Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Gumbo: New Orleans Bloggers

Though not has humid as the past three days, the gentle breeze swirling through Bayou St. John today barely cuts through the warm damp feeling of the city. Having spent the past year in dry cold climates, I've forgotten what a real summer feels like, but mostly what this kind of heat and humidity does to you. I've been exhausted. I'm a rather slow moving Southern girl anyway, but the glacial speed in which I speak and move these days is almost . . . relaxing.

Yesterday, I woke a tad hungover and decided a nice long run was in order. I found a gym nearby that has a one month membership for out of towners. Inside the gym was only slightly cooler than outside. I wasn't 15 minutes into my run before my shirt was drenched and I was out of breath. I kept going but by the end of only 3 miles, I called it quits. Maybe just some weights and lunges. Nope. One set of biceps curls and 25 lunges made me want to crawl up in the corner and take a nap. The mysterious lack of cold water in the shower didn't help.

My failed attempt to complete a full workout led me to my other option. A beer and a bowl of Gumbo. I immediately perked up when I stumbled upon an old style 7 piece brass band standing in middle of Chartres St and St. Anne. I sat on my cruiser and listened and danced. The dripping sweat down my cheeks didn't bother me nearly as much this time. It was 330pm before I realized I hadn't eaten yet, was still hungover, and growing more exhausted by the second. Gumbo. Beer.

Not wanting to stray too far from hearing live music I wandered into a restaurant that had a big boiled crawfish sign outside. Not too touristy for a French Quarter place, but the Gumbo wasn't that great and the crab shells kept jabbing my tongue. Sleep was sneaking up on me fast. I barely made it the 2 miles up Esplanade Ave. to my apartment before crashing. The heat, the humidity, the too many Maker's Marks the night before, my throbbing left hand from crashing on my cruiser after leaving Pal's Lounge on the notoriously unrepaired roads, and the unstoppable sweating finally caught up with me.

Inside the tiny studio in the back of a multi-unit shotgun was almost hotter than the courtyard. I wish I could string up a hammock and sleep outside instead. Yesterday was pretty much a bust, but the brass band and the various sounds blasting out of all the little places on Chartres made the complete exhaustion and sleep arriving at 8pm worthwhile.

New Orleans Bloggers

Fix the Pumps: After Katrina the Army Corps of Engineer took responsibility for fixing not only the levees but also the sewage pumps that had given out under the stress. One blogger, Matt McBride, has been following this process and keeping up the pressure to make sure this is (1) done and (2) done correctly.

Library Chronicles: One librarian's observations on post-Katrina rebuilding and oil spill clean up. I can't find a profile on the author but each post says 'posted by Jeffery' underneath it. His archives go back to 2003 and when searching through 2005 posts, it seems that he moved to Nashville for a while after the storm. He is clearly a city man. "Last week I was horrified to peer out through the kitchen window and discover a deer.. an actual friggin deer.. merrily loping through the neighborhood as casually as though he were out for a morning stroll. What the hell!"

His posts are short, usually something snarky about someone at the library asking a stupid question. But there are really great links to interesting articles.

New Orleans Slate:
An interesting mix of recent New Orleans culture and emails sent to friends and family in the 2005 and 2006. His writing reminds me of the book Why New Orleans Matters, written by the author of My Cold War and New York transplant when he and his girlfriend moved to New Orleans, Tom, Piazza. Sam, the New Orleans Slate writer, also writes a sister blog called Katrina Refridgerator. It looks to be solely his emails to friends and families and the blog's tagline is "Some smells, like fear, anger, incompetence, death, mold and rotting meat, stay in your nostrils forever."

Mostly Cajun: And for a taste of a Southern Louisiana conservative, Mostly Cajun is written by someone whose name I can't find. Mostly political commentary with a good mix of receipes and what it means to grow up in Southwest Louisiana, which isn't New Orleans, but relevant enough.

Rene Claire

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Story from a Humid New Orleans

On the plane my computer stopped working when it got friendly with a cup of water. My phone died because I didn't plug it in, then somewhere along the way I lost the charger anyway. I arrived to a dark and locked apartment and a land lord that didn't answer her phone for most of the evening. The cab driver conflicted by his southern hospitality and the need to make money that night, waited with me on a dark porch in a neighborhood I've never seen for as long as he could but insisted I would be just fine right where I was. Of course I could always just scream real loud if something bad happened.

Two days lost to travel and a sudden halt to anything but the hot and humid city I saw in front of me, I inhaled New Orleans. The landlord finally arrived after I had the luxury of a glass of wine with a new friend I met in while in peril. The laptop eventually survived the trauma. And I connected with the people from the Gulf Restoration Network. But one question continues to stump me: what am I doing in New Orleans?

Being forced to sit and watch the people walk down Esplanade instead of write a report that is due in two days or that script due tomorrow or even contact the people I'm ultimately here to meet was surprisingly wonderful. That first morning wasn't so humid that I couldn't enjoy the view of exceedingly beautiful homes and pleasant 'good mornings' from strangers while drinking my coffee. Even the quiet breeze and the gentle warm overcast sun made my unexpected solitude seem as though I had planned this disconnection all along.

My morning experience reminded of a Dave Eggers statement in Zeitoun. People in New Orleans never had a lot of money, but they've always had a lot of time. So they visit and in this visiting grew community. I got to know the people sitting near my table well. The night before, however, while I was stuck outside my new apartment, slow growing anxiety began to compound as I might have just been swindled out of $300, stuck in the city with no place to live and an already used one way plane ticket. I eventually ended up drinking wine with my two new friends. Deep in conversation, I realized even if I had been conned, it still wasn't the worst thing I've incountered while on travel.

Both of my new friends lived in new Orleans for years before Katrina. I have begun to understand that the storm comes up in odd moments not unlike the source of a great heart brake. As I laughing shared all the things that had gone wrong that week even before getting on the plane, my friend smiled and said 'yeah, reminds me of trying to get out of the city during Katrina. It took me 13 hours to get to Lafayette. Usually only a 2 hour journey.'

The question of what am I doing here always lingers while I travel. Perhaps a powerless search for purpose or maybe an unquenchable curiosity. Probably a little bit of both. Sharon grew up in New Orleans, lived for short periods outside the city just twice. College and Katrina.

After Katrina she bounced from friend's guest room to friend's guest room all over the country. When asked if she would ever live somewhere else she said no. No hesitation but a small acknowledgment that she would travel to other cities, just not live in another. This is her home. Part of my unquenchable curiosity and powerless search for purpose comes from not, even just once, having that same thought. I've reached a point where people ask 'how long are you going to stay there?' Maybe to get a sense of how long they have to visit or how far along I am in planning my next quest. I don't have one home, but it sounded nice when she said it.

The American flag waves on many front porches as I bike the city. Mostly the same flag, which looks like it was dipped in black and gold for the Saints. A team that resided in Texas post Katrina, whose owner dropped the New Orleans part on merchandise that same year, and lost 13 out of 16 games in the 2005-2006 season but walked into their first game to a standing ovation from the crowd and the opposing team. Banks closed and schools go out early last week when the Saints played and won their first home game since last season's Superbowl. Every bar has a Saints schedule and a plea to watch the game, all the games, there.

Last night I met a man who identified himself as 'the man', as in he is an engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers. I responded with who I was, not the man. He spoke to me about the levees, Amsterdam, the flow of Mississippi River sediment, the need to filter out pesticides upstream, and his quest to build a water softener for his home. He is a lifelong New Orleanian though lived briefly near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco about 15 years ago. We bantered over the art scene in Oakland, tequila drinking and the murder that had taken place in the spot where I was sitting at Pal's Lounge a couple years ago. But mostly we talked about Katrina.

Friday, September 17, 2010

One More Unsafe Siting

I promise to update you on my goings on in New Orleans, including my new big pimpin' yellow cruiser I can now be find riding around Bayou St. John. It's amazing and you will be jealous when you see it. I'm currently on the search for a matching fedora. Because every cruiser riding lady needs a matching fedora.

Here is my latest Momsrising blog post. Turns out the Carson-Gore Academy for Environmental Sciences was built on contaminated land. Yes, you may recognize the names Carson and Gore from Rachel Carson and Al Gore. Cheers from a hot, humid, and spicy New Orleans.

A new school year, a new article on our country’s lack of safe school siting policies. More evidence that a tidal wave of debate over why building schools on top of contaminated land is a bad idea has washed over our country. In fact, that’s exactly what The New York Times article entitled, “Tainted Al Gore School Poster Child For National Toxics Debate”, states. The author, Elena Schor, described the latest in school siting scandals, this one with the just opened Al Gore school in Los Angeles. This school’s contamination is so well known that Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller have both mentioned it and its ironic connection to pioneering environmentalists on their shows.

EPA, mandated by Congress in 2007, to create and release voluntary national guidelines on how to safely site a school without exposing students and staff to a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the summer of 2009. Guess what, folks? It’s the summer of 2010 and there are still no such guidelines in the hands of school board members and parents alike. EPA, who was notoriously on permanent vacation during the Bush years, had a late start. Last summer they enlisted a large and diverse stakeholder group to help them craft these guidelines and we have all been waiting patiently since those recommendations were sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The Carson-Gore Academy of Environmental Sciences, named after lauded environmentalists Rachel Carson and Al Gore, has been built on toxic land. What I find a more important piece of the conversation is that California actually has the toughest school siting regulations and mechanisms in place to prevent such things from happening in the country. The state has been at the forefront of this issue. Just this past weekend, contaminated soil was removed from the school prior to its opening on Monday. But I wonder, with mechanisms in place, why did it take until mere hours before students arrived for their first day of school to remove contaminated soil?

As we know from No Child Left Behind and cross district busing, anything related to school districts is much more complicated than meets the eye. Often times, school boards are gifted cheap land by residents or businesses to build a new school. This gifted land is often cheap for a reason. It’s undesirable. Sometimes, many times, that reason is because of past contamination or proximity to a highway or under power lines. All things that can cause life long health problems for the students and faculty that spend so many hours there.

Sometimes nobody in decision making authority even knows that the land has been contaminated. But more often, decision makers simply do not know what to do or how to remediate or have any power to raise enough money to do so if they did know the answers to these questions. EPA’s guidelines are an important step in providing the right tools to those that are in charge of building our nation’s schools. With the average age of our nation’s schools reaching 50 years old, we need these tools more than ever. But what we need more than voluntary guidelines are laws. We must prevent exposing our children to toxic chemicals just by going to school.

Please urge EPA Administrator Jackson to hurry up, release these guidelines and get them in the hands of those that need them. You can leave her a message on her facebook page or you can call her office and leave this simple message “Administrator Jackson, please release the voluntary national guidelines to safe school siting today.” 202-564-4700

For a toxic free future,
Renee Claire

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stop the Madness

Oh my goodness.

I've had no fun for almost a week now. Except for my bike rides and I sat at the end of the pier of Lake Chalet eating $2 tacos and drinking $4 margaritas one day last week. The rest of my time has been working, mostly on things that I will probably never get paid for, like research for my trip to New Orleans and creating a long term strategic plan for one of the organization's I volunteer for and becoming obsessed with walking each aisle of REI. That place is amazing!

And now I'm almost done reading Zeitoun. I've paused at about the most horrible point in the book for a moment to collect myself. I've almost convinced myself to stop reading, but since I know the dude is alive and well and will be speaking at Tulane in October, I will finish it if nothing more to feel a little better before I go to sleep tonight.

This one is particularly trying, especially after the 9/11 anniversary, where of course I read article and article about the 'ground zero' mosque and had to defriend people on Facebook who were updating their status with racist remarks against muslims needing to prove to us (Americans) that they would be good from now on by not building the victory mosque so close to where the twin towers fell. I'm not kidding.

Can't we all just get a.l.o.n.g.?!

For three nights in a row I've eaten beef jerky, chocolate ice cream, and whiskey for dinner. And that's why I love America!

This song is fun to listen to in the morning while getting ready for the day!

Renee Claire

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ashley Morris: Fuck You You Fucking Fucks

In case you haven't watched the first season of Treme, I'd like to introduce you to Ashley Morris. An outspoken, angry, New Orleanian, who in the months after Hurricane Katrina became an internet sensation through his profanity fueled blog posts. He passed away in 2008. Treme had the character based on his life commit suicide by jumping off the Mississippi River ferry, but in reality the real Ashley Morris died suddenly of heart failure while visiting Florida in 2008. You can read Ashley's obituary at the bottom of this link.

Last night I watched a sneak preview of a film called Land of Opportunity. The film carves out the multiple layers that have defined the right to housing struggle by following eight people from 2006 to 2010 in post Katrina New Orleans. The movie intimately details the developing process of the rebuilding of the city through the lens of community activists, urban planners, young adults, and South American undocumented day laborers. It's a great film. Check it out.

Ok . . Here is Ashley Morris' Fuck You You Fucking Fucks. God bless Ashley Morris.

Fuck you you fucking fucks.

I don’t give a damn what the hell you Yankees/Texans do, do it in your own yard, and shut the fuck up. We don’t care what you do, and we don’t want your damned PVC sided beige square houses uglying up our town. Go home, and quit looking at my home as simply a chance to line your wallets.

I’m so glad all you Chicagoans have figured out exactly how to fix New Orleans. Look at your own nasty city and explain why you can’t deal with the snow other than to throw tons of salt on the road, and why you can’t buy a beer for under $5. Fuck you, you fucking fucks.

What about you fucks that don’t want to rebuild NOLA because we’re below sea level. Well, fuckheads, then we shouldn’t have rebuilt that cesspool Chicago after the fire, that Sodom San Francisco after the earthquakes, Miami after endless hurricanes, or New York because it’s a magnet for terrorists.

And fuck Kansas, Iowa, and your fucking tornados.

Fuck you, San Antonio. You aren’t getting our Saints. When I get to the Alamo, I’m taking a piss on it. You probably go to funerals and hit on the widow. Classless fucks.

Fuck you Houston and Atlanta. No matter how many of our residents you steal, how many of our events you pilfer, you still ain’t got no culture. One of our neighborhoods has more character than all of your pathetic cookie-cutter suburbs laid end to end. Fuck you, fuck you all.

Fuck you Tom Benson. I hate you on so fucking many levels, but the main one is this: they aren’t your Saints, they’re ours. The NEW FUCKING ORLEANS Saints. All you had to do was say that you were coming back. But you didn’t. You had to fuck around to try to get more money. Fuck you, you greedy bastardo. Don’t think we haven’t noticed that you have phased out all of the merchandise that has the state of Louisiana on it. Don’t think we haven’t noticed how hard it is to get some Saints merchandise that actually says “New Orleans” on it. Fuck you, Fuck San Antonio, Fuck your whole fucking family. And if you and Rita think that anybody is going to patronize your car dealerships, then you got another thing coming, fuckface.

Fuck you New York. You lose a neighborhood and get scads of federal aid. We lose an entire FUCKING COAST, and the freespending W administration finally decides to become fiscally responsible. And fuck you all for taunting the New Orleans Saints fans, who have to deal with playing a home game in the Meadowlands. Fuck you, you classless motherfuckers. New Orleans donates a fire engine to the FDNY after 9/11, and you give us shit. Fuck you, fuck your town, fuck your residents, fuck your politicians. You. All. Suck.

Fuck you governess Blanco. Get your act together. Get a clue, or at least hire somebody who does.

Fuck you army corps of engineers. You are so full of yourself, and you don’t have clue fucking one. Building levees on jello. You should be tried and convicted of treason, or mass murder. Fuck you all, let’s give our money to the Dutch – they seem to have this shit figured out.

Fuck the Bush administration. Putting Mike Brown in charge of FEMA, you clueless fucking scalawag. You said “we will do what it takes”. Then do it.



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thursday Gumbo

On The Berkeley Bayou:
Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I celebrated with dinner at a Korean Tofu House on Telegraph (yum!) and apples, honey and figs at my roommate’s friends’ home. I was raised Catholic in a very religious Southern family, but spent most of my childhood in South Florida, where the New York Jews come to winter and so almost feel as though Judaism is my second religion, if I were religious. I also say that about Buddihsm and spirituality as a whole. Can every religion be my second religion? You know kind of like Amanda’s house is my second home. I’m not committed to this line of thinking but I’m going with it.

At Michael’s Rosh Hashanah celebration last night I met Ariella. Ariella is originally from Rockville, MD, which we initially bonded over. 8 years in DC for me. Yes, I get around. Then Ariella said the one thing I wasn’t expecting. “I live in New Orleans now and am an Independent journalist who just started a non-profit website dedicated to highlighting the recovery effort and keeping politicians accountable.” Ok, that’s not actually what she said word for word, even though I put it in quotes, but eventually this is the path our conversation took. In fact, Ariella’s non-profit was profiled in Good’s New Orleans edition that I wrote about earlier this week.

She offered to meet up with me once I arrive in New Orleans to discuss what’s going on and to whom I should be speaking. I’m planning on writing a series of articles about New Orleans and am trying to figure out exactly what I’m most interested in discussing in these articles. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to focus in on the emerging green economy. I’ve ranted before about the environmental movement’s obsession with international and national legislation at the expense of creating pockets of green economies in places that could use the jobs and community stimulus. I still believe this and I’m interested in being able to better articulate what a green economy could look like and how it could empower communities hardest hit by climate change and dirty energy. No better place to start than in New Orleans.

Besides volunteering for a kick ass organization (Gulf Restoration Network), visiting family, and meeting the people doing the hard work in New Orleans, I going to New Orleans so that I can understand and speak out for those that are having to make the choice between protecting the Gulf coast that they know and paying their mortgage. I don’t actually believe that this is the real choice communities have to make. I think framing the recovery of the Gulf coast in this way is irresponsible and not solution based. It’s not going to get us where we need to go in order to truly protect Gulf coast communities or create a new more sustainable economy and energy system. And I want to see for myself how that conversation holds up on the ground.

Religious Tolerance:

Every evening and morning I watch the news. Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper and Brian Williams, sometimes I throw in some Katie Couric for good measure. And the latest round of religious intolerance circulating our nation is vomit inducing. As President Obama, General Petraeus, and multiple religious leaders around the nation have expressed, burning Muslim holy book’s isn’t exactly how we are going to safely bring our troops home or how to remember those that died on September 11 or anything to do with the founding of our country. It’s an example of irrational fear of brown people that our country said we were finished with the day after President Obama was elected. Remember all those news reports about how we have finally achieved a color-blind country? What was that?

The Islamaphobia in our country right now is terrifying. I can get over the party of No, refusing to work with the Democrats. I can get over the slow progress of ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I can even get over the failure of the climate bill. But the increasing intolerance of Islam that is bubbling into violence (cabbies being stabbed, mosque’s being burned down, Quran book burnings) is real. And it has a real potential to turn into a tsunami of hate that we haven’t seen since 1963 Mississippi.

Unfortunately, I keep hearing Christian right who truly believe that for those practitioners of other religions to feel safe in our country means they must give up some of their freedom. Religious freedom is not a zero-sum game. We actually can all have religious freedom without stepping on, killing, or even speaking to each other. This actually is the only thing that makes me hesitant about going to Southern Louisiana for a month. It’s a hot bed of religious hatred.

Happy Birthday Christie!
Renee Claire

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What a Dash of Community Service Can Do

I just posted this on Momsrising. Warning: No curse words or angry rant involved. You might want to wait until the next post to read Renee Claire.

I’ve been dedicated to community service since I high school. The whole idea of volunteering for an organization came about in school for me. Each year, since Elementary school, we would take a trip to some type of food bank or national park, something where it always came up that you could come here and work for free, if you wanted. That you could help protect the work that is happening here and therefore impact your entire community for the better.

During my freshman year in college I was hired to run the Children and Education program for our campus’s Volunteer Center. I, not knowing what I was doing, created an email list (first for our center), held weekly meetings, and created a monthly volunteer Saturday with different organization’s around Orlando taking care of children and promoting education. I partnered with a local underfunded elementary school to spend a day on our campus with a dozen student organizations. We had the school’s mascot come out during lunchtime. We took a tour of the campus and we set up a festival where each child got a passport that was stamped after you hung out with a UCF student group.

It was one of my most rewarding events. I learned how to pump up college students to spend an early morning with 3rd graders. I learned that you have to call people the day before an event to remind them (I didn’t do that). I learned how much public school buses costs to rent for the day ($300). I learned that even I could organize a big event with hundreds of moving parts and serve a purpose in the process. I could do something bigger than me.

My Junior year, I was asked to run the entire center, which meant I had to give up my weekly student meetings and my monthly Saturday commitments. But it also meant I could tag along with one of my 15 employees during one of their events, without all the stress. Running the center was fun and challenging. I learned that managing people is extremely difficult. I learned that people think because you are in charge you have all the answers. My friend Joe, who I met in 10th grade and had been very close with ever since, would stop by to make fun of me for being really into my college. This was not entirely true I didn’t enjoy UCF or Orlando, but I loved all the opportunity being so involved gave me, including free trips all around the country to national student activities events. I learned about Burma during one of these trips, which has taken me to the Thai/Burma border 6 times, including documenting the life of living inside refugee camps and internally displaced communities. Travel I never would have experienced without community service.

Community service has been a big part of my life for the past 10 years. When traveling Eastern Europe after a devastating heartbreak, volunteering for a local organization in Budapest helped me forget about the boy and focus on things more important. In more than one occasion it has taken me out of my own self-centered head to be somewhere else. Somewhere it didn’t matter that I had gained 10 pounds or failed chemistry (again) or accrued over $300 in overdraft fees.

One of my roommate’s friends was here on Sunday morning. I had never met him before, but he was in obvious trouble. He told me that he had worked several years ago at a pretty well known anti-deforestation organization but was now completely jaded that anyone could do anything to make the world a little better. I, being the eternal optimist, proceed to talk it through with him. I just can’t leave comments like that alone. He said that wall st owns everything. Nothing can happen without profit. I said it’s time to redefine the way we do business. Make money solving our world’s problems not contributing to it. The system doesn’t work so let’s change it. Let’s create laptops that are put together like pieces of a puzzle where broken parts can be easily replaced. Creating a potential end to the dangerous and often poisonous lifecycle of electronics. This is how we are going to save ourselves. Through innovation and creativity and whole systems design.

He still looked sad. The weight of what I have no idea sitting on his shoulders. “You need to get out. You need to do something beyond yourself”, I said to him. He didn’t respond, so I kept talking about things he could be doing to get back to where he was when he felt he could make a difference. Take a week off and volunteer for a small organization that is doing really good work. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

We are much too involved in our own heads. There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored and by sitting in our homes and reliving the day’s drama over dinner and bad prime time tv, we aren’t experiencing what the world has to offer. Community service can help us move on and our community move forward.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Good New Orleans

This month's Good Magazine is all about New Orleans. Not surprising given the month long coverage of the 5th anniversary of Katrina we have all witnessed on every news outlet from CNN to Rachel Maddow (I love you!) to my little ditty 'Renee Claire'. The rebuilding of New Orleans is on everyone's mind.

I lived through Hurricane Andrew in 1994 in South Florida and Hurricane Juan in 1985, which until this very moment always though it was named after a princess wand, not a man named Juan. Welcome to Reneeland. Neither of those hurricanes had the impact on the entire nation that Katrina has had. Andrew tore apart South Florida, destroyed communities, and sent our part of the state into chaos for a long time, but it was manageable chaos. I went back to school, children from Miami were bused to Broward, people didn't go homeless, they weren't given up on, the government was there to help.

Mention Katrina to anyone for any moment, even someone whose name is Katrina and there is a moment of pause. There is a moment where we stop and whatever photo most impacted your experience during the Fall of 2005, is what flashes before you once again. It has forever changed who we are or more what we thought we were.

In late 2006, my family went for a visit to New Orleans, Lafayette, and New Iberia where we were all born and raised and where the bulk of our family still lives. We stopped in New Orleans for 2 days to visit a cousin, Johnathon, who had been flown out of combat in Iraq to help at the Superdome two days after the storm hit, then to spend to next year patroling alongside the New Orleans Police Department. We all went to dinner and drinks and then I stayed with him for the rest of the evening. He showed me around the city, what his normal patrol looked like. We even met up with the rest of the Louisiana National Guard boys that were on patrol that night. We drank beers in the parking lot of some high school just outside the more touristy areas of the city. Just me and 10 National Guard dudes in full gear sitting in a Humvee drinking beers on a sweaty New Orleans evening.

The other thing I did that trip was visit Shylia Lewis. In 2004 Greenpeace partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build pvc-free homes for four families in the seventh ward neighborhood of Roche. I wasn't part of that project, but I went to visit her to see how her family and the pvc-free homes had stood up to Katrina. Besides about 4 feet of water damage on the inside of the homes, they stood up nicely and better than the homes that were built with pvc siding.

Shylia, returning each weekend from Houston to fix the damage, said that if she hadn't partnered with Habitat to build her home her family could never have moved in so quickly after the storm. She built new cabinets, took down the drywall and then built it back up again on her own. Shylia is raising three children, not all her own. The kids in 2006 had to attend a private catholic school since there weren't any public schools open near her home. There was still no school bus service to the Roche neighborhood. At the end of the street from Shylia's home was a FEMA trailer park. Hundreds and hundreds of empty FEMA trailers sat in a lot. Her neighbor to her left lived in a trailer in the front yard as they had been unable to repair all the damages to their home.

Shylia, two of her children, and I drove to the lower Ninth ward, where her grandparents house stood before the hurricane. We all know the images of a demolished lower ninth ward, so I'm not going to repeat them here. I will tell you that we had hard time finding the drive way of her grandparents home even though Shylia had visited for almost 40 years and on more than one occasion I saw one house resting on top of another house. At one point one of the boys said "mom, can we leave now?" Then we drove to see the Musicians Village that Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation is building. Later that afternoon Shylia dropped me off in the French Quarter where my family was staying and whispered "we don't come down here too many gays and prostitutes". You can read the article from Greenpeace about my time with Shylia and our work in New Orleans here.

Good Magazine's September edition is thorough and unique. Did you know that Louisiana passed the Digitial Media Act in 2009 to help attract companies working on software and mobile and video gaming applications. There is a 35 percentage tax credit on labor expenditures and a 25 percent credit on digital media expenditures made in the state. It's the most robust of its kind in the nation. Given the kind of literature and art that has seeped out of New Orleans for the past hundred years or so, I bet this will impact the kind of games and stories being sold to kids for the next several years. There is also an article about comic books. New comic books about the storm and alarming high murder rate are also on the rise.

There are also short articles on New Orlean's 25 best and brightest. Those that are changing politics, community, and renovation in the city. One of the best articles is about new media. How New Orleans bloggers are setting new standards on eliminating corruption by bird dogging and researching those that are vying for power. An interesting new concept in Louisiana. As Eli Ackerman, blogger of We Could Be Famous, stated, "Politicians in New Orleans have learned that people can google them." Ackerman's blog hasn't been updated since June, though his blogroll includes a dozen other local New Orleans blogs that are worth a scan.

The article continues, "Just like it did everywhere else inthe world, blogging took off in New Orleans in the early 2000s. But after katrina, when many New Orleanians grew tired of the way the government and national media were ignoring them, new media got a boost. Citizens turned to blogs to rant, inform, and otherwise take ownership of the city's rebuilding process. The impact as been tremendous. Blog reporting has spawned FBI investigations of the city programs, affect the 2010 mayoral election, and resulted in an injection of funding from the Rockerfeller Foundation. It also inspired old-dog media to embrace its online counterparts - which is no small feat in itself - and together, they have found innovative ways to foster collaboration: New media brings off the beaten path stories, and traditional media brings a massive audience, legitimacy, and infrastructure."

I'm leaving for a month in the city on Sept 15. I'm excited and overwhelmed by what I will do during my time in New Orleans, but I think I know I will have some good stories to share with you.

Renee Claire

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"What! You're Not My Mom!?"

Kids say the darndest things on a two hour plane. I sat just one row in front and across the aisle from what I can only image to be the type of child that I will be given one day. A little girl with long blonde hair who sang about EVERYTHING the entire plane ride from Austin to Phoenix. It was amazing! She sang her book that she was reading, she sang 'mom', 'mom', 'mom', and what we learned was the 'I love you' song, 'I love you', 'I love you', 'I love you', with her mother never lifting her head or acknowledging, even during terrible turbulence.

It was obvious this mom was completely and utterly exhausted! At one point, when mom woke for just a couple minutes to make some playdough snowmen, the little girl in the most inquisitive and innocent voice said, 'what! you're not my mom!?' I have no idea what 'mom' had said to her, but 'mom' wasn't shocked by the comment. In fact by her response, 'you know better than to behave like this', it became evident the little girl's shocking comment was nothing more than a little manipulation to gather other passengers attention. I'm totally going to have a child like that one day.

I'm currently reading Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I've been threatening myself with this book for about a year. I finally found it on a bookshelf in my living room. It's pretty fucking good. Living in the bubble of North Oakland with two UC Berekely grad school alum and having watched an array of food industry documentaries, I'm pretty aware of much of what he is describing. This prior knowledge doesn't make the information any less jolting.

Here is an excerpt:

"One reason that obesity and diabetes become more prevalent the further down the socioeconmic scale you look is that the industrial food chain has made energy-dense food the cheapest foods in the market, when measured in terms of cost per calorie. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the 'energy cost' of different foods in the supermarket. The researchers found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips and cookies; spent on a whole food like carrots, the same dollar buys only 250 calories. On the beverage aisle, you can buy 875 calories of soda for a dollar, or 170 calories of fruit juice from concentrate. It makes economic sense that people with limited money to spend on food would spend it on the cheapest calories they can find, especially when the cheapest calories - fats and sugars - are precisley the ones offering the biggest neurobiological rewards.

Corn is not the only source of cheap energy in the supermarket - much of the fat added to processed foods comes from soybeans - but it is by far the most important. As George Naylor said, growing corn is the most efficient way to get energy - calories - from an acre of Iowa farmland. That corn-made calorie can find its way into our bodies in the form of an animal fat, a sugar, or a starch, such is the protean nature of the carbon in that big kernel. But as productive and protean as the corn plant is, finally it is a set of human choices that have made these molecules quite as cheap as they have become: a quarter century of farm policies designed to encourage the overproduction of this crop and hardly any other. Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories int he supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest."

The chapters on corn is incredible. If you don't want to read a whole book on our food industry, then just read the first 100 pages of this. It's like a novella. The size of a Capote story. I've heard issues around farm policies and of course the plight of the small American farmer but I didn't really understand it until I read these pages. It's an easy read and fairly beautiful prose as well.

I'm now reading the section on the organic industry. I love my weekly CSA box and my handful of veggies in my backyard. I do not love organic tofu from Trader Joe's.

I'm also reading Natural Capitalism. Just as shocking and interesting, but much more dense. It's not a train reading book. It's a sit down, grab a pen, and be prepared to learn kind of book. Little mind bombs of 'ohhhh that's what those people in suits have been talking about!" Totally worth the read. If you are interested in learning some new theories on how to restructure our private sector to prevent the wasteful use of natural resources, but not sure you want to dedicate the end of your summer to 347 pages, take a read of an article by the authors in the Harvard Business Review.

The basic premise is:

"Critics on the left may argue that business people pursue only shortterm self-interest unless guided by legislation in the public interest. However, we believe that the world stands on the threshold of basic changes in the conditions of business. Companies that ignore the message of natural capitalism do so at their peril. Thus our strategy here is not to approach business as a supplicant, asking corporations to change and make a better world by respecting the limits of the environment. Actually, there are growing numbers of business owners and managers who are changing their enterprises to become more environmentally responsible because of deeply rooted beliefs and values. But what we are saying is more pressing than a request. The book teems with examples and references, included to show that the move toward radical resource productivity and natural capitalism is beginning to feel inevitable rather than merely possible.

It is similar to a train that is at the station about to go. The train doesn't know if your company, country, or city is safely on board, nor whether your ticket is punched or not. There is now sufficient evidence of change to suggest that if your corporation or institution is not paying attention to this revolution, it will lose competitive advantage. In this changed business climate, those who incur that loss will be seen as remiss if not irresponsible. The opportunity for constructive, meaningful change is growing and exciting."

Really good stuff.