looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look"; in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans, it is usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.
2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, cocktails as cuisine, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community ... and occasionally movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, reviews, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.
Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting. If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.
If you like, you are welcome to send e-mail to the author. Your comments on each post are also welcome; however, right-wing trolls are about as welcome as a boil on my arse. Search this site:
"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.
Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores, or order directly from Shout! Factory Records, where all profits will be donated to New Orleans disaster relief through the end of March 2006.
The box set was the subject of a 15-minute profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005, and a segment on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Apr. 3, 2005. Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)
* * *"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.
"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans
"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.
"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune
"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times
"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.
"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan, AllAboutJazz.com
"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy, PopMatters.com
"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times
Digital Dish is the first ever compilation volume of the best writing and recipes from food weblogs, and includes essays and recipes contributed by me. Find out more and place an order!
U.S. orders: Non-U.S.: How to donate to this site:
Your donations help keep this site going. PayPal's the best way -- just click the button below, and thanks!
You can get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!
(99 and 44/100% link rot)
2005: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2004: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2003: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2002: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2001: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2000: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
1999: Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
My Photos on Flickr
My Darlin' New Orleans...
Shop New Orleans! Visit the stores linked here to do your virtual online shopping in New Orleans. The city needs your money!
NOLA.com & The Times-Picayune
WDSU-TV (Channel 6, NBC)
WGNO-TV (Channel 26, ABC)
WNOL-TV (Channel 38, WB)
WVUE-TV (Channel 8, FOX)
WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS)
WYES-TV (Channel 12, PBS)
New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.
2 Millionth Weblog
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Hurricane Katrina Aftermath
People Get Ready
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
The Internet's most comprehensive
and indispensible database of
authenticated cocktail recipes,
ingredients, reseearch and more.
By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)
Museum of the American Cocktail
Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
other passionate spirits in Jan. 2005.
Celebrating a true American cultural
icon: the American Cocktail.
* * *The Sazerac Cocktail
(The sine qua non of cocktails,
and the quintessential New Orleans
cocktail. Learn to make it.)
The Footloose Cocktail
(An original by Wes;
"Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
"Very elegant, supremely
sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)
The Hoskins Cocktail
(An original by Chuck;
"It's nothing short of a
masterpiece." - Gary Regan)
* * *Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
(A few things we like to
drink at home, plus a couple
we don't, just for fun.)
* * *Peychaud's Bitters
(Indispensible for Sazeracs
and many other cocktails.
Order them here.)
Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
(Complex and spicy orange
bitters for your Martinis,
Old Fashioneds and many more.
Order them here.)
Fee Brothers' Bitters
(Classic orange bitters,
peach bitters and a cinnamony
"Old Fashion" aromatic bitters.
Skip the mint variety, though.)
* * *The Alchemist
Alcohol (and how to mix it)
(Gary & Mardee Regan)
The Art of Drink:
An exploration of Spirits & Mixology.
(Jeff Berry, world-class expert
on tropical drinks)
The Cocktail Chronicles
(Paul Clarke's weblog)
The Cocktailian Gazette
(The monthly newsletter of
The Museum of the
DrinkBoy and the
Community for the
(Robert Hess, et al.)
DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog
news & insider info)
La Fée Verte
(All about absinthe
from Kallisti et al.)
(Ladies United for the
Fine Spirits & Cocktails
Martini Republic: Drinks
(featuring posts by Dr. Cocktail!)
The Ministry of Rum
(Everything you always wanted to know)
The Modern Mixologist
Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
Swanky et al.)
(F. Paul Pacult)
The Wormwood Society
(Dedicated to promoting accurate,
current information about absinthe)
Culinary Concierge (N.O. food & wine magazine)
Mr. Lake's Non-Pompous New Orleans Food Forum
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie
Chocolate and Zucchini
Mise en Place
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
The Global Gourmet
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
Southern Food & Beverages Museum
Southern Foodways Alliance
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
In vino veritas.
The Oxford Companion to Wine
The Wine Spectator
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers
Wine/spirits shops in our 'hood:
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock
Mission Liquors, Pasadena
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena
Other wine/spirits shops we visit:
Beverage Warehouse, Mar Vista
Wally's Wine & Spirits, Westwood
The Wine House, West L.A.
Reading this month:
The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories, by Philip K. Dick.
Microcosmic God: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 2, by Theodore Sturgeon.
Listen to music!
Chuck's current album recommendations
La Bottine Souriante
The Old 97s
The Red Stick Ramblers
Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots
Miles of Music
New Orleans Bands.net
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV
Long Beach Bayou Festival
Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA
WWOZ (New Orleans)
Live audio stream
KCSN (Los Angeles)
"Down Home" playlist
Live MP3 audio stream
Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
(A rich history of N.O. radio)
Air America Radio
(Talk radio for the
rest of us)
Grateful Dead Radio
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
KRVS Radio Acadie
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
(Science fiction radio)
Radio Free New Orleans
Raidió na Gaeltachta
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
(Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)
Films seen this year:
In the cinema:
Match Point (****)
Underworld Evolution (**)
The New World (****)
V for Vendetta (****)
The Frighteners (***1/2)
Eating Out (**)
Dead and Buried (***)
Heavenly Creatures (****)
Minority Report (****)
The Constant Gardener (***-1/2)
Lookin' at da TV:
"The West Wing"
"Six Feet Under"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
The Food Network
A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
J. T. Seaton
The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)
My photographs at Flickr
The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy
Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed
Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley
by Aaron McGruder
Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson
by Garry B. Trudeau
Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley
Get Your War On
by David Rees
by Jonathan Rosenberg
L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz
by Peter Blegvad
by Al Capp
by Emily Flake
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner
by Walt Kelly
by Greg Peters
by Ted Rall
This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow
XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak
AlterNet.org (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)
Borowitz Report (Political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (Your stories)
Landover Baptist (Better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.)
Whitehouse.org (Not the actual White House, but it should be)
Weblogs I read:
The Carpetbagger Report
Creek Running North
Ethel the Blog
Un Fils d'un État Rouge
Follow Me Here
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
More Like This
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
This Modern World
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?
Your Right Hand Thief
Matthew's GLB blog portal
Friends with pages:
The Final Frontier:
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918
"There ought to be limits to freedom."
-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999
"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."
-- George W. Bush, describing what it's like to be governor of Texas, Governing Magazine, July 1998
"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."
-- George W. Bush, CNN.com, December 18, 2000
"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
-- George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001
Déanta: This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.3 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)
"Eating, drinking and carrying on..." -- Adelaide Brennan
Friday, March 31, 2006
New Orleans is Not OK. If you read anything today, read this. New Orleanian writer Poppy Z. Brite has a sledgehammer-to-the-head post up today which you should read, and which everyone you know should read. Every idiot politician from New Orleans City Hall to the Oval Office should read this too, so they'll know why we voted their asses out of office. (Emphases and added links mine.)
Occasionally I'm asked by friends Not From Here, "New Orleans is better now, right? You had Mardi Gras!" or "Are you doing OK?" or some variation. Sometimes, particularly if they're contemplating a visit, I even try to reassure them: it's very possible to have a good, safe time here; the French Quarter is fine; lots of restaurants and bars are open. In truth, though, New Orleans and most of its inhabitants are very much Not OK. I present to you a baker's dozen facts about life in the city seven months after the storm. Some are large, some small. I think many of them will surprise you.
1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn't flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the "uninhabitable sections," there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.
2. There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.
3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup -- either FEMA or municipal -- for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.
4. There are no street lights in many of the "uninhabited" sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.
5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don't work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.
6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.
7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, but it's crippling for people who work "normal" hours.
8. The city's recycling program has been suspended indefinitely. We talk about restoring the wetlands that could buffer us from another storm surge, but every day we throw away tons of recyclables that will end up in the landfills that help poison our wetlands.
9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now -- the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her -- and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.
10. Thousands of people who lived in public housing were forcibly removed from their homes. It is now being suggested by much of the current power structure, including our very liberal Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas, that they not be allowed back into these homes unless they can prove they had jobs before the storm or are willing to sign up for job training. (Many of you may agree with this, and I did too, sort of, until I really thought about it. Hadn't they already qualified for the housing? What about the ones who had jobs that don't exist anymore? How can they find jobs in New Orleans if they don't live here?)
11. There are still flooded, wrecked, and abandoned cars all over the streets, parked in the neutral grounds, and in many cases partly submerged in the canals out East. Now that it's campaign time, Mayor Nagin is trying to come up with a solution for this, but he thinks maybe we should wait for FEMA to do it (!!!!!) and he claims the best removal offer he's gotten so far was "written on the back of a napkin."
12. Many of the FEMA trailers -- you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each -- have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn't have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house's power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. While these trailers sit empty, there is an easily constructed, far more attractive structure called a "Katrina cottage" that could easily be built all over south Louisiana. It costs about $25,000 less than the flimsy, uncomfortable trailers. FEMA refuses to use it because they're not allowed to provide permanent housing. [Link to NPR story.]
13. A large percentage -- I've heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% -- of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting "expert" gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.
Copy, paste, and disseminate far and wide, with Poppy's blessing. Here's the permalink.
Commander's Palace, Las Vegas. Gotta have something good amidst all this today ...
Right now Commander's Palace in Las Vegas is the only Commander's that's open; the Brennan flagship restaurant in New Orleans got Katrina'd pretty badly (despite its initial appearance) and had to be gutted. It won't be open until summer, probably.
In New Orleans Café Adelaide, a superb restaurant in its own right, is also serving as a fill-in Commander's, as you can get certain classic Commander's dishes there now (turtle soup, Tasso Shrimp Henican, and the like). Other than than that, if you want a Commander's fix, it's Vegas, baby, Vegas!
Besides being Wes' birthday party weekend, the day we went to Commander's for dinner was also our friend Diana's birthday, so a double celebration was called for. We arrived early, so that we could get a little bit of an early start on the cocktail swilling and so that we could check out the newly-relocated Museum of the American Cocktail, which will reside at Commander's in Vegas for the next year until an eventual permanent home is found in New Orleans. It was nice to see the exhibit again, and our little things in it, but we were thrilled and surprised to see this, newly installed at this exhibit:
We were honored to be mentioned, and listed among that august group.
A few Sazeracs, Negronis and Gibsons later we sat down to order, extremely well cared-for by Santino, their fabulous maitre'd (who were were very glad to see back at the restaurant; he'd left for a while), our captain Steve and his waiters. First out came the amuse bouche ...
A little scoop of mousse made one of their appetizers, Tabasco "Mash" Cured and Smoked Salmon, in which the salmon is cured with the salty pepper mash from the white oak barrels that's later mixed with vinegar to make Tabasco sauce, folded into a mousse and served on a toast point with microgreen salad and a little jalapeño oil. I was tempted to order more of that salmon, but I knew what was coming ...
One of my favorite dishes at Commander's, and in fact one of my favorite dishes in New Orleans -- Tasso Shrimp Henican, with Crystal Hot Sauce Beurre Blanc, Five Pepper Jelly and Pickled Okra. This is the late Chef Jamie Shannon's dish, and its retention on the menu is a continuous memorial to his talent (we all miss him terribly). The shrimp are semi-butterflied and stuffed with a lardon of tasso ham, flash-fried and coated in the Crystal beurre blanc, served in a puddle of the jelly with the okra as garnish (and I eat all the garnish). This is served as an appetizer, but is so good that a double portion of it would make an entrée that would rival any shrimp dish in town (an idea I'm going to steal from Poppy one day). There were a few Commander's virgins in the crowd, so we had to get the shrimp and, of course, the crab ...
I'm not usually a fan of crab cakes. Usually they have too much filler, too much breading, too much something which takes away from the flavor of the crab, which one would think a crab cake should feature. I've had crab cakes so thoroughly fried that they had a carapace that had to be cracked open, only to find lots of mushy breadcrumb dressing flecked with crab inside ... yecch. As far as I'm concerned, if you want crab cakes, you go to Commander's. Why? Because they're The Best Crab Cakes In The Universe. Over an inch thick, mixed with just barely enough dressing to hold them together, just enough seasoning to enhance, not to mask, the flavor of the magnificent jumbo lump crabmeat that consitutes about 90% of the composition of this dish. They're ring-molded, briefly seared on both sides and served barely warm ... absolute perfection.
When we were chatting at the bar there was a gentleman sitting there dining alone, having made a meal of a starter of the Tasso Shrimp and a small main course of a dish that so startled me that I think a comic-strip thought balloon containing "!!!" had appeared over my head. It's a dish I'd never seen at Commander's in New Orleans, apparently because it's the creation of the executive chef of Commander's in Las Vegas, Chef Carlos Guia, and hasn't made it to the Crescent City yet. It's a dish that I had never thought of, because, well ... who'd think of such a thing?! A genius? A madman? We debated that very question as soon as we saw the dish prominently featured front and center on the menu, inside a box so that we couldn't miss it: Foie Gras Gumbo.
A couple of us were immediately skeptical and suspicious, with Louise thinking it inappropriately highfalutin', gumbo being an earthy dish of the people, and the addition of foie gras being a rich man's affectation. Well, it was an expensive dish, but not that expensive; at $14.50 it's one of the most affordable foie gras appetizers I've ever seen (with the exception of the $9.95 seared foie gras at Café Giovanni in the Quarter, but that serving is about the size of your thumb.) It's not a huge serving either, not as large as you'd expect from a bowl of filé gumbo, but you have to think about how rich this dish probably is, and how it could floor you if you're not careful. This consideration is reinforced when you hear about how it's made; captain Steve explained it to us, but here's a more detailed description excerpted from Nation's Restaurant News:
Executive chef Carlos Guia roasts cubes of chilled foie gras, seasoned with kosher salt and pepper, at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. He strains off the fat and uses some of it to saut? diced onion, celery, and red and yellow bell peppers. To that mirepoix he adds andouille sausage, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, wild mushrooms and Creole seasoning.
He adds the remaining foie gras fat and some flour to make a roux. He whisks in chicken and pork stock and simmers the mixture, skimming the top. He adds more Creole seasoning along with hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and filé powder.
He adds the roasted foie gras ten minutes before the dish is done.
As for our skepticism ... we were wrong, wrong, wrong. (Well, I thought we were, and I wasn't all that skeptical to begin with; in fact, I was kinda excited.) There's nothing wrong with taking a simple dish and elevating it to higher levels of complexity, and even a working man's gumbo is pretty complex in flavor. We ended up ordering one of these to share, and it's a good thing -- it's rich, very rich, and given all the other food that was to come that was probably wise. I must confess that it was so frackin' good that I was seriously considering ordering another one just for me (well, I'd probably give Wes some too), but if I had done that you would have had to change my name to Mr. Creosote by the end of the meal.
We got some sides too -- the Stone Ground Grits with Goat Cheese, Spinach Rockefeller and some Crawfish Étouffée (made with Breaux Bridge, Louisiana crawfish and superb), and then it came time for the entrée. Given this crowd and its history, you'd think that the seven of us would have ordered seven different things, with the plates orbiting the table all night as we take tastes (which we've done several times), but as it turned out, five of the seven of us zeroed in on the same thing ...
Well, we are The Fat Pack after all, and what do our lives revolve around? PORK! In this case, Kurobuta Pork Loin, and here's its description from the menu: Iron skillet seared Berkshire "black hog" served with fingerling potato steak fries tossed with toasted garlic and buttermilk blue cheese, cayenne ketchup emulsion and Creole mustard-bourbon sauce.
Um, holy frackin' bejeebies.
This was mind-bogglingly good; the pork seared to perfection, with a beautiful crust and perfectly pink on the inside, with that great tangy sauce (there was ketchup in that, go figure, and they say so proudly!). The fries, though, the fries ... Michael didn't like them as much, declaring them to be insufficiently crispy, and despite the fact that I'm a crispy fry fanatic I disagreed. They were crispy enough, and besides they were tossed with a topping (which makes my head spin just thinking about it right now). Fingerling potatoes have such a great flavor just plain and roasted, but like this, oh man. I actually left a little of the pork and finished the fries (well, I knew what was coming next).
Next, to our delight, was a dessert bomb, a Brennan specialty in which the table is bombarded with one (or more) of every single dessert on the menu, which also included a couple of plates of pralines decorated with "Happy Birthday!" in chocolate sauce for Diana and Wes. (Thanks, Ti!) Unfortunately my dessert bomb pictures are not the best, mostly due to two cocktails, two glasses of wine and the beginning of the onset of food coma. I'll try to see what I can salvage in Photoshop later, but for now the menu descriptions will have to do: Creole Opera Cake, thin layers of pecan genoise layered with chicory coffee buttercream and dark chocolate ganache, topped with Bourbon Chantilly and pecan praline cream; Passion Fruit Crêpes, housemade crêpes filled with passion fruit curd and California stawberries, topped with mixed berry granita and caramelized orange reduction suace; French Quarter Beignets, traditional New Orleans beignets dusted with powdered sugar, served with warm café au lait sauce and chocolate drizzles; Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé, Commander's signature dessert, a rich bread pudding whipped into a light fluffy soufflé and served with Bourbon whiskey sauce; and finally, the Brennan family classic, Bananas Foster, bananas cooked in brown sugar, butter and cinnamon and flamed with rum, served over vanilla ice cream.
Even though we didn't finish it all, the waiters were nevertheless impressed by how much we did finish (well, this group is not to be trifled with). It was the perfect capper for what may have been our best-ever meal at Commander's, and they've all been great. Taking very shallow breaths (as my stuffed-as-full-as-a-haggis stomach didn't allow much room for my diaphragm to expand my lung capacity), we waddled carefully out of the restaurant. Michael and Louise headed to Barbary Coast to see a band called Darby O'Gill and the Little People (hey, how were they anyway?) while the rest of us headed back across the street to Bellagio and digestivos at Petrossian Bar -- 20-year tawny port for Diana and Robin, Macallan for Steve, 16-year Hirsch Bourbon for Wes and a Chartreuse for me.
Later, we slept soundly.
No money for levees? Hey, New Orleans! 'Member when I said I'd do whatever it takes to rebuild your levees bigger and better then ever, no matter what it took? Well, turns out there ain't enough money to fix 'em up like I said. Sorry. Take lots of pictures of your city before next hurricane season so we'll all know what it once looked like.
The Bush administration said yesterday that the cost of rebuilding New Orleans's levees to federal standards has nearly tripled to $10 billion and that there may not be enough money to fully protect the entire region.
Donald E. Powell, the administration's rebuilding coordinator, said some areas may be left without the protection of levees strong enough to meet requirements of the national flood insurance program. Those areas probably would face enormous obstacles in attracting home buyers and investors willing to build there.
The news represents a shift for the administration; President Bush had pledged in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild New Orleans "higher and better." Now, some areas may lose out as they compete for levee protection. Powell's announcement, in a conference call with reporters, prompted denunciations from state and local officials who said the federal government is reneging on promises to rebuild the entire region.
"This monumental miscalculation is an outrage," said Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). "This means that, just two months before hurricane season, the Corps of Engineers informs us they cannot ensure even the minimum safety of southeastern Louisiana. This is totally unacceptable."
The change followed a surprise announcement from the Army Corps of Engineers that the levee reconstruction project, most recently estimated at $3.5 billion, would now cost $9.5 billion if insurance-certified levees were extended throughout the region.
I wish that at least they'd be as honest in their dishonesty as Earl Long was when he was governor, running on a tax cut platform and then realizing he'd have to raise taxes. When asked what he was going to tell the people, he said, "Tell 'em ah lied."
Clean house in New Orleans. The following information came via an email forwarded from Rob Florence in New Orleans, about a grassroots political movement called Clean House New Orleans. It all looks really good, but I fear it may be fizzling, at least as an organization; the "next meeting" listed was nearly two months ago, and since their blog was started in mid-February there have been no postings. Still, the stuff in the email is more than worth thinking about:
MISSION STATEMENT: To improve the political culture of New Orleans.
There is much anger and blame to go around. Profoundly failing us on the federal level are the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the President, and Congress. At the state level, Governor Blanco, various legislators, the bond commission, and the levee boards have been a disgrace. But as people lash out against at these agencies and officer holders, it is easy to overlook the tremendous amount of responsibility our city bears for this historic disaster. In the upcoming watershed election, New Orleans voters have a rare opportunity, even an obligation, to attempt to create a new political culture.
REASONS TO CLEAN HOUSE:
A) Past performance - THE KATRINA "PLAN" / Katrina stewardship which can't be blamed on the Corps or FEMA:
1) Communications - No announcement that the levees had failed until Tuesday morning, which was communicated by Jefferson Parish, not Orleans.
2) Superdome - Sending 50,000 people there as a refuge of last resort with insufficient sewerage, power, and security.
3) Flooded RTA & school buses - A indelible, shameful, iconic Katrina image.
4) Convention Center - An improvised solution: Authorities told people there would be buses at higher ground there yet there was no food, no water and nobody.
A constantly repeated complaint from those stuck there was that there was a total lack of order. On CNN, a man complained that there should be someone on a flatbed truck with a bullhorn telling people that the city was in control and they were OK, even if it was a lie. Furthermore, it was after people realized that they were in trouble at the Convention Center that they tried to walk across the bridge only to be turned back, an incident which has resulted in international disgust.
5) Hospitals and Nursing Homes - The City of New Orleans had NO PLAN to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes!!!
B) Current performance - All they do is fight, blame, and offer no plans.
C) Future performance - The next mayor and city council will be responsible for persuading a reluctant unsympathetic US Congress to take financial responsibility for the federal government's failures. As the congressional committee did in November, they will continue to grill our leaders and use failures such as flooded buses as an excuse to blame us for the situation in order to justify withholding funds. When grilled by Congress, new leadership can respond that they agree entirely and ran for office to improve upon their predescessor's failures. Whereas if we send the current leadership to Washington again, Americans everywhere will assume that we liked things the way they were and will be alot less sympathetic and less likely to support our demands for federal funding.
THINKING OF VOTING FOR A NEW ORLEANS INCUMBENT? CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:
FROM: "SAVING A CITY'S SOUL", by Chris Rose, The Times-Picayune, Friday, March 24, 2006:
"You don't have to live in New Orleans to understand that to go back to the old ways is to deliver a death sentence to this city in a way that even a hurricane cannot... So what do we do about it? To combat our legacy of political waste and incompetence, we have the power to vote to change things."
The more you think about the situation during Katrina, and the more you see what's being done (i.e., what isn't being done) locally in New Orleans, the more you think about getting rid of everyone in local office and starting over.
So NoTORIous! An only slightly fictionalized sitcom starting Tori Spelling, playing herself, amidst a gaggle of demanding friends and Loni Anderson as her perfectionist mother, in which Tori's looking for friendship, respect and love? Um, sounds unlikely on the surface, and a show I'd be unlikely to watch, but ya know what? It's pretty funny. I'll be watching and you should too, and that's not just because my friends Damon and Sharon are writers on it. There's a lot of humor from Hollywood in-jokes and celeb name-dropping, but that's all part of Tori's world, so if you ever wanted to make fun of celebrities, or watch celebrities make fun of themselves (and Tori's very charming as she goes about it), then check out this show, running ... um, practially around the clock on VH-1.[ Link to today's entries ]
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Would monsieur care for an after-deener meent? Eet's wahferr-theen! (Ooohhhh ... f*ck off, I can't eat another bite. I'm absolutely stuffed.)
Okay, enough with the "Are you alive? Have someone check your pulse!" emails. I'm alive, just fat and groggy.
In the final blowout for Wes' 40th birthday month, we headed to Las Vegas (along with about 30 other friends and family from L.A., New Orleans, New York and Ireland) to have a party. There were four Gargantuan meals -- Rosemary's, Carluccio's Tivoli Gardens (formerly Liberace's Tivoli Gardens, next door to the Liberace Museum), brunch buffet at Bellagio and a mind-boggling meal at Commander's Palace. Net weight gain -- five days, five pounds. (Oy.) Fortunately three have already come off, as I've been eating vegetables, soup and toast for the last three days.
The party was a total blast, and was held at the Piano Room at Carluccio's. The restaurant was designed by Liberace, and the Piano Room is completely mirrored and festooned with twinkly lights (which unfortunately gave a couple of our friends headaches), with the music to his signature song "I'll Be Seeing You" etched along the mirrored walls, a giant bar shaped like a grand piano and anchored with one of Liberace's mirrored pianos, which is signed. It doesn't get any kitschier than that, folks.
Food porn up soon, when I have time to get some of the pics into Photoshop.
The Cocktailian. In today's edition of Gary Regan's fortnightly column, The Professor, our cocktailian bartender, plays with yet another wacky new liqueur called "Qi", made with smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, adds Bourbon, Peychaud's and orange bitters and a few kumquats and comes up with a cocktail called the Memere. Fond as I am of my Earl Grey infused gin, I'm wondering if I'll ever end up with a bottle of something as off-the-wall as this stuff, but I guess we'll have to see. Maybe I can find a 50ml of it somewhere. The drink sounds intriguing, though, full of bitters as it is.[ Link to today's entries ]
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Cocktail of the day. We've got an inadvertent theme going this week -- whiskey-based cocktails that are closely related to one another and yet very distinctly flavored.
We were back to Irish whiskey last night with this entry from Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology. Lovely drink, and a very close cousin (if not sibling) of my own St. Dominic's Preview. The whiskey was once again Tullamore Dew, the bitters Regans', and the vermouth Martini & Rossi. The recipe specified a garnish of a green maraschino cherry, which visually is in keeping with the theme of this cocktail. Unfortunately green maraschino cherries are macerated in a mint syrup and taste absolutely vile, and fortunately we didn't have any. A red one was substituted. Use a green one if you can find one that isn't minty-fresh.
2 ounces Irish whiskey.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
3 dashes orange bitters.
Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds; strain into a cocktail glass.
Cherry garnish optional.
Up the Dubs! (Well, cocktail-wise, anyway. If I cared about such things I'd be a Galway man. Actually, on the rare opportunities I get to do so I love watching hurling; it's really exciting.)
Hmm ... do I need to invent a cocktail called "The Galwegian"?
I'm shocked, shocked to find that there are drunk people in this bar! Bushland's latest absurdity. "So the next step," Rick asks, "is sending undercover agents into Olive Garden to arrest people for being fat?" You ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo with extra cream sauce, ma'am ... you're under arrest.
Texas arresting people in bars for being drunk
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - Texas has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest drinkers for being drunk, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said on Wednesday.
The first sting operation was conducted recently in a Dallas suburb where agents infiltrated 36 bars and arrested 30 people for public intoxication, said the commission's Carolyn Beck.
Being in a bar does not exempt one from the state laws against public drunkenness, Beck said.
The goal, she said, was to detain drunks before they leave a bar and go do something dangerous like drive a car.
"We feel that the only way we're going to get at the drunk driving problem and the problem of people hurting each other while drunk is by crackdowns like this," she said.
"There are a lot of dangerous and stupid things people do when they're intoxicated, other than get behind the wheel of a car," Beck said. "People walk out into traffic and get run over, people jump off of balconies trying to reach a swimming pool and miss."
She said the sting operations would continue throughout the state.
I have a big problem with this. Wes put it perfectly: "What business is it of the state if I'm intoxicated in a bar (an establishment that, hello, has a license to sell alcohol), as long as I don't drive drunk or otherwise injure someone or cause property damage? Since when has the 'public' part of 'public drunkenness' been interpreted to include the interior of a privately owned bar? At this rate, we'll have to turn them all back into clubs and charge a nominal membership fee so they can be considered 'private.'" I'm all for the return of the speakeasy, if it'll keep these kinds of absurd intrusions at bay.
Look, I drink (although rarely to excess). I enjoy alcohol, I consume it responsibly and usually enjoy a cocktail when I get home from work, or a glass of wine with dinner. That said, I'm no fan of obnoxious drunks. I'm all for preventing injury or death perpetrated by a drunk behind the wheel, and this is why a bartender is legally mandated to stop serving someone who's obviously intoxicated. The problem is, if a person can't even have one too many in a bar and stay there safely while he or she drinks water or soda to sober up before leaving, i.e. going out in public, without some idiot cop coming up to said person in a bar and forcing them to take a breathalyzer test for sitting on a barstool while intoxicated, then this goes too far. It's a little too much like the "Precrime" cops in Minority Report. Where do draw the line? If you're in a bar and have had two drinks within an hour, you're probably above the .08 BAC that's the cutoff for being too drunk to drive. Can these cops arrest you in a bar for that, or are they looking only for people with lampshades on their heads? Where do they draw the line?
I don't like it.[ Link to today's entries ]
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Cocktail of the day. I thought I had posted this drink before, but an internal search reveals no mentions on Looka! ... weird. It's an old favorite of ours, and we had a couple last night. It's listed in CocktailDB, albeit with no notes as to its origin, but we first found it at Robert Hess' DrinkBoy.
The brands we used for the first three ingredients were Eagle Rare 10 Year Old, Maraska and Regans' No. 6, respectively.
The Fancy-Free Cocktail
2 ounces Bourbon.
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur.
1 dash orange bitters.
1 dash Angostura bitters.
Stir and strain for no less than 30 seconds.
Strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a stemless cherry.
It was, of course, the inspiration for Wes wanting to create his first original cocktail, in hopes that (at least at one or two bars) he'd be able to walk up to the bar and say, "Bartender, I'd like a Footloose, and my friend here will have a Fancy-Free." Ah, maybe one day.
The Chief Hounds seem excited, and after a moment's thought I'm excited too. Chowhound, due to its always having been a homegrown effort, had really overworked, lousy software, and I hated having to load literally 2MB of posts on one page before I could read anything. (I subscribe to the weekly Los Angeles ChowNews to get the digest of the best stuff.)
[CNET] have no interest in dumbing down anything, believing - correctly, I think - that with some much-needed improvements, Chowhound could continue to grow while maintaining its values and pleasing its loyal users. In fact, without exception, every CNET exec I spoke to was clearly houndish themselves - some for food, some for music or other things, but all had passion in their eyes. Several were already site users. It seemed right. They clearly "got" it... and not just in lip service!
I am so extremely happy to say this to you all: we will *finally* get new software! With good search and everything! And we will be redesigned by an awesome design firm (with the help of lots of smart suggestions from our user community). Now that Chowhound is a part of CNET Networks, I'll be freed up to do lots more writing for the site. The Chow Team and I are still here, working hard to keep things maximally chowy. And we will never again need to bug you to support our effort (or to panic about meeting the monthly server bill).
Bravo. I hope all the great Houndfolk who've been running this site for so long got a pile of money and a living out of this, and I can't wait to see how the new site will look. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it all goes well. (Hmm, I wonder if they'll keep charging $30/year for ChowNews.)
Glencreosote and other Scots whiskies. I'm still very early in my journey to learn about Scots whisky (a term some seem to prefer to "Scotch" these days), as I've historically been more of an Irish, Bourbon and rye man. My Scotch collectoin is small but not too bad -- some Glenmorangie, Dalwhinnie (which is quite good), Compass Box Hedonism and Orangerie (the latter being a Scots whisky and orange liqueur, actually), Glenlivet 12 Year Old, the blended Famous Grouse and a bottle of 10 Year Old Laphroaig (only 1/4 ounce of which I've used, in a Dreamy Dorini Smoking Martini from when Wes and I spent New Year's Eve at home three years ago, watching movies and getting drunk on Audrey Saunders cocktails) which I am not yet qualified to drink neat.
What I should probably do is attend more whisky tastings. Eric Felden of the Wall Street Journal (not typically my favorite paper, but in this instance we've at least got tippling in common) visits the Scots Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh for a tasting. (Read and/or save the page soon, as this link will rot in less than a week.)
I was met there by Annabel Meikle, who is on the society's tasting panel. Members of the panel convene to test samples of available casks and choose the ones they like, usually whiskies that exhibit characteristics at odds with what would be expected from the distilleries they come from. They then write whimsical, often wacky, tasting notes to describe each whisky the society sells.
Who hasn't read a wine or spirit review at some point without a bit of eye-rolling at the overripe prose and improbable observations so common to the trade? The society tasters take such language to an extreme, with a sly wink and a nudge. "The full strength nose has smoky bonfires, harbour smells, dusty-musty bookshops and Brasso," they wrote of one Longrow cask.
American members reading the descriptions will find themselves faced with some decidedly British references. There are whiskies that hint at "Fairy Liquid" [dishwashing soap], salt-and-vinegar "crisps" [potato chips], "gammon" [ham leg] and such Pythonesque potential head-scratchers as "smoldering slag heaps with brown sauce from a chippie [fish-and-chips shop]," "creosote and sheep dip" and "caramelized neeps" [turnips].
At times one can't help but suspect that the tasting panel is putting us on. I (and my friends at the Humane Society) hope and trust that "barbecued cat" was merely an imagined redolence. But just when you think that the tasters are inventing fanciful descriptions for mere effect, they show that they mean it. One barrel of the Speyside malt Cragganmore is described as having a scent with a "strong sweetness reminiscent of Bazooka Joe bubble-gum," and they go on to detail exactly what they mean -- "a floral combination of roses and carnations with the rubberiness of school erasers." They're right: That is exactly what Bazooka smells like. And it is also an apt description of that odd but intriguing combination of flowers and solvents that characterizes many of the best Scotch whiskies.
I like the flowers, but I might have to learn to appreciate the solvents. (Mmmmm, neeps and barbecued cat.)
Cooking for dummies. Sadly, we are now afflicted by the dumbing down of cooking.
At Kraft Foods, recipes never include words like "dredge" and "sauté." Betty Crocker recipes avoid "braise" and "truss." Land O' Lakes has all but banned "fold" and "cream" from its cooking instructions. And Pillsbury carefully sidesteps "simmer" and "sear."
When the country's top food companies want to create recipes that millions of Americans will be able to understand, there seems to be one guiding principle: They need to be written for a nation of culinary illiterates.
Basic cooking terms that have been part of kitchen vocabulary for centuries are now considered incomprehensible to the majority of Americans. Despite the popularity of the Food Network cooking shows on cable TV, and the burgeoning number of food magazines and gourmet restaurants, today's cooks have fewer kitchen skills than their parents -- or grandparents -- did.
To compensate, food companies are dumbing down their recipes, and cookbooks are now published with simple instructions and lots of step-by-step illustrations.
"Thirty years ago, a recipe would say, 'Add two eggs,' " said Bonnie Slotnick, a longtime cookbook editor and owner of a rare-cookbook shop in New York's Greenwich Village. "In the '80s, that was changed to 'beat two eggs until lightly mixed.' By the '90s, you had to write, 'In a small bowl, using a fork, beat two eggs,' " she said. "We joke that the next step will be, 'Using your right hand, pick up a fork and ...' "
Even the writers and editors of the Joy of Cooking, working on a 75th anniversary edition to be published by Charles Scribner's Sons in November, have argued "endlessly" over whether to include terms like "blanch," "fold" and "sauté," said Beth Wareham, Scribner's director of lifestyle publications. "I tell them, 'Why should we dumb it down?' When you learn to drive, you learn terms like 'brake' and 'parallel park.' Why is it okay to be stupid when you cook?"
I seem to have missed this distressing phenomenon, as I come from a culture of people who cook and because I generally don't make recipes that come from places like Kraft or Betty Crocker (usually heavy with their own processed products).
I have gotten occasional emails from people reading my recipes, asking what it means to sauté something; I just assumed they were anomalous dumbshits. (Okay, just kidding. Sorta.) Seriously, if you're going to cook, you can get a paperback copy of a basic cookbook like The Joy of Cooking for just a few bucks. Why would one try to do anything without learning a single thing about how to do it properly? Gee, I think I'll take up simple auto mechanics, but I won't bother to learn what a spark plug is or how to drain oil from an engine.
Word of advice -- if you're unfamiliar with a culinary term you come across in a recipe, remember that (as in so many other situations) Google Is Your Friend.
Organic food vs. local food. Some very interesting points raised in this Slate article -- while singing the praises of organic food stores like Whole Foods, there's more to think about when you look more closely at what they offer.
Let's say you live in New York City and want to buy a pound of tomatoes in season. Say you can choose between conventionally grown New Jersey tomatoes or organic ones grown in Chile. Of course, the New Jersey tomatoes will be cheaper. They will also almost certainly be fresher, having traveled a fraction of the distance. But which is the more eco-conscious choice? In terms of energy savings, there's no contest: Just think of the fossil fuels expended getting those organic tomatoes from Chile. Which brings us to the question: Setting aside freshness, price, and energy conservation, should a New Yorker just instinctively choose organic, even if the produce comes from Chile? A tough decision, but you can make a self-interested case for the social and economic benefit of going Jersey, especially if you prefer passing fields of tomatoes to fields of condominiums when you tour the Garden State.
Another heading on the Whole Foods banner says "Help the Small Farmer." "Buying organic," it states, "supports the small, family farmers that make up a large percentage of organic food producers." This is semantic sleight of hand. As one small family farmer in Connecticut told me recently, "Almost all the organic food in this country comes out of California. And five or six big California farms dominate the whole industry." There's a widespread misperception in this country -- one that organic growers, no matter how giant, happily encourage -- that "organic" means "small family farmer." That hasn't been the case for years, certainly not since 1990, when the Department of Agriculture drew up its official guidelines for organic food. Whole Foods knows this well, and so the line about the "small family farmers that make up a large percentage of organic food producers" is sneaky. There are a lot of small, family-run organic farmers, but their share of the organic crop in this country, and of the produce sold at Whole Foods, is minuscule.
I've always been a little suspicious of the whole "organic" thing anyway -- more often than not "organic" is a synonym for "expensive", and although we still get our bi-weekly delivery from Organic Express (primarily for convenience), we often find the quality of the produce from the neighborhood Albertson's on the corner to be superior for certain items.
I'm really big on local produce and small farmers, and one of the best ways to support and take advantage of that is to visit your local farmer's market, something I wish we did more often.[ Link to today's entries ]
Monday, March 20, 2006
St. Joseph's Day in New Orleans was yesterday, and the altars are back great form. Always a big holiday among the large Sicilian community in New Orleans and those around them, St. Joseph's Day also meant that my mom and grandmother would bring home a sack full of goodies, mostly Italian cookies and pastries, plus a "lucky bean" so that the pantry would never be bare. Although I've left Catholicism behind, I still like this holiday.
Poppy's been writing about her participation in St. Joseph's Day activities (plus here, here and here. Don't miss her photo set of the St. Joseph's altars she visited, and have a look at this "virtual St. Joseph's altar" featuring a pile of recipes for Italian dishes.
Yesterday was also Super Sunday -- did anyone go see some Indians?
Saving Broadmoor. David Winkler-Schmit of South Prieur Street writes about how he and his neighbors are determined to rebuild and restore their flooded New Orleans neighborhood, after seeing that the Bring New Orleans Back Commission saw their future as a big green circle (i.e., future parkland).
Cocktail of the day. Because you're going to need a drink before continuing to read today's posts.
This one, a very tasty Manhattan variation, came from The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. For best results, use a high-quality, spicy sweet vermouth like Carpano's Punt E Mes or Antica Formula, and Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6.
The Marconi Wireless Cocktail
2 ounces applejack (or apple brandy).
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
2 dashes orange bitters.
Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds.
Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a cherry.
Your tax dollars at work, part 8,617. Rather, your tax dollars at waste:
The government wasted millions of dollars in its award of post-Katrina Hurricane contracts for disaster relief, including at least $3 million for 4,000 beds that were never used, congressional auditors said Thursday.
The Government Accountability Office's review of 13 major contracts -- many of them awarded with limited or no competition after the Aug. 29 hurricane -- offers the first preliminary overview of their soundness.
Waste and mismanagement were widespread due to poor planning and miscommunication, according to the five-page briefing paper released Thursday. That led to money being paid for services, such as housing or ice, that were never used.
Of more than 700 contracts valued at $500,000 or greater, more than half were awarded without full competition or with vague or open-ended terms, including politically connected companies such as Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, Bechtel Corp. and AshBritt Inc.
"Previous reports of waste in the aftermath of Katrina have been bad, but this one is worse," said Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee.
"The Bush administration has learned nothing from its disastrous contract management in Iraq," he said. "The administration seems incapable of spending money in a way that actually meets the needs of Gulf Coast residents."
Color us surprised. This was predicted as soon as the adminstration began its criminally belated response to the disaster by assigning contracts to its cronies.
Of course, Halliburton got these contracts not because of their huge GOP contributions and close adminstration ties and because Vice President Dick "The Cannibal" Cheney was their former CEO who's still getting checks from them, it's because they're generally highly competent and because they were able to do the best job for the people, right? Er, no.
Halliburton Co. failed to protect the water supply it is paid to purify for U.S. soldiers throughout Iraq, in one instance missing contamination that could have caused "mass sickness or death," an internal company report concluded.
The report, obtained by The Associated Press, said the company failed to assemble and use its own water purification equipment, allowing contaminated water directly from the Euphrates River to be used for washing and laundry at Camp Ar Ramadi in Ramadi, Iraq.
The problems discovered last year at that site -- poor training, miscommunication and lax record keeping -- occurred at Halliburton's other operations throughout Iraq, the report said.
And today, there's this:
How many contractors does it take to haul a pile of tree branches? If it's government work, at least four: a contractor, his subcontractor, the subcontractor's subcontractor, and finally, the local man with a truck and chainsaw.
If the job is patching a leaking roof, the answer may be five contractors, or even six. At the bottom tier is a Spanish-speaking crew earning less than 10 cents for every square foot of blue tarp installed. At the top, the prime contractor bills the government 15 times as much for the same job.
For the thousands of contractors in the Katrina recovery business, this is the way the system works -- a system that federal officials say is the same after every major disaster but that local government officials, watchdog groups and the contractors themselves say is one reason that costs for the hurricane cleanup continue to swell.
"If this is 'normal,' we have a serious problem in this country," said Benny Rousselle, president of Plaquemines Parish, a hurricane-ravaged district downriver from New Orleans. "The federal government ought to be embarrassed about what is happening. If local governments tried to run things this way, we'd be run out of town."
Federal agencies in charge of Katrina cleanup have been repeatedly criticized for lapses in managing the legions of contractors who perform tasks ranging from delivering ice to rebuilding schools. Last Thursday, Congress's independent auditor, the Government Accountability Office, said inadequate oversight had cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, by allowing contractors to build shelters in the wrong places or to purchase supplies that were not needed.
But each week, many more millions are paid to contractors who get a cut of the profits from a job performed by someone else. In instances reviewed by The Washington Post, the difference between the job's actual price and the fee charged to taxpayers ranged from 40 percent to as high as 1,700 percent.
I know this country has too short of an attention span to actually do something like organize a millions-strong march on Washington, but can we please all remember this when we go to the voting booth in November, and get vote the ruling party out of power in the legislative branch?
Survey: Bush = "incompetent". Making our day ... "In one independent survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, a plurality of respondents used the word 'incompetent' when asked to describe [George W.] Bush. In previous polls, the most common word had been 'honest.'"
It took them this long to figure this out?[ Link to today's entries ]
Friday, March 17, 2006 :: Lá Fhéile Pádraig
Ná cuir ceist orm ... níl a fhois agam. (I do know, actually; I just like saying that.) Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit! Happy St. Patrick's Day, and all that. No feckin' green beer today, please. Black.
I'm reminded of a lyric Christy Moore quoted on his site today, a Colm Gallagher song he does that is included on his superb box set entitled "The Grand St. Patrick's in San Fernando" (which I should've played last night, yet opted for something a bit more lighthearted):
I'm so happy now St. Patrick's day is over
And all the paper hats are thrown away.
All the plastic Paddies are put back in the clover
But they will return another day...
The Irish Times tells us what's expected at St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Ireland this year:
In Dublin, [St Patrick would] be a tad baffled by the aerial acrobatics, the supermodel donkeys, the bellydancers, the Slovenian gypsy music, the unconscionable number of drummers, the fantasy football (Ireland versus Brazil if you please) and fantasy weather (the Caribbean comes to the Gaeltacht), and Harry Potter as Gaeilge... not to mention the spectacle of Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners, purveyor of Seven Drunken Nights, grand marshalling the parade.
In Belfast, he'll be gratified (or not) to note that the city council has stirred its sombre soul enough to set aside the cash for a St Patrick's Day bash but only on condition that such inflammatory paraphernalia as Irish flags will be left at home.
"Thankfully" -- to quote the British Guardian -- "it IS forking out for some top-notch entertainment from the Ulster-Scots Orchestra, whose repertoire includes that notably non-sectarian Unionist and Orange Order anthem 'The Lambeg Drum'. Fun, fun, fun".
Ah Jaysis, those Loyalists sure do know how to party, don't they?
Then again, in his omniscience, St Patrick will be aware that the whole greenfest in his name began in America with Protestants so there's a certain symmetry there.
Meanwhile, in the US, he'll hardly be surprised to find that the proud old tradition of the feuding Irish is being stoutly maintained in several inventive ways.
The story there is not about who's in the parades, but who's out.
(Oh right, no icky queers allowed in U.S. Irish parades.)
In Manhattan, the organisers continue to ban gay groups because they are "anti-Catholic". In Belmar, a group of Irish dwarfs -- or little people as they prefer to be called -- has been banned from the Belmar event for being too drunk last year.
What, no drunks either?! Sure they're only little, how much trouble could they be?
In Morristown, Bishop Serratelli has roused his priests to protest against the inclusion of the National Organisation for Women (Now) in the parade, because of its support for women's reproductive rights.
The parade organisers are sticking by the women, who have marched in the parade since 1992, accompanied only by a small, non-political shamrock-decorated float.
But the bishop holds the trump card. His opposition to Now is based on an unimpeachable source. This happens to be glorious St Patrick himself, who, to paraphrase the bishop, was dead against abortion, birth control and reproductive rights.
How the bishop knows this must remain between himself and the great man who purported to banish the snakes (although doubts remain, sadly).
Meh. If I were out celebrating today, I'd rather it be at the corner of Constance and Third in da Irish Channel.
Try not to be too much a plastic Paddy, but have an enjoyable day all the same. (As for us, we find that an Irish bar is the last place we want to be on St. Patrick's Day. We'll stay home and drink, thanks, and watch "Father Ted" and "The Van", I think. Such homebodies.)
Deoch! Okay, so there may be drinking involved. (No! I don't believe it!)
If I were to offer a Cocktail of the Day today, it might be simply this:
Guinness DraughtOne pint Guinness, poured properly. Sip through the head. Savor. Enjoy. Repeat.
There's a caveat, though -- make sure that the places you order Guinness from the tap actually do it well. A couple of weeks ago we went with some friends to The Knitting Factory in Hollywood to see The Sacred Cowboys, a country/Southern rock band whose lead singer is W. Earl Brown, whom you may know better as Dan Dority, Al Swearingen's evil henchman on "Deadwood". They were great, but I swear ... the Guinness I was served there was without a doubt the most god-awful pint it has ever been my displeasure to have pass my lips. It tasted old, stale, heavily metallic and ... well, Jaysis knows what other shite was in that line. It may have been the single most disagreeable pint of Guinness served to anyone since Arthur Guinness started his brewery in Dublin in 1759. Needless to say, do not ever order a Guinness at The Knitting Factory. (Andy said even the whiskey tasted "off", so you're probably better off with bottled beer.)
If there isn't a decent pub in your neighborhood, apparently you can just order a pre-built pub and they'll deliver it to you (which I find fascinating and bizarre).
Speaking of whiskey ... it should be Irish this weekend, of course. We have a pretty decent collection at home, consisting of, if I recall correctly:
John Powers Gold Label, John Powers 12 Year Old, Jameson, Jameson 12 Year Old, Tullamore Dew, Kilbeggan, Locke's 8 Year Old Single Malt, Redbreast 12 Year Old, Paddy, Bushmills, Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt, Bushmills 21 Year Old, Midleton Very Rare 2003.
There will be sipping.
Then there's the cocktail question. Well, sad to say, Ireland isn't much of a cocktail-drinking country. I love the pints and the pure drop, but when were were last there I did miss the ould cocktail. (The Octagon Bar at the Clarence in Dublin filled the bill, although at an eye-popping €15.50 per drink for starters.)
There isn't really a "typically Irish" cocktail, although you'll see lots of things with Irish names, many green for the sake of being green, and that greenness coming from awful doses of green crème de menthe. "What about Irish coffee?" you ask. A lovely drink it is, but I've always thought of it as kicked-up coffee rather than an actual cocktail. It didn't exactly spring up from local pub culture; it was invented by head chef Joseph Sheridan at Foynes Airport in Co. Clare (precursor to the modern Shannon Airport). As the story goes, "passengers from America would come into the Foynes airport via seaplanes (flying boats), chilled due to weather conditions. Typically they would order hot cups of coffee or tea when the arrived to their terminals. Brendan O'Regan, the manager of the Foynes catering service, believed the passengers would like something stronger than just coffee or tea and so Joseph Sheridan created the Irish Coffee." This would have been sometime in the 1940s, and Sheridan moved to Shannon when Foynes was closed in 1945, taking his recipe with him.
I'm not sure if many people in Ireland other than tourists ever order this in a pub, but that aside it's really good when made well, and is perfect for taking the chill of a wintry day. It's easy to make, although having hand-whipped cream on hand isn't generally a daily occurrence in my house (and don't you dare use that stuff from the can).
Joseph Sheridan's Original Irish Coffee
Heat a stemmed whiskey goblet.
Pour in one shot of Irish whiskey.
Add three sugar cubes.
Fill with strong black coffee to within one inch of the top. Stir gently.
Top off to the brim with heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks.
Drink the whiskey-laced coffee through the cream; do not stir.
There's one cocktail I'm quite fond of that's becoming associated with this day, although I doubt that a single person in Ireland will drink one today (as opposed to the 150 pints of Guinness that are being pulled per second for each of the 24 hours of St. Paddy's Day). It's Irish whiskey-based and quite lovely, but calls for a bit of a tolerance for the intensely herbal liqueur Chartreuse:
The Tipperary Cocktail
3/4 ounce Irish whiskey.
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds and strain into a cocktail glass.
In yesterday's edition of The Cocktailian, Gary Regan's fortnightly column in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Professor, our cocktailian bartender, offers a different version; same ingredients, different proportions -- "More whiskey, less vermouth, less Chartreuse."
The Tipperary Cocktail
The Professor's Variation
2 ounces Irish whiskey.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce green Chartreuse.
Pour the Chartreuse into a chilled cocktail glass, and by tilting the glass and rotating it at the same time, coat the entire interior of the glass. Discard the excess Chartreuse. Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add the whiskey and the vermouth. Stir for approximately 30 seconds and strain into the prepared cocktail glass.
Here's my own contribution to the small roster of "Irish" cocktails (actually, Irish whiskey cocktails). I've posted it in the past, added a little history and what is a very good name, I must admit.
St. Dominic's Preview
2 ounces Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
2 dashes orange bitters.
Few dashes Herbsaint, Pernod or other pastis.
Shake a few dashes of pastis into a rocks (Old Fashioned / whiskey) glass, then swirl around to coat. Pour most of it out, leaving a little puddle of it in the bottom of the glass. Combine the whiskey, liqueur and bitters in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice, stir for no less than 30 seconds and strain into the coated glass. Twist the peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.
Yeah, it's a long way to Buffalo, and a long long way to Belfast city too ...
If you follow all of the above suggestions ... well, try to space them out a bit.
Bia! Since St. Patrick's Day falls on a Friday this year, by extension you should be celebrating all weekend. This'll give you plenty of time to do some cooking, so get busy on these wonderful Irish dishes (I can't wait to have the first two, as tomorrow night's dinner):
If I'm really brave, we'll start out with that glorious cornucopia of pork products, the Full Irish Breakfast: Eggs, rashers (Irish bacon), sausages, black pudding (yum!), white pudding, potato farls, brown bread, butter and strong tea. For starters. With your pint try some Irish cheeses, maybe Dubliner or Cashel Blue. Then, for dinner, you could try ...
Mrs. O'Sullivan's Irish Stew with Lamb and Guinness. This is fabulous -- hearty, full of flavor and extremely comforting, especially if the weather is crappy.
Scallion Champ. I suspect that once you have this you'll never go back to making plain, boring mashed potatoes again. Don't skimp on the butter, either. Here's another recipe using heavy cream (eep!).
Fried Irish Bacon and Cabbage. A variation on the classic "boiled dinner" of a slab of raw, uncured Irish bacon with cabbage, and a variation I rather like.
Colcannon, the classic dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage.
Brown bread, of course. Irish brown (soda) bread is one of the greatest things ever, warm (or not) with a little jam and butter and a cup of mindbogglingly strong tea. Note that if you use regular American flour it won't taste the same as the brown bread you may have had in Ireland. Substitute cake flour for all or most of the white flour in the recipe, or use flour from Ireland or, better still, the one-step brown bread kits from Odlums in Ireland (I get mine at my local Irish import shop).
Chocolate Guinness Goodness, something I've never tried but which looks fasciniating (I've had chocolate with my Guinness on more than one occasion). It's an intensely rich dark chocolate pudding infused with Guinness and topped with a creamy "head" of whipped cream, also mixed with the beer.
There's lots more at Epicurious' St. Patrick's Day feature. The current issue of Saveur magazine (the website's behind, sadly) has an excellent article about Irish food and cooking this month, so check that out too.
Ceol! If you missed my all-Irish special last night ... well, you missed out. I started with Christy, singing one of his own, about The Man himself:
You've heard of St. Dennis from France,
He never was much for to brag on.
You heard of St. George and his lance
How he slayed the auld heathenish dragon.
The Saints of the Welshmen and Scots
Are a couple of pitiful pipers
And might just as well go to pot
when compared to the patron of vipers
St. Patrick of Ireland, my dears.
Looking through that playlist is a decent place to start with your weekend Irish music-listening. You should also check out RTÉ's excellent television series "Other Voices", which thanks to the miracle of modern technology you can watch via the web. My discovery of the month: Dublin band The Immediate, featured on programme 7 of the current series.
Buy Mic Christopher's Skylarkin too, while you're at it.
That's a start, anyway.
Craic! From Julian Gough, lead singer and lyricist of legendary Galway band Toasted Heretic. I've only seen two Heretic gigs, but Jaysis, what I would have given to have been at this one:
I do remember someone trying to kill me during a gig in Roscrea [in Co. Tipperary]. I've told this story before but... He'd come out of prison that day, after serving time for assault, and had fought with his girlfriend. He heckled me, and I addressed various lovesongs to him, as well as much between-song banter implying (well, stating) that I had broken up with him and he should get over it. He leaped on stage, ripped the shirt off my back (but not the arms of the shirt, which amusingly stayed on me), and chased me 'round the room while I called him 'darling' and said I wouldn't take him back no matter how he pleaded.
It ended with me under a table having my eyes gouged by the ex-prisoner (most unpleasant), as the rest of the band fought the bouncers The bouncers were elderly off-duty guards, who had been at the back of the hall chatting, and paying no attention to the music. They rushed to the front when they heard the rumpus, in time to see the band leap off stage to try and rescue me. Of course, the bouncers didn't recognise the band, and the band thought the bouncers were yer man's friends, so they fought each other while I wrestled with the aggrieved heckler under a nearby table, my thumbs hooked under his thumbs as they squeezed my eyeballs.
When we were loading the van after the show, someone had scrawled "Always remember Roscrea" in the dirt on the side.
And I do, fondly.
Heretic's first two cassette-only albums have been lovingly remastered and packaged into a stunning 2-CD set called Now In New Nostalgia Flavour. They're for sales in the States via CD Baby. Get the set NOW, before the bastards at Tayto (formerly my favorite Irish crisp) round them all up and destroy them.
And if you ask nicely and promise to buy me a pint some day, I'll send you a very rare Heretic song, one of their best. (Brendan, you already have it, of course.)[ Link to today's entries ]
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Quote of the day. This is great.
"Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn't place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."
-- Jamie Raskin, Democratic candidtate for Maryland state senate, replying under oath when asked by Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs whether marriage discrimination against gay people is required by "God's Law"
Walkin' to New Orleans. This in yesterday via Jane and Nate (thanks, Jane!)
[This week] there is a march from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans called, "Walkin' to New Orleans". It's organized by Veterans for Peace, with Iraq Vets Against the War, Gold Star Families Against the War, Viet Nam Vets, et al. participating, along with Katrina survivors. They are marching on the 3rd anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to point out the injustice of spending billions on the war while our own citizens of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are still in limbo. Nate is on the march and says there's about 300 people hiking down the highway to Pascagoula today.
This is a very cool thing, and I hope it gets some notice. Here's a site with daily updates.
Laughing our way back to life. Novelist Mark Childress, a "once and future" resident of New Orleans, writes of the first post-K Mardi Gras, and of my favorite of the parades I attended (which I've illustrated with my own photographs):
I hadn't been back to New Orleans since early October. I never expected the city to look this much worse, five months later. All those houses frozen in place by their high-water lines were now unfrozen, innards spilled on the sidewalks. Mayor Ray Nagin, a whirlwind of contradictory activity back then, had dwindled to an uneasy Cheshire smile on a billboard, hemmed in on all sides by happier-looking opponents.
[... T]he cable-news reports from Mardi Gras cycled endlessly over sparse attendance, worried officials, the desperate condition of the dispossessed. The disaster-porn glimpses of the Lower Ninth and St. Bernard made the onset of Carnival feel like a party at which people are planning to put in a brief, dutiful appearance before they cut out early.
Or maybe that was just me. I hate seeing New Orleans flipped over on its back like a bug with its legs wiggling helplessly in the air. I hate seeing trash strewn in the streets all over town, not just in the Quarter at Carnival time. I hate getting a lump in my throat every 15 minutes or so.
But then out of the drizzly night came the floats of the Krewe d'État. Boxing Blanco. Refrigerator Hurling. The Nagin Backstroke. The Mold Vault with a cartoony duct-taped fridge and a gorgeous spew of sparkly green vomit. Hideous, leering Brownie asking his immortal question, "Anything I can tweak?" An elaborate float representing the Chocolate City, in the act of melting.
The Mold Monster
Katrina, you bitch!
Heckuva job, Brownie...
And dear God, here came Death himself through the streets, throwing beads, showing his bones, grinning his terrible death-smile. Death's costume was so great it made me laugh. And I realized I had been laughing for a few minutes now. The Krewe d'État had done the boldest thing imaginable: They had made art of the worst disaster in American history. Not only art -- they had made comedy, too. Hilarious, life-affirming, city-renewing, life-saving comedy, bursting with artistry and smarts. Is there another city on the planet whose people would respond to such a disaster with this outpouring of good humor, plus all the beads you can catch?
[...] Later on [Mardi Gras Day], my friends and I wandered over to the gathering of Mardi Gras Indians at the Backstreet Museum. That's where I saw a smiling guy in the lowest-tech costume imaginable, the best one I saw all day. Jeans and sneakers, no mask. A carefully lettered T-shirt proclaiming, "FEMA Promised Me A Costume."
I started laughing, and for a while I couldn't stop. When I managed to stop, I remembered the thing my mama always says when anything bad happens: "Well, it's better to laugh than to cry."
Here's a shot of Steve (in his aforementioned costume) and Mary (whose costume got some press attention as well):
I really loved the Krewe d'État. Next to the stupendous Krewe du Vieux, it's easily the most satirical of the krewes (and I'd say it's the most satirical krewe that's clean enough to bring your kids to). We had a blast.
The entire set of my photos from the Krewe d'État parade can be seen here. I'll have photos of the Mardi Gras Indians on the streets of the Tremé, wacky costumes and other Mardi Gras photos up when I have time.
A Flood of Emotions. Expat New Orleanian Scott Jordan, now living in Carencro and working as the editor of Lafayette's Independent Weekly wrote an excellent article about heading back home for Mardi Gras.
Being back in front of our old home triggers random memories. One night we had our neighbor Susan Cowsill and her then-husband Peter Holsapple over for dinner. Susan's brother Barry came over, too.
Susan lost most of her possessions from the first floor of her house in the flood. Peter lived in Arabi and lost everything. Barry went missing after the storm, and his body was found near the Chartres Street wharf in New Orleans four months later. I can still picture Barry in our living room wearing his fedora hat and drinking a 40-ounce beer.
One of my favorite photographs was taken in that living room. Evan was almost 2 years old, sitting on the floor and strumming a guitar. Our dog Sam -- a stray rescued from under the I-10 and Canal Boulevard overpass -- is laying blissfully in the faded green wingchair behind Evan, and the French doors that opened to the outdoor side porch are visible.
Sometimes after I fall asleep, I see the picture as if it's frozen in a slide show. Then I see brown water rising up around them, and I wake with a start, my heart racing.
That's why we've come from Acadiana to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The land of dreams never deserved to become the land of nightmares.
[...] Back home at Carencro [after Mardi Gras is over], the boys are asleep, and I'm exhausted, randomly switching television channels. CNN is broadcasting live from the French Quarter, and there's a COPS rerun from Bourbon Street where some idiot with a Texas Aggies shirt is getting arrested for public drunkenness. I turn off the TV.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Many of the out-of-town reporters who came to New Orleans to cover Carnival will leave. New Orleanians -- and southwest Louisiana residents affected by Hurricane Rita -- will return to the daily challenges of gutting their houses, trying to get a FEMA trailer, wondering if the federal government will approve more funds for recovery efforts and praying that the Army Corps of Engineers fixes the levees before hurricane season begins on June 1.
Mardi Gras helped keep those tribulations at bay, for a brief moment. For the last three nights, and when I drift off to sleep tonight, I don't have any nightmares.
But I don't know what tomorrow night's dreams will bring.
That was the beginning and the end. Make sure you read the middle. (Thanks, Scott!)[ Link to today's entries ]
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
A new low. Bush's approval rating is now at 34%, according to the second CBS News poll in a row, released Monday.
Shall we say, the twenties by late spring?
UPDATE: New Pew poll released today has his approval rating at 33%.
A new definition for "journalism." Apparently it's "making shit up."
[T]he traditional media is made up of a growing number of increasingly sloppy children. And their sloppiness is now jeopardizing our democracy. It's gotten us into a war that's a disaster, and it's helped re-elect a president who isn't capable of managing our country. All because the traditional media let themselves be emasculated and lobotomized rather than simply doing their job.
To wit, this lead sentence from tomorrow's front-page Washington Post story on Senator Feingold's censure resolution:
For months the Democrats have resisted calls from their liberal base to more aggressively challenge President Bush.
Calls from their "liberal base?" Really? Where did you get that from? Seriously. I want facts. How did the Washington Post determine that it was the "liberal base" of the Democratic party that has been the driving force calling for Dems to challenge President Bush?
Actual real-life surveys show that most Democrats, and most Independents, have had it with Bush. Not just liberal Democrats, but all Democrats, and even most Independents.
So, seriously, where did the Washington Post get the facts to justify the very first line of its front page story about Senator Feingold? Nowhere, that's where.
They just made it up.
Read the rest. So much of what's passing for journalism these days is a disgrace.
A new funding plan aimed at getting New Orleans' shattered neighborhoods back on their feet has so far done little to ease residents' painful dilemma of rebuilding or moving out, half a year after the disaster.
In hard-hit middle-class neighborhoods close to Lake Pontchartrain on the north side of the historic city, homeowners say they are confounded by confusing signals from all levels of government about what it will take to rebuild.
To the east in the low-income Lower Ninth Ward, much of which was turned into a debris field when a levee burst after the August 29 storm, residents worry it will take a generation before a vibrant community re-emerges.
Add to that questions about whether jobs exist, insurance money is available and if Washington will make multibillion-dollar improvements to levees, and the quandary deepens for residents struggling to recover from America's worst natural disaster.
"There's so much misinformation out there that people just don't know what to do," said Robert Jenkins, a 44-year-old lawyer whose father is trying to rebuild in the Gentilly Woods area.
"There are people who have money who could start rebuilding but they're worried about what's going to happen."
A new state program that would provide homeowners with up to $150,000 to rebuild has provided some hope, but residents say they are uncertain who will qualify for assistance and whether neighborhoods deemed unviable will be allowed to rebuild.
My folks are currently wondering if and when they'll be eligible for the state buyout (as I understand it, you can get the difference between the assessed value and what you got from flood insurance, up to a cap of $150K). What would be even better is if they can get someone to buy the house and property (keeping our fingers crossed on both of those options).
Keeping the music alive. More good stuff from Jeffrey:It was a high-energy homecoming as Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove blasted out the funk at New Orleans' Maple Leaf Bar to fans and old friends who couldn't help but dance long after midnight.
The last time the eight-piece band, driven by Joseph's rumbling sousaphone, played here was the week before Hurricane Katrina flooded the city, ruining his home and scattering musicians around the country and into uncertain futures.
Joseph spent months in exile in San Francisco, wondering if his career with the massive horn might be over. Where else but New Orleans are sousaphone players in demand?
"I've always done this and I thought that if I couldn't do it anywhere else I could always do it here. But there wasn't 'here.' It was scary," the 45-year-old former Dirty Dozen Brass Band member said during a set break early on Saturday.
The Tipitina's Foundation helped out by alerting him to some grant money he was eligible for. It is one of several organizations helping artists in one of the world's great musical cities cope with the aftermath of the hurricane.
[...] Life in New Orleans has long been permeated by a gumbo of jazz, rhythm and blues, brass band and Afro-Caribbean sounds, fused by legends like Louis Armstrong, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino and the Neville Brothers. Like most aspects of life here, music post-Katrina is struggling.
As many as 3,000 musicians were working in New Orleans before the August 29 storm, which swamped 80 percent of the city and untold numbers of guitars, trumpets and drums.
Hope springs infernal. (Via Wes.) Could it be?John Fithian, who heads the National Association of Theatre Owners, said his group is looking into ways to cut down on theater hassles. Among them are making pre-show advertising less of an irritant to viewers and curbing rude behavior among audiences, which could include blocking cellular signals to keep people from talking on their phones during movies, he said.
Mr. Fithian, the way to make pre-show advertising less of an irritant to viewers is to eliminate it. At least from the auditorium itself; perhaps a big-screen plasma TV in the lobby where people could stand and watch if they wanted to.
As for curbing rude behavior among audiences ... well, it's currently illegal to block mobile phone signals. I suggest big, scary-looking bouncers. Back in my day, at the Village Aurora Cinema 6 in Algiers, we used to eject people from the theatre with alarming regularity. (It only occasionally resulted in threats of violence or death, but only because the ushers and managers tended to be little and skinny.) Maybe if theatres started hiring bouncers like bars do. How about a pillory for rude theatregoers out front? I'd pay extra for that.
Still, we'll take what we can get. Whatever you can do to get rid of the ads and the assholes, we fo' dat!
Quote of the day. It boggles my mind, too.
"I'm amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president's numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide. ... Too many Democrats are going to do the same thing they did in 2000 and 2004. In the face of this, they'll say we'd better just focus on domestic issues. ... [Democrats shouldn't] cower to the argument that whatever you do, if you question the administration, you're helping the terrorists."
-- Sen. Russ Feingold, March 14, 2005.
Question the administration.
Quote of the day, part deux. Regarding a (truly awful) bill which technically did not pass the House of Representatives, but which the President signed into law anyway.
"Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."
-- Paraphrased from Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.")
"I think [Bush] combines incompetence and malice into a new construct that I like to call malcompetence."
-- Max Sparber, writing on MetaFilter.
The actual malice in the first place is that Congress passed a bill which attempts to reduce the deficit by reducing benefits for the poor and elderly. What's a mere typo, a clerical error, to the truly corrupt and morally bankrupt?[ Link to today's entries ]
Monday, March 13, 2006
Yay, Irma! News about the Soul Queen of New Orleans ... here's a press release:
LEGENDARY NEW ORLEANS VOCALIST IRMA THOMAS RETURNS
WITH AFTER THE RAIN, APRIL 25; TO PERFORM AT NEW ORLEANS
JAZZ & HERITAGE FESTIVAL, MAY 7
On April 25, Rounder Records will proudly release After the Rain, the first new album in six years from R&B legend Irma Thomas. Following the devastation Hurricane Katrina wracked upon her hometown (she was touring in Texas at the time), Thomas quickly resumed her role as the soul queen of New Orleans, appearing at the Big Easy Benefit Concert at Madison Square Garden, on the Today show, on Jools Holland's BBC New Year's Eve telecast, and on the recent Grammy Awards. On May 7, Thomas will perform at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Aptly titled, After the Rain features a fascinating array of material delivered in Thomas' lustrous, resilient voice with the support of an all-star cast of Louisiana musicians. Says Thomas' longtime producer and Rounder V.P. of A&R Scott Billington, "Irma has one of the richest and most beautiful voices in contemporary music. It seemed confining at this stage of her career to make a straight R&B record, so we broke the mold." To do so, they enlisted keyboardists David Torkanowsky and David Egan; guitarists Corey Harris and Sonny Landreth; multi-instrumentalist (fiddle, fretless banjo, guitar) Dirk Powell; acoustic bassist James Singleton; and drummer Stanton Moore. Together they tackle a collection of songs that range from Arthur Alexander's classic "In the Middle of It All" to the newly-penned fiddle-driven funk of "Flowers" to a revised version of "Another Man Done Gone," fitted with new lyrics by Thomas and Billington to reflect the tragic plight of Katrina's refugees. In sound and style, song and support, After the Rain represents a brave new step for Thomas. Yet her immense gifts as a vocalist, storyteller, and interpreter make it sound nearly effortless.
After The Rain Track Listing:1. In The Middle of It All (Arthur Alexander)
2. Flowers (Kevin Gordon-Gwil Owen)
3. Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor (public domain)
4. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free (Richard Lamb-Billy Taylor)
5. If You Knew How Much (David Egan)
6. Another Man Done Gone (traditional; new lyrics by Irma Thomas-Scott Billington)
7. Till I Can?t Take It Anymore (Clyde Otis-Ulysses Burton)
8. These Honey Dos (Irma Thomas-David Egan-Corey Harris
9. Another Lonely Heart (Eleni Mandell)
10. Soul of a Man (Blind Willie Johnson)
11. Stone Survivor (David Egan)
12. Shelter in the Rain (Stevie Wonder)
13. I Count the Tears (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)
Wow. I can't wait to hear this.[ Link to today's entries ]
Thursday, March 9, 2006
Argh. Of course, Jazzfest schedulers have put The Boss on opposite The Meters.
The running order and times for each stage are not finalized. But [Jazzfest producer Quint] Davis said the first Sunday's Acura Stage lineup will feature slide guitarist Sonny Landreth followed by Allen Toussaint with Elvis Costello, and then Springsteen with the Seeger Sessions Band. On the opposite side of the field, the reunited Meters will close the Southern Comfort Blues Stage, after the Rebirth Brass Band, Dave Bartholomew and James Andrews.
In other Jazzfest news, the Blues Tent has been scrapped, a casualty of post-Katrina economics. Acts previously featured at the Blues Tent move to the Gentilly Street stage, rechristened the Southern Comfort Blues Stage.
Also, the Lagniappe Stage in the paddock area will be combined with the Music Heritage stage, the interview stage previously housed in the Fair Grounds grandstand. The final configuration of the Kids Tent is still undecided, Davis said.
After Aaron Neville's concerns about his asthma caused the Neville Brothers to bow out of Jazzfest, producers moved another traditional Sunday act, the Radiators, to Saturday. They'll follow Robert Randolph and a solo set from Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, whose fans are also likely to enjoy the Radiators.
Fats Domino, the subject of this year's Jazzfest poster, closes out the entire festival as the final act on the Acura Stage on the second Sunday. Preceding him will be Paul Simon, Irma Thomas and the Wild Magnolias.
Well ... I saw the Meters reunion last year. I haven't seen Bruce since 1980. I think I know where I'm going to be that day, and at the end on the second Sunday. There ain't no way I'm missing Fats.
The Cocktailian. Rather than a visit to the Professor this fortnight, we instead stick with his real-life alter-ego, columnist and cocktailian author Gary Regan, as he experiments to create a new cocktail (via much trial and error) featuring a wonderful new spicy walnut liqueur from from Napa, Nocino della Cristina. He finally comes up with something you can easily make at home or, if you're willing to go through some effort, helps you recreate the signature drink of San Francisco's Hawthorne Lane restaurant that also features the liqueur, the marvelous-looking Bella Noce cocktail.
Quote of the day. From a review on DVDfile.com of "the 2005 movie that was robbed at Oscar time":
Time will decide A History of Violence's destiny, and this writer thinks Cronenberg's reputation has only begun to attain a notable sheen. Best Picture winner Crash's histrionic pretenses may have brought home the golden boy this week, but a year from now -- or perhaps five, ten, or twenty years - A History of Violence will stand head-and-shoulders above Crash as a true American masterpiece. It's a movie that addresses the darkness and paranoia inside us all. It puts forward the idea that the only thing keeping us from the kind of lives we desperately want is our sordid pasts, pasts that may or may not be able to escape.
I can't wait for the DVD release, which looks great.
Speaking of DVDs, by the time Wes and I got around to Oscar catch-up time, Crash was already out on DVD. We found a used copy on Half.com, watched it, and as soon as it was over decided that we, the rabid and consummate DVD collectors who keep really bad horror movies as well as multiple copies of films because the earlier DVD release has a trailer that wasn't included on the special edition, didn't even want to keep the Crash DVD. We sold it on Half.com for more than we paid for it.
Why save New Orleans? Very cogent and positive answers are put forth in this TIME article co-written by, of all people, Newt Gingrich. (I guess he's Not Quite Completely Evil. Wes wonders, "Is he just messing with our heads?")
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert wondered aloud whether the Federal Government should help rebuild a city much of which lies below sea level. The most tough-minded answer to that question demonstrates that rebuilding and protecting New Orleans is in the national interest. Reason: The very same geological forces that created that port are what make it vulnerable to Category 5 hurricanes and also what make it indispensable.
One such force is the Mississippi River... If engineering the Mississippi made New Orleans vulnerable, it also created enormous value. New Orleans is the busiest port in the U.S.; 20% of all U.S. exports, and 60% of our grain exports, pass through it. Offshore Louisiana oil and gas wells supply 20% of domestic oil production. But to service that industry, canals and pipelines were dug through the land, greatly accelerating the washing away of coastal Louisiana. The state's land loss now totals 1,900 sq. mi. That land once protected the entire region from hurricanes by acting as a sponge to soak up storm surges. If nothing is done, in the foreseeable future an additional 700 sq. mi. will disappear, putting at risk port facilities and all the energy-producing infrastructure in the Gulf.
[...] Washington also has a moral burden. It was the Federal Government's responsibility to build levees that worked, and its failure to do so ultimately led to New Orleans' being flooded. The White House recognized that responsibility when it proposed an additional $4.2 billion for housing in New Orleans, but the first priority remains flood control. Without it, individuals will hesitate to rebuild, and lenders will decline to invest.
[...] Every day's delay makes it harder to rebuild the city. It is time to act. It is well past time.
Make sure you tell this to your buddy Bush and his rubber-stamp Congress.
Cartoon of the day. The current edition of Don Asmussen's "Bad Reporter": Keeping track of the lies is getting difficult...[ Link to today's entries ]
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Happy birthday, Wesly! Welcome to your forties. *smooch* :-)
It's official! Not like we didn't see this coming:
Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band to perform at Jazzfest on April 30!
Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band will make their first-ever Jazz Fest appearance on Sunday, April 30, [New Orleans Jazz and Heritage] Festival organizers announced today. Springsteen and the new band will release a new album next month featuring songs associated with the legendary guiding light of American music, Pete Seeger, and their Jazz Fest debut will feature most of the musicians who worked on the recording. The 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell is set for April 28-30 and May 5-7.
Yeah you rite! Now, Jazzfest organizers, PLEASE do not schedule Bruce opposite Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello, or The Meters. Please.
Oscar debacle. Yeah, I know, it's three days later, and I've been too busy/lazy to post in the meantime. But I can still hear the sound, heard at the Oscar party I attended which had a number of industry types in attendance, of gasps and jaws dropping when Nicholson said "Crash." I can't remember when there's been a worse choice for Best Picture in my lifetime, and cements for me the complete irrelevancy of the Oscars for anything other than studio publicity, budgets and actors' salaries.
I'll lift a bunch of links from Jeroen, as he already did all the research I was about to do (and did I mention the lazy thing?) ...
Here's Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan's excellent essay on why "Crash" won, why "Brokeback" lost and how the Academy chose to play it safe.
More than any other of the nominated films, "Brokeback Mountain" was the one people told me they really didn't feel like seeing, didn't really get, didn't understand the fuss over. Did I really like it, they wanted to know. Yes, I really did.
In the privacy of the voting booth, as many political candidates who've led in polls only to lose elections have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed "Brokeback Mountain."
[...] I do not for one minute question the sincerity and integrity of the people who made "Crash," and I do not question their commitment to wanting a more equal society. But I do question the film they've made. It may be true, as producer Cathy Schulman said in accepting the Oscar for best picture, that this was "one of the most breathtaking and stunning maverick years in American history," but "Crash" is not an example of that.
I don't care how much trouble "Crash" had getting financing or getting people on board, the reality of this film, the reason it won the best picture Oscar, is that it is, at its core, a standard Hollywood movie, as manipulative and unrealistic as the day is long. And something more.
"Something weird is going on among Oscar voters," professional awards analyst Tom O'Neil wrote in The Envelope, an online site run by the Los Angeles Times. "'Crash' and 'Good Night, and Good Luck' have their passionate supporters who gush their honest love of those best-picture nominees, but most non-Brokeback votes I hear from Oscar voters are really anti-Brokeback."
A little research:
[Here are] all the best director and best picture awards that "Brokeback Mountain" garnered and tallied it against similar honours received by "Crash":
Brokeback Mountain: Oscar for best director; Directors' Guild Award; Producers' Guild Award; Golden Globes for best pic and director; BAFTAs for best pic and director; Independent Spirit Awards (best pic and director); Broadcast Film Critics award for best pic and director; NY Film Critics (pic and director); LA Film Critics (pic and director); National Board of Review (best director); Boston Film Critics (pic and director); San Francisco Film Critics (pic and director); London Film Critics (pic and director); Vancouver Film Critics (pic and director); Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics (pic and director); Florida Film Critics (pic and director); Iowa Film Critics (pic and director); Las Vegas Film Critics (pic and director); St. Louis Film Critics (best pic and director); Utah Film Critics (pic and director); Southeastern Film Critics (pic and director); International Press Academy Satellite Awards (best pic drama and director).
Crash: Chicago Film Critics (pic); Oscar for best picture; SAG (best ensemble performance)
"The disparity," Jeroen opines, "is simply too big to not call it a deliberate snub." Wesly points out that probably the only reason "Crash" picked up its sole best picture nod other than the Oscar was that Chicago critic Roger Ebert, whom we respect and usually agree with, loved the picture.
An amusing and dead-on article from the Los Angeles Daily News about the lessons learned from Oscar, which ends "Crash's best picture win proved that arguing, belittling and fearing anyone that's different is what most members of the Hollywood establishment relate to. Sad to say, but that's probably the most realistic lesson that the 78th Academy Awards had to offer."
An email that's apparently getting forwarded around:
We should all be happy that Crash won because it boldly said some very important things, namely:
1. When crazy Muslims come to kill your kids, Jesus will protect you.
2. The best hope in life for batshit crazy upper class white women is to have a faithful servant who will listen to their abuse and not quit their jobs.
3. Racist cops are all really good people underneath.
4. Liberals are all really potential murderers.
5. Black hoodlums do in fact carjack. But they draw the line at participating in the slave trade. That's best left to elderly Asian men.
Two of these points fit in perfectly with Wes' summary of the film's overly simplistic message: Push a decent person hard enough and you get a racist; push a racist hard enough and you get a decent person.
Finally, an excellent MSNBC article by Erik Lundegaard entitled "Oscar Misfire: 'Crash' and Burn":
This is the worst best picture winner since 'The Greatest Show on Earth' in 1952. It may be worse than that. 'Greatest Show' was a dull, bloated romance set against the backdrop of a three-ring circus but at least it didn't pretend to be important. 'Crash' thinks it's important. 'Crash' thinks it's saying something bold about racism in America. 'Crash' is like a Creative Writing 101 demonstration of what not to do as a writer. To the Academy this meant two things: Best screenplay and best picture.
Read the whole thing.
Y'know, we're already saying screw next year's Oscar party.[ Link to today's entries ]
Monday, March 6, 2006
All on a Mardi Gras Day. After an absolutely hideous two-hour airport traffic jam last Wednesday, getting bumped from my flight, finding out that there wasn't another seat out of New Orleans until Friday, asking if they could get me out of Baton Rouge, dropping off my rental car then getting another rental car from someone else that I could drive one-way to B.R., going back to the house (but at least having a great dinner at Ye Olde College Inn -- a Gargantuan fried oyster, Havarti cheese and BACON poor boy), getting up at 5am Thursday, driving to B.R., checking in only to find they had booked me on an oversold connection out of Houston with no seats, missing that connection anyway due to a late inbound flight, getting rebooked on a 2:50pm flight but then scrambling for a 1:25 standby, flying back, driving straight to the radio station and doing a 2-hour radio show mostly consisting of brand-new records I hadn't even listened to yet ... well, I've been too wiped to post, sorry.
Mardi Gras was fantastic, though, as you've probably read. The weather could not have been more perfect on Mardi Gras Day. The crowds, although somewhat smaller due to lack of hotel rooms and a rainy first half of parade season, were amazing (with TONS of locals), friendly and well-behaved. The parades were wonderful, and the level of satire high. (I'll post pictures over the next few weeks.)
Don't believe the pessimistic articles like this one, which vastly underestimated the crowds (more like 70% of normal, not 35%) and which said "The bottom line: The city's sputtering economy did not get the lift many had hoped for." To that article's credit, though, it did include this:
"I don't think we can measure the success of this Mardi Gras by its crowds but by its spirit," said Mary Herczog, author of Frommer's Guide to New Orleans and a regular visitor to Mardi Gras. "The pleasure I saw was enormous. Honestly, what does crowd size matter compared to that? I wasn't counting heads because I was too busy counting smiles."
Believe this story, written by locals who know what they're talking about.
Spectacular weather, larger-than-expected crowds and relatively exemplary conduct highlighted a two-week celebration that city officials hope will serve as a catalyst for the economic and psychological recovery of the storm-ravaged city.
Even with crowds at only about 70 percent of normal years, tourism officials said early projections indicated a $200 million economic impact from Carnival's second weekend and incalculable benefits in positive exposure from national and international media.
It was a Mardi Gras to remember. Now it's Lent, for those who follow such things. I forgot who said this, but I'll repeat it: This year, I don't think anybody in New Orleans should have to give up anything for Lent. They've already given up enough.
Elevating our civilization to a Higher Order. Oh yeah, my costume. It came off pretty well, I think. I paid tribute to one of the world's great scientific geniuses, Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus, resident of the Old City Ice House atop the French Quarter, and was recognized everywhere on the streets of the city. I collected a lot of handshakes and hugs from my fellow New Orleanians, from regular folks to krewe members to Mardi Gras Indians (I got a bear hug from the Big Chief of the Mandingo Warriors), and at least half of the people who recognized me asked, "Where's Chopsley?" (he was at home, sadly, without enough vacation time; Wes would've made a great Chopsley). It was a blast.
As the son of a dentist, I'd have to speculate that my dad would have been delighted with my new dental work.
Oh, one more thing -- I was hoping that I'd be the only Morgus on the streets that day, but I'm about 80% sure I ran into the REAL Dr. Morgus (a.k.a. Sidney Noel Rideau, who's been playing the character on and off on local television since 1959). I encountered another Morgus, and was flabbergasted ... because he was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Perfect as in, it's him. I think. We looked at each other quizzically, and approached one another warily, but never got closer than about 20 feet. "You're a very handsome man, sir!" I called out to him. He looked ... well, a little put out, frankly, shook his head and kept walking. I wish I had gotten a picture.
Listen to Dr. Morgus' own post-Katrina greeting, and listen to Dr. Morgus' own song, performed in 1961 by "Morgus and the Three Ghouls" (actually, Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack, who delivers a blistering guitar solo, his second cousin Frankie Ford and members of Huey "Piano" Smith's band).
He even lies about cheese. An amazing post from "ReddHedd" at Fire Dog Lake, which begins with yet another George Bush lie, and the greater picture of what it represents.
February Looka! entries have been permanently archived.[ Link to today's entries ]
Several of my friends and loved ones (and a few kind strangers) contribute regularly to this weblog, providing links, comments and sometimes lots more. Thanks to Wesly Moore, Mike Luquet, Mary Herczog, Steve Hochman, Dave Schmerler, Nettie DeAugustine, Diana Schwam, Andy Senasac, Michael Yasui, Steve Gardner, Michael Pemberton, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Eric Labow, Tom Krueger, Greg Beron, Sean Burke, Shari Minton and Barry Enderwick.
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