Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shoddy Levee Construction

The local CBS affiliate has uncovered a bit of shoddy workmanship on levee walls protecting St. Bernard Parish. The contractor used newspaper as a filler in the gap between the water stop in the levee wall and the caulk used to seal the seam between the concrete sections. The Corps of Engineers maintains that this is acceptable even though it violates the their own specification. The filler is supposed to be sponge rubber.

This is just another example of the axiom, "You get what you inspect, not what you expect."

As an engineer with 30 years in the offshore industry, I've had to make temporary repairs. But you are always aware that what you did is temporary and at the same time you make plans to make it permanent at the first opportunity. And you make it known to management that the fix is not permanent. The Corps did none of that. This defect was going to sit there for the next 50 years, unseen and unknown, until the levee fails again in the next major storm to hit the area.

I hope there is a special place being saved in Hell for employees and contractors of the Corps of Engineers.

For the story, with video, go here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over

My wife and I took Niece Godchild to a Japanese restaurant the other night. It had opened recently and it advertised teppanyaki. To my knowledge, it was the first and only Japanese restaurant on the Westbank of New Orleans that served teppanyaki.

When we arrived, I noticed the continuation of a disturbing trend – Japanese restaurants are owned and operated by the Chinese! I first noticed this several years ago when the staff in the restaurant we frequented for sushi didn’t understand the Japanese language. (I lived in Hiroshima for two years and speak Japanese pretty well for simple issues) I tested the issue at this new place by saying the only Mandarin phrase I knew, “ni hao”, upon the chefs arrival. He immediately responded. I suspect that if I had said “kon nichi wa” he wouldn’t have understood a word.

Is there some school in Shanghai that trains the Chinese in Japanese cooking? Is there a Chinese conspiracy to use Japanese cooking skills as the way to justify giving visas to Chinese immigrants? Is there some loophole in a trade agreement somewhere that allows Chinese to enter the USA but not Japanese? Why aren’t Japanese restaurants owned and operated by the Japanese?

And they must teach some sort of caricature of Japanese cooking style in their cooking school. Somehow they all think they must put on a Benihana type dinner show. The cart with the raw food arrived with a guy honking a clown horn. The chef juggled some raw eggs and started cooking fried rice amidst a storm of knife clanking and jangling. He used his spatula to toss bits of rice into our open mouths. It was all so unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the flavor of the food (which was very good, by the way).

I am a traditionalist. I am more impressed by fast and accurate knife work in slicing and dicing than I am with a lot of noise making antics. Show me some rapid machine gun slice-o-matic action instead of a lot of meaningless juggling and clanking. I prefer a meal where I can watch a skilled chef prepare food in a unique style without a lot of corny theatrics. The essence of Japanese culture is to find beauty in simple things. Teppanyaki cooking should emphasize the skill of the chef, the artistry of his food arrangement, and maybe even a little decorative vegetable cutting. Teppanyaki cooking as done in the US today has devolved into some sort of Barnum and Bailey circus act.

And when I go to a Japanese restaurant, I want to be able to practice my language skills, with Japanese people.

Friday, April 25, 2008

NOLA History

On this day in 1862, New Orleans fell to Union forces under Captain David Farragut. General Benjamin Butler, a politically connected incompetent, was placed in charge of the occupation army. He quickly proceeded to endear himself with the population.
His General Order No. 26 allowed Union soldiers to treat women as prostitutes if they showed contempt for their occupiers.
He had the phrase "The Union Must and Shall be Preserved" carved into the base of Andrew Jackson's statue in Jackson Square.
He hung William Mumford for treason. The treasonous act was removing a newly installed US flag from City Hall. This was done before the official surrender of the city.
He caused an international incident when he imprisoned champagne entrepreneur Charles Heidsieck for spying. (Charlie's story is an interesting one: He came to the US to try to get payment for a shipment of champagne. The agent claimed that he did not have to pay due to new laws enacted by the Lincoln government. With no money available, he took a shipment if cotton as payment but it was subsequently lost as he tried to smuggle it out of Mobile on blockade runners. Charles went to New Orleans to try to return home to France but New Orleans had fallen to the Union. He was carrying papers from the French Consolate in Mobile and was therefore thought to be a spy. He was imprisoned at Fort Jackson and later returned to France broke. In 1863, the brother of the agent had guilt pangs and deeded some land over to Charles as payment of the old debt It was land of the little settlement of Denver, Colorado.)
The fact that chamber pots were made with the image of Ben Butler inside may give you some idea of the esteem in which he was held by the population of New Orleans.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More Inconvenient Truths

Am I the only one or do you too think that when you take a piece of special effects and pass it off as reality in a documentary that maybe you ought to forfeit any awards for that documentary? ABC News had the following information concerning Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth".

Al Gore's "traveling global warming show," the award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," includes a long flyover shot of majestic Antarctic ice shelves. But this shot was first seen in the 2004 blockbuster "The Day After Tomorrow." Sculpted from Styrofoam and later scanned into a computer, the ice shelf "flyover" looks real.

Karen Goulekas, the special effects supervisor for "The Day After Tomorrow" said the shot is a digital image. She was glad Al Gore used it in the documentary since "It is one hell of a shot." Both movies use the shot to convincingly portray global warming, but it is left to the audience to decide if this created image can both entertain and educate us about our changing planet.

Start the recall!

Monday, April 21, 2008

More Crawfish

It was an eclectic Saturday. It started out with me planting bare root roses. My wife and I are trying to reconstitute our rose garden. These happened to be hybrid teas. I prefer the antique mainly because they are hardy in the Louisiana climate and can get by with little care when I am doing my road warrior thing.

We then painted the upstairs hall. We had ordered some book cases to hold our growing library and had to paint the walls before they were delivered.

Finally, after baths and clean up, we went over to brother-in-laws house. He was having a crawfish boil for the group that he rides motorcycles with. When we arrived, the boil was in full on progress and there was a row of at least 20 examples of American iron parked in the drive. He really put on a feed. About 300 lbs of crawfish, a big pot of jambalaya and a couple of sacks of oysters for both eating raw and grilled. The crawfish were spiced just right. They gave you a slight tingling on the lips but were not too hot.

Bro-in-law has been riding with this group for several years and it is a mixed bunch of people. White, black, old, young, veterans (Vietnam era) and miscellaneous hangers on. The great equalizer is their love of 2 wheeled transportation. My wife and I are also Godparents to their daughter. If you are not from Louisiana, you might think that is no big deal, but down here, the job is taken seriously. Therefore, we are very close to our god daughter. She had been knowing these bikers since she was a little girl. She is now almost 15. It was interesting to see her sitting in the middle of a group of big ol' rough biker guys and carrying on a conversation. And they in turn treated her like a porcelain doll. I pity the fool who brings harm to her. Not only will her Dad and I exact revenge, but about 20 bikers have her six as well.

Quick Grilled Oysters

Shuck some oysters. Separate the meat from the shell but leave it on the half shell.
Melt a stick of butter. Add some bouillon or chicken or fish stock. Add chopped garlic, saute and reduce the mixture. Put a teaspoon of the mixture in the shell with the oyster. Top with a 50/50 mix of Parmesan and Romano cheese. Place the shell on the grill, close the cover and cook until the cheese has browned.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Murphy's Law of Unintended Consequences

It seems there's a little reported crisis in the worlds rice markets. The price of rice, a staple food for most of the world population, is rising steeply. I saw some concern about it in Dubai as reported by Gulf News, but Rico was the first report I saw on the blogs.

Part of the reason for rising rice prices is that fuel costs are rising. But another factor is that acreage used for growing rice is either being used to build industrial factories or for growing more profitable corn for the bio-fuels industry. Corn raised for bio-fuel is not edible. I'm sure that environmentalists who promoted bio-fuels as a renewable, non polluting resource did not envision that the world may starve as a consequence. There were inklings of this happening last year when poor people in Mexico could not afford corn for tortillas because it was all going for bio-fuel. Hopefully, market pressure will encourage putting more acreage into rice as the price rises and if governments remove price controls and export restrictions.

This is certainly something that bears watching. Food shortages on this scale can induce large population shifts and war.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sunday Crawfish

The weather was great on Sunday. It was one of those rare days in South Louisiana when the humidity doesn’t cause you to soak through your shirt in 5 seconds. My son had planned a crawfish boil for his employees – mostly 20 something advertising artistic types. He had ordered up 300 pounds of crawfish and a couple of inflatable jumping things for the kids. The weather cooperated and the breeze off the Mississippi River kept things cool.

A crawfish boil is unique to South Louisiana. Crawfish can be found all over the world, but to my knowledge, Louisiana is the only place that not only cooks them in mass quantities, but raises them as well. I was once able to find crawfish in Russia. I had packed a box of Zatarain’s crab boil in my luggage with the intent to have the first ever crawfish boil in Astrakhan, Russia. We scrounged a big pot and rigged a cutting torch to provide the heat source. Unfortunately, I was only able to find frozen crawfish. They were whole with shell on, but frozen. When boiled, they turned to mush.

Crawfish are a major cash crop in Louisiana. Crawfish also allow rice farmers generate another source of income from their fields. Louisiana produces approximately 50,000 tons of crawfish annually and they bring in $120 million to the state economy.

A crawfish boil is also a great social equalizer. Nobody can eat crawfish in fancy clothes. Nobody can peel crawfish and stay clean. Crawfish are generally eaten at long tables where they are dumped in large piles in the center of the table. You sit next to family, friends and future friends and all dig into the same pile. Experienced hands scout out the biggest ones. Social classifications do not exist at a crawfish boil and the time required to peel them makes for convenient pauses for conversation.

In all, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The kids, both young and older ones, had a ball playing on the inflatable jumping things. The crawfish were large, spiced just right and the beer was cold. What more can you ask?