Saturday, March 31, 2007

Psalm 120

A Song of degrees.

1 In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me.
2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
7 I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

What's in that box, Pandora?


Time reports that many in the Middle East figure an all-out war between the United States and Iran is inevitable. American sources, meanwhile, ponder another earth-shaking question: What the hell IS the deal with Paris Hilton maybe getting sent to the Big House?

Ah, Pandora prepares her biggest shindigs when we're otherwise preoccupied . . . .


But -- whether an isolated incident . . . a freak skirmish or the equivalent of the 1939-40 "Phony War" in Europe before all hell broke loose -- American and Iranian forces already have fought
at least one pitched battle on the Iraqi frontier:

The soldiers who were there still talk about the September 7 firefight on the Iran-Iraq border in whispers. At Forward Operating Base Warhorse, the main U.S. military outpost in Iraq's eastern Diyala Province bordering Iran, U.S. troops recount events reluctantly, offering details only on condition that they remain nameless. Everyone seems to sense the possible consequences of revealing that a clash between U.S. and Iranian forces had turned deadly. And although the Pentagon has acknowledged that a firefight took place, it says it cannot say anything more. "For that level of detail, you're going to have to ask the [U.S.] military in Baghdad," says Army Lieut. Col. Mark Ballesteros. "We don't know anything about it."

A short Army press release issued on the day of the skirmish offered the following information: U.S. soldiers from the 5th Squadron 73rd Cavalry 82nd Airborne were accompanying Iraqi forces on a routine joint patrol along the border with Iran, about 75 miles east of Baghdad, when they spotted two Iranian soldiers retreating from Iraqi territory back into Iran. A moment later, U.S. and Iraqi forces came upon a third Iranian soldier on the Iraqi side of the border, who stood his ground. As U.S. and Iraqi soldiers approached the Iranian officer and began speaking with him, a platoon of Iranian soldiers appeared and moved to surround the coalition patrol, taking up positions on high ground. At that point, according to the Army's statement, the Iranian captain told the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers that if they tried to leave they would be fired on. Fearing abduction by the Iranians, U.S. troops moved to go anyway, and fighting broke out. Army officials say the Iranian troops fired first with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, and that U.S. troops fell further back into Iraqi territory, while four Iraqi army soldiers, one interpreter and one Iraqi border guard remained in the hands of the Iranians.

The official release says there were no casualties among the Americans, and makes no mention of any on the Iranian side. U.S. soldiers present at the firefight, however, tell TIME that American forces killed at least one Iranian soldier who had been aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at their convoy of Humvees.
BACK TO THE U.S.-IRAN WAR QUESTION, here's the assessment of the "smart money" in the region:

Add this to the rest of the bad news coming out of the Gulf, and things look pretty grim. The "surge," despite what some claim, has barely made a dent in the violence in Iraq. Our Arab allies are jumping ship, apparently as fast as they can. At the opening of the Arab summit on Wednesday, Saudi King Abdallah accused the U.S of illegally occupying Iraq. The day before, the leader of the United Arab Emirates sent his foreign minister to Tehran to tell the Iranians he would not allow the U.S. to use UAE soil to attack Iran. That leaves us with Kuwait and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to face Iran.

I called up an Arab Gulf security official and asked him what he thought about it all. He said the view from his side of the Gulf is that if Iran does not soon release the Brits, a war between the U.S. and Iran is in the cards. "I for one am taking all the cash I can out of my ATM," he said before hanging up.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Oh, ah'm dyin', Forrest . . .

Nah, it just feels that way. On death's door and all that.

But your Mighty Favog rallies from his virus-infested sickbed to do another stellar episode of the Big Show . . . and he does it all for you.

THUD.

* * *

GUEST FAVOG HERE . . . or more accurately, Mrs. Favog. Our Mighty One seems to have passed out from the crud that's taken hold of him this week.

But, to toss a cliche your way, the show must go on.

And it's another exquisite offering this week -- I've seen the playlist. He saves the best for last.

Enjoy -- and have a blessed Holy Week.

(OH . . . by the way . . . is there a doctor out there???)


P.S.: Pod-O-matic seems to be having one of its occasional meltdowns, so you might have to wait a bit to get to the show. But you know what they say about all good things . . . .

Psalm 130

A Song of degrees.


1 Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Circuit City unplugs morality component

Here's all you need to know about laissez-faire capitalism in America today.

From the
Financial Times:

Circuit City, the US consumer electronics retailer, said Wednesday it would cut about 8 per cent of its US store staff and replace them with cheaper hires, in a move that underlines the tensions facing US retailers as they struggle to keep down staffing costs.
From Business Week:

Investors cheered the cost-saving moves. Circuit City shares rose 1.5% to $19.16 per share on the New York Stock Exchange March 28.
ACTUALLY, I'M RATHER SURPRISED that Circuit City -- to maximize its labor "efficiencies" -- didn't just fire everybody, then replace them all with illegal aliens from Mexico. That way, you could pay them below minimum wage -- What, they're going to complain to the Labor Depratment? -- and their health insurance would be 100-percent covered by the health-care providers.

There would be a slight experience and language problem but, hey, it's not like Circuit City is terribly worried about such niggling details, being that it's already canning its top-shelf workers. And if you have a problem with Español, that's only because YOU ARE A RACIST!

Then again, why am I giving these jerks ideas?

MSNBC's Eve Tahmincioglu explains it all:

It’s all part of a plan to save money and cut costs for the big-box chain, which also reduced sales growth expectations this week. By shutting stores, outsourcing its IT department and cutting 9 percent of its 40,000 store employees, the company hopes to save $110 million in its current fiscal year and $140 million next year, says Circuit City spokesman Jim Babb.

“The essential need we have was to bring expenses of our business into line with current marketplace realities. We acknowledge this is a painful step,” says Babb, referring to the firings.

Indeed, it’s probably a major ouch for workers who are being pink-slipped not because of their performance but solely because they were making more money than the company deemed appropriate. “These were folks who through no fault of their own were being paid more than what the hourly wage range was in their markets,” Babb explains.

How they ended up earning the above-market wages is a puzzler, because Circuit City’s managers presumably approved the pay levels.

I asked Babb if store managers were just too generous in compensating their workers, and after a long pause he said: “I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.”

Babb would not comment on how much Circuit City workers make or what these new lower-wage employees would be offered.

Circuit City employees who included their salary information on Vault.com reported making anywhere from $8 to $15 an hour for sales work. The federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, although many states require a higher minimum. Congress is moving ahead on a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour over two years.

That leaves Kevin Clark, an assistant professor of management at Villanova School of Business, to ask, “Where will Circuit City find quality workers at a significantly lower wage?”

Circuit City doesn’t seem to be worried.

“We have and continue to pay competitive wages in our stores, and we will find people who take these jobs,” Babb predicts.

David Lewis, president of OperationsInc., a human resources consultancy, agrees that you can always find people to take the jobs, but he believes Circuit City’s move ultimately will weaken the organization. “It will give them short-term gains, but for the long term it’s like shooting yourself in both feet with a howitzer,” he notes.

Most employees who take on a new job hope to someday get a raise, but the message Circuit City is sending, Lewis says, is “don’t progress that much, because eventually you’ll become to expensive and get fired.”

Alas, the cheaper workforce Circuit City seeks may end up coming from among the very people they are now letting go. While all the terminated workers will be given severance packages based on their years of service, they will all have the opportunity to reapply for their same jobs after a 10–week period — presuming they are willing to accept a lower wage, of course.
AND ALL GOD'S PEOPLE said "Oy veh!"

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Psalm 39

To the chief Musician, even to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David.


1 I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.
2 I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred.
3 My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
4 LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.
5 Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
6 Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
7 And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.
8 Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.
9 I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.
10 Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.
11 When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah.
12 Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
13 O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.

Lord of the Flies-R-Us

I don't know what, really, you can say about the spectacle of 10-year-old Florida boys trying to kill the homeless, except for this:

1) Florida really has become the Wild, Wild West. Even though it's on the Atlantic Ocean.

2) Once you start down the path of abortion, social Darwinism and the whole idea that some life is really, truly unworthy of life, you can't say "OK, that's enough, thank you. I just wanted a little bit of Death today."

NOOOOOOOOOO, you're gonna get the whole nine yards. You're gonna be wading in death up to your eyeballs.

You're eventually going to envy the dead, but you won't be able to join them.

Until your children get around to finishing you off.

Lord, have mercy.

From MSNBC:

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Police say three homeless men were attacked by three boys in Daytona Beach on Tuesday.

One of the homeless men was seriously injured and remains hospitalized, WESH 2 News reported.

One of the boys is 17 years old, and the other two boys are 10 years old, investigators said. The three suspects are being held at the Juvenile Detention Center.

Police said the attack happened around 8:30 p.m. when the boys began chasing two homeless men and throwing rocks at them. One of the victims was allegedly pushed against a wall made of concrete blocks and fell at the corner of Mulberry and North streets.

Authorities said one of the 10-year-old boys grabbed a piece of the wall and dropped it on the victim's head.

Who says white folks don't have soul?


I stumbled across this on YouTube, and since Holy Week starts Sunday (Palm Sunday), I thought I'd post it. For my money, this is the best version of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" ever.

Ever.

After watching this TV performance by Johnny Cash and the Carter Family -- or listening to their 1962 version on record -- never again buy the line that white folks don't have soul.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jesus got a juke box that goes doyt-doyt


IF YOU ASK ME, Jesus' juke box don't got no Jesus junk on it. Because, if you ask me, Jesus appreciates honest, real, substantial art better than he does half-assed, Disneyfied Christian ghettos, where life is beautiful all the time.

Unfortunately, much of what passes for Christian "culture" in this country prefers to retreat . . .

To the happy home with trees and flowers
And chirping birds and basket weavers
Who sit and smile and
Twiddle their thumbs and toes . . . .

A couple of artists, however, find that insipid notion rather incompatible with the notion of a God who is greater than ourselves.
USA TODAY reports:

You might not expect to find folk-rock renegade Rickie Lee Jones and Christian singer/songwriter Derek Webb on the same concert bill. But on their latest albums, the troubadours do share a goal: They both want you to get to know Jesus better — and not necessarily through messages provided in mass media or houses of worship.

Jones' The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, released in February, was inspired by a different spiritual journey than that informing Webb's Mockingbird, which has been generating praise, and some controversy, since last year.

"I came to religion wanting to take what's beautiful about it,," says Jones, 52. "I think we are spiritual beings, but Christianity's position in the culture can be so aggressive that it makes people defend themselves coming to the table."

So in 2005, when Jones' friend Lee Cantelon asked her to take part in a spoken-word recording of
The Words
, his book outlining Jesus' teachings — and distinguishing those teachings from what Cantelon views as the dogmatic interpretations that have evolved in organized religion — the project seemed a natural fit. Jones decided that she would rather sing than speak, though.

Jones wouldn't define the lean, starkly atmospheric songs she co-wrote with Cantelon and Peter Atanasoff as Christian music. "I guess I assume that would mean a Christian person trying to convince me of something, to sell an idea."

Webb, 32, began his career in that market, as part of the Christian band Caedmon's Call. "But as I looked around, I thought, 'where are our artists who are talking about politics? About the government?' It's the job of creative people, and especially those who are followers of Jesus, to be radical truth-tellers. That's what the prophets did."

With
Mockingbird, his third solo effort, the Nashville-based artist wasn't concerned about ruffling feathers. On one track, A King and a Kingdom
, he sings of "two great lies," identifying one as "that Jesus was a white, middle-class Republican, and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him."

Webb muses that Jesus "wasn't a white middle-class Democrat either, incidentally. The point is that he didn't walk any party line. But I think that the church, especially where I live, makes a terrible habit of co-opting the more conservative political party.

"I'm not saying the church shouldn't be concerned with issues. My problem is that they've grown so predictable, and Jesus was in no way predictable. The people he loved most lavishly were often socially stigmatized, and he reserved some of his harshest language for the law-keeping church leadership. That's the opposite, in a lot of cases, of what the evangelical church puts forth."

Webb espouses the kind of evangelism he associates with Jesus' original followers, "which was telling people about Jesus and what he did. But the church in the West has made some distinction between that and acts of mercy: caring for the poor, clothing the naked, caring for our neighbors."

Jones, who defines her political leanings more firmly to the left, echoes Webb's concerns. "Capitalistic religion inhibits the idea of service. You're supposed to be in the business of serving yourself, and if you don't do that, you must be some sort of tree-hugging idiot."

Psalm 117

1 O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.
2 For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Here's to you, Mr. Assistant Coach Man


Revolution 21 presents Real American Heroes:

Today we salute you, Mr. Assistant Coach Man (Mr. Assistant Coach Maaaaaannnn) . . . .

For decades, you've broken down the films of your basketball team's opponents, and you've gotten to drive broken down cars while the pretty boys (and girls) get all the glory, and the Lincoln Continentals . . . and sometimes, get all the luuuuuv, too. Hey! Let 'em run their own damn practices! (It would be a jo-oooooke!)

Twice a week in the winter and spring, for years and years and years now, (That's a lot of ye-ears!) you've sat on the bench holding things together while Mr. Pretty Boy or Miss Alpha Girl jumps up and down, chews on towels, cusses at the refs and gets thrown out of games. (Who'll coach the team? Yoooooou wiiilllllllllll! Call a time out!)

You're the unsung American hero who does all the work and gets . . . squat. You're the last to get hired and the first to take the fall when your boss can't buy a winning season. (It's not my fault! It's hiii-iiis!) But Pokey Chatman got caught lookin' for love in all the wrong places, and a desperate university turns its lonely eyes toward you, Mr. Assistant Coach Man! (Hey, hey, hey!)

And what do you do? (You tell 'em to get screwed!) No, you don't, Mr. Assistant Coach Man. You pick up the baton, you start clearing away the rubble, you pick up the pieces, you begin the process of healing (Can we cut the clichés, now?) . . . and you take the LSU women all the way to the Final Four! (That's amazing!)

So crack open an ice cold Bud Light, Mr. Assistant Coach Man! It's guys like you that make the rockin' world go 'round.

(Mr. Assistant Coach Maaaaaannnn . . . )

Psalm 103

A Psalm of David.


1 Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;
18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
19 The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
20 Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
21 Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
22 Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.

'F*** 'em all, f*** 'em all, f*** 'em all'

I don't have much use for The Weekly Standard or them what runs it, but this right here by senior writer Matt Labash -- a piece about New Orleans' struggle for survival, centered on the amazing Rebirth Brass Band -- is a damn fine piece of journalism.

Here's just a bit -- it's a long article -- to whet your appetite:

He is called "The General" because he, along with his cousin Big Sexy, likes to make sure everyone hits his parts (Khabuki, too, is a distant cousin). You'd never know that Andrews is self-taught and doesn't even read music. "Wynton Marsalis might say, 'What the hell are you doin'!'" he jokes. But as The General tells me with a gold-toothed grin, "I can go where he plays, but he can't come on our stage where we play. I play something I made up from my heart, y'know." It puts me in mind of something Louis Armstrong said of snooty Creole musicians when he and Kid Ory blew them off the street during a jazz funeral: "Any learned musician can read music, but they all can't swing."

And swing the Rebirth does, especially live. Not to take anything away from their 13 fine recordings, but the difference between hearing them live and on disc is the difference between making love to a beautiful woman and having the experience described to you. Still, I haven't come to New Orleans to sign on as their roadie. I'm here on official business, to take a snapshot of their city a year and a half after Katrina nearly totaled it.

To that end, I bring to the Maple Leaf show one of my old guides to New Orleans, the pseudonymous Kingfish, of whom I've written in these pages twice before. When I first met him, as the waters were still rolling in after Katrina, New Orleans felt like a live adaptation of the Book of Revelation. People were dying in the streets, the desperate became more so, and the lawless were taking over. A good native son whose family goes back to the city's beginnings, Kingfish was one of the last men standing in his swank Uptown neighborhood. He let our visiting crew of journalists clean out his refrigerator and bathe in his pool, since the hotels had long since evacuated.

Before the gig, I stop by his house to collect him. His kids are snug in their beds, instead of in exile in Florida. And there is nobody sleeping on the couch with a shotgun, as was his looter-protection practice back during the flood. There is one remnant of those days, however. In his living room is a trophy case featuring a pair of beat-up Adidas sneakers. In between running humanitarian rescue missions during the storm, Kingfish lost patience with the looters. When he saw one coming out of a linen store with a swag bag--hardly a necessity unless the thief had to have cool fabrics for summer--Kingfish bore down on him with his shotgun. "Scared him clean out of his shoes," he says. "I just couldn't take it anymore."

As he fixes us some pregame Old Fashioneds, Mrs. Kingfish eyes his pressed khakis and Casual-Friday chambray shirt disapprovingly. "You're going to the Maple Leaf," she says, "Don't you have a black T-shirt or something?" He shrugs his shoulders, in a what-do-you-want-from-me fashion. "I probably have a buttoned-down T-shirt somewhere," he says. While Kingfish plays at being the Uptown swell, like many whites in New Orleans who've benefited from three centuries of cultural cross-fertilization, he has more soul than he likes to let on.

We get to the bar before the Rebirth does, and Kingfish eyes the decrepitude approvingly. "You can't reproduce this," he says. "When you go to Joe's Crab Shack, this is what they try to do." The Meters play on the juke, while the bar is the kind of place where you can have enlightened debates as to who was the better piano player, Professor Longhair or James Booker (the late Booker usually wins, since he used to hold down Rebirth's Tuesday night gig). At the end of the bar is a photo of Everette Maddox, who was the Maple Leaf's "poet laureate," at least until he drank himself to death. Maple Leaf owner Hank Staples says that he's buried out back on the patio. At least half of him is. Seems there was a dispute among his friends, and the rest of his ashes were scattered in the Mississippi River. He died as he lived, and his tombstone testifies: "He was a mess."

It could be New Orleans's epitaph, and some would have it that way. But not tonight. Tonight the band takes the stage an hour and a half late (in the Big Easy, start times are mere suggestions). But the Rebirth makes up for it. The Frazier brothers lay down a thoracic cavity-thumping bass groove, and the rest of the band plays like their horns have caught fire and need blowing out. Empty beer bottles rattle on the speakers, while the band sings and spits and croaks out in frogman gurgles its burning-down-the-house anthem, "Rebirth Got Fire! Rebirth Got Fire!" Both black and white and rich and poor and middle-aged and young bob violently like several hundred buoys on a gathering wave.

Talent buyer Stu Schayot of the Howlin' Wolf club sees a lot of great bands, but tells me there's none like Rebirth: "When those guys play, there's a feeling that there's no other spot on this planet where this moment is happening. And if you're from New Orleans, it's like you own it. It's such a New Orleans thing they've created. My philosophy is: If everybody saw Rebirth once a week, there'd be no crime in this city. You go to a show, and every walk is there. You could be standing next to a lawyer, and a guy from the projects. No class, no race. All energy. Just people in unison, having a good time."

Close to me, I watch a freakishly nimble second-line dancer named Ron "The Busdriver" Horn, so monikered because he drives a bus. He moves as though his joints are made of Slinkys. He is black, but he wants me to meet Chocolate Swerve, his white sidekick and understudy. Swerve recently broke his ankle when the crowd got him over-pumped as he was dancing onstage during a Rebirth show at Tipitina's. ("In cowboy boots," Horn says with some embarrassment. "I laughed all the way to the hospital.")

Still, boasts Horn, "ain't nobody can deal with him," as Swerve replicates his moves. "We're brothers from another mother." Horn met Swerve after the former's house got washed out in the 9th Ward. Swerve was a roofer from out of town--one of the rare ones who didn't try to cheat him. They became thick as thieves, and, well, now look, says Horn, like the beaming parent of an accomplished child.

I ask Horn if this stuff matters, in the grand scheme of the greater disaster that has become his city. He looks at me as if someone had jumped me with a stupid stick. "It's all that matters." After the storm, he says, he left "a wonderful lady" back in Atlanta "who I dealt with for 11 years" because he had to get back. "This," he says, pointing to the Rebirth, "is what makes the culture keep living. I came back for my kids and the culture." Now 41 years old, he used to play trumpet in the same junior high band as Tuba Phil, and his son now plays trumpet in one of the best marching bands in New Orleans. "She's got the house now," he said, speaking of his woman. "But I came back for my culture. I told her if you ever need me, I'm there. But we're fighting here. Ain't gonna give up. I got to help rebuild."

I grab the Kingfish to introduce him, but the second he catches The Busdriver's eye, he exclaims, "Hey baby!" and they embrace. Years ago, Horn used to work for Kingfish. "This is New Orleans," Kingfish explains. "We all know each other." Kingfish doesn't tarry for long, however, as a pretty black girl innocently and wordlessly grabs his hand while the Rebirth plays "Feel Like Funkin' It Up." He spins her around the dance floor, or at least the two feet of it that are available to him. He smiles an isn't-this-place-great smile.

"Why do you think I put up with all the bulls--t?" Kingfish says.

There are plenty who said New Orleans wouldn't come back after the storm. But it's back, all right--back as the murder and mayhem capital of the United States. According to one Tulane demographer, in 2006, there were 96 murders per 100,000 people--68 percent more than in 2004. And 2007 is off to an auspicious start with 37 murders as of mid-March. It's an impressive effort from the bad guys of New Orleans, who are putting up big numbers even though there are fewer people around to kill. The population has dwindled to 191,000 from its pre-storm 467,000. With New Orleans's notoriously overstretched and feckless police force and DA, about two-thirds of the homicides are going unsolved. So many criminals have been released without charge that the term "misdemeanor murder" has gained wide currency.

While city spinmeisters would have it that the murder rate entails black-on-black drug-related killings--which is largely true--they're by no means all that's going on. In just one recent week, a female filmmaker and the Hot 8 Brass Band's Dinerral Shavers (who frequently sat in with Rebirth) were both killed in front of their own children, causing an outraged citizens' march on City Hall.

On some days, the Times-Picayune reads like good crime fiction with a southern gothic twist. There were the star-crossed lovers who met the night Katrina hit, and who ended up cohabiting over a voodoo temple in the Quarter. They came to a bad end when he calmly strangled her, dismembered her, then jumped off the roof of the same hotel in which I'm staying, but not before leaving a suicide note that detailed his handiwork: Police found parts of her in a pot on the stove next to the chopped carrots and more in the oven on turkey-basting trays. "He may have in retrospect seemed a little troubled," said his landlord.

Then there was the bizarre murder allegedly committed by renowned radio talk show host Vincent Marinello, who police suspect shot his wife in the face twice, made it look like a robbery in a parking lot, then rode away on his bike. The tip-off was the to-do list found in his FEMA trailer, with checkmarks beside incriminating tasks like "mustache and beard" and a reminder to get rid of the weapon. He appears to have remembered everything except to throw away his list.

None of this, of course, even addresses the post-Katrina toll or the frustration New Orleanians feel with federal, state, and local officials. Even many of those who voted to reelect Mayor Ray Nagin have taken to calling him "the invisible mayor." And after George W. Bush rejected Louisiana's Baker Plan to help speed rebuilding, and failed to forgive the state the matching 10 percent it must pay for all federal disaster assistance as he did New York after 9/11, and neglected even to mention New Orleans in his State of the Union address, many New Orleanians were unclear during his recent visit, when Bush promised that they hadn't been forgotten, whether he was reminding them or himself.

At a Rebirth show at the Howlin' Wolf one night, I watch as trombonist Stafford Agee takes the mike and improvises a lament in which he name-checks everyone from FEMA to the mayor to the president, with the sing-a-long refrain, "F-- 'em all, f-- 'em all, f-- 'em all." The crowd joins in lustily. It doesn't feel like disaffected youth spoiling for a fight, either. It's not angry, so much as weary: the song of a city that's given immeasurable joy to the rest of the country with its music and architecture and food, but that feels like it's getting erased.

The Katrina Index, put out jointly by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and the Brookings Institution, and which might as well be called the Misery Index, tells the story in numbers. Less than 1 percent of those who've applied for assistance through the state's Road Home Program have received their home-repair grants. Public transportation has hardly improved in a year, with the city still at 17 percent of its buses. Though Orleans Parish schools were a disaster before the storm, with educational standards reportedly below those of Zimbabwe and Kenya, 56 percent of schools remain closed, and 69 percent of child-care centers do as well. The mass exodus of doctors might have to do with the fact that only 12 of Orleans Parish's 23 state-licensed hospitals are still in operation.

Then there are the things that statistics can't measure--the weirdness quotient. One afternoon, I take a spin around the city with another old friend, Joe Gendusa, a tour guide I met during Mardi Gras 2006. When he's not giving the Southern Comfort cocktail tour, he gives the Katrina Disaster tour for the Gray Line company three times a week. Gray Line is a bit of a disaster itself. Before the storm, it had 65 local full-time employees. Now it has four.

I took Gendusa's bus tour last year, but this year, as he drives me around in his car, I'm shocked at how little has changed in neighborhood after mostly abandoned neighborhood: Lakeview, Gentilly, the 9th Ward, St. Bernard Parish, New Orleans East. The only appreciable difference is that most of the debris has been cleared and many of the houses gutted. Now the place has the eeriness of one of those Rapture movies evangelical youth ministers show their charges to scare them into the Kingdom. Except nobody's been called up to Heaven. They're all in Baton Rouge or Houston or God-knows-where. Many old friends and neighbors still haven't found each other.

Tourists who only travel from the airport to the Quarter or the Garden District would never know anything's wrong. But the rest of the city? "It's a disaster, and will be for the rest of my lifetime," the 66-year-old Gendusa says. "You're talking about rebuilding an entire city." As we drive down a boulevard in Lakeview that once boasted large houses and oak canopies, but that is now desolate and destroyed, the lifelong New Orleanian, whose Italian immigrant grandfather helped start the Gendusa bakery empire that invented Po Boy bread, is gobsmacked. As he drives, here's a verbatim transcript of his reaction: "I don't recognize it. Oh my god! Look at this! Oh my god, look at this! Oh Jesus! Un-bel-leeeev-able!" Keep in mind, he sees this wreckage nearly every day, since he is paid, in essence, to feed off the cadaver.

And yet it never ceases to shock him. Nor does the behavior of some of the citizenry. "They're looting FEMA trailers!" he says. "What a bunch of scumbuckets!" He tells a particularly galling story. One woman who'd recently had her mother cremated was saving the ashes until she could have a proper burial at one of the city's storm-damaged cemeteries. "Her trailer was broken into, looted, everything was stolen out of boxes," Gendusa says. "Guess what they stole? Her mother! These stupid asses looted the mother! She's on television crying, saying you can have whatever you want, just bring my mother home. We won't ask any questions, just put her on the steps."

We look at each other for a beat, then both start laughing uncontrollably. Sometimes, there's nothing else to do. I've always loved New Orleans, because life comes at you here faster and stranger and more darkly beautiful than it does in other places. Sherwood Anderson called it "the most civilized spot in America"--a place where there is "time for a play of the imagination over the facts of life." These days, however, the imagination can't keep up.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dear Diary: Of porn and blue jeans

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's another in the occasional series of dispatches recorded some years ago from the front lines of Catholic radio -- Pope FM.

* * *


THURSDAY, MARCH 14, 2002


Dear Diary,

Well, now. From today's newspaper: Father Bob Kolfrier didn't actually POSSESS the kiddie porn, his lawyer says in entering a not-guilty plea. Now, if he hadn't been wearing SHOES when he said Mass at the Pope FM chapel Tuesday of last week . . . .

Yes, that's right. Said Mass at our chapel. My boss told me FIVE MINUTES before he showed up to say Mass for some station staff and Spirit Fire adult leaders.

You see, "He has been hurting to say Mass for people, and he's in a state of grace." The chancery approved of the whole thing. But it was kept strictly on the QT so reporters wouldn't "hound him."

I understand compassion for the sinner and redemption. I do. But the recklessness of it all is deeply weird, deeply disturbing and deeply shocking. It just WAS NOT APPROPRIATE. If he absolutely, positively had to say Mass for a congregation, do it at somebody's house. NOT AT THE RADIO STATION.

I got the hell out of there and tried not to see him. But he was there eating pizza with the charismatic Spirit Fire folk when I got back and was still there when I left.

Yes, my boss has compassion for priests into kiddie porn but not for lapsed Catholics who show up for Mass on September 12, 2001. Or for the people at what she described as "the grunge Mass" she ended up attending at St. Mark's last Sunday.

Grunge Mass? Yes, people were mostly wearing blue jeans and were just sooooooo lukewarm, don'tcha know?

Psalm 133

A Song of degrees of David.


1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

Izvestia, Pravda & Granma sharpen knives for Hagel

Book it.


The Republican radio counterparts to yesteryear's Soviet "newspapers" Izvestia and Pravda -- not to mention to the still-the-same Cuban party rag Granma -- are about to aim the big guns at one of their own. Again.

Only now, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are going to break out the nuclear bunker-busters for Nebraska's senior U.S. senator, Chuck Hagel.

Hagel used the I-word in public. And "I" is for Impeachment. As in, if President Bush continues to flout the will of the people and their Congress to persist in his catastrophic adventure in Iraq, impeachment is one option for dealing with the problem.

Sounds reasonable. And they're gonna kill Hagel for statin' the obvious . . . .

Here's the deal, according to The Associated Press:

WASHINGTON - With his go-it-alone approach on Iraq, President Bush is flouting Congress and the public, so angering lawmakers that some consider impeachment an option over his war policy, a senator from Bush’s own party said Sunday.

(snip)

GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of the war, stopped short of calling for Bush’s impeachment. But he made clear that some lawmakers viewed that as an option should Bush choose to push ahead despite public sentiment against the war.

“Any president who says, I don’t care, or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else, or I don’t care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed — if a president really believes that, then there are — what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that,” said Hagel, who is considering a 2008 presidential run.

The White House had no immediate reaction Sunday to Hagel’s comments.

The Senate planned to begin debate Monday on a war spending bill that would set a nonbinding goal of March 31, 2008, for the removal of combat troops.

That comes after the House narrowly passed a bill Friday that would pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year but would require that combat troops come home from Iraq before September 2008 — or earlier if the Iraqi government did not meet certain requirements.

On Sunday, Hagel said he was bothered by Bush’s apparent disregard of congressional sentiment on Iraq, such as his decision to send additional troops. He said lawmakers now stood ready to stand up to the president when necessary.

In the April edition of Esquire magazine, Hagel described Bush as someone who doesn’t believe he’s accountable to anyone. “He’s not accountable anymore, which isn’t totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don’t know. It depends on how this goes,” Hagel told the magazine.

(snip)

“We have clearly a situation where the president has lost the confidence of the American people in his war effort,” Hagel said. “It is now time, going into the fifth year of that effort, for the Congress to step forward and be part of setting some boundaries and some conditions as to our involvement.”

“This is not a monarchy,” he added, referring to the possibility that some lawmakers may seek impeachment. “There are ways to deal with it. And I would hope the president understands that.”

AT THE END of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman asked delegate Benjamin Franklin what kind of government he and his confreres had wrought. His response: "A republic . . . if you can keep it."

Unfortunately, when a chief executive starts to behave like a monarch, sometimes there is only one way -- short of bloody insurrection -- to keep it. Keep our republic.

That's the elephant (no pun intended) in the parlor that Chuck Hagel, wounded twice in Vietnam, dares to point out. And all the GOP's Imperial Guard wannabes are gonna make him pay for that bit of candor.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Psalm 131

A Song of degrees of David.

1 LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.
2 Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.
3 Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Psalm 132

A Song of degrees.


1 LORD, remember David, and all his afflictions:
2 How he sware unto the LORD, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob;
3 Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed;
4 I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids,
5 Until I find out a place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.
6 Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood.
7 We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool.
8 Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.
9 Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy.
10 For thy servant David’s sake turn not away the face of thine anointed.
11 The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.
12 If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children shall also sit upon thy throne for evermore.
13 For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.
14 This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.
16 I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.
17 There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed.
18 His enemies will I clothe with shame: but upon himself shall his crown flourish.

Of all the governments, in all the countries,
in all the world, he had to walk into ours

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]

Croupier: Your winnings, sir.

Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.

Captain Renault: [aloud] Everybody out at once!

* * *

AND WE ARE SUPPOSED to be somehow surprised that the man who played so large a role in making torture not "torture" anymore so we can keep doing it to detainees in the "War on Terror" might have lied through his teeth about his role in the firing of "troublesome" U.S. attorneys?

Yeah, right.

From MSNBC:

WASHINGTON - President Bush is standing firmly behind his embattled attorney general despite Justice Department documents that show Alberto Gonzales was more involved in the decisions to fire U.S. attorneys than he previously indicated.

Gonzales said last week he was not involved in any discussions about the impending dismissals of federal prosecutors. On Friday night, however, the department disclosed Gonzales’ participation in a Nov. 27 meeting where such plans were discussed.

That e-mail only added to the calls for Gonzales’ ouster.

Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, said Saturday that Bush continues to support Gonzales despite the latest disclosures.

Bartlett also said he was not aware of any negotiations under way between the White House and congressional Democrats over how current and former Bush aides could provide information about the firings to lawmakers.

At the Nov. 27 meeting, the attorney general and at least five top department officials discussed a five-step plan for carrying out the firings, Gonzales’ aides said late Friday.

At that session, Gonzales signed off on the plan, drafted by his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Sampson resigned last week.

A Justice aide closely involved in the dismissals, White House liaison Monica Goodling, also has taken a leave of absence, two officials said.

The plan approved by Gonzales involved notifying Republican home-state senators of the impending dismissals, preparing for potential political upheaval, naming replacements and submitting them to the Senate for confirmation.

Six of the eight prosecutors who were ordered to resign are named in the plan.

The department released more than 280 documents, including e-mails, calendar pages and memos to try to satisfy Congress’ demands for details on how the firings were handled — and whether they were politically motivated. There are no other meetings on the calendar pages released between that Nov. 27 and Dec. 7, when the prosecutors were fired, to indicate Gonzales participated in other discussions on the matter, department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said.

Scolinos said it was not immediately clear whether Gonzales gave his final approval to begin the firings at that meeting. Scolinos said Gonzales was not involved in the process of selecting which prosecutors would be asked to resign.

Gonzales told reporters on March 13 that he was aware some of the dismissals were being discussed but was not involved in them.

“I knew my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers — where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district, and that’s what I knew,” Gonzales said. “But that is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That’s basically what I knew as the attorney general.”

Later, he added: “I accept responsibility for everything that happens here within this department. But when you have 110,000 people working in the department, obviously there are going to be decisions that I’m not aware of in real time. Many decisions are delegated.”

The documents’ release came hours after Sampson agreed to testify at a Senate inquiry this coming week into the prosecutors’ firings.

Asked to explain the difference between Gonzales’ comments and his schedule, Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the attorney general had relied on Sampson to draw up the plans on the firings.

“The attorney general has made clear that he charged Mr. Sampson with directing a plan to replace U.S. attorneys where for one reason or another the department believed that we could do better,” Roehrkasse said. “He was not, however, involved at the levels of selecting the particular U.S. attorneys who would be replaced.”

Gonzales has directed the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the circumstances of the firings, officials said. The department’s inspector general will participate in that investigation.

Democrats pounced on the latest revelations.

“Clearly the attorney general was not telling the whole truth, but what is he trying to hide?” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who is heading the Senate’s investigation into the firings, said, “If the facts bear out that Attorney General Gonzales knew much more about the plan than he has previously admitted, then he can no longer serve as attorney general.”

Infamous last words

Before Katrina struck . . . he and fellow researchers had found sagging levees. He enlisted his students to ask the corps about them . . . the agency responded . . . "'These were federal levees built to federal standards and they're not going to fail"' . . . .

THE "TEAM LOUISIANA" REPORT on why the levees didn't hold -- and why New Orleans drowned -- came out this week, and it pretty much told us what everybody but the Bush Administration already knew:

The Army Corps of Engineers screwed up. Bad.

Here are a couple of tidbits from a report by The Associated Press:

The report also said the corps never used a storm surge model released in 1979 by the National Hurricane Center. "If they had, they would have realized that their levee system wasn't high enough for a Category 3 storm at all," said team leader Ivor van Heerden, a Louisiana State University professor, deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center and a corps critic.

Additionally, he said the corps ignored its own models that suggested that the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a navigation channel completed in the early 1960s, would funnel storm surge into St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans.

The corps also should have known two canals would fail when water levels reached 10 feet. Van Heerden said that "a back-of-the-envelope calculation" would have alerted engineers to a problem with one of the canals, and that a soil strength analysis available since the 1950s would have highlighted flaws in the other.

The corps was preparing a response, spokesman John Hall said Wednesday.

Van Heerden said almost all the problems could have been avoided if independent engineers had reviewed the corps' plans before construction started.

Before Katrina struck, he said, he and fellow researchers had found sagging levees. He enlisted his students to ask the corps about them, and the agency responded by saying "'These were federal levees built to federal standards and they're not going to fail,"' he said.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Psalm 101

A Psalm of David.


1 I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing.
2 I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.
3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.
4 A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person.
5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.
6 Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.
7 He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.
8 I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.

Why Arabs eat with their right hand . . .

. . . and waiving at someone with your left hand might get your block knocked off.

From The New York Times'
Home & Garden section:

Dinner was the usual affair on Thursday night in Apartment 9F in an elegant prewar on Lower Fifth Avenue. There was shredded cabbage with fruit-scrap vinegar; mashed parsnips and yellow carrots with local butter and fresh thyme; a terrific frittata; then homemade yogurt with honey and thyme tea, eaten under the greenish flickering light cast by two beeswax candles and a fluorescent bulb.

A sour odor hovered oh-so-slightly in the air, the faint tang, not wholly unpleasant, that is the mark of the home composter. Isabella Beavan, age 2, staggered around the neo-Modern furniture — the Eames chairs, the brown velvet couch, the Lucite lamps and the steel cafe table upon which dinner was set — her silhouette greatly amplified by her organic cotton diapers in their enormous boiled-wool, snap-front cover.

A visitor avoided the bathroom because she knew she would find no toilet paper there.

Meanwhile, Joseph, the liveried elevator man who works nights in the building, drove his wood-paneled, 1920s-era vehicle up and down its chute, unconcerned that the couple in 9F had not used his services in four months. “I’ve noticed,” Joseph said later with a shrug and no further comment. (He declined to give his last name. “I’ve got enough problems,” he said.)

Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. Isabella’s parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at
Business Week
, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

Mr. Beavan, who has written one book about the origins of forensic detective work and another about D-Day, said he was ready for a new subject, hoping to tread more lightly on the planet and maybe be an inspiration to others in the process.

Also, he needed a new book project and the No Impact year was the only one of four possibilities his agent thought would sell. This being 2007, Mr. Beavan is showcasing No Impact in a blog (noimpactman.com) laced with links and testimonials from New Environmentalist authorities like treehugger.com. His agent did indeed secure him a book deal, with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and he and his family are being tailed by Laura Gabbert, a documentary filmmaker and Ms. Conlin’s best friend.

Why there may be a public appetite for the Conlin-Beavan family doings has a lot to do with the very personal, very urban face of environmentalism these days. Thoreau left home for the woods to make his point (and secure his own book deal); Mr. Beavan and Ms. Conlin and others like them aren’t budging from their bricks-and-mortar, haut-bourgeois nests.

Mr. Beavan looks to groups like the Compacters (sfcompact.blogspot.com), a collection of nonshoppers that began in San Francisco, and the 100 Mile Diet folks (100milediet.org and thetyee.ca), a Vancouver couple who spent a year eating from within 100 miles of their apartment, for tips and inspiration. But there are hundreds of other light-footed, young abstainers with a diarist urge: it is not news that this shopping-averse, carbon-footprint-reducing, city-dwelling generation likes to blog (the paperless, public diary form). They have seen “An Inconvenient Truth”; they would like to tell you how it makes them feel. If Al Gore is their Rachel Carson, blogalogs like Treehugger, grist.org and worldchanging.com are their Whole Earth catalogs.

Andrew Kirk, an environmental history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose new book, “Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism,” will be published by University Press of Kansas in September, is reminded of environmentalism’s last big bubble, in the 1970s, long before Ronald Reagan pulled federal funding for alternative fuel technologies (and his speechwriters made fun of the spotted owl and its liberal protectors, a deft feat of propaganda that set the movement back decades). Those were the days when Stewart Brand and his Whole Earth writers, Mr. Kirk said, “focused on a brand of environmentalism that kept people in the picture.”

“That’s the thing about this current wave of environmentalism,” he continued. “It’s not about, how do we protect some abstract pristine space? It’s what can real people do in their home or office or whatever. It’s also very urban. It’s a critical twist in the old wilderness adage: Leave only footprints, take only photographs. But how do you translate that into Manhattan?”

(snip)

Since November, Mr. Beavan and Isabella have been hewing closely, most particularly in a dietary way, to a 19th-century life. Mr. Beavan has a single-edge razor he has learned to use (it was a gift from his father). He has also learned to cook quite tastily from a limited regional menu — right now that means lots of apples and root vegetables, stored in the unplugged freezer — hashing out compromises. Spices are out but salt is exempt, Mr. Beavan said, because homemade bread “is awful without salt; salt stops the yeast action.” Mr. Beavan is baking his own, with wheat grown locally and a sour dough “mother” fermenting stinkily in his cupboard. He is also finding good sources at the nearby Union Square Greenmarket (like Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, which sells milk in reusable glass bottles). The 250-mile rule, by the way, reflects the longest distance a farmer can drive in and out of the city in one day, Mr. Beavan said.

Olive oil and vinegar are out; they used the last dregs of their bottle of balsamic vinegar last week, Mr. Beavan said, producing a moment of stunned silence while a visitor thought about life without those staples. Still, Mr. Beavan’s homemade fruit-scrap vinegar has a satisfying bite.

The television, a flat-screen, high-definition 46-incher, is long gone. Saturday night charades are in. Mr. Beavan likes to talk about social glue — community building — as a natural byproduct of No Impact.

(snip)

The dishwasher is off, along with the microwave, the coffee machine and the food processor. Planes, trains, automobiles and that elevator are out, but the family is still doing laundry in the washing machines in the basement of the building. (Consider the ramifications of no-elevator living in a vertical city: one day recently, when Frankie the dog had digestive problems, Mr. Beavan, who takes Isabella to day care — six flights of stairs in a building six blocks away — and writes at the Writers Room on Astor Place — 12 flights of stairs, also six blocks away — estimated that by nightfall he had climbed 115 flights of stairs.) And they have not had the heart to take away the vacuum from their cleaning lady, who comes weekly (this week they took away her paper towels).

Until three weeks ago, however, Ms. Conlin was following her “high-fructose corn syrup ways,” meaning double espressos and pastries administered daily. “Giving up the coffee was like crashing down from a crystal meth addiction,” she said. “I had to leave work and go to bed for 24 hours.”

Toothpaste is baking soda (a box makes trash, to be sure, but of a better quality than a metal tube), but Ms. Conlin is still wearing the lipstick she gets from a friend who works at Lancôme, as well as moisturizers from Fresh and Kiehl’s. When the bottles, tubes and jars are empty, Mr. Beavan has promised her homemade, rules-appropriate substitutes. (Nothing is a substitute for toilet paper, by the way; think of bowls of water and lots of air drying.)

NOW I HAVE NO PROBLEM with being environmentally conscious, trying to live more simply, eschewing extravagance -- or even television! -- and all that. But (or should I say "butt") . . .

I. DRAW. THE. LINE. AT. TOILET. PAPER.

'Nuff said. End of debate.

And forgive me if I don't shake hands with Colin Beavan or Michelle Conlin.