support for recreating the Mid-City contingent. In particular I’m hoping someone with a snare drum turns out. As you can see in the photo below, the Mid-City contingent included a snare drum in honor of Dinerral Shavers.

Marching Down Canal Street

I wish I knew who the guy with the drum was. I remember Ashley had a snare too…

Note also people were wearing white. I hope we can recreate little historical details like that.

OK, herewith is the official call from Jeniffer Farwell, president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization.

Honor Dinerral Shavers, Helen Hill, and all the other loved ones lost to violence this Saturday (Feb. 5) as an extra for the show, Treme.

This march will be filmed for the show, but it also gives you a chance to express continued outrage with violence problems that persist in our beautiful city and the failures in education, recreation, and other programs that perpetuate a culture of violence among the youth of the city.

Furthermore, it gives Mid-City and its surroundings national coverage, especially when we carry our Mid-City yard signs and/or wear Mid-City t-shirts.

Wednesday morning I will have the details on where and when to meet (early Saturday morning; somewhere in Mid-City).

If you want to participate, please email [email protected] as soon as possible, and send this to all your friends. Treme MUST have everyone’s names and contact info before the event – preferably by Thursday.

If we get 50 or more people, Treme will make a $500 donation that will be used for a neighborhood get-together later this year.

I plan on being there.

I guess this would be a good place to recount my Treme experience thus far. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t actually get to speak to the writers after all. It seems that by the time I got into the loop, things were already pretty far along. That’s too bad, because I flatter myself to think I might have had some insights that could have informed the creative process — but oh well. I did get to speak to Karen-kaia Livers who’s doing specialty casting and helping assemble extras for the recreation. Maybe she passed some of my pearls of wisdom on to others. As for what’s in the works, I really don’t know much, except that I understand Dinerral Shaver’s sister Nikita will be the only speaker depicted at the rally. I don’t know if she’ll play herself or if it will be some other actress or if maybe they’ll use archival footage. Also, I understand the overarching aim will be to portray a moment of unity, which I applaud.

Perhaps you’ve been inspired by seeing the people of Egypt unite in mass protests this past week. The 2007 March for Survival is the closest thing to that I’ve seen here in New Orleans, or anywhere in the United States. Though it was born of pain and outrage, in some ways it represents our city at its best. Here’s your chance to reenact it.

Deaf Government Area

Deaf Government Area

This photo recently became my most “favorited” on Flickr. With 26 favorites it has surpassed Big Cloud, which is gratifying because I think this is a much more interesting shot.

I took this one on October 13, 2006 in Gentilly, on Mirabeau Avenue near the London Avenue Canal breach. In the background you can see vacant flooded homes becoming overgrown with vegetation. You can even see some waterlines on the sign itself.

Need I say more? I think the power of this photo is that it tells a story all on its own. You don’t really need any of my explanations.
Continue reading Deaf Government Area

Three Strikes & We’re In

Our friend James is kind of like the brother I never had. We’ve even been known to quarrel from time to time. I remember some years ago when James went back to school and started studying history in earnest. That he’s now presenting original research at the Louisiana State Museum fills me with a feeling I can only describe as fraternal pride.

Second Thursdays: Three Strikes & We're In

The subject is a fascinating one. Here’s the official write-up.

Historian James Conrad will explore the rocky but rich history of the New Orleans public school teachers efforts to gain better pay and benefits in the 1960s and 1970s. The New Orleans Public School teachers struck in 1966, 1969, and 1978. During the 1966 and 1969 strikes, the teacher unions were still divided along racial lines. The Local American Federation of Teachers 527, a predominantly African-American union, led the strik…es of 1966 and 1969 with little success. In 1972, the various unions merged to become the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO). UTNO struck in 1978 and was successful, after teachers formed an interracial union able to work as a unified force in having their demands met. Their unification led to UTNO being recognized by the school board as the main representative for teachers in the New Orleans Public School System.

UTNO Strike
United Teachers of New Orleans, Local 527 Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans

I really want to be there but I’m afraid parental responsibilities may preclude my attendance. So if you can make it, please heckle James on my behalf.

Thursday, December 9 · 6:00pm – 9:00pm
The Cabildo, Louisiana State Museum
751 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA

Free and open to the public.
Wine and appetizers provided by Friends of the Cabildo.
For more information contact Brittany Mulla at 504-568-8526 or [email protected]

This event is listed on Facebook.

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.


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.

A Jazz Funeral in Greenfield, Indiana

I’m still in touch with a number of friends back in Indiana. Last week I heard some sad news from one of these friends: His mother had passed away. She was advanced in years, but it was still rather sudden and unexpected. Yet what he asked the next day brought a smile to my face. He wondered what it would take, at a bare minimum, to put together a New Orleans-style jazz funeral in a small town in Indiana.

Here’s how I advised him, more or less. I said he needed a brass band. What would be the minimal instrumentation? I’m guessing a trumpet or trombone, a tuba and drum. The players should know at least one slow sad song and one fast upbeat number. You play the dirges on the way to the cemetery and the happy songs on the way back home.

A mutual friend, who is a musician, hooked him up with some players from Indianapolis who were available at a reasonable rate. Two on percussion, one banjo, tuba, trombone and trumpet. Plus a clarinet. He described them as “a smaller, if slightly less cinematic, version of what you’ve seen on Treme.”

And what do you know? It all came together very nicely, or so I gather. The musicians arrived on time, dressed in black and looking good. I don’t know the whole playlist, but the music was reverent and mournful on the way in, and joyous and celebratory on the way out.

But of all the details my friend reported, this one stands out to me as extraordinary.

The funeral director said it was like nothing he’d ever seen and he was going to let his family know that he wants this when he dies.

Says it all.

Rituals & Roundtables

Over the long weekend I was privileged to observe and even participate in some bizarre graveyard rituals to ensure a victorious season for the New Orleans Saints. These were organized in large part by college professors. There were at least three profs in attendance — maybe more. With getups like these it’s hard to tell.

Graveyard Ritual

I also had the opportunity to sit in on a roundtable discussion organized by the New Orleans Lamplight Circle, a local pagan group. This is the second such discussion I’ve attended. The previous was on “Existentialism and Spirituality.” This one was a true roundtable, with participants bringing their own topics for discussion. We talked about everything from the nature of divinity to the proper texture of brownies, and all points in between.

I thought this was a funny sort of inversion, since one typically associates academics with roundtables, and magic rituals with pagans, rather than the other way round.

Be Revolutionary

There’s something I wanted to write at the first anniversary of Katrina, but I never did.

I thought about it again at the second anniversary, and the third and the fourth. I still wanted to write about it, but there was something in the way. Too much to do, and time slips away. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.

This year I’m going to write it. I missed the five year anniversary by one day, but I’m going to say it at last.

And it’s simply this:

Be revolutionary.

That’s it. That’s my wish for the people of New Orleans. Come to think of it, that’s also my wish for the people of this nation and this world. But somehow it seems especially apropos at this place, at this time. We’ve been having to rebuild and rethink everything, and five years on there is still much to do. So, as we continue to work at building it back better, we need to be bold. We need to be daring. We need courage and compassion and creativity.

For example, consider this new report from Waggonner & Ball Architects, commissioned by Friends of Lafitte Corridor with a grant from the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Environmental Fund. It asks us to consider new approaches to managing storm water in the city.

To change the way we live with water here would be revolutionary. And it might even save lives. Of course, it’s not easy to turn around and do things differently. It’s difficult. It’s expensive. But it’s necessary. And in the long run, we will pay a much greater price if we keep doing things the same old way.

The proposals in this report are just an example. We need revolutionary thinking on all fronts.

Not all revolutions are good. Not all revolutions are just. I don’t endorse change for the sake of change. For a community that has lost so much, in fact, more change may be difficult to face. But that’s our challenge, to preserve the good while revolutionizing the bad.

And actually, I think a lot of New Orleanians are doing this already. But it seems that it’s never enough. We need to constantly be supporting one another to be stronger and go further.

Posting this here won’t do much to advance the cause. Words are not enough. We need to live the revolution through our actions. I try to do that every day.

Imagine New Orleans five years from now. If we have a city that is just and humane, if all our citizens are enjoying a good quality of life, if we are thriving and healthy and green — that would be a revolution. We know we’re not their yet. But isn’t that what most of us desire?

If we want it, we have to be revolutionaries.

Two Views

I look to houses and buildings for signs of our progress — or lack of it. People are more important than buildings, of course, but people move around. Many people never returned to the city. Besides which, people can hide their pain. The buildings are easier to read.

Five years after Katrina, we still have houses like this all over.

Five Years After

Note the front door is just standing wide open. This was taken in the 3000 block of Banks Street.

But here’s another photo that tells a different story.

Re: Building

Three years ago I took a photo of the building on this lot being demolished.

Now it seem a new building will stand where the old one fell. This is heartening. In fact there are five more buildings going up within a short walk from this one.

So which photograph represents the state of New Orleans today? I think they both do. This remains a city of contrasts. It can be a challenge to keep both these images in mind. We seem to have a natural tendency to reduce and simplify. We want to view things as black or white, positive or negative, with little nuance and few shades of gray. It’s difficult to integrate stark contradictions into a coherent whole.

But that’s exactly what we have to do if we want an accurate picture of where we live.

Mandatory Ejaculation

I’m sure my parents will be proud to know I’m now the number one result for mandatory ejaculation on Google. Or rather, one of my photos is.

Mandatory Ejaculation

Of course, the real blame goes to the Krewe of Spermes, one of the many constituent subkrewes that make up the amazing Krewe de Vieux. All I did was take a picture of their float with a friend’s camera.

Do I need to explain the reference? This float made its appearance in February of 2006, five months or so after the first mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. I mentioned this parade back then but ironically I featured to a different photo of the same float.

My question is — why are people suddenly searching for “mandatory ejaculation” such that I’m seeing it in my stats?

Is there something we should know?

Eyes Wide Open

Mitch Landrieu

The mayor came to our campus yesterday to deliver a speech with the theme “Eyes Wide Open.” Strangely enough, few of my co-workers seemed to be aware of this, but I got an invite from the mayor’s office via e-mail. By another strange coincidence, I’d forgotten all about it until my memory was jogged during a meeting with Councilmember Kristin Palmer at City Hall about the Lafitte Corridor greenway project. I rode back to campus and got there in time to catch the speech.

The University Center ballroom was packed. Music was playing, which I thought was prerecorded until I noticed a number of men in suits on microphones at the front of the room — the Zion Harmonizers. Father Tony gave the invocation and Dr. Francis introduced the mayor.

For me, it was pretty cool to see all these guys on the same stage in such a familiar setting. It was cool to see the City’s seal on front of the podium and the University’s seal in back. Also, I’d never heard Mitch Landrieu speak before, and I’ve got to say he’s pretty good at it.

I’ve made it a point not to offer my own analysis of local politics here recently, and I think I’ll stick to that policy. However, I’d be curious to know what others might think. Here’s the text of the speech.
Continue reading Eyes Wide Open

A Quarter of My Life

Sometime a few months ago this slipped past me: I’ve now spent a quarter of my life in the city of New Orleans, a quarter of my life working at the University. And it dawned on me that my experience of this city is very much bound up with my employment at this school. I’ve lived in three different houses and an apartment, in three different districts; Xy has taught at six different schools (soon to be seven); we’ve seen friends come and go, moved in various circles, taken care of nigh on a dozen cats, and brought forth progeny of our own — but the one constant has been working here. I recently joked that I’ve been in this same office over three decades. Silly but true: I started here in ’99, worked through the Aughts, and now it’s the Teens. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve thoroughly cleaned my office once over all this time. But all kidding aside, this has been a source of great stability in my life, and I am very glad to be here. I can’t imagine how different New Orleans might seem if my job situation was different.

I also missed my annual observance of my start date on the first of June, marking eleven years here at the University. Looking back in the archives I found this remark from 2004:

I’m trying to imagine where I’ll be five years from now. I’ll be 42. Bush will no longer be president. Other than that, little is certain. I imagine myself still living in New Orleans, still working at the University, still hanging with Xy, still producing ROX.

When you put it that way, life just doesn’t sound very exciting. But there are bound to be plenty of surprises too.

Granted, I really should have cited this last year when I was 42. But it’s not too late to observe that, indeed, there have been a few surprises along the way. Most notable among them was the failure in 2005 of the floodwalls on the outfall canals that drain water out of the city, allowing the waters of Lake Pontchartrain to flood my neighborhood and my home and a few hundred thousand others as well. We commonly refer to this phenomenon as “Katrina,” but that’s a sort of misleading shorthand.

I was going to mention my daughter as well, but she is not a “surprise,” technically. She was planned. But she is full of surprises. And I did not anticipate her when imagining my future six years ago.

PS: As an added bonus, here’s a picture I took of myself eleven years ago at my office.


This was taken on July 15, 1999, to be precise. I think this may be the first picture I ever took with a digital camera. It was an Apple QuickTake 200. I wonder whatever happened to it?

Post Protest

Despite the rain, hundreds of people turned out for the protest yesterday, so many I couldn’t fit them all even in this wide panoramic shot.

Protest Panorama

View full size for maximum impact. Be prepared to scroll horizontally. I posted a set of twenty photos in all. (Of course, Derek has a set that’s twice as big and twice as good, so check it out.)

It was a good turnout, despite the weather. In fact the rain kept me stranded at home and I missed the first hour or so. (Bike was my only available means of transport and I just don’t like getting wet.) So I arrived late and missed seeing my friend John Clark speak. I arrived to hear the latter part of Ian Hoch’s speech, which was excellent. (Levees Not War calls it “the hottest and most articulate rant.”) There’s a video clip of the whole speech. I extracted the audio so you can just listen if that’s more your speed.

There were perhaps a thousand people in attendance, yet I found myself reflecting how in some countries, thousands of people would be marching in the streets every day raising a ruckus. Why are we so complacent here? Is it because of our affluence? No — the Nordic countries have an even higher standard of living, but they’ll take to the streets at the drop of a hat. (Or so it seemed to me when I lived there.) And in poorer countries too people seem to have a greater propensity to express their collective displeasure. So what’s our problem?

It’s extremely hard to organize something like this, so hats off to the organizers for pulling it together. There were a few awkward moments, but generally I thought it went pretty well. The last speaker had the megaphone yanked from his hand, apparently for saying a “militant response” was required. This was to be a peaceful protest, you see. But I think that’s another indication of our general timidity. I mean, the guy said “militant response,” not “military response.” Militant does not necessarily mean violent. They should have let him speak.

A much uglier confrontation happened right in front of me. There was this long-haired Latino dude who seemed to inebriated or otherwise slightly incoherent. He was shouting things at odd moments and being a bit of a nuisance but not hurting anyone. He shouted something about the Gulf of Mexico and a man standing directly in front of me said, sarcastically, “Why don’t you go back to Mexico?” It could have gotten real ugly real quick but some women got between them and demanded the white guy say sorry. “That’s racist!” He didn’t want to apologize, so he and his entourage departed. I think they were tourists who just happened to be passing by and got caught up in the event.

Books vs. TV

I am pretty excited about HBO’s new series, Tremé. I still haven’t actually seen it yet, but I feel like I have, almost.

It premiered Friday night, and I had a couple invites to see it in some venues that would have been fun. (Like the Charbonnet Funeral Home in Tremé. That would have been a trip.) But the time-slot was late, and there’s no way I was going to keep my girl up past her bedtime. So that meant either Xy or I could see it while the other person stayed home and played the responsible adult.

I got stuck being the responsible one.

Since we don’t subscribe to cable television, I couldn’t watch the show, but I did “tune in” to Twitter where I watched a veritable deluge of commentary pouring forth — thousands of tweets, far too many to read in real time. I’d say comments were 90% positive, but it is hardly a scientific sample.

In the other 10%, one remark in particular caught my eye, from local author and luminary Poppy Z. Brite:

Read a Book

As noted, I don’t quite share her perspective — but I respect it. And in fact I think it provides the perfect springboard for a workshop I’m doing next week on Goodreads.

Different media have different affordances. Despite the convergence exemplified by technologies like the World Wide Web, there are still some relevant distinctions to be made. You can’t beat television for live coverage of a sporting event, for example; I’d argue that’s the ultimate application of that medium. You just can’t watch the game on a book.

As for dramatic narrative? That’s one reason Tremé is interesting to me, as it seems to be a best-case scenario. It’s not an adaptation of a book but a dramatic narrative straight-up written for television, involving lots of very talented people who have a great track record. If it’s anywhere near as good as The Wire I’m sure I’ll love it.

However, I still think theater and cinema and books are better venues for dramatic narrative. Television can aspire to the same level of quality as the best of those, but can it do anything unique? Is there anything a TV series can do that a film or a book can’t do? I don’t think so — beyond perhaps a heightened sense of social immediacy.

And that’s where Goodreads comes in. It adds that dimension of social immediacy to the reading of books. Or you can just use it to keep track of what you’ve read and what you want to read. I think it’s fairly handy, and of course, I’m on there so feel free to add me as a friend.

I’m curious to know what others think about dramatic narrative on the small screen. Is there anything a TV series can do that a film or a book can’t do better?