Sunday, June 28, 2009

On the one hand, when the charter schools are good, they're good...especially when a school system has been down for so long, damn near anything looks like a light at the end of a long tunnel:
On average, Louisiana's charter schools outperform traditional schools in both reading and math, according to one of the most comprehensive studies of charter school performance nationally...

...Raymond added that the results vary considerably among states, with Louisiana's charter schools posting one of the stronger performances. In Louisiana, the report looked at the math and reading results of 34,479 charter school students from 52 charter schools between the years of 2001 and 2008.

The researchers matched charter students to noncharter students based on such factors as family income, starting test scores, and special education status, creating what they called "virtual twins." Using student-level data, they then tracked the test score growth of charter school students compared with their "twin" -- really the aggregate of all comparable students -- in the traditional schools...

...The study also noted that charters tended to outperform traditional schools in states where overall student performance remains low, such as Louisiana.

In states where school quality lags generally, there's "a pattern that you are going to have a more vibrant charter school sector, " Raymond said.

She added that in New Orleans, specifically, charter leaders had an advantage in that after Katrina there was such a strong national outreach to bring successful charter school models and support structures to the city.

"I wouldn't call it an aberration so much as a strong point of evidence on what's possible, " she said.

What happens, though, when the light at the end of the tunnel is more like an oncoming train? Let's see what's possible then:
In creating Schwarz Alternative School, the Recovery School District faced one of the toughest jobs in American schooling: to teach and minister to the neediest students in one of the nation's poorest and most violent cities. Many arrived with criminal histories. Nearly all had been expelled from other schools.

To this task, district leaders assigned a cast of rookie teachers and a company with revolving local leadership. The system housed the faculty and students in a crumbling, termite-infested building with spotty air conditioning, few supplies and a single full-time social worker for at times more than 300 students, four Schwarz teachers said.

To maintain control, the private management company, Camelot Schools, fielded its own security force. They were typically large men -- some of whom regularly slammed students into floors and walls for defiant behavior, according to accounts from six students, a youth advocate who regularly visited the school, a former Camelot staffer and two Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges...

..."In neglecting Schwarz, I feel that the powers-that-be were essentially saying to the kids: 'You had your chance and you blew it,'" said Mitra Jalali, a Teach For America instructor who taught at Schwarz last year. "In a merit-based system, maybe our kids aren't the most deserving. But in a needs-based system, they deserve the most."

Charter schools are not the absolute answer to everybody's education problems. The Stanford study found that nationwide, the charters actually perform slightly worse than the traditional schools. This calls for more than a generalized, namby-pamby urging for greater "quality control" for the charters. It calls for far more than Paul Vallas backing up what has happened at Schwarz as being "a pretty good job, all things considered". It calls for more than bringing in teachers with very little experience and throwing them into a situation where they are doomed to fail.

It calls for seeing kids and teachers as more than cogs in some giant for-profit, for-statistics machines.

Teaching is a profession.

How we treat our children is how we treat our future.

It's not looking too good.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I really didn't need this poll to tell me what I already know. Hebrew Nationals are absolutely superior hot dogs to any other brands on the planet...
...with the only exception being the ones I had from this place in Chicago once.

The only thing I don't understand is that the sidebar Quick Poll asking what one's fave regional frank is has "Louisiana Style" as one of its choices. What the hell is a Louisiana style frank? Are they talking about Lucky Dogs? Boudin? Getting a dressed dog? Throwing hot sauce on it?

Somebody please enlighten me, if you would.

Update, 3:33 PM: Seems the definition of a "Louisiana Style" dog is defined largely by those who are outside of Louisiana. For instance:

Seattle: chorizo and capicola with mozzarella, cream cheese, jalapenos, and onions
Chicago: BBQ sauce, grilled onions and tomato
Portland: the “Fire in the Hole” – a Louisiana Red-Hot
This menu from a place in San Jose serves a hot link that is "100% beef, Louisiana Style"

I mean, we aren't even in the top ten in hot dog consumption here in New Orleans.
To add a footnote to the Reza Aslan-Jon Stewart talk da Zombie has posted, I give you a little something concerning the position of the Supreme Leader, aka, the current Ayatollah, Khamenei, from Hooman Majd's The Ayatollah Begs To Differ. Boldface emphasis is mine:
Khomeini, as father of the revolution and someone who was elevated (some argue inappropriately) to Imam, an honorific that has seldom been applied to any Grand Ayatollah, as it implies sainthood of the sort that is the basis of Shia Islam with its twelve Imams, didn't need to worry about his authority and popular support while he was alive, but he was careful to ensure that his successors, who could not be guaranteed to enjoy the same privileges, would have an absolute authority that would entrench the Islamic Republic for generations to come. Today, the valih-eh-faqih, "Supreme Leader," is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the similarity of his name to his predecessor's entirely coincidental but guaranteed, as it has over the years, to confuse Westerners. He has, in the years since Khomeini's death elevated him to the post, carefully balanced his use of what is arguably unlimited power with the cultivation of a public perception that the elected presidents of the republic are responsible for the ordinary welfare and woes of the people, and their general dissatisfaction, if they have any, with their government. It's a difficult balancing act, one that he plays with enormous skill, for when the people are too happy, as they perhaps were in the wake of the initially extremely popular election of President Mohammad Khatami, he has to ensure that the credit for that happiness doesn't rest entirely with the elected officials; otherwise his very role might come into question. Similarly, a certain amount of dissatisfaction, whether from the left or the right, bodes well for his authority as Iran's "Guide," someone who can lead the nation through turbulent times. It speaks volumes about both Iranians' penchant for dislike of the leaders they elect and the Supreme Leader's deft manipulation of the political system that Iranians' disapproval of Khatami's inability to deliver on his promise of reform was blamed not on Khamenei directly, although Khatami and his allies implied as much at every opportunity and most Iranians understood the limits of the president's power, but on Khatami's unwillingness to stand up to conservatives and Khamenei, who by the very nature of his job supported the conservative agenda as often as, if not more often than, the president's. Blaming the weakness of their president rather than the strength of the Supreme Leader, then, stands in contrast to Khatami's successor's term, when those Iranians who quickly became unhappy with the state of affairs under President Ahmedinejad blamed him for incompetence and pigheadedness rather than Khamenei for his apparent inability or unmillingness to completely rein him in. The Supreme Leader, it seems, can never lose.
Khamenei's name has been cropping up more lately as he shows his hand in what started out as a dispute over a crooked election and has indeed turned into a bloody battle over the future of Iran's Islamic Republic. Let's hope something can be worked out between the people of Iran and the man behind their green curtain.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

All right, fine. Ten years in New Orleans, with a four-year hiatus in NYC, and it took driving a visiting group of Reform Jewish women around to finally get me into Hansen's Sno-Bliz.

I had a Chocolate Mint one. In an spiffy 70th Anniversary cup.

The women I brought there raved about the ones they got as we watched the rain coming down under the awning of McKeown's Books across the street and reveled in our moment of cool in this disgusting heat.

Wonder how much the world's largest Sno-Bliz would be now?

I think the next time, the Reform Jewish women AND men who come to town ought to dig in to one of those. The surrounding neighborhood could join in. A Sno-Bliz block party.

Hell, I ought not to let fourteen years go by again without having another frozen treat from there. There may be no shortcuts to quality, but I'll be damned if I refrain from taking any to Hansen's.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

[Smalls has lost a baseball signed by Babe Ruth]
- I take it back. You're not in trouble, you're dead where you stand. *

Once upon a time, I was such a baseball nut.

These days, the closest I get to baseball is the Mets t-shirt I occasionally wear, one Zephyrs doubleheader I only got to see the first game of this season (they were playing the Albuquerque Isotopes, who were named for a certain fictional Springfieldianite ball team), and the many baseball books I still have. I couldn't even converse with someone I knew recently about the latest Mets-Yankees games, where, it seemed, once again the Mets had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. (Come on, fellas, Joe Torre ain't there no more. You coulda pulled it out. Beltran only got on the DL just recently...)

How could I forget my son's ball games in that list?

Well, for one thing, it certainly ain't the majors. Before you get all het up about that assessment, let me explain. I know baseball played by 6-year-olds can't be expected to be like watching grown men slug an airborne shot into the hot corner where the third baseman is just waiting to pluck it from the air, get the guy running from second, then throw a fast one over to the waiting second baseman's glove a split second before the runner from first touches the bag. The kids are barely able to wrap their heads around the basics of catching a ball, then throwing it to make plays like that, and I don't even want to talk about the hitting. At least the games are arranged so that the kids are only playing two full innings in which all of the players get to bat and all of them play in the field. I don't think most of the parents could take something going on for that long, forget the kids. And I certainly know that my son's coach, as patient as he is most of the time, can only take the human equivalent of herding cats so much.

So, it's a struggle...for me, anyway...because, it seems that for every kid on my son's team who is unable to keep the ball from dribbling past his outstretched glove, or has to have the tee brought out after three attempted pitches have sailed by his swinging bat, or who gets out after he spends a little too much time following the ball he just hit with his wondering eyes rather than running for first base as fast as he can, there is a kid who swings for the fences like Barry Bonds and gets the ball there. There are kids who are throwing the ball straight, true, and fast to first once the ball leaves the hitter's bat, and on one occasion, the ball made it into the first baseman's glove with that satisfying thwack in the pocket just before the hitter got to the bag, eliciting an ooooh from the watching parents who were not expecting it.

- Man, you think too much! I bet you get straight A's and shit!
- No, I got a B once. Well, actually it was an A minus but it should have been a B.
- Man, this is baseball, you gotta stop thinking! Just have fun. If you were having fun, you would have caught that ball! *

After being away from baseball for one summer, my son decided to come back to it this summer, and his lack of aptitude for the game kinda shows. He's more interested in getting the snacks from the concession stand, especially, after the games, one of those giant Pixy Stix that looks for all the world like the company decided to add steroids to a humble puff of flavored sugar and the straw in which it is packaged. He goofs off when he's playing defense out in the field, and, after loosening his very loose tooth right out of his mouth during a game, walked all the way through the infield, past the coach from the opposite team pitching to a hitter from his team, to where I was sitting in the bleachers to tell me he'd lost it and he couldn't find it (it's still in left field someplace). He's made contact with a pitched ball on occasion, but there is still a big reliance on his using the tee.

Yeah, so...he's six.

"I didn't start playing Little League until I was in third grade," Dan tells me.

The parents sitting by me are an encouraging bunch. Nobody is insanely raging for their son to become the next Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, or David Wright. "They're just trying as hard as they can, considering it all. It's amazing they even stay out there in this heat and do as well as they do," one mother says to me as she watches her child run for a ball that danced past him and is fast on its way to the fence, guaranteeing the batter a double by the 6-year-olds baseball rules. The games here are, by and large, entertainment, not life and death. I'm very grateful for that.

But there's still something nagging at me, a feeling that my son is a square peg in a round hole. He has admitted to me that he likes soccer better, but, overall, he's having fun with baseball, even taking a few practice swings in the teensy batting area behind home plate before he steps up to take some pitches. I get concerned about what he might be learning out there, if anything. Worried that he still feels pressure despite the looseness of the structure at the games. A tad exasperated that we put money into what has become a public goof-off with food for him...which is the point at which I want to kick myself. Hard.

Because all of the nagging I feel is probably just me, reeling from experiencing what happens when my son meets the world and worrying a bit too much about the impression he leaves. That sensation of having been hit by a pitch - or, even worse, having been hit on the elbow by a player picking up and swinging a bat right by you, which is what happened to a mom who volunteered to help herd the players along through their batting order while in the dugout - is that of having turned into my own mother.

Let me tell you something kid; Everybody gets one chance to do something great. Most people never take the chance, either because they're too scared, or they don't recognize it when it spits on their shoes. *

Baseball and any related practices and pickup games are all about preparing for moments, for eventualities, for whatever can come your way. Catch the ball as it caroms off the wall and use velocity and direction to launch it from your hand to the second baseman to hold the leadoff batter at first. Keep your knees loose and your glove down to capture that ball dribbling between second and third and, barring nailing the batter at first, keep a single from turning into a double. If you're batting, train yourself to swing at the right moment, to look for what might be coming from the mound even before the pitcher knows it.

I love my son fiercely, as my mom loves me and my brother, and I fear that he won't show how great he is on the inside, that he won't be ready to give his best, to put his heart into it when the opportunity comes. The moment will pass him by, and there he'll be.

But there he is, out there on that field.

I have to be a good parent and let him go.


*The Sandlot

Saturday, June 20, 2009

When you're a kid, holing up in a shopping mall seems like the coolest, most romantic thing in the world. You'll be around all the stuff you see when Mom's looking for the perfect blouse to fit with that new skirt she found and then yells at you to stay close when she's trying on shoes and don't touch any of those displays. Mom's no fun, and neither are those hovering salespeople who act as though you are being a beast when you wander into the center of the circular clothes racks and pretend that you are in a massive fortress. If you lived at the mall, you could flit from place to place and try things on whenever you wanted, sleep on the mattresses in the furniture store, maybe conk out in that massage chair...sounds like the life.

Well, I know it's been a while since the place was a department store, but somehow, the developers of 1201 Canal Street have taken all of that childish fun out of remaking the old Krauss into condos:
The old Krauss Department Store that operated for almost 100 years on Canal Street was known in part for its women's foundation garments, those heavy-duty contraptions of thick elastic and metal hooks now gone the way of the dinosaur.

Elie Khoury's new home at that same site, now the 1201 Canal Street Condominiums that he developed, showcases foundations, too -- the kind that tend to hold up long after their more modern counterparts have crumbled.

Walk into the 3,200-square-foot penthouse he shares with his wife, Daniela, and 14-month-old daughter, Elise, and the look is strikingly streamlined and modern, yet Khoury likes to talk about the things that aren't so visible: its old bones.

"It preserves the historic fabric, " he said. "We can't do 18-foot ceilings today. What studs would we use? They don't build them like they used to."

Such a shame they can't quite do what some of these folks did in Providence a while back:
Eight artists snuck into the depths of Providence Place mall and built a secret studio apartment in which they stayed, on and off, for nearly four years until mall security finally caught their leader last week.

The story of their audacious stunt — they call it performance art — spilled out in District Court, after the leader, Michael J. Townsend, 36, of Providence, was arrested. He pleaded no contest to a criminal charge of trespassing.

Townsend, a self-described “professional public artist,” said the clandestine project was born of a wish to explore the phenomenon of the modern American enclosed mall, its social implications, and his own relationship with commerce and the world.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's so damn hot, you could cook in your shorts.

My son, the world's youngest backseat driver, is bugging me about ten years too early on what will happen once he gets his driver's license...

"Will I be driving this car, Mom?"

"Yes, honey, if this (thirteen year old) car is still running."

"How will you get to work, Mom?"

"Well, I'll drop you off, then I'll go to work."

"No, Mom, I'll be driving this car. What will you do?"

(rolling my eyes skyward) "HELP. ME."

To invoke Christopher Hallowell's metaphor for each hurricane season here, the storm gun off the coast of West Africa is locked, loaded, and ready to fire upon the Gulf Coast when it is least convenient for us.

Really, the last thing we need is an opinion in a nationally known news outlet telling us how much of a shiny, happy, recession free Shangri-La we New Orleanians live in. How we've supposedly chased out anybody who might help us because we like the way things are. I can't think of a bigger load of bull than that assessment, especially when I think of the thankfully departed Setback Czar and his preference for self-promotion over true action. Hell, we shoulda looked further south for true inspiration and real change in this city's recovery.

We should also be looking a little closer to home and using a magnifying glass...right now, there's a guy down the street jackhammering into the pavement and wearing no goggles or earplugs to shield his eyes and ears for another day. Too many recovering folks here are in the same boat regarding their health: fewer physical facilities and less care for chronic problems, rising health care costs and insurance company runarounds, with "relentless stress" superimposed atop it all from trying to rebuild one's life nearly four years on - all are ensuring that too many people are doomed to little more than basic survival here.

I wouldn't wish that existence on anybody.

And I certainly would not glorify it for all the money in the world.

Did I mention how crazy I'm getting from the heat? I'm damn near certifiable at this point. Don't mess with me.

Update, 3:27 PM: A response to the NYT opinion piece:
Last time I checked, most people in the region are neither Mardi Gras Indians, nor musicians. Somehow between the second lines, my neighbors and I also do things that people in other parts of the country do, things like work, worry about expensive or non-existent health care, pay bills and try to find good public education for our children.

The biggest problem of the story, however, is its reinforcement of the false notion that New Orleans is somehow immune from the recession. While I agree with his pronunciation that “the gyrations of the Dow, the collapse of General Motors, the prospect of regulating credit default swaps -even the collapse of the housing markets – mean little to most New Orleanians,” I would argue that people here feel the repercussions of these things in the form of empty storefronts, stalled development and tightfisted banks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Since I am horrifically, hopelessly addicted to books (if they could be mainlined, I'd be a walking OD-waiting-to-happen), I browsed the local book shop and found this on the shelves:

Update, 6-18: via Karen G, in the comments:

The building on the right (at 1306 Music Street) has been demolished. It was the work of Arthur Raymond Smith.

Past issues of Habitus have explored Budapest, Sarajevo, and Buenos Aires.
Each issue focuses on a different city, penetrating deep into the emotional and political substance of the urban environment. Every new city is a venue for illuminating a different corner of the world, and a different perspective on the issues that define us.

While Habitus is rooted in the experience and language of the Jewish Diaspora, the magazine cannot be limited by the parochial boundaries of any single group. As Editor Joshua Ellison writes in the introduction to the first issue: “Habitus is not just about cataloguing distinctions. It’s a way of using the whole world as raw material for creating a more complete picture of ourselves.”
Volume 4 came to New Orleans. Check out a smidgen by Rodger Kamenetz:
The continued survival of New Orleans is an affront to urban planning, an affront to rationality of all kinds, the grandiosity of the human problem-solving mentality. It's not a can-do city. It's a can't -do, why-should-we-do city. There's really no way to understand what a city is without spiritual perspective, because a city is above all a place that has its own angel, its own spirit hovering above it. You can't plan an angel. And less and less in America do we even understand the concept of "the angel of a city" or the angel of a nation, what with the relentless machine crawling across the land, squirting concrete over it and then squatting and plopping out an Appleby's (sic) and a Wal-Mart before moving on to the next degradation.
Yes, the man may have gone all dreamy and Oprah on everybody and has some issues with a Sept 1, 2009 date on the front of his blog, but he can still turn a phrase. And there's much more in the Habitus issue than just his voice. And yes, I know I'm late to this news of the issue's arrival, but hey, I finally got hold of a copy of it and can recommend it.

Speaking of turning phrases, I suggest everybody, in celebration of ANTIGRAVITY's fifth anniversary, get hold of their latest issue in one form or another and turn to page 17 for the funniest bit of edgy music criticism ever by associate editor Dan Fox. A smidgen of the piece:
...for all of you out there reading and to those of you who have spoken with me about your concerns and ideas and especially to those of you in the various bands and projects around town, I dedicate the following:

Your band sucks. Your drummer sucks. Your guitarist is an asshole. The six people who come to see you suck. The way they stand there and smoke cigarettes while you play your crappy music sucks. The way YOU stand there, practically nodding off while you diddle your instrument sucks. The same tired venues you play suck and they all need to be hosed down, wall to wall. Your band name sucks. The mealy-mouthed, warmed-over tapioca indie pop you play sucks. The over-orchestrated, pretentious concept “songscapes” you’ve arranged suck. Your attempt at “legitimacy” or some kind of “career” in the “industry” sucks, and whatever facial hair you’ve sculpted to help that along sucks, too. Your drug problem sucks; you were barely tolerable enough as a sober human being but now you just need to be avoided.
Go read all of it. The criticism is for a good cause, really it is.

And finally, the organization Change Congress is getting a little something started regarding Mary Landrieu's current stance of supporting the insurance companies and seeing a public option in health care reform as a "compromise". Not only is local activist Karen Gadbois contributing her voice to this campaign to get Landrieu to buck the money from the insurance providers, Lamar White Jr. of CenLamar is weighing in from his perspective:
The Public Option Is Not A Political Issue; It Is A Human Rights Issue:

I am a 27 year old with cerebral palsy. Fortunately, my disability is very mild, and it does not affect cognition. I have degrees in Religious Studies and English from Rice University, and I’ve spent the past two and a half years working as the special assistant to the Mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana.

Until I was ten years old, I was covered by my family’s private health care plan, Traveler’s Insurance. Because of my disability, I spent much of my childhood either in hospitals or in physical therapy.

I was fortunate to be born into a family that recognized the power of preventative, pediatric intervention and treatment. For most kids with CP, it is absolutely crucial to ensure that bones can grow correctly, which usually requires rounds of orthopedic and/or neurological surgery and years of hands-on physical therapy.

At ten years old, Traveler’s told my family that I was no longer eligible for coverage.

At ten years old, I was told that, essentially, I was the best I could ever be; as I recall, they specifically refused any additional payments for physical therapy.

I had metal screws and metal plates in my body– things that were implanted as temporary fixes, as a way of guiding and instructing my growth, things that needed to come out.

My disability is somewhat unique and rare, and as a result, it was and remains difficult to find a doctor who thoroughly understands proper treatment. When I was very young, I was treated by a neurosurgeon, T.S. Park, who was recently featured by NBC Nightly News for conducting rhizotomies, a procedure that I was one of the first in the world to receive (paid for, in part, by my family’s private insurance company). Afterward and until the age of about 15, I was treated by Dr. Jim Gage of Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon roundly considered one of the world’s top experts in cerebral palsy. (After I lost my health care coverage, Dr. Gage remained one of my champions, providing me with medical care, no doubt, at a loss).

So I lost my insurance when I was ten, and my parents were making (barely) too much money for me to get government insurance. They tried to get me included in other private insurance plans, but I was always summarily rejected.

I was uninsurable.

And I had screws and plates in my body that needed to come out. I had other surgeries that were needed. I had physical therapy too. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in needed treatment.

There was only one solution at the time: My parents had to relinquish custody of me to my grandparents, who made less money than my family, in order to qualify me for Medicaid. I had to move out of my family home, away from my brother and my sister and my mom and dad, for an entire year.

Once again, go read it all.

Tell Mary Landrieu, in any way you can, how wrong this is.

Monday, June 15, 2009

There's been a load of missives from Iran coming through the Tweeter Tube since their elections were held. Seems their declared winner was not necessarily the people's choice.

In a perfect world, and a perfect revolution, I'd say the so-called loser of this election shouldn't necessarily be the people's choice, either, but when you're largely dealing with a massive generation gap waiting to turn violent, among many other things that have built up over the last thirty years or so in the Islamic Republic: revolution will be absolutely perfect.

Let's just hope against all hope that this one doesn't take the Iranian people even further back than before.
Sometimes,in this life, you've just gotta get out...

Created with flickr slideshow.

Silly me. On Friday, I went out to get on in.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Future Can Be Different
, the Holocaust Memorial Museum proclaims on its website about its latest exhibit, challenging people to build a community that would stop genocide.
“Many visitors to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum want to transform what they learn about the Holocaust into meaningful action,” says curator Bridget Conley-Zilkic. “This installation helps them understand that genocide remains a challenge and that they can play a part in preventing it and improving how we respond to it.”
Yesterday, one particular visitor to the Museum had an interest in meaningful action, all right, and it wasn't going to be translated into prevention in any way, barring violent re-action to his bullets. The Museum lost a security guard to this man's hate. Many more people would have gone the same way were it not for the actions of security at the entrance.

The Future Can Be Different.

It seems this gunman had already been held to account for an attempt to kidnap the Federal Reserve Board over twenty-five years ago, and hold them hostage for "high-interest rates and the nation's economic difficulties". It seems that, in the years since he was convicted of that crime, his time in prison did nothing to convince him that his violent ways were wrong, it simply convinced him to change his target.

The Future Can Be Different.

Yes, I am aware that our president is African-American. Yes, I know times are economically not the greatest right now. And yes, I know that there might well be more of a tendency towards this kind of violence to be encouraged at these times by some pretty large numbers of "fringe elements" out there....even the ones in our midst. I would encourage organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the JIDF to keep close tabs on these sites...but we do still need to examine how and when hate can get so twisted and warped that it takes over a certain number of people out there and turns them into gun-wielding ideologues who will convince you of their rightness with the help of the business end of a weapon. We do still need to protect and defend ourselves, every last one of us who would build that community free of genocide.

The Future Can Be Different.
There are no words to express our grief and shock over today’s events at the Museum, which took the life of Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns. Officer Johns, who died heroically in the line of duty, served on the Museum’s security staff for six years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Johns’s family. We have made the decision to close the Museum Thursday, June 11, in honor of Officer Johns and our flags will be flown at half mast in his memory.
Sadly, that future the Museum wants to help build isn't here.

Not yet, anyway.

Update, 6-12: As far as the fringe elements in our midst, I'm with Greg on this one:
(The We Saw That blog) needs to be shunned, marginalized, and removed from responsible discourse, especially now that the wingnuts are deliberately trying to muddy the waters and escape culpability for murdering fuckjobs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There's really not much for me to say about this:

The case highlights disparities between a private gifted-testing process for preschoolers, where children "pass" in relatively large numbers, and the public process, where very few students are cleared.

Further, it underscores the complexities and challenges of winning a coveted prekindergarten spot at a New Orleans public school, some of which accept only gifted 3- and 4-year-olds, and the lengths to which parents often must go to secure one. Bella is fourth on the waiting list at Edward Hynes Charter School but can attend only if the "gifted" dispute gets resolved in her favor.

"I don't want to send my child to a private school, and why should I have to?" Schoenfeld said. "This process really stinks."

...except go read the whole thing first.

Even the comments.

Yes, you read me right. They aren't the complete cesspool with this article that is the usual fare with a posted article on

Granted, the article is pointing out a bias, and a number of commenters picked up on that. There are comments about people "paying their way" into a better class or a better school this way, there are comments maligning the parents for their lifestyle that somehow "expects" better treatment because they have paid their way with a private tester, blah blah blah.

A comment by kswilliams1 really jumped out at me, though:

Isn’t the point of the public school system to provide access to good public education for everyone? I love how some of you comment that they should just bite the bullet and send their child to private school. No they shouldn’t. Some of you call them snobs, really? Snobs would just send their child to a $15,000 a year pre-k. Bella’s parents want her to have all of the opportunities and to be exposed to the diversity of all races, cultures and socio-economic groups that go along with public education. Yes, they may have the means to send their kid to Newman or Trinity or Sacred Heart, but why should they have to? Let’s think about this for a second, aren’t people such as Bella’s parents the very people who are paying the taxes that fund the schools that they are trying to utilize to educate their child? So you demonize them for trying to do this?

I think you all need to step back and look at this. Bella’s parents don’t care if someone tags their child as gifted (though being around her for 10 minutes you would know she clearly is), they just care that their child is able to receive a good public education and unfortunately in New Orleans in order to receive this you have to cut through all of the red tape.

Welcome to public education bureaucracy in New Orleans, circa 2009.

Far from being an example that presidential candidates can cite as proof that things are turning around, public and charter schools here are a lightning rod for all sorts of seriously divisive crap.

There's been a rash of local pols not taking care of their own as of late, it seems...

...Congressional representative Joseph Cao can't seem to get it together to cut the grass and all on his properties in Central City...

...Our "good senator" Mary Landrieu is against a public health insurance option and seems to be for the insurance companies' money. Mary, Mary, where you going to?...

...and former mayoral candidate Sonja "Lady" DeDais finally steps up - after years of repeated complaints - and promises to "oblige you and whomever" in replacing a fence that was knocked down at a blighted property she owns, exposing the entire neighborhood to a pool full of black, stagnant water and a toad or two.

Can we somehow haul our apparently still in charge quarantined mayor to court when he is allowed to return and charge him with unlawful neglect of the blighted property that is all of New Orleans?

Yeah, I know better than to squeeze blood from Walking Ids...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

" 'No Diving, but' - look at this! - 'it don't say nothin' about cannonballs!'," the guy closest to the poster read off it and guffawed to his friends.

It seemed like a good percentage of the attendees at the WYES Beer Tasting at the UNO Lakefront Arena ended up at this painfully new bar in a Lakeview strip mall, where a young waiter seemed obsessed with preventing everybody from sitting at that one empty table - the same table that everybody who came in sat at and was then asked by the kid to get up from the table and put their name on a list, and it would be ten minutes or so to sit at the same table where we had just been. A large number of us ended up sitting at the bar this way and giving our tips to the bartender instead of the empty-table waiter...and one guy in particular ended up there guffawing at the cutesy poster map of Lakeview, circa 1988.

"We used to jump off that same pier," he mentioned in a more sober tone, "but we had to jump off only one side of it. That kid we knew jumped off the other side one day and ended up getting scraped up by the pilings." His friends winced in appreciation of the pain of that moment and sobered up a bit more with other reminiscences of their younger days, as well as many glasses of water. It was the drink of choice at that time of night.

Last time Dan and I went to one of these beer tastings, it was years ago, at the Fair Grounds. We both got more than sufficiently soused, tried waiting on a bus to take us down Carrollton Avenue to our friend Edie's house closer to Willow Street and failed, and instead walked and talked our way there...and began our true courtship of each other, getting married a little over a year later. As far as we are concerned, beer truly is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy (and I really don't care who said it), so this jaunt to another beer tasting was long overdue.

Granted, it's been a while, but I don't remember as many home brewers at the last one I went to, or even the "how logical!" presence of United Cab for those too far gone to drive home from the lakefront. The home brews were, for the most part, rather good, the standouts being a Krewe of Brew Sweet Blonde Ale, a Crescent City Homebrewers' Jefferson's Freezer Lager, as well as their Pineapple Pale Ale (Dan also liked their root beer, which he imbibed when we began to sober up a little for the trip back to the car) , and some stuff from Brewstock brewers. I had to try the Land Shark Lager just so I could make sure the guy serving it wasn't going to come to my house (yeah, the quip wasn't received too well, but the lady next to him liked it...the beer tasted just like Corona anyhow), Dan was pleasantly surprised by a good tasting Asahi Kuronama while being chagrined that there weren't more Oregonian beers being served at the arena, and we were both grossed out by a gluten-free brew (via the Tweeter Tube, if folks implementing health care reform have their way, we may well see more of this type of swill from fewer brewers. HELP. ME.). The big thumbs ups, however (from more than one quarter), were given to a Rogue Chocolate Stout the Bulldog was serving from a keg. Like the Dark Roast Community Coffee we had at the end of our time at the arena, only alcoholic and much, much better tasting. At that point, it was great to find Cliff standing by us as we all watched the bagpipers tune up for another parade around the arena.

Differences between this beer tasting and the last one I attended?

We didn't just stand at each table and have all the beers offered there...which is probably what helped get us into trouble, serious dating, and marriage the first time 'round. Avoiding the beers we've had many times helped our drunkenness stay at a nice, happy, softly buzzed level, and opened us up to having some good stuff from the local brewers (micro and home). Not that there wasn't room for some hilarity: my favorite moment had to be when Dan described one home brew as being "particularly hoppy", which instantly brought to mind a picture of rabbits bouncing off the walls of the mezzanine level and absconding with some cans of Boddington's Dan coveted from afar.

Having said that, the Beer Tasting is a great event, attracting a different, more laid-back crowd than the usual WYES events involving food and drink, and it was especially nice to get a t-shirt with the symbol of the closest thing New Orleans has to a kosher-style deli on the back of it, since I spilled some beer on the shirt I came to the arena in. Which reminds me...I need to wash it. Maybe next year these folks can hand out some samples or something, 'cause hey, don't we all need some "hope in with the normal load"?

Monday, June 08, 2009

If anything was going to sober us up after an early evening of tasting beer, I guess it'd be this sign:

Located diagonally across Harrison Ave from the cleared site of Edward Hynes Elementary and directly across Argonne Street from the NOPL's Lakeview branch trailer.

Kind of one out of two ain't bad, I guess.

Since China has our mayor, I hope they can somehow work on detaining our now-former Setback Czar so that we can clear some recovery points up.

Update, 8:28 PM: via Jeffrey:

Re: Lakeview library plans

The the City of New Orleans will host oral presentations for its five library Design-Build contract, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 2009, at the New Orleans Public Library Main Library in its Auditorium on the Third Floor (219 Loyola Ave.).


Oh, and apropos of absolutely no damn thing, except it looked like it was a lot of fun with motor oil involved, go see Clay's posts on the now-passed 24 Hours of LeMons.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Just when I thought some great sports nicknames had gone the way of owners who ruled the game, I get proved wrong:

I give you Gookie Dawkins, folks.

God bless the church of baseball, even if they don't play this anymore over the PA when there are conferences on the mound at Zephyr Field.

Oh, and question for you: say you own a car, an expensive, hot-to-trot, look at me I'm RED car like, say, a Lotus. Would you really drive it down the street with only one working tail light, or would you get that thing fixed as soon as you could? It kinda detracts from the hotness of the car, to my mind, but hey, that's probably just me.

Update, 12:49 PM: Via Twitter, Clay tells us of the 24 Hours of LeMons in New Orleans, which starts today. Laissez Les Crapheaps Roulez, I'm wishing my mom still had her lemon of an Audi 100LS...

BUT, for those who wanna slow it down a tad, head to the 5th Annual Hike of the Lafitte Corridor tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

New friend lunanola won some tickets to see Ozomatli on Monday night at Southport Hall and thought enough of me to bring me along, which I am very grateful for. The show was so good, I felt sorry for those who were unable to come. Those seven guys from L.A. sang, danced, rapped, and played their way off the stage and back on it, at one point draping me with a feather boa and getting the crowd into a Brazilian-style dance in the middle of the hall. Their energy could have had them going on all night, if they would have been able to do it...alas, they could only go until midnight, so L.N. and I walked away with a pair of the good lookin' drummer's drumsticks (hey, I'm an old, happily married broad with a kid, but I'm not dead yet), basking in the afterglow of a great performance marred by only one thing.

"They didn't do 'Magnolia Soul' ", L.N. said on the way back to the car. "It's a great song about what happened here during Katrina. I wonder why not," she mused, as this wasn't the first time she'd been to one of their shows.

Speculation later on leaned toward the fact that, as Jack Daniels was sponsoring the event we attended, perhaps the band had had to stick to their less controversial material, with one song sneaking under the radar, so to speak, due to its anti-gang message.

This apparently isn't the first time the band has had to juggle an image of protest with one of being a band that has to play high profile gigs to keep their thing going:
In their fourteen years together as a band, celebrated Los Angeles culture-mashers Ozomatli have gone from being hometown heroes to being named U.S. State Department Cultural Ambassadors....

In 2007, the reach and power of that voice went to new global heights. The band had long been a favorite of international audiences-playing everywhere from Japan to North Africa and Australia-and their music had always been internationalist in its scope, seamlessly blending and transforming traditions from Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East (what other band could record a song once described as "Arabic jarocho dancehall"?), but last year, they entered the global arena in a different way.

They were invited by the U.S. State Department to serve as official Cultural Ambassadors on a series of government-sponsored international tours to Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East, tours that linked Ozomatli to a tradition of cultural diplomacy that also includes the esteemed likes of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong.

For those who wondered how a band known for its vigilant anti-war stance could become a partner with the very Bush administration they have so vocally critiqued in the past, the band was clear about their position: it was all about responding to a global "cry for change" by using music to promote messages of peace and understanding.

As (saxophonist and clarinetist Ulises) Bella told The Los Angeles Times during the band's visit to an orphanage in Cairo, "Our world standing has deteriorated. I'm totally willing and wanting to give a different image of America than America has given over the last five years."

In places like Tunisia, India, Jordan, and Nepal, Ozo didn't just play rousing free public concerts, but offered musical workshops and master classes and visited arts centers, summer camps, youth rehabilitation centers, and even a Palestinian refugee camp. They listened to performances by local musicians and often joined in for impromptu jam sessions with student bands and community musicians. Most shows ended up with kids dancing on stage and their new collaborators sitting in for a tabla solo or a run on the slide guitar.
One hopes the Jack Daniels tour is giving Ozomatli enough money to continue the world outreach.

Something slightly more contentious is highlighted in Michael Tisserand's item on Pete Seeger in the latest Offbeat magazine's "The Rest of the Fest" article:
When Pete Seeger appeared early Sunday morning on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, an audience member asked him about his January performance with Bruce Springsteen at the Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert for President Barack Obama. After a few kind words for Springsteen (he called him honest and well-organized), Seeger admitted he preferred smaller events. The intimate interview was likely Seeger’s favorite public event over his extended 90th birthday celebration, which also included an Acura Stage appearance on Saturday and concluded the following weekend with a million-dollar bash at Madison Square Garden. Seeger seemed more comfortable and confident, starting things off with a sing-along “Skip to My Lou” and plucking his banjo while recounting the story of running into an old House Un-American Activities Committee foe at a Louisiana party. Once branded and blacklisted as a radical, Seeger was more of a peacemaker when asked how he justified appearing at a festival sponsored by an oil company with a questionable human rights record. Seeger declined to engage the issue directly, saying instead that it was important to talk with people you disagree with.

Meanwhile, Dr. John had already clarified/retracted his controversial pre-Fest statements about Shell’s responsibilities to repair the wetlands, and he wasn’t about to stir it up any more during the festival.
Outreach, everybody. It's all about outreach when you seem to be reneging on your statements. Better by far not to suffer at the hands of unsponsored art, unless...'s for the right reasons. Writer Thomas Swick seemed to think his firing was ultimately for the best in his article, entitled "Hard Times", in the latest Oxford American issue:
The day I walked out of the newsroom - July 29, 2008 - I felt like the happiest unemployed man in America. for nineteen years, I had put out the Sunday travel section, and for eighteen, I had filled it with stories from my journeys around the world, as well as stories from freelancers, and columns reflecting on - and often poking fun at - the changing state of that world and our attempts to get to know it. It was, as I wrote in the book that collected some of those pieces, "a charmed, unheralded life."

The charm came to an end in 2007, when my newspaper began taking seriously its motto of "local and useful". While not particularly exciting for the rest of the paper - our erstwhile foreign correspondent wrote one story, titled "Cold War", about the excessive air conditioning of offices and malls in South Florida - it was disastrous for the Travel section. My budgets for trips and freelance stories were cut to the bone, and i was, for the first time really, given directives on how to run the section. This resulted in a dramatic increase in "weekend getaway" articlesand the addition of a wire column n theme parks. Travel, the one part of the paper that always offered a release from the familiar, an openness to the world, was turned into a provincial bore.

So when the first layoffs in the history of the paper took place, I was delighted to be one of the casualties.
All well and good, but the road of a freelancer is not (and never really has been) paved with gold for folks like Swick, who places a good chunk of blame for his freelancing frustrations on everybody's favorite bogeyman: emails and the internet:
The combination of waiting and rejection used to drive writers to drink: now it drives them to blog. The blogosphere is an editor-free zone, a lawless, all-embracing realm from which uncertainty, disappointment, and standards have been banished. Anything goes and everyone, it sometimes seems, is there, even the talented, which is proof of the painful universality of rejection. (We all need a place safe from putdowns.) The blogosphere is the hack's idea of heaven.

Blogs unquestionably have their uses, but finding room for what John Cheever called "a page of good prose" isn't one of them. Andrew Sullivan's claims to the contrary, their rise would seem to put artful writing in jeopardy. For what use is nuance in the age of information? What hope has the poetic in a landscape of opinion? When so much is of the moment, is there still a place - and an audience - for the timeless? "I rewrite," Andre Gide is popularly quoted as saying,"in order to be reread." But who rereads on the Internet, that ever-changing screen?

The people who still care about the written word tend to become writers (MFA programs are thriving), which necessarily limits the number of disinterested readers. the practice of writing has always verged on folly, and in a world that craves images it has become more questionable and frustrating than ever. I'd give it up tomorrow if I could shed my unfashionable belief in its importance.
Oy to the vey. Now I need a beer. AND, possibly, some time away from the internet, reading more of the Joan Didion tome I got last week. But before I go get said beer and book, I must say that not everybody on the Internet treats the written word as a frivolous thing.

After all this time, the East still haunts me...probably because it is similar to the circumstances in which I grew up. It is one of the most stereotypically suburban parts of New Orleans - if anybody wants evidence of how much this city styled itself after larger cities such as Houston and Atlanta, it need only take a look at the skyscrapers in the CBD (most of which are currently empty and rotting. Update, 6-4: from Anonymous: Not sure I agree about most of the CBD buildings being empty - too much of a generalization for me to accept. I do agree that too many buildings are partially full or neglected. Point taken. I guess I just internalized some of the buildings I regularly see between Loyola and Rampart, which are in terrible shape, as being representative of all the CBD buildings. Excuse me.) and at lakefront neighborhoods such as that of the East. These places were representative of the ultimate in civic hubris, of the faith in physical expansion leading to greater economic development. Patrician inequality giving way to a more plebeian sharing of the local wealth. If it is built, all of that will come and heal New Orleans' ills.

It hasn't, really.

And I'm not just saying that because of articles such as this one, which was reprinted on the ever-so-ungodly (and difficult to navigate) site under a shamelessly incendiary and divisive headline. Race is the one thing about the reluctance to rebuild out in the East that gets people's blood boiling and baits them into saying things that goad those who are forever for the East into staying on their high horses and tilting for the stronger levees and the closing of the MR-GO, a la a certain man of La Mancha...but those things alone aren't going to bring back the neighborhoods.

What we are seeing here is what has been happening to many other cities for quite some time at a slower pace - a massive flood in the case of the East simply put some major hurts on everybody all at the same time. The anchor Dillard's of the now-gone Lake Forest Plaza Mall had left the place long before 8-29-05. The Jazzland theme park that was supposed to give everybody who wasn't a resident a new reason to come out East was already failing..though it had never really held its own financially in the first place. What we are seeing now is the abandonment of an idea that held sway over us for quite a long time - that the suburbs would somehow set us all free if we each had our own plot of land - in concert with a huge, sloppy, juicy kiss good-bye to any further economic development of this city that doesn't come through tourism.

I'm not saying racism has nothing to do with has a bit more to do with class. There is no healthier indication of a middle class holding its own that that of thriving suburbs, much to the chagrin of many. In their way, lakefront suburbs here were meant to be an indication that New Orleans had finally joined the twentieth century, as now people could get themselves off the avenues and out of the antebellum houses, where the upper and lower classes reigned, and onto land that had been drained dry and was protected by the best engineering of the day. It was unthinkable to be living in what had once been a great swamp in 1901, but here were many families doing just that in the Nuclear Age. Even greater numbers of families kept doing so all the way through the oil boom. But even though families of all races were doing it, they were mixing even less in those neighborhoods than they did in the older confines of the city. Outdated and outlawed Jim Crow laws gave way to mainly white people using the moving van to delineate how separate they really moving to Lakeview, to Metairie, and even, once that other engineering marvel, the Pontchartrain Causeway, was built, to the north shore of the lake.

What it comes down to now is who can most afford to rebuild and who can't. And if we're talking about racist conspiracies, the deck is stacked more against blacks who want to rebuild than against whites...which is the sick legacy of longtime failures in education, government, and economic development here, as the more prosperous folks took their money with 'em when they used the moving vans and those left behind failed to implement lasting changes in their wake - in fact, a good number of them misused their positions to take what wasn't theirs in the first place.

Those failures are still not being addressed, after all this time.

But hey, if everybody wants to shine one teensy facet of the honking big diamond that is recovery here and look at the crystal structure in that way, go right ahead.

As a heavily myopic person from age five on, though, I can tell you that uncorrected nearsightedness sucks and leads to serious headaches.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Just the kind of news I needed at the beginning of hurricane season:

Why on earth can't they be "Pop-Up Videos" instead?