Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Said it before and I'll say it again: I'm sorely addicted to reading the written word.

But, much as I enjoy them, the written words tear me up sometimes, syllable by syllable. They aggregate and become content, plot, opinion....voice. Voices, rather. Many, many voices. They fill me up to bursting and I reel from the effects. Which is probably why I've been turning to music more and more to decompress (not to mention a lot of cross-stitching). Blip.fm has been fun, even when I can't find exactly what I want to play on it. Plus, it clued me back into an album I got Dan for his birthday one year and never paid much attention to 'til now. I thought it'd be cute to get him something that referred back to the place where his parents came from, the place where he went to college, the place where his best man and many of his college buddies still reside. Yes, folks, come on, now...

Ironic that I'm enjoying this album now when a counting of the corruption convictions per capita has Louisiana beating Illinois in the corruption sweepstakes. Interestingly enough, the only two places in this country that ranked higher than Louisiana were Washington D.C. and North Dakota.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who campaigned for office seven years ago as a reformer, has lately been resisting news media requests to release his official city e-mails and refused City Council demands to fire the official who oversaw the crime-camera contract that is now under investigation. Nagin's office also put up numerous administrative and financial roadblocks as the city's first inspector general tried to set up his newly created office in 2007.

But the current inspector general, Leonard Odom—who worked as the inspector general for the Chicago Housing Authority from 1996-2002—has not been deterred.

On a wall in his office is a sprawling work-in-progress: an attempt to diagram, with scores of yellow Post-it notes, every arcane, off-the-books board, commission and agency in New Orleans' tangled city bureaucracy. So far, investigators have found more than 140 agencies that are not included in any city audit.

"Here's one: something called the Delgado-Albania Plantation Commission," Odom said, pointing at a random sticky note. "They get about $37,000 a year, but we don't know what they do. But we're going to find out."

Forget that plantation commission (well, not entirely)...let's take a closer look at a city that requires business owners to plant no less than 250 bushes around a bowling alley/music venue in order to be in compliance, among other things:

...when you ask even some officials at City Hall whether this is a business friendly city, you often get the same answer.

“No, we are not,” said City Council president Jackie Clarkson. “Because the process is too laborious and it’s too forbidding would be a good word, coming from the business sector. We don’t make it a one-stop shop like other parishes around us do.”

John Blancher and his son Johnny are all too familiar with that. They own Mid-City Lanes, more commonly known as the Rock ‘n’ Bowl, and Ye Olde College Inn.

In fact, the elder Blancher said shortly after Hurricane Katrina, he was approached by the cities of Austin, Texas and Lafayette to move his business there. He said he was shocked at how cooperative those cities were and how helpful they could be, walking him through the process. Instead of leaving New Orleans, he decided to move his Rock ‘n’ Bowl from its current location to the old Helm Paint building next to Ye Olde College Inn.

Blancher said doing business in his hometown is horribly different than in Austin or Lafayette. In those cities, Blancher says he knows who to see to do business, but here in the city where he grew up and lived all his life, it’s different.

“In New Orleans, I couldn’t tell you. If somebody came to me and said, ‘John, I want to open a business in New Orleans, who should I go talk to?’, I’d have no idea who to send them to,” Blancher said.

Blancher said, were he not a die-hard New Orleanian, Rock ‘n’ Bowl would be gone from New Orleans “without a doubt” because of the hurdles he’s faced here.

To maneuver through the process at City Hall, Blancher said he had to hire a lawyer, claiming he personally got so little help from the city.

Nice. I can't tell you how nice it was to see that on the news last night. It wasn't anything I didn't know already, deep down, but it's a weighty thing to think that if Blancher had a different attitude towards New Orleans, he'd be outta here, and so would a unique venue for fun and music.

Oh, and as for music, Sufjan Stevens, the creator of Illinois, had this idea, with the preceding album, Michigan, that he'd be embarking on a 50 States project. Haven't heard much from the musician since he released an overflow album of songs dropped from Illinois, entitled The Avalanche, and a Christmas songs album, so I don't think the 50 states thing is going to come to its full realization...

...but boy, if Stevens decided to make Louisiana, he'd most likely end up with two double albums.


(I was going to try to do some mass tie-ins between Illinois songs and recent New Orleans bloggers' links - like linking "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." to this funny vignette about the Easter egg hunt at NOMA - but I may do it in an overflow post. We'll see.)


Update, 2:11 PM: A hearty MAZEL TOV to Lee Zurik of WWL on his award, gained from following some mighty big leads from Karen Gadbois and Sarah Lewis concerning New Orleans Affordable Homeownership.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Feedback, yes feedback...on Saturday's post:

I think this is one of the problems with the nola blogosphere - it's so clique-ish. Many people in Nola have no intentions to leave, they just don't blog about it. It kinda bugs me that a few people decide to leave temporarily and everyone gets all worked up. What are the rest of us, chopped liver? :-(

Trust Pistolette to say what others may be thinking. :)
Your post is lovely, Leigh, but I agree with P. - there are plenty of us with no intentions of moving. Nothing against those who are/do - it's a personal choice and I wish them all the best. But all the hue & cry seems a bit dramatic.

First off, I didn't mean to offend or exclude. My apologies on that.

Hana simply touched on something that I struggle with sometimes, is all. For her, it wasn't just the bloggers' leaving that affected her, but also her next-door neighbors' leaving. My husband, when he first moved down here, worked at a place in the CBD. He can't do that anymore. Some of our other friends who live here work, at best, in Metairie or Slidell. Some commutes are much longer. Yes, in some ways, that's just life...but it still says a lot about how things are going here.

I am very, very glad that the rest of the 300-plus bloggers who are still here have employment that sustains them. Please, please, keep it up! The more hard work y'all do in your own ways keeps this place strong. I worry about the availability of things that, barring deep personal decisions or family needs, are most likely to keep us here...like affordable, good schooling for our kids, like other economic development, like more good hospitals.

Here's to ALL of the New Orleans warriors online who are still here. You are most certainly not chopped liver, even though I LOVE the dish.


Damn, now I feel like having a gumbo party! Who's with me?

(T-P gumbo pic from here. Check the list of gumbos in it at the link.)
Adrastos has Sunday Morning Videos today of the Kinks' live performances in Germany.

I was in a Muswell Hillbillies sort of mood yesterday, so I guess the Kinks thing is catching a little.

Here's something I dug up of Ray Davies on Politically Incorrect with Suzanne Somers, Meredith Vieira, and Paul Mooney talking about Viagra, racism in nursing homes, and reality tours:

I was initially wanting to post the song "Muswell Hillbillies", but the live performances I found of it have Ray sticking it to his brother Dave by introducing him to the audience in a manner that reminds the younger Davies of a song he released with the Kinks that turned out not to be a hit. Ray being a schmuck is never attractive....unless you're into reality tours, I guess.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

One of the NOLA blogpocheh has already headed out. Another will be going soon. And Hana Morris is a tad chagrined:

In the past month, 3 weeks really, at least 3 important bloggers announced they are moving within the next few weeks. One of my very good friends (a rollergirl) moved to Slidell. My neighbors moved to Prytania St and left the house empty. There is nobody on the other side of my house either. At least one other blogger (my best friend at the moment, I would say) might be forced to move in August. WTF?
What happened to "we will never leave New Orleans"? What happened to all the humorously arrogant criticism of people living north of Georgia?
It feels like the death of blogger community in New Orleans. After Ash died they became my family. I did not keep in touch as much as I should have, true. But now this family is leaving too. Everybody who knew Ash and everything related to Ash is leaving. Maybe it was just a crazy three-year flight of fighting for New Orleans resurrection and now people care more about their personal lives and issues rather then the common effort.

It's time for me to admit that I've been struggling, too.

Yes, I understand the reasons why folks have to leave, and so did Ashley, to a certain extent (have you got a Katrina Pass?), and it kills me, because, despite the population growth here, fact is, corruption in our local government and no real economic development beyond tourism and jobs in the service of tourism is not creating an environment in which people can really stay here and thrive. There are still some major hassles that have to be worked out in order to live here as most other human beings in the industrialized world do, with the added benefits of it being New Orleans, with its great music, culture, and all-over attitude.

These blogging folks I know and love get passes because of obligations greater than the herculean task of trying to mend a city in hurt...as do many folks who are displaced and are finding it difficult to return since 8-29-05. One's family and one's security are paramount. The nationwide economy going down the tubes makes the need to make a living a serious biggie - one we still struggle with, my husband and I, as our residence is here, but his job is not. There are many others like us. Hell, Ashley was one of 'em...and he was a staunch New Orleanian in his Chicago workplace, as I know Maitri and Loki will be in their new places of residence.

But all of this still hurts, dammit, especially since the Big Man's yahrtzeit is coming up next week.

Tough, tough times in what's shaping up to be a tough year, and it ain't even April yet.

My previous post on the closing ceremony of the MR-GO, I realize now, can be seen in another light...

It is a Jewish tradition for a gravesite visitor to place a stone there as a sign of one's tending to the spot, as well as a symbol of tending to the memory of the departed. Just as the rocks being rolled into the man-made channel today will signify the beginning of an end, a rock placed at Ashley's resting place in St. Louis #3 will mark the beginning of the end of a year without this blogging family man warrior for this city full of people that never forget to care, no matter how long and rocky the emotional road is.

The Knife left a mark in our hearts that just can't be erased.

Here's to Ashley Morris, of blessed memory, and to Hana Morris and the kids, warriors all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Saturday will mark the beginning of the end of a conduit for storm surge:

The closing of the controversial Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet in St. Bernard Parish will be marked in a unique way Saturday: with the casting of stones.

Government officials, conservationists and residents will pile into boats and head out to Bayou La Loutre, where everyone will get the chance to chuck rocks into the waterway at the spot where it is being plugged.

The ceremony is sponsored by St. Bernard Parish government, the St. Bernard Parish Sportsmen's League, the St. Bernard Coastal Advisory Committee and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

"It'll be a different way to express a little relief, " Carlton Dufrechou, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation said with a chuckle. "Old-timers have been talking for years of just blocking it with rocks. So this is for them."

Want to go see? And toss some rocks, to boot?

Space on the boats Saturday is limited; to reserve a spot, call (William) McCartney at 504.278.4227. The boats will leave Breton Sound Marina in Hopedale at 8 a.m. There is no charge.

An onshore gathering will be held at 9 a.m. at the marina for those not wanting to go on the boats to Bayou La Loutre.

I wonder what the soundtrack will be? Maybe this:

Mr. Go by Bonerama

Update, 11:06 AM: Actually, the number for Mr McCartney is 504-278-4303.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sure, many of us in this town have been chiding Jindal for his excessive travel, his hypocrisy on ethics reform, his approval of an act sponsored by the Louisiana Family Forum designed to introduce "creative thinking" in science classrooms, his announcement that the state is closing the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital, his slashing of funding for the arts here...and, of course, his dis of funding for volcano monitoring.

Let's put that last one into a little more perspective...

I give you, via Sophmom, some links to A Spit In The Ocean, the blog of a fellow who resides in Homer, Alaska, across the water from Mount ReDoubt, which is currently dumping a lot of ash on the area. His most recent dispatch reveals that he's had to "secure the home front". :

Mt. ReDoubt erupted twice this morning. The first eruption occurred at 8:30, which sent a plume of ash and gas 30,000 ft into the air. The second eruption occurred at 9:24, which sent a plume 65,000 ft into the air....

...The prevailing winds were not in our favor during these eruptions. At the present moment, ashfall is coming down in Homer, and it's a real mess. Face masks are the current vogue.

There's also a little something that no one in the national press has touched on just yet:

Chevron owns and operates an extensive system of crude oil and natural gas pipelines in the United States. They also own numerous tank farms to support this system; one of which happens to be at the base of Mt. ReDoubt where the Drift River empties into Cook Inlet. That's right, Chevron built an oil tank farm at the base of an active volcano on the shores of Cook Inlet.

Up until now, Chevron has refused to divulge how much oil is being harbored at the tank farm. They have remained silent, standing behind the pretense of The Homeland Security Act.

Only after ReDoubt erupted numerous times at the beginning of the week did Chevron finally come forth and reveal that there are over 6 million gallons of oil contained in two of the seven tanks at the terminal. Chevron evacuated their personnel from the facility on Monday.

Chevron issued a press release and photos just yesterday, claiming in their written statement that the dikes and containment walls have performed as intended, although the photos exhibit clearly that the containment walls are being stressed. Mud flow and debris have topped the outside dike, and buildings have been damaged at the terminal.

Mt. ReDoubt is only 9 miles from the Chevron facility, and the Drift River is currently flooding because of the recent eruptions. The high water marks on the valley walls are estimated at 20 - 25 ft. The lahars from an eruption displace massive chunks of glacial ice and rock, some as big as houses, which are then swept downstream by the Drift River. Deposits from the lahars during the last major eruption in 1990 buried structures at the mouth of the Drift River.

The post about Chevron's oil tank farm states that the company has been called on to remove the tanks. I wonder which side Bobby J would support?

Speaking of other current disasters, help out the folks in Fargo, ND, any way you can at this time. The river is rising there, and lives are in danger.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Just a warning, folks:

EVERYBODY in the NOLA blogpocheh will be linking to this one today concerning the Walking Id's emails:

The e-mails lend credence to allegations made in a civil lawsuit filed by the city's first two crime-camera contractors, Southern Electronics and Active Solutions, that is being monitored by federal law enforcement. The suit, which targets Meffert, St. Pierre, Nagin, and the city, among others, claims that in their capacity as city employees or contractors doing city work, Meffert and his tech-savvy pals filched the blueprint for a wireless crime-camera setup from the two companies.

The suit in part revolves around the relationship between Meffert and St. Pierre.

Sometime after 2002, St. Pierre became the managing partner of Imagine Software, the firm owned by former Meffert employees that ran the mayor's technology office for the first few years of the administration.

In 2005, St. Pierre and his three Imagine partners bought a yacht that Meffert often bragged of owning and was allowed to use. After Hurricane Katrina, a St. Pierre firm also provided an employee, Jimmy Goodson, whose duties included acting as bodyguard and chauffeur to Meffert and captaining the yacht. Taxpayers picked up Goodson's $156,000 annual salary.

St. Pierre also founded NetMethods and Veracent, both of which eventually got city work. NetMethods was a subcontractor to Earthlink on the city's post-Katrina deal to install free wireless Internet access citywide. Veracent was a subcontractor to Dell on a city crime-camera contract.

St. Pierre did not respond to phone or e-mail messages. Meffert's attorney, Randy Smith, did not directly answer questions about his client's business relationship with St. Pierre but said his client will be "vindicated" in the end.

The Trouble here in River City is truly coming to light, and the Mayor's office didn't want it to.

Clay's comment on Clancy Dubos' Gambit blog post on the latest shows how serious this all is:

The interoperability contract, quite frankly, justifies lethal injection for Meffert and crew.

Meffert caused the city to lose a grant to purchase interoperable communications equipment for all first responders (EMT’s, police, fire) because he wanted to favor a particular bidder (Imagine or one of its unholy offspring).

This all happened in the months leading up to Katrina. The big one hits and nobody can talk to anybody and lots of people died as a result.

link to Wired article on security communications

Meanwhile, Minnesota had its ducks in a row for the same grant, got the equipment, and it was critical in the first few minutes after the bridge collapse. There was one ambulance set up on a hill that coordinated the entire response (police to cordon off the area, firemen to go after people in the water and pull people out of cars, and EMT’s to set up first aid stations).

If you want a couple of hundred cases of negligent manslaughter, there you go.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From the Zombie:

This city is crippled. It is not crippled by Katrina or the threat of hurricanes….we can overcome that. It is not crippled by a lack of economic development….we can overcome that too. It is not crippled by lawmakers in Baton Rouge….we generate more money than them and we can overcome that as well. It’s not even crippled by it’s education system…I believe we can overcome that and in fact have made great strides in recent years to do so.

This city is crippled by its bombastic perception of race. It’s not actually racism….it’s the perception of race and the confusion created by those invoking racial sentiments.

I think every city in this nation deals with issues of “race” in some form or another…it’s just that in New Orleans….it tends to pervade and eventually destroy everything we do.

Why? Why is that?

Is there truly a grand conspiracy by some group of people, based on their skin color, to gain control of this city’s political process by ousting any other group of people whose skin color doesn’t match theirs? Black, White, Asian, etc?

I believe the answer is no….on all accounts. And I mean all accounts…so don’t extract that question and comment that Tracie Washington and crew are in that number…because I don’t believe that is their true motivation.

I do believe, however, that there are cultural cliques within this city that wield enormous power. I believe those cliques use the perception of race to manipulate, polarize, confuse, and inflame people to achieve their political, financial, and egomaniacal goals. I believe there is a CULTURE of corruption within this city which has rotted everything from our education system to our public transit system to our public housing to our technology systems…..essentially everything that has a public budget behind it. I believe that culture of corruption is race neutral, but the people ingrained in this culture want you to believe race is the motivating factor behind every action within our government.

The bigger the budget, the bigger the corruption….case in point, the pre-K, NOPS budget which topped out as the largest in the state at over 500 million. The layers of corruption within that school system were legendary, from the lowest levels to the highest. The result was the worst public school system in the nation. The number of public officials and private enterprises, white and black, who were grafting money out of that system, at the expense of the children within it, was truly sickening. To make matters worse, many of these thieves portrayed themselves as champions of the children while methodically siphoning off as much cash from the system as they could.

...But here we are again….and now the target is Stacy Head. Head has been instrumental in routing out issues regarding trash contracts, and in case you didn’t know this…..MIS/Tech contracts including the crime cameras. Now that these issues are being brought to the public’s attention, she’s suddenly being charged with racist motivations.

Veronica White, Tracie Washington, and Ray Nagin would have us believe that Head has spent the last three years of her life digging into contracts and trying to get a hold on city expenditures for the shear motivation of ill will towards black people. They would have us believe that Stacy Head’s primary motivating factor in life is to expunge New Orleans' government of any black person which may hold office.

Never mind that White has been unable to produce any semblance of an audited report on our city sanitation contracts….which is her job. Never mind that our Inspector General’s office released a painstaking report which detailed massive corruption within Nagin’s technology office….with the lynchpin (Meffert) being as white as the driven snow. Never mind that the majority of the contract and financial benefactors of Nagin’s 8 years were white republicans, i.e. HSOA/Benetech. Cipher, LSI, Imagine & shell companies.

No don’t pay attention to the facts….this is a “racist” conspiracy.

...my hope in this whole scandal….E-maelstrom, Crime Cameras, and everything else that is transpiring….is that justice is served blindly and the public sees clearly that this is truly about corruption. It’s about a culture of corruption which transcends race or the notion of race. The only motivating color in this scandal is green. Oh how I hope, we as a city, come to Buddha on this…I believe or future is contingent upon this realization.

Confession of mine to make: there is one of those "Recall Stacy Head" petitions with my name on it.


Because I think things are pretty damn polarized in this city, and the polarization is worse than ever. Because, for all the good things Head has done with regards to uncovering the corruption being kept in motion by the circus emanating from Hizzoner the Walking Id's office, her mouth has gotten in the way, only feeding a misguided public perception that her actions are all about race and class.

Mind you, I am quite grateful she's telling it like it is on things as basic as communications between the Mayor's office and the City Council:

On the relationship between Nagin and the council, Head said: "It's largely nonexistent. We never see him."

She expressed sympathy for Councilman Arnie Fielkow, who she said continually works to get commitments from Nagin, after which, Head said, the mayor invariably "reneges on the deal."

"And I have to say, 'What did you expect? Has he ever kept his word to you?' "

She said she has advisers who tell her blunt truths, whereas Nagin doesn't have "anybody like that."

"I mean, he has 'yes men' that tell him how wonderful he's doing and how that's going to be in 'the book,' " she said. "And I'm serious. 'The book.' They talk about it and they're dead serious. This is not a joke. Apparently he plans on writing a book on what a wonderful job he did and all his yes men talk about, 'Oh, that's going to go in the book, that's going to go into the book.' "

Head said Nagin's rocky relations with council members are in part a result of his "pattern of belittling everyone who doesn't agree with him. And frankly, childish behavior of 'Well, if you don't agree with me, I'm just going to go do my own things, and I don't have to worry about you -- nanny nanny boo boo."

A big part of the problem at City Hall, she said, is "that the departments operate in silos and there's no management at the top."

She described Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield as "delightful" and "the most lovely, lovely human being." But "as much as she cares and as much effort as she puts in," Head said, Hatfield is "not a strong leader for departments, particularly those departments that don't operate well."

Head has directed some of her harshest criticism at White, the head of a department she claims has wasted millions of dollars. Her fights with White, who is black, have fueled some critics' claims that she is a racist. In the interview, Head said that's an unfair and "very hurtful" charge. But she made no apologies for her approach.

"Veronica White does a horrible job," she said. "Am I supposed to not address that issue, to the detriment of my poorest neighborhoods?"

Head said she also has criticized white department heads, such as former Safety and Permits Director Mike Centineo and former Economic Development Director Donna Addkison.

White's ethnicity is irrelevant, Head said. "There's nothing I can do about that," she said. "She happens to be black; I happen to be white. She does her job badly."

I wish some of Head's other infamous comments, policies, and gestures (ummm, blowing kisses at protesters of the decisions to demolish most of the public housing in New Orleans?) had been as rational.

The reality of all of this is that the evils of corruption are indeed motivated by only one color, that color being the green of dollars in many denominations - but the corruption happening in this town still has the specter of race and its horrific past and present overshadowing it that cannot completely be discounted as a factor. Take one good look at the map of non-blacks in this country that elected Barack Obama as our president, take note of where New Orleans sits, and think very carefully about what Head could have done better in the past. Because the past can quite easily turn around and bite her - and the corruption investigations - in the ass if wielded in juuuuust the right way.

Oh, there will always be folks around like the Walking Id, Ellenese Brooks-Simms, and Dollar Bill Jefferson to say they are doing what they are doing because of the people of New Orleans, the children, and the people in their district, and by God, you are a racist if you question what they do and why they are doing it. Look at the details of their plans and policies instead. Follow the color green. And, most of all - and hardest of all - keep your mouth and your emotions in check.

Stacy is only now learning that latter lesson well.

I just hope the next District B representative (and it had better not be Renee Gill-Pratt) learns from her mistakes.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spent the morning at the LaBranche Wetlands right by the east wall levee of the Bonnet Carre Spillway. Perfect day by the lake, filled with parents and kids alike planting trees in the fledgling wetlands park the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation is trying to get going and maintain, picking up trash by the lakefront at this place where locals came out to fish at the small pier jutting out into the waters...

... and it was there I learned an important lesson, as I looked at the hundreds of seedlings that were planted and knew then that it was up to the plants and the elements as to whether or not the new trees would survive and thrive:

It is not your duty to complete the work; but neither are you free to desist from it. The day is short, and the work is great, and the workers are lazy, and the reward is much, and the master of the house is impatient. - Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot 2:16

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cliff thinks something ain't right about the case of the alleged rogue SDT waste dumper...and he also raises a good point about the whole mess (excuse me) not being sexy enough and/or sufficiently full of local name-dropping ecstasy for folks outside of the Lower Nine to take it to heart.

Well, let's throw the name of a semi-local fellow in the ring on this one, somebody who seems to have a penchant for turning up all over these days, especially if there's some money or PR opportunities involved by which he can benefit...I speak of the pol who expounded on what the response to disasters ought to be on these steps at 2238 Lizardi Street:

...which is only half a mile from the corner of Alabo and N. Johnson Streets, the waste dump site... where a church sits:

Now, Governor Jindal, sir, think of the badly-needed elevation in your national fortunes if you can simply recall anything out of the ordinary in the Lower Nine. It seems that, these days, you are darn near everywhere. It's almost creepy, like you are working on becoming Big Brother. *shudder* Ecccchhhhh....

ANYway, rather than listen to us jump up and down and chant "Hey Hey Bobby J, where are you in the world today?", why don't you put your roaming for dollars and GOP kudos to use for a good (PR) cause and prove you can work this situation much better than our dead-as-doornails crime cameras? In the process, you can even stick a finger in the eye of the folks in Hizzoner the Walking Id's Office of Technology if you want...but this entire city will benefit from no longer having porta-potty waste in Lake Pontchartrain.

I think even Kenneth the Page would agree with this.

Give it your utmost consideration, kind sir, and do it for the God-fearing, churchgoing folk at the house of worship near the dump site, at the very least. Don't make God call you home.

Update, 3-21: On a slightly related note, The Gambit has Jindal's list of donors up, which explains why he's everywhere and nowhere, all at the same time, especially with regards to seriously addressing ethics reform in this state. Makes me wonder if someone who once resided on Lizardi Street had to pony up some cash just to get the governor to stand there on 60 Minutes.
I was told yesterday by the little guy's enrichment teachers that he needed more practice with his writing skills, as he got frustrated trying to write down the answer to a specific question put to him in class. All right, we can do that. There are currently some whiteboards floating around this house on which the kid can use dry marker to his heart's content.

However, today, I checked my son's cubby to find this bit of parent affirmation on the back of a writing exercise:

This is a mighty flattering note for me and my poor car (repairs tally in $$$ is over $4,000 now), but the fact that I'm smart enough, good enough, and, doggone it, my child loves me is second fiddle to one big fact:

The kid can write, and he can do well when he wants to.

The trick is getting him to excel when he doesn't want to...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Funny how the little things can remind you of why you are on a certain path and in a certain place...

In my email this morning was the following by Daniel Gordis. Granted, he's talking about Israel, but by God, I wish I'd had a nice epiphany like this before this past weekend, because this is similar to what I've experienced (and still experience), many times and in many ways, right here in New Orleans:

So there we are, sitting at the Shabbat lunch table, guests of friends we hadn't seen in far too long. We were three couples, all of us immigrants, each with kids, ranging from 22 (with a boyfriend) to 4 (without a boyfriend). And another couple, parents of our hosts, visiting from the States, both of them well known and highly regarded academics. Sometime in the middle of lunch, the mother of the hostess, whose academic interest is "identity," asks us all, without even a hint of irony or condescension, "Can you please explain to me why you would choose to live here? What got you to leave what you had and come here?"

No one, it was clear, had asked any of us that question in a long time. It took a few minutes for anyone to formulate an answer, though the answers eventually did flow. But we'll return to that.

A few days earlier ... This is a complicated country to return to. I landed last Tuesday from a trip to the States, and met my regular driver outside baggage claim. As we started to pull out of the airport, he asked me, "Do you want to hear the news?"

That's a loaded question, and he knew it. On one hand, you're home, and you want to know what's going on. So you figure you should listen to the news. But on the other hand, the news is often not very good, and it can be a lot to absorb just after getting off a long flight. But we turned it on anyway, and got the full dose: the ongoing coalition negotiations, the possibility that Lieberman would be appointed Foreign Minister, the ongoing fruitless negotiations to free Gilad Shalit, the number of days he's been held captive (990+ at that point), the ongoing serious water shortage despite the rain, estimations of how close Iran was to getting a bomb and what the (slowly) incoming government might or might not do about that, the continuing investigation of (former) President Moshe Katzav on rape (yes, rape) charges. And maybe some sports - I no longer recall.

No wonder he'd asked me if I wanted to hear the news. After a week away and a long flight, it was pretty stark reminder of what coming home means. Why, indeed, one could ask, would you choose to live here?

We meandered our way up the hill to Jerusalem, and in the neighborhood called Rechavia, slowed to a crawl in the ever-present traffic. We passed what used to be the Moment Café, where, as I've described elsewhere[1], my driver's sister[2] was killed in a bombing. Her picture used to be on his dashboard. Now, it's not. But it always gets quiet in the car when we pass that building. This time, he spoke. Five quick Hebrew words. "Danny, yesterday was seven years." I didn't say anything. What can you possibly say?

Fifty meters further up the street, a small crowd[3] had gathered. It was the now ongoing protest in favor of getting Gilad Shalit out of captivity, no matter what the price. His parents, I knew, were in the tent. And I thought that the right thing to do would be to stop, to get out of the car, and to go say something to them. It wasn't like there were thousands of people there. I knew I could get to them. And just say something, anything. What, I wasn't sure. But there just had to be something to say.

But there was a lot of traffic, I was hungry from having fasted most of the flight (it had been the Fast of Esther when the flight took off), tired from not sleeping and wanted to shower, and I was sure that my driver was in no mood to wait for me. So again, I said nothing, and he took me home.

But all day, it bothered me. I'd driven right by them, and hadn't stopped.. What made that OK, I kept asking myself. That I was a little bit hungry? They're dealing with a lot more than being a little bit hungry. That I wanted to shower after a long flight? They're living in a tent. That my driver might have been in a rush? Surely he, of all people, given what happened to his family only a few yards away, understands how important public support can be to a family.

The next day, Purim in Jerusalem, I kept thinking about the fact that I'd driven by and hadn't stopped. And still, I did nothing. And then I went back to work. And then it was Shabbat. I thought of going then, but we had that above-mentioned lunch, it was raining lightly after lunch, and we'd promised to walk to my parents for a visit. So I didn't go on Shabbat, either.

By Monday, though, I was out of excuses. I could still see myself in that taxi, just driving by, and with each passing hour, it felt increasingly wrong. So towards the end of the work day, I called my wife. The car, she said, was at home. I walked home, got in the car, and drove to the Prime Minister's house. Surprisingly, and sadly, there was no trouble getting a parking space. Just a few yards away, the "protest," such as it was, was in high gear. There were numerous posters[4], a relative[5] of a terror victim holding a sign that said "free those who killed our loved ones to get Gilad Shalit back." And a few dozen people. I didn't see Shalit's father, but his mother was there[6], speaking to someone. I waited a few minutes, and when she was free, went up to her.

What can you say that's not totally banal? I said what I thought was the least absurd thing to say, and we chatted for a couple of minutes. She thanked me for coming, I wished her well, took some bumper stickers from a table, and gave a young woman my cell phone number - they wanted to be able to send text messages if they needed a massive rally at a moment's notice. Then I went back to the car.

Driving downtown to pick up something we'd ordered for the house, I couldn't get Shalit's mother's face out of my mind. Though I imagine that she's approximately my age, she looks old enough to be my mother. As I tried to wrap my head around what it would be like to live the lives they're living, the misgivings that I've long had (that my wife does not share) about the trade began to dissipate. When I got to the shop downtown, and the man from whom we'd purchased the items was wrapping them up, I told him where I'd been. We've known him casually for years, but I don't know very much about him. He's an immigrant (so he obviously believes in this place). He's an exceedingly nice guy. He doesn't wear a kippah. And he's an exceptional artist. That's about all I know.

He was wrapping the items, listening to me, and said, "Well, I'm probably a minority in this country, but I'm against the trade. We refuse to trade, they'll stop kidnapping soldiers. We make this trade, and we're just begging them to capture another one." He finished his wrapping, took my VISA card, and looked at me, saying, "But thank God I don't have to decide. It's too horrible." And then he basically made it clear that he didn't want to talk about it anymore, that he couldn't talk about it any more. Usually, we chat quite a bit in his shop. This time, almost nothing. After all, what was there to say?

He stamped my parking lot ticket, and I walked out of the shop with a brief thanks.

Micha got home shortly after I did, and saw the bumper stickers on my desk. "Where did you get these?" he wanted to know. I told him about my afternoon. "You talked to his mom?" I told him I had. "What did you say?" What was there to say?, I essentially asked him.

"Can I have this one?" he asked, holding up the bumper sticker[7] that says "Hatzilu," "Save Me!", in handwriting that had been culled from the note that Shalit sent from captivity many months ago. "Sure," I told him, a bit surprised that he would want it.

"What was his mother like?" he suddenly asked me again. I looked up from the computer. "I didn't really get to know her," I told him. "She's really sad. But today it's looking good. He might actually get out. The negotiations are continuing, Ashkenazi [the IDF's Chief of Staff] is returning early from America, so who knows? Maybe he'll get out. She's hopeful, I think. Scared, but hopeful."

He was quiet for a minute. "I don't think we should make the trade," he said. "It's horrible that he's there, but letting hundreds of murderers out, when we know they're just going to kill more people? It's dangerous for the country."

I looked at him, and asked him the question that every Israeli family asks itself, usually unspoken. "What if it were Avi? [his older brother, now in the army]"

He stared at me. "That would suck."

OK, so my son's unlikely to make his living as a poet, but he can still think. "That's all?" I asked.

He was quiet for a moment. "Yeah," he said. "That would really suck." And with that he climbed the stairs and went to his room, presumably to do some homework.

And then I thought about it. Maybe his power of expression isn't as limited as I'd feared. Perhaps that's just the situation. It would really suck. What more, after all, is there to say?

The evening progressed, and scanning the various news-sites while trying to get work done, I couldn't help but notice a gradual crescendo of optimism on the web. Something was happening in Cairo. The numbers of reporters and photographers around the Shalits' protest tent grew a bit. Elisheva, long in favor of the trade - any trade, went to sleep, hopeful. I stayed awake, working.

And then, somewhere around 11 or 11:30, it all changed. Nothing was going to happen. The negotiations were over. Hamas had hardened. Or Israel chickened out. (It depends on which web site you read.) But Gilad Shalit wasn't coming home, at least not yet. I could scarcely believe it. I waited another half hour or so to see if the news would flip again, but it didn't. I had an early morning and a long day coming up. I needed to get some sleep.

So I got into bed. But that brief conversation with his mother, and the look in her eye, simply wouldn't go away. There's a limit to how long you can stare at the ceiling before you know that sleep is simply not going to happen. So I went back downstairs, and back to the web. Nothing. The negotiations were dead. I tried to read, unsuccessfully. And I was too tired to work. So I took out a bottle of scotch, and poured myself more than I probably should have. Half an hour later, having scanned the web again only to see that nothing had changed, I went to sleep.

In the morning, when Elisheva came downstairs, she saw the scotch and now, the Tylenol. She'd obviously heard the news. "Shitty night, huh?" Hardly looking up from the keyboard, I told her I hadn't been able to fall asleep, that I couldn't stop thinking of that mother, and of that son. "I know it sounds nuts," I said to her.

She came over and looked at me. "It's not nuts," she said. "In some strange kind of way, he's sort of our son, too. And that's why it's so painful. But that's what it means to live here. Living here means having an inner circle that's incredibly wide. And life here, sometimes, is simply too raw, too powerful. And that's why you'd never leave."

She was right, of course, as she usually is. Finally, someone had said something that made some sense.

And suddenly, I wished that we'd had that snippet of a conversation prior to that Shabbat lunch. Because that, more than anything that any of us said to that mother's thoughtful question, was the real answer. You live here, and you feel things that you don't feel anywhere else. You just do. You're part of things that you wouldn't be part of anywhere else. You care about people you wouldn't care about in the same way anywhere else. Other people's stories are your stories in ways that they couldn't be anywhere else. You cry, and you laugh, and you mourn and you celebrate, with people who elsewhere, might not matter to you at all.

You may not even be sure that we should make the trade to get their kid out, but you cry when we can't. And given the choice of living life this way, or not, there's really only one question that matters:

Why would I think of living anywhere else?

My greatest wish for those heading out of this area is that they take a little of that feeling with them, and spread it wherever they go, as best they can, because it's clear that our world needs more of that sort of care. Godspeed and good luck to Maitri, D, Loki, and Alexis.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ladies and gents, I don't know if it is simply the water here, or if it is just this year, or if I only seriously took the time out to think about this now, but I now feel I must exercise some caution whenever I head out of the greater New Orleans area.

No, I am not talking about the effects of taking a break in the midst of the latest news on our corrupt local government - seems there is always something on that front here (I'm not discounting the water hypothesis just yet). Sadly, I'm getting the feeling that that will never change, despite our best intentions. I wish to hell it would, but hey, it's been a few centuries. Yes, I'm being a cynic right now for a reason. Bear with me, I'll get to it.

This past weekend, I got to Omaha and talked with a fellow at a pre-bar mitzvah party whose son is attending Tulane. His wife didn't take to New Orleans, but he liked it...until he got word through CNN online of the shootings on the parade route on Mardi Gras day. That gave him pause.

Another couple came out for the bar mitzvah - a pair who live in Metairie. After the storm, she was quite ready to leave. He insisted they stay, which is good, as he's a specialist in the medical profession and those folks are sorely needed here. She seemed to give New Orleans no quarter as she derided it for its schools which "were never good and would never be good", its taxes, which she thought we were insane for paying, and other miscellaneous slights and missteps the Crescent City had committed in her eyes.

Not to mention, of course, the tried and true and often heard variations on the incredulous, "You can actually live in New Orleans????" - this time said by the otherwise lovely and charming spouse of another of Dan's cousins.

What can I say? The crap's been coming in threes...as evidenced by my hearing about two members of the New Orleans blogpocheh heading outta town to live elsewhere shortly before my Midwestern trip, and then Maitri's news coming down the pike when I finally get the chance to check the email again. I wish 'em all the best, especially as I know that Maitri and I will now be taking the HinJew Ganeshlichkeit north of I-10. Mazel tov!...I guess...

The biggest shot between the eyes I got this weekend, however, came to me in the form of a city in which they've supposedly "gone about as fur as they c'n go", a city that could well appeal to our own resident Fountain Boy for the multiplicity of watery platforms for his legendary drunken musings, another city by a river. Last time we were there, we zipped in and out of one teensy section of the place, but we had a little more time on Monday, and that was when I suddenly saw myself residing in Kansas City, Missouri, of all places.

Sure, it's got a monument that Dan instantly described as being "art deco phallic" in its architectural style. So Hallmark is headquartered there. So there are signs demarcating tornado shelters all over the place. The city has had its share of troubles with flooding. And yes, it still has its share of cold, cold weather, which I detest. But I found myself getting curious about the place in a similar way to how I get about New Orleans. I've been fishing around for little tidbits of information here and there, and I find I cannot completely discount a town that has its own band of blogpocheh, a local publication that acknowledges that those folks are there and contributing, and a blogging librarian and a "danger" blog.

No, we are not planning to move anytime soon. Really, we're not.

I could of course say that this was a moment of weakness. That this fool New Orleans heart of mine was pulled in by the rescue and renovation of a landmark building left for dead. That I was basking in the glow of loads of area kids around who seemed largely unaffected by citywide trauma. But there is something deeper in what I experienced on Monday than simple weakness.

Is it a weakness to want what is best for one's family? Is it folly to turn around and head for other places where roads are better cared for, where scandal doesn't rock the city runnings as much, where obtaining a good, public education for your children is not an arduous obstacle course of a task? Is it bad to head for places where there are words for economic development that are not always "tourism", "tourism" and more "tourism"?

These are questions worth examining once and again for all of us here.

These questions are the reason why I am also not discounting the significant hypothesis of this year being a factor in my current musings. This year is going on four years after 8-29-05. This year, the long haul of recovery is wearing on so many, as the same ol' problems this city has always had rear their ugly heads once more - the boldness and ruthless violence of the criminals on the streets and in everybody's backyards, the inability of the police and the courts to effectively deal with it, the continual usage of race as a divider in our local government, the way our education system is contributing to it all. This year is when people wonder if rebuilding here is really, truly worth it. This year is pretty damn heavy.

If constantly asking myself these things is weak, well, dammit, I will put myself to a test at the same time. This year just happens to be the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz's release in the movie theaters. No, I'm not gonna sing like Billie Burke - the woman warbles so badly it sounds like someone was trying to replace her voice box in mid-song and the transplant failed.

You guessed it:

The trick is, home can be much bigger than one place, if we let it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dang it...

...the excrement just has to hit the wind turbine as I'm headed for a Midwestern bar mitzvah, doesn't it?

All I can do is direct you to Big Red's list of the trials thus far, Jeffrey talking about how Hizzoner the Walking Id is trying to get his damage control dance on, E claiming a naval metaphor for said damage control dance in the name of citizen journalism, and Dambala throwing us one thoroughly shocking revelation on the River City Tsuris we got here.

Hell, at this point, I have a better chance of learning how to speak Tamil than I do of fully undoing this Gordian knot.

Don't miss me too much, folks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Well, it looks like I got a partial reversal of our Purim-style governance just in time for Purim itself:

Civil District Court Judge Rose Ledet slapped Mayor Ray Nagin and City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields with the maximum penalties in WWL-TV’s suit against the mayor and the city attorney over the station’s public records lawsuit. The judge ruled that Nagin, Moses-Fields and the administration acted in a manner that was “not only unreasonable and arbitrary, but in flagrant violation of the law they have been sworn to uphold.” She also awarded the station attorney’s fees “in an amount to be agreed upon by the parties or set at a hearing upon application by Plaintiff.”

WWL reporter Lee Zurik sued Nagin and Moses-Fields under the Louisiana Public Records Act to get copies of Nagin’s emails and calendar for 2008, and Communications Director Ceeon Quiett’s emails for the same period. Nagin, through the City Attorney’s Office, answered that most of his calendar and emails had been deleted because the city’s computer server on which those records were stored was overloaded. Nagin also claimed “executive privilege” with regard to massive sections of the emails and calendar entries that were retrievable. When ordered to turn over the calendar, Nagin’s staff “redacted” or blacked out huge portions of those records. Ledet didn’t buy those arguments and ordered most of the redacted portions turned over to WWL.

In her judgment, Ledet assessed the city the maximum penalty of $100 per day from Dec. 3, 2008, to January 28, 2009 (excluding weekends and legal holidays), for Nagin’s refusal to respond to the public records requests concerning his e-mails; and $100 per day from Jan. 4 to Feb. 18 for refusal to respond to requests for his 2008 appointment calendar. She also assessed the city for the station’s legal fees — as allowed under the Louisiana Public Records Act.

Not that I really trust the city's IT department to actually retrieve these emails. I think that was a big mistake on Ledet's part to give that job to those folks. Update, 2:05 PM: Schroeder has a point as well: the hard drives should have been subpoenaed. Boldface is mine:

Equally important, Ledet ruled that Nagin’s failure to preserve, maintain and produce his emails and calendar to Zurik “violates the Louisiana Public Records Law.” She specifically ordered that “all calendars and email to or from” Nagin and all city officials with whom the mayor typically communicates “shall be preserved and maintained for a period of at least three years form the date of creation.” She further ordered the city’s IT director to provide a “verified statement” (read: sworn under oath) stating whether Nagin’s 2008 calendar and emails no longer exist or can be retrieved — and that “all available media, including but not limited to Mayor Nagin’s and Ceeon Quiett’s Blackberry, laptop and desktop computers and the city’s back-up tapes have been searched,” and the extent of the search for Nagin’s emails and calendar and Quiett’s emails. She also ordered Nagin and Quiett to search their personal and home computers for the same data — and ordered each of them to produce a “verified statement” if none of the records can be found. If either Nagin or Quiett lie in their respective “verified statements,” they can be held criminally liable for perjury.

She also ordered Nagin and Quiett, if the records cannot be retrieved, to certify in writing (1) that the public records are not in their possession, (2) the “detailed reasons for the absence” of those records, (3) the location of the records, (4) the person who has custody of the records, (5) the manner and “exact times” at which the records were taken from their custody, and (6) “ample and detailed answers” to Zurik’s inquiries related to his lawsuit.

Aaah, hell, just gives us an excuse to further fart in the general direction of City Hall, I guess, if we are so inclined.

So hey, drink yourselves silly, folks! Blot out the Walking Id's...errr...HAMAN's name by making as much noise as possible (think "the secret word" from Pee-Wee's Playhouse) and eat some tasty cookies in the shape of the villain's hat!

But wait...this just in...

According to disturbing report in the latest issue of the British scientific journal Nature, a team of geneticists based at pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. has discovered that a strange set of markers shared by 90 percent of all Jews indicates widespread intermarriage with the Amalekite nation in the Middle Bronze Age.

The comparative study became possible when a team of Israeli archaeologists uncovered an ancient Amalekite cemetery in a lightning excavation carried out in the Gaza Strip under air cover during Israel’s recent Operation Cast Lead. The cemetery contained human bones along with pottery depicting heroic attacks on the women and children of a contingent of dessert nomads, almost incontrovertible proof that the site belongs to the ancient Amalekite civilization. DNA extracted from the bones was used for a comparative study with the DNA of modern Jews.

“Given the Bible’s severe condemnation of the Amalekite people, and its command that the Israelites destroy them utterly, it’s nothing short of surprising to find that the two nations intermarried,” admitted the noted scholar of Jewish civilization and leading intellectual and adviser to Israeli leaders Yoram Hazony. “It will require a major reconceptualization of who and what the Jewish people are.”


Must then eat, drink, and be merry, for I might have to blot out the Amalek within...

Happy Purim!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Some recent stuff concerning the nature of blogging has got the mouse wheel a-turnin' in my brain.

Taylor pooh-poohs the notion that blogging is nonsense. And aaaa-men to that!

Pistolette is thinking of going for more of a shiny happy blog, leaving the heavier topics for another.

Perhaps I’ll contribute opinion pieces to another blog, or start a new one, but I DO know that I don’t want to discuss politics or social issues here anymore. There is something disharmonious about having a whimsical cooking post backed up to a long rant about the mayor or city council. It just doesn’t feel right to me. So Pistolette will stick to personal and lifestyle posts. As I’ve mentioned many times, part of staying happy and sane in a place like Nola requires you to simultaneously face and tackle the destruction and corruption around you while remembering why you’re doing it – the good things – that familiar home culture of people, food, history, imagery, fests, family, architecture - a cocktail of physical and emotional beauty not found anywhere else. Too much of the good stuff and you’re in denial, too much of the bad stuff and you’re wallowing. You need to keep that balance going, and it’s not always easy. Yet another mental fee to pay if you want the privilege, not the right, to live here. So I’ll do both, but I’ll do them separately so I, and anyone else, can go to whichever we’re in the mood for at that particular moment.

I personally go back and forth on this.

Some days, I wonder if I should have stuck strictly to countless musings on the little guy, or the past, present, and future of New Orleans' educational landscape, or loads of book reviews, or about life as a Southern Jew (which reminds me...I need to dig up my "I Am A Southern Jewish Experience" T-shirt), or depression...you know, keep things compartmentalized.

The problem for me is twofold, however:
  • I am a lazy freaking bum. For me to start on another website at this point and maintain it much as this one has been maintained, I'd have to have some sort of figurative sword of Damocles over my head, like, say, a paycheck, or some issue that absolutely BEGS that I maintain something separate from my personal musings and interests. It's enough that I occasionally contribute to a certain other forum for blogging NOLAns from time to time for right now. But that may change in the future. I just don't know.
  • Perhaps it's 'cause there aren't many people standing up and waiting in line to castigate me for anything I express concerning current events (or, if there are, they are lurking or they just haven't found me here), or I just don't have that much of a sense of filtration concerning topics I'm interested in, but I don't quite feel the need to stop doing what I'm doing.
I guess it's the difference between seeing a blog as a diary in the sense that one is chronicling life as it happens - and life happenings themselves don't have categories; it truly is one damn thing happening after another - and seeing a blog as a means of expression akin to magazines, or newspapers, or other publications in which the words and topics up for publication are carefully considered and edited. What I do lies somewhere in-between, and is really more a reflection on my approach to this whole blogging thing more than anything else.

The heat-packing mama can certainly do what she likes, and I wish her well on that. Her blogs, her rules.

However, I think it is more jarring to split these parts of her interests in two. Pistolette, lady, don't let a bunch of commenters dissuade you from exploring the dark side from time to time in your own virtual house. The local (loco?) blogosphere needs more of what you've got.

Just my two cents.

I do think we need to go do this with Maitri sometime soon, though.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

It seems to be one of these bizarre weekends where there's some things that are simply, for want of a better term, off.

There's just no other way to describe it when I hop into the car that just had nearly $4,000 of repairs done on it, put it into Drive, and I find, as I'm driving it, that I can't get it out of gear, the speedometer needle is not moving from zero as I'm moving, and then, when my husband gets into the car and drives it around, nothing is wrong. Reminds me of the story my grandmother would tell of the brief period when she and my granddaddy owned an Edsel: the car's Teletouch Drive began malfunctioning whenever she drove it, but when Granddaddy got behind the wheel, it worked fine. She went into hysterics for a few months when this state of affairs continued - there's only so much you can take when you try to put the car in Park and the trunk opens, or go for Reverse and end up moving forward in the parking space....and then, one fateful day, the car showed its true colors and did its mix-up show for my granddaddy.

I really hope things don't go that badly.

As it is, I was unable to get to my religious school morning meeting on time today because another supposed time-saving device failed me: the alarm on my cell phone. Of all the clocks in my home, that's the one that doesn't reset itself...until I get to the school meeting. I'm starting to wonder if the weird thing Dan has against resetting any clocks whatsoever (the reasoning being that eventually, the time goes right back to what it was anyhow) isn't as crazy as I think it sounds.

Our course of study today centered around the holiday of Purim, which starts tomorrow night...and it occurred to me that we in New Orleans already live in a Purim sort of world. The Purim holiday is one where, like the nature of luck itself, tables get turned, the oppressed rule, and the beauty-contest winner of a competition for the hand of a drunken king saves the day. If the wheels of justice were actually turning, the responsible parties would indeed get served...but there Hizzoner the Walking Id sits, like a nouveau Ahasuerus. Who knows what the man is on, or what sort of handle he has on things, or how much power he really wields - and who knows how far the illusion goes?

As the story opens, we meet our first player: Achashverosh. Although he is described as a powerful king, ruling over 127 provinces from Hodu (India?) to Kush (Ethiopia?) - we soon find that his power is more illusion than reality.

First of all, the party about which we read in the first chapter (1:3-8) seems to be his inauguration ball (see v. 2); yet it only takes place in the third year of his rule. This seems to indicate that the transfer of power into his hands was not so smooth. We will soon see that plots abound in and around his court and that his control over the realm is not very secure...

  • Achashverosh seems to be very insecure - both personally and politically. He spares no expense to show off his wealth - and specifically invites the governors, ministers and soldiers of the Persian and Medean armies. It seems that he is trying to consolidate his power and bring the military into his good graces. At the end of his six-month party (!), he invites all the citizenry of Shushan to his gala bash. This insecurity will increase and become a prominent feature in the events of the Megillah.

  • The image of Achashverosh's kingdom, a monarchy governed by protocol. Note how often the word Dat - a Persian word meaning "custom" or "protocol - shows up in the Megillah: 20 times! (Save for one verse in Daniel, it doesn't appear in any other books of the T'nakh). This would seem to indicate that everything in Achashverosh's realm was done "properly" and that the system was orderly and just. We soon find that this kingdom of Dat is just as illusory as his power.

  • I'm now agog in anticipation for what Monday night's Megillah reading (yes, the whole Megillah) and the following Purim day will bring. If men become women and vice versa on Purim, and you're supposed to get so drunk you can't tell the villains from the heroes, and you have to say the names of the bad guy's offspring all in one breath because they are barely worth even that, then why not a smidgen of justice?

    Yeah, I know. A hangover's much more likely.

    Wish me luck as I navigate the rest of this week. It's gonna be a doozy.


    Speaking of doozies...Dan left a message on my cell when I was watching the little guy run from inflatable to inflatable at the Purim carnival that told me he was hemmed in from getting to a rehearsal on time due to a March for Christ parade on Jackson Avenue. What made him indignant, however, was that two public high school bands were marching in it. So much for a separation of church and state was his point...

    ...although, chances are, the bands are being paid for the march. That's what's happening with the Mardi Gras parades, after all.

    Friday, March 06, 2009

    I missed this, but I'm glad I can link to it:

    Turn on C-SPAN2 tonight at 7 p.m. (EST) and watch 2005 Ochberg Fellow Mike Walter's documentary "Breaking News, Breaking Down."

    The film grew out of a 2007 Dart Society project called Target: New Orleans that sent reporters to the Gulf Coast to lend a hand in post-Katrina reconstruction. The film interweaves this trip with reporters speaking candidly about the hardest stories they've covered and how, as Walter says, "breaking news can break you down."

    Mike Walter's Breaking News, Breaking Down clip on New Orleans starts at 53 minutes into the Close Up Foundation's program on Breaking News. The rest of the Close Up program is all about the effects reporting about traumatic events can have on the reporters.

    "Mom, I want you to pack me a lunch today," the little guy tells me early this morning.

    Thankfully, this is requested of me at a point in the morning when I still have time to do so. "Okay," I say, and start putting in raisins, some Cheez-Its, sliced cucumber (one of the few green vegetables the fussy li'l eater still loves) and a raspberry preserves sandwich.

    "I want to see what's in it," the kid says after he gets dressed, and I show him.

    He grabs the juice box and admonishes me, "Mom, this goes in the mesh bag on the side of the lunch box." Aside from the number of boxes of raisins, everything else meets his approval.

    "I wanted to take my lunch today, because my friend T takes his lunch every day," he said to me in explanation. "And so does B. But she's allergic to apples. I'm glad I'm taking apple juice!" Ooookay.

    He proudly carries his lunch out to the car for the trip to school.

    Once we get there, he lets me walk him through the schoolyard, then turns to me at the side entrance to the school and says, "Mom, I can go in from here," shutting the door on the usual walking him into the classroom. I give him a hug from which he is eager to exit, and turn away, unexpectedly feeling a little sad.

    I realized, as I was walking away, that it was because I had seen some of the first signs of a true separation, a transitioning from parental influence to peer influence, those signs being a) conformity, and b) a certain need for independence exhibited in public. b) might be the start of the kid being embarrassed by me, which is not, and has never been, a unique feeling expressed by any child towards their parents...

    ...it simply blindsided me a little, especially when I came out in some colorful clothes for the Shabbat service tonight, and my son looked up and said, "Mom, you look awesome!"

    Uncharted waters a-coming, folks...

    For me, anyway.

    Thursday, March 05, 2009


    To. The. Freaking. Vey.

    I am currently speechless.

    I wanna hire Jon Stewart to help me parse this bull, 'cause I know he'll cut it with a knife and flush it straight away.

    But still...damn.

    Update, 2:36 PM: Thank goodness for E. Go read.

    Wednesday, March 04, 2009

    Pardon the musical interludes folks, but there's trouble...

    ...right here in River City....

    ...with a capital "T", which rhymes with "C", and that stands for "Crime Cameras":

    Finding 1. The MOT (Mayor's Office of Technology) used subcontracts to evade open competition for professional service contracts.

    Finding 2. The City failed to observe fundamental rules for accountability and transparency in its dealings with subcontractors.

    Finding 3. The MOT lacked the expertise to successfully plan the surveillance camera project and chose not to retain the services of a professional consultant.

    Finding 4. The MOT relied on one vendor for assistance in implementing a pilot project to the detriment of fair competition.

    Finding 5. The MOT issued an open-ended Request for Proposals (RFP), which invited vendors to propose different equipment and technology and gave an unfair advantage to one vendor.

    Finding 6. The Request for Proposals (RFP) process did not ensure that the City received the benefit of competitive prices for equipment and materials.

    Finding 7. The City should have used an Invitation for Bids (IFB) rather than a request for proposals to procure a contract that was primarily for equipment, materials, and non-professional labor.

    Finding 8. The MOT failed to establish a realistic budget for the project or to ensure that adequate funds were available.

    Finding 9: After awarding the contract to Southern, the MOT complained that contract prices were inflated.

    Finding 10: The contract did not hold Southern accountable for system performance or provide a meaningful warranty for Southern’s work.

    Finding 11. The MOT failed to maintain project records to document inspections or identify performance problems.

    Finding 12: The MOT failed to control expenditures under the Southern contract, which exceeded the contract price by 50 percent.

    Finding 13. The MOT gave additional, no-bid work to Southern for a City Hall surveillance project that was not included in the contract.

    Finding 14. The City’s records show that the City overpaid Southern by $286,423.85.

    Finding 15. The city made payments totaling $770,624.52 to Dell, Inc., without documentation to show what was purchased.

    Finding 16. The MOT arranged a no-bid deal for deployment of cameras purchased from Dell.

    Finding 17. The MOT named a Veracent employee as the project manager responsible for overseeing Veracent’s work on the project.

    Finding 18. The MOT tacitly approved an improper lease deal that allowed a subcontractor to profit from self-dealing.

    Finding 19. The City circumvented the state contractor’s license requirement by treating LSI’s price bid as the total contract amount.

    Finding 20. The City ignored fiscal safeguards when it approved LSI’s contract without determining the availability of funds.

    Finding 21. The MOT undermined fair competition by allowing LSI to change its bid and failed to control the cost of the LSI contract.

    Finding 22. The MOT failed to maintain project records to document work performed and inspections done under the LSI contract.

    Finding 23. Many of the cameras installed by LSI were not operational because the MOT failed to obtain an assessment of the scope of work required to extend the surveillance camera network into all areas of the City. (More on those non-operational cameras can be found here, here, and, ah, here.)

    Finding 24. In 2008, the MOT entered into a no-bid, open-ended agreement for a major project to enhance its communications network without determining the likely cost.

    Finding 25. The communications network Ciber built does not meet the MOT’s expectations for reliability.

    Finding 26. City officials ignored fiscal controls and allowed the MOT to overspend its 2008 budget.

    Finding 27. The MOT failed to include adequate standards or specifications in any of its contracts for camera installations.

    (big thanks to The Gambit's Blog of New Orleans for posting the full report)

    ...yes, that capital "T" that rhymes with "E" and stands for "E-mails"...

    ...which the City Council has filed to keep under wraps:

    The City Council has filed for a temporary restraining order in Civil District Court to prevent the release of their e-mails to the public, according to WWL-TV Reporter Paul Murphy.

    An inter-office memo distributed in February of last year detailed how city employees should handle public records requests.

    In it, it states that if a city employee gets a public records request, they have four hours to hand deliver, e-mail or fax it to the law department. Yet in December 2008, 10 months after the memo was issued, local attorney Tracie Washington submitted a public records request to Sanitation Director Veronica White.

    The request was for three years of e-mails from four City Council members: Arnie Fielkow, Stacy Head, Shelley Midura and Jackie Clarkson, as well as their staff.

    The city attorney admitted yesterday that copies of CDs containing those e-mails were given by the mayor's Office of Technology to Veronica White, and that she gave those CDs to Tracie Washington.

    Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield said Tuesday that the city is looking into why the City Attorney's Office was not aware until recently of the request granted by the Office of Technology.

    ("T" stands for "Technology" as well, kids. Why is the MOT involved in so many of the recent revelations about botched procedures and possible criminal intents?)

    ...and don't forget that "T" rhymes with "V", as in Trash Diva Veronica White, who, like Pharaoh with the Israelites, let those emails go:

    The city can’t keep the mayor’s emails (more on that from Dambala here) but the city Office of Technology can compile the emails of the 4 white council members, their staffers and a special assistant to Ed Blakely, burn them to a disk, and give them to Veronica White, the head of sanitation. And she can give that CD to a local lawyer who promises to post everything she’s gotten on the web... To me, though, it looks like White thought she was finally going to get her revenge on The White Folks for dissing her–though it seems like she was caught in a lie rather than racially attacked, though in the Nagin administration, disapproval or questions are the same as a noose, the n word or hundreds of years of slavery–and Washington was happy to help her. Why did Washington, allegedly still stung by the council’s unanimous vote to demolish the Lafitte, St. Bernard, CJ Peete, and BW Cooper housing developments, request only the records of the white council members when the vote was unanimous...It also puts the Nagin administration in a tough legal spot–why would any person, much less a judge, believe that the city can keep and store all emails except that of the mayor? Why does Nagin act more and more like Bush, like he was elected emperor?

    ...and not only is there capital "T" trouble right here in River City's City Hall, there's also trouble in its public housing management and its emergency management as well (thanks, E).

    As Conan O'Brien once sang in reference to NBC, that capital "T" rhymes with "G" as well.

    As in "Gee, we're screwed!"

    All of us.

    Update, 4:01 PM: Dambala goes in-depth on the crime camera report...a subject on which he had many feelers out well before the OIG began poking into things.