Monday, February 28, 2011

I am stuck between worlds right now, unable to fully navigate Mardi Gras and the hard places. I mean, this year, it seems like everything else is happening elsewhere and the parades are a sideline.  Aside from one float referencing tar balls in this past Saturday's Krewe of Carrollton parade, I haven't seen many injections of current events in Carnival 2011 since I marched with Krewe du Vieux over a week ago.  I'm almost ready to get on an orange shirt, a sport jacket, a nice check for $650K, and perhaps wield this sign out on the parade route:

Contributing to the Carnival blues? We tried to go to Nine Roses out on the West Bank of the river a tad too early yesterday and ran smack into Krewe of Alla traffic. I instantly thought of our schlepping to Mimi's in River Ridge to sample some of chef Pete Vasquez's fare, but forgot that River Ridge on Sunday is not New Orleans on a Sunday. So Zea's in River Ridge it was.  Ugh.  Passable but ugh.

Caught a smidgen of the Oscars last night and found they bypassed GasLand and Exit Through The Gift Shop for Inside Job in the best documentary category. Frankly, I was amazed that I was still awake after that bit of the Academy Awards, and even though there were people on Twitter exclaiming over montage after montage, I was loath to go back to watching it.  What I now want to see is Dan Sinker of @MayorEmanuel Twitter account fame put out the tweets in book form and then get a movie made based on their story. Perhaps then some joy might come back to the world of motion pictures...or at least to my world.

Truth of the matter is, being near the parade route has started to really wear on us this year, not the least because of the parking issues and the fact that we in the Lower Garden District haven't quite been able to shake the people who want to claim parade-watching land in their names and will fight us with their caution, packing and/or duct tape and mineral rights if they deem it necessary - and they always do.  Come Bacchus Sunday, we will probably be at our pal Pacrac's party near the startoff point of the Thoth parade, and then we'll be away, far away, from our 'hood for a while after that.  No Bacchus for us. Bah scumbag.

I am now sorely tempted to pull a Nettie with the karaoke machine and have the celebration come to me more.  He-ey Mardi Gras.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Perhaps I'm only interested because Dan and the little guy are en route to watch the launch but I must share today:


For more, head here. Launch of Discovery is slated for 3:50 PM CST.  Her last flight.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It seems the world entire is getting on their best protest attitudes, perfecting their marching steps (even their most stylin' b-boy moves), and using whatever surface they can to say exactly why they are marching.  My personal favorite out of Wisconsin is full of ways in which we can help here, aside from going to march at the Baton Rouge City Hall at 5 PM today, which I'm not gonna be able to make.

Don't buy that stuff.

Since the teachers are the ones who have been identified the most with the protests in Madison - they're not the only ones affected, but they aren't taking this bill lying down - the teacher-bashing has been continuing in earnest all over the country, adding fuel to the fires of the education reform debates that have been heating up over the past year and to the measures that other states are taking to try to turn public education around.

Lost in all of this is what Detroit has been asked to do:
I had to read the headline twice just to make sure I wasn’t misreading it. It seems Detroit has a huge public school budget deficit - $327 million. State officials in Michigan, in their lofty wisdom, have determined that this deficit must be wiped out by 2014, and the way to do that is to simply close half the schools. And get this: by closing the schools, the average class size in a Detroit high school will be 60 students.  
Have you ever stood in front of a classroom full of high schoolers and tried to teach something? Those 20 or 25 faces that peer back at you are generally jaded and disinterested in education. Place 60 kids in a high school classroom and a good number of them will likely disappear. Best evidence? The dropout rate tells the story. In 2008, only 52 percent of high school students graduated after four years in America’s top 50 largest cities, according to Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. 
...Detroit on paper sounds much like a third world country. The city is always on the list of the 10 U.S. cities with the highest murder rates. And it is this city that the state of Michigan has decided should close half of its public schools. The other half will remain in their decaying, sub-standard facilities. Reportedly, in 2007 Detroit had 201 public schools. It now has 142. When the new cuts are made it will have 72. Oh, and worth mentioning – Detroit’s unemployment rate tends to hover around 10 percent. When the schools close, that figure is likely to spike, with hundreds of newly-unemployed teachers. 
So, let’s review: Detroit is poverty stricken, racially unbalanced, inordinately illiterate, grossly under-employed and extremely dangerous. With all of that knowledge in their back pocket, the state government still decides the solution to the deficit problem in Detroit public schools is to close half the schools.
Detroit may be ground zero for the national public school crisis, but how many other cities will emulate its budget cutting, education slashing quick financial fix? Will New Orleans be next? East L.A.? Camden? Birmingham? Cleveland? South Chicago? East St. Louis?
To rephrase the Twitter conversation I had as a question: will anybody in Louisiana even attempt to rise up against similar measures?  In New Orleans in particular, all the teachers were fired from the OPSD after the levee breaches.  What is left in the teacher pool here are the veteran teachers who have gone to the private schools and to the better charters, and loads of TfA-trained teachers who will, most likely and terribly unfortunately, be worked to their limits and beyond in their positions at the more traditional public schools and in the charters that are not yet up to snuff.  The burden of all our neglect of the problems that economic and racial inequality bring has been falling on those teachers for much too long.  The way things are continuing to go, however, it won't be lifted from them anytime soon.

Do I have hopes that people here will march for these souls like they did against crime in early 2007?  It'd be nice, but unlikely.  Divide, work 'em to high turnovers, and conquer is working all too well here.  And protesting hands that feed us is just not in Louisiana's DNA, as evidenced by this thread Superdeformed alerted me to....and in Robert Gramling and William Freudenburg's Blowout In The Gulf, in which their chapter "To Know Us Is To Love Us?" reveals that, when the Minerals Management Service wanted to know why other states weren't as accepting of offshore drilling as Louisiana, it turned out that we were the anomaly, the exception to the MMS' assumptions:
Coastal Louisiana is the region where the offshore oil industry was invented and is also important to realize that oil development in coastal Louisiana started in the 1930's and 1940's - decades before the first Earth Day, or for that matter, the emergence of most other environmental concerns.
It is also revealed that the oil and gas and the commercial fishing industries grew up together from that point on, with the platforms in the Gulf serving as the perfect artificial reefs, the underwater topography serving the harvesters of fish as well as the harvesters of oil, and the remoteness of Louisiana's marshland contributing to the ease with which offshore drilling and production was able to set up shop.

But here's another way in which we were - and are - different:
Louisiana, finally, was also socially distinctive...Particularly notable are the education levels and the extractive orientation towards the local environment at the time when the expansion of offshore oil drilling took place, and the patterns of social contacts that had come to characterize the region by the time when Ronald Reagan was elected. 
Studies tend to find such broad support for environmental protection that educational levels are among the few sociodemographic predictors that show any significant correlations with environmental awareness and concern; better educated individuals in the United States generally express higher levels of environmental concern.  Thus, it may be significant that, particularly in the 1930's and 1940's, coastal Louisiana had some of the lowest educational levels in the country. 
...At the time of initial OCS development, moreover, the existing economy in coastal Louisiana was dominated largely by extractive industries - those that, like oil development, involved the extraction of raw materials from nature.  As a general rule of thumb, persons who are involved in extractive activities will be less likely to object to new extractive industries than will persons in manufacturing or service industries, and they will be far less likely to object than will persons whose livelihood depends on the maintenance of high environmental quality... the time when James Watt wanted to expand offshore drilling...southern Louisiana was also a place with a strong and unusual social multiplier effect...In comparable ways, a given person's attitudes toward an industry are likely to be affected not just by whether that person works for the industry in question, but by whether her friends and neighbors do....
In other words, we all are fairly intimately acquainted with people who are associated in some way with the oil and gas industry.  A friend or two might be petroleum engineers. Someone's uncle is a roughneck out on a rig right now.  Families may help deliver and service platform equipment.  And you're gonna go and shout with picketers that the oil industry ought to take its drilling elsewhere?  Where are the other jobs going to come from for so many people whose formal educations effectively ended in eighth grade?

Education is not on this state's list of priorities and it never has been.  In so many parts of this state, teachers are too busy working to get their kids' testing numbers up so that they will still have jobs, forget taking time out to picket for nearly nonexistent collective bargaining rights.  The only thing that might be left if they want to make their voices heard...and it doesn't interfere with their classroom prep for next this*:

Welcome to the Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action!
July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, D.C. and across the country
We, a collection of people from all walks of life and every corner of this nation, embody a mixture of ideas and opinions regarding how we can improve educational opportunities for all children. We stand united by one belief – it’s time for teachers and parents to organize and reclaim control of our schools.
As concerned citizens, we demand an end to the destructive policies and rhetoric that have eroded confidence in our public schools, demoralized teachers, and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more than test preparation.
A well-educated society is essential to the future of the United States of America. Our students must have access to a fully funded, world-class public education system, and it is our responsibility to hold our government accountable for providing the means to achieve it. Please join us!
July 30, 2011 | Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C.
July 28, 2011 – July 31, 2011 | Save Our Schools Days of Action, with events in D.C. and around the country, including workshops, a 
film festival, speakers and educational events
If anybody education-wise is cooking up a similar protest before July in this state, I will be pleasantly surprised.  Please, I beg you, surprise me.

*Thanks to @valmcginley for the link.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How do I love thee, Krewe du Vieux?

I guess you can count all the ways by every picture I took of this year's march before and after we went through the Marigny and the Quarter. Enjoy.

Bunches more that didn't make it into the slideshow are here.

Oh, and I see this picture of a Space Age Love krewe member and my legs are asking me why in hell I didn't think of that.  How much does it cost to rent a Segway, anyhow?

Friday, February 18, 2011

On days when the fog is so thick out you can cut it, I've just found out my young 'un's school has a teacher in-service day going on, ensuring that the kiddo will be with me chattering all day, and my internet connection is sketchy at best, it's good to hold to the sustaining rituals of one's existence.

Thing is, I read. A lot. If I were in one of the snowpocalypse areas, I would have no problem holing up someplace warm or stocked with blankets, with a stack of books to keep me company.  As it is, my brain is full of not only the books I am currently in the middle of, but also the impressions of the past week's Loyola panel on public education, reports from Wisconsin on the protests at the capitol (It blows my mind that the Democratic state senators there went to Rockford, IL, to keep the lege there from having a quorum in order to more easily curtail the rights of certain public employees to negotiate for their benefits...I was all ready to have them up on a float with Andy Garcia in Bacchus. I'll have to get the best man from our wedding to check in on those Wisconsin Democrats.), and the fact that the BP account on Twitter has become a nonstop unofficial Gulf Coast chamber of commerce PR machine. Really, @BP_America? Will all the $100 gift cards, the reports of Florida's tourism statistics, and the concert and festival promotions make the oil and Corexit still in the Gulf magically disappear? Really???

Thanks to a certain blogger I know, I will be dealing with the latter tomorrow night in costume for a third year, tossing trinkets to the masses in the Marigny and the Quarter as one of the devil minions of that oil oligarchy, a beach bunny from hell accompanying a carousel of sin.  My greed will know no bounds.  I will be awash in dough as I pass out the only oil I see that matters: tanning oil.  Enjoy those beautiful Gulf Coast beaches, kids! It's all good.

Right now, if I didn't have this, I would probably be going postal.  See you there.

Cross-posted at Humid City

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Speechless today in the face of what is happening in Wisconsin.  Just speechless.  Thank goodness for Athenae and Scout.
Oh GOD I am going to beat my head on the wall: 
While other states have proposed bills curtailing labor rights, Wisconsin's measure is the most aggressive anti-union move yet to solve state budget problems. 
Emphasis mine. 
This will not solve state budget problems. It's not intended to solve state budget problems. It won't even come close to keeping the state solvent on its own, much less make the state rich. And look, where exactly is the call for corporations to kick in to solve state budget problems? 
And hey, Mr. President, anytime you want to show up and put on a cheesehead, Bucky's ready for you:  
In an interview with Milwaukee television station WTMJ, President Barack Obama said he was monitoring the situation in Madison and acknowledged the need for budget cuts. But, he said, pushing public employees away from the bargaining table "seems like more of an assault on unions." 
SEEMS?!? You're welcome for that fucking election, Obama.
It's really about time mainstream media outlets like the Today show got on this. After all, Michael Moore has. Any move against labor rights that has the Democratic state senators leaving the state ought to be big news, right?  God forbid this spreads from state to state like wildfire or, well, like Egypt.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Having just recovered from having to present my homestead exemption, my car's registration and proof of car insurance, my Entergy bill, and my W-2 so that my son can attend his school for another year (I fully expect them to go beyond copies of those original documents and go straight for blood tests some year in an attempt to completely blow out of the water any Ohio parenting-type moves to get your child in an exemplary New Orleans public school), I wasn't really in the mood for attending this meeting at Loyola last night.  So glad Coozan Pat was there.  Some observations of his:
Going over the program, I think about the title. "5 Years Later." As if New Orleans public schools have only been having problems for 5 years. 
(Panelist Laura) Mogg says the Cowen Institute is an action-based think tank focusing on reforming education and research. Even though Tulane University has no College of Education. 
I hate to be the one to bring this up, but we're discussing the New Orleans Public Schools, which serves a largely African-American population. And yet. Not one panelist is African-American. 
Charter schools great because neighborhoods can participate, but what happens when there is a charter in a good part of the city with massive donations compared to a charter in New Orleans East or the Lower 9 where those donations may not be available.
I found this question and the panelists' answers to be especially intriguing:
...when the question was asked about a successful school system, nobody brought up the local universities. With the only college of education locally at UNO and having trouble, what is the role between universities and local schools. 
Hancock - Loyola used to have school of education, but no longer has it. Have to do better 
Guitterrez - New Teacher Project offering alternative certification, so folks at the state level began investigating ways to offer alternative certification. 
Asher - many Teach for America teachers want to continue studies and get masters' degrees and Ph.D's and there is no opportunity to do that here. 
Bonin - educating our teachers needs to be a state or government priority, especially teachers that come out of private universities.
What has really changed? Check Pat's conclusions for more. Go read the whole thing.  More can be found at The Lens' livetweeting of the panel.

And as for how I knew about it, it was through Pat.  Who else knew?

 Mixed crowd of  students,  officials & assorted ed wonks @  panel. I see very few public school parents.

Not the public schools:

 @ I knew nothing about it as a charter school president. You would think someone would publicize.

Update, 1:18 PM: To reply to the comments: Yes, Loyola did get the word out, but what I wonder about is if it reached the public schools and, if so, why it didn't trickle down to the parents and the kids. What is the big whoop about not letting parents know about these meetings?

Anudder update, 10:53 PM: G-Bitch gives us her take:

  • I was and will continue to be troubled by those like Asher who assert that they and their “peers” didn’t care about public education because OPSB was “so corrupt” and the teachers were all bad. It is not a secret that many blacks, women, and black women worked in the schools, and the OPSB as a body, schools an integral part of the picture, was perceived as black, or black-identified. The conviction that all the teachers were bad is unrealistic on its face and insulting in intent. Teachers were fired en masse, the good and bad, the ones with potential and the ones who probably would never be anything but mediocre. Or administrators. All were assumed tainted, though if you look at some of the selective admission charter schools, you’ll see teachers with many years of experience, some of that in OPSB. You also see more and more teachers with less and less experience in even these schools. Those bottom-line issues Bonin ”bluntly” spoke of.

  • Most of what they talked about was governance. Little about teachers, other than how important it is to be able to fire and hire them at will, nothing about students really, and parents when Guttierrez asserted poor and black families, not many of whom were in the audience, that “you, too, have options that are high-performing.” The question is how to exercise this choice in a “system” he admitted can be “confusing.” And when it’s all about the students, the children, why are they so tangential to the discussion, or “discussion”?

  • Update, 2/18: Pat has some more meditations on the Loyola panel with good thoughts on what makes a good school system.

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    I'm not sure why this idea tickles me so much, but it does:

    Can't decide on what to get that special someone for Valentine's Day? Sometimes the answer is all around us, and right where it's been for millions of years—like cockroaches! How better to express your appreciation for that special someone than to name a Madagascar hissing cockroach after them?
    Naming a roach in honor of someone near and dear to your heart shows that you've noticed how resilient, resourceful, and loyal that person is. Or maybe it's in recognition of your one and only's virility, or strength in the face of high radiation. You're not afraid to say, "Baby, you're a roach!"

    But not just any roach….He or she is a Madagascar hissing roach, the biggest and loudest of these stalwart insects. WCS's Bronx Zoo has 58,000 of these brown, iridescent beauties, and they need names. With a $10 donation, one of them can be named by you. How sweet! 
    Here in New Orleans, we have similar insects all around us, and on occasion, in our homes and other places we frequent.  If we wanted to name the goobers, we could do it all by ourselves for free, thanks.

    Then again, there probably aren't many better tests of a person's love than gauging their reaction to this gift.

    Happy Valentine's Day to everybody, no matter how you express your love.

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Some discussion on the Tweeter Tube ensued last night on how much Mubarak resembles some significant others we once knew...and then I found the Hebrew Mamita riffing on it.

    Shoes up, everybody.

    Shoes are also up for the clusterf%#k that is the tussle over who had control over the money and power generated by the keeping of the city's property records. Go read all of Dambala's part 3 over at Humid Beings.

    More Vanessa Hidary goodness can be found here.

    Update: 10:39 AM: Looks like Mubarak decided to give it up. A hearty mazel tov to the Egyptian people.  I hope their luck holds.  Maybe we can use their experience to our advantage here in Louisiana....

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011

    Pardon me while I try to work through the fact that, with all the things I have to worry over, muse on, and rant about, the one that is really sticking in my craw is Sean Payton's recently announced commute from Dallas to New Orleans/Metairie to coach the Saints.

    So my knee-jerk reactions were not the greatest, I admit.  I personally don't dream of retiring to Dallas, which also has connotations of being former Hizzoner the Walking Id's chosen place of residence.  Schlepping off to C. Ray Land in my dotage just isn't right for me.

    There's also the added twinge of hypocrisy in a coach identifying himself so with the recovery of New Orleans and then saying later, 'gators.  How does that help with recruiting new players?  The now-legendary tale of Payton getting lost while driving Drew and Brittany Brees 'round the recently flood-devastated city doesn't quite have the same sort of ring to it when you say, "Well, I don't really live in the greater New Orleans area anymore," rather than, "I'm rebuilding a team in a city that's hurting, and I want you to be an integral part of it."


    Yes, none of what I mentioned is exactly fair.  The first one reminds me of when a fellow synagogue board member at out shul in Queens stood up on hearing we were moving back to New Orleans after only four years in NYC and indignantly asked us if we knew all the time we'd been active synagogue members that we'd be going back down south, like we'd been leading on everybody who had such hopes of continuing the legacy of the shul by passing it down to people like us.  I now have an inkling of what she feels.  There was really no good time to announce this news, and I commend the Paytons for having the brass cojones and steel ovaries to say this was the place they liked as a family.  I don't put much stock in Payton saying the Saints will be his last coaching job, but hey, who knows?

    The second point - the recruiting - is not much of a whoop, either, if Payton keeps his commitment to his players on solid footing.  Hell, most of the Saints players don't live in New Orleans full time.  It is a fact of being in the NFL, and it all has us as fans essentially "rooting for laundry" on one level, but it also has us rooting for an ideal: a team we can get behind, for gutsy plays and good sporting attitudes, for our own home fires.

    What still rankles, though, is that he talked about his kids nearing high school age and that he felt this was the time to make the move, implying that, in terms of bringing up his kids, this area was not up to his par.  And that just didn't feel right, because it felt all too true.

    Talks with other families who want to move here constantly drive home to me how tough it can be to raise a family here when you are staunchly working-class or middle-class.  Pre-kindergarten classes in the charters are no longer free for 3-year-old children.  The public schools that were good before the storm are still the good ones five years on, and trying to get into them is more difficult than ever.  The only recourse most families have is to pay for grade school what a college education once cost, homeschool...or move.

    This is, indeed, no way to raise a family.  It highlights how much more we have to do to be a diverse place that attracts more than just the single twenty- and thirty-somethings and the connected.

    We can't turn back time and make it so that Sean Payton dreams of retiring here instead, but we are all still here and still willing to stick it out to make this place live for us.

    At least he still wants to help in whatever way he can.  I welcome that.

    I suggest he start by seeing how Play It Forward can better assist in helping New Orleans schools.

    Saturday, February 05, 2011

    An important letter that has to be sent to Obama and Arne Duncan over and over and over again:
    Your Race to the Top is killing the wrong guys. You're hitting the good guys with friendly fire. I'm teaching in a barrio in California. I had 32 kids in my class last year. I love them to tears. They're 5th graders. That means they're 10 years old, mostly. Six of them were 11 because they were retained. Five more were in special education, and two more should have been. I stopped using the word "parents" with my kids because so many of them don't have them. Amanda's mom died in October. She lives with her 30-year-old brother. (A thousand blessings on him.) Seven kids live with their "Grams," six with their dads. A few rotate between parents. So "parents" is out as a descriptor. 
    Here's the kicker: Fifty percent of my students have set foot in a jail or prison to visit a family member. 
    We also have massive teacher turnover at my school. Now, we have no money. We haven't had an art or music teacher in 10 years. We have a nurse twice a week. And because of the No Child Left Behind Act, struggling public schools like mine are held to impossible standards and punished brutally when they don't meet them. Did you know that 100 percent of our students have to be on grade level, or else we could face oversight by an outside agency? That's like saying you have to achieve 100 percent of your policy objectives every year.  
    It's not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It's pure, raw poverty.
    Read it all. And pass it on.

    Friday, February 04, 2011

    Thanks to Chez, we have the absurdity of the whole classification of rapes the GOP is trying to push through Congress in order to keep everybody from throwing more money down an imaginary, nonexistent vaginal opening to AbortionLand:

    The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
    Rape Victim Abortion Funding
    Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

    To expound further on why Kenneth Feinberg, the completely biased oil disaster claims czar, is such a shyster schmuck, I direct you to the yaller blogger.

    True critical analysis of the GCCF document is made possible by Drake Toulouse.

    For more on how BP is exploiting the way of life of fisherfolk in southeast Louisiana, head to Dambala.

    Thursday, February 03, 2011

    When Twitter isn't plying me with bits of blow-by-blow of the violent protests in Egypt, the prospect of a panther on the loose in southeast Louisiana (reminds me of when the white tiger took a stroll down Myrtle Avenue not far from where I lived in Queens, but I digress), and the biases and angling of non-independent oil disaster claims czar Kenneth Feinberg, not to mention the efforts of BP itself to try to convince everybody the Gulf is hunky-dory, it's telling me a few things about education and our attitudes towards it.

    The school buildings are still being treated like garbage here.

    The parents who want schools to reopen are faced with Paul Vallas' "now you have to be a charter school if you want to have your schools":

    And, if education trends hit this part of the country belatedly like most of the latest fashions do, here's what could be coming our way:

    I see this kind of thing and I know I'm gonna be sicker than when the stomach virus I had last week laid me out.

    We are a schizophrenic nation when it comes to learning and education.  We speak of its importance then cut its funding to shreds and belittle the people who do their best to bring good practices to it. It's an extension of how undervalued child-rearing is in general when I know of parents who would be fighting this kind of power if it weren't for their trying to just make ends meet.  Our ambivalent educational experiences may also come into play - I know my grade school years were a hell on earth for me, personally, and most folks I know are damned glad that that time in their lives is past.  Reliving those kinds of tsuris through your own child's experiences can be exhausting as a result.  Thus, school is an exercise in endurance rather than something to really fight for.  Forget planning for the future - what matters most is you and yours.  And the same ol' attitudes keep getting passed on...and on...and on...

    We don't need any of this.

    How the hell can we break this vicious cycle, though?