Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Post-K Video for AmeriCorps Contest

You can vote for the winner after June 11 at


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Day 77

Day 77
May 23, 2007

New Orleans
, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

She fascinates me. Seventy-seven days have passed quickly in New Orleans, the City I may be falling for.

My love affair with her will be like any relationship, I’m sure. There will be days when she frustrates me. There will be days when I wonder why I’m here. But for now, our honeymoon is strong.

And maybe soon, she’ll let me get to second base. I want to uncover her secrets. Because the glimpses she’s given me have been nothing short of magical.

I’ve seen musicians make a tired baby dance, but work for dollars in a bucket. Who, now, in 2007, must remind patrons that a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to.

I’ve swum at sunrise in a hidden French Quarter pool.

I’ve heard ghost stories about the oldest bar in America, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon St.

And the red beans and rice? You haven’t eaten red, beans and rice until you’ve come to New Orleans.

I’ve had a woman living in
Houston cry to me on the telephone, desperately wanting to come home to her Mamma New Orleans.

I’ve drank a beer and a coffee on the same day in the middle of the same street. The beer just before noon, the coffee just before midnight.

“We do things a little differently down here,” New Orleanians say.

Much like love, New Orleans has broken many hearts in recent years. I’ve seen that human spirit is much stronger than I initially imagined it could be, and this has been nothing short of life-altering.

So please don’t sell New Orleans short without seeing her first. There is enough of her beauty to go around, and I’m ok with that. In fact it’s the only way our relationship will ever work.

She’s too amazing for me to be selfish.



Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Most Important Person in New Orleans

The Most Important Person in New Orleans
May 9, 2007

New Orleans
, La.

Family and Friends--

Ed Blakely strides into places quickly with never much more than a quick shake and a glance.

Magazines have called him the “Master of Disaster.” Others refer to him as the New Orleans’ recovery czar. And after controversial comments of his were printed in an April edition of the New York Times, some called City Hall and asked that the guy take a hike.

He’s Dr. Edward Blakely to be exact--the most important man in the Big Easy.

When he walks by you quickly, perhaps the 70-year-0ld is envisioning what New Orleans could look like 20 years from now. Or maybe he’s thinking about a grand plan to raise $1.1 billion by June. But he might just be human, searching for the coffee pot or a lavatory.

If he is a mere mortal though, many New Orleanians hope Blakely has a dash of magic hidden somewhere.

What the New York Times called an ace up his sleeves, Dr. Blakely began his mutual courtship tonight with Tulane University, one of New Orleans Universities, which are a huge asset to the City, he says.

Unlike neighborhood meetings where emotions and tempers flare and end in occasional tears, the crowd of about 3o academics seemed unusually calm. In neighborhood meetings, the residents ask for his help.

But tonight, “I need you” he said to Tulane deans and professors. “Especially, law, architecture and environmental programs.”

Blakely says that the City of New Orleans is receiving no money from the state and federal government for his efforts. When he said that, the breath of the room slowed, almost halted.

When asked if the future of New Orleans should be a 2008 Presidential issue, Blakely said. “Absolutely.”

No one running for President in 2008 can afford not to come to New Orleans he said. But, “we won’t let a politician in here without writing a check first.”

Poltico-photo-ops in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have gone on long enough he says.

Blakely has been at the center of many major American disaster rebuilds. Most notably 9/11.

“Mr. President, we don’t want you here without your money,” he said to George W. Bush in Post-9/11 New York.

The same will go for Post-KATRINA New Orleans and the 2008 winner.

But will Tulane step up in these fragile and infant rebuilding days? Will professors and deans band together with Dr. Blakely or make decisions with only Tulane in mind?

Rumors and water cooler speak at Tulane generally carry the tone that the belatedly appointed Dr. Blakely is recreating the past. President Scott Cowen was chairman of the first rebuilding plan proposed by Mayor Nagin’s “Bring New Orleans Back” commission.

“Are those documents collecting dust?” Cowen probably wonders. When I asked Dr. Cowen if he was coming to the meeting with Dr. Blakely, he politely responded that he’d be out of town. If I remember correctly, he ended the interaction with,

“I’ll call him (Blakely) when I need him.”

Dr. Blakely, influential in the rebuilding after 9/11, the San Francisco World Series Earthquake and the 1991 Oakland fire may have the soothsayer vision of a 2027 version of New Orleans swirling in his central lobes.

Critics say he’s late.

But in the Crescent City, the clocks are always a little slow.



If you are a member of a University who would like to participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans email me at The Office of Recovery Management would like to see many American higher-education institutions aid the local Universities in the recovery effort.

Photos Courtesy of Rebecca Mann, City of New Orleans.

Monday, May 7, 2007

New Orleans' Inconvenient Truth

For The Children Literacy Program
May 3, 2007
New Orleans, La.

Family and Friends--

The people in room 213 have what you want in lawmakers.

Passion. Clarity of thought. Action.

It’s too bad they’re in the fifth grade.

At Banneker Elementary, students are penning letters to Louisiana Congressman Bobby Jindal about the daily erosion of the Louisiana wetlands, which serve as a natural protection from hurricanes and tropical storms for New Orleans.

“I think that we need the wetlands because it slows down the hurricanes that are coming our way,” 11-year-old Alvin says. “We don’t want to have the Gulf of Mexico to be right next to us.”

Ten-year-old Thaddeus wants Coastal Erosion and its threat to be a 2008 Presidential issue.

Dear Senator Barack Obama,

“I don’t want the Gulf of Mexico to be in the Ninth Ward because that is where I’m from,” he wrote.

“I was here for the hurricane and I live in the lower ninth ward and I had to swim in 22-feet of water.

I lost my step-little-sister in the flood. My little sister was only four-years-old.

We lost everything. See, this is why we need to save the wetlands.”

The hour before, the AmeriCorps team had a discussion/yelling contest about Coastal Erosion using New Orleans'
Times -Picayune
writers Bob Marshall and
Mark Schleifstein’s three part series, “LAST CHANCE: The Fight to Save a Disappearing Coast” as a reference.

Marshall and Schleifstein say that wetlands the size of three football fields are lost every day. What was once a 70 mile buffer for New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico is now 30 miles. By 2040, at current rates, New Orleans will be a coastal city according to experts.

They say we have 10 years to fix the current erosion dilemma before it passes the point of no return.

“We’ll just have to put up a huge floodwall,” AmeriCorps member Jeff Swartz said intentionally mimicking the "laissez le bon temps rouler" attitude often used to describe New Orleanians.

“After reading LAST CHANCE,” another said “I was wondering why we are rebuilding in the low-lying 10 years will this all be for naught?”

Michael Pizzolatto, our AmeriCorps supervisor at Tulane and life-long Louisianan stopped the conversation. He had the “I have something to say and you all better listen” face.

All over the country pundits and critics of New Orleans say not to rebuild. They say it’s too dangerous. But only 50
percent of
New Orleans is below sea level, he said.

“What about Miami?" The entire city is only three feet above sea level at it's highest point with no natural hurricane protection, he said.

When they say not to rebuild New Orleans, pundits conveniently forget or do not know that New Orleans ports are the life-force in American exports and imports.

Do they say, “The largest port tonnage-wise is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge?”

Or, “Twenty-eight percent of the US Energy supply comes from SE Louisiana?”

“No,” he said with one of those “I’ve been frustrated by this for a long time” looks.

The AmeriCorps team talked about the Tennessee Valley Authority that was a part of FDR’s New Deal. How in the 1930s without the luxury of 21st century technology, but with massive man power and post-World War Era dollars solved major ecological problems including flooding and erosion.

“But we’re in a war,” another AmeriCorpsian said.

To stop Coastal Erosion and block the Gulf of Mexico from moving in as New Orleans’ new next door neighbor, a serious federal commitment is needed.

We’re talking “How much do they want?” numbers.

One-hundred billion dollars would be a good start. If not, we can always build that big wall.

It would be a shame to see New Orleans' youth lose their homes in another storm.

"Can you please give us the money to fix the wetlands?" Alvin asked.



To view LAST CHANCE: The Fight to Save a Disappearing Coast, a Three-Part Series in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, click here:

Erosion images by Ted Jackson of the Times-Picayune.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The $100 Million Man?

May 1, 2007
McAlister Auditorium
Tulane University
New Orleans, La.

Family and Friends,

In a city with mixed expectations about its future, some might think Al Gore has gone off the Global Warming deep-end.

New Orleans-the symbol for the 21st Century Green City? The Big Easy doesn’t even have a sustainable recycling program yet.

But, as Gore would like to see, New Orleans should be the leader in eco-friendly reconstruction post-KATRINA.

Today, in front of at least 3,000 at Tulane University, Gore gave his famous “Inconvenient Truth” lecture; the doomsday tale of our man-made catastrophe knocking at the world’s collective door.

Global warming is threatening to erase the Western Antarctic and Greenland in the next 40 years, Gore says. His high-tech graphics depict a 20-foot rise in the ocean depth if this happens.

The prediction isn’t pretty. San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, New Delhi and almost any coastal city in the world would be under water. Over 400 million people would be displaced.

We can stop it, he says.

Citing the late author Kurt Vonnegut, Gore said, will people look back 100 years from now and ask why were so lazy? Or will they commend us for our struggles to change, ensuring safety and humanity for future generations.

A girl asked if he would rerun for President. He gave his “it’s a difficult decision but I’m not a politician anymore” stump.

President Scott Cowen of Tulane University called Gore a “Great American” and a “Great example” for the students.

I’d agree. The fabric of America is capitalism and Tulane has a blue-chip business school.

Gore’s standard appearance fee is $120,000, although University sources have told me he came here for half that mark.

He gave the lecture eight times last week—and about 1,500 times since taking it on tour.

Former Vice President Gore has made over 80 million in the name of the green revolution.

But, I wouldn't put 100 million out of reach.

Good for him. Success like that is in our American veins.

But, for the Green movement to take off on the scale savior scientists want it to, other individuals, companies and multi-national corporations need to figure out what Gore already knows.

How to make a boat-load going Green.

If the publicly-traded companies can’t figure it out, we might have to use that boat for something else.



Rent Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.” Dollars for him, education for you.

Photos by Paula Burch-Celentano, Tulane University

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Murder in New Orleans

Murder in New Orleans
April 30th, 2007

Canal St.

New Orleans
, La.

The lights flashed, my throat closed, heart fell.

The NOPD had pulled me over. “You all have a cell phone law down here, huh?” I asked.

“No, we have a red-light law,” the officer said.

Ouch. I had no clue I’d passed through the intersection prematurely. Luckily, this veteran NOPD officer will be retiring to Nebraska in four years.

He saw my Nebraska license and immediately wanted to know everything about the state.

"You ever heard of Broken Bow?" the officer asked.

"No way, my brother's wife had family there,” I said.

Crazy good karma.

Knowing Broken Bow, population 3,700, is a shot in a million. Somehow using it to get out of a ticket in New Orleans has to be a shot in a billion.

I should write Reynold "Mac" McMeen, Broken Bow's mayor. In some strange way, he saved me 150 bucks.

We spoke for 30 minutes. I finished the Midwestern-chatter with my indelible memory of the last West-Central Nebraska sunset I'd seen.

We transitioned into the officers' perceptions of New Orleans' crime and murder scene.

I think everyone should know what he and his partner said.

And I'll trust anyone moving to Broken Bow. Come on, it has to be the center of America's moral compass. At least compared to the Big Easy.

As I moved here word spread amongst family and friends. By the time my two-day journey to New Orleans ended, I checked my email. Several people had written me with concern.


News reports this past week indicate NO is not the safest city in which to live right now. Robert please be careful…Good luck.”

And another.


It’s great to hear that your moving to New Orleans. But I saw Anderson Cooper the other day on CNN. He says the murder rate in New Orleans is sky-rocketing. Be careful… Talk to you soon.”

I decided to ask my new NOPD friends about the emailed concerns.

“My family is worried about the murder rate here,” I said to the one moving to Nebraska.

“Robert, listen,” he said. “The only thing that might happen to you is you might get a gun pulled on you and you’ll lose your wallet.”

As long as you're not a drug dealer."

Oh. That’s good.

I thought about it more, and put it in context with the anxiety and fear of family and friends. The officers’ perspective actually shed positive light about the situation.

Aside from the slaying of New Orleans filmmaker Helen Hill in early 2007, almost all murders in NOLA are not random they said.

The officers, each with over a decade on the force, told me about New Orleans’ murder scene.

“It’s a drug thing, it’s always been a drug thing,” one officer said.

But Post-KATRINA, they said, territories and unwritten maps of “turf” decades-old are now gone. When you have arch-rivals living on the same block, competition for a new drug market, and the prestige that comes with it ensures brutal violence.

Part of the game they say. These modern-day conquistadors are redefining this "turf"--and changing many lives as well as the world's perspective of New Orleans for the worse.

I can’t help but think of what a friend I met on the banks of the Mississippi said,

“Drugs have ruined so many brothers down here, bro.”

Friends, worrying about traveling here or loved ones living here should not be a major concern.

My friends and I always try to walk in groups. We tell each other plans and destinations. And at the end of the day, we know it could happen to us anywhere.