August 30, 2008


August 28, 2008

In the Superdome, 2 years and 355 days later

We booked a hotel room in Memphis and then I went to Superdome. It is August 28th, 1 day shy of the 3 year anniversary.

I pulled the bike in and our guy who runs the lot was sipping whiskey with water and ice on the tailgate of a pick-up. His co-worker had me stick a business card in the bike's spedometer so his boss would know that I belong.

Fans crawled through the lots and sidewalks on the uptown side of Poydras. Brand new jerseys, to-go ups, bottle blondes, the heat of the preaseason. Think about 3 years ago, and the change in the crowd. Not a mention of that, just the loud thumps from the speakers on the patio of the Energy Building. My man and I drank Bud and Bud Light in plastic bottles. Where to go and memories of Memphis. Aw, wellllll.

We cut through the Marriot alley and past the old New Orleans Centre. Dead buildings with expired air conditioning units, stray dumpsters. I remarked on a rusting hulk of a Dixie Beer truck, still running, with three figures crammed in the cab, the sides of the bed made of rough lumber, the dashboard full of paper and emphemera. As it pulled out of a loading dock, I couldn't believe the size of it, like some giant old man, long gone to seed but wider by the year and mobile.

In front of the Amoco building, which houses the Orleans Parish DA, a dude rolled up to me trying to cell his CD. You know what, I bought that CD: Big Lou - That Corner Store. I didn't buy one off the second dude who approached me, but Big Lou, I got him.

Up the ramp to the Dome. I hadn't been in there since I graduated, when I was late and had to scramble down the lower bowl aisle, barely making it. The other times were a few Tulane games and a Monster Truck Pull. That time, I remember rolling down the confetti-colored carpets, leaning against alabaster walls, trying not to tumble from the upper deck. That night, once we made it out to the parking garage, you could hear a thousand drivers revving up their engines, amped up by the spectacle of a demolition derby and Gravedigger. I made accidental eye-contact with one driver. His woman was in the passenger seat and two kids doddled in the back. He said something to me and I just kept looking, shrugged. He actually reached under his seat. I couldn't believe it. He bluffed like he was going for a gun, and at that time, I really didn't flinch. There was no gun, and he had to sit back up, empty-handed. This really pissed him off. I came to my senses and we all split.

Oh, and the other time, my friend Dill showed up. On the flight down, he'd met a cameraman from CBS Sports who promised us tickets to the game on Sunday. We got loaded and forgot about it, until Sunday morning, my phone rang. I dragged myself to the desk. And on the line was the cameraman, asking for my friend. We got the tickets later in the TV trailer outside the Dome. When we walked into the darkened command center, my friend announced, "Hey, I'm M-----, I'm here for the tickets!" This didn't go over so well with the techs. The Saints played the Bears, an atrocious day of football.

So tonight, August 28, 2008, I walked up to the club level and dug the new paneling, concession stands, and turf. They did the Superdome right this time. The coziness, along with the casual booziness of the preseason, mean for minimal football watching, just eating and drinking and commenting. It was relaxed.

The roof which hung open like a blown intenstine, the cool air where a foul humidity once baked the left behind, they were there, as were the ghosts. The hallways, the endless hallways. What if we couldn't leave? I bought chicken strips and used the bathroom 3 times in 2 hours.

No banner hangs for those who sat under that roof 3 years ago. We give no moment of silence, even now, at the fingertips of another menace. Let us cheer the second and third string. This one doesn't count.

Yet we all know. We know what are our plans are, what are opinions are, what we expect. And with a decision only days away, we cheer languidly for men who won't even make the team. They bowl over each other on the site of a cemetery.

Saints' reserves look weak. The 3rd string QB, Tyler Palko, is from my part of the world. He sucked tonight. No one noticed, not much.

Back to the home. In time for most of Barack Obama's speech. Let me ask you:

Do you still believe in this America we speak of? Does that promise resound in you? When do you feel it? Does it sustain you?

If we are to reclaim this country, let us talk about who "we" really are, and what this country promises us, what it has left to promise us in 2008, after Katrina, after the last 7 years, after the last 40 years. You may tap the American spirit, but how much is left in that well?

In a week, we'll know if New Orleans lives or dies. No game, no speech can make it more certain. Only time and the wind.


Cone of Uncertainty

"What are y'all going to do?"
Funny, I hadn't thought of that.

You know somewhere out in the ocean, a menace is making decisions for you. You see photos of Haiti and recognize it even though you've never visited the island. You tell your mother it'll be OK.

You watch people who suffered through Katrina grow anxious, agitated. A few days ago, you drove around St. Bernard Parish and said how good it looks and now you think about all those people with their ass hanging out because no one's done enough for the levees protecting da Parish

You walk down Poydras Street and wonder what it'll look like next week and it's not even a street you like, but everything takes on that weird color of memory. Only you have no memory and you're sweating in the present. This must be important, even this crane, this lawyer.

You hear somewhere that it'd be good for the Democrats if another storm hits. You remember that it's 2008, and no matter how much people want to talk about hope, this is a cynical, worn out nation.

And you call and make some vague plans to go one direction if the storm turns one way, another if it goes east. You wish you'd made a friend in Memphis.

There is no good description of right now. A city full of people who live in the shadow of a storm that hit 3 years ago now await their fate with very clear visions of what that might be. Doom clouds up conversations. All over again, we're reminded how fragile this life is and, conversely, how much we loaded into its persistence. Gustav might be nothing, but we know the other shoe has to drop someday.

How bad that will be...a weatherman's best guest.

August 26, 2008

The Governor's Bolo Tie: Convention Live Blog 8.26

(Begun in the last third of his speech)
Mentions McCain's backyard and crouches. "How bout it?" I think he actually did a "ya-hooo."
BILL CLINTON IS EATING IT UP. This fella is like an 8th grade teacher. He's talkin Green.

The More of the Same/Four More Years of the Same Ol' Same Ol'
*Does that mean the Clintons, too?

Governor of Montana wears a bollo tie: they can never take our sunshine.

In the stuttering of chants, Bill lost his enthusiasm. The pace closed. Green as hell.
"Stand up Colorado, Stand Up Florida! Stand up, Pennsylvania!" And Bubba is up. Everyone is up and fired. He begins shouting more state names, "MIssissippi, the Carolinas"

Talk about Louisiana right now! No, the war.

Cheerleader. "That's it Baby, Let's Go win this election!" Brian Schweitzer is the Star of Stars!


HIllary video with Lenny Kravitz in it. THey're klling it! No! Even the sound is messed up!


She's not even the nominee! They're playing Tom Petty and showing her on SNL! THis is bullshit! This is not the nominee! This is ridiculous, Wesley Clark calling her a tough cookie! People admiring her laugh..her chuckle!

The Democrats just destroyed the momentum of a true heart of the party with an extended musical, victory video for the second place finisher. You are the Democrats, after all, aren't you?


even if she was the nominee, the video is over the top. she is like the John Lennon of this shit! She might as well be the nominee! Enter Chelsea.

What fckin song is this? Bill Clinton may shed post-surgery tears. This enough garbage!

Here comes the speech, but the applause keeps cresting.


Her heart is visibly not in it. She is pursed, she turned her head the first time she said Obama's name. "I have done this...." A brag.

"No Way, No How, No McCain." !! That's like giving someone a hook, a hit chorus.

Demonstration of political canniness. "And you made me cry." Tells a story. Where have the stories been so far?? That's what works!


"And Puerto Rico." She means Florida and Michigan. Memorials for fallen Democrats.

Repairs the rift with blacks for a future run. That cynical.

Bleak economics, conflicts, prices, to renewal, provide opportunity, instead afford gas and groceries. Biden and Michelle O not exactly overwhelmed.

WHAT ABOUT BARACK! Where is the homage to Barack? He is the nominee of the Party! This isn't the winner's slot!

She continues to explain why she ran. And why she supports him. Better knock it home for him here. Gleam in Bill's eye as she speaks more soaring and still no mention of Barack!


And why so much Green and so little Iraq? Where is the war?!

"We did before with President Clinton!" No enthusiasm with the future VP and 1st Lady. Health Care always gets him. Now some world-talk. Then some tribute to those two. And Biden's wife, too.

That sing song, call n response: "More war and less diplomacy?" Followers chant, No! Into the attack on McCain. Good joke on McCain/Bush being alike in the twin cities. She coulda won this, you know? Hands down.

The story of the suffragate movement. She is not done. Chelsea is a blonde.

Triumphant "Keep Going!" chant, when she could be percieved as comparing herself to Harriet Tubman, a woman who snuck African-Americans along. She kills 'em with this one.

IF the bridges are falling down and the levees have broke, "Keep Goin!"

"And Godspeed!"

August 25, 2008

Reggaeton Not Dead to John McCain

The man has his finger on the pulse...of 2005.

August 21, 2008

I'm With The Champs Right Here

New Orleans, August 2008
"Not to be an 'I-told-you-so, ' but I was in Jackson Square, and I predicted that New Orleans would come back as a stronger and better city, " Bush said. "That's the prediction I made."

Yep, you are a fcking soothsayer, alright. The "vision thing," that's what got you here, what got us through, what's kept this country on such a glorious path for these last 8 years. "An 'I-told-you-so'?" Don't you worry about it, boss. We shouldn't have doubted you for a minutes.

Frreal: is the strategy now to spin his ass off a helicopter like a top, instruct him to say the most bewildering thing possible, then suck him back out to the ranch for quiet time? And are the photos of him and athletes some attempt at softening his image in these, his final days? Will this make McCain look more competent and ready?

Honestly, is it not time to ask people like Deuce and Leah Chase: why do you soil yourself in this man's embrace? What has that gotten us? What could it possibly get us in the next 4 months? Does it feel good to make him feel good? Because it sure looks like Bush feels good these days.

This is New Orleans, 3 years after the federal flood.

August 20, 2008

Charity Can Be Saved

I meant to go the press conference for this report, but work intervened. It'll be interesting to hear LSU's response and the silence from City Hall.

Last Sunday, I rode up to Charity to do some Booker musing. On the loading dock/ambulance entrance in the back, I parked and sat down in an old office chair someone'd left there. I figured I'd write a little and wait out the rain.

After a half-hour, an SUV with Texas plates ascended the ramp to the loading dock. The passenger side windows came down to reveal two young ladies, with a dude driving and looking concerned.

"Do you know where the emergency room is?" they asked.

"This hospital is closed," I said. Then I pointed over my shoulder and told them to try Tulane.

"I got a hole in my head," said the girl in the front, motioning at a gash the size of half-dollar on her forehead.

"OK, Tulane's over there."

Someone thanked me and they drove back down the ramp. I sure hope they get to read this report.

August 13, 2008

NYT takes note

Well, at least when the NOAH story made the NY Times, it featured the leader of the good fight, Karen Gadbois of Squandered Heritage (they could've linked to the site). Damn you, New York Times, you're hurting the recovery!

August 7, 2008

Oh NOAH! Look at Who They Let in the Backdoor

After sending his possible regrets due to a scheduling conflict, the Mayor appeared at the Council today to talk NOAH. He was in fine form.

When I arrived, the normal stuff was playing out: talk of better preparation for voting locations, particularly for handicapped citizens; an apology to the gathered firemen--decision on their pay was delayed because the corresponding report still had errors; fine use of mixed metaphors and figures of speech by the Council ("behind the 8 ball," "puppy to rest," "apples to oranges (2x)"); the treatment of Midura as a spacey little kid; the brusque cross of city pol/grandmamma from Clarkson, who once again referred to her many years on the Council and her old friends; the walls lined with fantasy images of new developments like the Ellis Marsalis Music Center and the Tracage; and that clock with no hands on it.

Then the cameras shuffle, the rules were suspended, and you knew that Nagin was coming after all (really, isn't that how he's always heralded?). Clarkson called for a 5 minute recess, then tried to ask the firemen to sit back down. It seemed Willard-Lewis had a resolution for them and was ready to fire away now that the tripods were settled. She shouted about a new station in New Orleans East, Blakely's assumed wisdom, and the need for a Marine.

And as she did this, Nagin appeared from backstage. He ignored all the members save Carter, who he clutched hands with, and then fiddled a bit with his Blackberry. When she was finished, Willard-Lewis also recieved a touch. Clarkson asked if the mayor was ready and you could hear him answer as he descended to the council floor, "Always."

Nagin sat down at the table alone. He began with the wish for some "non-sensational" dialogue. Amateur investigations had clouded judgement of the NOAH situation from day 1. Of course if his administration had known something, they would've done something earlier. Among those to blame for the inaccuracies are college students and the news. Now that he was on the case, things have been "kicked into high gear."

He repeatedly mentioned 90 properties (out of how many?) that were under investigation. Of these, 46 invoices had been paid for work that might not have been done. His office would request documentation and possible reimbursement from subcontractors, but first they need to match up the NOAH records and find out who'd been paid and for what. Because, I guess, they don't usually do these kind of things, like finding out if they get what they pay for). At this point, Nagin is not comfortable about any NOAH work. He won't tolerate any "insider" deals. He is really concerned.

But what also concerns him is the way this has been handled. He respects the Council's schedule; why not they his? He doesn't appreciate them not acting like a team. He is, yet again, "sick and tired."

(There's also a strange thing with Nagin where you can't tell if he's saying "portrayed" or "betrayed," which I think is telling. See, Nagin became this Nagin in the cameras of the storm. He was sucked into the unreality of the screen and light, saw himself shouting, saw what it got him, and became obsessed with the camera. This has turned on him, to the point that he truly believes that the camera has betrayed him, that the media is crushing the recovery, and that he must do battle with it for the soul of the city...on camera, of course. In fact, I don't think he just uses the paranoia for defense--I think he really does believe this. The camera ate Nagin.)

And he's sick and tired of the whole sum--the Pam Jones thing (?), the 311 thing. Don't you know, when they got down to it, 97% of 311 calls go thru?!! So I put my cell on speakerphone and called 311 three times. And 100% of the time, I recieved the message "Your call can't be completed as dialed." No one seemed to hear that, and no one disputed Nagin's account.

Nagin listed false reports (which I'd never heard) about Bill Jefferson or Chief Reilly owning NOAH houses. A warped tactic, but I guess he had some truth. At his most plaintive, Nagin doesn't understand why the Councilmembers act like this. "Well, with a couple, I do." Then he paused...

So if the IG, the FBI, HUD, or the US Attorney wants to investigate, fine by him. But not the press.

First up is Fielkow, Nagin's potential successor. Fielkow believes that, for people to stay in New Orleans, to invest and reinvest, to do business here, there must be a confidence in leadership. The NOAH situation has eroded that confidence, particularly the delay of 2 weeks in the mayor taking action. "Your reaction was defensive," Fielkow tells Nagin, tells him he should have looked into it immediately.

Nagin: I said that. Check the tapes.
Fielkow: OK, we will.
Me: RN--Ray Nagin, Richard Nixon.

Doesn't it make more sense, Fielkow asks, to have an independent investigation? Shouldn't the City put all the info out there for the IG, the FBI, and HUD to look at and decide what happened? Fielkow makes the main point: After all we've gone through, the City's internal investigation won't be credible. We want the same thing.

"I'm not convinced of that," Nagin growls.

The mayor then goes on to make clear that as we speak, the City is taking NOAH's list of houses and comparing them to the invoices recieved from subcontractors to find out what was paid for. They are the City, and they are responsible to HUD and the citizenry.

Isn't their a taint, Fielkow asks? Isn't the best thing to do in business, when a problem arises, with conflict of interest accusations, to separate the business from the investigation? There are independent monitors like Cerasoli (interestingly, all of the council members who speak bring up the IG's name, which must make Nagin grit his teeth).

Nagin says they have an independent investigator inside the Administration who is familiar with the process. He doesn't seem to see the contradiction there.

Fielkow is done. Hedge-Morrell has nothing to say. Really, nothing? The budget chair? Huh.

Midura is up. She thanks everyone. On the big screen, you can see the "James Carter For Congress" sticker on her lapel. She tells Nagin that the Council represents the public, which is disgusted and is pressuring the council re: the City's slow response.

Nagin: I don't know where they get that from.

Midura asks how "immediately" is defined by Nagin, when they've had repeated hearings and inaccuracies in this debacle. Apparently, Head sent an email requesting stop payments to NOAH in April. Nagin says he has no documenation of that.

In her usual stuttering, almost elfish way, Midura asks a key question: re: Nagin's contention that his office is matching up the lists of what was paid and what was done: why wasn't it happening all the time? Aren't lists kept?

(It always strikes me as a shame that Midura is so bad in person, because she often gets it. Her persona allows the good sense to be either patted or swatted on the head by lesser minds with bigger mouths.)

Nagin says NOAH had clean audits up until this. He continues to say that they'll hunt down any possible "insider things," I guess meaning NOAH and subcontractors and the swindling of money and property. What he doesn't seem to get is that LISTS are the issue. More than possible corruption, the fact that the City can't simply check this out within a day or two is the problem. There is a sea of bullshit and broken half-systems under everything.

Mention of Anthony Jones and his bad lists! Kenya mentioned!

Midura asks several questions about the city notifying HUD of an investigation. Not sure why, but she must think something was wrong. In closing, she asks for more "teamsmanship." "I'm doing what I'm supposed to do," she says, as if she should be defending herself.

Carter is next. He asks what the reconciliation process is, how regularly NOAH and the City have done that. Nagin says they verify a charge and invoice, then will have someone go physically check the building. It's "Full Blown Review" now. Carter asks if the people doing the investigation are possible subjects of that investigation. Nagin says he doesn't know, doubts it. HE SHOULD KNOW!

Most of the firemen stayed for the entire thing, I notice. Pretty cool.

In closing, Nagin says that many elderly people are confused about who gutted their houses, since subcontractors hired by the city don't wear badges. Apparently, these old fools can't tell the difference between out-of-town college kids and professional demolition men.

Clarkson does some tying up of things about working together for the good of the citizens. Nagin agrees. She asks that subcontrators not be allowed to self-audit, and that the legislative branch be given more oversight of these audits. Nagin agrees, but you have to think that's the last thing he wants, and has stated as much in earlier discussions. Clarkson metions Cerasoli looking into things, and Nagin says "Beautiful."

Then, with more pleas for working together, the surly, glazed, puffy eyed Mayor gets up and leaves silently. At this point, one public speaker is called: Sandra Hester.

"Real nice of you to call up the public speaker after the mayor leaves."


NOAH and the flood

This could end up being the story/controversy of the year. In terms of the effect on the national perception of the city, its government, and, sadly, its citizens, this is a bad one.

"'A group of kids took the stuff out," she said. "The only people who helped me was people from outside the city.'" -Doris Dupre, whose house was gutted by volunteers but was on a list billed to the city by NOAH, which took credit for the gutting.

The Times-Pic and WWL-TV deserve credit for chasing this story and keeping on it like it was mayor of Mandeville. The question is, when does the national press pick it up? And what will Nagin's next response be?

And what do these kids think when they get the news? That the something-in-the-corner-of-your-eye that hints of the depth of this city's plight, the brooding forces that don't care a thing for matching t-shirts, that have always lurked in corners of City Hall, that they have spit on your bus and made their own money off your spring break?
At this point, nothing the city says about the rebuilding can be taken for granted. Citizens knew that already, but once again, the world will be let in on the sick joke.
"'The idea of this program always seemed silly to us, because we have hundreds of volunteers each month. There's no reason to hire professional demolition crews to gut houses for old people...It was always kind of funny, though. We knew at the time that something weird was going on. They wouldn't e-mail the lists. You had to drive by City Hall and pick it up from somebody.'" -Amanda Davis, homeowner coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese disaster response office.
Again, all we can think is that the Administration, in the equivalent of a war crime against the recovery, is letting cronies make money off of both suffering and good will. Wow.

August 4, 2008

The Good Soldier Jones

What, what, wHAT!

Irresponsive, but with not much left in the tank for fronting, as the lurching-along has caught up to them, the population of Nagina dickers with the locks inside City Hall. The locks are either corroded and not yet replaced, a hand-wringing “how could…?” Or newly minted fingerprint sensors, with a code for each day of the month and a finely engraved imprint: Out of Order. Either way, a fumble, a fumble, and the sounds of spare change in pockets mingling with keys, Notes-to self's, the muffled percussive to the angry radio bites and the sirens—these are not encouraging sounds; these are not cause for gloat.

Pfffft. Of course, I know. And I am late, this was news days ago. Even the Times-Pic honked about it.

But the point of a moment, of marking an event, of a passing announcement, and announced passing, is to put into focus all the clouded visible. We crank on here, we sigh over there; we wrinkle our noses on the riverside. Mostly we are lost on the island, cautious or thickly drunk or—dare we tell anyone—industrious. Once or twice a spell, though, we note a change. A specific, hoped-for, definitive change.

Then we wonder what the hell will ever come of it, and do the hope/doubt juggle.

But for a post here, let us note the removal of Anthony Jones from his post as acting chief technology officer in the administration of Ray Nagin. He cut a prominent figure here, and I want to get this thing right.

(Not that this makes ANYthing right.)
After the 311 collapse, the surveillance camera disaster, and the neglect of computers, the man who lied about his college credentials and was promised a promotion is disappeared. We may see still more consequences of his (in)actions, but his next acts are gone from the public sphere (though hope springs eternal). We know of no punishment for him, he simply moved down a rank and continues to collect…and keep a low profile, if he knows what’s good money for him.

If we’ll hear even fewer words from Jones, we can ask what he—as a figure of our times—says about New Orleans in 2008.

First, the inept nature of this lack-of-recovery. Jones was a bungler-master at the center and failure of some of Nagin’s more atrocious follies, ugly jokes that should have been easy successes. Jones manifested the assumed, that beneath Nagin’s paranoid bluster and podium plays, there remains a crippled, unqualified cadre in City Hall. They are petrified and clutch to power like popes to canes. You think we need surveillance cameras? Shit, Nagin’s been promising them since 2003. When crime took a grip on the post-K city, Nagin bellowed that they’d be there in just a minute, and that’d stop this bullshit. When the truth came out, he promised again, laid some blame, and got ‘em up, damnit. Sorta. Almost. After all, some contractors bailed and didn’t hold up their end.

See, it was Jones who should’ve been the contact for said contractors. But we still don’t know what Jones was up to, certainly not holding anyone—contractors, staff, self--to the efficient execution of a plan. What we got was a prolonged, deadly failure to protect the citizenry. Lies beget decay and violence.
Because at the center of the Jones story was the fact that he’d fibbed about a near-degree from Tulane and, when caught up in that, a second deception re: a vague association with the University of Phoenix. He’d stumbled into his job, lied, and was told if he did good and finished school, he’d be the permanent chief of tech. Then Jones went and proved that, in fact, a Tulane education really does mean something, that you can’t just fake your way through. When this whole farce came to light, the administration furrowed its brow and tried to wait it out, rather than immediately correcting the situation. Superiors like Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield expressed surprise, but flailed weakly to wave away the obvious questions, like why don't you do your homework? Or, was there no one else more qualified? The duplicitous nature of Nagina was Jones’ other signification to our age. The policy is to admit nothing and accept no blame.

Or, in the case of the 311 system, when Jones’ inability to do math (or do the simplest of cover-ups) led to the near de-pants-ing of Kenya Smith in the City Council chamber, the policy was to hit back with as much abrasive how-dare-you?! as possible. Instead of checking the report before entering the chamber, Smith breezed in, looked down onto the table, saw the incredible mistake (that X operators for 311 would be paid a total of Y million, meaning each would make Z, an absurdly high figure), panicked and hissed at the questioners. Rash, divisive defense was better than telling the Council that he’d correct this asap and get back to them with his solutions. This had the effect of stalling the issue for a few weeks, until people started calling 311 and getting no answer. Then Jones came back to the surface, silently, of course.

This is why Jones was important this year. He both embodied the duplicitous and overmatched nature of Nagin’s administration, and provoked the administration into expressions of this nature. He was a small man who caused big things to happen. We’ll never know how much damage can be traced to Anthony Jones, but he lets us track down some specific threads in the great, unending ruin that is Nagina. Again and again, a problem would start in one place and resurface in another, the consequences amplified, shocking, avoidable. When we looked closer, we’d find traces of the invisible Jones. A temporary controller of a seemingly benign division in City Hall, he showed us just how dangerous every section really is, as each one is permeated with the gross foolishness of the greater apparatus. Instead of removing Jones when he failed the city the first or second time, Nagina refused to budge, defiant against would-be attackers, unable to act swiftly for the greater good. In the end, the administration is willing to sacrifice progress for power.

In one room sit 40 unused computers; on a corner in a rough block, a camera misses a murder. Out the door goes a man who helped put them there.

Note: And on Wednesday, head to City Council and check out the IG vs. the City's attorney.