Friday, August 17, 2007

"It is amusing but at the same time sad" 

That's my bread and butter!

As Hurricane Dean gains strength, The Daytona Beach News Journal reports:

An 8-year-old child scared of hurricanes tried to go back to Ohio where she moved from -- on her bicycle -- DeLand police Deputy Chief Randel Henderson said Thursday.

"It is amusing but at the same time sad," Henderson said.
The little girl stated to police "that she was headed back to Columbus Ohio, because she was afraid of hurricanes and that was her home," the report said.


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Thursday, August 16, 2007

"There's no 'post' here." 

USA TODAY reports on the "mental struggles" faced by Federal Flood and Hurricane victims:

Many Gulf Coast residents still feel the wallop of Hurricane Katrina nearly two years later.

Mental illness is double the pre-storm levels, rising numbers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and there is a surge in adults who say they're thinking of suicide.

A government survey released Wednesday to USA TODAY shows no improvement in mental health from a year ago.

About 14% have symptoms of severe mental illness. An additional 20% have mild to moderate mental illness, says Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School, who led the study.

The big surprise: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which typically goes away in a year for most disaster survivors, has increased: 21% have the symptoms vs. 16% in 2006. Common symptoms include the inability to stop thinking about the hurricane, nightmares and emotional numbness.
Feeling trapped, that you can't move on, causes post-traumatic stress disorder, which may be rising because of barriers that delay rebuilding and freeze people in a limbo of inaction. Memories of Katrina abound in trailers, destroyed neighborhoods and levees that remain unfixed, says Howard Osofsky, chairman of psychiatry at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.

"When you're constantly reminded, that prolongs trauma," he says. "People have been very brave, but it's wearing them down."

A sense that the rest of the country doesn't care anymore also is worsening morale, says Charles Figley, a trauma expert at Florida State University.

"They feel the nation is turning its back on them, forgetting them," Figley says. "The clock on recovery hasn't started for a lot of them. Post-traumatic stress? There's no 'post' here."

While I don't suffer from any serious post-traumatic stress, I do get bunched up when I hear about Gov. Haley Barbour's clan wetting their beaks with recovery funds.

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Recapping the "Cake Off" 

The oyster family recently hosted a cake competition among family and friends, and the results were delicious. Here are some pictures from the event (thanks, C).

This is Lovely and C's cake. I forget what was inside, but it tasted damn good. It won Best Overall.

Lovely's sister made this Louis Vuitton purse cake. It won for best presentation and most creative.

The Deuce of Cakes team created this fine tres leches cake celebrating "Ali's" birthday. Perhaps they were referring to Muhammad.

The Brandon Walsh team's banana surprise cake was my favorite, and won the prize for Best Tasting cake. Those are sparklers on top.

Here's a picture of some of the cakes prior to tasting and judgment:

And here's the aftermath:

We all overindulged, but had a lot of fun, too. Some suggested that we hold future competitions involving foods other than cake. That's fine with me. In my book, a good pie beats a good cake any day of the week. I guess that's why I wasn't one of the judges.

We'll conclude with some pertinent wisdom from George "W", who is still the President:

Recently in Nashville, I met a woman who runs a bun company. She cooks bread.

President Bush should meet my wife Lovely. She cooks a mean cake.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pressing down 

NYT reporter Adam Nossiter put his ghoulish "thumb on the scale" twice in this article, and I'm forced to criticize him. (Unlike many of my fellow Nolabloggers, I've been inexplicably "soft" on Nossiter's past work). Twice, Nossiter chopped up quotes that had qualifiers, and made the bad news about Oliver Thomas and its reflection on New Orleans... even worse.

From Nossitter's NYT article:

“Corruption in New Orleans is endemic,” said Mr. Letten, the federal prosecutor. “I think this simply tells us there is corruption on many levels, large scale and small scale.”

At the 23:50 part of this video, you can see that Letten actually said (my emphs and highlights):
"Corruption in New Orleans has been endemic over the years... but it has not been systemic.... I think this simply tells us that there is corruption large scale and small scale in terms of money on many levels, and it takes many, many forms."
Nossiter wrote the quote slightly inaccurately, and chopped off Letten's "not systemic" qualifier. It's not a huge deal, and I could've let that error pass, but Nossiter also reported the FBI's comments without any qualifiers:

“It’s just brazen down here,” James Bernazzani, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s special agent in charge, said at a news conference after Mr. Thomas entered his plea.

“In Louisiana they skim the cream, steal the milk, hijack the bottle and look for the cow,” said Mr. Bernazzani, who noted that his district ranked second in the nation in public corruption convictions and indictments — despite its relatively small population.

Now, that's obviously a colorful quote that all the media will pick up and want to include. But compare Nossiter's version with the fuller quote that the Times Picayune provided, which added more context:

Federal prosecutors and investigators emphasized that Louisiana does not have a monopoly on public corruption.

"I'm not going to condone machine politics, but in Boston we elected a mayor from prison," said James Bernazzani, the special agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans field office.

"It's not unique to Louisiana. It's just brazen down here. Machine politics in the north will skim the cream. Here in Louisiana, they skim the cream, they steal the milk, hijack the bottles and look for the cow. And it is brazen, the amount of activity down here where people think it's their right as soon as they assume office to steal from the people," he said.

On a very disheartening news day in New Orleans, Nossiter used maximum harshness when he excerpted quotes from Letten and Bernazzani's statements.

Letten also said (32nd min): "I believe New Orleans is one of the greatest cities in the United States and, indeed, the world. I believe that the fact that we are dealing these blows to corruption here is a positive, not a negative, message.... I believe the message going out to the world today is that we are still standing guard over the rights of the citizens to free and fair government, to a real free market economy that doesn't slant the playing field, and I think this should be a positive message to those who are thinking about moving here, that New Orleans is a good place to do business, that we are cleaning up and we're not going to look the other way."

That message didn't get out.

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I scream at Tropical Storm Dean.

Fun fact! I blogged about Tropical Storm Katrina on Wednesday August 24, 2005, because I wanted to make a pop culture reference that would impress the "clique of [blogging] salonistes" in New Orleans.

That post was, like, sooo funny at the time.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007



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Don't steal anything under $50,000 

I think T-P columnist Stephanie Grace describes a revealing dynamic in the current corruption story involving former City Councilman Oliver Thomas. She writes:

There weren't too many dry eyes in the courtroom Monday, when veteran City Councilman Oliver Thomas, arguably the city's most beloved politician and the early front-runner to be its next mayor, admitted he sold his influence for less than $20,000 cash.
Thomas's conviction was unexpected fruit of a sprawling federal investigation into City Hall wrongdoing among associates of former Mayor Marc Morial.

Restaurateur and Morial insider Stan "Pampy" Barré first turned the feds on to Thomas.
The fact that Barré was a leader in Morial's LIFE organization and Thomas a major player in the rival BOLD group provides a particularly revealing window into a political culture in which such behavior is commonplace, and historically without repurcussions.

Yesterday at Moldy City I commented that "[As] LIFE members like Pampy turn on BOLD members like OT, there will be increased tit for tat as the federal investigation expands.... [It seems] likely that more revelations will expose members of the 'old guard', and will remind us of how utterly corrupt things were under Morial, rather than expose Nagin's current shenanigans."

This dynamic may help Nagin politically in the short term, as more Morial-era corruption is exposed. Nagin can easily portray himself (once again) as separate from the old regime; as a reformer who is unaffiliated with the old "alphabet soup groups" LIFE, BOLD, SOUL... who, now fatally weakened, are lashing out in their death throes. (In 2002, Chris Tidmore wrote a useful explanation about the history of these unpredictable rival organizations.)

To his credit, Nagin helped accelerate this federal probe into City Hall corruption when he complained about a lousy, overpriced $65 million energy contract Morial signed at the end of his administration which rewarded Morial cronies like Pampy Barre (who co-owned the N.O. Brass Hockey team with Nagin). Still, I think Nagin should be wary. There are far too many unknowns right now. There's no guarantee that this will remain some localized feud between members of BOLD and LIFE, each fingering one another about deals made during the Morial days. When the feds turn up the pressure, unexpected things can be revealed. Even if Nagin scores much lower on the "corruption scale" than Morial, the Feds say they have a "zero tolerance" policy on public corruption. Is Nagin a perfect "zero" in that respect? Are his city contracts odor-free? No, assuredly not.

Stephanie Grace also asks "[Why] would a politician with a future as bright as Thomas's risk throwing it all away for the cost of an economy car?" Her query reminded me of an article in a Hugh Hefner periodical that basically declared that one should never steal anything under $50k from the workplace. The point was that it's not worth pocketing even a pen or a red stapler, because if someone catches you, they'll still think you're a thief. And a petty one, at that. The article advised being ultra-responsible and beyond reproach about all the "small things". And if you're gonna risk your career and reputation to steal something, make sure it's something big.

For some reason, even though I wouldn't steal something over $50k either, that advice has kept me from pocketing a number of ink pens over the years.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Budget Safari by Denial river 

The oyster family was feeling a bit down in recent weeks, as it became clear that our summer schedule didn't allow time for a safari trip in Africa. Today, though, we learned from the Weather Channel that the heat index reached a record-setting 135 degrees in Destrehan, which is a short drive up the river from New Orleans. In case you didn't know, 135 degrees is officially "Africa hot" (if you'll pardon the scientific jargon).

Then I had an idea. I told the wife and kids to get dressed and jump in the car, because we were going to have a "budget safari" in the savannas of Destrehan!!

As the girls got their hats and gear, I quickly packed a cooler full of orange cold drinks. This impromptu vacation idea excited everyone: we could hardly imagine what sorts of "battles" we might witness amongst the heat-crazed beasts at the shrinking watering holes around Destrehan.

So we loaded everything into the family truckster, and began our impromptu vacation.

Then disaster struck. Just as we were halfway there, the car radio informed us of an important weather update and clarification. Apparently, the Destrehan temperature gauges had been affected by some recent comet dust in the atmosphere, and they were off by .3 degrees! That meant the heat index was no longer 135 degrees in Destrehan. It was really around 134.7 degrees instead-- and, clearly, that does not qualify as "Africa hot"! And what's the point of an impromptu safari if it isn't truly "Africa hot"? How could we properly enjoy our cold drinks?

To add insult to injury, my daughter Pearlgirl noted that the temperature recalculation meant that today was no longer a "heat index record" in Destrehan. She said that the record was set in 1934 when Huey Long was blowing an unprecedented amount of hot air into the atmosphere. That year, the Destrehan heat index reached 134.9-- almost, but not quite, "Africa hot". So, now we were all totally disappointed, and decided to turn around and drive back home. The whole thing was a farce, and I started doubting the "comet dust" story and imagining that there was a scientific hoax afoot, aimed at depriving our family of a safari experience that would "feel" authentic.

Aw well, maybe next summer.

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Boasso gets "bold" 

A friend pointed me to the Sunday edition of the Washington Post, where Chris Cillizza is intrigued by Walter Boasso's "bold" campaign strategy of linking Bobby Jindal to Bush to the Iraq War.

How bad has it gotten for President Bush? Look to Louisiana for the answer.

State Sen. Walter Boasso (D) has begun running an ad that paints Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) as a carbon copy of Bush as he vies with the congressman for the state's open governor's seat.

"Some things just go together," Boasso says. "Like red beans and rice. Gumbo and Tabasco. And, unfortunately for Louisiana, George W. Bush and Bobby Jindal." (A cardboard cutout is shown depicting the two men sitting together at a diner.)

The ad goes on to note that Jindal has voted with Bush on Iraq 100 percent of the time, while Boasso favors bringing the troops, especially the National Guard, home from Iraq.

Jindal voted with Bush on Iraq 100 percent of the time, while Boasso favors bringing the troops home from Iraq. That, kids, is what you call a "frame"-- especially since Jindal has decided to either avoid or finesse the Iraq War issue.

Much of Boasso's strategy is aimed at unifying Democrats behind him as he attempts to keep Jindal under 50 percent of the vote in the state's Oct. 20 open primary.
Then, if Boasso can force Jindal into a runoff, his anti-Bush strategy could appeal to political independents who by nature are conservatives but are fed up with Bush and the war.

It's an interesting strategy and one that shows just how far the president has fallen in the eyes of voters nationally.

I like Boasso's campaign strategy. For months I've indicated that it makes sense to redefine Jindal through Bush and Iraq.

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Not bad 

This is an article about the House Democrats' visit to New Orleans. It was in the T-P a few days ago, but it has relevant information that I want to highlight.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is scheduled to visit Louisiana and Mississippi over three days next week as part of a bipartisan House delegation to gauge the progress of the recovery as the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches.

The 15-member group plans to tour levees and a public school in New Orleans, as well as visit the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish, before heading to Mississippi, where they will hold a town hall meeting on insurance reform and meet a family living in a FEMA trailer with formaldehyde contamination.

Shortly after the lawmakers arrive Sunday they are scheduled to take part in a policy presentation at the Monteleone Hotel in downtown New Orleans with local and state officials.

It was unclear whether President Bush, who visited the region to mark the first anniversary of the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, will return to mark the two-year anniversary on Aug. 29. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Democratic leaders in Congress have made hurricane recovery a marquee issue in the 110th Congress. Democratic presidential candidates also have highlighted the slow pace of recovery to remind voters of the failures of the Bush administration in preparing for and responding to the crisis.

"We took our work from that trip (last year) and applied it immediately, and in six short months of a new majority we delivered on our promises," Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the House majority whip said in a written statement. "Next week we must assess the progress in the Gulf Coast region, and establish a partnership for the future."

House Democrats boast having passed 13 bills related to Hurricane Katrina and Rita recovery including tax incentives for rebuilding, levee repairs, forgiveness of community disaster loans, rental assistance for low-income people, grants to attract teachers, money to rebuild the fisheries and a waiver so Louisiana doesn't have to pay 10 percent of the rebuilding costs.

"Six short months"? "Short" for whom? Let's compare the results with the Democrats' promises made after last year's visit:

Bills to help Katrina-stricken Gulf Coast residents by streamlining the insurance-claims process, making more affordable housing available, restoring coastal wetlands and giving states a bigger share of royalties on oil and gas produced off their coastlines will be among the first measures to be proposed if the Democrats take control of Congress in the November elections, members of that party's House caucus said Wednesday in New Orleans.

"Within the first 100 hours of the new Congress, you will see those things introduced," Caucus Chairman James Clyburn of South Carolina said at a news conference.

Again: not bad. I didn't see a bill for expanded oil and gas royalties introduced or passed. But, all in all, this has been a good start, and the Dems are not afraid to return again and again to what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls "hallowed ground".


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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Batt means bwah ha ha 

As Clay points out in a comment in the previous post, for former City Councilman Jay Batt to call out David Vitter on prostitution and talk about the need for New Orleans to "cleanse" its political culture... is really freaking rich.

I guess Batt's fundraising for John McCain has slowed from its earlier manic pace, and he can take time out now for the "business" of TV punditry.

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