Monday, January 30, 2006

Reporting from Habitat for Humanity

Spent the day sheathing a roof and installing trim on Day 1 of Habitat for Humanity's Bayou Building Blitz in Gray, LA. Swamp country.
Good day though, extremely nice people, very positive vibes from everyone. I'm exhausted but I got the roof up, should have it shingled tomorrow.

Mayor Nagin today finally signed the city council's legislation to allow licensed electricians to certify their work. Thanks for wasting one month of my time, and keeping families out of their houses 30 days longer than needed. Amazing the lack of foresight down here.

Mardi Gras is going to be wild, wacky and likely out of control.

Random notes:::


some observed New Orleans things…

You can roll with Zulu for $1500 bucks and a connection, they need help to continue the tradition, for a once in a lifetime

A local tradition amongst all the local truckers seems to be to have a stuffed animal lashed onto their vehicle somewhere. Whether it is the front grill, or a lever arm to pick up dumpsters, the effigies of Bart Simpson, Santa Claus, Tickle me Elmo, are ubiquitous. I’m not sure if this is an old tradition, or are some sort of homage to all the broken and destroyed lives that can be seen in the dolls and toys littering different streets. It is funny to see large, hairy, grown men clearly proud of their non-age appropriate playthings.

The Fat Boys would be right at home down here. This city is overweight, often grotesquely. I was at Josephine’s last night, to see another great live act the Hot 8, an all brass rap and dance band, and literally one third of the women there were at least 50 pounds overweight, and a large number over 100 pounds overweight. The scene is the same wherever you go, Home Depot is full of Big good ol’ boys.

I’m having a personal contest to see which is the heaviest cop I can find in the city. Everytime I think I’ve found the largest, within a day or two I see someone even bigger, again, well over 100 pounds out of shape. The current leader was an older tall, bald white guy ambling over to a car he’d pulled over. His body shaped like a double 4 sided cone, pointed at the top, to where the cones meet in the middle, then tapering down to his shoes.


I’m in Gray, Louisiana in a Mission house in the Bayou working with Habitat for Humanity. We said prayers before meeting and eating. The group is all white, from all over: Rhode Island, New York, Minnesota, Chicago. The overall feeling is of people who want to help their fellow man, but frustrated that it is difficult to figure out how to do it. Government has been no help.

After dinner I went for a run around the area, across the street from the religious mission where we are staying is a trailer park with three dead end streets. There was a group of about 5 young black youths who told me to turn back, that it was dead end, that I’d get attacked by a big dog, I continued on jogging around and on my way out the kids told me not to come back, and that if they saw me again “they put a cap in me…” Even in the Bayou, a road, in this case the highway, divides white from black, similar to Mass Ave. separating Roxbury from the South End.

It is not hard to find or feel the racial disparities, inequities, and mistrust down here. One of the projects I’m working on is in the Uptown area of town. Across the street from our project is a private Catholic girls school that re-opened in January. It is about 97 percent white, with the requisite skirts and screams during recess. On the other side of the street is the only operating public high school which is 100% black. It is de facto segregation, and what is most interesting to me is how completely accepted and unassuming people are about it. There were some black laborers working next door who commented how nice it was to hear the sound of (white) children playing again in the neighborhood.

Not surprisingly, their temporary bliss probably indicated a much higher sense of happiness and satisfaction in their lives than I, who wastes my time writing these epilogues about my observations of life and the unfairness of much of it. Not to mention vicissitudes conjuring up fanciful dreams of world peace, shared environmental responsibility, equitable capital distribution and more self esteem leading to better use of silicon such as lubrication of motorcycles.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Oppose Public Money to the Columbus Center!

It just doesn't seem to make sense to me. A white republican from Belmont gives thousands of dollars over the years to black Roxbury state senator Dianne Wilkerson. Then Wilkerson slides in some legislation to give the guy 4 million dollars in public funding to build his for profit development, when they indicated in dozens of public meetings that they weren't going to need public funds.
As Byron Rushing told me, it is all about who you know.

If you don't want your tax dollars going to help these guys, as state rep Marty Walz so eloquently argued in the Boston Courant article send an email to Jane Gumble at the Department of housing,

For example:

Subject :
Columbus Center

Dear Ms. Gumble,
I am writing to oppose the gift of money to the Columbus Center Project. As a south end resident, MA taxpayer and real estate developer I have good knowledge of the cost to develop property and how to contribute to the overall good of the commonwealth.

There is no reason to give state funds that should go to education, healthcare, and the needy to an extremely rich group of developers so that they can make more money. They never in the dozens of public meetings indicated that they would require public money. As a developer who has made money without public subsidy, I know it can be done. Please keep our tax dollars focused solely on helping those in need, and the for the good of the commonwealth.
Kevin McCrea

Mayor holding community meetings

The Mayor is holding a series of 4 community meetings around the city. Attendance will be based on a lottery system.

Good for the Mayor to reaching out to the people. I'll be working for Habitat for Humanity in Louisiana when he holds these so can't attend. But if you can, you should. You can register by calling the city and get on their list (635-4000).

Tell him what is wrong, suggest how to fix it, and congratulate him on what is going well.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Thanks and a Question to my Anonymous Sources

I would like to thank those anonymous sources who have been providing me helpful information about the machinations of local government goings on. I will try and use that information in a positive way.

In particular, to the person who told me about the potentially illegal conversations that contacted me last week, could you please contact me again and let me know approximately when and where those conversations took place.

Thank you very much for having the courage to get the information out.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Only Static in the New Orleans Electrical Department

Friday the 13th of January

How fouled up is the government infrastructure down here?

Well, I’m glad you asked that.

There are currently only 3 electrical inspectors in the city of New Orleans. They have 4 on staff, but one is out with shoulder surgery. He’ll be back Tuesday. But then one of the others is going out that day for foot surgery.
Only 3 inspectors in a city where 80 percent of the buildings need to be inspected, which is well over 100,000 locales.

The electrician on one of our jobs down here called in for an inspection on December 30th. We are ready to close in the walls and finish the building. But since we are doing the things the “right” and “proper” way, we have to wait, and wait, twiddling our thumbs. It’s not like they need housing or anything down here.

So I went and talked to the electrical department at the end of the day yesterday. I explained that we wanted to move ahead with the house and that the electrician had called in on the 30th of December. He pulled out the list and confirmed that yes, he had called in on the 30th, but that they were only doing inspections on things called in up until the 23rd of December. The “list” was a handwritten list on a notedpad. So the city of New Orleans is keeping track of their entire electrical department on some parchment in longhand.

Meanwhile, 80 percent of the city is renovating their houses without permits moving right ahead and completely disregarding the rules. The slumlord next to the building we are working on/staying in just had some electricians grab power from a hanging line and hook up his meter. He has tenants living in his building without gas, so no cooking, hotwater or heat. He didn’t properly tear out the inside of his house, so the mold and rot will basically eat the house apart from the inside. He has run wires, gone right over walls with new sheetrock and has hired the lowest common denominator of “workers” who as my brother says “put in their 4 hours everyday.”

But, he drives a Lexus, has a house on St. Charles, the nicest street in town and runs the local title company and has connections so he has nothing to worry about. Meanwhile the schmucks like me who follow the rules get delayed and lose money.

Apparently, the building department has a contract to subcontract the electrical work. In other words, some connected official or contractor is going to get to make money off of another government contract where the city is basically at a loss for funds as it is.

Here is the solution. Have the Mayor call the 20 biggest cities in America, or maybe all the cities with an NFL franchise. Ask if they could borrown an electrical inspector for a couple weeks. My feeling around America is that people and cities want to do their part if only given the opportunity, hey New Orleans let us Help!!! Instead, it would seem as if the powers that be just see this as another opportunity to make money off of tragedy, and the common people get screwed again. That or just absolute incompetence.
Maybe both.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

State House cracking down on the City Council?

The state legislature is considering making the Open Meeting Laws less ambiguous and with more bite and more streamlined.

It would be a step in the right direction to stopping the collusion, cronyism and corruption that
pervades our State. Let you legistlator know you support it!

New Orleans is BACK!

Scenes From New Orleans:

Well, New Orleans is back, and will never go away. I realized this at about 3:30 a.m. on Saturday Night at Miss Mae’s, the 24 hour bar across from the police station and basketball court on Napolean and Magazine.

Why did I realize this? Because my brother had discovered that this venerable institution sold “house” tequila for 50 cents a shot. This, combined with a buck fifty beers allowed him to buy us both a shot and a beer and have change left over from a five spot. No where else in North America is this possible. It was finally crystallized in my mind that America generally, and the South specifically needs New Orleans.

New Orleans is not an architectural style, or a festival, or a specific race or nationality; it is a concept. It is a concept of people accepting each other, celebrating the idiosyncrasies of mankind, and reveling in the fun that the human mind can conceive and that our devolved bodies can tolerate.

I am firmly convinced that there are at least 250,000 to 500,000 people that want to inhabit this conceptual commune, and they will be back. They are stifled and not whole in Houston, Baton Rouge, Birmingham. They need their Mojo working, and it just doesn’t work in Gainesville, Tucson, or Dallas.

Last night at Vaughan’s Kermit Ruffan’s and his horn sat in with the house band, and a local randomly spoke out “I love this place, I love this town, and I love these people.” Strong and true words for a place that is never on the straight and narrow.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Congrats to the elected ones!

It is a lot of work, and they should be congratulated for their effort. Especially for Jimmy Kelly who is nothing if not a fighter. Although I may disagree with him on many things, he does work hard virtually 7 days a week, and unlike many of the other pols in city hall, you can call him up and schedule a meeting and discuss a topic, such as a development in his neighborhood.

Happy New Year!

Here's hoping the streets get safer, more money goes to youth programs, we make the non-profits pay up, and a biolab doesn't get built in the south end. We don't need it, for Boston to remain prosperous.

Mayor's avoidance speech

(If)... you are a witness to a crime, you must speak up and keep the specter of fear far from our neighborhoods---Mayor Menino inaugural address

Yes, I've been witness to the city council and the Mayor circumventing the Open Meeting Law. Why don't you come forward and talk about it? Did the Mayor secretly send out "stop snitchin" shirts that he confiscated to the city councilors.

On a more serious note, I and two police detectives confronted the young man who cashed the check stolen from me for $3500.

He is on probation for a prior armed robbery, he is an 18 year old (so he is an adult), he admitted to the crime, told us who gave him the check but wouldn't testify against him, and he had a bag of marijuana on him when we confronted him. Do you think that was enough to get him arrested? No way, not in Boston. They let him go. They wonder where kids get the money for guns? Well, when the police don't arrest kids and their cohorts who steal $3500 and have illegal drugs on them, you know something is wrong. More about this unreal episode later.

But make sure you don't sell shirts that proclaim your first amendment rights.