Saturday, March 31, 2007

My Trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast

S.S. Camile, still there.

About a week ago, I went over the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I wanted to visit some of my relatives who spent Katrina up a tree watching a home that had been in their family for generations and make it through Camile disintegrate under the fury of the waves.

I, like many New Orleanians, spent many vacations on the Coast when I was growing up. I was especially eager to visit because I had seen the Mississippi Gulf Coast less than 2 weeks before Katrina hit. I was doing a survey for an engineering firm I worked at over the summer before my senior year. We were doing some work for the port of Gulfport and I remember thinking, "Gee, all those empty lots from Camile have finally been filled in. It looks so good."

Well, about two weeks later Katrina hit and you know the rest.

Steps, all that remain of many homes.

Another reason I wanted to go to the Coast was to see how true (or should I say, how false) the, "well, Mississippi is recovered, why is New Orleans still asking for money" thought process is.

I toured the ENTIRE coast over the course of a day. From Waveland to Ocean Springs and everything in between. We had to navigate around the missing bridges in Bay St. Louis and Biloxi. Spent a lot of the afternoon in Ocean Springs, too.

I brought my good ole Canon AE-1, one of the greatest cameras ever made. It was my grandfather's and it's still going strong. Load it up with black and white film and you'll be amazed at the photos it produces.

I was amazed at the devastation. I sort of assumed that Bay St. Louis and Waveland took the brunt of Katrina and the areas closer to Alabama were largely spared. Boy, was I wrong. It's also hard to see exactly how much was lost, unless you knew what it looked like before Katrina.

Here are some of my observations

Differences between Gulf Coast and NOLA:
* No abandonments- In New Orleans, some people just evacuated and never returned. That just hasn't happened over there.
* Excellent government (but has remarkably little bearing on the recovery). Their politicians aren't stuffing money into freezers. Not that it's helped that much. A lot of those places have EXCELLENT schools. In Ocean Springs, all the schools are "5 out of 5" (MS rating system).
* Crime. They've had some problems in their FEMA trailer parks, but they got a handle on things early before crime ever got a toehold. The same can't be said of the Big Bloody.
* Better connection between recovered zones/struggling zones. In New Orleans, there's the "Isle of Denial" and there's the "Magical Misery Land." There's a lot less interaction than there should be. In Mississippi, there's a much better connection.
* Small biz's doing slightly better in NOLA. In Louisiana, there are more tourists, so small businesses at least have enough to break even. In MS, they're still struggling (except for the big casinos).
* FEMA flood plain. FEMA didn't wuss out over there. The BFE (Base Flood Elevations) are extremely high (as they should be). We're talking about 15-20' above grade. Some places even higher. What is getting rebuilt is getting built high.

* Ancestral homes, don't have $ to rebuild. So many of the homes were inherited from one generation to another.
* Inflated construction costs.
* Stuck (no $). Their version of the Road Home is better, but still not great. Also, their is the simple fact that, especially factoring in inflated construction costs and high BFE's, it simply isn't enough money to rebuild.
* Islands of recovery, islands of despair.
* Big business recovers well. In Louisiana, the oil companies got their infrastructure repaired in short order, despite massive damage.
* The "New Normal."
* Dilapidated, abandoned buildings.
* They have a Lower 9, Claiborne Ave, Lakeview (& Magazine Street). Their Lower 9 is a neighborhood of Vietnamese and Polish fishermen just Northeast of the Port of Gulfport. The homes were handed down from generation to generation. Many were little more than shacks, but they were all owned. The main business road in Gulfport looks like Claiborne Ave. (lots of shuttered and abandoned businesses). They have a Lakeview (bedroom community of brick buildings that are still intact, but deserted). Main Street in Ocean Springs, which is way up on a hill, is filled with boutique stores, art galleries, bars, and great restaurants. Reminds me of Magazine Street.
* Still have lots of legal battles (but different targets). We're suing the Corps. They're suing their insurance companies. Insurance over there was far worse than in Louisiana, at least in my opinion. State Farm was, under the circumstances, fair with us. My relatives also had State Farm and they were treated like criminals. I was shocked at that they were describing the same company.
* Good food. I had a late lunch/early dinner at the Beau Rivage. Excellent! I stuffed myself. I'd recommend to anyone. A lot of the chefs had New Orleans roots. You could tell by the very flavorful (but not overly hot) food.

The beach, just as beautiful as ever.

I really enjoyed my trip. I learned a lot, I ate great food, and I got to see my relatives. If things get to hairy in New Orleans, I'd definitely think of moving to Ocean Springs. It's a nice little town.

If someone tells you why can't Louisiana be like Mississippi, you tell them that we pretty much are like Mississippi.

I've got a bunch more photos that I want to post. Blogger's software is acting up on me and it's taking a hell of a long time to upload these high quality photos. I still need to get another roll finished off. That roll has the best photos. I'll get them up eventually.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Politics

For a while, I avoided politics on my blog. Recently, I've decided to wade in. I want to be very clear where I stand. Sites like The Dead Pelican are most useful when you know where the author stands. Full disclosure of crucial details, like Jeff Crouere's (of Bayou Buzz) unsuccessful campaign against Mitch Landrieu and Silas Lee's work for the Nagin administration, should be out there.

I'm a registered Independent. I lean to the right on some things, while others I'm on the left. I balance out in the middle. I'm sure about this because all of my liberal friends think I'm a buddies with Pat Robertson and all of my conservative friends think I'm an America-hatin' commie in league with Hugo Chavez. When you're a moderate, it's really scary A: how wide the idealogical gap is and B: how neither side really comprehends A.

I have never worked for any politician.

I have attended exactly 1 political rally: Wesley Clark's rally at the Lakefront Airport.

I have donated money to only one politician: $50 to Rob Couhig's mayoral campaign. I 'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm going to be honest. I was suckered in by the Times-Picayune profile of him, his willingness to take tough stands that he knew would alienate some voters, and his zeal in kicking Nagin in the teeth during the debates. Damn do I wish I had that 50 bucks back.

UPDATE- In an effort to be as open as possible and not in any way get into a situation like Bill O'Reilly. It's not as though I think I'm going to get in trouble. I'm just following the Nakedness principle.

Here's my voter registration card: (some parts obscured for my privacy)

Note the registration date and the party affiliation.

PS- I don't know what some of the numbers mean. If there's something I should censor, PLEASE LET ME KNOW AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

In case you need help vomitting...

The "Rove Rap":

4 minutes in, look at the surprise interviewee:

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ducky Riess

Remembering Katrina's Lives Lost:

John Karlem "Ducky" Riess

A close friend and a mentor.

I just found this article (p. 6) I wrote a while ago. I didn't know whether or not it ever got published until recently. Turns out it did.

The mother of all bitches: City Hall

"Mayor wants Vieux Carre Commission (VCC) President canned for comments.

Well, this has gotten a lot of news lately. Being a Quarterite, I figure I should weigh in.

First off, I don't really care for the VCC. I'm going to talk about a "bitch" in the VCC.

Katrina knocked over a brick wall at the back of our property. It divided 2 lots. The other property burned during Katrina and was left abandoned for a few months. One of the residents had a son in the construction biz and rebuilt the wall in short order (otherwise, the wall wouldn't have been rebuilt in months). The owners are a nice doctor and his bitch of a wife. She insisted we tear down our wall, "because it wasn't up to VCC standards." VCC standards are notorious for being insanely difficult to comply with. My favorite story was a guy who repainted his home. White paint was peeling all over the place. Once he was finished, the VCC told him they didn't like the shade of white, so he had to spend $20,000 to get it repainted. Anyway, 2 walls later and on the anniversary of Katrina (plus or minus a week, I can't remember exactly), we finally got a wall in place. Oh yeah, and this whole time, they were rebuilding their carriage house using cinder blocks. Would have loved to sent some of photos in to her friends on the VCC. Nobody wanted to piss them off more than we already had, so I've just got them stored on my hard drive.

Anyway, as problematic as the VCC are, they're the lesser of two evils. The other alternative would be to let developers take over and let it turn into this:

Disney's version of the Quarter. Except with developers, it would be 30 story condo's in the faux-Louisiana Vernacular style. The VCC is a necessary evil.

Second comment I have is, though I've never met Ms. White, the prevailing opinion seems to be she's an insufferable human being who had it coming. Our politicians get off way too easy, so if a few people slip their toe over the line, I'm not going to mind.

Thirdly, Nagin wants to hold someone accountable for a slip of the tongue? HOLY SHIT! STOP THE PRESSES! Well, if you want someone canned, then let's start with your worthless hide. I've heard (and I'm not 100% on this, so if I'm wrong, I'll retract it) that Dr. Lupin rode out the storm in the city. He even went in and provided whatever medical care he could to the poor in the Superdome and Convention Center. That's right, he was helping people while Nagin was sprawled on the floor of the Hyatt in a fetal position sucking on one thumb with his other thumb firmly implanted up his ass.

Fourth, people need to go beyond what Nagin says. People need to look into what he's trying to do. He wants Lupin replaced with a crony to line his pockets. This may come as a surprise to some, but there's a ton of abandoned property in the Quarter. Very few people are willing to go to the trouble of restoring it because of the VCC's micromanagement. I'm sure Nagin and his cronies have some sort of scheme to get some land, install a lackey who watches their back while they make a fortune off some of the most valuable land in the city. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a hotel or something really gaudy (like a 30 story monument to Hizzoner's greatness) in the works. FOLLOW THE MONEY!

Fifth, hey, there are some really tiny apartments in the Quarter. When I first graduated, I had a place that was $600 a month with utilities. Great deal, right? Well, it was a converted slave quarter and was one (very small) room. It had a shower stall that was so narrow, I could only stand one way, otherwise my shoulders would get stuck. If they were to have one ginormous bin for a whole complex, that might work.

Some people are shocked that this has become a big deal. I'm not. And now you know why.

UPDATE- Read this article about the special tax district for the Quarter. Seems the Quarterites were reluctant to pay up, so they wanted to control the money... Nagin didn't like that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Take Heart

An absolute must read for any blogger/digital citizen.

Sometimes the news, both locally and nationally, can drive one to Zoloft. Read the above article. It will lift your spirits and give you hope. A storm of revolution is brewing. All those crooked politicos are about to bend over to the power of Time's person of the year (You).


More from WDSU. "NOPD losing manpower faster than it can be replaced." Gee, I wonder how this is going to mesh with the plan to have the LANG 'step down as we step up.' Is that a hole in Hizzoner's logic? Of course.

Former NOPD Brass takes on the NOPD Brass in Gambit

A great piece on the NOPD during Katrina that was published in the New Yorker. Very detailed and informative. It will tear at your emotions. Unfortunately, every officer praised was guaranteed to be attacked by the petty, vindictive Police Brass.

I think one of the problems is we actually have TOO MANY police. That's right, too many. The focus is on quantity at the expense of quality. Given the historic distrust of NOPD, the last thing we need are more unqualified, underpaid rookies roaming the streets.

Since my last dictatorial proposals sparked some conversation, here's my second take:
* When evolutionary measures fail, launch a revolution!
* Disband NOPD (and I tend to be one of their defenders!). Fire Riley. Fire "Outa town" Brown.
* Replace it with an organization half the size, but with twice the pay
* Force transparency. Imagine if every time the police brass met, a video (minus mentions of specific cases) were posted on You Tube. Think about what Channel 9 has done for Microsoft. Huge bureaucracy exposed to the whithering barrage of bloggers, and yet it was a PR boon for Microsoft.
* Focus on quality of recruits. All should either have college degrees or be experienced officers. Let's start stealing from the manpower pool at JPSO and St. Tammany instead of the other way around.
* Give more autonomy to the good cops (whose names I won't mention here because it will only get them into trouble).
* Tweak things if you need to, but give it time to work.
* Instead of cameras of questionable efficiency and contractual origin, try Automated Shot Spotters. Publish the output from the system live on a website so anyone can view it.

WDSU Report

Something I've previously blogged about has made the news.

On WDSU this morning, they showed clips of the following you tube video.

It turns out I wasn't the only one watching the video. The FBI was also watching. They're going through the video and identifying convicted felons. Hmmm, if you're a convicted felon, it's probably not a good idea to wave a handgun or an AK-47 around. They can put you in jail for a long, long time for just possession of a firearm. And you were kind enough to give them the evidence. Crime fighting from a cubicle! Now there's something even Warren Riley can do!

Unfortunately, WDSU no longer has their news clip on their website, otherwise I'd include the link. The video also included some Arnie Fielkow's reaction to watching the You Tube videos. He had the basic, "oh, it's so horrible children could be watching this" reaction.

What's that sound?

The sound of a hammer hitting the nail on the head.

As sad as that sounds, I think it's true. I don't think he even cares. It's like we're on the sinking Titanic and Nagin and his crew are dragging the ship's safe out to their private lifeboat (or yacht)...all the while yelling "It's that damn iceberg's fault this ship is sinking! Don't look at us, it's not our fault....we're heros!"

Monday, March 26, 2007

Handicapping the Governor's Race

Well, Governor Blanco is out. She was a decent governor before Katrina, but then the wheels just fell off.

A lot of pundits out there are looking primarily at the failure of her Road Home program. While it isn't a shining example of success (or transparency in contracting), I think her failure is much more elemental. She made the one mistake no female chief executive can make: she was indecisive in a time of crisis. A note to any future female executive out there: in a time of crisis, you must channel Margaret Thatcher. Women executives must work twice as hard as men to combat the perception of weakness during times of crisis. That is sexist, but that's just the way things work, especially in a state like Louisiana.

Jindal was looking forward to election returns that would have been positively Soviet. I wouldn't be surprised if Jindal was already salivating over a possible cabinet post in 2008 or a later run at national office. And then things changed.

Now, he'll have to face one of the titans of Louisiana politics. The biggest question is whether or not he can run. I'm no expert, but I have a feeling that it won't be nearly the obstacle that some people are making it out to be.

Breaux will have to connect with a much younger voting pool. People my age or younger have never voted for him before and there are quite a few of us. He'll also have to campaign hard in St. Tammany Parish. For the rest of the state, all he'll probably have to do is distribute purple and gold "Geaux Breaux" bumper stickers and make sure he doesn't get Swift-boated.

Jindal's only hope is to slander Breaux with the "Politics of the Past" label (ask Nagin how, he knows how to do it). It's quite true that Breaux was VERY closely associated with some of the more 'colorful' politicians in the past, but, like the Landrieu clan or Harry Lee, has never gotten his nose dirty despite the close proximity. Is it a Teflon coating? Is he honest? That will be the deciding factor in the election.

Other challengers include Walter Oh-Noooo! Williams (another Ben Franklin alum - got to give him a plug) Walter Boasso and Foster Campbell (who could be the next Huey Long, but will more likely just get sidelined). Mitch or John Kennedy (who I have enormous respect for) could throw their hat into the ring if Breaux can't run or backs out at the last minute.

Another factor: this is either going to be the last open primary election or the first party primary election. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I can't remember which.

There's my take on things.

The latest craze sweeping New Orleans Blogosphere


Alright, now that I've got your attention with a tabloid-worthy opener, here are the facts. We're going down the tubes. Our current political system is shot. The solution: we need to subject our political system to a controlled burn. Start from scratch.

I've talked about it already.

Others are starting to get the idea.

There's one HUGE obstacle, though: the political machines. The "Progressive" Democrats will fight this tooth and nail and will call in the big boys to prevent any attempt to reign in their power.

All we need to do is get a few neighborhoods out of the system and then momentum will take care of the rest. I'm sure Broadmor will be the leader, like usual. Algiers can get in on the act, too. They've NEVER been properly respected by the city. They'll secede and declare Jackie Clarkson Madame Empress and rejoice by doing, well, whatever Wankers do. Uptown will appoint Ron Forman CEO and their city council will be a Board of Directors. Each neighborhood will govern by their own flavor.

And when all is said and done, nobody will want Nagin for anything. Not even dog catcher.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

America's Most Fortified City

So, I decided to put together a map based off a book: New Orleans: America's Most Fortified City. It details the extraordinary lengths various countries have gone to to protect New Orleans from its enemies. New Orleans is a strategically VITAL location. If you were to go up to some of the people who toiled and gave their blood, sweat, and tears to defending the city and told them, "Guess what, some people in America want to abandon New Orleans," well, let's just say he wouldn't take it too kindly.

More on the Forts of Louisiana.

The Google Earth Post and the Google Earth Map (API).

Zoomed out:

A closer look:

The other thing I learned doing this is all the coastal erosion that's happened over the past 300 years or so. There are some areas that don't exist anymore.

Look at Tower Dupre (which was originally built on dry land):

Small image I used to mark forts. You might have to download it and load it into Google Earth.

I'd love to get together a tour of these locations to see how some of them survived Katrina.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Slow on posting

Hey, sorry it's been a little slow. I've been busy and also took a trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I'll resume posting soon.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Odds and Ends

New Orleans murder rate worse than we thought. We're approaching Baghdad levels here, people. And that's NOT THE BAD NEWS. It's getting worse.

I've said it before: this summer, there is going to be a low-intensity conflict in parts of the city. The only thing that's going to save us from total anarchy is Jim Lenten. He's taking thugs off the street and keeping them off. More importantly, they have an active intelligence gathering operation underway and are targeting the drug kingpins in the city. The kingpins have gone untouched since Pennington was Chief. Good luck and Goodspeed, Lenten.

This is what logic looks like. Living in New Orleans, we need to remind ourselves every once in a while what sanity looks like.

On the bright side, they like it and they might be bringing a friend.

2 Letters to the Editor about Section 8 housing.

Jefferson Parish's answer to fighting crime: Buy up tenements and turn them into parks. What they forget to mention is those residents will inevitably come back to Orleans Parish, but I think that is part of the point. It's a shame very few other New Orleans bloggers read City Biz. It's one of the better news sources out there.

UPDATE- I'm too lazy to write a new post about just one thing, so I'll tack this on.'s "Crime Scene NOLA" blog written by (mostly) Jon Donley and an officer from FOP.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

USS New Orleans

USS New Orleans commissioned. The SecNav was present for the commissioning.

Very Cool.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

This smells

Protesters make noise outside Councilwoman's home.

Stacy Head is one of our most effective council members. She was one of the members that voted against the amendment gutting the OIG.

Something doesn't smell right. Between the way the protest happened, the timing and the Times-Pic's coverage, my spidey-sense is tingling.

At this point, it's just a gut feeling. I'm going to go way out on a limb here, but I think someone is trying to intimidate her. One of the political machines is trying to get her to back off something. The only questions are which machine and back off of what? Answer one question, you can probably guess the second.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

New Orleans Public Housing

I've decided to put together a well thought out take on the public housing situation in the city. It's be a major source of debate in the city.

Before I get started, I'd like to put forward MY definition of two important terms:

Affordable Housing- Housing for families of semi-skilled workers. Focus on home ownership or reasonable (but not subsidized) rent. Think about a Pre-Katrina $500 rental or a $100,000-175,000 Pre-Katrina home. The majority of Lakeview, St. Bernard Parish, and parts of New Orleans East fit this model.

Low Income Housing- Very cheap homes, majority are rental in the $100 a month range. Almost always subsidized in some fashion. All of the public housing stock (except for River Gardens) fits this model.

Public Housing stock- A term of convenience I'll use for the two or when it's not clear which is being effected.

I don't know what the industry terminology is, but this is what I'll use. I think establishing these two terms is incredibly important to any discussion of public housing.

The debate thus far has been extremely heated all around.

On the anti-public housing side, there have been moves by St. Bernard Parish, Jefferson Parish, St. Tammany Parish, and even New Orleans East to drastically restrict public housing stock.

The suburban Parishes are BLATANTLY saying, "Keep it in New Orleans." Let's be clear, this isn't something where people are saying NIMBY when it's actually safe, like say a nuclear power plant. Both blacks and whites have a serious NIMBY-thing going on. There are very real reasons not to want public housing near you. Homes are generally the largest investment a person will make in their lifetime. Part of appraisals take into account the value of nearby homes, so the price of your largest investment goes down. Crime is a factor. Just look at the Pre-Katrina crime near the old public housing sites depicted in this map. You've got numerous other side issues like how unfair it is for these people to get free utilities while we're paying utility bills that are close to house notes. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate arguments in the anti-public housing camp. Also, dare I say this, but the majority of the residents of New Orleans, white and black, are opposed to reopening public housing (at least in its old form) and we live in a democracy. Majority rules.

In the pro-public housing camp, you've got the huge housing crisis in the city. There's been an explosion in the homeless population. I work in the Lower Garden District and live in the French Quarter. Both areas have seen a huge boom in the homeless population. I can personally attest to that fact.

It's also wasteful to tear down structurally solid housing in a hurricane-vulnerable city. I've heard a little bit about the construction methods used in the homes, but don't have a full set of data. From personal familiarity of construction from the same era (the Huey Long Bridge) I have no reason to doubt these claims. In fact, I have a strong feeling figure HUD released for the cost of demolition is a low end figure. I suspect the oldest units are built like bomb shelters and will be quite expensive to tear down. There are other reasons, but I don't have the time to write a book right now. I'll just blow you in the direction of one of their websites.

So, what to do, what to do?

Step 1- Both sides need to stop and take a deep breath. There's been a lot of hot air generated with little accomplished. Let's create solutions and not waste oxygen.

Step 2- Tear down the newest projects. These were built in the late 70's and were notorious for substandard construction methods and outright fraud. These were some of the high rise type towers that you used to be able to see near Simon Boliver. There were kickbacks on kickbacks on kickbacks when these were under construction. They've got to come down. Fortunately, there isn't much dissent on that issue and it's already nearly complete.

2- I think the loss of affordable housing is incredibly detrimental to the long term future of the city. The focus should be on affordable housing first and foremost. This would be the housing for the construction workers, nurses, tradesmen, and other semi-skilled workers that are vital to the recovery of the city.

How about an out of the box solution? "The Bricks" haven't been renovated in over 60 years. No matter what happens, they need extensive renovation just to bring them up to fire code. How about spending a little more money to make them really nice and sell them. I'm not the first one to come up with this idea. I'll bet if the renovations are nice enough, there's good landscaping and marketing, the city will actually be able to turn a modest profit on the project. I propose these units be approximately equal in cost to the Habitat for Humanity homes and be run in a similar model. Habitat for Humanity, while not reaching the poorest of the poor, has been extremely successful in helping 'teach people how to fish, instead of just giving out fish.' Less than 2% of Habitat homes suffer foreclosure.

3a- There could be a certain percentage of the larger complexes reopened. One possibility would be to decentralize the unit by simply moving them. It would be challenging, but it's technically feasible. Whatever profit the city gets from selling the Bricks could be plowed back into these homes. I refuse to accept the number of new low income housing units should be equal to the number Pre-K. I propose that the number be capped. I propose to somehow equate this cap with the funding for social services available to the residents. I strongly believe that some basic medical services (like a nurse on duty) and social services (like child care) must be included in the reopening. Tie the number of units reopened to funding for these services, that way nobody is completely "stuck" at the bottom. Also, shake surrounding parishes down for money. They'll gladly contribute some money if it means keeping poor people out of their neighborhood. If not, threaten to build a HUGE Cabrini-Green type public housing block right on the parish line. That'll get them to kick money into the pot.

3b- Partial opening in NO East. Sorry, but there's so much housing stock nearing completion that it just can't be ignored. Thousands and thousands of units... At least some of them must be reopened. No where else in the city can you reopen so many units in such a short period of time at equal quality of the units that are about to be finished. Might I suggest screenings for those with outstanding warrants/violent criminal backgrounds, like, say this guy. There is a criminal element that's quietly hoping the projects are reopened to strengthen their "business." Let's institute some basic checks in the process.

4- Something interesting with squatters rights. This will help out those at the lowest rung in society. We've got a lot of abandoned buildings and I bet we could come up with something interesting. Unfortunately, Squatters Rights/Adverse Possession is a tricky legal area in which I hold no expertise. I've got to differ to the legal minds out there. Someone want to take a stab at it?

Some people are going to complain that what I'm proposing is unfair. Yes, it is. But guess what, we've got bigger problems right now and worrying about public housing is, at best, a secondary issue.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Planet Earth

Found this today. About halfway through there's a shot that will make your jaw drop.

It's from a series on the Discovery Channel called "Planet Earth." Here's an article by Wired about the show. God, just imagine this in High Def!

BTW, I have a friend who works offshore in tropical Africa. He says nature is pretty much undisturbed over there. Hundreds of sharks circle below each offshore platform. Hmmm...

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Unified (NO) Plan

"Watchdog Group says Unified New Orleans Plan is Vague and Unrealistic". No shit, Sherlock. Local bloggers
have pounded the UNOP for months. This is my favorite beat down.

I initially thought the idea of a "community-based planning process" was a great idea and would be in the best traditions of New Orleans. It would serve to truly give "the people" a voice. Boy, was I an idiot. The UNOP was one clusterfuck after another. It either focused on things that were obvious or things that just need to be centrally decided by experts (like flood protection).

We need to retreat away towards dictatorship to right the ship. We need to retreat and accept either the Bring New Orleans Back Commission or the ULI report.

Just as I reminder, we need a plan to get rebuilding money. We need to at least not have yet another black eye for the city. The list just goes on and on. This city has pissed away this country's goodwill just like Bush after 9/11. There, I said it.

Just like the US after 9/11, New Orleans had the unquestioned sympathy of all of America. We even had arch-conservatives like Newt on our side. And look what we've done. Even some of the most sympathetic now believe we got what we deserved. I'm ashamed. I'm so ashamed.

The planning process has been a trainwreck. It'll take drastic action to correct it. People will get pissed off. Egos will be bruised. Some people will just lose out. Too bad.

The survival of the city is at stake. We can't afford to fuck up things over and over and expect to survive.

More on the Drug Trade in NOLA Article

The last of City Biz's series about the drug trade

The Salon article is much more scientific and numbers oriented. City Business takes a more humanistic approach. Both are depressing as hell. Both conclude that things will get worse before they get better.

Morse, the Tulane public health professor, believes the worst is yet to come. "I don't think we've seen it yet," he said. "Most of these kids realize at age 15 that they're screwed and the only way to do anything in New Orleans is with the drug trade. I think it's really going to hit the fan come this summer,"

Summers are always the wost months for crime. If we've had 35 murder to date, this summer is going to be really bad. A murder a day wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

Another article by CB focusing on the lack of job training and rehab facilities.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Wetlands and Nutrias

The Times-Pic just started an incredible series about Louisiana's vanishing coast. It's a must-read.

I wanted to relate a tale about those pesky little nutria.

I had the same roommate freshman and sophomore year. I elected to stay on campus and got into Aron. Roger decided to live off campus junior year. He rented a nice apartment with two other students near Audubon Park for $300 a month (remember when rents were reasonable?). Roger moved in the summer before junior year with a female friend to take some summer classes at UNO.

Late the first night, he awoke to the sound of his female roommate shrieking. It turns out they had an extra roommate.

There was a nutria living in the wall of his apartment in Uptown New Orleans.

He first tired barricading the nutria into the wall using a desk wedged against the wall. He came home the next day with a huge hole gnawed through the formica.

Next, he tried using rat poison. He put down enough to kill a rottweiler. Unfortunately, he didn't use enough, so he was forced to stay up all night listening to the nutria puke it's guts out in the wall. The nutria survived.

A friend of his from Chicago was in town the next night, so the two of them decide to lay out a bunch of Funions, stay up all night, and ambush the little fucker with clubs and baseball bats. The nutria did come out to and did eat the Funions, but was way to quick for these two. By this point, the female had taken to staying in the hotels with strange men she picked up at the bar she worked at as a shot girl. Can't say I blamed her.

I suggested that Roger bite the bullet and hire an exterminator. The landlord (of course) was reluctant to pony up the dough and so was Roger. It was his all-consuming mission to eradicate his nemesis.

My dad offered his .357 magnum to dispatch the beast. Having already visited the Third Wold shithole known as Central Lockup once, Roger politely declined.

Roger looked on the internet and found a new and better poison. He put down enough to kill an elephant. Sure enough, it worked. The nutria puked and puked all night long, but to no avail. He was dead. Unfortunately for Roger, he was entombed in the wall.

Roger called up the landlord and tells him the story and threatens to leave the nutria in the wall if the landlord didn't man up and cough up some money for being a douche. The landlord gave him $100 for new sheetrock and pain and suffering.

True story. Moral of the story: first off, landlords don't like to pay for anything until it gets really, really bad. Second off, those nutria are tenacious little vermin.

Ah, Monday

Elsewhere, engineers work 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. They're well compensated, but they don't get a chance to relax until retirement. I work hard, but I still get to enjoy the little pleasures in life.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

3 things to do if I ever become Dictator...

This city's biggest problem is a total lack of leadership.

Let's suppose for a minute that the local bloggers get together and launch a Coup D'Etat against the city. The people cheer, the crooks run for the hills, and then we get down to work.

Here are 3 things that I'd do if I were dictator:

#1- Like Rumsfeld, Donald Powell has to go. He's actually not a bad person, but he has no presence. The Gulf Coast Recovery Czar should have the ability to command broad bipartisan support and use the bully pulpit. Donald Powell has NEVER ONCE used the bully pulpit. He simply can't. Everyone sees him as a bean counter, which is pretty much accurate. A Czar should be able to inspire fear in other politicians. We need someone with balls. Here's my short list of acceptable candidates:
* Colin Powell
* Sandra Day O'Connor (She has balls in a Margaret Thatcher-sort of way)
* John Breaux
* George H. W. Bush (the bonus for him would be all the psychoanalysis of Shrub that would eat up the 24 hour news networks...)
* Bill Clinton (If the Republicans were really smart, this would be a genius move on their part because it would occupy Hillary's greatest strength)

#2- Institute the Death Penalty for corruption in Louisiana and "chop down the tallest trees." You've got to signal that the old ways are gone. You've got to prove to the rest of the nation that we're cleaning up our act and you've got to signal to the politicians to stay out of the most important public projects, like our schools and our levees.

For the first round of executions, I suggest Bob Odom, Bill Jefferson, and as many former Orleans Parish School Board members as possible. Hang 'em all in Jackson Square.

Here's the biggest advantage of the death penalty for public corruption: FAR easier to make cases. It's a real motivator for plead deals. These guys are cowards and I think an incentive like that would cause smaller fish to roll left and right on their political patrons

The final reason to institute the death penalty is we've already screwed up once. Onshore oil production in Louisiana was once HUGE and the state got royalties from that production. Unfortunately, the royalties went into the pockets of human slime like Leander Perez. As onshore oil reserves were depleted, oil production moved outside areas where the state got a cut of revenue. Hence our current dilemma. This state cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. We have one chance to get this right, so let's not fuck up again.

#3- Something has to be done about the city's footprint. A tax base of 150,000 people can't support a city footprint for 600,000 people. I've come up with 3 ways this could be done.

Option A- Shrink the footprint of the city. The smallest the city can be is the heavily populated "sliver on the river." The largest it can be is the area west of the industrial canal, plus Holy Cross/Lower 9th. The area I think would be the most efficient is just the area west of the Industrial Canal. The city would amputate injured limbs to save the body. It's not pretty and the people in the abandoned areas would hate it, but it would save the city. There would also be horrible press from "abandoning the Lower 9," which the press has adopted as its pet. You'd also have to plan out the shrinkage. It's not an ideal solution, but there just comes a point when you have to acknowledge you can't 'pick up a turd by the clean end.'

Option B- Annexation of surrounding parishes, especially Jefferson. Gobble up Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, and Plaquimines Parish. Maybe also St. Charles Parish. The surrounding Parishes have a huge tax base, which could finance city services. This would be the New York model. The surrounding parishes can't survive without the white collar jobs in the CBD and the port and Orleans needs the porperty taxes from those parishes. Pulling this off would be really tricky, though. It would have to be done at the state level and Orleans Parish politicians would have to surrender significant powers to their neighbors and we all know how politicians HATE giving up their power. One of the deals that would entice the suburbanites to join up would be dissolving NOPD and creating a regional police force under the leadership of Harry Lee.

Option C- "File for Divorce." There comes a point where government becomes too big and too unresponsive to the citizens. A lot of people have problems getting a meaningful response from their district councilman, much less their mayor. But, look how responsive neighborhood groups can be. Dissolve the city and set up smaller cities all over Orleans Parish. The Levee already suggested something along these lines. Over time, they can reformulate a new, unified city government that is more responsive to the citizens.

I think any of these options would work and I have no real preference on which is selected. Bits an pieces of each of these is already being implemented. The mayor's office has already told RSD and Orleans Parish Public Schools to limit the number of public schools opening on the western side of the Industrial Canal. JPSO and NOPD are cooperating like never before and have even extended "hot pursuit" privileges to each other. A long time ago, when friction between the Americans and Creoles reached a crescendo, the city subdivided itself into 3 separate cities. The city 'cited irreconcilable differences and filed for divorce. The three cities were Carrolton (Uptown - American), New Orleans (Quarter and Marigny - Creole), and I can't remember the name of the last city, but it encompassed the CBD and Central City.

Anyway, I hope these ideas get people thinking.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Corps of Engineers

New Orleans Sues the Corps

This lawsuit is very interesting. I think there's a very low probability of money ever reaching the victims (Congress will never appropriate the money), but I don't think the lawsuit is a waste. Here's why: during the discovery phase, thousands of documents will be subpoenaed and the Corps will be forced to turn over incriminating documents. I'll bet Ivor is chomping at the bit. He's already probably parked on River Road with a U-Haul and a forklift just waiting to get inside.

Among the documents will be design memos, early revision drawings, soil samples (that's that I'm most interested in), and seals. Whenever a change is made on a project, a document with an official seal from the engineer taking responsibility for the change must be produced.

Sample Seal:

I think the documents will lay out a case for negligent homicide so clearly that even Easy Eddie can convict someone (and that's saying quite a lot). I think someone will finally be held accountable for their failures. More than just firing the most convenient scapegoat.

Fantasy Baseball

If anyone is interested in joining a fantasy baseball league, please let me know.

5x5, mixed, non-keeper, 10-team league.

Draft date is on Friday, March 30th at 4:30 PM.

The league is on CBS The league name is "Hands Off, Harold Renolds." Email me for the password.

Letters to the Editor

I'm surprised the TP published this. They normally don't allow anything bad to be written about the Quarter.

Our Dear DA speaks. I'm glad he has so much spare time he can write letters to the editor. Unfortunately, he doesn't have time to include a single fact or figure in his letter. Jordan needs to be Jimmy Hoffa'd. Just disappear for the good of New Orleans.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Defending Evil Bastards

I really hate to say this, but the insurers have a point. They're pulling out of commitments all over the Gulf Coast. I loved it when Gene Taylor said, "There should be a national registry for child molesters and insurance executives." Some people have been completely screwed over by their insurers. I also think they should pay out in Mississippi because the law clearly states that any ambiguity in the contract should be arbitrated in the favor of the policyholder.

That being said, I don't blame them one bit for what they're doing right now. Here's a couple of reasons why:

* They, like most of us, thought the levees were properly built and the dudes at the Corps got their engineering degrees were real and not written on napkins. We don't trust the Corps, so why should we be surprised if they are underwhelmed with the repair job they've done since the storm.

* Katrina, Rita, and Wilma could be the start of a generally more turbulent climate and they should reduce their exposure on as many fronts as possible.

* Someone has got to stop people from building in areas of the city that just should be converted into wetland. A city of 200,000 people has no business having the footprint of a city of 600,000 (the city's historical peak).

* I've flown over the wetlands in a helicopter multiple times recently. I've seen the weltand devastation with my own eyes. I'm going to make the argument that, when you factor in Katrina-caused wetland loss, the city is more vulnerable to hurricanes at this very moment than EVER before. That's a scary thought.

I'm not the only non-insurance person out there that feels this way

If I were an insurance executive, I'd shoot myself. Because I'd be an evil, seal-clubbing bastard. But, I'd leave in my suicide note instructions to pay everyone out for damage caused by Katrina and Rita in full and pull out of all future commitments in Louisiana and Mississippi south of I-10.

I'm a young engineer in the city. I've got the money to invest in property, but there's a reason that I'm renting an apartment on the second floor in one of the highest areas in the city. This summer, I've got to decide whether or not purchase a home that was built by my great-grandfather more than 100 years ago. I don't know whether or not I'll do it and I've been thinking about it for months. I'm that serious about this.

Forgotten History

New Orleans has a better historical memory than any other American city, but it is still a selective memory. There are certain parts of our history we try to forget.

For example, One Shell Square now sits on what was once one of the largest slave markets in the New World. There's nothing about that on the internet. I learned that one back at Larry Powell's History of New Orleans class.

Liberty Monument is one of those things people would prefer to forget about. There have been numerous battles to take the monument down. Defenders of the monument say it's a part of history and serves as an example of the people opposition to tyrrany. Hey, even I'd love to launch a Coup D'Etat against our current crop of political leaders (from Shrub all the way down to little ole' Nagin). Detractors point out the battle was fought over integration and is racist. The monument was changed some years ago to include the names of the members of the biracial police force who lost their lives in the battle. It was also moved to a less prominent location.

I decided to go hunting for the monument on my way home from work today. It is NOT easy to find. I had a good idea of where it was and I know the area extremely well. I thought for a time that the monument had finally been taken down. But no, it's still there.

The weather was bleak. The photos, even though they were just taken with the little one on my phone, came out terrific. Just played around with the color a little and the look foreboding.

Here is exactly where it is. Like I said before, it's not easy to find.

Here's some more forgotten New Orleans history:
Mark Essex, the hotel sniper. I remember sitting in Cafe Envie on Decatur a few days ago listening to two of the older cops speak about him in hushed voices. Even all these years later, he gives them nightmares. The forgotten heroes of that night.

Robert Charles and New Orleans' forgotten race riot. I remember Walker Percy mentioning in Signposts in a Strange Land that New Orleans has never had a race riot. I've also heard others mention it as a symbol that, while race relations have been frosty, they've never boiled over into a race riot. They were all wrong.

Joy in Cubicle Land

When business is good, my firm invests lots of money into new equipment. They're replacing everyone's CRT's with flatscreens. I just got mine. Yipee!