Sunday, March 28, 2010

New York States of Mind:

On the plus side, I haven't heard a word of 1010 WINS since I've been here....

...BUT I've heard plenty else...

There's a scandal that involved my grandparents' shul in recent weeks. Some vindictive piece of crap circulated an email that started a food fight, and the caterer and kitchen of the shul are still reeling from its effects. The Orthodox Union had to head over and investigate the allegations that the caterer and the shul's kitchen were no longer serving kosher meat, and they found nothing but a couple of boxes outside of the building that were marked "nonkosher meat" (which is an idiotic marking) and a whole lot of kosher meat and only kosher meat inside the building. They concluded that the shul had been set up and kashered the kitchen again just to make sure, but all the orthodox shuls in the area had told their congregations not to hold their events at my grandparents' shul. The damage had been done, and the perpetrator has yet to be discovered.

My grandma on Jewish hypocrisy...

She speaks to an orthodox doctor of hers: So a Young Israel is being built across the corner from an orthodox shul that's already there. Why is that necessary? Aren't they both orthodox?

Doc: Well, I am one of the members of Y-I. It's a different thing from the services that are run at the shul that's there. It's Y-I.

Grandma: You know, Hitler never asked if anybody Jewish was Y-I. It was "Are you Jewish or not?" and if you were, goodbye.

Silence from the doc


Grandma on relationships in our time...

All these boys seeking girls...and girls seeking boys...and they can't see each other. *shakes head*


My mother on travel security...

Everyone needs to strip down to nothing and be supplied with Tasers. That way, if anything happens, you know you'll be shocked out of your mind. There could be entire planes full of people shocked with Tasers. At least we'd all know where we stand security-wise.

Welcome to my world up north, y'all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yowza! 'Tis the season for the following, indeed....

A note of explanation first: On Passover, we sing a song of praise to God called Dayenu, or "enough" in Hebrew. It chronicles each event that paved the way out of Egypt for the Israelites, beginning with God sending Moses to ask Pharaoh to let them go, all the way up to the temple being established in Jerusalem, and says that if God had gone no further than each event named, it would have been enough for us.

Well, someone took that prayer and plugged the Saints' past season into it, and here are the results:

Here is a special prayer that will be read throughout Jewish homes in South Louisiana this Passover.

Had He receded the floodwater and not given us our team back
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us our team and not provided a Payton
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He provided a Payton and not signed a Breesus
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He signed a Breesus and not drafted a Bush
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He drafted a Bush and not found a Colston in the 7th round
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He found a Colston in the 7th round and not provided the 2006 season
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He provided the 2006 season and not a win on Monday night home opener
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He a win on Monday night home opener and not a NFC South title
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us a NFC South title and not a trip to Chicago
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us a trip to Chicago and not given us two seasons to remind us they are still the Saints
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us two seasons to remind us they are still the Saints and not given us 2009 season
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us the 2009 season and not provided 10 straight wins
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He provided 10 straight wins and not a win on Monday night against New England
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us a win on Monday night against New England and not a NFC South title
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us a NFC title and not home field in the playoffs
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us home field in the playoffs and not a NFC Championship
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us a NFC Championship and not a Super Bowl versus a Manning
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us a Super Bowl versus a Manning and not a Super Bowl Title
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

Had He given us a Super Bowl Title and not the world largest victory parade Mardi Gras!
Dayenu, It would have been enough for us

He has provided all of these things and for this we are grateful.

Chag sameach, everybody!

Monday, March 22, 2010

I chide the non-Jewish members of the NOLA blogpocheh on occasion about how non-kosher their food choices - and even their blogging handles - are. It came to a head at the very first Geek Dinner I attended, where a certain yaller blogger told me I had to try the pulled pork someone brought to the massive smorgasbord at Madame Dangerblond's house...and I told him I was Jewish, but instantly disarmed him a little by telling him about the nice client a friend of mine had who sent his mostly Jewish partners and staff a bunch of Christmas ornaments for the holidays. He tactfully told the client the gesture was much appreciated, but most of the staff was Jewish. To the client's credit, the next year, ornaments were not sent to the office for the holidays...

...but a nice Honey Baked Ham was.

Not that my friend minded, actually. The Jewish community in New Orleans has never had the reputation of caring much for the practices of Judaism itself, a tendency that dates from Jews' earliest days here and still surfaces in many instances....and most times, questions of observance rear their heads over issues concerning food in this most food-conscious and food-loving of cities.

Hey, it's been programmed into the halakhic interpretations of Biblical law over the millennia: the easiest way to separate the Israelites from all other people wasn't just the Ten Commandments, the portable-then-permanent Holy of Holies, and the admonition to sacrifice animals and not humans to God - it was controlling what God's chosen people put into their bodies. There have been countless theories put out concerning the whys of all the dietary laws since the rabbis began to expand on not eating a calf in its mother's milk, eating only animals with a split hoof that chew their cuds, and eating only seafood with fins and scales...but it all comes back to keeping oneself a part of a holy people.

Of course, when there are many different people living in the same place, it's impossible to keep everyone completely separate, which is why I consider the Tanakh to be one of the greatest tragedies ever recorded: a people makes a covenant with God only to gradually throw it away in order to be like everybody else...and they are then condemned to wander the earth without a homeland but with enough laws and precepts to keep them apart in any place in which their descendants may settle. It leaves us with one hell of a history and an amazing set of traditions - but the old conflicts still remain, and they appear at their fiercest when the laws of kashrut are involved:
On Wednesday evening, July 11, 1883, some two hundred persons gathered for dinner at the Cincinnati Highland House, a hilltop resort and restaurant overlooking the Ohio river and the Kentucky hills. Sponsored by a group of Cincinnati Jews who preferred to remain anonymous, the event was meant to honor the delegates to the eighth annual council meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the first graduating class of the Hebrew Union College. Among the guests were members of Cincinnati's Jewish upper class as well as non-Jewish judges, clergymen, and professors from the local university. The Cincinnati Enquirer described the affair as a “Jewish Jollification”; in American Jewish history it has become known as the “trefa banquet,” an important link in a chain of events that was finally to lead to a break between Reform and Conservative Judaism.
Oops doesn't quite cut it when you serve Little Neck clams, soft-shell crabs, a shrimp salad and some frogs' legs to a graduating class of rabbis and top it all off with milk-based desserts as a grand finale. I'm surprised that an entirely new religion, rather than a more observant sect of secular Judaism, didn't get started after such a fiasco. I mean, damn.

I think about all of this as I head into the second of the three holidays considered to be one of the "legs" on which Judaism is based. Passover is the ultimate in commemorating our Jewishness through what we eat, and, in many ways, I'm glad it only lasts for 7-8 days.

In my grandmother's house, all the regularly used cabinets are taped up and the cabinets storing the dishes used for Passover foods are the only ones we can open. I learned to leave the regular ones alone as a kid when my great-grandmother saw me nearly open one in a moment of forgetting and screamed bloody murder as though I'd been searching for a regular-year kosher knife to drive into her heart. The refrigerators are cleaned out and the shelves within are lined with foil and plastic so as to emphasize that surfaces that have contact with regular kosher food won't have any contact with kosher for Passover food. Special tablecloths are brought out for the holiday, special foods and snacks are purchased, and even some new foods are brought in for sampling (I can tell you right now, though: I don't think ANYbody had kosher for Passover hot dog buns or kosher for Passover bagels in mind when commemorating the Israelites' escape from bondage in Egypt came up. Those sorry excuses for foods have died much-deserved deaths), but the regular laws of kashrut are compounded by the admonition that one must not eat leavened bread or any food with leaven in it on Passover because the Israelites had to get out of Egypt so fast, they couldn't wait for their bread to rise. Ashkenazic Jews expand the "no leaven" tradition to any food that looks like it's rising when it cooks, so no rice, beans, or corn for those of us with Eastern European and German ancestry (every year, Dan wonders when we can declare ourselves Sephardic Jews and thus eat those forbidden grains, veggies and legumes for the holiday). And there you have it.

Have I done the Passover cleaning in my own home? I have a few times, and it is a cleansing for the ages...but, as we will be spending most of the holiday this year at my grandparents', we aren't doing it at my house this year. As it is, we don't keep strict kosher - even though we don't eat pork or keep it in the house, we don't keep completely separate dishes for milk and meat foods, and not all of the food in the house has a hechsher on it. By all that alone, we are not very observant.

Plus, even though I don't bring it into my house, I still love shrimp. And crawfish.

Neither of those foods will be coming anywhere near my grandma's house, however...and that's just fine. There'll be more than enough gefilte fish, brisket, turkey, matzo ball soup, sour pickles, tomatoes, and peppers, stuffed kishke, mandel bread, seven-layer cake, sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows, meatballs, kugel, cinnamon sponge cake, charoset, horseradish, chocolates, cookies, gummy fruits, matzah, and other kosher for Passover stuff to feed all of the Israelites and then some as we recline in our chairs and remember a time when we were made to work our asses off just to build the pyramids and first-born male children, like my own son, would have been tossed into the Nile as babies and would never have been allowed to grow into adulthood. The horseradish will be bitter as all get out as we eat it and it clears out our sinuses and makes us cry, remembering when there was no hope for us - and never forgetting that, for too many still in this world, hope is hard to come by.

Those kinds of remembrance are worth a little deprivation.

Update, 3/23: And today, I am informed of this little introduction to our beerscape. I'm sorry, Schmaltz brewers, the timing of this introduction couldn't be worse...I mean, guess what ELSE is forbidden on Passover????

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From It Came From Memphis:
Alex Chilton is a musician looking into the future, haunted by a following wrapped up in his past. The weight of his achievements creates a dissatisfaction trap: His fans demand, Why don't you do again what you've already done? In the bigger scheme, he does: Big Star was country music in 1972, and Cliches is contrary to Big Star's popularity. The constant is Chilton's aggressive and defiant attitude, while his music, his art, continues to evolve. In this industry, controlling one's own destiny is as difficult as collecting monies owed. His has been a circuitous route, and the path ahead is unclear and unsure - exciting. Despite the naysayers, despite the soothsayers and the imitators, Alex Chilton charts a personal course.
Well, he certainly did...

Rest in peace, Alex.

Update, 3/18: Some required reading about Chilton just after his Big Star days, and a big one about his entire career. I read too damn much.
It's filming close to my workplace even as I write this.

Chances are, if you're living in New Orleans, it's brought its trailers and cameras, its caterers and props and other paraphernalia your way for short periods of time, all of them appearing like sudden rain, then disappearing like thieves in the night.

Some folks are never going to like the implications of any cameras anywhere near their homes, especially since 8/29/05 happened and its aftermath is still shooting through us as though thousands of tiny samurai swords have taken it upon themselves to slice our innards to shreds. What has happened - and, in too many cases, is still happening in one way or another - ultimately cannot be contained in a panoramic shot, and, with few exceptions, has not been interpreted all that well over the past four-plus years.

There are other concerns as well:
Lately, when I've seen promos for "Treme," I've felt more dread than I have excitement. Frankly, all of the trailers for the show that I've seen just, well, they bring me way the fuck down.

There, I said it.

I'm not exactly sure what it is and why I feel this way and how is it that I can't even put my finger on it, but I think it's born out of the feeling that things are finally looking so up back home, that South Louisiana is energized and happy and has a spring in its step and people from other places are looking upon the celebratory lifestyle the area's renowned for with great envy once again, that I fear the show will focus on the negative and on the past struggles a little too much and, in doing so, bring us -- and I say "us" meaning all of "us" who grew up and/or lived in the region long enough to consider it the place where our hearts will forever reside -- back down again.

I fear that it'll knock New Orleans off the pedestal it's been suddenly, unexpectedly, but welcomely thrust upon in recent months (Due in no small part to the Saints' Super Bowl run). I fear that "Treme" will re-open wounds that are healing just fine and don't need to be picked at, lest the healing process becomes prolonged or, even worse, the wounds become infected. Once you've managed to escape the darkness to bask in the sunshine, is it ever a good idea to wander back into the shadows to reminisce?
Why, indeed?

First off, the problems that were exposed by the levee breaches and the shoddy, downright cruel responses to the suffering by all levels of government are still with us. We are still not okay down here. The Saints don't run this city, much as some of us might like them to (not all of us - I don't want Benson anywhere near City Hall, thanks). We still have Hizzoner the Walking Id in office, who is causing so much money to hemorrhage from the city's coffers before he leaves for Dallas that the mayor-elect was so, soo happy when no contracts were approved for the Municipal Auditorium. We have a single assessor in the office who is a holdover from the days when there were seven assessors, and he isn't exactly known for having done his job well in the past. Sure, the MR-GO has been closed, but our levees are still vulnerable to storm surges and the entire coast of Louisiana needs its wetlands back, not just this city.

And I haven't even gotten to the daily stuff: our still-corrupt police force, the lack of low-to-middle income housing, the state of our public elementary and secondary education, the emphasis on service jobs that is still too alive and well, the state of physical and mental health care locally...

If you're living all of that, there's just no need to flip on a TV and watch it, sure. It's heartbreaking (not heartwarming) all over again. Too close to the bone. Crazy-making.

Fine, then.

Who would watch that kind of show?

Try the rest of the country.

No, it isn't reminiscing for us - that's just a tad too optimistically nostalgic. It isn't even about remembering, 'cause it's pretty damn difficult to forget. It's about someone using that strange medium known as a television series getting it at least a half to two-thirds right in terms of some of the culture down here and the way things are and getting it an audience...and I think David Simon has a better-than-average chance of doing that.

Besides, if it isn't all that great...
If it ain't doing right by you, or me, or most of the people I know, then we'll all be writing about it or raising holy hell about it, or it'll just be reflected in the ratings of the thing.
So there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

For Oyster, that treif thing, it inspired an earworm.

For me, it called to mind some recent reading:
Jamail knew enough of the inherently flawed embed process, how the lives of the journalists depended on the very soldiers they were tasked with covering. He also knew that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was proving to be especially lethal to unembedded journalists, with attacks from the "coalition" forces, the local resistance, criminals, and the small percentage of combatants from foreign lands. Dahr Jamail, with scant resources, made his way to Iraq, embodying the words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.: "There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one what is right." As Dahr puts it, "I felt that I had blood on my hands because the government had been left unchecked." This is the role of the media, to be this check on power. To be the fourth estate, not for the state.*

"The idea that Sweden's economy is heading for a crash is nonsense...

"You have to distinguish between two things - the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market. The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. There are telephones from Ericcson, cars from Volvo, chickens from Scan, and shipments from Kiruna to Skovde. That's the Swedish economy, and it's just as string or weak today as it was a week ago...

"The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn't have a thing to do with the Swedish economy."

- "So you're saying that it doesn't matter if the Stock Exchange drops like a rock?"

"No, it doesn't matter at all...

"It only means that a bunch of heavy speculators are now moving their shareholdings from Swedish companies to German ones. So it's the financial gnomes that some tough reporter should identify and expose as traitors. They're the ones who are systematically and perhaps deliberately damaging the Swedish economy in order to satisfy the profit interests of their clients."

- "And so you think that the media don't have any responsibility?"

"Oh yes, the media do have an enormous responsibility. For at least twenty years many financial reporters have refrained from scrutinizing Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. On the contrary, they have actually helped to build up his prestige by publishing brainless, idolatrous portraits. If they had been doing their work properly, we would not find ourselves in this situation today."**
What am I talking about? Just go read. Now. I'll wait.

It's simply becoming ever clearer that we still must be our own best watchdogs. The Times-Picayune isn't going to do much of it, or, if it does, it will be happening well after the fact. Sure, there's a degree to which we must all get along, but not to the point where we are all turning blind eyes to things that are really going on. If those retired officers hadn't said a thing, we'd still be in a huge mess, left with only our stories of NOPD misconduct and some outright brutality that, unfortunately, now ring truer than ever in light of Lohman's and Lehrmann's revelations.

To be sure, it's not all on the local fourth estate's heads...but they were in a position to give things a mighty push, and they just didn't do it until they absolutely had no choice. And I can't decide if it's just a lack of resources on their part, a certain laziness, be it willful or not....

...or they, too, are very afraid.


*from Amy Goodman's foreword to Dahr Jamail's Beyond The Green Zone: Dispatches From An Unembedded Journalist In Occupied Iraq

**Stieg Larsson, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Saturday, March 13, 2010

(Nordette asked me the other day if I could pass on some reminiscences of when my husband entered a certain contest. Things got a little crazy this week, but hey, here it is. And if you want to see some examples of what I'm talking about, head over here to check out some video.

If anybody needs me, I'm gonna be catching some cabbages at the St Patrick's Day parade running through uptown today.)

My husband can be loud. Some days, I and other family members swear he was born without volume control. When he gets animated, when he talks on the phone, when he wants something done and the little guy's not doing it, I often find myself telling him to pipe down.

"What? I'm NOT YELLING!" he'll usually say.

I'd think I was going deaf or crazy if it weren't for the times when his own mother chided him for getting up there in the top of the lungs department. It's always good to have confirmation.

On occasion, it's funny. We went to a Zephyrs game during our dating years and settled into some nice seats behind home plate. I walked down along the first base line mezzanine to get some Dippin' Dots (a hot-as-hell ballpark is the only appropriate place to have 'em, incidentally, as the nitrogen burns off almost immediately in the heat) and found I was able to suss out over the general crowd noise a familiar voice screaming "STRIKE 'EM OUUUUT!" near the outfield with little trouble.

So when he decided to enter the Tennessee Williams Festival's Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest one year, I figured he had a good chance of getting somewhere with it on his natural capacity for volume alone. At the very least, he'd get some passes to the Rock 'N' Bowl out of it for exerting his vocal cords a little.

Up on a Pontalba Apartment balcony on the edge of Jackson Square, right by Le Petit Theater du Vieux Carre, where most of the main festival events were being held, were some stand-ins for Stella and Stanley, and the judges for the contest, one of whom was actress Stephanie Zimbalist, a fairly frequent attendee and sometime participant in the Williams Festival doings (though I don't think she ever yelled up at a balcony, not even when she was Laura Holt on Remington Steele).

It was clear that there was a lot more to this than just yelling a name. It was theater, for crying out loud. It was crying out loud with the stand-ins as motivation for Method acting gone amuck. Men AND women were getting into it (in case you hadn't already guessed, the women were screaming for Stanley...and no, I don't recall any men in drag screaming for him). There were props. There were people on their knees imploring loudly. There were those who took their three chances to yell and turned them into a small three-act play in themselves. Crowd reactions were taken into account just as much as the contestants' selling their Kowalskian despair.

How did my husband fare in all of this?

Dan, sad to say, is not an actor of any sort, though he plays a good clarinet and sings a nice tenor. The closest he got to the stage in high school was the orchestra pit. Wearing a t-shirt and his usual slacks and some sneakers, he ramped up his voice as only he can and made it heard all through the Square. His volume didn't fail him, but he didn't really sell it. Applause and appreciation for his efforts was all he needed, and he got it. He certainly got a big hug and a kiss from me. It takes some guts to stand out there on the slate and scream in front of Stephanie Zimbalist.

Anyhow, even if my husband isn't a mad Polack, he can yell at my balcony anytime.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

'Scuse me, just connecting some education dots....G inspired me to dig a little, so allow me to share:

Exhibit A: Lafayette Academy Charter School

Occasionally mentioned here, when LACS booted out Mosaica Education as its management company, and here, when it stood out as a participant in a school tuition lottery on a local public TV station. Thought something was weird about the latter, but never really followed through.

Exhibit B: Choice Foundation

The nonprofit corporation that is "accountable for the success of Lafayette Academy", founded to help promote school choice...which led me to...

Exhibit C: Choice's Board of Directors

One name near the bottom jumped out at me: one Kevin Kane, who founded...

Exhibit D: The Pelican Institute

Where have I heard that name before? you might be asking yourself. I know I did. And yes, it's five degrees of separation here, but let's head over to...

Exhibit E: James O'Keefe

Yep, THAT O'Keefe, the ACORN pimp and the dude who tried to orchestrate a break-in of Senator Mary Landrieu's office in a government building in broad daylight. Robert Flanagan, one of the guys who helped O'Keefe carry out the break-in, once worked for the Pelican Institute. But O'Keefe is a peripheral part of this connection of dots.

Exhibit F: Kevin Kane, head of an organization that is not made up of pelicans, nor is it an institute

Remember that nifty Choice Foundation video that said it was being led by an administrative team of all New Orleanians? Maybe within the school building they are all New Orleanians, but Kane himself isn't originally a local. That's fine. Plenty of people from out of state have done some great work for this town on the recovery front. But Kane's non-institute's advocacy of turning down high-speed rail for Louisiana, the organization's constant pushing of policies that don't have much basis in fact - only in right-wing ideology, and the idea it has that all problems can be solved by market-based policies makes for a tank that doesn't do much thinking beyond its narrowly-defined agenda. How much that agenda influences the workings of LACS is an intriguing question.

It also makes me wonder what else might be going on with the other Choice board members...

...or maybe I'm just asking too many questions in the face of improved test scores.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

You'd think they wouldn't have a damned thing to do with each other, but you'd be thinking wrong.

Offbeat magazine stepped in it with the cover of its latest issue and issued this bizarre apology:
We didn’t realize the phrase “strange fruit” has the same power in 2010 that it did when lynching was a more contemporary threat...We believed that in 2010, the phrase “strange fruit” could be used without automatically evoking the Billie Holiday song and its subject matter. This was an error in judgment for which we apologize.
A traffic and engineering supervisor in Jefferson Parish wallows in it, then tries to explain himself and falls in it again:
In court filings, Kerlec acknowledged using Nazi salutes and saying "Heil Hitler" on the job. The supervisor, a 32-year parish employee, characterized the gestures as "jokes" that were never directed at anyone.

  "I never even thought about whether anybody would be offended by it," Kerlec said of the Nazi salute, according to a transcript of his Sept. 8, 2009, testimony in a pre-trial deposition.

...Kerlec admitted under oath that he attempted to demonstrate the Hitler salute — which he called the "Imperial salute ... from Rome" — while testifying at a Feb. 15, 2006, civil service hearing of Simon's appeal of his termination....

...Asked by McGovern if he thought a Jewish person would be offended by a supervisor giving the Nazi salute, Kerlec said, "I don't know whether they would be or not. I mean ... I never even thought about whether anybody would be offended by it. There were so many people (co-workers) egging me on all the time that I just figured — I didn't think about it."
And finally, it doesn't seem like they'd be anywhere near involved in something nefarious. They're trying to enact reforms, for crying out loud....because, Lord knows, we can't ever turn back the clock on public education in this town. We must think of the children. Working young teachers to the brink of burnouts, in that case, is good...and the teacher's unions are bad. None of this adds up to what teaching still desperately needs: true respect as a profession. And one person in close proximity to someone in the teaching trenches opines on this quite eloquently in reaction to Sarah Carr's latest Times-Picayune article on the workings of Akili Academy in New Orleans:
..not all schools provide such a supportive environment, but the general approach of overloading teachers seems to be ubiquitous. Our schools are currently running on the efforts of the young and idealistic. Of course one has to wonder: What about the not-so-young, the veteran teachers who’ve been around the block, whose idealism may be a bit ragged, but who also have the experience and (dare I say it) the wisdom? Actually I don’t wonder, because I’m married to such a teacher, and I’ve seen what this trend is doing to her first-hand, and it ain’t nice....

...with Teach for America, that pipeline looks inexhaustible. These kids are too young and fresh to realize they’re being exploited. Maybe it’s a viable model; maybe our schools are so screwed up that we have to resort to such measures; I really don’t know. But I do know that it sucks to have the terrain shift beneath your feet, so to speak. It sucks to have your chosen career slowly turned into something you can no longer do. We seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the reforms we truly need.
"Others stress that more value should be placed on making teaching a viable career for those who do not meet the typical Teach For America profile: young, well-educated and unattached.

"Andre Perry, CEO of the University of New Orleans’ charter school network, said he worries about relying too heavily on young teachers from out of town. He notes that schools that burn out their teachers after a few years must repeatedly reinvest in replacements. 'It just seems inefficient,' he said.

"Perry encourages school leaders to foster the notion that 'teaching is a way of living' that can coincide with having a life outside work.

“ 'We are not creating that enough here in New Orleans,' he said. 'It’s such a brutal lifestyle. We’re so focused on performance in such a specific way that we’ve become robots.' "

Perry’s quote brings tears to my eyes. “Such a brutal lifestyle.” It resonates because I’ve seen Xy ground down over the years by the increasingly unreal regimen. It’s like an endless demand for more that can never be filled. It’s never enough.

All three of the above items scream one thing out to me loud and clear. We are stuck in a rut of our own making, a willful ignorance of history that is indeed condemning us to repeat ourselves over and over again...and by ignorance, I mean it in the sense of people knowing history, but choosing to ignore it.

Offbeat's editors knew what "Strange Fruit", one of Lady Day's classics, was about, but chose to bank on the term, the poem, and the context in which the song was performed being unfamiliar to its readers.

The JP supervisor had some inkling that invoking the salutes and the religious and racial slurs of Nazi Germany wasn't right, but he kept doing it anyway, claiming that other co-workers never hinted that there was anything wrong with it.

And in the rush to privatize public education in New Orleans and do away with the big bad teacher's unions in the name of better test scores, the Recovery School District's charters (and many other charters as well) are ignoring why the teacher's union was there in the first place: to prevent exploitation disguised as an "at-will system" in which teaching laborers eschew organizing in support of their rights to a 40 hour work week and other rights as workers for the greater good of helping the children - no matter what it costs the teachers in blood, sweat, and mental exhaustion.

At some point in the near future, some folks are going to start bringing back the radical idea that good teachers are happy teachers secure in their work environments and in their lives outside the classrooms. One has to wonder how well that new generation of organizers will fare. I mean, with all the privatization of elementary and secondary education going on, will the education scabs in that realm come from overseas? Will the new trend in education involve sending our kids to India, China, or Taiwan to be educated? How far will this go?

I look around and see that, when it comes to these things, it's becoming a case of "two steps forward, one and 3/4 steps back".

Don't forget history, people. Build on it.

Update, 12:38 PM: G-Bitch gives us yet another reason why we have to be careful to remember how we got here in the first place.

Anudder update, 3/10: Not that the Mayor's Office really has much say in how our local system of schools works, but the task force Mitch has assembled doesn't look like it's going to stand in the way of our current mess. God help us all. And get ready for some more high teacher turnover, even more scrambling to get the kids in good schools, and even bigger fights over public education as fewer parents are able to afford private schools for their kids in the current economic environment. There aren't enough vouchers to go around as far as the private schools are concerned, and the vouchers don't cover the entire cost of tuition in most places. The future's looking rough.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Pictures don't do it justice. Descriptions have been written about it ad nauseum and still don't get to the heart of it...and I know I'm probably going to be one of those people who tries and fails to put into words exactly why the painting is just the most incredible work of art ever made, but I must try anyway, as this post woke me up to it.

I dragged my boyfriend at the time into the Whitney initially to show him Calder's Circus, and we stayed for the exhibit of Beat artists and culture. I didn't expect much out of the exhibit - some of the usual suspects of the visual arts in the fifties and the early sixties were thrown in: Rauschenberg, Bruce Conner, Ed Kienholz...and then I turned a corner and it hit me.

It was a portal to another world, white hot at the center and radiating outward into curling, curdling earth and dirt tones at its edges. It jumped off the wall in screaming quiet. I walked up to it slowly and couldn't believe how thick it was. It was flanked by other paintings and drawings by the same artist that were mesmerizing in a similar way, but were mere warm-ups, bridesmaids, a supporting cast to the masterpiece I was standing in front of. I couldn't leave it. It was beautiful.

"['The Rose'] passed through several stages, each one of them valid. There was a kind of archaic version at six months; then followed a very developed geometric version which gradually transformed itself into a much more organic expression. Curiously, this stage got thoroughly out of hand at one point baroque), and I managed to pull it all the way back to the final 'classic' 'Rose.' I suspect that even if I had had the space to spread out these ideas on separate canvases, the work would have proceeded on a single format alone, in as much as I felt the painting had to experience its own life-span in time."
The artist had worked on it for eight years, and when an eviction notice came, the painting had to be hefted out of the studio by a forklift, as it weighed in the range of a thousand pounds from all the paint and mixed media that made up its surface. The Rose had to be bolstered, strengthened, and injected with plastics in a major restoration effort to enable it to keep its shape and color in order for it to amaze me in the Whitney that day.

Some said that Jay DeFeo died as a result of exposure to the lead white paint she used in large quantities on that canvas for eight years. She was fond of Gauloise cigarettes, however, and her lung cancer was probably due to exposure from lighting those up and inhaling their smoke more than from anything else. But she left behind one hell of an artistic legacy that will be shown off at the Whitney in an exhibition devoted to her work and only her work in 2012. I'll be making it my business to see that.

Believe me, I could yell and scream the names of many women artists every time I hear a question asking people off the street to name some. However, what I would do instead is immediately grab the people who have no clue by their throats, knock on the doors of the Whitney, and plunk those same people down in front of The Rose. Because that painting alone shows that the gross underrepresentation of women's work in the visual arts is a crime, an absolute sexist tragedy that still lingers today.

I applaud the women in the film Who Does She Think She Is?, am grateful to NOLA Femmes for highlighting it, and am going to get hold of the DVD as soon as I can.

In this day and age, why should women still have to choose between their art and their families?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

So I've got something up at Humid City that encompasses most of the education links that have come my way this week...

...but we've actually had the most fun showing this one to the little guy:

Also, this has been in my head since Wednesday. Click on the link and watch it at your peril.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

There's decay and deterioration all around...But there are people here who are trying to do good things. Decay and deterioration are just the way of the world now, and we have to make the best of it.*
The signs at the Abbey on Decatur said much more than the scions of the city would have ever wanted visitors to town to know about New Orleans. It was out there for all to see: the signs compared the murder rates of New Orleans and Boston, which, 'round 1996, had similar population numbers. The number of killings, however, weighed much more heavily on the New Orleans sign - in the previous year, the total was four times what Boston's was.

Sure, this city initially freaked me out more than living in Rudy Giuliani's cleaned-up New York City did. Yes, some friends of my grandparents had had their luggage stolen out of the trunk of their car when they had come down to visit their son. I'd only had my license plate on my first car for a week when it was stolen, forcing me to wait another day at the DMV to get another. My roommate's parents had been followed home from the airport, had had guns put to their heads, and had been forced to open the doors to their house so that the gunmen could rob them of their valuables. My second car was stolen off my block after a month. My landlady accompanied me to our district station when I went to file a report and told me about when her truck was stolen: she immediately got a tenant of hers to drive her straight into the projects where she was lucky enough to find her truck sitting up on blocks, its tires having been removed. It was a bit late for me to do that, though, she said. Yes, I was also living here in the middle of a spree of shootings of taxicab drivers, which seemed just awful to me, as every one that I'd met had been a native who was just trying to make a living.

However, trying to involve the New Orleans police in this stuff could also be hazardous...

I looked up from a book I'd been reading one night to see the shadows of flashing red and blue lights on the wall of my living room - a few guys who'd been on a robbery spree of uptown restaurants had been caught on my corner, and I observed the police bringing people over to identify the suspects right there on the street. I couldn't help but wonder how well that sort of identification was going to hold up in court, or even if the people who made the ID then and there would be willing to walk through the doors at Tulane and Broad, much less sit in a courtroom and point the finger at these guys who could turn around and exact their revenge. I read an article in the paper that turned a supposedly locally-held tenet of law enforcement at Mardi Gras time - "Mardi Gras is actually the safest time to be in New Orleans because of all the police around trying to make it safe," was what I was told - on its head for a few tourists who went to some local cops and tried to report some wrongdoing to the people they thought would help them most and ended up being hauled into OPP themselves because they became indignant at the insensitivity of the officers to their news of a crime in progress. The stories of NOPD negligence, cruelty, bigotry, and even some outright criminal acts in their ranks loom very large in this town.
Boston had once seemed the perfect antidote for New Orleans nuttiness, although now I felt that there must be someplace in between, some middle ground between the Puritan ethic of Boston and the unrelenting revelry of New Orleans....

"Halfway between Boston and New Orleans?" asked Dalt. "That's Cleveland...You can't have it both ways...Boston and New Orleans would neutralize each other. You have to have the extremes."*
Although I'd had some direct and indirect encounters with crime in the first few years after I'd moved here, things seemed to be looking up. A new police chief, hired a few years after I'd moved down here, was cleaning up the NOPD. Things weren't perfect on the law enforcement front, but they seemed to be getting better. The city as a whole seemed to be trying to nip some of its corruption in the bud, perhaps inspired a little by the indictment and eventual conviction of former governor Edwin Edwards and the ongoing investigations into corruption in the workings of the Orleans Parish School District...a city charter change touted by then-mayor Marc Morial that would have enabled New Orleans mayors to serve for three possible terms instead of two was voted down. HANO was taken over by the feds, who would, presumably, run it better (yeah, this was before all the investigations into HUD's workings revealed the feds to be just as bad as the HANO higher-ups). The economy around the country was good, and it was driven home in the amounts of money visitors to New Orleans were dropping year 'round through the conventions booked every weekend as well as at peak times like JazzFest and Carnival.

Maybe it happened when Pennington, seen as a Morial crony despite his much-needed reformation of the NOPD, was passed over for the mayor's seat and Nagin took that office. Maybe it was having possibly the worst president ever in this country's history sneaking his way into the White House with the help of the state of Florida's damned chads. Maybe 9/11 helped, and then 8/29/05 - despite handing the city what seemed, at first glance, like a small reprieve for a few months due to their being almost no people here - drove the final nails in the coffin.

Whatever it was, here we are again.

The Danziger Bridge case has exposed so much that is still seriously wrong about this place that I love, and the problems can't currently be easily quantified - if it were as simple as lowering the asshole quotient within the NOPD, that would be great. The fissures that have opened up as a result of retired lieutenant Lohman's revelations run much deeper than that, though - an entity that is supposed to be of service to the community has hurt the community quite badly and made us wonder once again: where is the change for the better? The compassion? The valuing of the truth over loyalty and/or some form of omerta?

All of those things apparently left town when Pennington tried to become the mayor of New Orleans.
People who are bailing out of New Orleans are looking for a typical American situation. But that typical American situation may not be happening anywhere.*
Lord knows we desperately need a reformed police force. Nobody wants the crime that we've got right now, but nobody wants the National Guard back here for fear of the message that might send to the rest of the country and, indeed, the world. It's going to be tough cleaning house again, that's for certain...but we need to do it, and this time, we need for it to stick.

I've mentioned it before, and I'll mention it again: our newly elected mayor does have a transition site up asking for ideas of stuff for him to get working on once he heads over to Perdido Street in an official capacity. Bombard him with suggestions on how he can help make this right. There are many concerns that Mitch Landrieu, once he's in City Hall, will be working harder to preserve the powers the mayor's office has that were abused so by Hizzoner the Walking Id and his staff - diligent work on reforming the NOPD would be one good indicator that he means to do more than rest on a family name.

Use NolaStat in putting all of these stories about the performance of the NOPD's officers into some quantifiable perspective. It can give us citizens a better picture of what needs to be done to effect change. Putting cameras in squad cars would also give us a picture of how officers behave during traffic stops and other sorts of incidents. These present opportunities for much-needed improvement and not necessarily for head-rolling.

Get the officers out of their squad cars and their district stations and out into the community more. Hire a police chief that will help make this a priority.

All of what I've put down here is just a beginning - one that, yes, we'll have to do over.

And, hey, if things do get rough in the indictments area, well, a supposedly "typical American situation" can elude even the cities with the slightest veneer of such typicality. To all you doe-eyed Dorothy Gales out there: we Americans have never been in Kansas, but the rest of the country only just now seems to be waking up to that fact.

Update, 6:55 PM: I was wondering when the IG's two cents would enter into the Danziger revelations. Quatrevaux wants the Walking Id to get his police chief to behave:
The Superintendent has repeatedly refused to comply with the law. The Superintendent said he is shocked by the misconduct of some of his officers, but ordered the very officers charged with investigating complaints of misconduct to ignore the law as it applies to the NOPD.

These actions prevent the Office of the Independent Police Monitor from performing its duties under the law. I urge you to instruct the Superintendent to cooperate with the Police Monitor and obey the law.
Good luck trying to get Nagin to lift a finger on getting Riley to go beyond being shocked... shocked!... at Lohman's cover-up.

*From Carol Flake's New Orleans: Behind the Masks of America's Most Exotic City, the first book about this town I happened to pick up and devour when I first moved here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Well, after a lovely Purim celebration of the day when Esther, queen of Persia, saved the Jewish people from becoming hanged by a bad, baaaad man (Note: A friend of mine played Haman in a country-western version of the Megillat Esther we did yesterday. It was Haman as Johnny Cash and she was perfect. Every time another character derided her as being a bad, baaad character, she would say "And that's why I wear black."), I am now forced to contemplate the ways in which we use religion to hang ourselves.

Coozan Pat alerts us to this custody battle he read about on Salon....
Joseph Reyes, an Afghanistan war veteran and second-year law student, converted to Judaism when he married Rebecca Shapiro in 2004. When they split up in 2008, Rebecca won primary custody of their daughter, and Joseph got regular visitation. The couple had allegedly agreed to raise their child Jewish, but Joseph, seeking to expose his 3-year-old to his Catholic faith, had her baptized last November. When she learned that her daughter had been baptized without her consent, Rebecca obtained a temporary restraining order in December 2009, forbidding Joseph from "exposing Ela Reyes to another religion other than the Jewish religion during his visitation." In January of this year, Reyes again took Ela to Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, with a local TV news crew in tow. His ex-wife's lawyers demanded he be held in criminal contempt—with a maximum punishment of six months in prison.

Can a court really tell a parent what religion his child will be? And can a judge possibly back up such an order with the threat of jail time?
First off, that this is even being taken in front of a secular court is simply awful. You know, that alone blows any pretense of the separation of church and state right out of the water....but Daddy upped the ante on TV and Mommy took his bait, so here we are.

Secondly, this tale is going to make some lovely fodder for the folks in the Jewish community who wring their hands in constant anguish over intermarriage already...and their arguments against it will be bolstered further by the courts' willingness to take this case. Under halakhic law, if the mother of the child is Jewish, then the child is Jewish...but hey, if that can be overturned by an American court of law, then watch out for the goyim, y'all. Shelter your children from any attraction to the non-Jewish opposite sex (or same sex, as the case may be), because look at what can happen.

Third, and finally, people in general can be complete idiots when they are angry...but I, too, am skeptical of their idiocy being determined by their degree of piety or belief/nonbelief in God. I can only hope that the young girl in the middle of this custodial tug-of-war can someday rise above her parents' petty use of religion in her upbringing in order to hurt each other...but the way things are going, she may decide no religion is her way. And with that, her parents' blindness to her pain will be brought into sharper focus when it is most likely much, much too late.

Terrible...and sad...and a real faith-shaker in the abilities of the human race to rise above their emotions for the good of future generations.