Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Digital Divide

One of the things Ray Nagin was supposed to bring to office was an understanding of technology. One of his early one liners was about moving from the Jetson's to the Flintstones. His initiative to get the city on the web and to bring free wireless Internet to the city haven't been that successful, but he did more than anyone else has.

OLPC XO Notebook

I have been following the development of the XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC). They have recently released the design for manufacturing. At $140.00 per unit in quantities the project has the possibility of giving every child a useful computer at very low prices.

Recently the RSD superintendent has taken a lot of credit for his technology upgrades, including Smartboard ion class rooms. I have used Smartboards before and find the technology fascinating but don't really grasp the use of this expensive technology for instruction. I'd imagine for the cost of a smartboard in every classroom , every student could have been given an XO notebook.

According to GNOCDC there were 26,165 New Orleans Public School Students that would cost $36,000,000 to give everyone an XO laptop.

Ashley tried to get the OLTP people to include New Orleans but was rebuffed. Later they changed the rules and approved Birmingham Alabama.

I'd still like to see it happen.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Residential Architecture

Recently Scout Prime posted a link to The Journal of American History special issue on Through the Eye of Katrina. Everything in it is interesting but one of the articles, New Orleans Architecture: Building Renewal especially caught my eye.

The article points out our collective ambivalence to anything built since about 1900. It mentions Cabrini Church. It doesn't mention the loss of the Rivergate nor the prospects of 2400 Canal, a fine example of SOM mid-century modern, which will likely be demolished instead of being adapted to a new use. The Ogden Museum has noticed the and is sponsoring a discussion "At Risk: 20th-Century New Orleans Urban Design and Architecture" February 7 3-5 PM. The museum has previously sponsored exhibitions ReBuilding New Orleans and New Orleans 2oth Century Architecture.

Since Katrina a large number of architects have devoted a lot of talent to developing new housing ideas incorporating the social context and realities of modern life. These ideas have only been built in a few places. One house if being built on the Gulf Coast, Bard Pitt is proposing to build some in his project and Tulane students have built one. Other than that people seem to be content to reproduce the past, poorly.

I am not an architectural historian, nor a New Orleans historian. I am a practicing Architect and long time resident of New Orleans.

New Orleans best architecture has to me, always been the architecture of the people.

The French Quarter is largely French/Spanish colonial forms. Similar to buildings is found throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. The Old Town of San Juan Puerto Rico looks remarkably like New Orleans except for the hills.

The antebellum wood frame Greek Revival houses in the Lower Garden District are local responses, not really seen much anywhere else, except perhaps Charleston, South Carolina where climate and economics were similar..

Creole Cottages, the Katrina Cottages of their day are citified versions of the country homes of small Acadian farmers. Shotguns in single, double and camel back varieties, where the low cost modular housing of the day, designed primarily to achieve the highest density possible. They primarily housed the working class including the waves of post Civil War immigrants.

Even the dominant commercial structures of the CBD often incorporate mass produced elements, such as standardized granite or case iron storefronts.

As New Orleans' economy wound down in the second half of the twentieth century and as outside influence increased building became more individualized and less distinctive.

The last interesting vernacular I can identify is what I call the New Orleans Gentilly bungalow. These houses were usually either built by or for Italian families moving up the economic ladder. They are usually characterized by a buff brick, similar to Italian brick. They often include arches and columns, often serpentine. The interiors frequently incorporated similar architectural features, often ornamental plaster with faux marble finishes.

The last major building wave in seventies and later, when much of the East was built, is generally undistinguished with most of the building imitative of either local historic styles, other historic styles or imitations of contemporary commercial buildings. Little of value was produced.

We are now in the in the greatest building wave since the post war building boom. This wave will set the tone for future construction for years, perhaps decades to come. Unfortunately the initial results are not good. Habitat for Humanity is one of the most prolific builders and they are building to the least common denominator. The other major influence seems to be the modular builders who also seem to be building derivative designs, based on teh preconceptions of the shelter press and the real estate industry.

I have great respect for any Architect who can build a practice on single family houses. I have enormous respect for Architects who can build a practice on relatively modest single family houses. Unfortunately the economic reality is that a single modest house can rarely be both innovative and economically practical for the Architects perspective. It simply takes too much time to develop, document and oversee the constructions of unfamiliar concepts, forms or materials.

There is a apocryphal quote attributed to several well known architects that goes,
Q: What would you do if you had a million dollars?

A: Practice Architecture until it was gone.
I have a friend who is a business consultant to architects. Several years ago he told me that a certain well known Starchitect will only accept a residential commission if the Owner agrees;
  1. The fee will be 22%
  2. The Architect will select and the Owner will purchase all of the furniture.
  3. The Owner should anticipate a construction cost of $700.00 per square foot, but no limit is imposed by contract.
If you do the math that works out to a fee of $152.00 per square foot. It's probably much more now.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dolphins and Doolittle

Don Shula likes to perpetuate the legend of greatness of his 1972 Dolphin Team. They have reunions to celebrate their accomplishment and if anyone starts to approach their record he finds some reason to fault them. The latest contender is the New England Patriots, arguably one of the greatest teams in NFL history, rivaling the great teams of the past in accomplishment. Shula's reason this time is Bill Belichicks' cheating earlier in the season.

I understand Belichick violated the rules and the penalty seems too light to me. I think Belichick should have been suspended for several games. His team has already won more game than the '72 Dolphins, (18 vs. 17) and one more win will match their perfect season.

Shula is however taking the cult of his personality too far. It is beginning to look like a marketing program for his restaurants.

I contrast his high profile and visible advocacy of his team with General Jimmy Doolittle's devotion to the men who accompanied him on their 1942 raid on Tokyo. Those men were younger than Shula's Dolphins. They volunteered for an unknown secret mission and were willing to risk their lives for less pay than a professional athlete, even in 1942.

Every year a few more of these extraordinary men pass away. Every year fewer gather to remember their comrades, not to celebrate they past glory. As of October 14, 2007 only twelve of the original 80 raiders are still living.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Illusion of Prosperity

New Orleans is one of the oldest cities in North America and was once one of the largest cities in North America. New Orleans was once prosperous, in the 1840's.
Population rank of New Orleans

1790 -
1800 -
1810 7
1820 5
1830 5
1840 3
1850 5
1860 6
1870 9
1880 10
1990 12
1900 12
1910 15
1920 17
1930 16
1940 15
1950 16
1960 15
1970 19
1980 21
1990 24
2000 31
2005 38
The relative decline in the rank of New Orleans is an indication of being left behind. For more than a century and a half New Orleans has been losing prominence relative to other cities. Contrary to popular belief the relative decline began well before the Civil War. Where once we competed economically and socially with New York, Boston and Philadelphia, we now compete with much smaller and less prominent but more affluent cities.

Demographics is destiny.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Smart like Toaster

For Christmas I got a nine dollar Walmart Toaster. Last night we discovered the bread won't stay down unless the toaster is plugged in.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Party of Two

I have long referred to myself as a small "l" libertarian. I don't know nor remember where that came from. I always thought of it as a response to some of the wacko ideas of the large "L" Liberians (as in Libertarian Party), as I understood them.

I dislike electoral and party politics. I think they are largely about dividing an illusory pie or winning a piece of the action.

I would describe myself as a 'small l' libertarian. I am not a member of the wacko Libertarian party or the wacko Democrat Party or the wacko Republican Party. Screw'em all.

Like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson , Sam Adams and many of the original drafters of our Constitution , I don't believe in parties. Parties are the second largest obstacle to progress in New Orleans.

I was recently on an airplane and someone thoughtfully left a copy Readers Digest in the seat pocket in front of me. I discovered there was another small "l" libertarian.

Clint Eastwood says he is a registered Republican, and describes himself as a small "l" libertarian. Chills ran through my spine. I had found a soul mate. After publication of this post I'm pretty sure he'll call.

I'm sure many people love Clint. He has been recognized by the Academy for many films ;

2006 Best Director Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) Nominated
2006 Best Picture Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) Nominated
2004 Best Actor Million Dollar Baby (2004) Nominated
2004 Best Director Million Dollar Baby (2004) Win
2004 Best Picture Million Dollar Baby (2004) Win
2003 Best Director Mystic River (2003) Nominated
2003 Best Picture Mystic River (2003) Nominated
1992 Best Actor Unforgiven (1992) Nominated
1992 Best Director Unforgiven (1992) Win

His earliest Institutional Recognition as a film maker came from the Golden Globes;

1988 Best Director Bird (1988) Win

Even before that Clint garnered rave reviews for "Play Misty for Me", a great movie.

Clint Eastwood is to me one of the last of a great line of movie stars who over the course of a career established a screen persona which transcends a single role. Clint's "Man with No Name" of the "spaghetti westerns" is an extension of Rowdy Yates and is further extended in his later westerns High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven.

The much derided Dirty Harry movies are, in my view, also an extension of the American myths of an individual acting in the absence of effective societal structure, a direct line including Stage Coach, Shane, Destry Rides Again, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, High Noon and many others.

At the age of 78, he's still ahead of me. I'm proud to be part of his party.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

True Leadership

Martin Luther King famously said;
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C., on August 28, 1963
Why have we forgotten this simple measure, to look beyond a persons skin and see, as well as you can, their character? I have always believed that you should always credit a the other person with honest motives and if you disagree as honest people can, attack the validity of their views, not their integrity.

I am disappointed to observe that we seldom have debates in our political system. We now have contests where no advantage is too small and no trick is too dirty. The personal has displaced the principle.

A few years later as Dr. King moved from racial equity to economic equity as his primary focus he said;
If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.

Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967
Where are the true leaders today? We need them to step forward.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Nagin on Crime

On the First Anniversary of the March against Violence.

Let's remember.

January 9, 2007 - "We are drawing a line in the sand, saying enough is enough," Nagin said Tuesday. "We're going to put all our resources to focus on murder and violent crime."

January 11, 2007 - Speaking at a news conference after the march, Nagin said that he will make curbing the number of murders in the city a major priority. "I heard you loud and clear," he said. "I heard everything you said."

May 30, 2007 - State of the City Address - "Public safety is the most important challenge our city faces, and reducing violent crime in this city is my top priority!"

August 10, 2007 - Nagin, “Do I worry about it? Somewhat, it’s not good for us, but it also keeps the New Orleans brand out there, and it keeps people thinking about our needs and what we need to bring this community back.

September 27, 2007 - "You don't have anything to worry about," Nagin said. "I'm looking at this audience and you all don't look like young African-American males who are involved in drug activity" speaking to about 125 Carnival Cruise Lines executives and sales managers, including the company's new president and chief executive, Gerald Cahill.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It never Rains but it Pours

After yesterday's evenings lack of water, in the middle of the night the water came back on. She woke up in the middle of the night, with water pouring out of the ceiling in the laundry and bathroom.

Apparently some fittings broke when the water was turned back on.

Management was called and began to cut open the ceiling. She checked into a hotel.

This afternoon, after work, she stopped back by to discover they had left a mess, wet carpet, gypsum board on the floor and furniture piled in the middle of the room.

She said, He said.

She arrived at out apartment in Atlanta late in the evening only to discover there was no water.

Spotting a plumbing truck pulling up She runs over and asks, "Is the water out in the complex?"

He said, "No m'am, Only it that building."

She replies, "That's My building. How long will it be out?"

He answers, "Only until I fix it."

Not much you can to add to that.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I'm legal!

I've always been a little loose about the registration, licensing and inspection of my cars. I've also been scrupulous about the maintenance.

Honda del Sol

Until a little while ago I let my registration and inspections lapse on all three of my cars. I hadn't had a valid break tag in more than three years and my licenses plates had, I thought, expired since the flood.
Volvo 940

I visited the Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicles on Airline Highway and after wait of approximately 1 hour I was able to renew all three license place. It only cost about $300. On the plus side I did discover I had renewed one of them just before the thing and had not received the little license plate sticker so although the plate said expired I was technically not expired. I renewed it anyway. The other two were definitely long gone song.

Volvo S80

About two weeks later we returned to the same place to renew our drivers licenses. both were due to expire before the end of the year. I wasn't really concerned about getting a ticket so much as being denied boarding an airplane. I was so worried about that I actually tested boarding with an expired passport. They let me on.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Appeal of the Appeal - Part Deux.

Kafka would recognize and love post-apocalypse debrisville.

Today I received notice of the Appeal Hearing. It will be held in late February. The letter was exceptionally uninformative.

I have reviewed the website for Orleans Parish appeals and have contacted the “Help Line”. They were no help, simply advising me to contact a lawyer, refusing to answer a question about the Tax Commission rules.

Here is the question from their FAQ;
2. Who has the burden of proof at the appeal hearing?

Assessment of property for taxes and procedures adopted for determining its value are presumed to be correct unless until the taxpayer makes satisfactory proof to the contrary.
I might be especially dense but this makes little sense to me. I can't parse this sentence. If "Assessment of property for taxes and procedures adopted for determining its value are presumed to be correct", then why is the taxpayer (not the appellant, in this case the assessor) responsible for for proof. This seems like a double dip for the Assessor who has, in my case, already been overruled by the Board of Review.

I have spoken to one attorney who suggested that appeals before the commission were de novo.

The Commission derives it authority from the Louisiana Constitution;
Article VII 18(E) of the Louisiana Constitution provides;

(E) Review. The correctness of assessments by the assessor shall be subject to review first by the parish governing authority, then by the Louisiana Tax Commission or its successor, and finally by the courts, all in accordance with procedures established by law.
That is not apparent in the Louisiana Revised Statute, LA. R.S. 47

Louisiana R.S 47:§1989. “Review of appeals by tax commission” provides in part.
A. Within ten days of receipt of the assessment lists as certified by the local board of review, the tax commission shall conduct public hearings to hear real and personal property appeals of taxpayers, bona fide representatives of an affected tax-recipient body, or assessors, from the action of the board of review.

B. The Louisiana Tax Commission shall consider the appeal of any taxpayer, bona fide representative of an affected tax-recipient body, or assessor dissatisfied with the determination of a local board of review. All documents, except confidential forms as provided in R.S. 47:2327, filed in connection with any appeal shall be available for public inspection during the regular business hours of the Louisiana Tax Commission.

C. All such hearings shall be conducted in accordance with rules and regulations established by the tax commission.
I also found this interesting tidbit.
§1989.1. Appeals; assessors; reimbursement of expenses

A. When in the performance of his duty, an assessor must defend an assessment before the tax commission, and the tax commission upholds the valuation of the assessor within ten percent of said valuation, each affected tax recipient body shall reimburse the assessor on a pro rata basis for the amount of the expense involved in defending the assessment.
Looks like once again I'll be the only person in the room not getting paid for my time.

I also found the Louisiana Administrative Code
Title 61 Revenue and Taxation (PDF)

Chapter 31 Public Exposure of Assessments; Appeals
§3103. Appeals to the Louisiana Tax Commission

P. The commission shall take official notice without
further identification of the contents of the original Louisiana records
and documents in possession of the commission when duly
certified copies thereof are offered into evidence and made a
part of the record. Evidence offered at the board of review is
not forwarded to the Tax Commission and must be submitted
by the assessor/taxpayer in accordance with filing
procedures for written appeals. The commission may receive
other documentary evidence in the form of copies or
excerpts or that which is incorporated by reference.
So far I haven't found any rules of the Commission which make the taxpayer solely responsible for proving their case.

I have been unable to find any statute, or rule of the Commission which requires the taxpayer, rather than the more usual the appellant to bear the burden of proof.

I have written to confirm the appropriate process for submitting information in advance of the hearing.

It appears that the appellant, Mr. Erroll Williams, Assessor for the Third Municipal District has not forwarded any information regarding his method of determining the original assessment, nor has he included any information regarding the Board of Review's determination of my revised assessment.

It seems critical for the Commission to have this information and I plan to submit it in advance of the hearing. While I intend to appear at the hearing I also want to make sure the documents are a part of the record prior to the hearing so the Commission will have full information.

I have also requested clarification of the FAQ question above.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mele Kalikimaka

Yesterday was a Travel Day. We made our annual trek to Southern Florida and Hollywood, in anticipation of the Orange Bowl game tomorrow. We spent last evening with friends on their way from the Keys back to home in Alabama.

The four of us had dinner at the original Taverna Opa in Hollywood then watched Georgia whomp Hawai'i in The Sugar Bowl.

How 'bout dem Dawgs?

In spite of my best intentions
, we stayed in New Years Eve. I was fighting off a chest cold, which now seems to be subsiding. I promise to do better next year.

Happy New Year Everyone.