31 January 2006

The State of the Union 2006 . . . Something Happened in New Orleans?

I couldn't bring myself to watch it, but read the transcript:

The word count:

Terror, Terrorism, Terrorists: 20 times.
Freedom/Free: 19 times.
Iraq, Iraqi: 16 times.
Democracy: 10 times.
Iran, Iranian: 6 times.

New Orleans: twice--in the third to last paragraph of the speech, 30+ minutes into it.

Here's what was said in regards to New Orleans:

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency -- and stays at it until they are back on their feet. So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We are removing debris, repairing highways, and building stronger levees. We are providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived. In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country. The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child ... and job skills that bring upward mobility ... and more opportunities to own a home and start a business. As we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity.

Thats it--all she wrote. Restating an earnest commitment to New Orleans and Louisiana and Mississippi? Nope, not quite. Three meager sentences dealing with the physical recovery caused by one of the largest natural disasters (and manmade disasters in New Orleans proper) in the history of the United States, followed by rehashed, recycled, and trite social commentary. Simply pathetic. When lapdog Republican Senator David Vitter criticizes and announces he's disappointed in the speech, I'd say there's a problem.

And about that alleged fuzzy math USD 85 billion . . . Read this.

And no mention about the forthcoming property foreclosures that the federal government is just going to sit back and let happen?

Check out the absolute honest assessment posted by People Get Ready . . . . And another by da po' blog.

30 January 2006

Subject: The New Orleans Hornets May Not Come Back. Question: Does Anyone Care?

I have pretty much been "displaced" from my New Orleans/South Louisiana home, but it was well before KTMB. My job and experience dictate that I spend most of my time in other parts of the country. I am only back "home" during summers and holidays. Since I am away for most of the time, most of my accounts about city occurrences (outside of local media websites) come from the national media. It has already been discussed ad nauseum that the national media images of post-KTMB New Orleans are distorted. But based on what I read in both local and national media, and based on things like how often stories get covered and where they are placed when they do get covered, I have come to one interesting conclusion:

Nobody really gives a damn what happens to the New Orleans Hornets. Not in the NBA. Not across the country. Not even in New Orleans.

I'm not really angry about it, and I can't say I'm surprised. I just wanted to point it out.

It seems interesting that the New Orleans Arena is going to be ready for the end-of-the-season games. But then George Shinn says that that the team should stay in Oklahoma City because "the city isn't ready yet." I suppose he's saying that the city can't support 41 home games economically, which could be true.

But if Tom Benson said the same thing...........................

We're ready to fight to the death to keep our beloved Saints in New Orleans. We'll even apparently support the Saints if Benson is still the owner. But it seems pretty transparent that Shinn is putting his plan in motion to keep the Hornets permanently in Oklahoma City. And most people could apparently care less.

The national media, which largely had the city's back during the Saints battle, doesn't really care either. You hear a lot of statements like, "The city wasn't supporting the team anyway," "The games in Oklahoma are selling out," "The players want to be there anyway," and so on. They're ignoring facts like Hornets tickets being sold at much cheaper prices to ensure big crowds. The NBA has given a lot of verbal support to the city, but has yet to come up with a plan to keep the team here (like the NFL did). And we just shrug our shoulders.

The Hornets are a young, exciting team to watch. It has the probable Rookie of the Year in Chris Paul, and J.R. Smith and David West are turing into good young players. The team has a solid young nucleus and is a year or two away from being a playoff team. And yet we'd rather support a team that will be a joke and won't do anything to turn itself into a serious contender as long as the Benson Family is in charge.

It comes down to a couple of things I guess.

It's interesting because I remember how angry many people were, even in the 90s, about losing the Jazz. Even Marc Morial, when he was in office, "demanded" that the NBA move back during the T-Wolves fiasco. As a city, New Orleans fought so hard to get a team here. And then when the team got here, it didn't know what to do with it, and it had no idea what it meant to support a 21st centruy NBA franchise. I guess people were still thinking in the 70s, in the pre David Stern NBA, when all you needed was Pete Maravich and affordable tickets to make money. Now, you need over $100 a night to sit in the lower levels, and the city and residents didn't have the business support and economic means to pull it off. And the City Council was more worried about deciding which district got the Training Facility than it was about actually building it. So when the team was dismantled last year, the whole franchise fell off the radar. I'd like to see the team stay. But when it comes down to it, I'd probably watch about 5 games on television if they stayed, and I'd go to even fewer games than that.

So maybe it has something to do with that. I don't know. Or maybe it's as simple to say that New Orleans is now a football town. Period.

Post-KTMB Deutsches Haus

Festivals and annual events define time in New Orleans. The most obvious ones are the Sugar Bowl, Mardi Gras, French Quarter Festival, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazzfest) but there are others that New Orleanians set our watches to. The last week of September and most of October brings the annual Deutsches Haus Oktoberfest which I usually attend at least two or three times each year. Founded in 1928, the Deutsches Haus is the local German-American club located on South Galvez Street in a section of New Orleans which received five-plus feet of water--placing two or three feet in the raised parts of the main building. I drove by the Haus early on post-KTMB but haven't been by recently, but I'm happy to say that photos on their website reveal gutting and cleaning are underway--and they are looking for volunteers to help. The "Berlin Bear" who greets you as you enter Oktoberfest each year remains and the water mark on his base indicates the depth of the flooding. Our family tradition is to take a family photo standing next to the bear each year. There was no 2005 photo but I sense we will have a chance to take one in Fall 2006.

29 January 2006

People in This Part of the World: An All Over the Place Rambling

Things are not back to normal for us "people in this part the world" (we're called Americans and we live within the United States, by the way). Sure certain portions of the New Orleans area have some degree of normalcy--but large portions of New Orleans are frozen in time and practically resemble what they looked like on the 30th of August 2005. As I stated in an earlier post the situation here cannot be summed up in the soundbite intervals communicated by broadcast media--the situation is so much more complex than that language permits. The other day I heard a report by Juan Williams on NPR who recently spent several days in New Orleans. His assessment of the conditions within New Orleans weren't incorrect, but they were limited and did not accurately represent the complete reality in my opinion. As an example, he stated he saw virtually no children his entire time in New Orleans. Where was he looking for them? In the Lower 9th Ward? In Lakeview? Downtown on Canal Street at 1pm on a schoolday afternoon? Of course there are no children around in devastated settings or even in the unscathed areas during school hours. They are at school.

Are all schools open? Of course not. But most schools that avoided catastrophic damage are open. The open schools have taken students from the damaged schools and in some cases damaged schools have temporarily merged as one into an intact facility. Yes, New Orleans has hemorrhaged population since the storm and therefore children. But to say the area is devoid of children is not true. Recent estimates place New Orleans Public Schools enrollment at 25% (of pre-KTMB 48,000 students), Jefferson Parish Public Schools at 85% (of pre-KTMB 42,000 students), and the Archdiocese of New Orleans Schools at 85% (of pre-KTMB 50,000 students). Additionally 15+ independent private schools are also open.

A large number of New Orleans area families desperately want to be home and are doing what they have to in order to be here--thus the surprisingly high number of students actually back. I have friends who are sharing apartments or houses cramming three families with mom and dad and kids into a place meant for one family because each family lost their home in the flooding. They want to be here and make it work so they are willing to live in extremely crammed and uncomfortable conditions for the time being. These sacrifices however have a limited shelf life. The longer the federal government strings New Orleans along refusing to honor the promises for recovery the more people are simply going to surrender and take that job in Houston or Dallas or wherever, just not here. And then they are gone--one more piece of the New Orleans' soul is chipped away.

The reality is New Orleans has always been misunderstood by the outside. This place is so different in so many ways compared to the rest of the United States. For instance, I cringe every year during Mardi Gras when the national media does the obligatory Mardi Gras story featuring montage footage of girls showing their breasts on Bourbon Street. That's it--that's THE image of Mardi Gras. Its a drunken orgy and nothing else. When I tell those "people from those other parts of the world" that Mardi Gras is in fact a very family-oriented event and what they see on television takes place in a very limited area they don't know what I am talking about--they can't identify because its not the image force fed to them. What the rest of the county can't grasp and understand is that New Orleans as a place plays a significant role in its citizens very being. They don't get it because there are very few places in this county, if any, that have that same effect on its citizens. To them a place is a place--its all interchangeable. A = B. New Orleans doesn't fit the mold that most places within the United States has become.

No one expects an undeserved handout from the federal government. We expect the federal government to take responsibility for the protection of an American city which it vowed to protect from flooding in 1927 and 1965. What happened to New Orleans in August 2005 was the direct result of a failed flood protection system, therefore the federal government has responsibility for its its rebuilding. End of story. New Orleans is indeed in a challenging geographic and climatic location but as the modern-day Netherlands and Thames River Delta in England illustrate, modern engineering and innovative flood control approaches can reasonably protect such places.

The federal government's responsibility doesn't stop at improved levees, relocated pump stations, or new floodgates--it also includes financially helping homeowners to help them to rebuild or help them to move on so others can rebuild in their place. This past week's poo-pooing by the White House of the proposed Baker Bill intending to do these things simply illustrates the complete false reality in which the Administration dwells and has been in since the onset of KTMB disaster during the "Brownie" Days. At least they are consistent--give them that. They actually believe six billion dollars will be adequate federal infusion--and then the glorious free market will take over . . .

An article it today's Washington Post entitled New Orleans Feels Cast Adrift is encouraging to see. But will its message penetrate this Administration's thick skull? God, I sure hope so.

Also, today's Times-Picayune editorial Don't Leave Us to Foreclosure is a worthwhile read.

28 January 2006

Photo du Jour: Hubig's Pies Van in the Hinterland

On my way up to Baton Rouge the other day between the Laplace and Gramercy exits I saw the comforting and familar sight of a Hubig's Pies delivery van. This was the first time since the storm and since they've restarted baking in Faubourg Marigny that I've actually seen one out and about. I wouldn't say the Hubig's Pies vans are as iconic as the Roman Candy wagon Uptown or Lucky Dog carts in the Quarter (which have yet to return), but they're close. My hand's down favorite Hubig's Pies product is the custard pie--its shrinked wrap trangular custard wedge which even includes the cut aluminum pie tin. Hadn't changed in years.

26 January 2006

Mail Delivery and Reliability in the City of New Orleans

Something I forget to mention in the previous post--at last night's neighborhood meeting one person in attendance stood up and grilled Councilman Oliver Thomas during his Q&A over the current status of the mail system within New Orleans. In the now-populated residential areas of the city spared from the floodwaters mail service has yet to return to any semblance of normalcy. Since mid-December, we get mail delivered to our Carrollton house about once a week--sometimes twice a week when lucky. I personally have not seen a mail carrier or mail truck in my neighborhood since before the storm. When we do get mail, often times its weeks and weeks old. Apparently its still Christmastime as Christmas cards are still coming in. One friend who lives near me but in an area that did get inundated (but whose raised house did not get flooded) has not had any mail delivered to his home since his return in early October. He periodically goes to the local post office and picks up his mail--but as noted above the mail is often weeks and weeks old. Friends that live in Old Jefferson tell me that they are getting near-daily delivery but never with the same carrier and never at the same time of day. The mail is of course old and subscribed-to magazines are a no-show.

Reliable mail service is one of those basic things needed to conduct one's life--and even more so to conduct one's business and livelihood. Its also one of those essential services along with electricity, gas, water, sewerage, garbage collection, phone, cable, and internet necessary to retain our population and our businesses. My beef isn't so much with the delivery problem--its the reliability problem. If the postal service has labor shortage issues making it difficult to get carriers into the field to deliver mail at this time, I can live with having to pick it up at the post office until the situation is resolved. Just make this the official policy for the time being. The delay and complete unreliability of the mail is simply ridiculous--even with the catastrophic damages incurred throughout the area and to the local postal infrastructure (post offices and mail trucks flooded, etc.).

Can the Federal government do absolutely anything that resembles helping New Orleans and Louisiana? As I asked a while back in a posting, does the Federal government desire New Orleans to shrivel up and die? Are these repetitive screw-jobs intentional? The postal service situation presents yet another example of the kind of shit that will drive people away from this place because they cannot conduct their normal lives. As bad as the physical situation is in New Orleans (despite the "looking like the town I used to know" appearance from the window of a black Suburban between Louis Armstrong Airport and St. Charles Avenue) minor things such as working regular mail service can be the difference for some to gutting it out and making it work here or picking up and hauling ass to get as far away from this place as possible. Its been a rough five months--you'd be surprised what could be one's tipping point . . .

Oh, did I mention how bad cell phone coverage has been?

Last Night's Maple Area Residents (MARI) Meeting

I made it over to the MARI (Maple Area Residents, Inc.) neighborhood meeting held last night in the basement of Lusher School on Willow Street. The guest speakers were scheduled to be At-Large Councilman Oliver Thomas, State Representative Steve Scalise, Architect/BNOB Commission Member Peter Trapolin, and Lusher School Principal Kathy Reidlinger. When I arrived Councilman Thomas was already speaking--and I also witnessed Steve Scalise's presentation as well as Kathy Reidlinger's. I am not sure if Peter Trapolin wasn't there or he may have spoken before I arrived. District A Councilman Jay Batt was not in attendance. The announcement that he was not able to attend for personal reasons drew rumbling by some within the 150+ person turnout.

Oliver Thomas mostly spoke in terms of generalities of the city as a whole--not so much Carrollton specifically. He addressed the myths and realities of what did and didn't happen in what I call the "Brownie" days immediately following the storm. He basically stated that much of what was reported was not factual, but also there were some things that did happen which avoided media coverage. I give credit to Thomas' ability to speak and his general personable qualities. He is most certainly a polished politician unlike Mayor Nagin--although Nagin's non-politician persona is what garnered "fed up with the system" votes (including my own) which got him elected.

Next up was District 82 Louisiana State Representative Steve Scalise. The majority of Scalise's constituency is within neighboring Jefferson Parish although part of his district meanders through Carrollton/Uptown to Audubon Park. Scalise spent much time on the levee board consolidation issue as it will be the central topic of the upcoming special legislative session. A question from the audience shifted to the status and future of Charity Hospital. He kept repeating that the Charity system was broken--although not really quantifying the statement to where I personally understood exactly what he intended. He did remark on the "failed social programs" of the Huey P. Long-era which might provide a clue as to what he meant. I agree that the 1930's-built facility is badly in need of physical improvement or possible replacement (even before KTMB), but is not Charity a leading learning/teaching hospital in the country and a major economic generator for the region? Is it the free medical service to those in need that he is against?

The final speaker was Lusher School Principal Kathy Reidlinger. Lusher (along with several other City of New Orleans schools) of course is now designated a charter school--in partnership with Tulane University. The big news to me from Ms. Reidlinger was that Lusher Extension on South Carrollton (at the former location of the Carrollton City Hall and Ben Franklin High School) is to be moved to the Fortier High School campus on Freret Street. Whoa. After her presentation I inquired about the future of McNair School (which is a couple of blocks away from my home) and she told me that school was on the state's takeover list and would be opening as a charter once adopted by an organization--most likely in the Fall.

Former Saints Executive Vice President Arnold Fielkow was "in the house" not as a participant but as a resident of the city listening to the presentations just like everyone else. Rumors have swirled that he plans to run for a political office . . .

24 January 2006

Photo du Jour: 17th Street Canal Breach Panorama

Click on image to get full sized version.

This past Sunday was one of those typical overcast January days in New Orleans where the weather can't decide if it wants to be warm or cool. On days like this the humidity is so bad that my carport and driveway sweat to the point where it looks like someone purposely hosed them down. Also typically accompanying the humidy on South Louisiana mornings like this is fog. The above panorama was taken from a work platform connected to the pre-KTMB "floodproofed" (ha ha) Old Hammond Highway bridge facing towards away (to the south) from Lake Pontchartrain. The floodwall breach seen about 1/4 mile to the left has now been cut off from the canal with a weir dam made from metal sheeting. While there I talked with a Red Cross volunteer from Southern California for a few minutes. He echoed what nearly all people visiting New Orleans (beyond twenty minutes on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District) since KTMB have said: the scope and magnitude of the destruction within New Orleans cannot be fully understood by simply seeing images on television. Seeing it firsthand sheds a whole new light on how widespread and bad it really is . . .

Documentary in Works

Newsweek is featuring a documentary on the storm and its aftermath in New Orleans. It's called New Orleans Story and the MSNBC site has a link where you can watch a 10 minute clip. It's probably nothing new to anyone in the area, but may shed some light to others around the country about how bad the response and FEMA was. Hope it also keeps the recovery in the front of the nation's mind. Link:

Note the video clip of the Mayor of Slidell describing his dealings with FEMA and trying to get buses. After a discussion I had last week with the Mayor of another North Shore city, this was just the tip of the iceberg in the *&(%$*@ that is FEMA.

23 January 2006

Crawfish Massacre

Actual picture taken at the 2005 Krewe Char de Guerre Mardi Gras Crawfish Boil Extravaganza.

The Times Picayune reports today that up to 80% of our crawfish harvest this year did not survive the storms. Saltwater from the storm surge flooded most of the ponds in the state. Thus, they will be scarce and expensive this year. The price is expected to stay around $3 per pound live. The price usually drops to below $1 per pound in good years. The 12th (I think) Annual Krewe Char de Guerre Mardi Gras Boil will go on!! But, it's gonna cost us.



The Times-Picayune: "Levee System Along River Held Its Ground In Storm"

Map from The Times-Picayune

From today's Times-Picayune: http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/frontpage/index.ssf?/base/news-4/1137999658140350.xml

The key point from the article:

"After the 1927 flood, the nation made a commitment never to let that happen again, so the design criteria (the corps) had was for the worst that could ever happen -- something that might not occur again for 400 to 450 years," said Al Naomi, a senior project manager at the New Orleans office. "In some (areas) the (river) levee was overbuilt, but that was done because the design criteria we were given was to build for the maximum possible flood.

"That wasn't the case with the hurricane protection project here."

The 1965 congressional authorization for the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection project was based on what the corps described in its 1962 planning document as the "standard project hurricane," which would have maximum sustained winds of 100 mph in a radius of 30 nautical miles, and a storm surge of 11.2 feet on the south shore of the lake. That translates approximately into a fast-moving Category 3 storm. The report said the probability of that occurring is once every 200 years.

There ya go . . .

22 January 2006

Map du Jour: St. Bernard Parish Wetland Loss, Compliments of MRGO

Souce: USGS 1:24,000 Chalmette Quadrangles (1953, 1968, 1980, current version)

The maps above display the identical portion of St. Bernard Parish centered on Paris Road beginning in 1953 and illustrate the landscape transformation in the Chalmette area over the past fifty years. The two most apparent changes over time:

1. The increased urbanization upon the Mississippi River Ridge contained on the high ground side of the Florida Walk and Forty Arpent Canals and;

2. The metamorphosis of tree-covered swampland and vegetated marshland to open water and the widening of existing bayous and water features because of erosion.

The increased runoff from a more urbanized and less-forested Chalmette likely contributed to the destruction of the adjacent swamps and marshes, but the majority of blame centers on saltwater intrusion from Lake Borgne and Breton Sound in the past forty years. The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) opened in 1965 (not within the view above, but to the north of these extents) along with the maze of oil and gas industry pipeline and service canals have facilitated the intrusion of saltwater into inland wetlands killing the freshwater-based vegetation leading to massive, unprecedented erosion. The loss in turn minimizes the buffer effect healthy vegetated wetlands provide to vulnerable places like Chalmette as they provide a natural obstacle to slow down and subside a powerful storm surge created by a hurricane. Today's "buffer area" in coastal St. Bernard Parish is no where near what it was for Hurricane Betsy or Hurricane Camille in the 1960's.

In addition to enabling saltwater intrusion, MRGO provides an unobstructed path for hurricane-related storm surge to funnel directly into the Inner Harbor Canal which is exactly what happened in August 2005 subsequently flooding Bywater, the Lower 9th Ward, and subsequently Arabi and Chalmette.

Even before KTMB, the general consensus was that the digging of the MRGO (and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in New Orleans East) along with the oil and gas field canals scaring the entire Louisiana coastline represent extreme, nearly irreparable environmental mistakes. An additional insult to injury--the economic impact of MRGO projected during its planning in the late-1950's never materialized over the past forty years.

A nearly identical (timebomb) situation to the MRGO from the erosion/saltwater intrusion, the unfulfilled projected economic impact, and the "funnel" effect of storm surge angle is the Houma Navigation Channel in Terrebonne Parish. The presence of oil and gas field and pipeline canals dug over the past sixty years since the inception of mineral extraction in the state are even more pronounced than in St. Bernard Parish. These factors--plus its location between the current Atchafalaya and Mississippi River Deltas--lead to Terrebonne Parish (along with Lafourche Parish) having the worst coastal erosion problems in Louisiana.

The Close the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Now (a non-profit organization established before KTMB) website gives a good summary of MRGO's problems . . .

21 January 2006

Photo du Jour: Drago's Charbroiled Oysters

I'm not a big fan of the Metairie Fat City scene, however Drago's delivers--and delivers damn good. The crusty 1970's Disco Stu surroundings of Fat City and the "Don't Park Here, I'll Tow Your Ass" signs all over the place at neighboring businesses are worth dealing with to get to Drago's. Drago's is an all-around seafood place, but the signature dish (pictured above) is the charbroiled oysters. These things are insanely good. We arrived at the restaurant at about 6pm tonight and although being crowded only had to wait for twenty or so minutes for a table. Upon finishing, a conservative estimate of at least 200 people were waiting for tables, so many in fact that the crowd spilled out the front door into the parking lot. The place is that popular--and good.

Another reason to support these guys is that the Drago Family took it upon themselves to help their community by providing free food for weeks to residents in some of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans. As families were picking up the pieces of their lives at their damaged homes in the weeks following the storm, Drago's was there offering complimentary lunches and drinks to make things just a little bit easier. They stepped up and deserve to be commended for their kindness and unquestioned support of New Orleans.

Hey, that reminds me . . . You know who didn't step up after Hurricane Katrina? You got it: Ruth's Chris Steakhouse--which is ironic because Hurricane Betsy in 1965 played a significant role in Ruth Fertel's founding of the restaurant. Her name (and her steak) was "made" as she provided cooked food to aid in the cleanup and recovery of the city. Hurricane Katrina did play a significant role to the modern-day Ruth's Chris Steakhouse too: CEO Craig Miller deserted New Orleans moving the corporate headquarters from Metairie to Orlando less than two weeks after the storm. I sure hope Mr. Miller is proud of himself when he thinks of his place and Ruth Fertel's legacy. A soulless place for a soulless CEO--sounds like a perfect match.

Oh, and I've heard a rumor that Ruth's Chris Sellout is to not reopen the Broad Street location, but instead to relocate it to Lafayette Square across from Gallier Hall. I don't think that The Sellout deserves such a grand, traditional New Orleans location personally . . .


Still waiting to hear from you, Mr. Miller . . .

20 January 2006

The Isle of Orleans

I have a question................

How many of our Louisiana Legislators haven't been to New Orleans or St. Bernard or Plaquemimes or St. Tammany to see first hand the devastation and progress of recovery?

If anyone has an answer I am curious to know. I haven't seen anything on the news or read about this topic anywhere. Maybe they have all been here. I don't know, that is why I'm asking.

I know some issue has been made of US Senators and Representatives not coming down in person. Some have but most haven't. The reason for this is mainly attributed to our situation being viewed as "Louisiana's Problem". That was mentioned in an earlier post here and I believe it to be somewhat true. I just hope that within our state it isn't viewed as "New Orleans' Problem".

19 January 2006

San Antonio Saints? You're Really Wearing That Here?

After an errand-running Sunday, the Fair Family decided to close last weekend with an early evening dinner at Nacho Mamas on Magazine Street. The weather was pleasant (and there was a wait for an inside table) so we decided to sit at an outside sidewalk table. We were at one table and at the other taken sidewalk table was a group of about seven or eight twentysomethings. They weren't rowdy but they were having a few drinks with their dinner. As we were finishing up eating, two guys approach our tables on their way to the adjacent restaurant. One of the guys wears a t-shirt which reads San Antonio Saints complete with fleur-de-lis. Almost simultaneously the group of guys at the adjacent table and I start booing him and giving him all kinds of hell as they pass. They enter Regenelli's next door and the guys at the other table and I start talking and joking about we just saw. Then a few moments later things shifted to a "let's get him" mob mode (it was sorta like that Jack Black character in that one scene in BOB ROBERTS). Two of the guys got up from their table and burst into the restaurant where the other two were. Standing in the middle of the restaurant, the two from outside undid their pants and proceeded to moon the T-shirt guy. We were all laughing as this went down and most of the patrons in Reginelli's found it humorous as well. Even the guy getting mooned thought it was funny.

After the two mooners left, I asked the guy why in earth he was wearing that shirt in New Orleans and advised him that wearing such a shirt here wasn't the smartest thing to do. No, he wasn't from Texas like I suspected. He was actually a local Saints fan who explained to me he was wearing the shirt in protest of Tom Benson's ownership of the team. "Benson is using the city and holding New Orleans hostage, " he told me.

Photo du Jour: Our Best Guys Are On It

I took this picture last week on Jefferson Highway near Causeway--in the parking lot of the still closed Picadilly Cafeteria. Care to guess how many contracted individuals are local? Care to guess how many of these individuals speak English? Care to guess how many of these individuals are likley not American citizens? The title of this post is in refence to that commercial a few years ago where a guy is calling a repair shop to check on the status of his car. The guy at the shop on the phone looks up the man's car--and these two workers are sitting ontop of the car eating their lunch and he repsonds: "My best guys are on it . . ." This picture sorta reminds of that . . . Not breaking news, but the majority of the big time "no bid" type contracts for the New Orleans cleanup effort were given to a handfull of politically-connected corporations which in turn hire predominately non-American workers to physically do the work.

Myself and a couple of friends went over to Fellini's on North Carrollton for lunch today--they got about two feet of water inside the building during the flood, but have renovated and are open. The subject of the Red Cross and Salvation Army came up in regards to both of these continuing to hand out free lunches. One of my friends made a good observation: everytime he passes the Salvation Army or Red Cross "chuck" wagon parked at the Mid City intersection of Tulane/South Carrollton (this spot has been used nearly every day by both for its apparent central location) the majority of the queue waiting in line for free food is not legitimate, needy local residents, but instead out-of-town/out-of-country contract laborers. So just like the Wal-Mart method of not offering affordable insurance/health care to its employees and instead forcing that burden upon the social/health programs of cash-strapped state governments, legitimate charity organizations meant to help the victims of a disaster instead are basically a free catering service for the contract-holding corporations and their contract laborers.

18 January 2006

Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar

After watching an agonizing hour of CNN Anderson Cooper breaking down and discussing the C. Ray "Chocolate City" debacle with Rev. Jessie Jackson, some Uncle Tom Northeastern Republican strategist, and a Newsweek editor who is a native of New Orleans --and then about fifteen minutes of yet further "coverage" and opinion of it on a couple of the local channels I made it over to Oak Street and the Maple Leaf. Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf Bar always means one thing: The Rebirth Brass Band. I cannot tell you over the years how many first time visitors to New Orleans I have taken to see Rebirth play at the Maple Leaf during their weekly Tuesday night performance. It simply blows those who have never seen New Orleans brass band music away--time after time, always. Tonight it was me and TBNO contributor (not the real) Al Scramuzza. The crowd at Rebrith performances at the Maple Leaf are always racially mixed, more so than other musical performances at places such as The Leaf--and tonight was no exception. Everyone is simply there having a good time--the rhythm of Rebirth takes over. For the first time since the storm, tons and tons of college students (mostly from Tulane and Loyola) were in the house--and back in New Orleans. "F@*! Katrina, F@*! Katrina" (with an occasional F@*! Katrina, F@*! FEMA) was one of the chants thrown in on one of the lonngggggggggggggggggg jams by Rebirth. One of the guys in the band at one point made reference to the chocolate controversy and said a more accurate description of the future of New Orleans' people should be as a gumbo, rather than chocolate. Here are some pictures . . . .

17 January 2006

Chocolate City

Sometimes extreme times call for extreme measures.

Is Ray Nagin crazy, or crazy like a fox? Probably a little of both. But in this "Chocolate City" case, I'll take the latter for two reasons:

1. This guy has to do something to make African-Americans feel welcome in the city. In addition, he has to reach out to African-Americans who have seen through national media reports (truthful or not) that race was a major problem with the evacuation, looting, and so on. A lot of minorities and poor people are terrified that rich white people will steal their property and turn parts of New Orleans into "Generic Town U.S.A.." Maybe he got a little carried away and should have shut up before he started bringing "God's punishment" talk into it. But then again, this provides a great transition to my second point.

2. New Orleans now has a higher profile on the national media radar. And it's a shame that he has to do the "dog and pony show" to get the attention. But that's the way it works these days. The more outrageous you are, the more time you get on television. Now people are talking about him again. Now he'll get back on the talk shows to "set the story straight." It's a play right out of the publicity playbook. Celebrities and athletes like Madonna and Terrell Owens have done it for years. But as much as you want to complain about it, you have to admit that it works.

I just hope that the shot of publicity he gets out of this is worth the shot his credibility is going to take.

16 January 2006

Aerial Photo du Jour: Holly Beach Post-Rita (RTMB)

Holly Beach, Winter 1998
Holly Beach, September 2005
Click on images for larger version.

I read an article in the past few days mentioning that many on the Mississippi Gulf Coast feel like they've been abandoned and forgotten as all the post-KTMB media attention has been centered on New Orleans. I sympathize with our neighbors in Mississippi, many of which are expatriate New Orleanians--especially in Hancock County. Even more forgotten in all of this is Southwestern Louisiana which was battered with Hurricane Rita (RTMB) three weeks after KTMB. The community of Holly Beach (in Cameron Parish southwest of Lake Charles) before the storm consisted of several hundred buildings and mobile homes. As the post-RTMB illustrates nearly every structure was decimated by the storm surge--the place was literally wiped off the map. Another area forgotten was the lower coastal portions of Terrebonne Parish 150 miles to the east of Rita's landfall. The south wind that accompanied Rita blew for days and days pushing the Gulf of Mexico into the coast. Terrebonne Parish alone had 9,000 structures flooded in the days following Rita's landfall. The baseline for flooding damage in Lower Terrebonne had been the slow-moving, heavy rainmaker Hurricane Juan in 1985 which was unquestionably eclipsed by Rita.

14 January 2006

Photo du Jour: Another Fire . . .

At about 10pm Friday evening while sitting in my house I smelled something burning--the third time since October that this has happened. I went outside of my house and the smell was even more intense--and the air had a thick smoky haze hampering visability. When I walked into the street in front of my house I could see large plumes of black smoke billowing up into the air several blocks away. The sound of sirens blared in the distance. By the time I got to the burning house, the NOFD and NOPD were on scene in control of the situation. The Times-Picayune account of this fire is here.

Seems to me that there have been more fires such as this one than usual post-KTMB despite being told by one of the fireman onsite that this is not the case. Less than a week ago, for example, a fraterity house on Freret Street met a similar fate.

13 January 2006

Yesterday's Jackson Square Rally

Yesterday morning I went down to check out the rally at Jackson Square. I had read about the gathering and I was curious to see what was going on. There were about 200 people there and probably half of them were girls from Sacred Heart (all girls school here in NO). It was very non-partisan and very pro-N.O. All the signs were asking for Cat 5 levees and coastal restoration. Here are a few observations...........

1. If you want energy at any type of gathering, bring a bunch of high school age girls. I was down there for 90 minutes or so and the girls were chanting and cheering the whole time.

2. Anytime more than a dozen people gather in one place in N.O. a parade breaks out. Within minutes the girls had begun to walk in a large circle up and down the steps in front of the square.

3. I was very disappointed that the Pres. didn't drive by the square and see the group
gathered there.

I spent most of my time there talking to Pam Fortner, the owner of Tropical Isle. Their business is 30% of what it should be right now. She is very optimistic for the future though and is very committed to New Orleans. If anyone out there is wondering what they can do to help New Orleans, just read Pam's shirt....................

A Few New Orleans Drainage Canal/Floodwall Questions/Comments . . .

1. What impact on the load/volume of the outfall canals did the multi-year drainage improvement work (part of the SELA--South Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project) done over the past five years on Claiborne and Napoleon have?

2. What impact did the year old I-10/Southern Railroad underpass pump have on the load/volume of 17th Street Canal? According to LA DOTD, this 25 million dollar pump can push 390,000 gallons of water per minute. At what point did this pump stop working during the landfall of KTMB?

3. What effect did canal dredging have on the structural integrity of the flood walls? Was the dredging limited to the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals--the two that had experienced breaches? Have the Orleans Outfall and Bayou St. John not been dredged? I only have confirmation that the 17th Street Canal was dredged.

4. I believe I heard (although I can't seem to find anything online to confirm this) LSU professor Ivor van Heerden on a WWL forum show a couple of months ago say that the level of Lake Pontchartrain rose higher from the storm surge of Hurricane Georges in 1998 than it did for Hurricane Katrina. If so, what are the significant physical changes in the drainage/flood protection network that potentially impacted the flood walls of the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals over the past seven years? Above Items 1, 2, and 3, perhaps?

5. I heard a caller on WWL Radio a few weeks after the storm who stayed at his Bucktown home during the landfall of the storm. He said that after the storm passed, he walked over to the 17th Street Canal to see how high the water was. When he got to the canal, he said the water within it was incredibly violent with whirlpools and eddies and lots of waves. Surely such dispersed energy could cause problems with levee wall foundations--especially in situations where built-up canal bottom silt was dredged out making the foundations more vulnerable.

6. The construction of the foundation of the Orleans Outfall Canal wall on the Lakeview side was different from all of the other floodwalls--including the critical portions that failed. In the latest edition of Harry Shearer's LE SHOW, Clancy Dubos mentioned this fact as well. To me this seems rather significant . . .

7. Following the baseline flooding events in 1927 (the Mississippi River Flood of 1927) and 1965 (Hurricane Betsy) the United States federal government--the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers--assumed overall responsibility for flood protection of the New Orleans area. The old "corrupt Louisiana politics" excuse has been blamed over and over since this disaster to deflect blame, but when it comes down to it, the FEDS are responsible for New Orleans' flood protection. The flooding damage incurred--at least within the City of New Orleans--was not derived from a natural disaster, but instead from a manmade disaster of inadequate flood protection and long-time environmental abuse and irresponsibility.

12 January 2006

More Good News for the Future of the Saints

Since I am the resident Saints commentator, it is time for me to address the lastest round of positive comments about the Saints in New Orleans:

1. He added that the NFL was even beginning discussions with local leaders about when New Orleans might be ready to host its next Super Bowl, which would be the city's 10th.

COMMENTS: Good. Let's see what happens though. Don't forget that the next 5 or so Super Bowls are tied up, so we won't be seeing one until 11 or 12 or so, unless they change the rotation. There are also no comments on whether the Super Bowl will be tied to a new stadium. If many people consider the Superdome obsolete now, where will it stand in 5 years?

2a. "Mr. Benson already has committed beyond 2006. He's made it clear this is not just for one season. It's a multiyear effort," Tagliabue said as Benson stood alongside him. "The commitment is unequivocal."

2b. Benson said he is committed to New Orleans "forever, as long as the community commits to me."

COMMENTS: This sounds like typical Benson doubletalk. He's committed long term, but then he throws the qualifier out. Does this mean that he'll give the city a mulligan if it's not completely ready or if the team itself is substandard (as many people expect) in 2006 and perhaps 2007? Or does he just pack up and go, citing poor support and low attendance?

3. "I've lived here a long time," Benson continued, alluding to threats of the Saints moving out of Louisiana before he bought the team two decades ago. "When I bought the club ... it wasn't that I was in love with football. It was the fact that I was in love with New Orleans, Louisiana. [That was] the reason I bought this team in 1985 and that's true today."

COMMENTS: See my other comments on the webpage about how Benson apparently loves San Antonio at least as much as he loves New Orleans.

4a. Meanwhile, the NFL is working on plans to further promote the league's involvement in the rebuilding of New Orleans next season. Ideas include a kickoff concert in New Orleans leading up to the prime-time season-opening game at the home of this season's eventual Super Bowl champion. The NFL is also looking at a New Year's Eve Saints home game on the last weekend of the regular season.

4b. Benson said he is urging Tagliabue to work on putting as many Saints home games as possible, including preseason games, on national television as a way to promote the progress of the south Louisiana's recovery.

COMMENTS: We'll probably get 2 or 3 national broadcast games out of this. Bottom line, the Saints do not draw national ratings. ESPN and NBC will demand that teams like the Cowboys, Steelers, and the New York teams get more prime-time games. And if the Saints are as bad as they were last year, I don't blame them. But with that being said, I appreciate the gesture very much. There were plenty of times when the Saints had playoff-caliber teams, and Monday Night Football still blew them off.

Overall, the developments are very positive in my opinion. The league appears to be stepping up with concrete plans, instead of just saying "I promise we'll help in some way." Maybe between now and next season, Benson will do the right thing and hire a P.R. guy who will tell him to either shut the hell up or show more compassion. I don't think I've ever seen a bigger public relations nightmare than this guy. All the guy has to do is either shut up or stick to messages prepared for him by somebody who understands publicity. Maybe his new team leader (his granddaughter) will ask him to do that.

Cleaning Up New Orleans

Yesterday, as I was driving to Ursuline Academy I saw an inspirational sight. A very large volunteer krewe, mostly women cleaning up the neutral ground on Claiborne Ave. I haven't seen this sort of activity since before KTMB overtook our city and to be quite honest I don't recall seeing volunteer krewes cleaning any areas of our city before August 2005. I know organizations were in existence, but to me were not highly visible. I also know different volunteer organizations have been cleaning areas of our city for a few months on the weekends, but during the week to have so many volunteers was impressive.

The krewe was cleaning between Burdette Street and State Street. As I drove by I saw a sign advertising their group. They are the Katrina Krewe, www.cleanno.com. They deserve all the advertising they can get.

As of January 7th they have gathered for over 9 events to pick up debris and trash in several areas. I admire everyone who has taken the time and put big efforts into cleaning up. We all know there is so much debris and trash from New Orleans to Jefferson and it will take more than the city officials to get it all picked up. It will be an ongoing project as people continue to clean out their houses and businesses and start to rebuild.

We are all busy with repairs, work, family and so many other things and I understand we must work on our personal space first. However, we have to expand our workload to incorporate cleaning our neighborhoods and surrounding areas too. More people need to take the time, including myself to show the world we take pride in our city.

Kudos to the Katrina Krewe!

11 January 2006

A New and Improved "Slap in the Face" Inscription Upon the Andrew Jackson Statue in Jackson Square

Click on image for larger version.

Inscribed upon the base of the Andrew Jackson statue in Jackson Square is the following quote: "The Union Shall and Must Be Preserved." The inscription was not originally on the statue in the newly renovated and renamed (to Jackson Square) Place D'Armes in 1851. Instead, the quote was placed upon the statue a decade later upon orders of Military Governor General Benjamin Butler after Union forces captured New Orleans in May 1862. Butler, nicknamed "The Beast" (for his abhorent, disrespectful actions towards the New Orleans populous--especially women) and "Spoons" (for his habit of stealing valuable silverware from New Orleans homes), had the inscription placed on the statue upon New Orleans' most sacred ground to taunt, insult, and humiliate defiant locals.

Today--post KTMB, a more fitting quote should read "New Orleans Shall and Must be Preserved." Or better yet (as the product of Photoshop 101 shows above), how about an actual quote from September 2005 as insulting and as much a slap to the face of New Orleanians and Louisianians of what was intended by Gen. Butler in 1862: "I Don't Think Anybody Anticipated the Breach of the Levees."

Oh, really? No one anticipated a potential problem keeping the storm surge of Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne, Breton Sound, or Barataria Bay in a hurricane event out of New Orleans and its environs?

The "levees" in the City of New Orleans were not breached--federally designed and built floodwalls failed. Not only is the "nobody anticipated" statement false--it was even botched.

One minute of googling reveals:
June 2002:

September 2002 :

October 2004:

So today in the real world and not in my photoshopped fantasyland, "The Union Shall and Must Be Preserved" remains on the base of the statue--still taunting us. Apparently, only certain portions of the union should be preserved . . . and others, oh well.
Comments? Ideas? Contact seymourdfair@gmail.com

10 January 2006

Harry Shearer and LE SHOW and New Orleans . . .

I'm sure the first thing I saw Harry Shearer in (when I was 11 or 12) was the now-famous men's synchronized swimming bit on SNL with Martin Short. Then there was THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Both of these unquestionably influenced my (and most of my friends) long term sense of humor.

I was planning to mention Harry Shearer and his weekly radio program LE SHOW on the blog soon--but I wanted to finish listening to all of the shows over the past five months. I knew he had a radio show prior to the hurricane, but never heard it--as it does not air locally on NPR station WWNO 89.9 FM. The show however is available online in a bunch of different formats including a weekly podcast which I retrieve and listen to via iTunes. I have listened to most of the archived shows since August and he does a fantastic job to keep New Orleans "in the crosshairs" to the national audience and accurately present an almost-local's point of view (he has a home here).

The two most recent shows were recorded in New Orleans. In the latest show, he has a panel of three credible locals: Clancy DuBos (of The Gambit Weekly), Chris Rose (of The Times-Picayune), and Ti Adleaide Martin (of the Brennan Restaurant Empire). I didn't disagree with too much of what any of the four said as all gave honest, articulate assessments and opinions concerning post-KTMB New Orleans. Check it out--its worth the time . . .

This latest show (aired Sunday 8 January) can be heard here.
The iTunes podcast referral of LE SHOW is here (cut and paste link into iTunes).

The Return of The Gray Ghost

I've noticed over the past month there has been a graffiti explosion throughout New Orleans, but especially along I-10. (I would put pictures of it up here on the blog, but I guess I am not supposed to do that to not encourage and give attention to it.) Sound abatement walls, base of bridges, pylons of bridges, and highway signs along I-10 are being "tagged" bigtime. Hundreds and hundreds of abandoned vehicles parked under several sections of I-10 before the storm (such as the I-10/I-610 split or under the Claiborne portion of I-10) remain and some of those are completely covered with graffiti. I heard Fred "The Gray Ghost" Radtke (head of Operation Clean Sweep) on WWL Radio this morning announcing he's back despite being displaced from the flood to fight New Orleans' graffiti. His nickname, "The Gray Ghost, " is because he and his group covers the graffiti--regardless of where it is, including official street signage--with rolled gray paint. Over the past several years, his battle has been endless as he covers the graffiti up and then days or weeks later it returns. The Graffiti Wars of New Orleans are about to begin once again . . .

Noses Where They Don't Belong..........

I just read this a few minutes ago and felt the need to rant..................


The New Orleans city council is asking the Saints to hire Doug Williams as the next coach. Where does one start on this one?????

1. What in the world do they know about running a professional football team?
2. Don't they have a couple of other things to be worried about right now?

This is in no way against Doug Williams. I sure he is a great guy. It is an indicitment of the city council wasting time on things they don't need to be concerned with. Leave these decisions to the professionals, people!! The relationship between the city and the team are already on thin ice without you sticking your noses where they don't belong.

Are they serious? Doug Williams? Just because he is from Zachary and had some success at a small colleges? Why don't they just hire JT Curtis? He already lives here and Curtis wins state like, every year.

New Orleans has some very difficult decisions to make in the near future and this is what the city council is actually spending time on, something that they have no control over or any knowledge about.


09 January 2006

New Orleans: Don't Give Up The Ship

Messages seen around town Sunday . . .

08 January 2006

City of New Orleans Red Tagged Imminent Danger of Collapse Part Deux

Sunday morning is the best time to go grocery shopping--especially in the post-KTMB New Orleans world. On the way to "making groceries" on Tchoupitoulas, I decided to check out a few of the red tagged "IDC" structures in unflooded (and damn lucky) portions of Uptown. I wanted to see first hand what the city inspectors are catagorizing as "imminent danger of collapse" in non-flooded areas where the majority of houses came out from the storm relatively unscathed. In my opinion, it is imperative that historically signifcant structures which are salvagable must not be demolished--within reason of course. When looking at the map (and associated data) displayed in the previous post, I noticed that several of these locations are houses that burned down several days post-KTMB--for example, 15 houses at South Carrollton and Pritchard Place across from Notre Dame Seminary or 5 houses on Camp and Upperline. These fires combined burnt 20 70+ year old houses to the ground. I will be curious to see the addresses of the other 3,000 red tagged locations not in the IDC category.

8100 Block Birch Street

5200 Block Constance Street

1100 Block Dufossat Street (partly demolished)

07 January 2006

Map du Jour: The City of New Orleans Red Tagged "Imminent Danger of Collapse" Locations

Click on map to get full size version.

The above map was compiled using data presented in the Times-Picayune on Friday. Nearly 2,000 structures have been identified by city inspectors as being in "imminent danger of collapse" and have been flagged to be demolished. An analysis of the data reveals that nearly 3/4 of these are located in the Lower Ninth Ward. An additional 3,000 structures have also been targeted for demolition by city inspectors but don't have the "imminent danger of collapse" designation. Streets with more than forty red tagged IDC locations are: Deslonde Street (120+), Tennessee Street (85+), Jourdan Avenue (80+), Forstall Street, Reynes Street, Benton Street, Alabo Street, Gordon Street, Andry Street, Lizardi Street, Charbonnet Street, Lamanche Street, Flood Street, Tricou Street, North Galvez Street, and North Tonti Street.

06 January 2006

Phunny Phorty Phellows Launch Mardi Gras 2006

For the past nineteen years, The Phunny Phorty Phellows kick off the Mardi Gras season on Twelfth Night (6 January--Feast of the Epiphany) with their annual streetcar ride. Usually the ride takes place along the St. Charles Line starting at the Carrollton Barn, but since the line remains offline because of KTMB damage the Canal and Riverfront Lines (using a vintage St. Charles Line car) in the CBD and the French Quarter served as this year's venue. The starting point this year was the intersection of Crozat and Canal Street in front of the Krauss Building. Lots of local press are always at this event, but this year national press towing the "attempting normalcy" angle were there as well. It was good to see the spirit of the krewe members as well as the spirit of the people who ventured Downtown to see this tradition live on. Of course like any gathering in New Orleans post-KTMB where new people are met, inevitably the conversation turns to "how'd your house do?" and "where'd you evacuate to?"

The Mardi Gras 2006 full-parade season with 30 of 35 parading krewes (five krewes not parading this year according to Arthur Hardy) begins in six weeks. Fat Tuesday is 28 February. Here's how tonight looked . . .

05 January 2006

Mid-City Bonfire on New Year's Eve

I am happy to report that the traditional bonfire on Orleans Avenue in Mid-City on New Year's Eve was well attended. Although I had initial concerns about the revival of the boisterous, unofficial party on the neutral ground of Orleans Avenue, the event was as much fun as ever.

When we first arrrived at the bonfire location at about 10:30 pm the crowd was sparse but the Xmas trees were piled high ready for ignition. I was a little worried since I was one of just a few people celebrating with Black Cats and bottle rockets, but by about 11:00 pm the crowd gathered. The police and fire departments were on hand to maintain control and watch over the celebratory use of fireworks and the bonfire. Like pre-Katrina bonfire celebrations, the controlled anarchy of the lighting of the bonfire and random fireworks at midnight was a great time and made all of us forget about the devastation all around us, at least for awhile. Hopefully the upcoming Carnival Season will give us another brief respite from our worries and a small bit of normalcy in the midst of chaos. Thanks to everyone who turned out this year to make the unofficial bonfire in Mid-City a great event.

Angry Links of The Day

The Government That Broke New Orleans

Is the goal of the federal government to ruin New Orleans permanently? Could Texas take any more of our economy or our population? We can "rebuild" Iraq (that our country purposely destroyed) but we can't "rebuild" New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast? Congress is worried that the cost to rebuild KTMB-effected areas is too much? More federal money proportionately earmarked to Mississippi despite less loss? You think career lobbyist Gov. Halley Barbour has something to do with this?

Remembering Eddie Gabriel

The obvious is now unfortunately confirmed: 95 year old Pat O'Brien's institution Eddie Gabriel drowned in the post-KTMB flooding. He worked at Pat O'Briens for an amazing 67 years. The above link is a heartfelt piece written by his grandson. May have to go have a drink at Pat O's tonight for EG. Last time I saw him (and told him hello) at Pat O's was in late-July 2005 . . .

The 29 Billion Lie

As usual NOLA-expatriate Markus at Wetbank Guide hits a home run with this WTFU dose of reality. Yes, yes, and yes. Its all fun and games--and lies, lies, and lies. The Entergy thing post-KTMB is just fantastic. From what I understand Entergy is likely done with New Orleans as corporate headquarters. Just watch . . . That comfy corporate campus--the former home of sham WorldCom--sat unused in Clinton, Mississippi since WorldCom's demise a few years ago. Then Entergy moved on in "temporarily" during the "Brownie" days. You think Gov. Barbour is going to allow them to leave? A sweetened pot to remain there, perhaps? Meanwhile my monthly Entergy bill is going to surge 400% and New Orleans loses white collar jobs.

04 January 2006

The Triumphant Return of Mikimoto

(This post's title sounds like the name of a 1960's Japanese Godzilla movie with model buildings and a guy in a bad monster suit . . . )

Located on the 3300 block of South Carrollton Avenue in an area formerly inundated with three to four feet of floodwater post-KTMB, the Japanese restaurant Mikimoto reopened on Tuesday. The Fair Family made it there this evening for dinner. I noticed early on (early/mid- October) Mikimoto was one of the first businesses that far up South Carrollton being cleared out and gutted. Walking into the place tonight was one of the most encouraging things I've seen post-KTMB as the newly installed and completely renovated interior looks 100 times better than it did pre-KTMB. The ownership turned the tragedy of this disaster into an opportunity to improve their business. To be honest, seeing this really psyched me up and renews my hope for the future of New Orleans. Hey, at this point we've to to take what we can get . . .

Kudos to the owners of Mikimoto for remaining committed to New Orleans and rebuilding their business instead of giving up and going elsewhere. Please go have some sushi and sake at Mikimoto and support these guys as they deserve the patronage. A recommendation: the Titanic Deluxe dinner (soup, salad, teriyaki chicken, tempura, cantaloupe, rice, sushi, and sashimi) serves two adults and a child quite well.

03 January 2006

New Orleans Up Against False Perceptions . . . (Among Other Things)

Ok . . . back in New Orleans. Let the posts continue . . .

I spent most of the last two weeks in three Floridas (the Panhandle, Central Florida, and South Florida) and in Atlanta. Other than a three day trip to Vicksburg/Greenville for Thanksgiving and the last ten days, I have been within 100 miles of New Orleans the entire time post-KTMB (Katrina That Miserable Bitch). These last ten days outside the area have proven to me what I suspected: the rest of the county really has no clue of what the current reality of New Orleans is. Here is an exchange I had on New Year's Eve with an AirTran flight attendant while waiting to take off from ATL to come home to MSY. Every seat on the "over-sold" plane was taken (with lots of happy LSU fans onboard following the Peach Bowl 40-3 dismantling of Miami) . . .

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: "Why are all these people going to New Orleans? (Looking around with a dumbfounded look on her face) What are you (directed to me) going to do there?"

ME: (After a brief pause of disbelief towards the tone of the question) "Uhhh, live my life? With my wife and child that sit here beside me. Go to the house that I own. Go to my job. . . ."

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: "Oh--you can live in New Orleans now? I thought there was nothing left."

The people around me in the plane laughed at my response because they were just as shocked by her question as I was. The rest of the country has no idea whats happening here--and to be honest its not necessarily their fault. Its one of two extremes: they either think everything is completely destroyed or everything is back to normal--no problem. But of course the American public is treated like kindergarten kids by the media and the powers that be as all issues or events or problems are defined and explained in yes/no, black/white, with us/with the terrorists simplicity. Such fundamental framing of language does not allow for variations--"gray" areas. Its this way or that way--A or B. Describing the reality of New Orleans right now doesn't fit well within the confines of that language. Defining New Orleans post-KTMB is an extremely gray area.

One night while in Florida, I was at a bar where a television was tuned to CNN with the audio muted--music blared in the bar instead. A reporter was on the ground somewhere in a devastated part of New Orleans (likely the Lower 9th Ward) as a dilapidated wood frame house moved from the force of the raging waters sat in the middle of the street behind him. As he talked his live image on screen dissolved to helicopter-derived aerial shots of a flooded New Orleans. The water has been pumped out from the city for over three months now, but yet shots taken the first week of September are shown in that pattened cable news hypnotic loop. There is no date superimposed on the visual notifying the viewer that what is being shown is not an up-to-date representation of the current reality. These are the sort of things I could see leads towards a non-New Orleans public not having a clear perception of current day New Orleans realities.

Some areas within the City of New Orleans are indeed devastated--some beyond repair and many others salvageable. Some areas within the city--"the Island" or "the Sliver by the River" as its being called--located mostly along the Mississippi River managed to avoid the flood waters and contrary to what some such as wonderspokesman and NFL Saints owner Mr. Benson have stated, are quite "livable." I am not saying conditions in these areas are as they were on 28 August 2005--the day before KTMB, but given the realities of other areas of the city people like me who live on "the Island" are lucky. For instance, both drug stores near my house in Carrollton have yet to reopen from damages incurred post-KTMB. Does this make the neighborhood unliveable? Sure, its an inconvenience, but compared to the "inconveniences" others in our city have gone through--such as losing everything they own or even worse, their lives--this inconvenience is trivial.

Another issue to be clarified is that 70-80% of the City of New Orleans (Eastbank only), St. Bernard Parish (Arabi/Chalmette), and Old Metairie/Old Jefferson endured catastrophic flooding because of hurricane protection wall or levee failures. In these areas, standing water sat for upwards of three weeks in some cases--and then RTMB (Hurricane Rita) caused re-flooding of certain areas (the Lower 9th Ward). The flooding damage to Lower Plaquemines Parish, lakefront portions of St. Tammany Parish, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast were caused from a 10-30 foot storm surge of seawater (a tidal wave). The direct storm surge flooding was isolated to areas close to the coast or along tributaries feeding into the sea which acted as a funnel for the storm surge. The damage upon the backside of Diamondhead from the Jourdan River is an example of the funnel effect. In the direct storm surge areas the water retreated back to Lake Pontchartrain or Mississippi Sound or Breton Sound as the hurricane moved further inland. In the near and below sea-level portions of New Orleans and St. Bernard floodwaters became trapped and remained until pumped out because of the levees and walls designed to normally keep the water out.

The flooding that took place in Suburban Jefferson Parish on the Eastbank (minus Old Metairie) was caused because of non-working pumping stations. These lakeside pumps are designed to move fallen rainwater from the network of drainage canals in the parish over the hurricane protection levees to Lake Pontchartrain. A decision was made by Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard (AB2) to remove the pump operators from the pumphouses because of safety concerns (high winds) from the approaching hurricane, therefore the pumps were inoperable. In retrospect, its safe to say this decision will likely adversely effect AB2's political future. The flooding in Metairie and Kenner due to overflowing drainage canals was confined to north (lakeside) of I-10 concentrated between Veterans Memorial Boulevard and West Esplanade Avenue and Lake Pontchartrain. Both the Westbank portions of New Orleans (Algiers/English Turn) and Jefferson (Gretna, Terrytown, Marrero, Harvey, and Westwego) avoided any flooding with exception to one area adjacent to the Harvey Canal near West Jefferson Hospital. These Westbank areas are among the most vulnerable in the New Orleans area to massive flooding given a further western pathed hurricane than KTMB.

So in a nutshell, the flood waters have long receeded and although things are not proceeding as quickly as one would hope, progress (sometimes as baby steps) is still being made. The scenes shown repeatedly on television of devestated neighborhoods indeed exist, but at the same time many sections of the metro area avoided such wholesale destruction. The intact areas are the ones to be used as the base and the stimulus towards recovery. Its not all doom and gloom here in New Orleans but its not Mardi Gras either. Life continues. This is our reality . . .

02 January 2006

Photo du Jour: Sign of the Times at Langenstein's Uptown/New Orleans Labor Shortage

One of the major problems continuing to plague post-KTMB New Orleans is a nearly non-existent labor pool to fill service industry jobs. The result is that many retail businesses (both locally owned and regional/national chains) physically able to be open are understaffed and/or operate under abbreviated hours or in some cases simply have not yet reopened. The above picture shows a sign posted at the entrance to Langenstein's Grocery Store on Arabella Street Uptown announcing the store will temporarily no longer be open on Sundays because of the "continued shortage of employees." This all boils down to a lack of housing. If families (and the "breadwinning" head(s) of the household) have no place to live, how can they come back to New Orleans--even if they desparately want to?

When Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne penetrated the flood protection walls following KTMB's landfall the floodwaters didn't discriminate between ethnic or socio-economic lines. I would argue however, that the working class, mostly minority neighborhoods within the City of New Orleans have been more adversely effected by the wrath of post-KTMB flooding. Many families within the more affluent flooded areas such as Lakeview have the financial (perhaps insurance-juiced) resources to remain in the New Orleans area despite losing their homes and possessions if they desire. These people can temporarily rent an intact house or apartment on the Northshore, or in Metairie, or Uptown, or stay with the sister-in-law in her 2,500 square foot house in Mandeville or in Baton Rouge. Or they can decide they don't want to deal with the long-term rebuilding commitment its going to take to remain in New Orleans and pack it up and permamently relocate to Houston, Atlanta, or Baton Rouge, or wherever.

The majority of the blue collar working class who lost their homes don't have the flexibility of these options. Temporary housing in the form of FEMA trailers is imperative to getting them back to New Orleans. Political turf wars between the Mayor and the City Council and neighborhood interests (NIMBYism at its finest) as well as Federal and State conflicts have delayed the delivery and installation of these needed temporary units. Furthermore, in some cases FEMA is providing rent-free accomodations for a year in places such as Houston to low income New Orleanians likely resulting in their not returning home anytime soon. Until the housing issue is adequately addressed, labor shortages will continue to be a problem in New Orleans.

Thoughts on the Saints Staying in New Orleans for 2006

I just love "spin."

I don't think I have to go too deep into the way Tom Benson continuously slapped Louisianians in the face in 2005. Before KTMB, you had the "leaked" stories that the Saints were interested in moving to San Antonio. Don't forget that this lease-breaking-loophole crap started well before the hurricane. Then, after the hurricane, it got worse. There was the initial story that Benson was prepared to screw season ticket holders out of refunds. Then the guy who was proving to be the "conscience" of the franchise, Arnold Fielkow, was fired because he was reportedly the "leak" on the ticket story and because he was the force behind making the Saints play some games in Baton Rouge. Numerous stories were then "leaked" that Benson was preparing to negotiate with San Antonio after the season was over. After the first game in Baton Rouge, he attacked a cameraman and told the NFL that he "feared for his life" in Tiger Stadium. Then, about a month ago, this website provided information dealing with how Benson told employees that FEMA and the National Guard told him they couldn't go back to the facility, how Benson was preparing to sue the NFL if it forced him to come back, and so on.

And then the announcement came that the Saints were staying in New Orleans. Here's how the New Orleans Saints official website decribes the announcement:

"It was a whirlwind day for Saints Owner Tom Benson and his franchise on Friday. The long-time owner of the club was at the center of it all as he showed his enthusiasm and energy in making the announcement that the New Orleans Saints would be returning to their Metairie facility in a few short weeks. "

Energy? Enthusiasm? Was I watching excerpts from the same press conference? The guy looked like Paul Tagliabue had a gun in his back. He mumbled the words like a 5-year-old being forced by his parents to tell someone "I'm sorry."

You think I'm exaggerating? Look at what Peter King said in this "Monday Morning Quarterback" passage on si.com:

"I think it's a swell idea, and the right idea, that the Saints are back in New Orleans for the 2006 season. But Tom Benson sure didn't sound like an owner who planned to unpack his bags when he got back inside the New Orleans city limits. For everything that town's done for you, Tom, can't you at least fake it a little better?"

My favorite part of the press conference was when Benson told the audience that he wanted to return to New Orleans, but was forced "at gunpoint" not to return. Maybe the same people who forced him at gunpoint were the same people who were threatening his life in Baton Rouge.

The bottom line is this: The Saints are back in 2006. After that, all bets are off.

Anyone who is paying attention knows that the NFL was the force behind the return of the Saints. All of this is being done against Benson's will. Kenny Wilkerson said the exact same thing Friday night on WDSU. After 2006, I have NO CONFIDENCE WHATSOEVER that the Saints will stay. There are lots of ominous signs. Joe Horn told reporters that at least half the team doesn't want to come back, and I believe him. Our best player, LeCharles Bentley, can leave as a free agent. There could be a huge turnover in the front office and coaching staff. Many are now assuming that next year will be another terrible rebuilding year, since we will probably be led by rookie QB Matt Leinart. And it's not even known yet how many season ticket holders will renew next year after the way Benson treated them. God knows there won't be a huge line of new ticketholders.

I have plenty of time to change my mind between now and the beginning of the 2006 season, but right now, I think it's going to be ugly.