Wednesday, June 28, 2006

As John Ashcroft Would Sing . . .

"LET THE EAGLES SOAR . . . . . . . .."

The Eastern Seaboard is flooding; we're in a drought, on our way to an uncertain (at best) hurricane season.

Hey, D.C.? Do you get it yet? You're flooding. We've got bald eagles buzzing around.

(And when I say "D.C.," I say it with total empathy for those directly affected. I'm talking to Dubya, Hastert, and the undoubted product of incest from the Great White North who compared corruption in Louisiana to corruption in Iraq.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Meaning is Marketing.

Posts in this blog have been critical about the political 'spin cycle' nature of the situations and responses as the global media maintains far greater focus upon the post-K city.

However, beyond the political/pr cycle, there is another component to engineering perceptions. Recent research on that has turned up a must see: Seth Grodin's video from the Googleplex is an interesting piece, which discusses how the key to marketing in terra-google is to have a compelling story to tell and then to have your customers give meaning to that story and to pass along your message.

Isn't that what brings people to New Orleans? It is a place infused with stories, meanings, and context.

Time Warp

This was the lead paragraph in a front-page T-P story today:
Offering a sneak preview of his second-term administration, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Monday that he plans to reorganize local government to better respond to the city's post-Katrina needs.
Nagin was sworn in almost a month ago. By definition, we are past time for a "preview." This is his second-term administration NOW. The time for previews was in May. The time for work and action is NOW.

The familiar pattern continues. Nagin says he "plans" to reorganize local government. Again, the deadline for planning was May. He's late again.

The T-P adds this line after the previously cited one:
Nagin did not provide concrete details during a meeting at The Times-Picayune.
Is anybody surprised?

Monday, June 26, 2006

THANKS HOUSTON

A hotel owner in Sugar Land, Tex., has been charged with submitting $232,000 in bills for phantom victims.

The New York Times story in the link above has just too many interesting, laughable, wrist-slitting, ridiculous details to be believed.

1. Prison inmates "across the Gulf Coast" (e.g. many of them not in Louisiana) collected over $10 million in rental assistance.

2. Please read this comment: "We did, in fact, put into place never-before-used and untested processes," Donna M. Dannels, acting deputy director of recovery at FEMA, told a House panel this month. (By "never-before-used," I think she's trying to imply that this was some bold, experimental process that they had been planning for and cooking up in the lab for years. However, all of us know that this really means something more like "We made it up as we went along.") I take all of this as proof of Mr. Clio's Theory of Easy FEMA Money, which is mine. Which belongs to me. "Never-before-used" means "Send everybody a check so they shut up."

3. The Times runs this picture with the story:

Those are the infamous, never-delivered trailers that FEMA has stored in Arkansas. Here's the best part: they're in Hope, Arkansas. You know, hometown (or so) of Bill Clinton. Do they think that somehow they can blame Bill for the problem by parking them in his (former) backyard?

4. A Louisiana Department of Labor official accused of post-Katrina fraud is named Wayne P. Lawless.

5. Geographic diversity is a prominent feature of post-Katrina fraud. In other words, Louisianans clearly don't have a monopoly on corruption. We know that. Public officials from other states haven't figured that out yet.

6. Please note that in the title of this post, I reproduce the incorrect punctuation of the famous/infamous bumper stickers. Other bloggers, like Ashley the Inimitable, try to do the bumper sticker ignorami a favor by inserting the comma (Thanks, Houston!) Ashley, quit helping those people out. Quote their ignorance in all its SUV-driving glory.


Bush Arrogance and Corruption Are Expensive

Many times Frank Rich seems a little too self-satisfied to me, but he really nails it in this week's column (thanks to Oyster for the free link) describing the Bush Administration's approach to disaster preparedness:

Simply put, this was a plan to outsource as much of government as possible by forcing federal agencies to compete with private contractors and their K Street lobbyists for huge and lucrative assignments. The initiative's objective, as the C.E.O. administration officially put it, was to deliver "high-quality services to our citizens at the lowest cost." The result was low-quality services at high cost: the creation of a shadow government of private companies rife with both incompetence and corruption . . .

It explains why tens of thousands of displaced victims of Katrina are still living in trailer shantytowns all these months later. It explains why New York City and
Washington just lost 40 percent of their counterterrorism funds . . .

The Department of Homeland Security, in keeping with the Bush administration's original opposition to it, isn't really a government agency at all so much as an empty shell, a networking boot camp for future private contractors dreaming of big paydays.


The Big Lie of the outsourcing approach when it comes to government is that the free market will operate. The Big Truth is that the free market, particulary with the current crew, hasn't been allowed to operate. The low-cost bidders don't get selected because they never get to bid or their bids are disallowed over some technicality or they never hear about the opportunity to bid. The buddies of the President and the Vice President or their appointees get picked. And then places like New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and Iraq get picked clean.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Not Sure What to Make of This Statement

Check this out:

"Contrary to popular belief, New Orleans public schools had been extremely successful with children before the state takeover," said Darryl Kilbert, named interim superintendent of the system last week. "There was growth, there was progress. But then came Katrina."

What is this guy talking about? What measure demonstrates this, other than microscopic improvements in a few test scores? Were the facilities improving? Ask kids and parents who were in the system if they felt good about the trends.

Now, two of my kids are in one of charter schools assailed by the critics mentioned in the article. I have very mixed feelings about the best course for Orleans Parish public schools. The one thing I do know is that the old way wasn't working at all.

The critics of charter schools in this article complain about segregation, but isn't that what the old way of running public schools got us? White Racism and Flight, plus "It's Our Turn To Benefit from the Corruption" Cronyism, got us where we were before.

Why not try charter schools and see where it takes us? I don't think the system could get more segregated or worse. (A woman in the article said she didn't want the system to experiment on children. Um, don't you think that last regime was en experiment? And it was a failed one.) A few years ago, the valedictorian at Fortier couldn't pass the LEAP, which is a solid but not overwhelmingly challenging basic skills test. The system failed that young woman and thousands of her peers.

Vouchers are controversial, but I do know one thing: look at who gets most uncomfortable about them, and look at who likes them. Working class minority people tend to like them; white suburban middle class people and old-school liberals tend to hate them.

Anything that makes those latter crowds uncomfortable automatically gets my attention and interest. Vouchers, charter schools--let's go.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Road Not Traveled

http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/archives/2005/09/katrina_cost-be.html

This is the link to the famous post by Richard Posner where he brought up the topic of a fraction of New Orleans being preserved, like Williamsburg, as a historic monument not connected to a city.

It is a reminder of how the dialogue has progressed from whether we are going to be recovering to the how and when [and who]. It is somewhat depressing to read, but in a community where the refrain is "... months later and nothing has changed." One thing that has changed is the question is not whether we are going to be Dodge City, but how we get back on our feet and aim for world class.

Have a productive weekend.

Plan A: The Devil You Know; Plan B: A World Class CZO

Joseph Campbell once said,” We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” So too should the City of New Orleans be ready to scrap its land use planning and zoning regime so that 21st Century development does not have to be shoehorned into a mid 20th Century ordinance just to prove that the voluntarily difficult is not not impossible.

The present land use planning process for the City of New Orleans is a function of the current CZO (Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance) which dates to the late 1940's. It has been amended piecemeal over the years, and the oft discussed plans for a new, comprehensive CZO have floundered for decades. Obviously, the recovery brings the topic to the forefront.

At a meeting of the local chapter of the ULI in April of 2004, one prominent local developer made the point that the scale of commercial development permitted by the current law was not the scale that was economic for modern usage. He pointed out that some recent controversies of the time: the Astor Hotel and the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas were proposed at the scale that international companies knew were required in order to project successful operations.

However, he noted, our 'unique' ordinance and process required them to seek variances to operate in this manner. A variance required at least one trip through the City Planning Commission and then, at least one trip through the Council. The process led to delays and costs. In the end, a brick facade on the Wal-Mart or a change in the set backs of the hotel were not as expensive as the year to two of time that was added to the process.

It is worth noting that many World Class Cities do not have the unwritten rule that the district Councilman can veto any proposal in his district. Also, World Class Cities do not require nearly every new commercial development to be approved by the City Council.

By sending nearly all new commercial development to the Council, new development becomes politicized. Hidden agendas (such as rival development plans, petty and personal politics, etc.) can be cloaked in quasi-architectural criticisms, or simply shut down.

For instance, in the case of both the Wal-Mart and the Astor, academic criticisms that the developments proposed were 'out of scale' were red herrings, as it was obvious that the buildings were both within easy visual reference of other massively out of scale buildings; e.g. the Convention Center and the Sheraton/Marriott. The Gottesman family discovered that an undesignated historic happening was sufficient to prevent the conversion of the Sanlin store from T-Shirt shops to a Marriott hotel. Today, ten years later, that same ugly building sits there as a shrine to the bizarre processes.

The CZO regime made little sense then, its continuation has served to disproportionately empower a few individuals at the expense of attracting out of town investment. In the future, without a zoning ordinance/system that makes it possible to attract outside buyers/builders/commercial tenants the City will miss opportunities to attract jobs and investment.

Revisions of the CZO will be difficult, even Post-K, because it is going to affect every property in the city to some degree. A revised CZO will always require compromises and trade offs. Because of this, it is not going to happen on the NYT's schedule, but having a less than perfect system is not the same as having nothing. For now, it would be wasteful to bog down our re-development opportunities by over-indulging in the tangentially distracting utopian brainstorms of passionate residents and heavily credentialed architects/planners.

So, in the Post-K era, it may be better to deal with projects on a case by case basis for the next couple of years. In these instances, an actual application for consideration implies that there is a developer, some financing, a business/development proposal on which a decision may result in action. Sure, the old demons are not exercised, but there is a greater good to be had by continuing with the 'devil-that-you-know' for now. Keeping the lousy old system on temporary life support is not the perfect solution, doing it right will require a better functioning Council than we have ever had. The imperfect, ad hoc solution is still to be preferred over paralysis.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Budget is the Big Picture

As the socialist economist, Rudolf Goldscheid, once observed, “The budget is the skeleton of the state, stripped of all misleading ideologies”. For the Big Easy, the chance to re-think the allocation of resources for the next few years is a high stakes point of inflection on the trajectory to recovery. How do you preserve the chance to grow without spreading your resources so thinly that municipal order breaks down?

The increases in crime and the difficulties faced in fighting fires show that the most basic of municipal functions are under severe strain, even while the budget is propped up by FEMA funding. Weaning off FEMA funding is going to be difficult to adjust, but how does our city best approach this unpleasantness?

Specialists in corporate turnarounds (http://www.turnaround.org) often must counter objections to change. Some turnaround specialists will counter the carnivorous analogy about 'it is better to trim fat than muscle' with the parable of pruning a tree of dead branches so the trunk can support healthy foliage and grow again. This metaphor might be useful in New Orleans to consider in the continuing debate about what expenditures are appropriate to support decimated areas. Change is coming, but if it does permit organic growth, a healthier community will grow the resources necessary to tackle further problems.

Rather than let the debate about the budget degenerate into acrimony about whether Lakeview, Gentilly, the East and the Ninth Ward subsidize the sliver or vice versa, it might be better to adopt a 'no subsidy' policy across the board, allocating resources along the lines of tax revenues. The issues of subsidy is not just a hot potato, it is a nuclear bomb. It straddles all the fault lines of New Orleans society of history, pedigree, race, class, education, and generations.

One option: a situation where the City of New Orleans is carved out the Parish of Orleans. Some functions are retained at the Parish level, other functions devolve to what is first the solo municipality, but later others could be formed as the 'footprint' shrinks. Lakeview, Gentilly and the East are all immediately recognizable as possibilities for 'Harahanization'.

There is some precedent for this approach. In the 19th Century, New Orleans was broken into three 'Municipalities' which functioned semi-autonomously. If you consider some of the issues that have prevented a revision to the current land use law, a devolved power approach might be a more successful way to build the future.

It has the advantage of moving neighborhood planning details closer to the neighborhood level, where, at the very least, local decisions don't get sequenced behind other projects across town for consideration.


Sinn Fein !

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fifth Time is a Charm?

The Times Picayune noted in Sunday's Editorial that New Orleans isn't much closer to having an official reconstruction plan than it was last fall. The piece noted that there have been no fewer than four major plans proposed so far, but all had failed to elicit much support or any action. Now an authorless and uncommenced fifth plan, seeded with $3.5 million in funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, turns out to be the most successful so far. The paper notes that Nagin and the new City Council “seem poised to accept the Rockefeller project as the official plan.” Which, the paper concludes, is a “good development for New Orleanians wondering where and whether to re-build.”

Not since Windows VISTA have we seen vaporware with such rave reviews. Is the City leadership so clairvoyant they can accept this new plan without even seeing the first PowerPoint slide? Then why not dispense with it and allocate the $3.5 million to another pressing need?

In fact the T-P has lumped together what are really three separate issues. Though these issues intersect, they are distinct. First, City expenditures probably will need to be proportionately reduced to the current revenues before long. Second, the wholesale revision of the land use process and the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) needs immediate attention and resolution, but it has for decades. Third, as the T-P noted today, the primary issues with flood maps and Flood elevations are issues with FEMA, which administers (?) the NFIP, and the City can't be blamed for their bureaucratic sclerosis.

Posts on each issue will follow as completed. Stay tuned.

You know, if we had a ragin' Cajun attack dog like James Carville out there kicking the Feds and the national media in the teeth everytime the media does some half assed reporting, it might help people at least overcome the perception that we are over run with murderous, looting, FEMA financed transsexuals.

In politics, unrebutted attacks become truth. With $10 Billion of Federal money floating around, we are in the political maelstrom of Washington [more on that in the near future].

In the meantime, take a moment to check out this piece on how the estimate is that the earthen dike system holding Lake Okeechobee back has a 1 in 6 chance of failing and flooding thousands of homes, people and acres of valuable property. Great work, ACOE.

Wednesday Roundup

First, Mr. Melpomene has made an outstanding debut on World Class New Orleans. He brings world-class training and real-world experience in business and the law to this forum. In addition, with gritty determination, he and Mrs. Melpomene have been livin' da post-levee disaster life of sorting out a flooded home and a lost boat (although they did rescue Herbie). NOTE: Herbie is actually an old Mercedes and does not include Lindsay Lohan.

Next, Mr. Clio's fun fact of the day: the director of hazard mitigation for the Louisiana Recovery Authority is named Paul Rainwater.

And furthermore, as I often do because of the younger Clios, I missed a great party Saturday.

Most importantly, however, we have to thank the always-looking-for-distractions Republicans in Congress for screaming about inappropriate use of federal funds after Katrina and the levee disaster.

Markus had the earliest and one of the more succinct statements of why this screaming is misguided. The worst aspect, to me, is that we're taking a PR hit when the guilty included prisoners in Texas. Again, people from elsewhere talk as if Louisiana has a monopoly on corrupt people.

How could a prisoner in Texas successfully apply for FEMA funds related to a hurricane and levee break in Louisiana?

Here is Mr. Clio's Theory of Easy FEMA Money. It arises from my years as a high school teacher. I learned about this particular dynamic from the oustanding principal of the school, based on his observation of bad teachers over a few decades.

If you're really bad at what you do, keep everybody happy.

In teaching, this means that a bad teacher should never fail a kid. Not even one. Even if a kid merits a failing grade. You see, when you fail a kid, it is likely that his/her parents will start asking questions. And when they do, a bad teacher's incompetence will shine through--bad teaching, poorly kept records, personal problems, whatever. And then the bad teacher will lose his or her job, if it's a good school.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of Mike Brown, Michael Cherthof (AKA Jafar), and President Bush. It's September 3 or so, a few days after Katrina and levee break. A world-famous city in the "most powerful nation on earth" is under water, and you've completely botched the relief effort. You look like fools to the electorate and the world. It's clear that you're no good.

So what do you do now? Do you get tough with people who apply for aid? No way. Because if you do, people will continue asking questions about your competence and fairness. They might even demand that you be fired or impeached.

Instead, you tell everyone to register with FEMA, and then you send EVERYBODY, and I mean EVERYBODY, debit cards and checks and electronic deposits. NO QUESTIONS ASKED.

It is important that everyone remember this sequence of events. I know. I was part of it. I was there.

My house had roof damage, but no flooding. However, in early September, millions of people (including the Clio family) didn't know when we would be allowed--if ever--to return home. Civic disorder and mayhem, rampant rumors, environmental hysteria--it was all there.

In that atmosphere, FEMA told us all to register, and at that point there was no talk of quick disbursement of checks. The order to us was simply to register.

The next thing we knew, money started showing up.

When you give people cash money, how can you be shocked that they're going to spend it on silly things that people spend money on? My friend works at a casino in Baton Rouge. It is right next door to where evacuees were sheltered. She gave me the scoop on what it looked like there in the weeks following the disaster. What do you think happened? All of sudden, the casino was doing booming business from that FEMA money. I'm sure the all-night check-cashing stores were doing well too.

The real news here is not that freaked-out displaced people spent money on divorce lawyers and "Girls Gone Wild." The real news is that FEMA's incompetent response to the disaster is the direct cause of people's ability to "misspend" money.

FEMA's criminally negligent response to the Katrina and levee failure disaster was very expensive, because Brown et al realized their plight and decided in turn to keep everybody happy, by sending EVERYBODY checks.

So, to the Republicans in Congress: don't get upset at people for spending cash as they choose. That's what cash is: a fungible means of aid. Get upset that FEMA gave people the ability to do that. GOP, quit yer whining.

If you want accountability out of aid recipients, be competent from the outset of the relief effort, then give people vouchers for hardware stores or grocery stores.

Be competent, so that you can tell people "No" without fear.

This latest dustup is classic Republican bait and switch.

Related link: Mr. Melpomene sent me this link pointing out that the alleged misuse of Katrina-and-levee-break relief money pales in comparison to criminal misuse of funds within FEMA and in Iraq and elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Class Public Relations Efforts

On the heels of a week of pious lectures from right wing talk radio and the pecunious US Congress about how some of the FEMA disaster aid was mis-spent and in addition to the weekend's criminal bloodbath, nicely in the global headlines, another negative story picked up around the world in the past 24 hours.

Also, The New York Times on Sunday noted that with some 10 Billion dollars en route, there was far to little or no long term planning going on.

This story so nicely fit into the 'the locals are a bunch of idiots' genre of reporting, you can expect it will only further reinforce negative perceptions of us, leaving those so inclined comfortable in their pre-conceived beliefs that it is a place full of corrupt big city black politicians and bumbling white good ol'boy types. Thank God we have Bill Jefferson and Walter Maestri as role models to dispel those myths.

Why – after months of misleading articles and missed opportunities – has somebody not put together an effective clearinghouse for media responses about what is going on?

With $10 Billion dollars of funding floating around that -- correctly or not- is going to be second guessed forever, shouldn't efforts to project an image of confidence, competence and coordination be paramount. This isn't just about our selfish vanity, but might help our struggling tourism industry off its knees.

Where are those soon to be unemployed Loyola University 'communications' experts? Where is the YLC? Is Anne Milling the only New Orleanian who would like to see our town portrayed as a place with some degree of class, competence and dignity?

Come on, Rise Up!

6/22 update, of sorts. To put in perspective how far we've come, review this article as a gentle reminder that -- at one point -- there was cynical talk of our total demise.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Hmm . . . This Sounds Familiar

More evidence that New Orleans is a Latin/Mediterranean city-state:
"Brazilians, to generalize awfully, are emotionally bipolar," Mr. [Alex] Bellos,
who divides his time between England and Brazil, said in an interview.
"Everything is either the best in the world or the worst in the world. They have a superiority complex in terms of football, yet the flipside is a developing nation's crushing insecurity complex. When they win they forget their problems. They are the happy, party-loving. When they lose it reinforces a sense that they are useless and predestined towards failure — not just in football but in everything."

If you replace the word "football" with "food" or "culture," this becomes New Orleans.

Maybe we (e.g. I) need to be a little more even-keeled.

I think Mr. Melpomene would agree.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Will Federal Funds Preclude Systemic Change?

By "Mr. Melpomene" a contributor...

The direct injection of massive amounts money into this economy (via the Federal Bailout/LRA) may actually have a perverse affect.

While it will undoubtedly lead to stabilization of asset pricing (homes, in particular). It cannot affect the long term health and viability of the community any more than a lottery winner can become immune from cancer.

Repairing and rebuilding damaged structures will not ultimately be profitable unless the local/regional economy can grow fast enough to attract buyers and tenants of those structures as they come online. The bigger challenge is to create an entire paradigm shift that changes from bust to boom.

Consider the year 2008: With FEMA and the construction workers gone, who is going to live in these properties? Or, put more financially, who is going to pay top dollar for these properties once the LRA money has been spent on their re-construction?

Will the regional economy have grown enough to attract back 200,000 plus residents by the time this property hits the market? Or is the next phase of the recovery going to be characterized by the availability of fully renovated and/or brand new housing that is ‘dirt cheap’ in comparison to Atlanta, Tampa, Houston, Dallas and other cities?

It seems possible that the federal money is guaranteed to put much more housing into the market. Will this policy ultimately replace thousands of acres of empty blighted homes with thousands of acres of unwanted but renovated homes? Is renovation saturation in the cards?

To avoid this, we must create a “World Class New Orleans” that can grow as fast as we can re-build.

Somehow, the sustainable, non-temporary construction jobs portion of the local economy has to grow at a tremendous rate over the next 18-24 months. But, a local economic growth rate far above the national economy isn't going to come from hanging new sheetrock in old houses. It is going to require world class innovation and productivity.

Unlike any American polis, New Orleanians have immediately and viscerally faced a 21st Century that is unlike anything prior, in almost every way. This could be a competitive advantage over the long run, but becoming a growing city on a par with any worldwide will likely require shifting the bedrock foundations of the culture and economy of Louisiana that dates back to its European foundations.

Whereas, the British Empire was built on global trade, the French paradigm was based upon the concessionaire – exclusive contracts awarded by the King. Most notoriously, the Mississippi Company of John Law was the first opportunity for Louisiana to negatively affect the nascent global financial markets of the late 18th Century when Law’s ability to ‘create’ money instead of earning it ultimately collapsed in chaos that reverberated for decades.

The tentacles of the French paradigm are evident in such things as the Harrah’s Casino contract, Riverboat gaming, or less obviously the City Council’s role in every zoning decision that conflicts a 1940’s era zoning ordinance with modern development trends. The disproportionate power enjoyed by the State of Louisiana at the expense of its former largest city is an example of imported Euro-phile colonial statism that has anachronistically remained beyond its own political or economic merits. Louisiana, probably more than any other place in the United States besides Washington DC, is a place where the intersection of politics and economics is often driven more by political power than economic merit.

This generation did not invent cronyism, or corruption, nor will it banish it, but an honest assessment of the challenges we face going forward will require an admission of its existence, and that it is a limit on organic, indigenous economic growth in a time when those limits are a dangerous burden.

Consider that the City that was once probably the most important geography in the western hemisphere is realistically not in the top 2,000 cities worldwide today in either population or economic production. Le Deluge is not the cause of centuries of decline. Absent a change in the way things are done, putting billions of Federal dollars into the usual gumbo of politics, fiefdoms, racism, class fear/envy, and parochial traditionalism will only result in the same schizophrenic outcomes.

Yes, New Orleans is a unique place. But unique does not have to mean dysfunctional. Otherwise, the new New Orleans is not going to be World Class in anything other than booze soaked nostalgia and bitterness.

Moving towards “World Class” may require New Orleans to accept several unpleasant truths.

1) The place was limping when it took its death blow.

2) Only a 21st Century community will be viable in this century, so there is no era of New Orleans’ history (authentic or romanticized) that is an appropriate goal of re-building efforts.

3) A 21st Century metropolis is educated, clean, digital, functional, innovative, inviting, multi-ethnic, has a level playing field, is safe and is consequently relevant.

4) Great Cities create and attract great people, places that shun great people based upon race, class, religion, language, and parochialism export them.

5) Government spending alone will not return the City from the one hundred fiftieth or so largest city in the nation back to the 31st largest.

6) Outside money does not create opportunity, it finds it.

7) World Class is not going to come from above, it is only going to come from within.

8) "If nothing changes, then nothing changes"

The Federal reparations are welcome compared to the alternative of injust neglect, particularly given that the U.S. Army killed more Americans, on our own soil, than any time since at least 1865.

But, don't forget, while the event was a nightmare, we had been stoically putting the best face on decades of [helicopter free] humiliation prior to the final collapse. The I-Wall design didn't make our public school system a fraud; The ACOE didn't put a pothole on every corner. FEMA didn't order a mandatory evacuation of the Fortune 500 from our City in the 1990's.

Even if every house is re-built better than before, there is so much more to be done if we wish to attract prosperity, instead of pity.

Sinn Fein!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

New Citizen of the World Class City

Mrs. Berto, wife of Berto, gave birth earlier today to Lil Berto.

Lil Berto will refer to me as Uncle Clio or Uncle Dilly, as he chooses.

You already know, of course, that Lil Berto will leave the hospital on Thursday wearing a black and gold, fleur-de-lis emblazoned onesie, with black and gold socks. No word yet on what Berto will be wearing. Perhaps a jumpsuit.

So as not to scare young Lil Berto, I will refrain for now from wearing my fine, foam rubber, Crescent City Classic winning (well, almost) Fleur de Lis get-up. Maybe I'll wait till he's 18 months or so.

Please head to Our New Orleans Saints (The Black and Gold Bike Patrol), to offer congratulations.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Go Into Orbit

The Saturn Bar reopens June 17. (Thanks to Chuck at Looka for the heads-up.)

Also, Mr. Bill's creator, Walter Williams, writes a great letter. (Again, thanks to Looka.) To wit:
. . . people in this town are gritty and have retained their unique humor. If this had happened anywhere else, people would be suing each other, fist fights, cannibalism. I went to two neighborhood festivals yesterday in devastated areas and they carried on as if nothing had happened. There was no electricity, but they ran a generator so there could be live music.

Postcards from the Edge

The Post Office is very excited to tell me that as of June 1, I could start getting magazines and catalogues again. For those of you keeping score at home, that's over 9 months since the storm, and I live in a fairly well-functioning part of the city. Please note: the mail police are not even any good at enforcing their own rules, as I've been getting Esquire for the last two issues. I have not received a New Yorker, however, since August 2005. A few of my friends have been able to sneak their New Yorkers through, and the New Yorker subscription people claim that I should be getting one soon.

In other news, check out this postcard:

Senator David Vitter is hosting a Hurricane Preparedness Forum on Monday, June 19, at 7:00 p.m.

I find this strange. I mean, if I were a senator, I would certainly host such a forum, because I believe that for south Louisianians, that (e.g. bare survival) is the most important issue facing us (Maslow's hierarchy of needs and all that).

But as Oyster and T. and Sympathy point out, Senator Vitter believes that levees and evacuations and wetlands do not have sole claim on the top spot as the defining issue of our time.

Since there is no issue more important than stopping gay people from entering into binding legal covenants, I think Senator Vitter should have a forum on that.

Instead, he Cavalierly (heh heh) dismisses that key issue by saying, "I really look forward to hearing your views on these and other key issues for Louisiana families."

Maybe we should show up for his Hurricane Forum and make him change the subject. Let's make him spend two hours talking about how gay marriage is a threat to my 18-year long heterosexual marriage, since there's nothing more important than that for the future of my children.

Forget about Corps accountability, wetlands restoration, clean streets.

Let's talk. Let's see how people feel about that.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Getting Schooled

Tim, whose blog I read regularly and whose voice I greatly respect, has a lot to say about Prof. van Heerden. As an engineer, Tim has every right to a voice on this one, and I'm feeling quite schooled right now.

It seems I was too deferential to van Heerden. It seems he really was talking about engineering issues that he shouldn't have been talking about, and Tim does a nice job of pointing out the problem.

Still, some stories don't really have a clear good guy and an obvious bad guy. I'm still doubtful about the intentions of those LSU administrators who tried to shut van Heerden up. And I'm still glad when ANYBODY talks about the criminally negligent work on levees here, whether they're an engineer or not.

If van Heerden is a reckless media hound, however, I guess we need to know that. On the other hand, a couple of vice chancellors (one of them a communications guy) aren't the right people to be telling him to pipe down. A properly qualified representative from a professional engineering organization ought to do the talking.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

World Class City, World Class Academic Calendar

Why, on the Gulf Coast, do we keep a school calendar similar to those in Kansas, or Oregon, or New Mexico?

We all know that the heart of the hurricane season in New Orleans is in mid-August through late-September.

So let's try this for a school schedule--ALL schools, from pre-school on through university--in the central Gulf Coast:

School starts October 7

School ends June 28

1. Schools (especially college students coming here from elsewhere) would have few if any worries about evacuations and missed school days during the school year.

2. It's a very European schedule. Check, for example, this past year's semester schedule for the University of Edinburgh. It didn't start until September 19.

Schools in New Orleans have developed this crazy habit of starting almost a month earlier than that. Why not push it two weeks later than they do in Europe? Where's the harm?

Start the campaign now: on the Gulf Coast, we start school in October, end in late June.

If the arguments start, maybe we can justify it as some kind of Napoleonic Code thing.

3rd Battle Props to WRNO

Third Battle has posted a really cool link: aircheck samples from New Orleans radio stations in the 60s and 70s. The snippets of ads are a kick (e.g. hearing about the clubhouse at Jefferson Downs or Carole King's "new" album).

As of today, WRNO is no longer da Rock of New Orleans. They're going to talk (and conservative talk, at that). No more Black Sabbath in the middle of the FM dial.

Third Battle's post strikes just the right tone. Losing WRNO is not a big cultural loss, but it was something reliable and familiar, like that Time Saver on the corner not far from your house.