Friday, February 24, 2006

Here's a link to another HOLY S#%T moment for me in regards to my place in the new frontier of blogging journalists:

I can't say I'm surprised that journos get fired for putting things on their blogs, and that they have been for years, but it still makes me uneasy.
In my relatively narrow opinion, it seems like news organizations want to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to blogs and and their reporters blogging. They want the notoriety and "cool factor" that a blogging reporter can bring to their paper or TV station or whatever, yet they don't want to allow the full intellectual freedom that blogging can be.
Unfortunately, this intellectual freedom often leads to moronic behavior or, as my girlfriend so astutely put it, "mental masturbation." (Case in point, see earlier post on the reporter in Delaware.)
It does not take a genius to see how public statements (which is basically what blogging is) can affect your career as a (relatively) public figure in journalism.
I agree that we should be held accountable for what we say and do in the public realm as the supposed eyes, ears and conscious of society. But blogging and the internet has since its inception blurred the public/private line.I am mostly made nervous by the lack of a clear defining line between what is a fireable blog entry and what is just goodhearted fun. Hence why we have been so reserved on this blog, (save for FEMA criticism).
In retrospect, it makes me a little bit nervous about my salty toungue on this blog. Yeah, that kind of language is not what I use in the newsroom or in my reporting, unless the source starts it, but it is what I use in the day to day, thanks to my Jerzey upbringing. Mike cautioned me against using the language, saying it meant that I was, well, dumb because I couldn't think of a better, non-profane way to say it. I disagreed and do still disagree of course, as I think cursing adds honest, unrepressed emotion to things like blogs.
But now I am nervous that the same bosses who gave me permission to do this blog so long as I wasn't working may take offense to something like my sometimes nasty language and perhaps do to me what they did to that guy in Houston and that kid in Delaware.
Or, maybe I'm worrying too much and over analysing the whole thing.
Ah, fuck it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Here are the links to the Katrina dead stories in their entirety. I will post some follow ups on these stories depending on time and whether you all ask any questions. There is a chance the links will stop working, so let me know if they do and I'll try and work something else out. Unfortunately the photos are not attached to the last two anymore. Again, I'll try and work something out.
Personally, I felt best about the quality of the third one (How Did They Die?). However many people have responded to the first one very emotionally. Ah well. They're all long reads, so be patient and read through to the end...I guarantee it'll be rewarding in some way.
By popular demand and without paragraph markers because I can't get the code to copy right, here's the Burning Man story.
(FYI, last I heard they'd gone to Pearlington, Miss., to set up shop.)
The following appears courtesy of the Sun Herald.

BILOXI - The Burning Man group spends one week every year building aplace called Black Rock City for 35,000 people in the middle of theNevada desert. They then spend a week enjoying their city as an artfestival and another three weeks burning it up and tearing it down. While the public perception of the group is sometimes less thanpositive, it actually takes a host of construction and demolition skillsto do what they do, in addition to organizational capabilities andinitiative. "The people who say it's just a bunch of people running around thedesert taking controlled substances haven't been, don't know whatthey're talking about," said Tom Price, a Burning Man member. "Peopleare super-self-motivated." That self-motivation and a bit of dumb luck led members of the group toSouth Mississippi shortly after their annual event ended in August, andthey put their skills to work helping locals in Point Cadet andelsewhere to recover and rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. Almost every piece of art created for the Burning Man festival getsburned at the end of the event, and one of the centerpieces is a woodentemple, Price said. One of the men who regularly constructs the temple,Matt Linsday, heard about the hurricane during the August festival anddecided upon return to Oregon that he had to help out, Price said. Linsday then hopped in his construction crane and drove it for fivedays with two friends before ending up in front of the destroyed Van DucBuddhist Temple in Biloxi, Price said. Linsday felt it to be too much ofa temple-to-temple coincidence, so he parked his crane and set up campin the Biloxi temple's parking lot. Word spread quickly via the group's Web site and word of mouth, andLinsday's father and friends and fellow Burning Man participants beganarriving in droves with funds and supplies, Price said. A name was eventually given to the spontaneous group of do-gooders,Burners Without Borders. Though there is no leader or president ofBurners Without Borders, the group gets the job done. In the last fivemonths, hordes of members have come and gone, handing out mountains ofsupplies, moving tons of debris, completely repairing the Van Duc Templeand cleaning up dozens of homes along the way. Help for the Burners has come from far and wide. Jeff Wolfe, who worksfor the Atlanta-based company that makes Daewoo construction equipment,showed up one day and handed Price the keys to several pieces of heavyconstruction equipment on a year-long free rental program. ActressPatricia Arquette sent a truckload of tools. Those who come to work represent a broad spectrum of interests andskills. Some members, like 20-year-old Eli Lyon of Seattle, had been driftingsince the festival and decided helping out after the storm was the rightthing to do for a time. Others, like 41-year-old carpenter Philip Leizgold of Houston, had beenlooking for the right time and place to put their skills to use.Leizgold said he did not want to do cleanup work, which is why he waiteduntil last week when debris cleanup was well under way to show up andlend his carpentry expertise. He has built everything from cabinets forhomeowners to ramps for FEMA trailers. The group largely survives financially on the kindness of friends andstrangers to pay for rent back home and food and fuel here, because theydo not have official status as a charity. This and their ability to work around federal and state regulations hasperhaps been the cause of some grumbling from local officials, Pricesaid. Locals also have taken to the group slowly, Price said. One member wholeft recently had long dreadlocks and a bone through his nose; he madesome locals uncomfortable, Price said. "If that funny-looking person is the one cleaning your house or givingyou food, you get over it," Price said. Today is the last day for Burners Without Borders in Biloxi. They willbe moving their base to Pearlington but continue to work in all threecoastal counties until April, Price said.< The group ardently maintainsits free-spirited roots, even in the midst of the tattered lives it ishelping to rebuild. There was a fireworks-filled trip aboard a raft made of storm debris toDeer Island recently, Price said.< And at the end of almost every longday, Price said the group does what it does best: "We burn things."<

This is all I have to say about my vacation and the wonderful charm and restorative powers of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
This photo by Joshua Norman

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Howdy folks. Been a while. MKeller here.
I figured since our boy Josh is soaking in the tropical sun and pina coladas with dark rum floaters in an undisclosed location (how's that for a slew of prepositional phrases), I'd reappear for a post.
First off, Norman gets props and a link for a great series about those souls taken by Katrina:
I think this link is the last of the three-part series.
I think the series really pops because the editors had the good sense to start it with maps created by an evil cartographer named MKeller.

While Josh has had the dubious distinction of focusing on the dead for nearly a month now, I have gone back to my pre-storm environment, energy and business beats. Of course, every enviro or business story has some Katrina peg to it.

I have been noticing Chertoff and Brownie on the TV pointing fingers and laying blame. It's interesting that I never here conversations about how the government handled the storm, except for the occasional FEMA jab or joke.
Now the insurance companies, that's another story.

I was lucky on Saturday in that I had to drag myself out of a warm bed on a cold and rainy morning to cover Orange Grove's Mardi Gras parade. For those who don't know, Mardi Gras on the coast is much more family oriented than the debauchery over in New Orleans. Parents bring their kids to the parade route where merry revelers on gold, green and purple floats pelt them with plastic beads and trinkets, called throws.

I got to the staging point of the parade about an hour early and walked around. It was overcast and a cold mist was coming down, making note taking a bit like trying to write on wet toilet paper.
Yet the folks waiting to mount the floats were not all that heavily dressed. "Curious," I said to myself when I realized that no one seemed to be the slightest cold and yet all of their faces held beaming grins and rosy cheeks.
Then I started to notice a correlation between smiles and 32-ounce plastic cups containing some clearly spiked orange juice. "Damn the Mardi Gras revelers," I said to myself. I wished I could have been so prepared.
Everybody who I talked with said almost the same sentence- "We could really use a parade."
I think people are tired of being tired.
Anyways, it was a good couple hours for people to enjoy themselves.

Josh suggested I post some of the bars that are left and worth a damn. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow, or maybe I'll keep those Ocean Springs haunts secret. One doesn't like to be crowded in when one sets down to have a cocktail.

Anybody in the vicinity should try to make it over to Mardi Gras in NOLA. All the parades are running on one route from Uptown this year and the Krewe of Endymion rolls this Saturday at 3:30. I think the Krewe of Rex rolls at 10 am on Fat Tuesday.
It won't be as crowded this year, which will be a good thing. I haven't been to Mardi Gras since college.
Check out this site for proper masks:
I think either the bauta, the Cuori Bastone or one of the nasos would do the trick.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The series on Katrina's victims will run next weekend when I am on vacation, but I will post it here with extras after it runs.
I thought an update on the Coast might be relevant now:
Officially, there are 166 known victims of Hurricane Katrina in South Mississippi's three coastal counties, including four unidentified victims but not including the estimated 300 or so missing people. That does not mean 300 people were swept to sea. All it means is that the official number of victims will surely rise. I will explain later once the series runs how FEMA severely screwed up the search for missing people in Mississippi.
The most active aid groups here now are probably all faith-based, except for HandsOn International, Americorps and members of the Burning Man festival-sponsered group, and this is no joke, "Burners without Borders."
If there is an interest, I'll post the story I wrote about them later.
FEMA continues to make life difficult down here for everybody, from mayors to tent dwellers. I don't know how to explain it except that for every good thing they do, and they do do some good things, I hear about three instances where incompetency, arrogance, ignorance, laziness or miscommunication have really messed something up.
There are not as many people in tents as there were before but there are still a lot, mostly in Pass Christian and in random spots in Hancock County.
Debris cleanup is about three quarters done coast-wide, but Pass Christian and HAncock County are way behind the curve, largely thanks to the hyper-careful slowness of the Army Corps of Engineers. The big problem now is getting onto private property to remove debris and demolish badly damaged houses, and you can imagine the massive fights that go on with that, especially with so many people still living out of state.
Homeowners are slowly starting to rebuild. There is the big problem now of building back safer, which of course also means more expensive. The federal government is wisely, in my opinion, dangling financial incentives in front of towns and individuals that build back safer.
Despite the extra money that it might provide, The Coast's towns have all rejected a regional water and sewer authority that would have come with a $600 million dollar bonus because, as one local mayor put it to me recently, "They can't take away our authority like that."
It's funny how improtant home rule is here. I never thought about it really, coming out of the Northeast. We don't really have that attitude there, save maybe New York City itself. What's great about many local's opinions on home rule is that they don't take into account the fact that an overarching governing body could actually mean less levels of bureacracy than several small local governing bodies, especially for businesses.
Ah well, the -you-won't-tell-me-how-to-run-my-ship attitude down here does go back to the beginning of Southern culture though. Hence all the guns.
'Tis a shame though.
Businesses are trickling back. Three casinos are taking people's money as we speak. Just about every month from now to August another should be opening up or breaking ground on their new land-based operations.
The FEMA trailers are, apparently, pieces of crap. As a coworker put it last week, "My FEMA trailer has a blue roof."
The best place to get drunk on the Coast right now is Ocean Springs, at least according to my erstwhile co-blogger Mike. There are several cool bars open there now. Harrison County still only has bars that are guarenteed to present you with at least one mullet and at least one toothless grin before the evening is done. Good for a laugh, but not for chilling out. Perhaps I'll coax him into giving a better update on the Coast's nightlife, of which he is an expert. I generally go to New Orleans or Mobile for a good time.
We're giving a talk at USM about this blog next week. Not quite sure what to say yet, other than our laziness in keeping it updated lost us a lot of readers.
There was a great story about a (moronic) kid in Delaware who was fired from his reporting job for posting some (moronically) inappropriate comments on his blog.

I can say confidently that I am definitely not as moronic as that kid after reading his blog, but it still made the hairs on the back of my head stand up because he was fired, apparently, without prior warning that what he puts on his blog could get him fired. I know only a small amount of common sense needs to go into making that connection, but still, it's fucked up that there was no warning.
And on that uneasy note I close.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sorry to flip to a more somber mood on this blog, but I must to explain my absence. About a month ago my editors asked to me write about the Katrina dead in South Mississippi, all of them, in whichever way I saw fit.
Needless to say, that's occupied my time recently.
When the series is published in our paper, I'll either post links to it or simply run it in its entirety here along with comments on the reporting of the story and other tidbits I couldn't run.
It's funny, but talking about the dead is something we only touched on briefly at the beginning of this blog. Truth be told, the dead won't have as much of an impact on Gulf Coast society as the destruction will, but to lose their stories to time and apathy is to have failed them.
So I apologize again for the change in tone, but I do not regret it.

This photo was taken about two weeks ago in front of the house in which the only toddler to die during Katrina drowned. I found his mother the morning after the storm sitting to the right of where those flowers are. The toddler, Matthew, was lying on a stool wrapped in a blanket just behind where those flowers sit. I don't know who put this makeshift memorial in front of the house, but it was put their sometime this year as I have visited the house many times and only saw it for the first time recently. The quote is from a 17th century French priest.
This photo by Joshua Norman