Archive for August, 2006

Days of Wine & Trees

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

I read a lot of Wednesday’s New York Times early this morning when I couldn’t sleep and stumbled upon a story in a way that you don’t stumble about a story when you read everything via RSS feeds and most-emailed stories. The story was found in the dining section, buried beneath an excellent riff on the comeback of pigs in a blanket (note to anyone at my wedding: see, those little croissant-wrapped dogs were at the bleeding edge of cuisine) and it was about the life of a guy I had never heard of, Leonard Paul Evans, an Aussie wine promoter. Frank J. Prial unfurls a brief history of this man’s life in a way that maybe makes you want to drink wine, but definitely invites you to drink life. Everyone has a story indeed. Leonard Paul Evans’ made my morning:

To hear it, Len’s recounting of his Theory of Capacity was a comedic masterpiece. (He estimated in 1976 that he probably had only 8,000 bottles left to him — along with about 2,500 “succulent steaks.” What’s more, he said ruefully, “I might make love only another 5,000 times.”)

Which reminds me that I’d like to start a column on SMITH called “Black and White and Dead All Over” (or some such title), where readers send in links to interesting obits.

Also receiving votes today is a wonderful riff from SMITH guest blogger and 52 Projects guru Jeff Yamaguchi on the death of a tree. The tree was Jeff’s fixture, and fixtures, he writes, are important:

There are the fixtures in our life, and they help connect the dots of who we are, help us remember, show us how to forget, get us to bend over and pick up the pieces, help us close our eyes at night and finally, finally, at last, fall asleep.

But I’ll let him tell the story in words and images .

Getting the Signal

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

37signals is a smart Web site. And by that, of course, I mean that the people behind it are smart and have valuable things to share. In their own words, 37signals is “a privately-held Chicago-based company committed to building the best web-based software products possible with the least number of features necessary.” (The online apps, by the way, are great. And no, we’re not affiliated with them in any way.)

The site (again, the gang behind it) also publishes Signal vs. Noise, which just blogged a SMITH-relevant item about the importance of the question in eliciting the compelling response. Pointing first to this article in the American Journalism Review, the 37signals piece summarizes the advice nicely:

“Bland personalities get spicier information … Don’t hog the mic … Try to learn, not validate your own opinion … etc.”

The post also has lots of great links to advice about interviewing techniques designed to make people not just willing but eager to tell their stories.

It’s a must read for the SMITH crowd.

Strange Puppets in Hidden Rooms

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

So here’s one that should spark a sense of dark, magical wonder in even the most blunted and benumbed heart.

The great arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza near Prospect Park is hollow, and inside its ponderous bulk resides the New York Puppet Lending Library. Seems a Boston-based organization called the Puppeteers’ Cooperative struck a deal with New York Parks officials in 2004 to use the space to store and lend its puppet-craft in exchange for a series of free performances at festivals and other events around town.

You can borrow a puppet on Saturdays, noon to 4pm. I just called the phone number listed on the Web site and reached a very sweet-sounding woman named Teresa at home. She confirmed the group’s existence and hours of operation. The coop also has a “stacks” in Red Hook. The libraries in Boston and New York are stocked with “parade puppets and banners, twenty-foot tall Big City and Mother Earth puppets, twelve-foot dancing cats, enormous flowers, puppet horses for children to ride, and a wide variety of dragons. All these elements are loaned out to enliven school and community events, neighborhood parades, celebrations, and demonstrations.” (more…)


Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Just got an email from one of my fellow guest-bloggers at Huffington Post’s Eat the Press this week about a new documentary having its New York city premiere tonight. Called Blogumentary, it’s a look at “the many ways blogs are influencing our media, our politics, and our relationships,” and it features interviews with people like Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s former campaign manager, and Jeff Jarvis. I won’t be able to make the showing, but if anyone’s interested, it’s at the Pioneer Theater at 9 p.m. More details at the film’s website. (If you go, let me know how it is.)

Katrina …. Deja Blog, Deja Obama

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

A new way of telling the Katrina anniversary story comes via Dr. Michael Hébert, a pediatric physician who’s launched The Katrina Blog Project. The doc’s conceit is to recount his actions from one year ago starting from August 26, 2005, and how that jibes with what he’s doing and thinking on that day one year later, creating something like an online Katrina re-enactment.

And now a message from Barack Obama, via MoveOn, who wants you to know that if you donate $20 to help Katrina relief efforts, you get the book It Takes a Nation is the story of Hurricane Housing, in which the senator’s forward is found:

It Takes a Nation is the story of Hurricane Housing, and I was honored to write the forward. This collection shows everyday heroes at work and reminds us that the strength of our nation is not our government, but our fellow Americans. It Takes a Nation is a story of hope.

Follow the link above to donate + get the book.

A picture says 1000 words

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

When Piper Hanson traveled to New Orleans last July for an internship, her job was simple — well, sort of: meet with the residents of St. Bernard Parish, one of the hardest hit areas following Hurricane Katrina, and organize a photo exhibit using pictures taken by some of the survivors.

The result: “Life in the Wake of Katrina.”

You can check out some of the pictures and the very personal stories of the photographers here.

Whistleblowing, Now on YouTube

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

The Washington Post today reports on the story of a 41-year-old engineer with Lockheed Martin disturbed by what he saw as serious flaws in a project he was working on for the Coast Guard. The engineer, Michael De Kort, tried and failed to get the attention of supervisors, congressmen and investigators — so he went to YouTube.

“My thought was, ‘What could I do that would be novel enough that it draws attention to itself, and through drawing attention to itself, something gets done?’ ” De Kort said in an interview from his home in Colorado. He is unemployed after being laid off by Lockheed Martin days after he posted the video. Lockheed said that the video did not influence the decision to lay off De Kort and that he had had been notified earlier this year that he would be out of a job.

De Kort’s video has been covered by defense trade magazines, and yesterday, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, wrote a letter to the Coast Guard asking for an answer to De Kort’s “extremely distressing” allegations.

Raw Story has the video.

Citizens K, Citizen Cree, Katrina Katrina Katrina

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Katrina, Katrina, Katrina, Katrina, Katrina, Katrina, Katrina, Katrina, Katrina.

You’re not getting away from it today, and if you’re like me you don’t want to. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast, as well as its reverb into the likes of Houston and Atlanta, has been covered well over the past year by the media. That’s a huge generalization, sure, but the story was one that the press felt compelled to stay with throughout the year, much as it has with 9/11. The reason, I think, is because it’s a story about personal stories—everyone who felt that storm’s touch has a story to tell.

Our contribution to today’s coverage, Citizens K: The 10 Best Blogs by, from and About New Orleans—One Year After Katrina, is up now, lovingly researched and written by our gal in the Gulf, Cree McCree (more on her in a minute).

Because of our limited resources and also because of our mission, SMITH can’t cover Katrina like The New Yorker, in which Dan Baum’s coverage began almost instantly and has been bold and surprising; NPR, where Farai Chideya’s radio reports have been so good; a certain daily newspaper; or Slate. (One of Slate’s editors, Josh Levin, grew up in New Orleans and has been doing periodic dispatches from trips home. I saved his first one, from August 31, 2005, which included this memorable line: “A little more than 48 hours after Katrina strafed the city, I’m starting to mourn a place that’s not quite dead but seems too stricken to go on living.”) (more…)

The 10 Best Blogs By, From and About New Orleans

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Citizens K: The 10 Best Blogs By, From and About New Orleans—One Year After Katrina
By Cree McCree

Cree McCree writes SMITH’s Going Home to New Orleans column for SMITH, a chronicle of her return to her life after the flood. McCree left New York for NOLA in August 2001, escaped the city during the flood, and has returned to pick up her life as a flea market entrepreneur, costumier, and assemblage artist. She is a former editor of Yahoo Internet Life, a contributing editor at High Times and a frequent contributor to

Pre-Katrina New Orleans wouldn’t exactly be confused with Silicon Alley in the technology department. Sure, almost everyone had an email address, but having one’s own inbox was another story; hotmail bouncebacks were routine.

Katrina AftermathThe post-K diaspora changed everything. Evacuees who’d never typed a URL into a browser spent hours jockeying on borrowed computers, trying to find missing friends and news they could actually trust. The neighborhood message boards at became essential reading, and the handful of local bloggers that existed before the storm swelled into a small army. Forged during the initial crisis, the New Orleans blog community – now more than 100 strong – has grown deep virtual roots during the subsequent recovery (or lack thereof).

New Orleans bloggers don’t just sweat over a hot hard drive, mind you. They whip up Creole specialties to share at Geek Dinners, downed with plenty of good wine from sponsoring vineyard Stormhoek. They even created their own anniversary event to commemorate Katrina: The Rising Tide Conference. Held at the local Yacht Club (a.k.a. Yat Club), with destruction still visible outside the windows, the three-day confab was designed to provide “a ‘real life’ demonstration of internet activism” with activities ranging from heated panel discussions to gutting the house of an elderly resident to downing shots off a water ski.

The community includes celebs like comedian Harry Shearer and author Poppy Z. Brite, who shared her trepidations about covering Katrina redux for the Boston Globe: “It’s flattering, but also intimidating as hell. Presenting our case to strangers in our neighbor to the north, America.” New Orleans also has some rising stars. Graphic artist Greg Peters, whose Suspect Device is published locally in Gambit Weekly, has found a big net audience for his wicked funny series on “what Louisianans now know.” And 11-year-old Kalypso Homan has legions of fans at YouTube, where more than five thousand people have viewed “Kalypso’s New Orleans“, her 12-minute video diary of destruction and rebirth. Kids are also the stars of the show at the crafty Katrina Kids Art Project gallery, not to be confused with the photo-driven and absolutely incredible New Orleans Kid Camera Project.

Katrina AftermathWhat began as a search for the Best Katrina Blogs produced some worthy candidates — most notably Pico’s Coming Home: Katrina Blog Project w/ Pics, a riveting photo journal ripped straight from the pages of his 2005 diary. But as I dug deeper into the local blogosphere, the project morphed beyond Katrina commemoration to the best post-K blogs tracking day-to-day life in New Orleans.

My criteria? Rising Tide’s own stated goals, ones which are part and parcel with the mission of SMITH: Blogs that “dispel myths, promote facts, share personal testimonies, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels.” Those mentioned above are all down with the program. But the following Top 10—listed in alphabetical order—crest above the Rising Tide.

The 10 Best Blogs on Day-to-Day Life in the Big Easy
b.rox Life in the Flood Zone
“I’ve lost all sense of what’s normal.” Mid-City resident Bart Everson gives good quote, and his story has been tracked by reporters from the Times-Picayune to the Village Voice. But he and his wife, Christy Paxson (a.k.a. Xy), earned their status as poster children for the recovery. Their slide show “One Couple’s New Orleans: Scenes from a year of mucking out and staying put” is required viewing. And Bart’s take on the “Psychic Vortex” of the one-year mark is dead on: “This ramp-up to the anniversary of Katrina’s landfall is brutal. It’s not bothering me so much personally, but the city as a whole is on edge. There’s some mighty negative energy going around.”
Jon Donley is a true Katrina hero. As the founding editor of, he threw a lifeline to tens of thousands of evacuees, who logged on multiple times a day to find out what was really happening. He remains a powerful voice for the “citizen journalists” he calls “the conscience of the rebuilding effort,” and takes a clear-eyed view of the murky recovery: “As a journalist, the pressure is on to provide THE DEFINITIVE Katrina retrospective. And yet there is not really anything “retro” about our perspective; Katrina is still very much a real ordeal, without a real plan or solution on the table, and with no guarantee that we will recover.”
First Draft — Scout Prime’s posts
“Writing is only real on the first draft,” believe the bloggers at First Draft, where Scout Prime posts almost daily. But that doesn’t mean Scout is not a thorough reporter. She’s got the best scoop on the Rising Tide conference, from the panels to the house gutting. And her “Tale of Two Blocks” takes a revealing before-and-now photo and video journey through the white middle class neighborhood of Lakeview, which is still struggling to return amid uncollected debris, demolition notices and “Allstate Sucks” signs. “No matter who you are,” she writes, “there is someone like you hurting down here.”
Metroblogging New Orleans
Over a dozen New Orleanians converge at this community blog to share everything from personal love letters to the City to warnings to “Clean out your #@$%*@ storm drains!” Favorite poster? Craig Giesecke. Here’s his take on would-be spoiler Ernesto: “In looking at the Ernesto data this morning, it occurs to me, for the first time in nearly a year, I’m tired. Whatever happens with this system, we’ll deal with it best we can. I guess, after enduring the tough 2004 season in Florida and then 2005 over here, I’ve become philosophical about it all…but I’m tired. We all are.”
“You might argue that this little bit of YouTubery is callous and insensitive. But I laughed really, really hard. As an official Flooded-Resident-of-New-Orleans, don’t I get some sort of special Right-to-Laugh-in-the-Face-of-Calamity exemption ticket?” You bet you do, buddy! That blubbery guy boogie-ing down in the devastation is a hoot. So is Slimbolala’s deadpan posting style: “In other very exciting news, our house (mostly) has walls. Walls! They’re the type of thing you’d generally expect a house to have, but for a long time, ours hasn’t. Now it does. Walls!”

All hail Richard—a man with a plan! Would that point three could go into effect immediately:
3. Prohibit predictable stories by the press. If I speak to one more reporter who says, ‘Yes, I understand that you’re trying to get back to normal, but don’t you find it depressing down there?,’ I cannot be held responsible for my actions. Under my plan, there will be a residency requirement for all members of the press: no one will be permitted write a word about the city without having lived in Orleans Parish for at least a year.”
There’s N.O. pLAce Like Home
Katrina Aftermath Memo from Gina in N’Awlins re “Ernesto the Pest-o”: “If the steering currents bring Ernesto anywhere close to us, they will issue the mandatory evacuation order this TUESDAY—Owen’s birthday AND the anniversary of Katrina. This totally SUCKS and I am pretty dang PISSED about it!” And with good reason. Check Gina’s 2005 postings “exactly as I made them—typos and all,” when they celebrated her son’s sixth birthday as “evacuees in Baton Rouge—without power.”
Think New Orleans
The blog motherlode. These folks created the super-impressive New Orleans Wiki, a volunteer-maintained collection of articles about New Orleans, and also maintain a massive list of New Orleans bloggers. The site offers free workshops on Web publishing for community groups, and organizes volunteers to teach individuals how to blog.
Toulouse: Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans
Returning ex-pat Mark Folse started blogging about post-K New Orleans in Wet Bank Guy, where he continues to post slice-of-life gems like “Pride of Pothole.” But Odd Bits is where he really lets his freak flag fly. (See: “Middle Aged Men Gone Wild in the French Quarter” at Satchmo Fest). In true geek style, he consults the I Ching on his trusty Palm Pilot, where the Oracle’s latest prediction was rather ominous: “When the eighth month comes/There will be misfortune.” But Folse refuses to be daunted: “Perhaps it will be as simple as Lusher Middle not opening on time for my son, as it appears it will not, One can only hope. It is a city of misfortunes that we live in now, but as the ancient oracle reminds us, perseverance always pays.”
Your Right Hand Thief: Laughing off hard truths in New Orleans
When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee’s Katrina elegy, has been lighting up the blogosphere, where it’s caught flak from right-wing pundits for being “too black.” I’ve read many good rebuttals, but Oyster here summed it up best: “Lee didn’t focus on the damage in Broadmoor (a racially mixed neighborhood), either. As a former resident of that neighborhood, am I outraged? Do I feel left out and ‘discriminated’ against? No, because I could relate to the stories from other neighborhoods, including the Ninth Ward (whose white population Lee overrepresented, if anything). I could even relate to stories if – yikes! – a black New Orleanian was telling it.” His recent take on Mayor Nagin’s interview — “Wait a 60 minute, what did he just say?” — is a pointed ground-floor take on old swashbuckler Nagin’s high-perch perspective.

All the More Reason to Tell the Story

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

I love the stories Bruce Springsteen tells in his songs. I came of age when “Born in the USA” was all the rage, and I didn’t know until years later what that song was about. What seemed to be a patriotic anthem was instead a protest song, a shouting critique of the way Vietnam veterans were treated in this country. The story can be told, but you can easily miss the point, because of youth, or ignorance, because you’re just not paying close enough attention, because you refuse to hear the message. I recently was given The Essential Bruce Springsteen collection, and was listening to disc 2, to hear some of those Born in the USA songs, to go back in time and rock to the music of my youth. I was just hanging out and doing busy work around the apartment when “American Skin (41 Shots)” came on about an hour into the album. That is the song about the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, a horrifying, devastating tragedy that occurred in NYC in 1999, an incident that put the spotlight on the horrors of police brutality and racial profiling. I remember how controversial this song was, and how the controversy came to a head when Springsteen and the E Street Band played it live at sold out shows at Madison Square Garden in 2000. I didn’t miss the point of this Springsteen song — And yet, based on the reactionary response six years ago, many people were missing the point, or taking it the wrong way, or reacting in a way that put up walls. The story can be told, but someone’s always going to miss the point, or take it the wrong way. And that’s all the more reason to tell the story.

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