Monday, August 31, 2009

Second Line for Charity Hospital

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 10:16 PM

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In about an hour (6 p.m.), a second line sponsored by and led by the Rebirth and Hot 8 brass bands will commence in front of the shuttered Tulane Avenue landmark. An email invitation sent to Gambit this afternoon reads: "We CAN save Charity Hospital. This is our chance to show our support for the plan that is faster, less expensive and less destructive!" Read Gambit's feature about the new medical complex's controversial site selection here.

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Cook County

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 9:38 PM

David Pomes' Cook County is a gritty and raw look at a backwoods east Texas family strung out on crystal meth and bent on doom. Uncle Bump (Anson Mount) is a perpetually high dealer prone to paranoia and talking with a shotgun in hand. He neglects his daughter and terrorizes his nephew (Ryan Donowho) for trying to shield the girl from the addicts and losers who hang around their grimy home. Sonny (Xander Berkeley) returns (it seems from jail) to try to rescue the family from its own depravity, but meth is the only means they have to earn any money. And Bump both likes the high and knows no-one would pay attention to him if he wasn't their dealer.

Weighed down by his own problems with drugs and the law, Sonny doesn't have much to work with, and he can't hang around the meth lab for long without drawing the wrong kind of attention. Berkeley turns in a solid performance as a desperate man trying to turn his fortunes around. Mount is brilliant as a raging, emaciated, meth-addled bully. As matters worsen, the final confrontation becomes as obvious as it is unavoidable, but the film is a solid debut feature for Pomes. It won the audience award at Austin's South By Southwest Film Festival, best feature at the Hollywood Film Festival and the jury award at the Sidewalk Film Festival. It will be screened at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Canal Place Cinema.

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Monday afternoon news dump

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 6:24 PM

"MAY FILE LIBEL SUIT" is front-page above the fold news. Not "has filed libel suit," but "may file libel suit."

HONORE NOT RUNNING FOR SENATE: Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, rumored last week to be challenging Sen. David Vitter in 2010, swats down the chatter:

A Louisiana political Web site reported last week that he was "seriously considering" a Republican primary challenge to Vitter, a first-term Republican who was ensnared in a Washington sex scandal in 2007. Honore said he had received more than 100 e-mails in response to that report, but no news outlet asked him whether it was true before CNN contacted him Sunday.

"That ought to scare the hell out of people in this country," said Honore, who once called a reporter "stuck on stupid" during a nationally televised news conference.

JENNA BUSH HAGER, JOURNALIST: After relegating Hoda Kotb to a role as Kathie Lee Gifford's Ed McMahon, the Today show hires the ex-president's daughter as a correspondent. Glenn Greenwald suggests:

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it's really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment.

TIMES MAN FILES FIRST DISPATCH: Campbell Robertson, The New York Times' new guy, punches the clock.

RICKY THE CAT GETS A HAPPY ENDING: Remember Ricky, the Gambit Pet of the Week? Last week, she was transferred from the LA/SPCA to the Atlanta Humane Society, where they had more room for adoptable cats. Yesterday we got a note from Andrea Peacock, intake manager for the Atlanta Humane Society:

Just wanted to update you guys on Ricky the kitty. She was adopted yesterday with another cat, and both are living the high life in a nice condo in Midtown. Their adopter was really nice and has had cats before.


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Q&A with Ethan Brown, author of "Shake the Devil Off"

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 5:05 PM


Our cover story this week is an excerpt from Shake the Devil Off, Ethan Brown's new book about Zackery Bowen, the Iraq war vet and Katrina survivor who famously murdered his girlfriend, Addie Hall, before taking his own life.

I conducted an email interview with Brown about the book and his writing process. Here's Part 1; the second half of the interview follows tomorrow.

GAMBIT: Physically living at the nexus of Zack and Addie's story in the Lower Quarter plus trying to get inside their heads for more than a year -- had to do a trip on your own head. It's a dark place to live. How did all these interviews and this research affect your personal life and your personality?

ETHAN BROWN: Shake the Devil Off is easily the most difficult book I’ve ever written. The story has a gigantic “cast” of Iraq veterans and New Orleanians and I wanted to get all of their stories right and, much more dauntingly, capture two huge moments in history (Iraq and the federal flood) as accurately as possible. In addition, Iraq vets and New Orleanians are “tough crowds” who insist not only on the highest levels of accuracy but also on pitch-perfect tone. If you’re not terrified at the prospect about writing about Iraq vets and New Orleanians, you are an idiot. So I was very scared of getting things wrong while writing Shake the Devil Off and spent a lot of time imagining my work getting picked apart not just for matters of fact but also tone. (My fear is rooted in precedent, by the way: I became sort of obsessed with the obsessive critiques of Dan Baum by the blogger “Swampytad.")

So, to be honest since I’ve covered very dark subject matter in my previous books (Queens Reigns Supreme and Snitch) it was a fear of inaccuracy that haunted me throughout the writing process. I should also add that many members of the “cast” featured in Shake the Devil Off — such as Private Rachel Bosveld, who served with Zackery Bowen in Iraq — had an indirect connection to the murder-suicide and I was terrified of what they and their families would think of the book. I could easily imagine some of these folks being furious with me for bringing their world into the dark world of Zackery. Fortunately, so far that has not happened though of course in my darkly pessimistic worldview criticism of me from such folks is just around the corner.

G: OK, but I was less curious about your writing process and insecurity about getting the facts right than I was about how this all affected you personally. Did the research, the interviews, and the writing process do a number on your own personality? Was it depressing? What was it like for your wife and friends to be around someone who was so immersed in a subject so dark for so long?

EB: It was both difficult and rewarding being at the nexus of this story. It was difficult because, as I note in the book, the two apartments Zackery and Addie shared (on North Rampart and Governor Nicholls, respectively) were just blocks from my apartment. And I did my grocery shopping just about every day at Matassa's and had one of Zackery's closest friends (Capricho DeVellas) living in the studio apartment below mine. But there was something rewarding about all this closeness, too. If I had follow up questions for many of the people I interviewed, I could just hop on my bike and connect with them within minutes. And living at the nexus of these two lives gave me a powerful sense of what their lives were like and a very strong impression of what life is like in the service industry in the Quarter.

Continue reading »

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Domenica to Open Wednesday, Middendorf's to Reopen Original Hall

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 3:27 PM

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The Besh Restaurant Group expects to open its latest restaurant, Domenica (123 Baronne St., 299-9777), in the Roosevelt Hotel this Wednesday, Sept. 2.

The restaurant's name means Sunday in Italian, and the place is being touted as a rustic, Italian-style eatery specializing in house-made pastas, cured meats and pizzas.

Alon Shaya, formerly chef de cuisine at Besh Steak in Harrah's Casino, is executive chef and partner with chef John Besh in the venture. It's located by the Baronne Street entrance of the hotel, which itself reopened in July with new ownership.

Meanwhile, this Wednesday also marks a milestone for a restaurant far across the waters on the west side of Lake Pontchartrain. That's the day Horst and Karen Pfeifer plan to reopen the original dining hall of Middendorf's, the Manchac seafood landmark which was badly damaged by the storm surge from Hurricane Ike last year. Repairs have been ongoing ever since while the restaurant continued to serve customers in its newer, adjacent dining hall and on its waterfront deck.

Middendorf's celebrates 75 years in business this month.

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The Next Big Fight

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 1:48 AM

When the state took over New Orleans’ failing public schools after Hurricane Katrina, those with ties to the old system predicted — some say hoped — that the nation’s most aggressive experiment in education reform would fail. When it became clear that the state’s commitment to change was unshakable, opponents of the new order shifted course and started demanding a quick return of the improved schools to the local school board.

That’s going to be the next big fight over education reform. Next year, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) must decide whether to allow the RSD to continue operating 70 public schools in New Orleans or turn them back over to the Orleans Parish School Board.

The stakes are high: control over the schools as well as their budgets, contracts and hiring practices — and the future of more than 36,000 kids.

Continue reading »

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Brownie gets $10K for speaking at disaster conference

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 1:25 AM

As we wrap up a weekend of remembering the hurricane and the federal floods, Michael Brown is cashing in on his disaster expertise...

On the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals is holding its convention, featuring . . . Michael Brown, the FEMA director forced out of his job for his weak response to the hurricane.

"There are a lot of lessons learned — whether he did them right or wrong — that our people need to hear," said Cedric Calhoun, group's executive director.

Brown is getting $10,000 for his appearance at the three-day San Diego convention that begins Sunday, and Calhoun expects some "yelling and screaming."

Whole story here. Heckuva job, Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Bittersweet Anniversary

Posted By on Sat, Aug 29, 2009 at 7:55 PM

Photograph by Jonathan Bachman


I moved to New Orleans in late August 2007, two years after Katrina and while the city was still very much in recovery mode. Two years later and I can't imagine living anywhere else (I can confidently say I'm not alone in this sentiment). Every year, the anniversary of me moving to New Orleans (I arrived on the 25th) coincides with the Katrina anniversary and, as I found out last night, the forming of the Free Agents Brass Band.


For those of you who don't know, Free Agents formed in 2006 by Ellis Joseph and a cast of musicians that had spent their lives playing in brass bands but had none to call their own after the storm. These guys, like every brass band I've come across, have deep-rooted civic pride and play to it in their music. Their set last night at the Howling Wolf ended with a rendition of "Wade in the Water", a moving tribute to the resiliency and spirit of this city.


Only in New Orleans can such a somber memory be a cause for a party. Laissez le bon temps roulez.

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Undiscovered Banksy in the Garden District?

Posted By on Sat, Aug 29, 2009 at 7:23 PM



A year ago, British-born artist Banksy came to New Orleans for Katrina's three-year anniversary and went to work in his distinctive style. Some of the work remains, others have been painted over. And apparently others - like the one above - are still waiting to be discovered.


I noticed this piece while standing on my balcony in my new Lower Garden District apartment (long live the Shamrock Tavern!) and looking out over the empty lot across the street (on Constance between Thalia and Melpomene). I haven't found any other pictures of this work, which appears to be George Bush in a Guantanamo suit, and it's possible it could be brand new. It could also be the work of a (highly skilled) imitator. Regardless, it's just another reason to love living in New Orleans.

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Coming up in Gambit

Posted By on Sat, Aug 29, 2009 at 6:05 PM


Our cover story is a lengthy excerpt from Shake the Devil Off, Ethan Brown's acclaimed new book about a post-Katrina French Quarter crime that made sensationalistic -- and often inaccurate -- headlines around the country:

Zackery Bowen was thrust into two of America’s largest recent debacles. He was one of the first soldiers to encounter the fledgling insurgency in Iraq. After years of military service he returned to New Orleans to tend bar and deliver groceries. In the weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, he met Addie Hall, a pretty and high-spirited bartender. Their improvised, hard-partying endurance during and after the storm had news outlets around the world featuring the couple as the personification of what so many want to believe is the indomitable spirit of New Orleans.

But in October 2006, Bowen leaped from the rooftop bar of a French Quarter hotel. A note in his pocket directed the police to the body of Addie Hall. It was, according to NOPD veterans, one of the most gruesome crimes in the city’s history. How had this popular, handsome father of two done this horrible thing?

Shake the Devil Off has gotten rave reviews (with one prominent and rather snotty exception), and we're pleased to offer this exclusive excerpt.


Clancy DuBos previews the next big fight over New Orleans public schools ...

• This week, Rep. Charlie Melancon announced his intention to challenge Sen. David Vitter in the fall 2010 Senate race. A year away, and both candidates are already throwing elbows -- and practicing dodges (Melancon on town hall meetings, Vitter on, well, Vittergate). Jeremy Alford analyzes the matchup.

• In Suspect Device, Greg Peters reacts to President Obama's decision not to visit New Orleans on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina...

• And David Winkler-Schmit takes a look at Shirley Q. Liquor (aka Charles Knipp), the blackface drag comedian who's been a regular performer at Southern Decadence. This year's performance was billed as Shirley Q.'s swan song, but her appearance was abruptly cancelled last week with little explanation. Winkler spent days trying to track down anyone who would talk about Shirley Q.'s outrageous and controversial act, with very little luck -- until Shirley Q. herself contacted him this morning after the issue went to press. He'll have more from and about Shirley Q. next week on the Blog of New Orleans, but if you want to see what all the fuss was about, read the story, "Shirley Q., Where Are You?," and check out this CNN report, which features footage of Shirley Q. performing at Southern Decadence 2007:

We all know what today is. Recognize it as you see fit, even if it means ignoring it and going on with your life as usual. (Remember: it's also the kickoff of second-line season, and our new correspondent, Red Cotton, has all the second-line news.) See you on the newsstand Sunday afternoon.

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