-->

Friday, June 28, 2013

Actually they kind of did have a meter

This passage from Joel Achenbach's A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher was pointed out to me this morning. The relevant paragraph is at the top of this page which I will try to embed below.



In other words, there was at this moment an opportunity to draw a pretty decent bead on the rate of flow from the well. (The accuracy of such a calculation should be within plus or minus 10%.. or so I'm told.) BP is disputing the numbers using a flow rate formula based on an estimate of the amount of oil that was in place in the formation to begin with. Which, if I understand this correctly, is far more open to interpretation. In any case, Achenbach is suggesting that the calculations made after the Q4000 was shut down are not too different from actually having a "meter" on the well at that point despite Judge Barbier's statement to the contrary.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Meter

Judge Barbier commenting on the upcoming second phase of the BP trial:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The federal judge presiding over a trial arising from the nation's worst offshore oil spill says it could be difficult to determine how much crude spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's busted well in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier noted during a hearing Thursday that there wasn't a "meter" attached to BP's blown-out Macondo well.
Right there wasn't... although it's worth noting that BP wasn't very helpful in getting us anything close to a ballpark estimate.
Former vice president of exploration Gulf of Mexico David Rainey faces a new indictment that he knew of the Congressional investigation he was previously charged with when he allegedly gave false information on the spill to the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, Reuters reported.

In May a federal judge dismissed a criminal charge against Rainey concerning the obstruction allegation which involved allegedly lying about the amount of oil which was spilling from the ruptured Macondo well.

Rainey said initially the estimated flow was about 5000 barrels per day but internal BP documents from the time showed the company believed the rate was likely much higher.

The flow rate issue is sensitive because civil fines that BP will have to pay under the US Clean Water Act are based in part on the number of barrels spilled.
   Oh and the White House didn't help either

Initial reports were that 1,000 barrels a day was spilling into the Gulf. During the second week of the spill, the flow estimate was increased to 5,000 barrels a day, and the last estimate, after the flow of oil had stopped, was 52,700 to 62,200 barrels a day.

The commission said that in late April or early May the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wanted to release some of the worst-case scenarios for the amount of oil spilling into the gulf.

But it said the White House Office of Management and Budget denied NOAA's request, according to NOAA staff interviewed by the commission.

While the Obama administration said the lower flow rates did not affect the administration's response to the spill, the commission staff said the hugely understated estimates resulted in less public confidence in the pronouncements about the disaster from both the federal government and BP.

It said that the Obama administration was misleading in suggesting that its report in August that as much as 75 percent of the oil had been removed had been peer reviewed by scientists. Independent scientists provided recommendations on "analysis methods" and contributed field data, but it is unclear "whether any of the independent scientists actually reviewed the final report prior to its release," the commission report said.
Anyway, just because the thing isn't strictly metered doesn't mean we can't come up with an estimated rate. Entergy does it all the time, for example. 

What about us brain dead slobs?

It's been a longstanding tenet of analysis on this blog that whenever they put a monorail somewhere in the plan, they're probably trying to sell you some bullshit.

 We're reminded once again of that guiding principal here.
This weekend, Sydney will complete a long and predictable narrative that cautions one again about the danger of relying on tourist experiences as a basis for transit planning.

The Sydney Monorail, built in imitation of Seattle's, has now been through the predictable phases of exuberance, delight, irritation, and boredom and has finally arrived at the point of being more of an obstacle than a service.  The Sydney Morning Herald interviews longtime monorail fan Michael Sweeney who says what little can be said in the thing's defense.  He even uses the word groovy, reminding us (and the interviewer) that he's expressing a definition of coolness that prevailed in one historical moment, but that there was no reason to expect would be cool forever.

Why?  The usual things.  It was conceived as part of a redevelopment, designed to be part of the excitement that would sell expensive real estate.  Like many new North American streetcars, the point was solely to achieve a development outcome and nobody much cared whether it would be useful as transit, especially decades into the future.
Recall this public meeting back in March regarding the Rampart St. streetcar proposal where Pres Kabacoff pretty much bragged that the whole point of the thing was to jam up traffic in the hopes that it would raise real estate values.
Pres Kabacoff, a real estate developer from the Bywater neighborhood, said he thinks the streetcar will help spur business. Kabacoff even argued that slowing down vehicle traffic might be a good thing, since having cars whip by "is not conducive for good retail development."

He added, "To the extent that people have a difficult time in traffic getting down the street it may cause them to want to live in the area and use an effective streetcar."
Also, I haven't had the chance to mention this but, yes, I did notice that when tourism poobahs revealed  their plans for redeveloping the WTC site on the riverfront, their drawings did in fact include a Convention Center monorail.   (It's on page 17 of the PDF embedded in that Lens article.)

Sydney monorail link via Atrios who includes the requisite musical number.


Bucking the trend

Suddenly I don't feel so old anymore. This is how I always remembered New Orleans "bucking the trend."

We make less in New Orleans than most people in the nation.  That's the word from a new federal report.

"The mean wage for all occupations in New Orleans was $20.40 per hour in May 2012, compared to the national average of $22.01," according to the  Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Well I guess Jindal's running for Senate now

That is how we interpret this, right?
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s political adviser offered a terse response Thursday to resurging buzz about Jindal jumping into the U.S. Senate race.

“No interest. At all.” Curt Anderson told National Journal. He is partner in OnMessage Inc., the political strategists Jindal uses, and co-author of Jindal’s autobiography.

In other news, this was still a particularly terrible SCOTUS session

Charles Pierce:

As we learned this week, in which a series of Court decisions made gay people who want to get married happy, and virtually everyone else—especially employees and minorities who may want to vote—miserable, the real walking id of the Court’s preposterously Janus-faced conservative faction is Justice Samuel Alito, who turns out to be not only a reliable reactionary voice on almost every issue, but a colossal dick besides.

Can't call this gross negligence

BP can be quite thorough and vigilant when they want to be.

In letters that started going out Tuesday, BP warns lawyers for many Gulf Coast businesses that it may seek to recover at least some of their clients’ shares of the multibillion-dollar settlement if it successfully appeals a key ruling in the legal wrangling spawned by the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

The London-based oil giant says it is sending hundreds of the letters to attorneys for businesses the company believes received excessive payments from the court-supervised settlement program.

“BP reserves whatever rights it may have to pursue any legal method to recover such overpayments,” company attorney Daniel Cantor wrote in the letter.
Nice to see the real victims stand up for themselves. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shelby decision is just the worst

Read this.

The majority opinion in Shelby acknowledges that racial discrimination in voting continues, but notes that the situation has improved since 1965 and that the procedures in the current Voting Rights Act do not make a clean fit with the current forms and pattern of discrimination. Ordinarily however a federal statute is not invalidated on the ground that it’s dated. I hardly think the Supreme Court justices believe (as did Alexander Bickel) that “desuetude” is a constitutional doctrine. And the criticisms of the statute in the majority opinion are rather tepid. That’s why the court’s invocation of “equal sovereignty” is an indispensable prop of the decision. But, as I said, there is no doctrine of equal sovereignty. The opinion rests on air.

Shell game

Public-private partnerships are really the most ingenious kind of shell game.  A pot of money like NOLA for Life is a "public" program when the Mayor wants to claim it as a highlight of his anti-crime agenda. He'll show up at press conferences, wear T-shirts, and put a bunch of logos on his website, etc. But whenever anyone wants to measure the programs effectiveness or track the process by which the grants are made, well, you know, those are all private documents.
Landrieu and other city officials initially took credit for securing a $1 million donation from Chevron to finance the grants, and they promised to contribute another $250,000 at the city’s disposal. But the administration and Chevron say the company’s donation was a private transaction with the foundation — the company said Landrieu’s acceptance of the donation on stage was “ceremonial” — and there’s no official pledge to donate city money to the effort. Therefore, the city said, how a private foundation chooses to make grants from a private donation is not subject to state sunshine laws or Landrieu’s own reform procedures, put in place his first days in office.

Yay DOMA is dead

So what we've learned from the court this week is that equal protection under the constitution is a pretty important thing.. except for when it applies to your right to vote, I guess.

I'm not someone who buys into the feel-good line about the "arc of history bending toward justice."  I don't think there really is much of an arc to history.  And justice under the law is a thing that exists sometimes for some people in some places but only until it doesn't anymore. Or until someone inevitably shows up and tries to take it away.  For example, get ready to watch last night's situation in the Texas legislature play out again in several states next year as Republicans try to re-write the voting laws in light of the Shelby decision.  Can't imagine they'll lose every filibuster.

But let's not be too grouchy.  A stupid stupid law is gone and that's a good thing. Even if it only took two decades to happen. 

So that was quite a day

First there was this.
Let's be clear about what has just happened. Five unelected, life-tenured men this morning declared that overt racial discrimination in the nation's voting practices is over and no longer needs all of the special federal protections it once did. They did so, without a trace of irony, by striking down as unconstitutionally outdated a key provision of a federal law that this past election cycle alone protected the franchise for tens of millions of minority citizens.
And then tonight, hundreds of thousands of people watched a YouTube feed (because all of cable news was busy running repeats of its talking heads shows) of the Texas Legislature. There Republicans decided to shut down a 10 hour filibuster of a draconian crack down on women's right to reproductive health care by arguing that comparing it to other draconian crack downs on women's right to reproductive health care isn't "germane" to the topic.

After that, it got wacky.  I'm fading right now and I'm sure you'll read about this somewhere by tomorrow anyway.  Basically the last ten minutes of the session involved legislators struggling like a hurried football team to get a vote off before the clock ran out at midnight as they were being disrupted by deafening crowd noise. Nothing could be more Texas than that, when you think about it.

As I type this nobody knows what happened.  The Senate hasn't even officially adjourned. I'm sure they'll get around to that sooner or later. And then the whole thing will be argued in some court somewhere. I'm sure this will come up at some point.  The legislative website originally recorded the vote on the abortion bill as taking place on June 26... which would mean after the deadline.



But then this was altered to read June 25.

Suffice to say the clock has been turned back in more ways than one today.  From the looks of things there are still plenty of protesters left at the capitol in Austin.  (Of course nothing on cable news about that still.) But I'm too tired to stay up and watch them get arrested so I'm turning in.

Can't wait to see what happens with DOMA tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Un-vanished

Three years later. Still un-vanishing.

NEW ORLEANS -- Three years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, workers have dug up a massive tar mat found along the Louisiana coast.

The huge chunk of oil residue mixed with wet sand is about 165 feet long by 65 feet wide, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

It was found under the surf off of Isle Grand Terre, about 90 miles south of New Orleans.

It weighs more than 40,000 pounds, though the Coast Guard says more than 85 percent of that is sand, shells and water.

Just because they're after you doesn't mean you're not paranoid

You know, if you really wanted to, you could make a strong argument now that President Obama is running a frightening and repressive.. hell,  un-American, even... administration and I wouldn't complain too much about it. At least I wouldn't complain so long as you kept to the actual frightening and repressive policies the President is pursuing. Like, for example, persecuting whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. Or mandating that all federal employees actively snoop and snitch on each other's personal lives. Or indiscriminately killing people with flying robots.

But even when encouraged by Bobby Jindal to "put on your big boy pants" and make an effective case against the President, Republicans can't even seem to figure out which leg goes in first.  Instead of focusing on the actual scary things the administration is doing, Republicans prefer to fixate on the actually not so scary things they imagine it does.

Take their so-called IRS scandal, for example.  It took a while for someone to finally say so, but clearly this was never about partisan political persecution.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service’s screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency said Monday.

An internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press said that besides “tea party,” lists used by screeners to pick groups for close examination also included the terms “Israel,” ”Progressive” and “Occupy.” The document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still underway.

In a conference call with reporters, Danny Werfel said that after becoming acting IRS chief last month, he discovered wide-ranging and improper terms on the lists and said screeners were still using them. He did not specify what terms were on the lists, but said he suspended the use of all such lists immediately.

“There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum” on the lists, Werfel said. He added that his aides found those lists contained “inappropriate criteria that was in use.”

Werfel’s comments suggest the IRS may have been targeting groups other than tea party and other conservative organizations for tough examinations to see if they qualify. The agency has been under fire since last month for targeting those groups.
I don't mean to downplay the significance of this too much. It's probably not the IRS's finest hour.  But it's also not a deliberate attempt at political retribution. What was going on here was an attempt to catch up with the post-Citizen's United universe of money in politics (Not to mention outright fraud.)

An instructive case in this was provided a few years ago by Lamar's look at how Gene Mills' Louisiana Family Forum appears to shuffle money between its tax deductible 501c3 and its politically active 501c4.
It’s not an insignificant amount of money. The LFF is apparently spending six figures every single year on consulting services that are not disclosed. This begs the question: Who is getting paid? And while the nuances in the tax code between 501c3s (tax-deductible non-profits) and 501c4s (advocacy arms) may seem impossibly labyrinthine, it’s actually quite simple: Under the current tax regime, a 501c3 that effectively operates as a lobbying group may attempt to shield itself from exposure by setting up a 501c4, as long as the 501c4 raises its own funding. The problem for the Louisiana Family Forum, insofar as I see it, is that it’s engaging in an obvious shell game, operating its 501c4, almost entirely, with the tax-deductible donations it receives from its 501c3. You can do that, no doubt, but there is no obvious advantage: Every penny that a 501c4 receives from a 501c3 is subjected to laws that govern 501c3 expenditures. Or, at least, it’s supposed to be.

I need to be careful here: I am not accusing Mr. Mills or the Louisiana Family Forum of doing anything illegal. I’m merely suggesting that they’re being shady, that, to me, it appears as if the organization has, for years, acted like it has something to hide– whether it’s shielding the full disclosure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting services or ineptly exploiting the distinctions between 501c3s and 501c4s. But more importantly, I strongly believe that, as a matter of public policy, we should not provide a tax advantage to a small, politically-connected cabal of powerful lobbyists who pretend as if their alleged religious convictions entitle them to special treatment under the law.
LFF was precisely the kind of new animal the IRS was trying to figure out. And there were hundreds more like it. It just happened that many of these new creatures most of them, in fact were right-ish flavored politically. 

The IRS did not only pick on conservative groups. It also flagged liberal groups, using word searches for “progressive” in their names, though fewer. Data just released of 175 approved applications reveals that about 122 were conservative and 48 liberal or simply publicly involved, with six indeterminate. Right-wing or conservative groups, however, were responsible for more than 80 percent of the roughly $260 million spent by 501(c)(4)s on the 2012 election cycle.

Though some of the 300 groups under investigation complained about IRS harassment, tax experts and former IRS officials contacted by the New York Times said the groups’ actions “provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review.”
None of this will stop Republicans from continuing to play victim, though.  Just like today's Supreme Court decision to nullify Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act won't stop them from pushing through a whole new raft of voter suppression measures next year even as they cry the whole time about "voter fraud."



Monday, June 24, 2013

Loud enough?

Owen Courreges uses his outside voice on these proponents of citywide noise ordinance guidelines.
Because these folks are not only fascists but cowards, they also cancelled their plan press conference when it came to light that protests would erupt.  I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and just assume that they wanted to spare their overly-sensitive ears from having to hear the voices of people uttering divergent opinions.

However, they are not without allies, and therein lies the problem.  While the pro-music forces are a ragtag and motley crew of political neophytes, the operation of music foes is organized, well-funded, and well-connected.  You can even check out their website bearing the slogan “Hear the Music, Stop the Noise.”  One imagines some Madison Avenue whiz-kid coming up with that one.  “Gee, these people are like some old lady in a tenement who beats her cane on the ceiling whenever she hears anything above a whisper.  How do I shine up this particular piece of fecal matter?”

"Almost arrest"

Establishment press guy makes attempt at super-patriotic macho posturing, comes off sounding like a ninny anyway.

Maybe they're trying to do "more with less"

From the OPP consent decree hearing this morning:
Gusman took the stand later Monday morning and insisted that he will be able to point to specific uses for city revenue as he seeks an increase in the $23 million a year the city currently pays.

While the sheriff costs have gone up, especially medical costs, the city maintains that inmate populations and annual bookings are going down.

Blake House

Yesterday Gambit posted a clarifying update on its "Blake Pontchartrain" situation.  The apparent plagiarism episode is quite the little small town morality play. The TV version will have Michael Landon in it.

According to Gambit's  post, they're planning to bring the Blake column back but with a different author from the person who has been "Blake" for the past 15 years.
The column has been written anonymously since its inception, but always by one writer at a time. In a June 17 post on blogofneworleans.com, we used the word “composite” to describe the fact that several writers have produced Blake over the years; that was a poor choice of words. It gave some the idea that several writers within a relatively short period of time, or even all at once, wrote the column. That has never been the case. There has always been only one person writing Blake at any given point in time and, since 1988, only about a half-dozen writers have produced the column — and only one for the past 15 years.

The examples cited by our reader thus can all be attributed to a single contributor, a retired educator whose journalistic efforts have been limited to researching and writing for Blake, anonymously, as a freelancer. This writer’s byline has never appeared in any publication, including Gambit. No other writers and no other publications are affected by the writer’s carelessness or by our decision to remove archived Blake Pontchartrain columns.

We have been assured by the writer that this matter is confined to a few columns. However, after extensive internal discussion and a conversation with a media ethics expert at the nonprofit Poynter Institute for journalism, we have decided that the prudent course of action is to remove the Blake Pontchartrain archive from our website while we review each column for accuracy, originality and proper attribution. This will take time, but we want Blake’s many fans to have full confidence in the column and in Gambit. We will restore each column as soon as we verify its originality.
I know it's just a dinky little Q & A column and I've already kind of said that the "plagiarism" at issue looks more to me like carelessness than dishonesty. After all, readers understand that "Blake" isn't presenting groundbreaking research in this column and is, instead, just going and looking stuff up for people. Still for a "retired educator" this seems like an especially sloppy error.

In any case somebody has to ask this question so it might as well be me.  Strictly speaking, if the column is going to continue to appear under the "Blake" pseudonym and the identity of the dismissed person is never revealed, how do we know that person isn't still writing the column?

We already know how Clancy DuBos feels about anonymity.
Suffice it to say that the prosecutor who masqueraded as the acerbic — and prolific — "Henry L. Mencken1951" in the reader comment sections of nola.com is no H. L. Mencken.   For starters, the real Mencken had the guts, and the integrity, to use his own name.
Shouldn't Clancy's wife's publication hold the retired educator to a similar standard?  Well... probably not exactly that, actually.  If we really are talking about a hobbyist freelancer, we probably don't need to ring the ethics firebell over the equivalent of a few unattributed Wikipedia cut and pastes.

Still, "Blake" should probably just go ahead and come clean anyway.  I'm sure a very large number of people already know this author's identity including, I'm willing to bet, the T-P reporter who "exposed" the plagiarism in the first place. Hard to imagine it won't come out one way or the other.  Especially since we're apparently in the throes of an all out "newspaper war."

That is unless the local journalism back room really does function like an old line Carnival krewe where we all agree to put rivalry aside and keep Comus' name out of the papers like the gentlemen we imagine ourselves to be. In that case, maybe it's more of a newspaper duel.

And The Advocate is on it!

That thing I said yesterday about "Save The WTC" being astroturf and nobody noticing?  Somebody noticed.
But a grass-roots effort this is not.

Instead, the signs are part of an unorthodox campaign designed to build support for a multimillion-dollar proposal to turn the World Trade Center building into a hotel and apartment complex and to steer public endorsement away from a competing plan for redevelopment.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pick your monster

Louisiana politics is full of  Godzilla vs Mothra moments where it's best to just root for both sides to fall into a pit of lava or at least the nearest sinkhole or something. But even while we're waiting for that to happen, we can't help but find small moments of catharsis when one of the creatures lands a particularly satisfying blow on the other.

Take the Governor and the Mayor, for example. Jindal and Mitch are obviously both monsters.  There are subtle distinctions between the exact sorts of monsters they are which come into play in interesting ways from time to time.  Such as when they're arguing over whose friends will best benefit from a misappropriated trough of money.
"House Bill No. 516 by Representative Walt Leger grants additional powers to the Ernest N. Morial-New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority," Jindal wrote. "The bill also would allow for the first time the Authority to use non-traditional tax free bonds that would benefit any properties being developed by commercial, private entities and the bonded debt could count against the state debt limit. In addition, this project could be funded through the capital outlay bill. For these reasons, I have vetoed House Bill No. 516 and hereby return it to the House of Representatives."
Of course, since the Governor has put so much work into privatizing the state's education and health care apparatuses, we have to chuckle a bit at his concern over this misdirection of public money into private hands.  But hey at least someone with some power has chosen to articulate this for once so why complain?

To be fair, it isn't clear that the convention center debt actually counts against "the state debt limit" as Jindal claims.
Bill sponsor House Speaker Pro tem Walt Leger III reacted angrily. “I’m livid. I’m upset. The convention center thing is out of left field. I cannot be more shocked. It’s a real setback for the hospitality and tourism industry.”

Leger said the Convention Center is a political subdivision of the state and has its own revenue stream. “It does not impact the debt limit of the state,” he said.
Regardless, Leger's bill still authorized a public entity to issue bonds in order to finance private hotel and condo development. Where the debt is incurred specifically is a distinction irrelevant to the principle in question. A recent Lens op-ed by Roberta Brandes Gratz explains this pretty well
The Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Superdome and the Tourism and Marketing Corporation have no business being developers. This is always the problem in creating legally independent organizations or authorities that, once authorized, function outside the normal scope of democratic review. If, as it seems, these entities have an excess of earned income burning a hole in their pockets, they should help the city pay for other urgent needs — such as either or both of the two federal consent decrees, one with police, one with the city jail, that the Landrieu administration keeps saying it can’t afford.
I should add, though, I'm not endorsing Gratz's column as a whole.  She seems hung up on opposing any redevelopment of the WTC site regardless of how it is funded. Along the way she makes several questionable statements including this overreach:
Every attempt by an American city to “remake” itself has failed, leading to repeated efforts to redesign the redesigned city.
Every attempt! That's pretty serious. Although I guess it depends on what one means by an attempt by a city to "remake itself" if such at thing has ever actually even occurred.

Gratz appears to be following a popular vein in preservationist scholarship where one ceaselessly pursues any and every opportunity to  flog the ghost of Robert Moses. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But, as is often the case in this line of argument, Gratz has confused a legitimate complaint against unchecked and unaccountable power with the idea that any and every "big project" is an inherent evil. She lists a few of the favorite whipping boys in her article including the long ago defeated riverfront expressway and the new LSU/VA hospital. She concludes:
But while advocates of big projects focus on outsized, misguided visions, New Orleans is rebounding incrementally through innovative efforts all over town, proving once again that small and modest projects always exceed expectations while the big ones never fulfill theirs.
Again Gratz exhibits remarkable certainty in that final "always" and "never" statement.  It's a particularly alarming one too for anyone holding out hope that the very big expensive projects now protecting New Orleans from catastrophic flooding or the even bigger expensive projects proposed to save the Louisiana coast will come closet to fulfilling expectations in at least some minimal fashion.

It also displays a curious ignorance of the forces currently driving what we'll charitably agree to call the New Orleans "rebound."  I don't know what Gratz means by "innovative efforts all over town" exactly. I suppose she could mean anything given her apparent grasp on what goes on around here.  For example here's an article of hers published in The Nation where she states that Bayou St. John is located Uptown and that the grassroots driven effort to create a linear park along the Lafitte corridor was all preservationist and political insider David Waggoner's idea.

But I digress.  Whatever activity Gratz might be alluding to by "innovative efforts all over town" the odds are those efforts can be traced back to the massive influx of federal aid into New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans-based demographer and consultant with GCR Inc., calls the data good news but says New Orleans still has a way to go before hitting its pre-Katrina population.

The population of New Orleans in July 2005, a month before Katrina hit, was 454,000, he said.
Rigamer said the city could be back to pre-Katrina levels by 2020.

“What’s going on in New Orleans is you started out with decreased base from Katrina and you are also seeing a lot of federal money pumped into the city,” Rigamer said. “There is a lot of recovery spending occurring right now. A lot of FEMA projects under way.”
This includes, by the way, the major revitalization underway in Mid City evidenced in several concurrent retail and residential construction projects along Carrollton Avenue, Tulane Avenue, and Broad Street  which benefit directly from rebuilding funds and are catalyzed by the hospital project Gratz takes a shot at in her article.  So big projects are having impacts all over town, even if we choose to see them as something else.

The WTC redevelopment, though, is undoubtedly going to be a "big project" no matter how it ends up happening. The bill Jindal just vetoed would have allowed it to happen while private developers profit off of the bonded indebtedness of a public entity. So, for the moment, we can enjoy that particular swipe of one monster's tail.  This doesn't mean, though, that something "big" shouldn't happen at the site eventually.

I can't say for certain whether this means the trade mart building absolutely has to be demolished. But I do know that no private developer has been willing to invest in it for decades and that this reluctance only vanished the moment the tourism cabal proposed funneling free Convention Center money to bidders as an incentive.  Suddenly two of the three proposals involve "saving" the now "beloved" "iconic" building.

One of the bidders, Gatehouse Capital, has even slapped together an impressively funded "Save The WTC" campaign. You may have noticed their ubiquitous signage popping up in your Facebook feed or in various vacant lots and neutral grounds around town.

Save the WTC Astroturf

Normally you might expect to find an urban policy analyst like Gratz ... or anyone covering this issue in the New Orleans media for that matter... to be quick to note the obvious astroturfing at work here.  But then, I guess, everyone has to pick a monster to root for sometimes.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Coupla slow blog days

I hate when that happens. Sorry. But sometimes I get busy too although I try to avoid that.

Anyway since the weekend is here, here are a couple of long-ish read articles you might not be too busy to read at you leisure.

Rolling Stone: The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis Matt Taibbi on the corruption at financial ratings agencies.
Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits by the San Diego-based law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation's two top ratings companies, Moody's and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.
The Baffler: To Galt’s Gulch They Go Thomas Frank on the popular libertarian fantasy of the "capital strike"
Democracy is a problem, all right. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are at work on a solution. And all their innovations point in one direction: withdrawing physically into some libertarian laager—some mountaintop or island or remote state—where free-market principles will be observed with the zealotry they require.

There are, for example, several different plans floating around out there to launch a free-market hideaway named “Galt’s Gulch,” after the fictional place Ayn Rand’s fictional billionaires went to hide during their walkout. One of them is in Chile—made forever safe by that early, bloody act of free-market utopianism—while another, following closer to Rand’s text, is located in Colorado, which its organizers hope to make a center for the “Asset Management” industry.
I've become particularly fascinated with the dovetailing popularity of libertarian entrepreneurial and techno-futurist thinking lately. Here's another piece from a previous Baffler issue by Evgeny Morozov who has been writing about anti-democratic trends in the tech industry for a while now.  This article is mostly about Tim O'Reilly and the history of so-called "open source" software which, I know, sounds boring. But it sprawls widely across a number of social and political trends that should be getting more attention.  This section discusses the growing influence of a technocratic vs truly democratic model of governance.

So what are we to make of O’Reilly’s exhortation that “it’s a trap for outsiders to think that Government 2.0 is a way to use new technology to amplify the voices of citizens to influence those in power”? We might think that the hallmark of successful participatory reforms would be enabling citizens to “influence those in power.” There’s a very explicit depoliticization of participation at work here. O’Reilly wants to redefine participation from something that arises from shared grievances and aims at structural reforms to something that arises from individual frustration with bureaucracies and usually ends with citizens using or building apps to solve their own problems.

As a result, once-lively debates about the content and meaning of specific reforms and institutions are replaced by governments calling on their citizens to help find spelling mistakes in patent applications or use their phones to report potholes. If Participation 1.0 was about the use of public reason to push for political reforms, with groups of concerned citizens coalescing around some vague notion of the shared public good, Participation 2.0 is about atomized individuals finding or contributing the right data to solve some problem without creating any disturbances in the system itself. (These citizens do come together at “hackathons”—to help Silicon Valley liberate government data at no cost—only to return to their bedrooms shortly thereafter.) Following the open source model, citizens are invited to find bugs in the system, not to ask whether the system’s goals are right to begin with. That politics can aspire to something more ambitious than bug-management is not an insight that occurs after politics has been reimagined through the prism of open source software.

On a related note, the annual Aspen Ideas Festival which gathers elite technocrats from around the country to discuss such weighty questions as whether or not universal suffrage is such a great idea and just how can we finally convince everyone to give up Social Security gets underway this week.  Mayor Landrieu is scheduled to speak for the second year in a row.

Finally, via Digby, your technocratic President has also devised a version of Government 2.0.  It's pretty scary.
Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.

Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.

And, yes, it's apparently every bit as weird as it looks.
The program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans, according to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators” that include stress, divorce and financial problems.

“It was just a matter of time before the Department of Agriculture or the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) started implementing, ‘Hey, let’s get people to snitch on their friends.’ The only thing they haven’t done here is reward it,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security law. “I’m waiting for the time when you turn in a friend and you get a $50 reward.”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Serpas Signal

Sorry I've been preoccupied today. Didn't want anyone to miss this, though.

The New Orleans Police Department’s Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint, in Orleans Parish, on Thursday June 20, 2013, beginning at approximately 9:00 P.M. and will conclude at approximately 5:00 A.M. Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have the proper documentation available if requested, i.e., proof of insurance, driver’s license, etc.
Drive safely

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Flat act

Not sure how many reboots Bobby Jindal gets before they finally dump the franchise.
After the 2012 election, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made a name for himself as the most eager and aggressive of the GOP’s self-flagellators. Republicans have to “stop being the stupid party,” he raged. They have to compete for “the 47 percent and the 53 percent,” and “any other combination of numbers that adds up to 100 percent.” Above all, they need to “stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”

Apparently, he’s changed his mind.

In Politico Tuesday, Jindal tells the Republican Party to quit doing the thing Jindal was telling them to do a few months ago and get back on the attack!
It's not the being stupid, it's the appearing to regret the stupidity.

Jindal's Politico article, by the way, is one of the stupider pieces of prose one is likely to run across. My favorite bit is where, in a long paragraph of wild flailing at imagined "leftward" bogeymen, Jindal throws in a random accusation that "the left" believes "the earth is flat."  I thought at first that Jindal meant that in relation to the "industrial age factory style government" thing that followed it in the stream of consciousness. But the punctuation suggests otherwise.

Either way it's a remarkable statement from the Governor who has spent the past two years removing science from the school curricula. Especially in a piece where he's urging Republicans to boldly look backward for their ideas. How much longer can Bobby keep floudering around like this and continue to command such impressive speaking fees?

Back door Lot Next Door

Although I understand the concern, I'm not as worried about the zoning exceptions created through this than I am about the fact that this appears to have been a secret.. or at least quiet.. conduit for moving Road Home property.

After the council meeting, The Lens asked Councilwomen Stacy Head and Kristin Gisleson Palmer if they had ever heard of the Near Miss program. They hadn’t, and they were dismayed to learn that the council had been working with the Redevelopment Authority for months to expand the Lot Next Door program when the authority already had done so on its own.

Changing the rules without the council’s input “makes the legislative act meaningless,” Head said.

Lou Volz, who was on the Planning Commission when the Redevelopment Authority created the Near Miss program, said he never knew commercial property owners could buy Road Home properties. “It never occurred to me that commercial or other non-residential entities were even a possibility,” he said via email.

Even now, the Near Miss program is mentioned nowhere on the Redevelopment Authority website. A city news release outlining the recent expansion of the Lot Next Door Program doesn’t note that commercial property owners have been able to buy these properties for a few years.

Exploding pie

Ray Nagin, 2006: "This economic pie that is getting ready to explode before our eyes is going to be shared equally."

We never figured out how Nagin intended for us to share the pie after he had exploded it. But that doesn't mean we don't get to keep trying.  

Michael Hecht, CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc. (GNO) says it's already evident in New Orleans.  "Some of the empirical evidence that we have of this phenomenon is all the companies that are on-shoring back to Louisiana."   He says multinational companies are choosing our area over emerging markets, due to lower costs and a higher quality of life.

When large investors and multinational companies plan on where to spend money, emerging economies like China or Brazil are usually high on their radar.  But Whitney is recommending that they skip that, and invest instead in places like Louisiana.

"Lower costs, high quality of life, and lower risk is actually making it advantageous to invest domestically right here in Louisiana and New Orleans, than to go abroad.  So I think the on-shoring of what Meredith Whitney calls the smart money is evidence that this is a  real trend," says Hecht.
Whatever Hecht thinks he is on about with regard to "quality of life" and "risk" the real reason analysts like Whitney have their eyes on Louisiana is the oil and gas boom.

Barring an unanticipated setback, so-called “unconventional” oil and gas production is expected to continue to grow over the next two decades. Over that period, the industry is expected to make more than $5 trillion in new capital investment that will support more than 3.5 million jobs by 2035, according to the financial analysis firm IHS Global Insight.

That economic impact of such spending already is spreading, especially to companies that rely heavily on natural gas as a raw material or energy source and investing and hiring.

Steel makers, for example, benefit from both the lower cost of manufacturing and from strong demand for steel pipe used for oil and gas drilling. Companies in the steel rustbelt of Pennsylvania and Ohio are polishing up aging plants to replace coal with cheaper natural gas. Others are setting up shop closer to major gas distribution hubs like Louisiana, where steel giant Nucor is investing $750 million to fire up a new plant later this year.
There is so much investment happening in oil and gas production that you can see the shale gas camps in central Texas from freaking space. (H/T Mark Moseley) That's what's causing the pie to explode in Louisiana right now too.  Along with a few other things, of course.

A 30-inch natural gas line exploded before dawn Tuesday in southern Washington Parish, rocking the rural area and sending a fireball into the sky. No injuries or significant property damage have been reported from the blast, which occurred about 5:30 a.m. in the Enon area south of Franklinton.

Over-revelled

Bead tree


St. Charles Avenue is in danger of becoming another Bourbon Street.  At least during Carnival it is. By that I mean that the clustering of Orleans Parish parades along the single St. Charles route is turning Uptown Carnival into a tourist-dominated "sacrifice zone" where the raucous spring break qualities of the season are drowning out its more traditional and.. dare I even say it... "family friendly" aspects. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying there's no place for bawdy raucousness during Mardi Gras. Only that there's a pace to the ritual that is supposed to imbue the scene with meaning. Even if the city's many non (or at least severely lapsed) Catholics aren't strictly observing the pre-lenten tradition in its strictest sense, the locals at least attach a semblance of spiritual significance to what has, for them, always been a holiday season.  

But penning the city-wide celebration in along a single and heavily touristed stretch of real estate dilutes the richness of the experience there and isolates it entirely from the neighborhoods where it should be organically nurtured. In a way, it's analogous to the leveeing of the Mississippi where relegating the flow to one designated course threatens to starve the land on the outside of its boundaries.  I think it could be turning people off of Mardi Gras altogether.

Into this, then, comes this Louisiana Weekly article where Ryan Waldron presents several ideas for remedying this.
Yet, Waldron argued, Krewes outside of Uptown need not die a slow death. The spirit of a neighborhood-focused Mardi Gras can be reborn, providing a respite for the overwhelmed homeowners on St. Charles route. His four part plan involves Orleans officials bolstering an alternative major parade route in Mid-City, working with Jefferson and the other parishes to coordinate regional parade schedules, adjusting regulations to allow neighborhoods to hold much smaller Mardi Gras Krewe processions, and encouraging those neighborhoods to form “Krewes of their own”, something between marching clubs and small float processions, in the original Mardi Gras tradition.
There's much more there so give it a look.  As we start talking about drawing up a new set of Carnival ordinances  most of Waldron's suggestions should at least be on the table.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Blake flaked

The "Blake Pontchartrain" column might be Gambit's most popular running feature. It's a weekly docent for a city that loves nothing better than reading about its own trivia.  The column can't be the easiest thing in the world to write. I'm sure the inbox is always full and the more interesting questions can require some extensive research.

But then presenting the results of that research shouldn't be too difficult. All you really have to do is point readers to where they can find more information.  Ideally this means citing sources which, as it turns out, may not have always happened. 
Over the weekend, a Gambit reader noticed that some recent Blake Pontchartrain columns contained passages that hewed closely to materials that were published elsewhere. In some cases, passages in the Blake columns were identical, or nearly identical, to the work of others.
So far the only specific examples of the plagiarism that have been made public are the ones noted in this Romenesko post.   It's worth pointing out that one is a case of some facts about Fort Pike copy/pasted from a state tourism website while the other is the definition of a word. So it's perhaps not the most scandalous lifting of original work the world has ever seen. But then this just raises the question, couldn't they insert a single "according to so and so" line in there somewhere and easily solve everyone's problem?

The other interesting fact about this is the "discoverer" of this scandal happens to be a Times-Picayune reporter. So it's worth remembering that as the cutbacks at the T-P have become the major media story of 2012-13, Gambit has provided the most thorough coverage of those events.

Not that any of that excuses plagiarism.  As an interested reader, I'd like to go back through the "Blake" archives and determine for myself if there's anything more egregious than the two examples of laziness highlighted in the Romenesko piece but Gambit has flushed them down a memory hole, at least for the time being. 

In any case, I hope this doesn't lead to the permanent discontinuation of the column. I know I'm not alone in saying it's one of my most anticipated weekly reads.

A transit plan in name only

Owen Courreges writing about proposed revisions to a couple of major crosstown thoroughfares suggests that some neighborhoods are becoming "landlocked" in the process.
Presently, if I want to drive to the Marigny and points further East, I usually take the Claiborne Expressway or South Rampart.  I could certainly go through the Quarter, but that’s generally a nightmare.  I could also go further north, but reaching a road north of the expressway would be a major detour.  The options are pretty well limited.

For some inexplicable reason, plans are being made to kill both the expressway and Rampart as useful thoroughfares for vehicular traffic.
Owen comes at this a little differently from the way I do.  I don't think either of these projects is driven by a policy objective (or, has he jokingly calls it, a conspiracy) to make driving less convenient.. or to keep Uptowners in Uptown.. or to keep Owen in Uptown.

I do think they're motivated more by real estate development plans than they are by transit strategy, though. And I tend to agree with Owen's assessment of their negative impact in that regard.

Snowden

Live chat right now.

Plenty of narrative drama

One of the ideas I keep throwing out there in the hopes that someone will pick up and run with it is a book-length treatment of the Jefferson family and their influence on city politics.  I can think of more than just a few people who could do this well so maybe if one of them wants a little glory, or at least one reader's gratitude, they'll eventually take me up on this.

Anyway Archie Jefferson is probably the least relevant Jefferson although his story does add some flare.

In 1990, he pleaded guilty to making a false statement on a credit-card application and served six months in jail. Three years later, he was caught forging judges’ signatures onto bogus bond reduction orders that led to the release of more than a dozen inmates. He pleaded guilty again a couple years after that, this time to three counts of writing bad checks.

Then he admitted using his clients’ money and settling cases without their consent, though he said it was done in the haze of inexperience and drug addiction. He was in the news again in 2001, for illegally razing a 19th-century home next door to his sister’s place in the Irish Channel, then blithely ignoring the $25,000 ticket he received from the city.

When he was permanently disbarred in 2004, the Louisiana Supreme Court cited “indisputable evidence of a fundamental lack of moral character and fitness.”

But he was a member, albeit an outlier, of the mighty Jefferson clan.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Keeping it poper

I spotted this sign in the window at the Balcony Bar on Magazine Street yesterday. It has several interesting features.

Poper attire

The bar itself has undergone a significant transformation over the past year or so. They've taken all of the pool tables out and added some booths. Another sign in this window says they're now closing at 10:00 PM (!) on Fridays and Saturdays which seems incredibly strange to me. So much so, in fact, that I need to go check on this in person.

Anyway that little stretch of Magazine is constantly re-inventing itself.  In recent years the most notable change has been the Rue De La Course and the Puccino's coffee shops on either side of the street have become restaurants.  The coffee houses tended to stay open late. The restaurants don't. The Bulldog and the Rendezvous are still open nearby, of course. But the crowd each caters to is.. well, they don't have to be too anxious about im-poper attire very often.

None of this is particularly important except that this used to be a corner where a person could spend a lazy afternoon-on-into-evening with a few cups of coffee and then cheap domestics among an.. um.. eclectic sort of crowd.  That is probably still possible to some degree but less so now.

Al Gore: I've invented a monster

I kid, I kid.  But, look, I'd love to cheer Mr. Gore's stirring words on this topic.  I agree with them, of course.  I also have zero doubt that had he become President, he wouldn't agree with them. And so they're just pretty, harmless words now.  Not much use to anyone.  Al Gore is our nation's most courageous speaker on things he can't possibly do anything about and wouldn't do anything about if given the chance.

Deb

Not much to add to this. 
Everyone says enough is enough, but the city keeps barreling down the same murderous road to the same murderous outcomes. We won’t get change until people stop being so deferential to politicians, until we start demanding accountability for the money, until resources are applied to programs that we know can make these young men whole.

Those who are sick of poverty and its problems, OK, move to Mandeville. But if you want to live here in New Orleans, you’ve got to continue to invest in the lives of these young men who have been left behind, left out.

NOLA for Life? Go out in the street and ask a young brother about it. He won’t know what it is, let alone how to work the programs to get the help he needs. If people would be more afraid of continuing down the path we’re on than that of pissing off the mayor then we might begin to see some serious changes with these young men.
I don't believe there are ready-to-enact solutions to the violent crime problem in New Orleans. This is mostly because I don't expect things will be getting better for poor-to-middle class people anywhere any time soon.  In fact, I think they're going to get much worse. And since things are getting worse as the consequence of global societal political and economic problems, we can hardly expect to sit here in our little city and buck those trends.

But Deb is right to say that we can still choose to put what resources we do have toward  an earnest attempt to mitigate the damage. The Lens has been looking at the Mayor's "NOLA For Life" program over the past few weeks.  Is that the best we can do? Or was it the easiest thing for the Mayor to sell?

Update: You can still contribute to  Deb Cotton's medical fund here. I understand the need there is significant.  This week you can also contribute by bidding on a piece of folk art. See here for details.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Another one

Just yesterday as the Williams Chemical plant in Geismar was burning, I couldn't help but be a little surprised that this sort of thing doesn't happen more often.  The natural beauty of the South Louisiana tends to be what dominates our mental image of the place but, in truth, it is built over with petrochemical infrastructure. There are over a hundred facilities like the one that exploded in Geismar.  Stuff like this could be happening all the time.  But it doesn't.  Except when it does.

An explosion occurred at a fertilizer plant in Ascension Parish Friday evening, sending multiple people to the hospital. One person died in the blast, reports say.

The incident occurred the day after another explosion at the Williams Olefins chemical plant in Geismar injured 77 people and killed two.

This will be the most complicated Krewe D'Etat float next year

I'm thinking some kind of Brennan Family tree thing.  It would involve too many word bubbles.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Past is not even past

Here's Richard Campanella's follow-up article to that Tulane gentrification panel I mentioned yesterday.  With apologies for the length of the cut and paste, here are two paragraphs that give you an idea of what he's on about.
Looking to the past helps address this question. New Orleans two centuries ago underwent a transformation so draconian that today's changes practically evaporate in comparison. Starting a few years after the Louisiana Purchase, migrants from the Northeast and Upper South poured in by the thousands. On their heels came immigrants from Ireland, greater Germany, France, Haiti and dozens of other nations, who arrived in numbers larger than any other Southern city and oftentimes second only to New York. By 1850, more than two out of every four New Orleanians had been born outside the United States, and nearly three out of every four had been born outside New Orleans.


As the city's population doubled roughly every 15 years, its culture roiled and diversified tumultuously. The city's primary language shifted from French to English, and its dominant race went from black to white. Its Spanish-influenced Roman civil code became mixed with English common law. Its chief religion increasingly shared the spiritual stage with other sects and creeds. Its West Indian-style architecture became Americanized with center hallways and Classical fa├žades introduced from Europe via the Northeast. Its night scene adopted the "concert saloon," a variation of the English music hall imported from New York that would later evolve into vaudeville venues and burlesque nightclubs. Its festivity, in the form of Mardi Gras, transformed from decentralized street mayhem, to organized krewes with scheduled parades. Its view of race veered away from the old Caribbean model that included an intermediary caste of free people of color, in favor of the American "one drop" rule. Even Louisiana's surveying system changed, from French long-lots measured in arpents to American rectangular sections measured in acres.
There's a lot more to this so go read the rest. It's very good. I would reiterate my point from yesterday, though, that just because we can demonstrate that "Progress" does not "destroy culture" this does not mean that there are substantive conflicts taking place.  Campanella more or less says as much in this article but it's not his main point.

If I had to compare the current state of anxiety to a chapter in the city's history, though, I don't think I'd go back as far as the Louisiana Purchase. Instead, New Orleans today looks very much the way it did during the late 70s just prior to the oil bust. Then, like now, the boom time New Orleans was attracting lots of young families and new money. And then, like now, pains of economic inequality were leaving poorer residents isolated. Here is a series of films by Andrew Kolker and Louis Alvarez from that time collectively titled "Being Poor In New Orleans". The themes are gentrification, crime, public housing. You could basically just re-make these today and hear the same perspectives from the same sorts of people.

On the other hand, Campanella notes one further historical episode which might have some relevance today. 
Acrimony mounted, getting so bad by the 1830s that New Orleans underwent a sort of metropolitan divorce, trifurcating into rival municipalities delineated largely along lines of ethnicity and nativity. Talk about heavy-handed conflict resolution: Imagine New Orleans today breaking into three cities, with downtown transplants pitted against Uptown bluebloods and Gentilly Creoles, each with its own council, laws and police! 
As we've noted previously, the city is well on its way toward establishing several independent neighborhood police forces. But now it seems the newcomers are forcing yet another civic divorce... on Twitter. 

It began innocently enough with a thing that happens practically every day. One (relatively) new to New Orleans personality decided to create a new Twitter account.
The Twitter account @sweden, in operation since December of 2011, is one of those beloved online curiosities that is a product of the social media age. Overseen by a pair of government agencies that handle tourism and the promotion of Swedish culture, the account is given over to a different citizen of Sweden every seven days - the goal being to display the diversity and character of the country through individual voices, 140 characters at a time. Under the cheery slogan “A new Swede every week,” the account now has more than 66,000 followers.

In the spring of 2013, it occurred to a former Loyola student and tech-industry professional, who tweets prolifically under the handle @ChampSuperstar, that the quirky formula might also be an effective way to showcase the singular and variegated essence of New Orleans to the world. 

Most Americans who even care in the first place first became aware of the @Sweden account last year when one of its curators appeared to wonder out loud if the Nazis had the right idea when it came to identifying nearby Jewish persons. But nevermind that. For the most part, people seem to like @Sweden. So why not bring the concept to New Orleans? What could possibly go wrong that would be worse than Nazis?

Well, if you answered a whole bunch of parody Twitter accounts, you obviously already know how this goes. 
The account @BeingNOLA went live on June 1, with Chris Boyd, a Baton Rouge native and founder of the Apptitude app-development studio, in the pilot’s seat. Currently tweeting as @BeingNOLA is schoolteacher and Uptown resident Bobby Hadzor, who’ll hold the spot until June 16; the account, as of Tuesday, June 11, had about 600 followers as well as several parody accounts - including @BeingMetairie, @BeingKenner, @BeingBywater and @BeingLakeview, so far - that started up (perhaps predictably) in its wake.
And, of course, since then, the situation has deteriorated as more and more Being____ accounts have come into.. um.. being. A partial list of these has been compiled by yet another Twitter user who (perhaps fittingly) goes by the handle @Blathering. There are more than just those by now, though. Expect the city's Twit-space to continue multi-furcating for the rest of the week after which most of the joke accounts are likely to go dormant and a new paradigm will have been established.

Signs of the times

Or any other kind of sign now banned from the US Supreme Court grounds.

More booze in the news

This time in the form of a cruise.  Or.. what used to be a commute.

A bill sitting on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk proposes that the Regional Transit Authority take over some ferry service. But, this being New Orleans, a citizen’s group has come up with an alternate strategy just in case: Turn the ferry into a party boat and let the service pay for itself by offering music, ad space, a clothing store, good food and specialty cocktails.

“One of the great things about New Orleans is our ability to turn anything functional into a fun time,” said Grant Morris, the ItsNewOrleans.com radio host who came up with the “Buy the Algiers Ferry” scheme. “There’s no reason why the ferry can’t be turned into a self-sustaining project. Besides, who wouldn’t want to have a cocktail?” he added.
Not to worry. There is exactly zero chance that they'll raise the funds to "Save The Ferry" by turning it into yet another extension of our adult Disneyland concept.  But the proposal tells us some not so surprising things about the way our "entrepreneurial creatives" think about stuff.  One theory might suggest this is a sign of "super-intelligence"  although I rather doubt it.  For the rest I defer to Jules Bentley's comments below the article here.


Must be a special kind of burning

This is a neat trick.

At least twenty-five people sustained unspecified injuries, said Paige Hargrove, executive director of the Louisiana Emergency Response Network.

There are no confirmed fatalities and no official count on the injured, said Jared Sadifer, a state police spokesman. A two-mile radius has been set up around the area but there is no residential impact, Sadifer said. A chemical is being burned off, but there is no immediate threat to the public and it is not being released into the air, he said.

Serpas Signal

They're getting all ticksy again with these.  Here is the full text of the NOPD press release sent out late last night.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
06/12/2013
Sobriety Checkpoint

New Orleans, LA - As required by the Louisiana Supreme Court, the New Orleans Police Department is issuing a public advisory regarding a sobriety checkpoint that will be conducted tomorrow night. 
The New Orleans Police Department’s Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint in the Orleans Parish area beginning at approximately 7:00 P.M., and will conclude at approximately 5:00 A.M.  Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have the proper documentation available if requested, i.e., proof of insurance, driver’s license, etc. 
Superintendent of Police Ronal Serpas said, “I would like to remind all drivers to always drink responsibly and use a designated driver.”


The note is dated June 12, but the majority of email recipients will have first encountered this message sometime this morning. So the phrase "will be conducted tomorrow night" without reference to a specific date in the text is unnecessarily vague.   Also I notice they're starting at 7:00 pm instead of 9:00 pm for the first time ever.  Unless that's a typo which is quite possible.

Anyway drive carefully.

Update: 7:00 pm tonight obviously not early enough. 

Frank "Connor" Snellings, 21, the son of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was arrested Thursday morning on charges of driving while intoxicated, hit-and-run driving, and driving the wrong way on a one-way street in the French Quarter, according to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Whose progress?

Thursday evening Tulane hosted yet another panel discussion on the pile of quality of life issues we're roughly thinking about as "gentrification" although that term is hardly adequate. Nor is the title of the discussion. The organizers, unfortunately, chose to go with the provocative but misdirecting, “Does Progress Destroy Culture?”  as though we should conceive of those as opposing monolithic forces.  

Both the terms Culture and Progress are too vague anyway.  Even within the narrow sense of "The Unique Culture of New Orleans" there are multifarious experiences that can define it differently.  Is New Orleans Culture boehmian? formal? libertine? conservative? black? white? rich? poor? European? American? African? Asian? The flip answer here is, "Yes." But, more precisely, the answer is whatever is convenient to the conversation or relevant to the speaker.   Similarly, Progress can mean whatever change any specific group or individual perceives as beneficial. And more often than not, the change that benefits one party does so at the expense of others. 

The problem with asking "Does Progress Destroy Culture?" is the suggestion that Culture even exists apart from change is nonsense. Not to get too philosophical here but life is basically change. We can define ourselves at any given point only as either the sum of the things that have happened to us or the things we expect will happen soon. At least, I'm pretty confident that's how we understand our urban environment. Take a drive around New Orleans and try describing your favorite neighborhoods and landmarks. All of the meaning will be wrapped up in what each place once was, who used to live there, who is moving in now, and what they will make of it. What we think of as culture is simply a human measurement of perpetual change. Progress is just a subjective description of the process.

But there's obviously a significant interest in talking about the current state of flux in New Orleans. Several versions of that Tulane panel have been popping up around town for well over a year now.  But I don't think anyone has asked quite the right question yet. Instead of asking whether things are changing for the better in general, we should be asking who is benefiting the most and at whose expense.

Right now if you hold an ownership stake in  in tourism or real estate development or, ideally, both, you're probably impressed with all the recent "progress" being made. On the other hand, if you're disassociated from those concerns and the cost of your rent and utilities is going up while your favorite neighborhood bar or music venue becomes more trendy (expensive) or is shut down altogether, you might start to feel like your "culture" is under attack.

In other words, the actual problem we're facing is one of increasing economic inequality even within the larger context of a "booming" local economy. Too often, though, the resulting conversation gets bogged down in unanswerable questions about what sort of person is somehow more "New Orleans" than another and we never get back around to addressing the relevant ones.

Suddenly

It's only June. But already Mark Ingram, who Sean Payton recently complemented as looking very "sudden" at Saints practices is ruining everyone's hopes and dreams for the upcoming season.
Brutal news for New Orleans Saints linebacker Victor Butler as he tore his ACL during Tuesday's organized team activities practice, according to a source. Butler was a key free-agent signing during the offseason and figured to be a player to help the Saints' lackluster pass rush.

The source also said Butler will likely end up on injured reserve. This was the last week of OTAs for the Saints, and Wednesday's practice session was canceled as the many Saints players said via Twitter that the team was going on a field trip.

Running back Mark Ingram took a swing pass during a team drill during Tuesday's practice and collided with Butler near the sideline. Ingram ran free, but Butler remained on the turf for a couple of minutes.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The smug sigh

Matt Bors on the way stories like this week's NSA spying revelations are all too often brushed off.
There’s a line I’ve seen trotted a few times now that goes, “Ah, we knew all this was happening, you idiots!” We didn’t know. If you knew about PRISM you should have scooped The Guardian and made a name for yourself. The fact is, this story is mammoth and is bringing an incredible amount of attention to a program that’s been operating in total secrecy for a decade. But, yes, you’re smart and get a pat on the head for not being a “sheeple.”
Meanwhile, in a lot of cases, we're doing a fine job of spying on ourselves anyway.  But, remember, that's just part of internet companies like Google's business model. As Julian Assange pointed out last week, they're actively seeking to become a partner in US "anti-terrorism" operations. Eventually we'll just replace NSA's 20,000 plus government employees with a contract to Google and thereby successfully privatize Big Brother too.

Update: Here David Simon provides us with a platonic ideal of the kind of smug rationalization Bors is talking about.

Frankly, I’m a bit amazed that the NSA and FBI have their shit together enough to be consistently doing what they should be doing with the vast big-data stream of electronic communication.  For us, now — years into this war-footing and this legal dynamic — to loudly proclaim our indignation at the maintenance of an essential and comprehensive investigative database while at the same time insisting on a proactive response to the inevitable attempts at terrorism is as childish as it is obtuse.  We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing.  Of course we do.

Not sure who he thinks "we" are in this description.  Politics involves some people asking for certain polices while others ask for different policies. You don't get to combine the disparate results of separate discussions and declare that they represent the collective will of the people.  Nor do you get to shame those who dissent though they are outmaneuvered by the process for being inconsistent.  According to Simon, you cannot simultaneously wish not to be exploded by terrorists while also disagreeing with your government's method for preventing that from happening. And you wouldn't be so worked up about it if only you were as smart as he is. 

In Alabama, they know how to buck a damn trend

Here's a CNN report on how the state of Alabama is channeling BP restoration funds into the construction of a beachfront convention center.



As we've noted previously, Alabama is particularly good at this.

Consumer advocates

How does one become credentialed as such a thing?
As it stands, Senate Bill 47 would reduce the number of seats on the board from 13 to 11. That would involve eliminating three appointments made by City Council members and adding a new mayoral appointment. At least two of those appointments would have to be consumer advocates and the mayoral appointments must include at least one person from each council district.

Those appointments would be made from a list of nominees developed by a council of presidents of New Orleans higher education institutions and other groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Urban League.

Also, University Presidents, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Urban League get to run the water board because why, exactly? I don't remember voting in any recent Chamber of Commerce election. 

Two One sport star

Congratulations to Mark Ingram on the most significant achievement of his career as a Saint thus far.