Brad Pitt Commissions Designs for New Orleans

By ROBIN POGREBIN

Thom Mayne of Morphosis in Los Angeles designed a house that would float if the city floods. James Timberlake of KieranTimberlake Associates in Philadelphia created a house with native vines climbing up the side walls to provide shade and coolness. Steven B. Bingler of Concordia in New Orleans envisioned a house with wide front steps ideal for a traditional crawfish boil.

Those are three of the designs by 13 architecture firms commissioned by the actor Brad Pitt to help rebuild New Orleans’s impoverished Lower Ninth Ward, one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The project, called Make It Right, calls for building 150 affordable, environmentally sound houses over the next two years. In a telephone interview from New Orleans, where he plans to present the designs today, Mr. Pitt said the residents of the neighborhood had been homeless long enough. “They’re coming up on their third Christmas,” he said.

Mr. Pitt said he had been attached to New Orleans for more than a decade. “I’ve always had a fondness for this place — it’s like no other,” he said. “Seeing the frustration firsthand made me want to return the kindness this city has shown me.”

Rather than bemoan the slow pace of redevelopment in the Ninth Ward, Mr. Pitt said he decided to address the problem directly by teaming with William McDonough, the green design expert; Graft, a Los Angeles architecture firm; and Cherokee, an investment firm based in Raleigh, N.C., that specializes in sustainable redevelopment. John Williams of New Orleans is the executive architect for the project.

“If you have this blank slate and this great technology out there, what better test than low-income housing?” Mr. Pitt said. “It’s got to work at all levels to really be viable.”

When Make It Right was announced at the meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in September, Mr. Pitt pledged to match $5 million in contributions to the project, as did Steve Bing, the philanthropist. Nine other firms — all of whom donated their services — are involved, including Adjaye Associates; Billes Architecture; BNIM Architects; Constructs; Eskew & Dumez & Ripple; MVRDV; Pugh and Scarpa Architecture; Shigeru Ban Architects; and Trahan Architects. “We wanted to have a mixture of voices,” Mr. Pitt said.

Beyond serving a public need, Mr. Pitt — who has a longstanding interest in architecture — was eager to see what the designers came up with. “I was most curious about advancing the discussion further,” he said. “That was certainly one of the benefits of this exercise. There is no other reason to call on these great minds if you’re just going to shackle them.”

The green building elements will reduce upkeep costs by at least 75 percent, Mr. Pitt said, and reduce some of the problems that devastated the Lower Ninth Ward during Katrina, when multiple levee breaks forced thousands of people from their homes.

The architects were each asked to design a 1,200-square-foot house for about $150,000, with Make It Right to help with the financing. The houses had to be built five to eight feet off the ground, with a front porch and three bedrooms.

Mr. Mayne of Morphosis opted for a lightweight concrete foundation anchored by two pylons, like a pier, which would buoy the house if floodwaters rise. “It’s a boat,” Mr. Mayne said.

“The population doesn’t want to live on stilts — and it’s expensive,” he added. “These are simple houses for low-income people.”

Mr. Bingler of Concordia said his design called for homes “that would respond to the culture of the Lower Ninth Ward.” He said residents had asked him for “a house where the baby can be sleeping in the back, the mama making red beans in the kitchen and the grandpa can be on the front porch entertaining neighbors.”

Mr. Pitt is asking foundations, corporations and individuals to contribute to the project by adopting one house, several houses or a portion of a house through the project Web site, makeitrightnola.org. “You can adopt a tankless water heater or a solar panel or a tree or a low-flush toilet,” Mr. Pitt said. “You can give it to someone for Christmas,” he said — instead of another sweater.

Responding to critics who question the wisdom of rebuilding at all in an area likely to get hit again, Mr. Pitt said: “My first answer to that is, talk to the people who’ve lived there and have raised their kids there. People are needing to get back in their homes.”

The Last Days of the United States Dollar

James Howard Kunstler – Author of The Long Emergency

Kunstler.com kunstler@aol.com

The great debate among those of us on the Economy Deathwatch seems to be whether the debacle we observe around us will resolve as a crash or a slow-motion financial train wreck. It seems to me that at every layer of the system, we're susceptible to both — in tradable paper, institutional legitimacy, individual solvency, productive activity, real employment, "consumer" behavior, and energy resources. Some things are crashing as I write.

The dollar is losing about a cent every three weeks against other currencies. A penny doesn't seem like much, but keep that pace up for another year and the world's "reserve currency" becomes the world's reserve toilet paper. Oil prices are poised to enter the triple-digit realm, the psychological effect of which may be jarring to 200 million not-so-happy motorists. The value of chipboard-and-vinyl houses is tanking beyond question. Of course, the government's consumer price inflation figures and employment numbers are dismissed broadly as lacking credence. But anybody who has bought a bag of onions and a jar of jam lately knows that things are way up in the supermarket aisles, and so many illegal Mexican migrants were employed in the Sunbelt housing boom, that their absence in the bust won't register on any chart.

It's hard to describe what constitutes the bulk of the stuff moving through the world's financial markets for the simple reason that it was purposely-designed to be so abstruse and provisional that traders would be too intimidated to ask what it represents — and the growing terrified suspicion is that it's mostly worthless. By this I refer to the global freak show of derivatives, concocted "plays" on hypothetical "positions," credit default swaps, arbitrages in imagined "differentials," nifty equations, hedges, promises, algorithms executed by robots, and "off-book" wishes chartered in the Cayman Islands. Probably all of them, in one way or another, are just scams, since they are unaffiliated with productive activity.

At a more fundamental level, these mutant "investments" were derived from a very tangible trade in loans and mortgages made to flesh-and-blood chumps, but even those are only the last in a long spiral of serial "bubbles," or market frenzies based on unreal expectations. And this leads into the very real realm of poor choices, fiscal and fiduciary irresponsibility, deliberately deceptive policy, criminal malfeasance, and the broad abandonment of standards in acceptable behavior by people in authority. A lot of observers attribute this to the Gordon Gecko ethos — the discovery back in the 1980s that "greed is good," which was meant to trump a previous ethos that life is tragic.

Anyway, the trade in mutant investment entities appears to be collapsing now as their worthlessness in market terms (as opposed to theoretical terms) becomes manifest. The major holders of this dreck are losing the ability to conceal their losses, but suspicion now reigns that the losses are far greater than even the massive multiple billions reported so far by the likes of Merrill Lynch, Citicorp, and others. I suppose that what we've been seeing lately is a desperate attempt to hold things together just long enough to cut those Christmas bonus checks so that when the pink slips do finally fly in 2008, at least some Big Boyz will walk away with enough cash to cover a hacienda in Uruguay and the salaries of a half-dozen private security goons to guard it.

But I must say, at the risk once again of sounding extreme, that the structural and systemic sickness in the finance realm is now so severe that it is hard to imagine we will get through the month of December without some major trauma in the markets. In fact, I'd go so far as to predict a thousand-point drop (or more) in the Dow just in this week after Thanksgiving. Real wealth "out there" is evaporating like popsicles dropped on the floor of Hell's fifth circle. It is coming out of the system whether the Big Boyz or anybody else likes it or not, and its absence will assert itself.

At the risk of sounding even more extreme, I would be hard put to believe any reports that "consumer" spending in the days following Thanksgiving will match the hopes and wishes of economic officialdom. My own hunch is that average Americans are so maxed out on debt that they don't know whether to shit or go blind. Perhaps lot of them are willing to take a last step into fatal insolvency in order to put a plasma TV screen under the Christmas tree and appear as heroes to their families. If that's the case, it would only imply a greater bloodbath in credit card default thundering through the system in February and March, which would only deepen the carnage in collateralized debt instruments further up the food chain.

That stuff probably has a long way to unwind, even as the "train" of losses hits the immovable obstacle of reality and the "boxcars" of consequence fly off the rails. The slow-motion train wreck could sweep away an awful lot of familiar things in its path — banks, companies, government-sponsored enterprises, whole industries, whole economies, nations, up to and including the prospects for civilized existence, if severe hardship leads to war, which it often does.

To some extent, the speed and severity of the financial train wreck will occur in a mutually reinforcing relation to what happens in the oil markets. The rise in price is only the mildest symptom of growing instability for the system that allocates the world's most critical resource. Even in the face of "demand destruction," weird changes are occurring in the way that the oil producers do business. The decline in export rates and the new spirit of "oil nationalism" will take center stage now, even if the US economy seizes up. These phenomena will represent a new cycle in world affairs: the global contest for remaining fossil fuel resources.

Sooner rather than later, the next symptom will appear: spot shortages around the US and hoarding behavior. This is what will finally wake the American public out of its long sleepwalk (and Matthew Simmons said this first, by the way) — when the lines form at the gas stations and the tempers flare and the handguns come out of the glove compartments. In the financial markets and the economies of nations, it's not a case of either / or. It's a matter of either / and.

James Howard Kunstler
November 27, 2007
Author of The Long Emergency
Kunstler.com
Jim Kunstler is the author of The Long Emergency, The Geography of Nowhere and many other books. He lives in upstate New York.

Raisins Poison For Dogs

Laurinda Morris, DVM Danville Veterinary Clinic Danville , Ohio

If you have a dog… PLEASE read this and send it on. If you don't have a dog, please pass along to friends who do.

This week I had the first case in history of raisin toxicity ever seen at MedVet.

My patient was a 56-pound, 5 yr old male neutered lab mix that ate half a canister of raisins sometime between 7:30 AM and 4:30 PM on Tuesday. He started with vomiting, diarrhea and shaking about 1:00 AM on Wednesday but the owner didn't call my emergency service until 7:00 AM.

I had heard somewhere about raisins AND grapes causing acute Renal failure but hadn't seen any formal paper on the subject. We had her bring the dog in immediately. In the meantime, I called the ER service at MedVet, and the doctor there was like me – had heard something about it, but…. Anyway, we contacted the A.S.P.C.A. National Animal Poison Control Center and they said to give IV fluids at 1 1/2 times maintenance and watch the kidney values for the next 48-72 hours.

The dog's BUN (blood urea nitrogen level) was already at 32 (normal less than 27) and creatinine over 5 ( 1.9 is the high end of normal). Both are monitors of kidne y function in the bloodstream. We placed an IV catheter and started the fluids. Rechecked the renal values at < /SPAN> 5 PM and the BUN was over 40 and creatinine over 7 with no urine production after a liter of fluids. At the point I felt the dog was in acute renal failure and sent him on to MedVet for a urinary catheter to monitor urine output overnight as well as overnight care. He started vomiting again overnight at MedVet and his renal values have continued to increase daily. He produced urine when given Lasix as a diuretic. He was on 3 different anti-vomiting medications and they still couldn't control his vomiting. Today his urine output decreased again, his BUN was over 120, his creatinine was at 10, his phosphorus was very elevated and his blood pressure, which had been staying around 150, skyrocketed to 220. He continued to vomit and the owners elected to euthanize.

This is a very sad case – great dog, great owners who had no idea raisins could be a toxin. Please alert everyone you know who has a dog of this very serious risk. Poison control said as few as 7 raisins or grapes could be toxic. Many people I know give th eir dogs grapes or raisins as treats including our ex-handler's. Any exposure should give rise to immediate concern. Even if you don't have a dog, you might have friends who do. This is worth passing on to them. Confirmation from Snopes about the above…

http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/raisins.asp