31 December 2005

Photo du Jour: An Exuberant Tom Benson Discusses the Future of the New Orleans Saints

There's no place like home. Really.

The past week I have been in South Florida and now in Atlanta for the LSU/Miami Peach Bowl. About 2pm, my wife and I go over to the Marriott Marquis (the LSU team hotel) to see what's going on in the lobby and maybe catch a glimpse of the team before they head over to the stadium. After seeing some of the players waiting to board buses, we walk over to the sports bar in the hotel. As we walk into the bar, who's big head do I see up on a couple of large screen televisions?? Why Tom Benson, of course. There were bowl games on at the time, so the audio of the televisions in the bar were tuned to the football games and not the "we're coming home" press conference. Since I had no audio, all I had to go on was the facial expressions and body language of Mr. Benson as he announced the team would be returning to New Orleans in 2006. You know what came to mind as I watched the press conference? Remember in the first Gulf War when those captured American POWs were carted out in front of cameras and basically forced to read prepared propaganda denouncing the United States and they spoke in a purposely monotone "I really don't mean what I am saying" way?? Thats the vibe Mr. Benson had--like he was forced to say something he didn't really want to say. And of course, no Q&A after the scripted show . . .

30 December 2005

Saints Staying in New Orleans (for 2006 at least)

Apparently it's official. Now all we need is a new owner, new general manager, new coach, new quarterback, and either Reggie Bush or Matt Leinart (or Brett Favre).

Here's the A.P. report:

08:00 AM CST on Friday, December 30, 2005
Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO -- A San Antonio newspaper reports that New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue have reached an agreement to return the displaced team to its state-owned training facility in Metairie.

Tagliabue is expected to inform the team's players and coaches of the decision when he meets with them Friday in San Antonio.

Sources tell the newspaper that the agreement likely eliminates the possibility of the Saints playing home games at the Alamodome in 2006.

League spokesman Greg Aiello said the league will announce the Saints' schedule in January. Benson said last week the team would practice in the state where it would play its games.

The Saints likely will play most of their home schedule in Baton Rouge and perhaps the Louisiana Superdome, which officials say could be ready for use by November.

Tagliabue, who arrived in San Antonio late last night, and other league officials plan to address players and coaches this morning at the team's temporary headquarters near the Alamodome. The meeting is the first between the parties since Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans four months ago and forced the team to move operations to the Alamo City.

29 December 2005

San Antonio has Faith in Saints Also

A foggy early morning shot of the Alamodome. Tom Benson personally asked the devil to lay a thick fog on the city so I could not get a shot of the banner. But I fooled him an got close enough.

I arrived in San Antonio last Thursday to spend Christmas with my family. While driving into town I passed the Alamodome and saw a huge banner that said "Saints Faith" with the Fleur de Lis between both words. Isn't it amazing that after all San Antonio has been through with the Saints that they still have faith in them? Wow, I really feal for the citizens of San Antonio. My heart goes out to them. We should give to them in their time of need. We should donate our creole and cajun food and culture, our jazz and rhythm and blues, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and The Hornets (because the Spurs just arn't enough). Give it all to them. Because after all, they've suffered horribly in recent months. They have had to endure what no city in the United States has ever gone through. They've also had years and years of suffering while their football team has played in another city and had losing season after loosing season. But, San Antonio is resilient, and they still have faith in their Saints.

Did I lay that on thick enough? By the way, on the bottom of the banner below the football, it says "City of San Antonio".

25 December 2005

Midnight Mass in New Orleans

Attended Midnight Mass on Saturday at St. Jude. This has been a tradition for my wife and I for several years. Usually Aaron Neville sings acapella at the mass, the church is decorated beautifully and it truly is one of the great masses in New Orleans I think. The mass is also a microcosm of New Orleans, it is about 60% black, has well dressed people, humbly dressed, and even some of the homeless people from Covenant House come over for the mass. The music has a more decidely gospel tone to it than the more tradtional church hymns being sung several blocks away at the Cathedral. You leave the mass on the edge of the French Quarter with a true spirit of the melting pot that is New Orleans.

Midnight mass this year was no different. There were black and white families, singles, people of all levels of income, and even the few wandering homeless. This year, however, there was an intensified sense of unity. We all had one thing in common: We had all lost our lives. Not our mortal life, obviously, but rather we had lost the lives we had the prior year when we sat in St. Jude listening to Aaron Neville filling the air with a solo "Ave Maria." Some of us had homes that were washed away, some of us were forced to flee to other cities to pursue our livelihood, some of us were living in FEMA trailers, others lost family members. Even one of the priests on the Altar was from a Parish in New Orleans east who, in addition to losing his home, had lost his entire congregation. He got up and sang an acapella "Ave Maria" that couldn't have been more off key if he tried, but it was still as inspiring as Aaron Neville's version because we were there after KTMB hoping and praying for a sense of normalcy on Christmas Eve, even if just for a few hours. And then there was the homily. I'm not the most religious person in the world, far from it, but the priest's inspirational homily made me want to jump up and scream "Yeah, you right!"

It is ironic that St. Jude is the patron Saint of lost causes and Jude is invoked in desperate situations because his letters stress that the faithful should persevere in the environment of harsh, difficult circumstances, just as their forefathers had done before them. (catholic.org) I think everyone in that church is facing such circumstances, but we all left with smiles on our faces because we were on the edge of the French Quarter and when we looked at each other leaving mass we knew we were in New Orleans.

Photo du Jour: Ho Ho Ho from Palm Beach Shores

Merry Christmas . . . .

24 December 2005

Ruth's Chris Sellout (Steakhouse): Former CPA Speaks/New HQ Photos

In 1965 Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse now-deceased founder and owner Ruth Fertel dedicated herself and her business to the rebuilding and recovery of New Orleans after the flooding brought about by Hurricane Betsy. In 2005 Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse CEO Craig Miller took a different approach when New Orleans was once again confronted with devastating flooding--this time due to Hurricane Katrina: he permamently relocated the corporate offices of the company from New Orleans to Orlando. I’ve touched on this subject a few times on the blog and speculated a few things concerning CEO Craig Miller’s decision to abandon New Orleans. Friday’s New Orleans CityBusiness daily email featured a discussion with Ruth Fertel’s former CPA and as an insider he echoed the suspicions I stated a while back . . .

Why Ruth's Chris should have stayed in N.O.
CityBusiness Editor Terry

New Orleans native Jim Ryder, 61, has spent his entire life in New Orleans. The former CPA for Ruth’s Chris creator Ruth Fertel said no matter how current management spins its hasty post-Katrina departure from New Orleans, the insensitive relocation has the late Fertel spinning in her grave.

"I’m not trying to attack (Ruth’s Chris CEO Craig Miller) or his decision but there’s a couple of things I take exception to," Ryder said. "But that’s not what Ruth would have done. To make the comment that Ruth would do it is just too much. It’s exactly the opposite. How you can make that decision two or three days into the storm about the long-term future of the company?

"Whether it was the right thing or not, time will tell, but the timing of the decision was pretty callous. It came literally when people were still being plucked off roofs and Ruth’s grave in Metairie Cemetery was still under water."

What would Fertel have done in the same circumstance? Ryder, who became Fertel’s CPA in the early 1970s and was an original Ruth’s Chris board member, has an insight matched by few.

"Loyalty would have been at the top of her list of paramount virtues," he said. "She wouldn’t have acquiesced in that decision without having it demonstrated it would not work over a long period of time."

Ryder said Miller and the rest of the Ruth’s Chris executives misread the need to flee. "I think it might be the wrong thing for the company in the long term," Ryder said. "I don’t think the executives appreciate how strongly Ruth felt about keeping the company here."

When Fertel sold Ruth’s Chris to an investor group in 1999 through an auction process involving about 20 interested parties, one of her sale conditions was a pledge to keep the company here.

"My long-term concern is, separated from New Orleans and the roots of the company and how it got to be the company it is, it’s going to morph into just another chain of restaurants," he said. "It’s not going to be Ruth’s Chris over time." The irony is Hurricane Betsy helped Fertel get her start, Ryder said, and Hurricane Katrina made the franchise move. He said restoration workers in 1965 packed this "hidden gem on Ursulines" every night.

Many suspect Miller was ready to flee to Florida even before Hurricane Katrina blew up New Orleans. Milller is a native Floridian although he hadn't lived in his home state for a quarter century.

"It seems there was a preinclination to make this move," Ryder said. "Craig’s from Orlando and most people thought they eventually would like to do it and this was a convenient excuse. Even if this decision had to be made, I thought it was unseemly to do a press release-type thing. I thought it was pretty insensitive."

Ryder is now more resigned than enraged about the loss of a business he helped build. "I’m not suggesting boycott but somehow voices have to be raised to remind them psyches were bruised and feelings were hurt when they did what they did," he said. "They need to do more than just open a couple of restaurants here."

I commend Mr. Ryder for coming out and making these statements. I differ with him, however, in that I suggest to everyone: BOYCOTT RUTH'S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE. Especially boycott the location in Metairie--and in Baton Rouge and the other Louisiana locations. Politicos--have your power lunches elsewhere. I don't think we need to worry about boycotting the original location on Broad as my money says it will never reopen despite its importance in this thing called "history" of the company.

As the previous posts on THE THIRD BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS illustrate, I am currently in Florida and as yesterday’s post shows I am in Orlando. So naturally, a trip over to the new corporate Ruth’s Chris Sellout HQ to the north in Heathrow was too easy to pass up. Here’s what I found . . .

Hey, a Louisiana license plate on this black Lincoln Towncar parked in front of the Ruth's Chris Sellout building--the only car in a fairly large parking lot. And it was bought at Marshall Brothers Lincoln Mercury in Metairie. Hmmm--wonder who's hard at work at the office at 7am on Christmas Eve day?

Comments? Views? Opinions? Contact seymourdfair@gmail.com

23 December 2005

Photo du Jour: Kissimmee Inspiration

East (and south) bound and down, loaded up and truckin' . . .

Surely everyone knows that couple that is completely insane for Disney, right? You know, the couple that takes every single vacation to Orlando--perhaps once or twice a year. Their honeymoon: DisneyWorld. Their kid's first vacation: DisneyWorld. Celebration of the kid's first baby tooth falling out: DisneyWorld. One of the sacred rules when going to Orlando for these types is "never, never stay on the park grounds"--it costs too much. The Orlando mecca of lodging/good places to eat (i.e. Red Lobster) according to these Disneyphiles: US 192 in Kissimmee just to the southeast of "the park" otherwise known as the worst stretch of strip development in the history of mankind. Veterans Boulevard in Metairie or Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge has nothing on this piece of work.

I am not the biggest fan of Disney vacations in my adult, supposedly informed age, but my child's age however gives him different ideas. Throw his grandparents into the mix and its obvious where this is going. We intended on breaking the sacred rule and staying at the RV facility "on the park grounds" despite its Eisner-fied price (I know, I know--hes out) but there was no room at the inn. So instead we ended up at a private RV park located on the above-mentioned highway o'crap. The above picture captures the awe inspiring view of Sam's Wholesale Club (or Sham's as I like to call them) from our otherwise first-rate pad . . .

22 December 2005

Photo du Jour: Frost in Milton, Florida

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin' . . .

Spent the night at the KOA campground in Milton, Florida about 20 miles east of Pensacola. As the constant hum of traffic on I-10 150 yards away (and six or so Abita Restoration Ales) soothed me to sleep, it got down to about 27F degrees or so overnight. Woke up Thursday morning to frost on the ground and on everything else including the "dingy" (thats RV lingo) as the above picture shows . . .

Doing the RV scene is relatively new to everyone involved in this trek. In fact, the maiden voyage of the RV was the KTMB evacuation from New Orleans up north to Colfax, Louisiana. Although I've been in the bus since the KTMB evacuation (we went to Vicksburg for Thanksgiving) I still have flashbacks of the days and nights in Colfax watching New Orleans' fate on the horrible cable news channels (you know, Orleans County) and desperately trying to listen to WWL Radio during nighttime to try to get some idea of what was really going on. When I heard AB2 (Aaron Broussard) cracking apart on WWL at 3am on the Tuesday morning following KTMB, I knew we were in trouble.

21 December 2005

Photo du Jour: I-10/Pascagoula River

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin' . . .

The I-10 bridge between Gautier and Escatawpa over the Pascagoula River suffered limited damage not nearly severe as the I-10 Twin Span across Lake Pontchartrain or the US 90 bridges over Bay St. Louis and Back Bay. A few sections of the eastbound bridge collapsed not from the surge like the other bridges, but because of getting struck by a loose barge during the storm. The damaged sections of the bridge have been repaired and all four lanes moved without delay. Towards the eastern end of the bridge a shrimp boat still remains grounded in the marsh near the Pascagoula River as seen above. Further east, the I-10 bridges across Escambia Bay in Pensacola remain impaired from the damages sustained during Crazy Ivan over a year and a half ago. Traffic stretched about two miles from the one-laned eastbound bridge (the westbound bridge has both lanes open) as the bridges were approached during evening rush hour. The construction of two new bridges to the south of the existing bridges are underway but are a long, long way from being anywhere near completed. The destruction of the original bridges from Ivan two summers ago foreshadowed what would happen to other similar I-10 bridges across the inland lakes and bays of the region.

20 December 2005

New Orleans: Three Months Later . . .

Following is a great piece written about two weeks ago by a friend who lives in Mid City. This is about as honest an assessment of flood-effected post-KTMB New Orleans life for as he describes himself (although his house did get flooded) "one of the lucky ones." Follow his hurricane story from initial evacuation, to seeing pictures of his house post-KTMB for the first time, to getting into New Orleans the first time post-KTMB, to accepting the new unfortunate realities . . . .

Sun, 04 Dec 2005
Three Months Later....

It's now three months after the storm and it's hard to believe that this much time has passed already. First things first:

Things are not okay in New Orleans.As a recent Time Magazine cover put it, "New Orleans Today: It's Worse Than You Think". The best one could say is that this will be a very slow rebuilding process. I feel I have to say this front and center because when we talk to friends and family outside of New Orleans, we're finding that people think things are getting back to normal here.

We wish.

The TV news media have moved on, occasionally broadcasting scenes of Bourbon Street reverie as signs that things are just peachy. Bourbon Street is a minuscule slice of New Orleans as a whole. Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased the Quarter is relatively healthy. But the reality is that 75% of the entire city flooded. It's hard to make the magnitude of that real to people. Pictures do not do it justice. You could try the numbers. For example, out of a city of 450,000, only around 65,000 sleep here at night now. Over 200,000 homes in Orleans Parish were flooded. But even the numbers don't really tell the story. You have to see it.

And it's hard to say which view is more dramatic. They daytime view of mile after mile of empty, gutted homes with their attendant debris piles out front and "dirty bathtub ring" water line. Or the view at night, with so much of the city in the dark.

Coming back home was a whirlwind. Everything was a crisis and it was impossible to choose between various priorities. We were dealing with insurance companies, FEMA, our jobs, finding a place to live, and trying to gut and clean the house. That last bit turned out to be rather therapeutic, at least for a while. After spending hours on hold on cell phones that barely work just so you could talk to people who couldn't help and couldn't answer your questions, it does feel good to smash sheetrock with a five pound sledgehammer. You don't even think about the fact that you own the moldy, damp sheetrock you're smashing to bits.

There was and is mold everywhere. This is the inevitable result of stinky, salty, poo-filled water sitting in your house for two to three weeks. And then two weeks more before you're allowed to get in and "remediate" the "water damage." At first you're careful, wearing your mask or respirator. But after a while, it's just plain irritating and there's spores in the open air anyway mixing with the sheetrock dust and dried up muck. We've experienced the "Katrina cough", undoubtedly exacerbated by a constant state of stress and general lack of sleep.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, the new greeting is, "how'd ya make out?" That question is almost always followed by a matter of fact description that goes something like this: "Oh, we had about 6 feet of water and the roof blew off part of the back of the house and the neighbor's car is on my fence. But we're doin allright." And it's true. Jennifer and I feel pretty lucky to only have 1-2 feet in the house. I have friends and family who had 1-2 feet of water in their attics. We were able to evacuate with our photos albums, pets, Jennifer's wedding dress, and a fair amount of clothes. Some of our furniture was salvageable. That's the new definition of lucky. You don't have to drive very far to see the definition of unlucky: Lakeview, New Orleans East, much of Gentilly. There's almost no signs of life at all in the East. And then there's the holes in the roofs and attic vents. The hand scrawled pleas for water and for rescue. And there are the bright orange X's spray painted on homes. The first time you see "1 DB" with a line through it indicating that a dead body was found and later removed, you don't forget it.

So why are we still here?

We are surrounded by utter devastation, miles of trash, debris and emptiness. On nearly every statistical indicator, pre-storm Louisiana is ranked at or near the bottom. We had the worst public school system to be found in the US. Murder occurred every day. And clearly there was abject poverty everywhere (don't look in the mirror, you other American cities). By nearly every measure, quality of life here before Katrina should have been miserable.

It was anything but. We loved our home and we are far from unique. We don't know if we'll ultimately be able to stay, but we very much want to. New Orleans is sticky in more ways than one. People who were born here, stay here. And people who move here, fall in love and stay here too.

I desperately miss walking Callie around Bayou St John. Ours was a real neighborhood where we truly got to know our neighbors. Just the other day, one of my neighbors called just to see how we were doing. This from a man with some significant health problems who had to be evacuated from a hospital after the storm. Our groceries and restaurants were all within an easy walk. Our Mid City neighborhood is filled with the architectural delights that can only be found in such abundance in New Orleans. As this USA Today(!) article reveals, our neighborhood was incredibly diverse.

I won't pretend it was a Utopia. There was occasional petty crime and clearly there was some drug dealing going on. It was frustrating to clean the litter off of our little front lawn every day after work. But it was still home. Streetcars had returned to Canal after a 40 year hiatus adding a new vibrancy to the area surrounding Canal at Carrollton. The homeowners were gaining ground and pushing out New Orleans' ugly drug culture. It was a neighborhood on the mend and growing. Not like so many other places, of course, where they tear down homes and replace them with heavily fortified mansions. In New Orleans, we don't tear down our homes, we renovate them. It takes longer, but we like our original hardwood floors, 13ft ceilings, working transoms, and Victorian details.

The neighborhoods whose names you've heard on the news are all unique in their own ways. Many are filled with multiple generations of families. I was raised just across the parish line in Metairie, but moved back into the neighborhood of my parents' childhood. My grandmother's house, where my mom grew up, is just a few blocks away. We went there every week as kids and we used to enjoy the family Endymion parade party until she moved out in 1991. My great grandmother had a house around the corner on Scott Street. My grandfather tended bar overnight at the Beachcorner Lounge at the end of Canal Street next to the cemeteries. The majority of my extended family lives in the surrounding area. That's pretty typical.

This is the New Orleans you never saw unless you were the type of tourist to travel off the beaten path. We kept it to ourselves, letting the tourism industry hawk the obvious attractions. We don't talk in a Southern accent or a Cajun accent and we don't call it "the Big Easy". To most ears we sound similar to New Yorkers -- that probably has something to do with the diverse mix of old New Orleans Creole French and later immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Times Picayune columnist, Chris Rose, recently opined that once you lived in New Orleans for a certain period of time, you were ruined for anywhere else. As we consider the possibility of leaving -- and the intelligent, financially motivated parts of our brains tells us we might have to -- I can understand where Chris is coming from. There's just a thousand little things that would otherwise seem inconsequential that make this place truly special and distinct.

And of course there's the food. Yeah, lots of other cities have great restaurants, but New Orleans has New Orleans restaurants. The city is liberally sprinkled with unknown neighborhood restaurants that are decades old. Eating here is an event, not just a necessary bodily function. And of course there's the music. All you have to do is turn on WWOZ and hear the tons and tons of unique music we've given to the world. There are some classic songs that I hear that now almost stop me in my tracks and make me want to kick myself for even thinking of leaving this place.

Yet think about it we do, our rational brains at war with our hearts and souls. And truth be told, that was true before the storm as well. While in one sense, it's easy to live in New Orleans, it can be hard to make a living here. So here were are like tens of thousands of others floating in a secondary flood of indecision, futilely waiting for some external wisdom and guidance that deep down we know isn't coming. We're just going to have to take a stab in the dark and hope we're doing The Right Thing.

Recommended Reading:The New Orleans Times Picayune at NOLA.com has been excellent and well worth reading. Their coverage of just what caused those levees to fail is something I'll write on a little bit later. For a more personal view, Chris Rose has captured what many of us are feeling.

Anne Rice's column, "What Does it Mean to Lose New Orleans" gets it right.

Michael Lewis' Wading Toward Home is a must read as well.

Tom Piazza's book "Why New Orleans Matters" is forcefully argued, and is excerpted here in Gambit.

John Barry's Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America is on my must read ASAP list. He was recently interviewed in Gambit as well.

John Biguenet's blog for the New York Times excerpted here in Gambit was interesting as well.

19 December 2005

Ken Odinet is an Idiot...REDUX

Today, December 19, 2005, at 9:53 PM a comment was posted on one of my previous posts:

Anonymous said...

Al,of Seafood City,you are the idiot. Rep. Odinet is an honest and sincere person who is looking out for ALL of his constitutents. He has watched his parish flood twice because of the Gulf Outlet (MRGO)which benefits New Orleans - not St. Bernard. It has only destroyed the wetlands, homes, businesses and lives of St. Bernard. Rep. Odinet is standing up for all those people that do not have a voice elsewhere. He is one of the few political figures that still stands by his beliefs. There should be more leaders like Rep. Odinet.

You really kind of made my point for me. I never doubted Rep. Odinet's honesty or sincerity and I never doubted his loyalty to the people of St. Bernard. What I called into question was that Rep. Odinet used his political power to benefit a few rather than benefit the many. The assignment of a unified regional levee board does not mean that the interests of St. Bernard are going to be ignored with regards to the MRGO, which we can all agree is a miserable failure. What greater benefit is the continued fragmentation and polticialization of our levee boards going to serve? We have known for nearly 50 years that the MRGO was a potential for mass devatstaion. According to a report published on www.louisianasportsman.com a 1958 report published by the Department of the Interior, warned that “excavation of the (MRGO) could result in major ecological change with widespread and severe ecological consequences.” And on the same website, "an article in the October 2001 issue of the Scientific American warned that a worst-case hurricane impact could swamp the entire city of New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands of people. The areas projected to be most impacted? St. Bernard, Orleans and Plaquemines." Ok, the MRGO is a significant problem, but what benefit does Odinet's actions serve? What good comes from his political move?

Back to the Sportmans website, the reason for the MRGO in the first place "according to a 1957 article appearing in the New Orleans States Item: “…the (MRGO) is a chance for the industrial development of St. Bernard parish as a supplement to the great industrial growth of neighboring Orleans parish.” REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT! (Does the name Estopinal mean anything here?) The fact that we did not have the science or the foresight to see the devastation MRGO has had on our wetlands and the fact that it needs to be fixed doesn't change the fact that we ALL need a unified, scientific, engingeering based Levee Board.

Again, let it be clear that I am taking issue with Ken Odinet's ACTIONS not his CHARACTER. His role as a stand-up guy of good character and his family orientation (I was friends with some of his children in college) is not the issue here. His role as the main force behind killing something that benefits us ALL is what is the real problem I am voicing.

Recent Aerial Shots of the Mississippi Gulf Coast

This link goes to a photo gallery of aerial pictures taken about two weeks ago of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The pictures include coastline shots of Bay St. Louis, Henderson Point, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport and Biloxi. The devastation is unbelievably horrendous.

18 December 2005

38 Years Means Nothing to Tom Benson

WDSU reported tonight that Tom Benson has notified the NFL league office that he is compiling a portfolio of reports presenting him in a negative light or personally attacking him aired on/written in New Orleans media. He plans to submit this to the other thirty one NFL owners to prove the hostility towards him in New Orleans prevents him from bringing the team back to the New Orleans. Of course, his deliberate actions (and inactions) post-KTMB have absolutely nothing to do with the savage "hostility" towards him in New Orleans and Louisiana.

Everything now appears to be setting up for a court battle where New Orleans-native Tom Benson is going to attempt to circumvent the NFL's wishes to keep the team in New Orleans and permanently relocate the team to BensonLand West, San Antonio. Oh, ya, and because of some legal maneuvering executed in October, the case will be heard in Texas. I suggest that legal steps are taken on this end to prevent the name "Saints" from being used if the team moves--similar to what was done with the "Browns" name when Modell left Cleveland. I do not think New Orleans would ever be awarded another NFL franchise like Clevleand if Benson leaves, but my opinion is that the Saints are of New Orleans and only New Orleans. Fine, Tom, go ahead and sell us and your soul out--but not as the Saints.

With that, below are some shots of some of the fan-made signs I saw at the Carolina/Saints game today at Tiger Stadium. Remember, 38 years of unquestionable loyalty--20 years with Tom Benson as owner--is meaningless to Mr. Benson. It is a distinct possibility today's game in Tiger Stadium may have been the last game in Louisiana for the New Orleans Saints. Quite a sad thought . . .

Send comments to seymourdfair@gmail.com

Persons of the Year

I see that Time Magazine has named Bono and the Gates couple as its co-Persons of the Year. Needless to say, I disagree with the decision.

There was a strong feeling from people who follow that kind of thing that either KTMB or Mother Nature in general was a lock to win the "award." In fact, there are gambling lines that support this opinion. But when the time comes to announce the selection, who appears on the cover? A man who stole someone else's idea to become the richest man on Earth. And the rock star who has almost officially passed the late John Lennon as the singer with the most inflated ego or sense of self-importance. I think it's great that these two men are using some of their incredible wealth and influence to help the less fortunate. But after a year of devastating hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, I think Time is dead wrong. And you wonder why a lot of the hurricane survivors are feeling forgotten these days.

Maybe KTMB and Mother Nature didn't win because, techinally, they are not people. Call me a cynic, but I think the decision came down to dollars and sense. That's the only thing the media seems to be worried about these days. The executives in charge of making the decision probably thought they could sell more magazines with Bono on the cover than they could with a picture of a globe or hurricane survivors. And there's no chance of an "exclusive interviews" with KTMB or Rita. I don't know why I would think that Time Magazine would make such a "corporate" decision. Remember who the magazine named "Person of the Year" in 2004? Think they'd like to have that one back?

But, once again, Katrina victims have been trivialized and forgotten. What else is new?

Actually, I'm kinda surprised that Bono isn't holding an iPod in his photo.

17 December 2005

New Orleans' Southern Magnolia Trees

A friend of mine who suffered about two and half feet of floodwater in his home in Mid City observed early on that Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) trees located in the heavily flooded (two-week plus) areas of New Orleans were all dead or dying. Broadway is an Uptown street lined with these trees and today I noticed exactly what he had pointed out back in late-September. Looking at the condition of the Southern Magnolias on Broadway, there is a clear line of demarcation between Birch and Green Streets where the floodwaters reached. Towards South Claiborne from the 1600 block of Broadway on all of them are fried--deader than Elvis. The Southern Magnolias towards the River from this point are at their pre-KTMB leaf dropping, sap producing, overall messy normalcy. Throughout the flooded portions of the City of New Orleans any plant materials near the ground that were completely or near-completely submerged are dead--including shrubs, bushes, ground covers, and grasses--and are brown. From what I have seen, it seems most tree species (minus the Southern Magnolias) seem to have survived the long-standing water--at least for now. On Broadway, many Oaks and Crepe Myrtles and other trees planted in the same streetside areas as the fried Magnolias survived the floodwaters with no obviously noticeable negative effect. It seems as if the Southern Magnolia tree can be used as a sort of litmus test to if an area severely flooded or not.

16 December 2005

Photo du Jour: The Orleans Outfall Canal Floodwall

In all of the discussion concerning how and why sections of the floodwalls on the 17th Street, London Avenue, and Industrial Canals failed, I have heard no one bring up the fact that the Orleans Outfall Canal Floodwall (specifically on the Orleans Avenue/Lakeview side) had no structural failures. Why is this relevant? I think it's relevant because its the only wall that physically doesn't resemble the other walls--and it had no failure whatsoever. This construction/style of wall spans the length of the Orleans Outfall Canal from the Orleans Outfall Pump Station near Orleans Avenue/I-610 up to Robert E. Lee. The wall looks the way it does, because of the involvement of public input/civic organizations when they were designed, to attempt to make the wall aesthetically pleasing to Lakeview. Grecian/Olympic-style details such as urns, leaves, and runners (the runner detail is not seen in this picture--they are at the bases of the bridges crossing at Harrison, Filmore, etc.) were chosen as the theme I assume because the proximity to the sporting facilities in City Park. But in addition to the aesthetically-minded design, the size/structure of these walls seem to be higher, thicker, and seem to have a thicker base at the ground level than up at the top. The walls on the City Park side of the canal, however, appear to be built using the same specifications as the ones that failed in the other locations. My point is the Lakeview-side walls physically appear to be stronger than the other design. This maybe an optical illusion and I have no scientific evidence of this--just an observation.

15 December 2005

Tom Benson is a Liar. Period.

WWL Radio reported that ever-increasingly delusional owner Tom Benson told Saints employees in San Antonio yesterday the team's practice/training/office facility in Metairie is currently still occupied by FEMA personnel and military troops. Furthermore, he told them that New Orleans is "unlivable" and that they should stay away.

First, lets deal with the current status of the practice facility. I decided to take a little excursion out to Airline Drive this afternoon. Lets see what I found there . . . . (Click on each picture to get larger version.)

Yep, unbearable, inhumane conditions on Airline Drive. Man, I wish my lawn looked that good. Is Tom Benson insane? Seriously. The commissioner of the league, Mr. Tagliabue, comes to New Orleans last week and states in his formal press conference that the practice facility is in "first-class condition." Then, a week later, Benson tells his staff the facility is not usable. Look at these pictures and then look at the pictures of the team practicing last week in a parking lot. Meanwhile, this facility (mostly paid for by the State of Louisiana, coincidently) just sits unused.

As for the second point of Tommy Flanagan (oppps, I mean Benson) concerning the livability of New Orleans . . . Could he insult the million or so of us currently here in Metro New Orleans anymore? I've already stated in an earlier post that the overwhelming majority of employees/players of the team do not live in areas catastrophically flooded. They live in Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Tammany--areas that didn't sit in water for three weeks. A friend told me he heard on WWL that the number of players adversely effected by the flooding is now stated at five. Even within the City of New Orleans, there are areas that are most certainly livable as I live here. And I am saying that as a father with a wife and child here as well. In the unflooded areas, is it completely back to normal? No. Are all daily conveniences back up and running? No--not all, but many are. But does that make things "unlivable?"

With his insults its like he wants us to despise him--and his team. Hmmmmm . . .

Tom Benson has just become a pathetic old man who now has to resort to just making shit up. Its really sad to see. In 1985 he's hailed a hero, a savior--someone who deeply cared for and stepped up to the plate for his city. And now he's become just a pathetic, greedy old man. If someone would have told me in the mid-1980s this guy would become a worse owner than John Mecom, I would have laughed and said no freaking way. Well, look where we are now--and its just gets worse and worse every day.

I think we all understand the economic realities of the NFL and its very possible New Orleans may not be a viable NFL market anytime in the near-future. Fine, I think any rational person understands this. But the way this all is going down, basically by orchestrated sabotage, is unforgivable. Thirty-eight years of unparalleled loyalty and devotion to a mostly losing team and its all going to end this way. Forget what happened to Baltimore in the 1980's with Jim Irsay and the Colts and to Cleveland with Art Modell and the Browns. This looks to culminate in a new low.

By the way, for excellent coverage on the ongoing Saints fustercluck/debacle, saintsdoggle is an excellent updated daily site.

Comments? Observations? Email seymourdfair@gmail.com

Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Jindal (and not Blanco)

I have yet to see one myself out on the road, but I understand that there are "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Jindal" bumperstickers making their appearances. Instead of the spirit of working together and trying to rectify the daunting sets of issues within New Orleans and Louisiana post-KTMB, its just easier to point the blame elsewhere and wipe the hands clean of it. Its not that surprising, really. Its just easier to have that mindset than to confront the unpleasant realities. Do these people honestly believe that had Jindal been Governor instead of Blanco things would have gone down any differently?

To those that support the above slogan and the crappy attitude that goes along with it (and place such a sticker on their car), I have something to tell you that is the dead-honest truth. Your own political base is the reason Bobby Jindal lost the last Governor's election to Kathleen Blanco--and you know it.

Sure, sure--the educated, professional, country club Republicans in the urban and suburban areas of New Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, and in Baton Rouge all voted for Bobby Jindal, the new, young shining star of the Republican Party. The wonderboy . . .

And you know who else voted for Jindal? People like me, moderates--and absolutely not Republican. Why? Because to me he (not his party affiliation) represented a new type of person in a statewide political office in Louisiana. He was young, and obviously a brilliant mind based on his past experiences and educational attainment. Bobby Jindal as Governor of Louisiana would send a positive, progressive message to the rest of the country. (Quite honestly, I thought that the Jindal/Blanco choice was a win-win because either way the Governor-elect would be non-traditional in the realm of Louisiana politics.)

But guess who didn't vote for him? The racist, intolerant, religion-on-the-sleeve Republican-base of the rural "just like the rest of the South" areas of Louisiana.

But why didn't Jindal's base party voters in the rural parishes vote for him? Hes a Republican--just like them. Maybe they didn't like his stand on this issue or that issue? Maybe in their eyes Jindal didn't have enough political experience to be the Governor of a state just yet? Just too young, perhaps? Was that it?

No, no. The reality is they only saw one thing about him: he wasn't white. He was some dark black-like color. Thats all it took. To me, his Indian ancestry was an asset in that it could send the message that we were absolutely not consumed with one's race--that it was irrelevant. But instead, his race single-handedly prevented him from being elected. So to the bumpersticker crowd, cram it. This is the truth and you know it.

Blanco and Nagin on the Hill

I watched most of the testimony by our governor and our mayor in Washington DC yesterday. KBB was bombarded with questions about when she called for buses, when the mandatory evacuation was called, did she refuse help from numerous organizations, etc. etc. We have heard all the questions. She has heard them all too and she didn't seem ready for them. The guy she had with her from the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness handled things far better than she did. They had her on her heels from the begining. Rep. Charlie Melancon saved her a few times. He stepped in with real answers when she was stumbling trying to defend herself. She seemed defensive and a little combative at times. It wasn't the kind of image we need to project right now in my opinion. She did very little to inform them of the things we are doing to help ourselves. Even when asked directly about what we are doing her answers were rushed and incomplete. That should have been her main focus.

The Mayor for the most part did a better job. He seemed prepared and kept his cool the whole time. I wish he would have answered a few questions differently. When asked about the situation in the Superdome (murders, rape, etc.) He basically said he didn't know what really happened because "the story is not through being told yet". That may be true but, there is no evidence as of today that any of those rumors are true. They did finally get to the point that most reports were only rumors perpetuated by media sources after a FEMA representative, who was at the Superdome, testified that the violence reported was exaggerated from what he saw.

The one thing that I realized while watching this, is something that hasn't been stated by anyone yet. I think it is very important for everyone to realize that even if the state and the city had executed a perfect evacuation we would still be in the same situation today. Even if everyone had gotten out and not a single person had died, New Orleans would still look like it does today. Every single challenge would be exactly the same.

Too much finger pointing and not enough moving on with our "new" reality. Of course, should we really expect anything different?

14 December 2005

Photo du Jour: The I-10 Twin Span

Headed over to "the cooooooooooooast"--as a friend of mine calls the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a slow Mississippi drawl--yesterday. The I-10 Twin Span Bridges between New Orleans East/Irish Bayou and Slidell of course were damaged from the storm surge. The normally-eastbound bridge was repaired in about a month after KTMB and is open with one lane in each direction. Notice the metal work to the left--thats work going on to the westbound bridge by Boh Brothers Construction. At the time of day I went across the bridge towards Slidell the traffic moved at a good clip at about 45 mph or so. Going back towards New Orleans in the early evening the Slidell-bound traffic was backed up about a mile or so from the base of the bridge, while the New Orleans-bound lane moved without delay. That castle at Irish Bayou still stands--but it appears to have sustained significant damage. New Orleans East looks really bad--although I was glad to see a fair amount of overhead street lights on the surface streets lit up from I-10 upon my return. The Home Depot there is open and a bunch of the car dealerships in "The East" are now open as well.

A Twelve Step Program for the Recovery of New Orleans

A plan of action (a blueprint or a roadmap, if you prefer) is needed for New Orleans’ recovery from the effects of Katrina. No one else seems to have a real long-term plan so I thought I would take a shot. I promise in this plan, unlike the plans proposed by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, to not say “The plan is to create a plan for….” Some of these concepts are not much fun, but the seriousness of the situation calls for drastic changes in the way New Orleans works. Also, because Katrina is driving me to drink (more than usual), I thought a twelve step program for recovery would be the most appropriate way to lay out this plan of action.

1. Accept that life in New Orleans will never be the same again. We need to hold on to everything that we can from our past lives but we also must look and move forward.

2. Dissolve the levee boards and turn over control of levee planning to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. Create a Coastal Protection Division within LDNR to accomplish flood protection and allow them to integrate coastal protection concepts with coastal restoration and coastal management. Remember, improved flood control and storm protection for New Orleans will be a slow process. And it should be slow – many options are available to achieve the same goal and the public deserves (and should demand) to carefully review each and every plan proposed.

3. Identify all aspects of New Orleans that makes it culturally and economically viable and unique and prioritize them for rebuilding and protection. Ask the question: what makes New Orleans New Orleans? Protect and covet everything that answers that question and quit worrying about those things that don’t.

4. Implement legislation to put into place the Louisiana Recovery Corporation as proposed by Congressman Richard Baker, or something similar. Although not a perfect piece of legislation, this bill will protect Louisiana property owners from default on existing mortgages and give Louisiana citizens the first right of refusal to come back and rebuild their homes and businesses.

5. Create a southeast Louisiana regional planning authority that has the goals of integrating southeast Louisiana communities to work together instead of competing with one another. New Orleans needs to be the cultural and economic anchor for southeast Louisiana, but New Orleans should focus future growth in areas not well served by other communities in the region.

6. Try not to be bitter towards out-of-state contractors and laborers. Remember they are ignorant about New Orleans culture, history and lifestyles and they are going to be with us for a long time. Instead use this as an opportunity to educate them about New Orleans and its history and why it is such a special place. Enthusiasm is contagious so it is important to be enthusiastic when telling outsiders about all of the great things the city has to offer (even post-Katrina). They may be out-of–state contractors today but they might become tourists or residents in the future.

7. Start returning all possible aspects of normalcy to the city immediately. Dump the curfew, stop the late night military checkpoints, and enforce parking regulations and traffic violations. This is not the image New Orleans wants to portray to residents and guests, and curfews and checkpoints smack of racism and racial profiling.

8. Integrate low income housing into neighborhood rebuilding. No projects or apartment-like low income housing should be used in the future. Everyone, including those in poverty, deserves a decent place to live in a safe neighborhood. This can only be achieved by having the vision to mix low income housing in with market rate housing throughout the city during the rebuilding process. The goal should be to have an equivalent number of low income units following buildout as were available before Katrina. The number of units should be the same as pre-Katrina, just the location and configuration of the housing should change.

9. Implement tax incentives for businesses to relocate to New Orleans. Tax incentives are especially important in attracting small businesses. Don’t be concerned about the loss of tax revenue for the city and state from these tax incentives in the short-term – most of the city’s revenue streams are non-existent in the short-term anyway. We need to focus on long-term economic development and job growth.

10. Education, education, education. It is time to rebuild the Orleans Parish public schools into the best urban school system in the United States. A quality public education system is the key to attracting people and businesses to New Orleans and is vital to boosting our current low income residents out of poverty. It also will cure all of the ills of urban sprawl as people demand to move back into New Orleans to get the best free education in the state of Louisiana. Priority funding for the city from all sources goes to rebuilding schools, paying teachers the highest salaries in the state and providing the best supplies, books, and facilities available. If the public school system is the best there is, people will be climbing over each other to rebuild homes and relocate businesses in New Orleans.

11. Clean up the politics of the city. Although corruption and graft are part of the culture of New Orleans, the city must clean up its political act in order to attract viable businesses. The mayor’s office must insure every potential business owner or CEO that corruption and graft will never again be tolerated. All business transactions need to be transparent and businesses compete on a level playing field.

12. Use the power of eminent domain to take all of Tom Benson’s property in the New Orleans metro area and use that property to build housing for Katrina refugees that were displaced to San Antonio. Although this would only provide a very minor boost to the housing problem in New Orleans, it would go a long way towards improving morale locally and would make me feel better personally.

Regional Attitudes: They Are A Changin'

New Orleans and the rest of the state of Louisiana have not always seen eye to eye. Politically, socially, economically and historically, New Orleans has, at times, been an island within the state. Unfortunately it may have taken the largest natural disaster in the history of the United States to have changed this outlook.

Many New Orleanians have said, and a greater number believe, that Baton Rouge has the most to gain from a failing post-Katrina New Orleans. Prior to Katrina, many people in Baton Rouge may have felt that a Katrina-like scenario could only benefit Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge has always suffered from a second-city syndrome, lacking an identity, poorly planned and defined by urban sprawl and a declining downtown. Most people relate Baton Rouge to LSU and the Capitol, not to culture and history.

Prior to Katrina there had always been a mix of envy, fear and resentment towards New Orleans from the rest of Louisiana and especially from Baton Rouge. Although many Baton Rouge natives loved to sneak into New Orleans to have brunch at Brennan’s on weekends, catch a parade during Mardi Gras, or watch the Saints, few would ever think of leaving Baton Rouge to make New Orleans their home.

However, everything in Baton Rouge and the rest of Louisiana has changed dramatically since Katrina. Instead of bearing the fruits of a declining New Orleans, the rest of the state, and especially Baton Rouge, are bearing incredible burdens. Unemployment rates in many communities have skyrocketed (now over 10% for the state of Louisiana). Infrastructure such as highways, airports, shopping plazas and housing has been stressed to near the point of breaking. And many people have had to become empathetic and patient, providing assistance for their less fortunate neighbors.

Since Katrina the attitude in Baton Rouge towards New Orleans has shifted. Many who loved to sneak away to New Orleans for culture and entertainment now have nowhere to go. Many businesses in Baton Rouge realize that they relied upon businesses in New Orleans for commerce. Now that the New Orleans economy has drowned, Baton Rouge is struggling. Housing stock has disappeared overnight and Baton Rouge has an ever increasing homeless problem and an increasing unemployment rate. The state, the largest employer in Baton Rouge, is missing a large portion of its revenue stream since Katrina and Rita and everyone in Baton Rouge knows that the next step for state government is massive layoffs which will hit Baton Rouge very hard. Also, the medical community is stretched very thin and the New Orleans’ medical centers and clinicians are greatly missed.

On the other hand, many people in Baton Rouge are getting to really know New Orleanians as neighbors. Rich and poor, black and white, the exposure to New Orleanians is changing attitudes of many Baton Rouge natives. Evidence for this can be seen on letters to the editor in the Baton Rouge Advocate, on web logs and from conversation. Initially following Katrina, Baton Rouge and much of urban Louisiana outside of New Orleans were consumed by fear of the unknown. It was obvious that many thought that crime, drugs and a more urban way of life would be exported to their communities. Rumors of crime and riots in Baton Rogue were rampant. However when hundreds of thousands of evacuees came to places like Baton Rouge and reality did not match their initial fears (e.g., crime has not increased in Baton Rouge since Katrina), people opened up their homes, wallets and hearts to evacuees, many of which became refugees. People’s attitudes in Baton Rouge were not changed by politicians or the media, instead they were changed by interaction with their new neighbors and the reality of their situation.

Seventy thousand of the 202,000 small businesses in Louisiana were in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Some will manage to relocate but most of these small businesses will fail. Many businesses elsewhere in the state rely upon commerce with these failing small businesses. In time, these other businesses throughout the state will also fail. Much of the clean-up and reconstruction effort is being done by out-of-state companies and they are hiring many out-of-state workers. Large corporations that historically had a big presence in New Orleans are announcing that they are moving jobs out of the New Orleans community, with many of those jobs going out-of-state. The future for the Louisiana economy is grim.

This is the reality: Katrina has awakened Baton Rouge and other communities in south Louisiana to the importance of New Orleans as the anchor of the Louisiana economy and the Louisiana way of life. The future for all communities will only be strong if New Orleans is strong. This was best expressed by the Baton Rouge Business Report (October 25, 2005):
“But in the end, the fact remains: The best way to solve the problems of Baton Rouge is to get New Orleans and the rest of the state up and running again. It's a solution everyone at the local, state and federal levels accepts, but recovery efforts remain stuck in the planning stage.
Three anchors of the state's economy--health care, tourism and retail--are under threat. Along with the city itself, the devastation of New Orleans has meant a third of Louisiana's economy disappeared overnight. The inescapable ripple effect means Baton Rouge and other urban centers will also feel the economic repercussions.”

Even the political winds are changing. Our U.S. Senators, both from the New Orleans area, went in front of Congress and asked for $250 billion for post-Katrina relief. This bill, which the Governor’s aids helped to draft, included funds for every pet project ever conceived in south Louisiana, most of which have nothing to do with rebuilding New Orleans and its economy (e.g,, $35 million for seafood industry marketing, $25 million for a sugar cane research laboratory, money to deepen the Port of Iberia, paying for a 50 year old plan for a lock on the Industrial Canal, $7 billion for Louisiana highway projects). How does any of this rebuild your flooded home, get you back to work and your kids back in school? Unfortunately they were playing Louisiana politics as usual and were focused on giving a little pork to all voters across the state instead of rebuilding New Orleans. They did not expect that citizens in communities throughout the state would not want these wasteful handouts but instead want recovery efforts focused on flooded New Orleans. As bad as this proposal looks here at home in Louisiana the backlash in Washington from their proposal is slowing real assistance for all of us.

Alternatively U.S. Congressman Richard Baker (R-Baton Rouge), who one would think would have very little to gain politically by a rebirth of New Orleans and everything to gain by the rapid growth of Baton Rouge has come up with the only decent plan for helping to rebuild New Orleans. He has proposed the creation of the Louisiana Recovery Corporation. Although this piece of legislation has its flaws, it is truly the first real plan for helping those that can rebuild New Orleans: private property owners. The bill provides a mechanism for social order in the city while keeping as many homeowners, business owners, banks and insurance companies solvent as possible. Again it is not perfect, but at least it is a realistic plan that gives property owners in flooded areas an opportunity to rebuild.

Why did it take a Congressman from Baton Rouge to come up with the first real plan for rebuilding the social fabric of New Orleans? It could be that Katrina has started to alter old attitudes and political fears. It is quite likely that he has recognized that the attitude of many of his constituents towards New Orleans has changed and that maintaining and growing the Louisiana economy (including Baton Rouge) rests upon a strong, vibrant New Orleans that is a cultural and social center for all of south Louisiana. Unfortunately, it is a shame that it took the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States to start healing the political and social rift between New Orleans and the rest of the state.

13 December 2005

Katrina - The Impact on New Orleans' Mental State

Carnival Season is rapidly approaching, but the Holidays are in full swing. It has finally dawned on our friends outside of the city that some folks might be a little "Depressed" at this time of year. This revelation is almost as comical as one of those Beer commercials "You think anyone might be depressed with the holidays rolling around, their lives turned completely upside down, and the constant bickering between the Federal, State and Local Parish governments about who did what?" "Maybe we should have planned for this..." "Advanced Planning?? BRILLIANT!!"

Here are some tidbits from the experts:

Before Katrina, the National Suicide Prevention hot line got an average of about 3,000 calls a month from all over the country. Since the storm, monthly calls have more than doubled to 7,000 in October alone with most new calls coming from Katrina-affected areas, said spokeswoman Aprinaturalle

"We don't have our medical system here. It's gone. That's a big problem," Dr. Frank Minyard (coroner) said. "I think it's going to end tragically for some of our citizens, not only here, but who are spread out all over the country."

"It's almost like a shotgun blast as opposed to a single bullet to social stability," said Bryan Gros, a Baton Rouge psychologist who works for the Mental Health Association of Louisiana. "People are having a hard time."

I feel like Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High when I read these quotes... "What are you, people? On dope???" This is just coming to mind NOW?

But like everything else that seems to be going on, many are identifying problems (not necessarily a bad thing) but no one is offering solutionsdefinitelyly a bad thing).

This, to me is the beauty of this "Blog" and the people who contribute to it. I have known them for what seems to be a lifetime, and when faced with adversity, they come through. If a member of Krewe Char de Guerre is in need, there is not a moment's hesitation on what to do... TAKE ACTION.

One of my biggest fears after Sister Katrina (KTMB) roared through, was that the most important part of the city and its rich traditions would get lost in the shuffle. Homes can be rebuilt, Levees can be reinforced, Businesses can rebound. But if there is no solid plan to rebuild the PEOPLE of New Orleans, then the true spirit and soul of the city will be lost forever.

The Crescent City Must be rebuilt, and ALL impacted assets must be carefully considered in the process.

Photo du Jour: St. Charles Streetcar Line Progress

This picture was taken on Monday morning. It still appears to be quite a while before the St. Charles Line is back online as the electrical system that powers the line is fried, but at this point any progress such as seeing an RTA crew securing an overhead wire is something to mention. The Canal Street Line is beginning an abbreivated/limited service this weekend on Sunday morning using eight of the St. Charles Line cars. The Times-Picayune article on this can be seen here.

We are Mardi Gras!

Chris Rose nailed it. His piece in the TP today is great and it sums up everything we love about Mardi Gras. I've read it over a couple of times now and I get more fired up for MG2k6 everytime.

We're having Mardi Gras and that's final

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Chris Rose (LINK)

The Mardi Gras thing. It's not on the table. It's not a point of negotiation or a bargaining chip.

We're going to have it and that's that. End of discussion.

Folks in faraway places are going to feel the misery of missing it, and that is a terrible thing. In the past, I have missed the season a couple of times because of story assignments elsewhere, and it sucked to be away from the center of the universe and not be a part of this city's fundamental, quintessential and indelible cultural landmark.

But we can't turn off the lights and keep the costumes in storage and ladders in the shed for another year just because we are beaten and broken and because so many of us are not here.

In fact, we have to do this because we are beaten and broken and so many of us are not here. Katrina has proved, more than ever, that we are resilient. We are tougher than dirt. Certainly tougher than the dirt beneath our levees.

The social and celebratory nature of this event defines this city, and this is no time to lose definition. The edges are too blurry already. Some folks say it sends the wrong message, but here's the thing about that: New Orleans is in a very complicated situation as far as "sending a message" goes these days. It's a tricky two-way street.

On one hand, it is vital to our very survival that the world outside of here understand just how profoundly and completely destroyed this city is right now, with desolate power grids and hundreds of thousands of residents living elsewhere and in limbo.

Jobs, businesses and the public spirit are all about as safely shored as the 17th Street Canal floodwall. We're leaking. And we could very well breach in the coming year or two.

We very well could.

On the other hand, we need to send a message that we are still New Orleans. We are the soul of America. We embody the triumph of the human spirit. Hell, we ARE Mardi Gras.

And Zulu can say they're only playing if they get it their way and Rex can say nothing at all and the mayor -- our fallen and befuddled rock star -- can say that he wants it one day and he doesn't want it the next day, but the truth is: It's not up to any of them.

It's up to me now. And we're having it.

And here's a simple, not-so-eloquent reason why: If we don't have Mardi Gras, then the terrorists win. The last thing we need right now is to divide ourselves over our most cherished event.

If the national news wants to show people puking on Bourbon Street as a metaphor for some sort of displaced priorities in this town, so be it. The only puking I've seen at Mardi Gras in the past 10 years is little babies throwing up on their mothers' shoulders after a bottle.

To encapsulate the notion of Mardi Gras as nothing more than a big drunk is to take the simple and stupid way out, and I, for one, am getting tired of staying stuck on simple and stupid. Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge.

Mardi Gras is bars and restaurants changing out all the CDs in their jukeboxes to Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, and it is annual front-porch crawfish boils hours before the parades so your stomach and attitude reach a state of grace, and it is returning to the same street corner, year after year, and standing next to the same people, year after year -- people whose names you may or may not even know but you've watched their kids grow up in this public tableau and when they're not there, you wonder: Where are those guys this year?

It is dressing your dog in a stupid costume and cheering when the marching bands go crazy and clapping and saluting the military bands when they crisply snap to.

Now, that part, more than ever. It's mad piano professors converging on our city from all over the world and banging the 88s until dawn and laughing at the hairy-shouldered men in dresses too tight and stalking the Indians under the Claiborne overpass and thrilling on the years you find them and lamenting the years you don't and promising yourself you will next year.

It's wearing frightful color combinations in public and rolling your eyes at the guy in your office who -- like clockwork, year after year -- denies that he got the baby in the king cake and now someone else has to pony up the 10 bucks for the next one.

Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods and our joy of living. All at once.

And it doesn't really matter if there are superparades or even any parades at all this year. Because some group of horn players will grab their instruments and they will march Down the Avenue because that's what they do, and I, for one, will follow.

If there are no parades, I'm hitching a boombox to a wagon, putting James Booker on the CD player and pulling my kids Down the Avenue and you're welcome to come along with me and where more than two tribes gather, there is a parade.

We are the parade. We are Mardi Gras. We're Whoville, man -- you can take away the beads and the floats and all that crazy stuff, but we're still coming out into the street. Cops or no cops. Post-parade garbage pick-up or no garbage pick-up -- like anyone could tell the friggin' difference!

If you are stuck somewhere else, in some other town, then bring it to them. If you got a job somewhere else now, take off that Tuesday and get all the New Orleanians you know and gather in a park somewhere and cook up a mass of food and put some music on a box and raise a little hell.

And raise a glass to us, brothers and sisters, because we're in here fighting this fight and we'll raise a glass to you because you cannot be here with us and we know you want to. Let the whole damn country hear Al Johnson yelling "It's Carnival Time" and let them know we're not dead and if we are dying, we're going to pretend like we're not.

Fly the flag. Be in that number. This is our battle to win or lose. Hopefully, of one mind and one message. That we are still here.

And that we are still New Orleans.

12 December 2005

Saving the Tulane University School of Engineering

More grassroots efforts . . . and signs, and websites. This sign is "ducted" onto a St. Charles Streetcar Line pole adjacent to Audubon Place--in front of the chancellor's house in fact. Last week, President Scott Cowen announced restructing plans for Tulane University post-KTMB. (See renewal.tulane.edu). In addition to other substantial changes such as the cutting of several hundred jobs and the dissolution of Newcomb College (another tragedy) is the elimination of the School of Engineering. I did not personally attend Tulane, but come from a long line of family members that not only attended the university but received civil engineering degrees from Tulane. From what I understand, the School of Engineering was a perennial money loser in recent years not from a lack of students or lack of quality faculty--and despite decent endowments and donations. Two major factors have contributed to negatively impact the School of Engineering's financial status: the incredible overhead the university requires from the school and the amount of full scholarship students within the School of Engineering. According to my source, the scholarship situation is the one that really has hurt them financially and make them an easy target for eradication. They are simply giving an engineering education to too many for free.

Check out the website: http://savetulaneengineering.org/wordpress/

Hopefully, this can be stopped. Yep, we don't need any engineers in post-KTMB New Orleans. Absolutely no work here to do that involves engineering.

Levee Board, One Voice/Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs . . .

Over the past several years in New Orleans there have been many grassroots efforts addressing particular proposed projects. A major part of these grassroot campaigns are mass-produced political campaign-like signs with a slogan denouncing or supporting the particular project. Recent examples include opposition to "highrise" apartment/condos Uptown and in Old Jefferson, opposition to the Wal Mart/Lower Garden District-St. Thomas redevelopment, and opposition to a zoning variance allowing Bruno's to build a new and improved Bruno's Bar/Restaurant on Maple Street in Carrollton. In some cases, organized campaigns on both sides of an issue produce the signs--like a political campaign for Politician A or Politician B. Some examples of this are signs for the opposition and support of the expansion (involving demolition of non-blighted buildings) of Stuart Hall School and both types of signs for the proposed expansion of Tulane University at the Uptown Square site at the foot of Broadway. I would consider myself a stringent preservationist--not only of our architecture but also for our culture, heritage, and way of life here in New Orleans. But even I have had protest fatigue in that it seemed that every project met opposition to the point where it seemed nothing could ever get done. But then I realize that this is actually a good thing as it proves a significant segment of our population cares so very much what happens to New Orleans and that protecting it from becoming like any other place is of the utmost highest priority.

Post-KTMB, signs have had a different role. Need someone to gut your house?? Need someone to hang sheetrock or repair your roof? Did you hear that Raising Cane's is open on Clearview? Do you need some adult books or DVDs? Do you want to hire illegal non-English speaking aliens to do your work cheap? These signs are everywhere: on poles or medians or at intersections. Everywhere. Over the past couple of weeks, however, a new non-commercial sign has appeared: Levee Board 1 Voice--with a website address at the bottom (http://citizensfor1greaterneworleans.com/). In addition to producing the signs/posting a website, the effort is in the process of a petition drive. As I was doing yard work on Saturday, a neighbor of mine canvassing the neighborhood asked me to sign their petition and later in the day at Uptown Langenstein's I was approached again as the effort was setup at the entrance of the store. They seem to be galvanized and determined and the signs are beginning to pop up around the City. Their website lists how each state legislator (and provides contact information for each) voted on the failed levee board consolidation bill a few weeks ago.

Under the current setup by the state, there are multiple levee boards based on geography/jurisdiction. Each has its own board all under appointment from the Governor. For instance, there is the Orleans Parish Levee Board and the East Jefferson Parish Levee Board. Both of these shares a boundary that happens to be a water body susceptible to the Lake Pontchartrain storm surge therefore requiring flood protection through walls and/or levees. This common boundary is the now-infamous 17th Street Canal. Under the current and long standing arrangement, each side of the canal is maintained, inspected, and patrolled by two independent entities with as far as I know absolutely no required communication between the two. The Levee Board One Voice campaign seeks to eliminate the multiple state levee boards and create one all encompassing board. The current setup breeds corruption (a levee board appointment is a plum deal) and seems to not be the most efficient or effective way to oversee such an essential thing as the flood protection of Southern Louisiana.

Ultimately, however, the New Orleans area Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain flood protection system is the responsibility of the federal government (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and not the state or local government because of federal legislation following the 1927 Mississippi River Flood and Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The existing levee boards are meant to play a support role to the federal government. Unlike Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee (who voiced his opposition on the radio last week--with valid concerns however) I believe that a consolidation of the levee boards would probably be a good idea. Actually, the important aspect of this is to eliminate the political patronage appointees and limit the appointees to those that have professional backgrounds in relevant things towards flood protection such as engineering, hydrology, geology, etc.

11 December 2005

Last Call

I've been a part of the French Quarter on a daily and weekly basis for the last 10 years and a regular basis for the last 25. I've seen it all. Trannies hooking, gutter punks begging, two bit strippers fighting, bums dumpster diving, debutantes puking, - nothing can shock me anymore in the Quarter. That is until last night.

Never before was I so alarmed, shocked and frightened than I was last night at approximately 1:55 am when the music went silent and the lights went on and the bartender in the "locals bar" at Pat O's yelled "Last Call." Last Call at Pat O's at 2:00 am???? What is that. The flow of foot traffic as my group walked down Bourbon to our parking garage was so heavy in one direction we felt like we were fleeing some sort of imprisonment lest we ignore the military curfew. We were even called by a friend who told us to avoid Carrollton on our way home because there was a military checkpoint! A military checkpoint! On Carrollton no less!

Anyway, the purpose of our evening, besides the celebration of a friend's birthday, was to spend some money in the Quarter for a nice dinner, go and have some drinks at a bar or two and just feel normal again, even if just for a few hours. Unfortunately there were signs all night long that nothing was normal. The half empty restaurant that at better times on a Saturday night in December would have been busting from the seams. The Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, etc...License plates on work trucks illegally parked on sidewalks. The trash and refrigerators on the sidewalks. The empty art galleries. The sparse crowds. The weird, cheesy, bad vibe from the people who had hijacked the courtyard at Pat O' Briens (no doubt some sort of gentrification effort established by the Kenny's Key West crowd). And the denouement, the coup de grace, the cherry on the cake of a weird unnerving night in the French Quarter: Last Call at Pat O's. Lets hope we can all clear this nonsense up soon.

10 December 2005

The Heart of Darkness

In the remote mountainous regions of Southwest France there is a tiny, tiny wine growing region called Madiran. It is referred to as "The Heart of Darkness" which implies how the region feels (and the darkness of the wines as well). Anyone who crosses over the 17th Street Canal headed east after dark no doubt knows this very feeling. For my entire life the feeling of the rise over the 17th street canal and hitting the peak of the bridge gave you such an incredible vantage point over the skyline of the city. Seeing The Big Easy from such a vantage point was sure to raise the pulse a beat or two and the imagination wandered a bit about what adventures lay in daily life. Now it is dark. The darkness of Lakeview is deafening over the bright lights of the city and the promise of culture, history and sense of place it offers. The only sense of feeling now is darkness where families once thrived. Darkness where children played. Darkness where families met and ate and lived their lives. When will the families of Lakeview come back? When will the children of Lakeview start playing again? When will somebody turn on the lights, and when they do what will we see?

09 December 2005

Photo du Jour: Tad Gormley Stadium/City Park

I made it over to City Park and Tad Gormley Stadium this morning. The areas closest to the Metairie Ridge avoided the floodwaters (the New Orleans Museum of Art, for instance), but the majority of the park got a minimum of two feet of water. At the Botanic Garden and Storyland, final preperations were underway for the annual Christmas in the Oaks. There has been some opposition to holding the event this year, but City Park is putting it on. I was able to walk into both areas and to my surprise the relatively new Train Garden appeared to be in good shape which I just assumed for sure was ruined.

Notice the water line on the stadium wall. From the marks on the walls it appears the water was about three feet within the stadium. The football field's grass is mostly dead, but patches of weeds are growing in some places. The white painted yardline and number markings can be still be seen on the field. Outside the main entrance of the stadium where the ground and sidewalks slope down a bit the water seems to have been over four feet and even deeper towards Orleans Avenue. The areas directly adjacent to the stadium (and a few places under the stadium) are being used as camps for workers. Tents and trailers and RVs are scattered throughout the oaks in this part of City Park. Even more worker camp sites are located to the north in Marconi Meadows (site of the annual Voodoo Music Festival) . . .

The City Park website has a good collection of pre-/post- KTMB photos taken throughout City Park here.

08 December 2005

Bush and Clinton Visit the University of New Orleans: Show Me The Money!

Rubbed elbows with two former U.S. Presidents yesterday ...

Well kind of, but it's better than what most people were doing. I say that because the waterlines still served as a reminder while driving down Elysian Fields to UNO three months later.

Ironic if you look up that word Elysian Fields:
a dwelling for the blessed after death.

It is still hard to recollect some of the events that got us to where we are today. Images of casinos on Highway 90, washed out bridges, and levee breaches all come together which make it hard for many of us to remember. Is that due to trauma? Not believing whats being reported? Too much at one time? Hard to say, but even at the time all of this was happening no one could predict what would happen or where they would be three months down the line.

Shelia David most accurately portrayed the situation in the article about Hurricane Hugo in “Uncovering the Hidden Costs of Coastal Hazards”, when she mentioned that natural disasters impose more than economic costs. Natural disasters create tremendous social, psychological, and environmental hardships as well. People who once lived in a fast paced world before Hurricane Katrina are today faced with the reality of a slow recovery to the most costly natural disaster to ever wash ashore the United States coastline. People who once avoided certain races, social classes, or religious beliefs all found themselves in the same Red Cross and Social Service lines after the storm. The coastal communities of Buras, Yscloskey, D’Iberville , etc. that were very connected to the natural environment were simply removed from the landscape.

While thinking of this and listening to this press conference it was nice to learn that of the $100+ million in funds donated from people around the world:

$40 million would be split up between Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. I don't know why when people want to give Louisiana a check other states some how get on the list. Don't get me wrong Alabama got hit hard last hurricane season and got billions for restoration. I didn't see Louisiana trying to get in on their money because some kids sand castle blew down in Grand Isle. So of the $40 million I'd like to see most of it allocated to Mississippi and Louisiana.

$30 million to universities affected by the storm. Wow sounds good. For the first time in my 7 or 8 years of higher learning (ha ha no I'm not a doctor) I might get some money for school. Oops read the fine print: $30 million is to spread out to 34 different universities. 34 different schools? You mean less than $1 million per university. Well you can bet I personally won't see any of that money. The best I can hope for is some of that money being used to get some more chair backs in the west upper of Tiger Stadium.

And my favorite: $20 million to "faith based organizations." I won't be too critical here because church organizations probably did a better job at pooling their resources to help people more effectively than the Red Cross and FEMA, but blowing 1/5 of the $100 million on church groups seems a little high.

Jim Henderson's Commentary/Abandoners Tom Benson and Craig S. Miller

Following is WWL's Jim Henderson's weekly Saints commentary (LINK) from Monday evening. As usual he says it as it is.

Saints give fans so many reasons to stay away

San Antonio is supposed to be the transplanted home of the Saints Nation, but if you looked in the morning paper in San Antonio on Monday, you realize that it’s still Cowboy Country. Page One touts the Cowboys and Giants game from Sunday. The Saints and Bucs are on Page Eight.

A chart on the one and only page devoted to Saints coverage notes that the two games in the Alamodome have averaged over 62,000 fans, while those in Baton Rouge have averaged just over 42,000.

No doubt this disparity was pointed out to Paul Tagliabue by Tom Benson during his visit Monday.

As the commissioner tours the team’s practice facility that Tom Benson called unusable, in San Antonio, the Saints operation is on the move again because of a volleyball tournament in the Alamodome. The commish may not be aware of that.

That lack of stability and reliability cannot be tolerated again, according to Jim Haslett and it shouldn’t be. But it should be noted that Saints fans have tolerated a lack of stability and reliability in this organization for most of its existence. Hopefully someone pointed that out to Tagliabue during his visit.

Their message to the commissioner should be this: Don’t be duped by the attendance comparison between San Antonio and Baton Rouge. San Antonio has hosted the only “home” Saints win this season and the other game was the season’s most entertaining – a loss to the Falcons.

Find out how many tickets get sold – not distributed – for the Lions’ game on the Alamodome on Christmas Eve.

If you could have made the game Sunday in Baton Rouge, you could have seen why there’s a perceived lack of support for this football team at this time – we have another losing football team, a head coach with little support from the fans, a quarterback with less and an owner with none.

The fans of this team may not be in the same places, but they’re still out there and they’ll make the effort to come back – just give them a reason to come back, instead of so many to stay away.

Sorry about that ice storm that kept you away from Baton Rouge Sunday. No hard feelings. No one should be blamed for being the victims of the weather – should they?

New Orleans-native Tom Benson has had so much smoke blown up his ass by the pro-San Antonio crowd including Mayor Phil Hardberger its ridiculous. As Fitch N. DarDar points out in a previous post, the attitude of Mr. Hardberger and the chamber of commerce/cheerleader-types of San Antonio is typical of the rah-rah business at any price attitude wrapped into the Texas psyche. It doesn't matter who they screw so long as they get the prize. "That's business, ya'll."

Both the New Orleans Saints and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse owe their existence and fortune to the City of New Orleans. Yes, both are businesses and as such their purpose is to make money for its owners. 10-4. Got it. And yes, there is no question that conditions here are not going to be the easiest in the near future. However, a component of the continued viability of New Orleans is its exisitng and future business community. Both of these corporations could play a lead role in helping sustain New Orleans and help the city by sending a message to the national business community that New Orleans may be down but not out and they are committed to at least trying to remain here. Instead they have decided they'd rather cut and run and head to apparent greener pastures. I would argue that both have moral and ethical obligations to do their part in helping New Orleans by commiting to it but apparently Tom Benson and Ruth's Chris Sellout CEO Craig S. Miller have a different opinion. The past means nothing to these people. In Tom Benson's case as a native New Orleanian this disregard for the past is even more disheartening than with Craig S. Miller who had "relocating to Florida" written all over him from the onset of being hired.

Since KTMB, everytime Tom Benson opens his mouth its like gasoline on a fire to the point of him either being really stupid, or with the purposeful intention of sabatoge (or a combination of both). NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue comes in here Monday and tours the area and then gives a press conference. Not a peep from Tom Benson. Nothing. Can't you just hear the NFL PR guys telling him that he's not going to say a public word during any of the day's events? (Think of Judge Smails in CADDYSHACK: "You'll have (say) nothing and like it!") The last few public statements that Benson has emitted in the past couple of weeks have been negative comment after negative comment about the conditions and future of the City of New Orleans (the hospital system is in disaray, the education system is in shambles, etc., etc.) to legitimize and push his position that New Orleans is no longer a suitable location for his team. Selfish Mr. Benson has no concern for the implications of such statements further stigmitizing New Orleans to the rest of the country and the world just so long as he gets his way. Hasn't our population gone through enough? How about demoralizing your fellow New Orleanians just a little more, Mr. Benson? A displaced New Orleanian in Houston can stop and think: Hmmmm, wait, maybe Tom is right. I shouldn't go back--New Orleans is finished. Its done. I think I'll just stay here in Houston. Too much trouble to go back.

Thanks for perpetuating that rationale with your statements, Mr. Benson.

Both the offices of the Saints and Ruth's Chris Sellout were not located within the City of New Orleans but in non-catastrophically flooded Metairie. Mr. Benson stated early on that their state of the art training facililty (built with State of Louisiana monies, by the way) was trashed by FEMA/national guard, etc. following its use as a staging area during the "Brownie" days following the storm. Unuseable he said--later to be proven a blatant lie. It was said to help further build the case for relocation despite what reality may be.

I honestly don't know the extent of damage to the office building Ruth's Chris Sellout was based in. It is an area that did flood from the overflowing of the drainage canal in the Veterans Boulevard median, and its possible the building did sustain roof damage possibly leading to water damage from rain. I don't discount thats a possiblility as many similarly constructed buildings in Jefferson had this sort of damage . . . . (I will look into this.) Regardless, Miller could have chosen to make it work in New Orleans post-KTMB, but didn't want to be troubled with such things when a nice, newly renovated office space awaited in Orlando (juiced with tax incentives).

Then there is the housing issue. The Times-Picayune stated the other day that over 95% of the players/staff do not live within the City (the majority live in Jefferson, St. Charles, or St. Tammany) and only one player had a guarenteed loss of his home (I assume it was in Eastover). One player lives within a block of me in New Orleans and his house was flood-free. So the reality is that the majority of New Orleans Saints employees got through this event with very minimal personal loss. But yet Mr. Benson has cited housing concerns for his employees as another reason not to come back. In the case of Ruth's Chris Sellout corporate employees, I am sure they were much more likely to be impacted by the flooding--especially in Lakeview I would think. But then again many of them likely live outside of the City in the suburbs.

In conclusion, the reality is that KTMB and her aftermath provided Tom Benson and Craig S. Miller the excuse they needed to escape from New Orleans to places they think will be more receptive to their businesses. Both entities have been in existence for nearly 40 years and both have reaped the unquestionable loyalty, support, and financial gain from the citizens of New Orleans and the region throughout those years. Now, that doesn't matter and its not enough . . . . I sure hope both Benson and Miller can look at themselves in the mirror. And remember BOYCOTT RUTH'S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE.

Oh wait--whats this? Rumblings about Entergy's corporate headquarters potentially not returning to New Orleans??? Hmmm, maybe Benson and Miller are on to something. Stay tuned . . .

Email me: seymourdfair@gmail.com