Two Weird Dreams

Couple of weird dreams lately.

Two night ago, I dreamed we got an extra-thick Times-Picayune on our front porch. It was a Sunday. We don’t subscribe to the Sunday paper. I realized the reduced print schedule must have kicked in. I got out a knife and stabbed the paper just to see how thick it really was. I got out my phone and was about to take a photo and post it to Twitter. But suddenly a man in a suit got in my way, wrestled the phone from my grasp. It was the publisher (or was it the editor?) and he crawled out on the balcony with my phone, threatening to kill himself. Then I woke up.

Last night, I dreamed of a city called Lotus, an international science research city located somewhere in Asia. Under threat of thermonuclear war, Lotus launched some escape pods into the Pacific Ocean. The attack did not in fact materialize, but one scientist was lost at sea for a couple years. Then one day she felt like she was being watched. She turned around to see an automated probe rising out of the water. The probe was shaped like a giant version of her own head. Adding to the eeriness, the whole dream was illustrated in the style of EC Comics.

Thoughts on the Death of Jeremy Galmon

When I was changing planes in Philly I got two pieces of bad news from New Orleans, the second of which was so harrowing it made the first seem trivial.

First, I learned the Saints suffered their first defeat of the season, in overtime, no less; to the Atlanta Falcons, no less; at the Superdome, no less.

Next, I learned a that a young boy had caught a bullet and had been rushed to the hospital. When I landed in New Orleans I read the news that he had died. His name was Jeremy Galmon. He was two years old.

That certainly does put things in painful perspective, like Cliff says. It’s hard to get too worked up about a football game when you’re confronted with such an atrocity.

And yet when I picked up the paper Monday morning, what did I see? Yes, the story of Jeremy’s death made a front page headline. So did the football game. But the football headline was two or three times as big. I felt a painful dissonance, looking at that front page.

In the days that have followed, we’ve had more coverage of the story of Jeremy’s murder, the grief of his family, the circumstances of his death, the response by authorities, the arrest of one suspect, the hunt for another. We’ve also had plenty of continuing coverage of how the Saints are responding to their loss, bringing in other kickers, and so forth. I haven’t done a serious analysis, but it’s clear that more ink has been spilled on the latter story over the last four days.

I’m sure the folks at the TP would say that they are giving the people what they want. I buy that, but only to a certain extent. Does our media reflect our culture or create it? I believe it does both. It may be true that, as a society, we are more concerned with professional sports than the murder of a child. But this is a time for our media to exercise some leadership. This is a time to provide some in-depth reportage on the underlying causes of violence. Look at the amount of analysis that fills out the Sports section every day. If we had half that much analysis of social problems we’d surely make some progress.

The tragic death of Jeremy Galmon is a story that people will respond to. Such tragedies are also learning opportunities, and we desperately need to learn some lessons. Across the political spectrum, people understand that violence is a problem. We also need to share an understanding of the root causes of this endemic social problem, if we are to come to consensus on solutions.

I’ve been beating up on the media here, but I want to be clear that the real villain in this story is whoever pulled the trigger. Yet the media do have a role to play, and it is a vital one. They need to engage the issues when the public is engaged, and this story is an example.

And why does Jeremy’s story move us so? Every loss of life is regrettable, regardless of age. If a victim is 20 or 200, it’s still tragic. But there’s something especially wrenching when a toddler is a victim of violence. Few of us are completely innocent; we’re all caught up in a web of social complicity to some degree; we all bear some guilt for what we’ve allowed our culture to become. The main exception to this is children. They are truly and unquestionably innocent. (And please don’t talk to me about “original sin.”) I know very little really, about Jeremy, but I can guarantee you this: He never hurt anyone. He didn’t deserve this.

Comiskey Shot

Comiskey Park Brandsource Community Center

Now that school’s back in session and my daughter’s back in daycare, I’m back to riding on the Jeff Davis bike path each morning on my way to work. That takes me past Comiskey Park and a sad tableau of signage for a community center that never materialized. I thought to myself a couple times over the past couple weeks that I should stop and take a photo. It would be one of those shots that tells much of the story all by itself.

Then, yesterday morning, I opened the paper to discover Eliot Kamenitz beat me to it. Imagine — scooped by a professional photographer.

So on the way home yesterday I snapped my own version. Better late than never.

I remember in late 2006 that a company named DNA Creative Media approached Mid-City Neighborhood Organization with a somewhat unusual proposition. They wanted to make a “reality show” about building something in New Orleans. One idea being floated was a community center at Comiskey Park in Mid-City, but they were also looking at other sites. MCNO rallied a bunch of neighbors to turn out and greet the producers when they visited Comiskey on November 29th of that year. I stopped by on my way home from work to support the cause. Many neighbors had made signs with slogans like “DNA + Mid-City = A Perfect Match.” In short, as a community we pulled out all stops to land this deal.

Apparently the producers were impressed by the warm reception. In some other neighborhoods they’d visited, people were more skeptical.

Perhaps we should have been more skeptical too. The whole thing struck me as bizarre. But remember, we were still in full-on recovery mode. Our future was far from clear. We were still living in a surreal landscape of destruction. We were desperate.

For a while things looked like they were proceeding according to plan. It was announced that Louis Gossett Jr. would host the show. Neighbors developed a wishlist for features they wanted to see. Soon, plans for a beautiful community center were unveiled. Here’s a description from the neighborhood discussion group:

The center will be a 2-story building which will include an indoor NBA-sized basketball court; a 4-station kitchen with commercial grade appliances (to be used for cooking classes and demos); and a general purpose room for meetings, theater, dance & exercise. A state-of-the-art computer lab with Internet access will encourage research by students of all ages as well as allowing families and friends still divided by the Katrina evacuation to keep in touch by email. The contract between DNA and the City was signed on February 6th. Demolition of derelict buildings on the site and construction of the new center is planned for later this year.

You can even listen to Damon Harman of DNA describe the project.

Some preliminary work began. In May of 2007 I took this photo.

Cranes on the Skyline

Some time after the piles were driven, work stopped. In October we read in the paper that the project was bogged down in governmental red tape. In March 2008 we learned that DNA was filing for bankruptcy. They were also facing a lawsuit from Paul Davis National, the contractor (based in Wisconsin) they’d hired. Paul Davis claimed DNA still owed them money for work completed.

And that’s brings us back to yesterday’s article by Masako Hirsch and Gordon Russell. It seems the City of New Orleans will have to pay the $700,000 owed to Paul Davis National.

Doesn’t seem quite right, does it? What I have to wonder — was the whole thing a scam from the beginning, or was it an “honest” bit of incompetent business, or did this run afoul of the global economic downturn, or did government bureaucracy slow things down so much it wrecked the project?


I was leafing through Lagniappe today and came across an article by Doug MacCash, about a guy named Charlie Bishop who noticed a hunk of concrete in City Park and labeled it a sculpture. As far as I can tell, no one else has bought into this idea, except possibly MacCash, who labels Bishop a “conceptual artist.” Marcel Duchamp is cited as a precedent.

I thought this was just about the coolest thing I’d read in a while.

Persephone was sitting on my lap as I read. She pointed to the accompanying picture and asked “What’s that?”

So I attached her seat to the old bicycle and we made our way to City Park in search of this (possible) sculpture. I wasn’t confident that we’d be able to find it. I told Persephone we’d have to hunt for it. As we rode around the park I kept asking her if she saw it. Her consistent reply: “Everywhere.” I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that. Perhaps she was saying the park itself was a work of art. Perhaps she was simply trying to one-up Bishop and Duchamp.

But, amazingly enough, we found it.

Sculptural Pilgrimage

I have to agree with Bishop. This thing does have a certain resonance. It does have a “sad and lonely” feel. I didn’t think it was “tragically ugly,” though. I found it beautiful.

After our visit to Koan (Bishop’s proposed name for the piece) we went over the footbridge to the playground, and after a while we ended up in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. It’s free, and as anyone who’s been there will attest, it’s fantastic. Persephone was particularly taken by the giant three-sided Rodrigue blue (and red and yellow) dog.

But personally I thought Koan ranked right up there with the acknowledged sculptures in Besthoff. I hope that City Park has the fortitude and imagination to label Koan as a sculpture. Furthermore, I hope they credit Bishop as the artist, rather than follow his suggestion of Anonymous.

True, he didn’t make it, but he recognized it, and he deserves some credit for making us see the world around us with fresh eyes.

The concrete structure that is Koan was once a “plug” that was used to fill a cavity in a tree. As MacCash writes, “In time, the tree disappeared, though the plug remains.” I couldn’t help but notice a number of other such sculptures appear to be in progress in the immediate vicinity. Some might take a hundred years to come into their glory. Others, not so long.

Sculpture in Progress

Perhaps some day there will be an entire collection here. It might be called the Bishop Sculpture Garden.

Stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, a tip of the hat to Doug MacCash for writing an article that quite literally made my day, and my daughter’s too. And hats off to Charlie Bishop. You rock.

Vnad Ladlkj Faldkfj

Here’s a shot of the Times-Picayune, Section C, May 29, 2010.

Vnad Ladlkj Faldkfj


I still remember when I discovered the existence of typos and other such mistakes, at the tender age of eight or ten. I was so taken by the concept that mistakes could make their way into print that I began to collect them. I kept my clippings in a box for a black light bulb, which was labeled “Black Light Blub.” In fact, I think it was that “Blub” that first sparked my interest.

The collection is long gone, alas, but I still take a perverse delight in seeing mistakes in print. I’m sure this was an embarrassment to someone at the Times-Pic, but it provided me with a brief moment of amusement. So, thanks.

Such a Brutal Lifestyle

Yesterday’s front page story really captured our attention. All credit to reporter Sarah Carr. I’d never heard of the school she focused on, but the parallels to Xy’s experience are striking. I’ve quoted the story at length below, interspersing some of my own thoughts where relevant.

Early every morning, Akili Academy’s teachers gather for a daily bonding ritual.

Clutching caffeinated beverages, they offer praise to one another for achievements large and small: calming down an upset student, teaching an outstanding lesson on “realistic fiction” to kindergarteners, sorting out unspecified “bathroom issues.”

For the finale, the charter school’s staff pulls in closer for a quick huddle, like a sports team preparing to take the field. “Who are we proud to be?” one teacher asks. “Akili Academy of New Orleans!” they shout in unison, sending their arms flying. They then head to class before the students arrive.

But this is no casual competition or recreational game. It lasts at least 10 hours every weekday, often spills over into the weekends, and, at times, consumes the lives of the mostly young Akili staff.

“I’m totally tired, and if I’m still working this many hours next year, I maybe wouldn’t work a fourth year,” said Francis Giesler, an Akili teacher. Giesler, 24, a 2008 graduate of Loyola University, grew up in St. Louis.

While Giesler praises Akili for its supportive work environment, she gives voice to a nagging concern of school reformers and charter leaders across the city and the country. How can a movement predicated in part on superhuman exertions of time and effort sustain itself and grow in the long term?

As Giesler puts it: “How good a school are you if you have really strong results, but can’t take that model anywhere else because it was solely reliant on the bodies in the building, and kills people after two years?”

If the model kills people after two years, what do they become after, say, thirteen years? Do they become zombies? Or are they just miserable?

A growing number of schools, particularly charters, embrace a “no excuses” or “whatever it takes” attitude toward closing the achievement gap between poor, minority students and their wealthier peers. Poverty isn’t an excuse for school failure. Neither is bad parenting. Or insufficient school funding.

But to overcome these obstacles, a school’s staff and students must work harder — in the evenings, on weekends and through the summer — and give up some of their personal lives for their jobs.

Arguably nowhere is this trend so pronounced as in New Orleans, where charter schools mushroomed after Hurricane Katrina and hundreds of ambitious young educators like Giesler now live and teach. A looming question facing school leaders is how to maintain momentum as teachers and administrators inevitably grow up, burn out or move on.

Of course not all schools provide such a supportive environment, but the general approach of overloading teachers seems to be ubiquitous. Our schools are currently running on the efforts of the young and idealistic. Of course one has to wonder: What about the not-so-young, the veteran teachers who’ve been around the block, whose idealism may be a bit ragged, but who also have the experience and (dare I say it) the wisdom? Actually I don’t wonder, because I’m married to such a teacher, and I’ve seen what this trend is doing to her first-hand, and it ain’t nice.

“You’re going to run out of people willing to work an 80-hour week,” [principal Sean Gallagher] said. “Everyone here is single; no one has a kid. That’s just not (replicable). I want us to look like something any school in New Orleans could do. Right now, we’re not there.”

Gallagher said he tried to recruit a diverse teaching staff: young and old, novice and experienced, natives and transplants.

But the time commitment proved a deal-breaker with most veteran, New Orleans educators.

At one recruitment fair, a job-seeker stopped by Gallagher’s table.

“Longer school day? Longer school year?” the man asked.

When Gallagher nodded, the teacher quickly walked away, saying, “Don’t need to talk to you.”

We’re not sure but we think the job-seeker was our friend James. I remember when he did that.

Educators will probably always debate the importance of experience, some of which boils down to the contrasting philosophies of school leaders. Some emphasize the importance of building a family-like school culture, where children can develop lifelong relationships with teachers who attend their churches, live in the neighborhood and might even have taught their parents. Others say they care about continuity, but will do whatever it takes to build a high-performing school, even if that means higher teacher turnover.

A growing group of educators and policy wonks say they are not particularly concerned about chronic teacher turnover in urban schools, as long as there’s a pipeline of bright workaholics to fill the vacancies.

And with Teach for America, that pipeline looks inexhaustible. These kids are too young and fresh to realize they’re being exploited. Maybe it’s a viable model; maybe our schools are so screwed up that we have to resort to such measures; I really don’t know. But I do know that it sucks to have the terrain shift beneath your feet, so to speak. It sucks to have your chosen career slowly turned into something you can no longer do. We seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the reforms we truly need.

“I don’t think turnover is inherently bad,” said Andrew Rotherham, publisher of Education Sector, an education policy think tank. “Planned turnover or turnover you can deal with without yielding quality is fine.”

Translation: It’s OK to use and abuse people so long as there’s more fresh meat to victimize tomorrow.

Others stress that more value should be placed on making teaching a viable career for those who do not meet the typical Teach For America profile: young, well-educated and unattached.

Andre Perry, CEO of the University of New Orleans’ charter school network, said he worries about relying too heavily on young teachers from out of town. He notes that schools that burn out their teachers after a few years must repeatedly reinvest in replacements. “It just seems inefficient,” he said.

Perry encourages school leaders to foster the notion that “teaching is a way of living” that can coincide with having a life outside work.

“We are not creating that enough here in New Orleans,” he said. “It’s such a brutal lifestyle. We’re so focused on performance in such a specific way that we’ve become robots.”

Perry’s quote brings tears to my eyes. “Such a brutal lifestyle.” It resonates because I’ve seen Xy ground down over the years by the increasingly unreal regimen. It’s like an endless demand for more that can never be filled. It’s never enough.

The kicker came at the very end of the article.

Still, Giesler can’t imagine ever balancing her 31 students at Akili with a child of her own.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this job with a kid,” she says. “I really could not.”

And that is really what clinches the decision for Xy. She feels like she’s missing out on her daughter’s childhood.

And so that’s why Xy has decided to seek a new career after thirteen years in the classroom.

Needless to say, if you’re interested in this topic you really should read the whole story.

PS: It strikes me that this issue is appropriate to contemplate on International Women’s Day as the teaching and rearing of children has been historically deemed as “women’s work” in our culture. That teachers are chronically overworked and undervalued is perhaps not coincidental.

Don’t Put My Name in It!

I wasn’t going to post anything about the current e-mail foofaraw down at City Hall, because I figured I didn’t have anything to say about it. I don’t aim to just regurgitate news from other sources here. I write about my life. Of course, the headlines that I read daily affect me and become a part of my life in a sense, and some of the recent headlines certainly do stoke the fires, but still, I didn’t think I had much to say.

There was a line in a recent Times-Picayune story that caught my eye:

White is black. Head is white.

That’s a complete paragraph from a front-page story on Wednesday. I’m sure Frank Donze and the editors must have had a chuckle over that one. It’s a reference to the race of Veronica White and Stacy Head. The only thing that could have made this better is if the council member’s name was Stacy Black. That would have summarized the topsy-turvy spirit of things perfectly.

I actually clipped that paragraph out of the paper. But my wry little observation didn’t seem substantive enough to share with the world. Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt, as Einstein or Twain or Lincoln or somebody once said.

However, I just realized there is a personal connection to my life after all. Over the past three years I have sent and received plenty of e-mails from members of the City Council and their staffers. That means that my name has been put in this mess. My communications are (presumably) amongst those which Sanitation Director Veronica White handed over to activist attorney Tracie Washington.

Now if you’re wondering what the Sanitation Director is doing handing over e-mails, you’re not alone. Mayor Nagin recently stonewalled a request for his e-mails, and the City Council has gotten a judge to command Washington not to publish the e-mails as she apparently planned to do, and this is all about those garbage contracts, and the whole thing is incredibly polarized and polarizing along racial lines.

Oh yes. It bears mentioning that White and Head had an ugly confrontation a few months back. Which brings us to the following flashback mashup: Hate Rock White-Head [MP3, 5.4 MB]. That’s just a little audio I mashed up back in December but never shared until now. Tip of the hat to HTRK for providing the perfect background music.

There’s far more to this story which continues to develop, but I don’t aim to provide coverage. If you want more substance check out We Could Be Famous or any number of other local blogs. If you find this all convoluted and confusing, don’t worry. Some people say this is all a distraction from the real scandal, which might be crime cameras, or housing issues, or who knows what. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say to the world, as many a student in Xy’s classroom might say:

Don’t put my name in it!

That’s all.


So William Jefferson won the Democratic Party primary Tuesday, beating out Helena Moreno. But we will have to go back to the polls to vote on this race a third time in December for the actual election.

We could save plenty of money and avoid a lot of hassle if we adopted Instant Runoff Voting or something similar. But I digress.

On the December ballot, I like the Green Party candidate Malik Rahim. It’s my belief that Greens, and any third party candidates, need to make their case at the state and local level. There are any number of barriers to third party success at the federal level, and especially in the presidential race.

But at the local level, we have an opportunity to distinguish ourselves. At the local level, the playing field is a little more level, and we can get our message out a little more easily. At the local level, the Democratic-Republican duopoly is a little less firmly entrenched.

Or is it?

The Times-Picayune ran a story this morning about Jefferson’s primary victory and the December election. Since the majority of voters in the 2nd Congressional district are registered Democrats, the T-P notes:

Jefferson is considered the prohibitive favorite in the Dec. 6 general election against four little-known opponents.

Little-know, eh? I can accept that Malik Rahim isn’t as well-known as Jefferson. After all, Jefferson has been in the spotlight for years as our Congressional representative. Lately he’s garnered even more attention than usual. When the FBI raids your house and finds $90K in your freezer it tends to have that effect.

But Malik has some fame in his own right. Granted, he’s nowhere near as famous as the incumbent. But around here, Malik Rahim is hardly an unknown. He especially shone after Katrina, when he helped found the Common Ground Medical Clinic and Common Ground Relief, organizations which are still active today.

Yet this article in the Times-Picayune goes on to focus on the Republican candidate, Anh Joseph Cao. Now this guy really is an unknown. I’m not disparaging him in the least, but the fact is that if you compare Malik Rahim and Anh Jospeh Cao, the little-known candidate is clearly Cao.

That, of course, is about to change, because Cao has the backing of (drumroll please) Republican power broker Jay Batt. He will be helping Cao raise money and get endorsements.

Cao gets mentioned by name twelve times in the article. Malik Rahim gets mentioned only once, in passing. And that’s a shame.

I was tangentially involved in Malik’s run for City Council back in 2002. Unfortunately that campaign was not well organized and never really caught fire. Running a good campaign is hard work. I’m less involved with the local Greens these days because of other life priorities, but it’s my sincere hope that this campaign is more effective.

Coverage like this doesn’t make it any easier.

$16 TP?

As noted by the inimitable Oyster, our only daily paper is raising its rates. As of October 1st, a subscription to the Times-Picayune will cost $16.00 per month.

That seems like a lot. I certainly have many complaints I could lodge against the paper. Some of my more ardent activist friends refer to the paper as “virulently racist.” I think that’s a little much. I would describe them as a fairly moderate organ in a virulently racist and classist society. I certainly wouldn’t expect the T-P to be at the vanguard of the revolution; I’d expect them to serve the power elite. But within that framework they still have a function to fulfill and can still be a valuable source of information.

But I digress. After much breast-beating and soul-searching, we decided to maintain our subscription. The reason is simple. Even at $16 per month, I’m hard-pressed to think of a single other daily source for all this information on what’s going on in the city.

Story #30

Just when you thought it was safe to look in the Times-Picayune’s Saturday Inside Out section, here comes yet another installment in Stephanie Bruno”s series about our renovation. This is number #30 by my count. Yeah, yeah, I know — I said #28 was the final one. Then I said #29 was the final final. But trust me — this really is it: the final final final story in this saga.
Continue reading Story #30

Story #28

Wow. Check out the cover of the today’s Inside Out, the Times-Picayune’s weekly home and garden supplement. There’s a picture of Kilowatt Rising rocking our house party, and sure enough there’s Michael Homan (with unbroken clavicle) continuing his sinister project of confusing himself with me. Open it up and we’re in the center spread with pictures and a timeline of our whole renovation. This is the final story in the series, ostensibly, #28 by my count. This can’t be reproduced online easily, but head over to to for a reasonable approximation with some cool pictures. I’ll include the text here for future reference just because you never know how long plans to keep their content online.

And of course I must note that although Stephanie gives my wife credit, that’s actually my jambalaya.
Continue reading Story #28


This story in the paper made me feel ever-so-slightly vindicated about our decision to renovate.

A new study of home prices around the New Orleans area shows that buyers rewarded sellers who gambled and rebuilt in devastated areas like Lakeview, eastern New Orleans and Chalmette. Renovated homes in those areas recovered much of their pre-storm value last year, while prices continued to tumble on homes that were gutted but otherwise left untouched.

It’s not that I take any glee in seeing others lose out. Take for instance our next-door neighbor. He hasn’t even gutted his house, two and a half years after the flood. I’m not happy about that, and I hope he can get it together. I wish him well.

I’m just glad to know that we aren’t being punished for having done the right thing. We have no plans to sell our home, but if we did, we wouldn’t take a bath. There’s a little solace in knowing that.

Story #26

Turn to page 24 of today’s Inside Out home and garden section of the Times-Picayune, and you’ll see a devilishly handsome fellow in an orange tee-shirt. I look so much better in this picture than in the last one they published, but both were taken by the same photographer, Kathy Anderson.

I don’t have a digital version of the picture, but to make up for it I’ve inserted a picture of the new marble counter which was installed one week ago today.

As for the story by Stephanie Bruno, it’s the 26th installment in a series that I hope will not run to 30. Here it is:
Continue reading Story #26