Graciousness is rare in a politician. Genuine kindness ranks not far behind. Most so-called public servants these days are so focused on themselves and their ambitions that they lose a great deal of their humanity. In the four decades that I’ve covered politics, I’ve known only one elected official who literally embodied the qualities of graciousness and kindness: former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs. In a profession peopled by narcissists and jerks, Lindy stood out like Mother Theresa at a biker rally.
Lindy died on Saturday, July 27, at her home in Chevy Chase, Md. She was 97.
For those who knew her and were touched by her gentle spirit, Lindy’s passing leaves a void that cannot be filled. She had few political adversaries — and no enemies — during her long career.
Those new to New Orleans or too young to have known her will likely never encounter anyone quite like her outside of a convent, which, by the way, is where she was educated before she enrolled in Tulane’s Sophie Newcomb College at age 15. It was at Tulane that she met her husband, T. Hale Boggs.
Lindy was the first woman elected to Congress from Louisiana. She served there for 18 years, retiring in 1990 to care for her daughter, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, the mayor of Princeton, N.J., who died that year of cancer. While in Congress, she leveraged her seat on the House Appropriations Committee to champion the causes of women’s rights and civil rights, as well as the Port of New Orleans and flood protection for southeast Louisiana.
After her retirement, she took a job at Tulane University and became Gambit's New Orleanian of the Year in 1991.
The latest in a string of award-winning foreign-made films that generally put Hollywood’s summer 2013 output to shame, Argentine writer-director Sebastian Borensztein’s warm and thoughtful Chinese Takeaway means to show what can happen when two lost and damaged souls collide. A Chinese man named Jun (Ignacio Huang) finds himself on the street in Buenos Aires equipped only with a giant language barrier and an address tattooed on his arm. Hardware store owner Roberto (Ricardo Darín) leads a regimented and intentionally isolated life, collecting absurd news stories in a scrapbook to validate his disappointment with the world. But he reluctantly takes in Jun and tries to help him find a long-lost relative. Communicating through gestures while speaking uselessly at each other in Mandarin and Spanish, the pair gradually reaches an understanding that may alter two lives in dire need of restoration.
Chinese Takeaway is more comedy than drama, but not in the broad strokes you might expect given its familiar odd-couple scenario. Though the story develops slowly, it engages from the start through restrained yet memorable work from Huang and especially Darín, who deservedly ranks among Argentina’s biggest movie stars. The result is a blast of fresh air and a summer movie built unapologetically for grown-ups.
Chinese Takeaway beings an exclusive one-week run tonight at Zeitgeist Movies. More info here.
Timing often plays a major role in determining whether a topical film finds a substantial audience. In the case of Fruitvale Station, the true story of Oscar Grant — who was shot and killed by a Transit Police officer while in custody and laying face down on an Oakland, California train platform on New Year’s Day, 2009 — no one would have hoped for the extra attention the film will surely receive from the proximity of its release to the recent resolution of George Zimmerman’s criminal trial in the death of Trayvon Martin. That probably won’t keep Fruitvale Station from becoming a political football instead of a must-see movie in the weeks ahead. Which is a shame, because this debut feature from 27-year-old writer-director Ryan Coogler is the first authentic Oscar contender among American films released so far this year, and it’s almost August.
Fruitvale Station begins with actual cell phone footage of Grant’s tragic and all-too-public shooting. What follows is as far from a documentary as movies get. The film traces the last day of Grant’s life from the moment he wakes up until he finds himself lying helplessly on that platform, foregoing politics to paint a complex and believable portrait of a flawed young man who’s truly a product of his time. Fruitvale Station should make a star of Michael B. Jordan, an actor most familiar from roles in TV series like The Wire and Friday Night Lights. As Grant, Jordan delivers the kind of pitch-perfect work that leads directly to major movie careers. Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar two years ago for her work in The Help, is almost as effective as Grant’s long-suffering mother, Wanda Johnson.
Fruitvale Station won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But the film’s early relationship with Sundance is more significant. Coogler was invited to develop his movie at the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, the same fount of cinematic support on which Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar relied while crafting Beasts of the Southern Wild. Despite its minuscule 20-day shooting schedule and obviously tiny budget, Fruitvale Station possesses a rare narrative strength and sureness of hand. It’ll break your heart, and that may be the greatest political act of all.
Just a friendly reminder that tonight from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. at Gasa Gasa DJ Soul Sister will be hosting "It's a LOVE Thing," a benefit to help Gambit correspondent Deborah "Big Red" Cotton in her recovery after falling victim to the mass shooting at the Mother's Day Second Line. Cotton herself will be at the event in one of her first public appearances since the shooting.
As we noted earlier, admission will be $10 at the door with all those proceeds going to Cotton's recovery fund. On top of that, there will be a raffle, a live painting of the event and food catered by Boucherie. Artwork at Gasa Gasa will also be on sale and 30% of art sales will go to Cotton's recovery fund. You can check out all the details on the Facebook event page including preview photos of the art for sale.
Can't make it out tonight? DJ Soul Sister has got you covered with a live stream of her set on LiveMusicNOLA.com. Those who would like to contribute to the cause can also visit the event's "digital tip jar" or just donate directly to Cotton's recovery fund.
Cotton, who regularly writes about second lines and brass bands for Gambit, was one of the 19 victims shot during a mass shooting during the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club second line held on Mother's Day this year. Speaking with Lee Zurik of Fox 8 this week, Cotton said she lost whole or parts of several organs and had to undergo 11 surgeries. The full interview is below.
Garret Graves, who chairs the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and advises Gov. Bobby Jindal on coastal issues, took to Twitter in recent days to continue his boss’s campaign to scuttle the lawsuit filed against oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). The flood authority sued 97 energy companies, seeking damages and reparations for decades of coastal land loss. Jindal and Graves were the first to take up Big Oil’s case.
Graves, tweeting as @garretgraves, blasted the flood authority’s lead counsel in the lawsuit, local environmental lawyer Glad Jones, on July 23. “For atty Gladstone Jones to say the Corps’ funding of Katrina levee repairs absolves them of coastal loss liability is ignorant,” Graves tweeted.
Later that same day, he took another shot at Jones: “Gladstone Jones is so out of his league. Has no business litigating coastal issues with such irresponsible statements.”
Actually, Jones is one of the most successful environmental lawyers in the state. He previously won the state’s largest coastal loss case, collecting more than $100 million in damages from Exxon and Noble Energy on behalf of client Bill Dore, who was oilman of the year on several occasions while serving as the founder and largest shareholder of Global Industries, a publically held oil service company located in Sulphur, La.
Jones also successfully sued Exxon on behalf of residents of the tiny town of Grand Bois in the 1990s. Since then, he has litigated environmental cases across the country. Jones’ other environmental clients include former Gov. Mike Foster, who is no friend of trial lawyers. Foster filed a legacy lawsuit for damage to his property in St. Mary Parish.
It didn’t take long for the oil and gas industry to play a political trump card in the nascent but epic legal battle over who should pay to rebuild Louisiana’s vanishing coastal wetlands. Gov. Bobby Jindal rushed to the industry’s defense the same day that a local flood protection authority sued 97 oil and gas companies over coastal land loss. Jindal said the flood board had been “hijacked by a group of trial lawyers.”
The governor also claimed the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), which filed the suit on July 24, “overstepped its authority” by tackling coastal land-loss issues, which historically are overseen by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Jindal called the suit “nothing but a windfall for a handful of trial lawyers.”
It should come as no surprise that the energy industry, arguably the richest in the world, applied political pressure to resolve a potentially expensive legal issue. After all, political connections — forged by free-flowing campaign money and year-round lobbying and schmoozing — have allowed oil and gas companies to have their way with state regulators, governors and legislators for decades.
And why not start with pressure from the top? The list of named defendants includes some of the biggest names in Big Oil — and some of the biggest political contributors: Koch Industries, Atlantic Richfield, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, McMoRan, Shell, Tennessee Gas Pipeline and Pickens, to name just a few.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Jindal issued his attack against the lawsuit and the plaintiff lawyers from Aspen, Colo., where he was attending the Republican Governors meeting. Last Thursday, July 25, Jindal was scheduled to speak at an Aspen Institute-sponsored event called The McCloskey Speakers Series. David Koch, one of the Koch brothers, is on the Board of Trustees of the Aspen Institute. Koch Industries is among the named defendants in the lawsuit.
At today's New Orleans City Council meeting, council members passed an update to the city's mobile vending laws to allow for more food trucks and less strict regulations.
The current laws, first drafted in the 1950s, cap active vendor permits to 100, limit operating time to 45 minutes, and prevent trucks from operating within 600 feet of restaurants and schools. Stacy Head held a public meeting in October 2012 to kickstart discussions about what a food truck friendly ordinance would look like. The New Orleans Food Truck Coalition joined the discussion to help draft legislation to promote those businesses.
In January, Head wanted to increase permits from 100 to 200 and shrink the "no vendors" zone to 50 feet while a restaurant is open. She introduced her measure January 24, and a Food Truck Coalition petition to update mobile vending laws gathered hundreds of signatures — meanwhile, restaurant owner Reuben Laws gathered signatures for another online petition to halt any new mobile vending legislation.
In February, the measure went before council's economic development committee, where coalition attorney Andrew Legrand said its opponents in the Louisiana Restaurant Association are running a "fear-based campaign" about food truck health and safety while it's more afraid of possible competition from mobile vendors. City health commissioner Karen DeSalvo said she fears changing legislation outpaces health code updates. Head called the health concerns a red herring — she produced a letter from state Department of Heath and Hospitals that said, "Our office will continue to inspect all food establishments and enforce the state's sanitary code, regardless of business model."
Following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, Yoshio Toyama collected funds in Japan to help replace instruments in New Orleans schools. Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Tipitina's Foundation repaid the favor, sending funds to replace instruments lost by Japanese youth in areas affected by flooding.
WWL-TV's Eric Paulsen accompanied eight O. Perry Walker High School students and eight Tipitina's Foundation interns, along with their director Donald Harrison Jr., on an October 2012 trip to Japan to meet the students who benefitted from the replaced instruments. It's the subject of a half-hour documentary, Tragedy to Triumph: The Musical Bridge Between New Orleans and Japan, airing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on WWL-TV. At each stop, the O. Perry Walker Chosen Ones Brass Band and the Tip's interns jazz band performed at concerts and festivals, and lineups also included Japanese bands that had received instruments. Those groups included the Swing Dolphins from Kesennuma. (The Swing Dolphins visit New Orleans next weekend and will perform at the Satchmo SummerFest Saturday at the Old U.S. Mint and at Tipitina's at 3 p.m. Sunday.)
(The above video of the Swing Dolphins is not from the documentary. The trailer is on the WWL site here.)
In the smaller cities of Ishinomaki and Sendai, the New Orleans students met Japanese students and music provided a bridge across the cultural divide as the Americans learned to slurp soba noodles at noodle shops and the Japanese students tried their hands at second-lining. The final leg of the trip was to the 32nd annual Satchmo Fest in Tokyo. The music helps lift spirits in communities still rebuilding and it looks at the experience's affect on local students and their lives at home.
The Real Wild Animals of New Orleans, a Digital Bayou HD web series about Audubon Nature Institute animals and their humans, launches tonight at 6 p.m. Journalist, businesswoman and animal lover Chriss Knight goes behind the scenes with some of the city's most loved Audubon animals and their staff, sharing the fun and dedication involved in making the zoo, aquarium, insectarium and butterfly garden tick.
Tonight's featured creatures are sea otters Buck and Emma. In later episodes of the Thursday series, viewers will meet Casey the silverback gorilla, penguin chicks, the Insectarium's newest residents and more.
To connect with The Real Wild Animals of New Orleans, check out the links below.
Sports Illustrated has a cool article up today about the new-look Pelicans and how Anthony Davis and newly-acquired guard Jrue Holiday are hoping to lead this young squad to prominence in the immediate future. It's and interesting read and you should go read it. You should also pay close attention to the very end of the article when Holiday is quoted as saying this:
“The color scheme is dope,” he said. “I’ve seen the jersey a little bit, the release is August 1. I’m excited.”
So far, the Pelicans' haven't made any public announcement as to when they will be revealing their uniforms and August 1st is just a week away. Either Holiday has completely ruined the surprise for everyone or he's been misinformed. Seeing as how he volunteered the information un-prompted, I'm betting on the former.
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