Friday, December 31, 2010

I look out at the cusp of 2011 and I see....holes.

So I've been obsessed with what's been going on right outside our doorstep.  On the face of it, how could I not be?  It's right there in my face: our tenants' front room reeked of gas even though we have no gas lines powering anything in the house anymore, and it was still happening despite a midnight excavation that supposedly took care of it.

I was annoyed - yet intrigued.

How were these holes different from all the other holes I've been seeing about town?

First excavation around, I half-joked with our tenant that it would probably be filled in by Mardi Gras, as the Sewerage and Water Board and other entities supposedly in charge of street repairs are wont to do.  Neither of us expected much - the perverse joy this city seems to take in starting big, ambitious things, then abandoning them due to one reason or another (usually financial difficulties) had permeated our thinking.  We fully expected Entergy people to stop up the leak, then leave enough detritus and reflective sawhorses around just so the little guy could keep exclaiming, "Look, Mom! Rubble!" every time we went in and out of our front gate.  And, even though we were pleasantly surprised at how relatively quickly they actually paved over the hole, something still wasn't right.  The smell lingered.

Years ago, shortly before we moved back down to New Orleans, a transit strike crippled New York City for a good length of time, enough for loads of people to kvetch away on our Queens synagogue's listserv about how much the strike hurt their commutes and how dare the transit workers do this over something so selfish as better working conditions and better pay?  All people seemed to see on their ends was the traffic tie-ups, the staggering crowds waiting at platforms for the few trains that were running, the intense planning that had to be done to do something like getting to work or school and back.  I won't say it didn't piss me off, too, but I was saddened by how little friends and acquaintances seemed to want to look at the real reasons why they had to find alternate ways to do the things they once took for granted.  The city had been taking full advantage of the people running the transit system for quite a while, and it didn't take much to see that what was going on underground and on the elevated platforms was happening to employees all over the country in ways big and small - how much people were being shorted working hours so that they weren't entitled to benefits, say.  The people charged with maintaining an integral part of the city's infrastructure were being overworked and were then stomped on for saying so, and people were buying that the employees were somehow bad because of that.  So a person standing in a token booth has a hard do we all.  Suck it up.

Sure, the S & WB's track record with regards to fixing holes isn't great, and yeah, Entergy takes full advantage of its monopoly on supplying energy here.  As organizations, they're no angels in the areas of customer service.  There are no illusions there...but every so often...

A new crew came back around to reopen the first hole and were horrified at what had happened with the "repairs".  They took the time to monitor more fully where the smell was coming from. Dan spoke to them and found we still had a chunk of history in there that had to be removed: a wood-encased section of lead pipe that could well date from the city's earliest gaslight days.  Another hole was opened not far from the first hole. It seems they have sealed things up for the time being underground, though we are still awaiting the hauling away of the last of the detritus and the paving of the sidewalk.  But things got done.

So I guess my wish for the new year is that we all be as pleasantly surprised.  We all get our perceptions shaken in good ways.  And probably most importantly, we give each other the chance to exceed expectations.  Peace, love, and understanding.  Yeah.

I also hope Entergy doesn't have to dig up our sidewalk for a long, loooong time.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

*Update, 1/3/2011: The second line from Mimi's has been cancelled and will be rescheduled.  Once I get the date and time, I will post it.  Until then, the money collected through PayPal will be passed on to Morwen for her expenses at this time.

From Ray in Exile, December 20, 2010:
Betty Ann Davis, RIP.
Betts, who was my friend and who was Morwen Madrigal's long-time partner, passed away suddenly last night after a long illness.
This is so very sad.
From Maitri, also on December 20:
Betty Ann Davis, friend and partner of Morwen Madrigal, passed away last night after a long illness. Sweet, quiet Betts, until she got behind a pool cue or shot glass, and then you’d best watch out. Morwen herself has been very ill lately and I worry about the effects Betts’s passing will have on her.
At this time, friend and blogger Morwen needs our help to defray the costs of the funeral and the second line, which will begin at Mimi's in the Marigny on January 5 of the new year, 6 PM.  All donations are in the care of NOLA Slate.  Please head to PayPal and direct your donations for the band at the second line to

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For some exploration of the possible origins of the Saints-Falcons rivalry, head here and read Bob Krieger's meditation on it, circa 1983. Happy 30th to the Gambit, by the way.

For more recent explorations on said rivalry, head to Cliff's neck of the woods and Coozan Pat's.

But, for a true look at what any sort of "Katrina coverage" in the context of Saints games means, I must refer you to the yaller blogger:
As the Saints embarked on the run that led to their championship last year, the Katrina linkage Godfrey is pronouncing himself brave enough to "call out" as "sloppy grandstanding" wasn't coming from us. It was coming from nationally based commentators and from network television crews covering the games. And it was awful. People could set their game clocks by the first Fox Sports stock footage of flooded homes. There were drinking games themed around it. It was tone deaf and phony and grating and you knew it was coming every time. But anyone with a eye on local coverage or, at the very least, a NOLA-centric Twitter feed knew how annoyed and offended most of us frequently were by it. 
From our perspective, the constant flogging of the Katrina meme not only re-hashed and, in fact, trivialized our experiences here after the flood but also called the focus away from a moment in time we had invested decades of communal yearning in the hope that we'd be around to see. Sure, the flood experience was something we could glom onto that a little but it wasn't the reason for our collective mania. When media people who don't know New Orleans very well watched Saints fans dance and parade in the streets for weeks after the Superbowl (without breaking or burning anything, mind you) the best explanation that fit their understanding was that we were exhibiting some sort of post-traumatic episode. How could they understand that this is just how we are? Not everybody gets it. 

When all is said and done, most longtime Saints fans know how much the Lombardi feather in the Saints' helmets meant to this whole community.  Most also know what it means to have the upper hand in the rivalry the Saints have with the Falcons.  But we also know not to beat someone when they're down, which is what happened to us for so, so long in more ways than just watching and listening to 40-plus football seasons of hurt, with a few too-close playoff appearances thrown in for variety.  People still think parts of this city are underwater five years later, for crying out loud.  The idiocy would be laughable if it weren't so willfully ignorant.

So I see celebrations of the puntalicious and kinda sloppy win the Saints got against their division rivals as being both poignant and yet still fun.

We love our team.  Those fellas love us back.  Keep on keepin' on, you Saints, you.

Update, 1:54 PM: More goodness on the "Katrina coverage" from Varg.

*Thanks to @jacobjmayer for the Saints on the Falcon picture.  This is his version, for your further enjoyment.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Just when I thought we were done...

This morning, I heard some tapping of metal outside, and the little guy thought he'd be a character and mimic someone using a hammer as we heard each tap.  Cute...until Dan told me who it was outside and I caught a glimpse of the equipment they had on hand.

It began with some much smaller holes running all up and down our sidewalk...

....and ended with the small earth mover they brought and freshly poured concrete:

Gee, doesn't this look familiar?

The impressive number of no uncertain four-letter words emanating from these guys when they reopened the hole and saw what a crappy job was done the first time around was stunning.  Have they really done it right this time?  Hey, subterranean gas line repair experts, let me know:

All this fuss when our house no longer has any gas lines running into it. Let's hope this stops it smelling like it still has those lines.  Otherwise, we may have a different sort of warmth going in our front rooms...

Happy hollerdays, everybody.

Friday, December 24, 2010

If I'd grown up with Christmas traditions such as this one...

...perhaps I wouldn't be the Jewish broad I am today. OR I'd be even more of a pyromaniac than I already am.

Happy, healthy, and safe holidays to all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We're all closing in on this Christian and consumerist nation's favorite holiday.  Peace on Earth, goodwill toward one's fellow human being, the spirit of giving, all that jazz.  WWL commemorates it with a series they call 12 for the Road, featuring a bunch of local luminaries mixing holiday libations that won't get you fully lit, and they kicked it off last night with Chief Ronal Serpas mixing a Tropical Sorbet Bellini after having chatted with Bill Capo about his life and his possibly too-fast promotions up the NOPD ladder, earning him at one point the nickname of "Major Minor".

It's insane, really.

This man talks major, but the changes in the here and now have been very minor, especially in the 7th and 9th Wards, where the 5th District police aren't even bothering to supply people with report numbers when they do what they are supposed to do and report the crimes.  Building a top force in five years?  People need that now.

In the meantime, Humid Beings is asking everybody affected by recent events in those areas to publish details over there if anybody knows anything.  And I guess we are reduced to doing stuff like this whenever home invasions happen - or, in the spirit of the hollerdays...

Thanks to @marignymohican on Twitter for the above YouTube.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Humid City has my message to all those affected by recent crimes.  Be careful out there in the 7th and 9th wards, everybody.  Especially at this time of year.

In honor of the return of blogmaestro Loki (or ought that to be Scoutmaster Lumpus?) to the Humid-ity, I bring you a soon-to-be hostiliday classic:

Merry Yakkmas, all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Looking for hostilidays YouTubes relating to Hannukah has gotten harder as the years go by.  I can't decide if it's because people have begun to exhibit better taste with regards to the holiday or new lows are simply harder to conjure...but I did find something that would appeal to a certain Coozan from Georgia:

...and then there's this woman, who makes the Mormons scared...only Jews need apply here:

...but, you know, I still have a soft spot for this classic, especially since I found so many YouTubes of Santa as a felon.

Happy Hostilidays, everybody.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So while I'm waiting for Part 2 of Dambala's reportage on the current real estate pickle this town is in, I'll bring you up to date on my son's Dubya project, which is now almost complete.

We helped him answer the questions - and answer them straight - despite Dan's constant subtextual commentary during the whole process ("Where was he born?"  "IN HELL...errr, Connecticut.").  The little guy actually cracked open the better book (Graffiti Bits) himself for the final four questions and found some tidbits of information on the 43rd preznit that were not to his personal liking:
  • Dubya would chew tobacco and spit at the back of his classes at Harvard Business School.  Gave the kiddo an opportunity to use his favorite word: NASTY.
  • The man wanted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for crude oil and gas - and, considering all that the kid has learned about Alaska and the dangers of spilled oil in the past year, if this hasn't tipped him over into full environmentalist mode, I don't know what will.  Learning this about Dubya just didn't sit well with him.
I ran into the mother of one of the little guy's fellow students at the grocery store and told her which president he'd been assigned to report on, and not only was she horrified ("Can they do that????"), a stockboy nearby overheard and shook his head disgustedly.  On getting the opportunity to sit with the teacher yesterday, I asked her why she'd assigned this sorry excuse for a White House resident to the kiddo and she told me she figured we could handle it.

We could handle it, she said.

Take that in a minute.  Absorb that.

Part of his assignment was to supply a picture of the president being reported on with his answers.  Dan felt we had to make things clear about how we felt about this president as a he supplied five pictures:

Yep, I guess that's handling it.

Last thing we need to do: make a "favorite dish" of the president.  Despite some "possible evidence" to the contrary, I will give the Bushes this much: their greatest contribution to America has been Laura Bush's cowboy cookies recipe.  Consider that my holiday gift to all of you.  

See, things aren't all bad!  Well...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Check it out.  Dambala's been up to a hell of a lot:

On October 26th, the Orleans Parish Clerk of Court office experienced a computer crash. The server which held the mortgage and conveyance digital records for the entire parish, and more importantly, the only index for the records, had gone offline. At the time, it caused little concern amongst the office employees who regularly maintain and update the records, or the independent abstractors that rely on the database to research properties for banks, title companies, and insurers. The system had crashed many times before, and it usually came back up within a couple of hours at most. Most of them knew little of how the computer system worked or even where the mainframe was located in the Amoco building at 1340 Poydras. People simply accessed and entered data on the computer terminals in the mortgage and conveyance office on the fourth floor and endured the occasional crashes with little concern - trusting that someone, somewhere in the building had things under control. After all, the entire real estate industry in Orleans Parish revolved on these property records, so surely the computer system was up-to-date and contingencies had been put in place to back up all the digital files. They assumed this was just another IT hiccup. But, as the work day drew to a close, the computer system still lay dormant.

By the third day, rumors had started to circulate in the office that something was seriously wrong. A large amount of data may have been lost, including a part of the index which sorted both the digital records and the paper records, and most importantly, somehow, this data may not have been backed up. The rumors were harrowing and people started to grasp the potential danger of the situation. This wasn't a typical crash. This could be heavy.....

...As this article is written, we are nearly eight weeks into the crisis with a nebulous timeline for resolution of recovering the records. Approximately 90 employees from multiple parishes have been commandeered to re-enter the lost data for both the mortgage and conveyance records. Optimistic estimates call for completion of the data entry in January or February of 2011. Other less rosy estimates put the date closer to April or May. Every day the system is down intensifies the city's financial devastation in orders of magnitude. The real estate industry is the lifeblood of New Orleans' economy and as of now, only 3% to 5% of transactions are currently being processed. The situation is critical. If the problem continues well into next year, the potential economic fallout is unfathomable.

The people on the front line of the crisis, those who have immediately felt the effects of the crash, are real estate abstractors. Abstractors are responsible for researching all records of a property before a real estate transaction can be processed in confidence.
Read..and see...part 1 over at Humid Beings.
You'll have to excuse me, but I've never been one for histrionics about aging (like at 1:30 here).  Aging is a fact of life.  Aging is just what we do.  Big whoop.  Not that there's anything wrong with living as though time stopped when one was eighteen, it just isn't for me.

And then I started in on a troika of books about one's body and soul....topped off by a family member confronting me with lose weight or die at a recent gathering.  Nice.  Things are getting too heavy and I am now older than Sally Albright and heading towards beginning my fifth decade on this planet.  What did I do to deserve this?

Oh, right, I've aged.  How dare I???

Musings on the body and soul began fairly unsuspectingly with Mark Jacobson's latest, which features a cover sporting the object of the book's scrutiny beneath a translucent cover that can be pulled back to reveal the lamp in all its horrid splendor, gifted to Jacobson by a New Orleans resident who happened to get it from Dave Domenici, former pilferer of cemetery artifacts-turned scrounger of post-8-29 debris.  The claims of Domenici that the lampshade is made of human skin are put to scientific examination and testing and are found to be true - which leads Jacobson on a quest to find out more about the shade itself and about the truth of the most legendary - and basest - horrors of the Shoah: that at Buchenwald, the skins of the Jews were made into lampshades and their fat made into soap.  His explorations also lead him into a closer look at the history of race in the city in which the lampshade was found, to an interview with David Duke that made me nearly throw the book across the room, and, finally, to the fact that the object-ness of the lamp is transcended by the humanity of the shade's material.  Jacobson is still looking for a "good" way to dispose of the object, which he thought could be best expressed by a burial of the lampshade.  I personally hope that that comes to pass in some way, but it can be hard to get beyond a person's cellular matter to see who exactly he/she once was.

One person who got very curious about the effect diseased cellular matter had on an individual's - and a family's identity - was Rebecca Skloot.  Having been told one small detail about a set of cancer cells from one woman that had helped medical science immeasurably, Skloot's detective work got her into one family's lives after their dying matriarch's cancer cells were harvested without her permission and found to be "immortal".  Her book is a stunning read, not the least because of the examination of the racial issues that governed medical treatment at the time the cells were harvested from Henrietta Lacks, and how those issues carried over into what little her family knew about what had really happened to her when she went in for the treatment of her cancer.

So I went from tanning human skin out of hate to harvesting human cells without the person of origin's permission in the name of science.  One case would be clear-cut if Jacobson could have established a true connection between Buchenwald and his lampshade - the other case raises thornier questions about bioethics and how much control we really do have over our corporeal selves, how much say we might have as individuals over how our cells are used.  I think I aged a few more years just contemplating all of this....

But then I pile this book atop it all.  The questions of one's immortal soul are big ones, and I've grown up with so many of Rabbi Nachman's tales in my psyche from bits and pieces of them speaking to me throughout my religious studies and my own readings, that looking at them in the context of Kafka's writings and life was intriguing.  It also makes me want to go back and check out Kafka's work again, which always seemed to be so dreary and cruelly dark, so forbidding an oeuvre that I never went beyond "The Metamorphosis".  Considering that, in the author Rodger Kamenetz's estimation, Kafka is more relevant at this time and in this place now more than ever, I ought to give my darkest imaginings a break and see both his and Reb Nachman's tales in a new light.  What tales will live on to help heal the world after we are all gone, and who will continue in that work?  What, in the end, is immortality, really?

So I'm exercising regularly now.  I'm reading a bit more carefully.  Trying to be more considerate to my family and friends because, yes, they do want me around.  And, though I'm still not a huge fan of going insane over time's passing, I must say that I am feeling its effects.  They aren't always pretty.  But they are some of life's necessities.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How is it that the fantastically frum reggae-tinged rapper Matisyahu can rock it despite Antiochus' temptations:

...yet mess it up when he has to speak a few lines?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Things have been hectic.  Stuff has been happening.  Computer access has been limited through a series of unfortunate cyber events.  The only sign I have been given that times might get better has been the opening of a huge hole in our sidewalk occasioned by a call to Entergy from one of our tenants who smelled gas in her living room even though our house's appliances are currently all electric.  They decided to jackhammer it at nearly midnight last Wednesday night, which I vaguely made out through a haze of sleep when some books fell off my bookshelf at the same time and shouting at the jackhammerers was heard through my walls.  We awoke the next morning to chilly weather and the sight of this just outside our gate:

The only thing separating the passersby from falling into a four foot deep hole just beyond that pile of dirt and concrete was a flimsy line of caution tape.  Reminded me of people taping off big swathes of territory on the sidewalks at Mardi Gras time, with the added peril of a moat involved.  Throw me a new sidewalk mister!

Stage 2 came the following Tuesday afternoon:

Caught the tail end of two fellows from Entergy filling in the hole and carefully separating out the concrete from the dirt as you can see here.  The fellow finishing it off with the shovel told me it would be repaved by the end of the week.  I should've gotten his name so that I could wield it like a talisman when the end of the week passes and no fresh concrete is there.  I'm not very optimistic.

Stage 3 allows us to have street parking back but pedestrians can still go jump:

Things could always be worse, of course.  It could be the Sewerage and Water Board opening up this hole and leaving it 'til Mardi Gras time.

Aside from all that, it has been a good Hannukah with the little guy's birthday right smack in the middle of it.  Cannot believe he's eight years old.  Did I really bring him this far through life on this planet without his losing a limb or something?  Apparently, both Dan and I have.  Amazing.

Update, 12/17: Stage 4: 

and...slight drum roll please....Stage 5, done yesterday:

WE HAVE PAVEMENT...with a small debris pile beside it.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Stand back...if you can watch this all the way through, you're stronger than I:

Happy Hannukah, everybody.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The results are in on my son's Dubya project survey, and the majority of you said it was best for us to suck it up, git 'er dun, and get it outta the we began by getting the two books out of the library that we could find on the 43rd preznit.

One of them looks like it has the small remnants of permanent marker graffiti still about George the Younger's eyebrows, the circles under his eyes, and on one of his teeth; the other has a slightly splashy cover on it reminiscent of a corner of an Us magazine spread - which is what you'd expect from a book that's part of a "famous people" series that includes Christina Aguilera and NSYNC.  Neither one starts out particularly well: Graffiti Bits begins with the events of 9/11/2001, and the Us mag's first chapter is titled "From The Oil Patch To The White House".  As one was published in 2003 and the other in 2005 just after Dubya won his second term, the Federal Flood is not mentioned.  No, we cannot use the Internet as a reference.

Dan keeps bugging me to get the little guy to write to the ex-prez and get an answer to the questions that way - and I can't say I'm not tempted, especially when I consider what sort of answer he might give to some of those last questions pertaining to his accomplishments while he was in office.  Hell, I never thought I'd see the day when a glossary in the back of a presidential biography geared to kids would have to define the word "terrorist" for the young 'uns.  Brave new freaking world, indeed.

In the meantime, Hannukah begins tomorrow night.  The lunar calendar threw us for a huge loop this year, so my in-laws and my northeastern relatives and friends will be getting their gifts in the middle of those eight crazy nights rather than right at the beginning.  And after this butchering of an already much-oversung Hannukah standard, none of them will be getting this wrapped in menorah-emblazoned wrapping paper:

Don't get too close to those candles with a Snuggie on. Talk about a serious fire hazard...

Monday, November 29, 2010

In homage to Leslie Nielsen, who passed away yesterday, I give you the following from one of my favorite shows. Polish subtitles only add to the hilarity. Senior citizens couldn't get away with anything when this Mountie was in town:

Classic clips are also from one of my favorite flicks here and here.

Oh, and Nielsen was apparently known for a hair trigger finger pull, which got exploited in this episode.  Avoid the dumbstick and get a good giggle:

And, for further inspiration, look no further than here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Not only is the voting still open on the Dubya project poll, but I'm kicking off the Hostilidays, because what better time to do so than Black Friday?

If the synchronization of the lights to Barbra's scat doesn't induce seizures, I don't know what will.

Update, 2:11 PM: Of course, as soon as I post the initial Barbra video, I find that someone has made it worse.

Blame Florida, y'all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Aside from a nifty CNN special on Jonestown blaring at the airport as we boarded our connecting flight and my son slightly offending a teenager by calling out "Hey, girls!" to her and her younger sisters, holiday travel was pretty uneventful Sunday night.  In a packing frenzy beforehand, I made sure to bring the little guy's school work with us, a small amount of papers and reading material that includes the booklet.

The booklet had my husband wanting to know what kind of sick joke the teacher had decided to play on us through our son's homework.  The booklet had me cringing in agony at its title and wondering how we were going to get through this time in our lives.  We contemplated calling up the kiddo's teacher and asking if he could have a new booklet without that title on it, but we asked the little guy if he wanted to change it and he said no.  Said booklet has been the cause of exclamations vacillating from cynical laughter to upsetting anger.  I find it to be less than coincidental that after we saw the booklet, we discovered that our desktop computer of eight years wasn't loading its operating system, and then New Orleanians living on the east bank of the river had to boil their water for two days.

My son must fill the booklet with answers to questions about George W. Bush.

Sure, we could probably demand that the kid do a report on a different president, as there are 40-plus to choose from and only 20-plus students in the class, but he doesn't want to change it.  A look at the questions he must answer makes this thing seem like it isn't so bad: basics like when was your president born and where, who was your president's spouse, with which party was your president affiliated?  When Dan and I got to some of the last questions, that's when things went off the rails for us:
  • What  was the name(s) of the Vice-President(s) who served with your president?
Dan's instantaneous answer was "DICK". My incredulous look elicited a simple "Well, it's true."  

And then:
  • Write at least two interesting facts about your president.
  • What were this president’s major accomplishments during his term? 
Dubya's time in the White House is now a part of history - but it's still too recent for the two of us - and for most of the people we know - to treat that history in a disinterested way.  I'm loath to even look up any facts related to this man simply because we all lived too many of those facts.

So I throw this open to all of you who check in over here from time to time.  The poll is below; it'll be finishing next week.  Feel free to leave me any additional comments, prospective answers to these questions, or evidence of your own incredulity as I check in on this post from time to time.

Happy turkey to all and be thankful you or your offspring aren't faced with this assignment.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Well, the water didn't run dry last night, but the power went out at the East Bank Sewerage and Water Board plant.... it's a water boiling order until further notice today.  Of all the repairs FEMA helped the S & W B do, why wasn't backup generator on the list?

Update: Word is the boil water order will be lifted at 10 PM at the latest.  Pass me my beer.  It's all much easier when you drink.

Anudder update: Boiling water has to keep going 'til 3 PM Sunday.  And there were backup generators at the main plant, but they all failed.  Lovely.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This takes stainless steel ovaries in this day and age...

It's former assistant secretary of ed and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System Diane Ravitch speaking at a conference in which she lauds the Knowledge Is Power Program and Teach for America but asks them to do some simple things to further help with public education and how it is regarded:
“What I want to say to KIPP, because I really really admire what you are doing. You have an excellent reputation, you get great results. Thousands of new charters will be created in the wake of your success. But your results are not typical. Warn President Obama and Secretary Duncan.... that the wonderful results you get are unusual they are not typical of the charter sector. You must disassociate yourself from the educational robber barons, dilettantes and incompetents who are following in your wake making false promises and delivering a low-quality education to poor and minority children.”

“If I were just graduating from college, which I wish were true, I would surely want to join Teach for America. I understand why tens of thousands of idealistic college students sign up for a two-year term as a teacher in a school serving poor students. I have met many many young people who are in TFA now and I have been impressed by their intelligence, their enthusiasm, their sincerity and dedication.
“But I would urge you please, stop claiming that TFA will close the achievement gap. That may be a nice slogan but nobody can teach for two or three years and close the achievement gap. Closing the achievement gap requires a lot more than really smart and dedicated young people with five weeks of training and a lot of enthusiasm. It requires highly skilled career professionals with deep experience who are willing to stick to the profession.... You send out a false message that your corps of young people is all that it takes and that’s not true." 
If you've got a chunk of time, watch it all.

Thanks to A. Mueller for the heads-up.

Update, 10:40 AM: Incidentally, Adrastos posted some thoughts on the integration of New Orleans' elementary schools fifty years on at First Draft.  Go read.

For a look back by me, go here.  Frantz Elementary, as far as I know, is still sitting there, waiting for the next thing.  And waiting.  And waiting.

Monday, November 15, 2010

It is absolutely mind-blowing that this is my thousandth post over here.  The last time I stuck with something for this long, I got seriously burned out.  What follows is nothing of major gravitas befitting this milestone of mine, just some meditations on recent happenings - which is mostly what this corner of the internets has been about, anyhow.  Barring unforeseen life changes, I hope to keep things up for a while longer' round here, so here's to the next thousand...

Some thoughts on Toothiness

Really, the only reason I've had anxiety about my son's supposed lack of powers of concentration has been due to my not taking things too well when it is suggested by teachers of his that he get tested for these sorts of things.  As it turns out, a recent in-school screening for any learning disabilities he might have turned up negative - which is how I spell "relief" on that front.  So it frees this slacker mom to worry about the things that matter... how the kid's permanent teeth are coming in.
The last time I was this anxious about the kid's mouth, one could argue that evacuation made me crazy.  This time, I have no such excuse. 
We headed to the park and, amidst the little guy's fun and frolic, I took a good look at his happy grin and saw that a new tooth was pushing its way out of his gums next to his top left front tooth. Once I complimented him on his growing-guy status being enhanced, I got worried because it looked like his tooth was growing out of the front of his gum rather than directly between the two top teeth.  Slight panic that accompanies the need moms like me have to try to see the possible future of our offspring followed - key words like "orthodontics", "braces", "pain", and "money" crossed my mind. 
The only possible relief for this was at my fingertips, for in this day and age, anybody can be reached at the park by way of a cell I called up my mom and told her of my anxiety.  She said his mouth could still rearrange itself as his gums grew, so it wasn't something to freak out over, and I felt a little better - but I still see that thing coming in and I wonder about how my own teeth came in.  I want to quiz my husband and his family on how their teeth came in.  I get this hankering to go over the family trees Dan's been researching to see if the past might be prologue as far as our son's dental work goes.  I have a pretty unhealthy thought process regarding his grins at this point, so if anybody has any suggestions on how to let this insanity go, I'd greatly appreciate it.

In the meantime, the weather has dictated that the great bed bug-esque lump make an appearance between our covers:
So my big cat didn't move from that spot today from the time I made the bed at 8 AM 'til 12:20 PM.  You'd think he was a shorthair, but he just likes to burrow.

The season also brought the Po' Boy Festival at which I didn't have a single po' boy this year due to having cooked up a huge pot of chicken soup with matzah balls with a group of kids at the religious school just before heading to Oak Street.  I instead left that duty to Dan and ended up with the medallion mother lode:

I'm certain there was more po' boy-related swag that I missed, but who can pass up stuff that says this?

Hey, it's great that Mahony's is looking out for its customers, but what if the shop is closed?  I mean, think about it, guys.

Of course, after I get that River Parish Disposal medallion, the garbage pick-up folks saw fit to leave these with the emptied cans this morning.  Problem is, the rains this morning soaked them off the garbage can handles, because this is how I found them:

Get your truth about the trash contracts!

The website it refers one to - - is encountering technical difficulties, perhaps because some agreements were made today concerning those same contracts.  (UPDATE, 11/16: So here it is:  And Adrastos rightfully points out the incongruity of trash pickup folks trying to spread the word by...adding to the trash.) At least one aspect of the city's budget might be settled, but, judging from the in-City Council chambers tweets of The Lens, the business of finding money on which to run a city can quickly turn into a sick comedy of errors.

I decided to consult a bit of swag my husband brought back from his volunteering duties at the Jewish Federation's General Assembly a couple of weeks back:  the Hillel Foundation Magic 8 Ball:

Oh, heimishe Magic 8 Ball, will the budget be balanced to the satisfaction of all, enabling this city of mine to grow and flourish?  What say you?

So I didn't need an 8 Ball for that kind of answer.  Hey, it's still fun to shake it around.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

WHOA, there.  Education talk will be heating up.

G-Bitch has the details on the federal class action lawsuit filed against the Louisiana Department of Education "for not ensuring special needs students in New Orleans get the services they deserve and need". If I'm not mistaken, this suit was referred to in the amazing disappearing and reappearing Brentin Mock Newsweek article.

From the papers filed:
...the rights of New Orleans public school students with disabilities are violated in four general ways:

...First, students with disabilities are denied admission to public schools on the basis of their disabilities because the Defendants (Paul Pastorek, the LDE, and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) have failed to ensure that public schools offer the same variety of educational programs and services as are available to non-disabled children. These practices constitute nothing less than disability discrimination.

...Second, students with disabilities are denied the protections and services to which they are entitled under federal law because the Defendants have not promulgated and enforced a child find policy that would (1) apply uniformly throughout all New Orleans Public schools and (2) ensure that all students who are in need of special education services are identified, located, and evaluated in a timely fashion.

...Third, students with disabilities are denied educational opportunities that confer a meaningful educational benefit because Defendants have failed to ensure that IEPs (individualized education plans) are developed, reviewed and revised for each New Orleans public school student with a disability, and have failed to provide access to related and transition services.

...Fourth, students with disabilities are punished for manifestations of their disabilities and unlawfully excluded from educational programs and benefits because the Defendants have failed to implement policies, procedures, and practices related to school discipline that protect these students' federal procedural safeguards and shield them from discrimination on the basis of their disability.
The kickers come in on page 11, points 32-35, entitled New Orleans School Governance Framework:
As a result of the unique structure of public education in New Orleans, students with disabilities face insurmountable challenges when attempting to access educational services.  Under federal law, special education services are administered by a local education agency ("LEA") - traditionally a single school district which serves as the centralized point of authority and accountability for schools.  As a result of the education reforms that occurred in the city during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, no such single entity exists in New Orleans. (italics mine)
Further details on how the decentralization has affected how the New Orleans public schools handle special needs students follow, including this sad anecdote in points 55 and 56:
When charter schools violate their contractual obligations and deny enrollment to children with disabilities, Defendant LDE fails to take appropriate action to remedy this violation.  For example, Pierre A. Capdau Charter School enrolled a student body comprised of just over three percent of students with disabilities.  Instead of enforcing the federal obligations to ensure that a school provides equal access to disabled students, in 2010 LDE granted Capdau a three-year charter extension because it met academic performance standards.

Had LDE investigated the exclusion of students with disabilities at Pierre A. Capdau Charter School it would have uncovered the plight of students like Plaintiff P.B., who is identified as a student with a disability...On October 3, 2010, a school administrator told his mother that P.B. was no longer welcome to return to school because of a manifestation of his disability.  Since that time, P.B.'s mother has attenpted to locate a New Orleans public school that will enroll him.  Every school has turned her away and P.B. remains out of school to this day.
Further examples of the current "system of schools'" failures to help the ten plaintiffs named in the suit are cited throughout.  It reads like one of the more pathetic tracts I've ever encountered.  The first 19 pages are heartbreaking all in themselves.  The folks representing the plaintiffs have certainly done a lot of homework.  If this makes it through the courts and is then fully implemented, perhaps a true public education plan could result...


I wish these families all the luck in the world.  This will be one long haul.

Friday, November 12, 2010

This link from the Cowen Institute appeared in the comments this morning addressing the concerns voiced in the previous post. Please read it all.  I am thankful for the response and the clarifications within concerning the question of why AP courses are not offered at all RSD schools, with specific attention paid to John McDonogh High's situation concerning why it has thus far been impossible for the Institute's AdvanceNOLA programs to make headway there.  I hope they keep trying for the McDonogh students' sake, but they do not have the ultimate authority in the matter.  The RSD needs to 'fess up.

To clarify my own positions:

I still think the best way to deal with public education's challenging troubles in this city is to follow a model closer to that of Raleigh, NC's in which all the schools are held to high standards and the population mixes in the school system are not based on race but on economic status.  It doesn't mean charters cannot operate in the system, but it does mean that the racial issues do not have as much of a hold on the discourse involving the schools' operations.  Greater attention can then be given to the things that really matter, like learning.  And it ain't just this city, it's the whole country in this fix.*  So nice to know Louisiana's only just behind Serbia in its students' math proficiency,* too, but I digress.

People who are genuinely trying to help are hog-tied by the massive decentralization that comes with the large numbers of charters that are here, which hampers accountability and transparency in the decisions made concerning the schools, making it much easier for the district officials purportedly in charge to pass the buck on questions such as why AP courses are offered in some schools and not in others.  Running around to all the charters' board meetings is even less helpful when most of them won't even comply with Louisiana's open meetings law.  What everyone is left with, then, is an overall feeling of frustration and helplessness stemming from everyone who wants public education here to improve, but is not sure who exactly to take their grievances to - or the people in charge are not forthcoming with their answers, their sympathy, or their time and willingness to work things out.  Hence the defensiveness, the anger, the events in which people listen for one reason and speak out on their grievances in the hopes that the right people will be somehow listening, will give them the answers they seek, will raise their consciousness.

This is where we are with the public schools right now.  And it's not a good place to be.

*Thanks to @valmcginley for The Atlantic links.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

After I steadied myself with a couple of beers at a local watering hole following Diane Ravitch's talk at Dillard and was able to face the world again without screaming bloody murder at it, I tried to keep my feelings of gloom and doom towards education in this country under wraps for a while.

Problem is, stuff keeps happening, and I can't...keep...the blinders...on. Plugging my ears and singing loudly to drown sounds out doesn't go over so well with the two- and four-legged members of my family, and trying to talk about it is no picnic, either....which is why you are all treated to my rants about it here and on Humid City. I owe the Humid City maestro a great deal just for that privilege alone.

I read Ravitch's account of her visit to New Orleans, for instance, and somehow knew that race would come up in there, even though the audience for her talk was mixed and the tone of the Q & A session was civil compared to some City Council meetings I've attended.
In New Orleans, I spoke at Dillard University, an HBCU (or historically black college or university). There, I heard from angry African-American parents and educators who felt disenfranchised by the charterizing of their public schools. The mainstream media may think that the chartering of New Orleans was a wonderful thing, but the audience that night did not. When a young woman (who was white) from the Cowen Institute at Tulane University defended the success of the charters in getting more students to pass AP exams, several people in the audience demanded to know why their non-charter schools were no longer allowed to offer AP courses. The young woman had no answer. Several people that night said: "They stole our public schools, and they stole our democracy while we were out of town."
Racial issues and public education are intertwined, whether everybody likes it or not (especially in New Orleans), and the Cowen Institute rep's biggest crime was her tone-deafness to that fact when she was stymied by RSD teachers asking her, if her AP programs were so successful, why weren't they being offered in traditional RSD schools? It's a damned good question, but it ought to have been asked of the Recovery School District itself. Then again...well, just read this from the Cowen Institute's site:
Transforming the community through education has been identified as one of the priorities of the University, and to enable that commitment the Cowen Institute operates under the direct supervision of the President Cowen. To inform and revolutionize change, the Institute’s efforts are led by a talented and diverse staff of nine full-time staff members and a growing number of Tulane students. Additional support is provided by Tulane faculty, centers, and institutes. We have developed national and local advisory councils, both a diverse and distinguished group of national and regional leaders, to advise the Cowen Institute’s staff on current and potential initiatives. The Institute has also partnered with a number of major research universities from around the country – including Harvard, University of California at Berkeley, Brown, Emory, and DePaul – to engage their students and faculty in this historic effort. The brightest minds are participating in our efforts.
How nice. We're getting many, many more lab-coated cooks in the local kitchen of public education - or, should I say, kitchens.

One would think all of this collaboration would be working somehow - and it is, but only in the schools that have the permission of their district to work with the Cowen Institute (that's only five schools, for those of you keeping track). And the trend seems to be to deny that permission to the traditional schools - which are largely populated by the students whose families didn't have the time or the resources to successfully negotiate the obstacle course of school choice that reigns over public education here. It's a state that leaves New Orleans' poorest children behind - and most of them are black.

Is the Cowen Institute asking hard questions of the RSD, the OPSD, and the BESE concerning how well their decisions on these matters have been made? Is the decision of who gets the AP courses and who doesn't based on solid research that says the courses will go farther in charter schools than it does in non-charters? Where exactly is that data? How well has it been interpreted? What sample size is it based on? This inquiring mind wants to know...even if the Cowen Institute shrugs its collective shoulders and says, "Not our job."

I suggest they lasso all those experts of theirs into solving another problem that has come up, then, one that will affect the operations of the schools they are trying to help:
State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek has told school superintendents their districts won't receive an expected infusion of $147 million in federal education money.
Instead, The Associated Press has learned that Pastorek told the superintendents in a Wednesday conference call that the Jindal administration plans to use the money to fill in budget gaps next year and to help offset cuts to higher education.
I'm guessing that our absentee governor wants to avoid scenes like this one across the pond and make sure that LSU is happy. But what good will that short-term solution be if, in the long-term, fewer and fewer kids will be coming out of the elementary and secondary schools with the skills to get them into those institutions of higher learning?

Wait, I've got it...this is all part of Jindal's plan to squeeze more value out of higer education.

Or, he's taking Rand Paul to heart and giving our kids the biggest lesson of them all: we all work for rich people or sell stuff to rich let's get to it! Case those mansions on St Charles, kids, and beat down the doors if you have to to get their bucks in exchange for bars of the World's Best Chocolate, reams of wrapping paper, or whatever dry goods can possibly be sold, because your classroom supplies depend on that money.

Now more than ever. Sadly.

cross-posted at Humid City

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Dan really seemed to enjoy his birthday this year, despite the present he got from the city of New Orleans calling him up for jury duty on the 12th - he volunteered at the Jewish Federation's General Assembly gathering, and then roped a bunch of us into seeing a nifty musical about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach:

I wish I could say I really liked it overall, but there are many things about it that nagged at me...among them the whole Fiddler on the Roof-meets-Hair vibe of most of it.  I don't think those two things meshed well in the context of this musical, which, even though it is trumpeting its "Next stop - Broadway!" status loudly, doesn't seem to be up to it just yet, as the community theater-esque aspects of its production are still pretty strong.  Sure, some of that is because of the way Le Petit Theatre imposes its size and its limitations on the show, but there are times when the same actor is taking on a bunch of roles and it is painfully obvious - oh, you're usually Mama Carlebach, but now you're the Rebbe Schneerson, for instance.

What really soars above all of this mishmash (some examples: turning Nina Simone into a much more pivotal character in the musical than she actually was in Shlomo Carlebach's life; shuttling Ben Crawford as Shlomo into situation after situation and leaving his character looking like a pinball in a machine on Tilt saying "Gevalt!" a lot), is, at long last, Shlomo Carlebach's melodies.  The story of the man's life, however, is too varied and, in many ways, too controversial for a mere musical to deal with it all, no matter how hard or how valiantly it tries.

I guess the best way to put some of what I'm talking about is to first read this review of the simultaneous recent releases of two recordings: one made of a concert of Reb Shlomo's, circa mid-1970's, the other of his daughter Neshama's interpretations of his music in the present, backed by a gospel choir.  The latter is an amazing album, by the way - Neshama knows how to spread Carlebach's music and his messages, having done it on her own since his passing in 1994, and if you get a chance to see her perform live, take it.  Carlebach the man, however, is a fascinating study in what happens with one life caught between the orthodox Jewish world after the Shoah and the larger, chaotic world of America in the 1960's and 70's, between the obligations of family and of a public he felt needed his music and his messages to fully repair the world, between what Jewish law dictates about behavior and true compassion and respect for the other, regardless of sex or creed.  The latter, it was revealed after his death, wasn't negotiated too well, especially in his relations with women. It's a tricky business, trying to separate the man from his better acts, and it probably can't be completely done:
Nonetheless, for the many who knew Rabbi Carlebach as a holy guide, hearing allegations may raise a conundrum: "How it is possible that a person who can affect us so powerfully & can at the same time be imperfect and do things we find very, very hard to countenance," asks Rodger Kamenetz....

This cognitive dissonance echoes through Jewish tradition, which is filled with flawed leaders, Moses and David come to mind, who are appreciated for their greatness and forgiven for their human failings. "It is important for us to be reminded that even our spiritual teachers are flawed human beings," notes Rabbi (Daniel) Siegel of ALEPH. "I hope that somehow, as time goes on, we will learn how to honor Reb Shlomo's gifts and, at the same time, to acknowledge those for whom his presence was difficult and even painful. While I cannot predict how this will happen, I know that honest and open discussion of the totality of Reb Shlomo's life can only help."

Indeed, the holding of both parts of Shlomo Carlebach in mind have come into relief as these allegations against him have collided full force with the reverence many still feel for him. Some of his followers have jumped to his defense in the face of claims such as these. Lilith has received both the outrage and prayers of those trying to stop the publication of this article. Coming from as far as Israel, England, and Switzerland, comments have ranged from denial that such actions could have taken place to testimonials to his greatness. More than anything, these calls, emails, and faxes have demanded in various ways that we perpetuate the silence.

"Whatever negative there is to say there [are] a million positives you could choose," one protester wrote. Another told us, "He alone gave me the sense of beauty of being a Jewish woman." A third, even more adamant, suggested hat "there is no way you can even think of publishing a negative article about a man like Rabbi Carlebach, if you even begin to know the unending acts of kindness he devoted his life to performing." Finally, some protested against these allegations coming to light, "regardless of truth or right," "How dare you sully the memory of such a soul, such a tzaddik?" one correspondent asked.

Kamenetz suggests that this need to see only the positive sides of Rabbi Carlebach should be expected. "We want to be moved, we want to be touched, and we project that onto certain individuals," he said, explaining how such an idealized perspective develops.

Explains Rabbi Julie Spitzer, "It is not uncommon when women come forward with their stories of inappropriate sexual contact with a rabbi or clergy member that the members of the congregation or community so much want to disbelieve those shocking allegations that they vilify the complainant and glorify the abuser." Rabbi Spitzer is director of the Greater New York Council of Reform Synagogues and for 14 years has served on the National Advisory Board for the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In the cacophony of voices expressing doubt, fear, fury and grief, Rabbi (Lynn) Gottlieb asserts, "This is about our relationship to power, rabbinics, patriarchy. This is not about him. It is about the women he hurt."
This master of song and story has indeed left a mixed legacy behind...but it is, at long last, a mistake to only focus on the stories, the songs and the melodies...which need a major reworking by members of the Carlebach family and Jewish music scholars, anyhow, according to someone I know who studied Carlebach's life and music - I was told, in effect, that the only way to get at a "true" melody of his is to listen to his recordings and mesh those together with what has been written down (and what has been written down is becoming harder to find).  As Reb Shlomo's music becomes enmeshed with the Jewish liturgy, and whatever copyrights there were on his music are neglected, the more the man himself will most likely fade from memory unless something is done...and I don't know if Soul Doctor is the vehicle with which to do it.

"I want my money back!" one of our friends half-jokingly cried to a streetcar sporting an ad for the musical.

Indeed.  Any musical using the halfway-to-Tom Lehrer line "You'll be doing the hora in Sodom and Gomorrah" in earnest needs to reexamine its raison d'etre....and it also needs to stop having Nina Simone call out "Shay-le-mo!" at every opportunity.  Nina was smarter than that.


One thing I didn't realize is that the granddaughter of Totie Fields is in Soul Doctor.

Nice to see such naches continuing on through the family.  And L.R. Davidson's voice is definitely worth a listen.

More on Totie here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Amid the preparations for the celebration of my husband's 39th birthday this coming Sunday (and next Saturday - couldn't do dinner for two reservations 'til then), the near-constant ferreting out of the things that elicit Dan's queries of "What's that smell?" and "What's this spot on the floor?"over the past couple of days, and the handling of the spraying for termites in our rafters that our tree man pal Justin did (he fired up the sprayer last night and it sounded for all the world like he was about to cut the bugs out with a chainsaw, much to the consternation of the tenants living below our place and my son in his room, who was trying to get to sleep), I've finally gotten 'round to getting over my fear of Blogger's new-ish design and template settings and, after some considerable tweaking of the background color to the greater liking of some folks I consulted through Twitter (and to the continued health of everybody's retinas - yes, the blue that was here before was a screaming bright color), I give you my re-vamped Lament.

I'm still adding to the New Orleans-centric blogroll as I go back through the tried and true blogrolls of the blogs I frequent, as well as the sites of folks I follow on Twitter and people's sites that pop into my head when I'm, say, driving down the street and am physically nowhere near a computer of any sort.  If my brain has not been sufficiently jogged to add your site, however, please shout at me in the comments, but not too loudly or too rudely, please.

Still trying to get over the fact that the latest bit of Saints merchandise I got - a nifty new leash for my dog - is something I could've made by getting hold of some Saints ribbon and sewing it onto a plain black leash my own self.  I'd say that I'll never get another piece of NFL-licensed merchandise again, but I still don't see a Saints toaster 'round my house.  Maybe for my birthday next month...

Some Dan funnies: He took one look at the picture on the back of the little guy's latest issue of Ranger Rick:
Its caption? PITCHERFUL OF FROG - Peek-a-boo,/ And how do you do?/ That's the message/ From me to you

 Dan took one look at that and said in mock horror. "Peek-a-boo?  That's a pitcher plant!  That frog's gonna die!"

And then, after a lunch at one of our favorite John Besh establishments, I took a look at an ad for a Besh show on TLC that was hanging on the wall and commented that it made Besh look like Sean Payton.

Dan added his own twist: "You know, it makes him look like a cross between Sean Payton and Bobby Jindal."

Now I need to have my brain thoroughly scrubbed of that image.  I'll never think of the chef in the same way ever, ever again.

So yes, we've been married to each other for nearly ten years.  I'm glad I've been able to celebrate this man's arrival on earth for a few years longer than that, and I look forward to doing it many, many more times.  There's only so many people in this world you can allow into your life and your psyche like that - and though I tend to bring a lot of smells and spills into his life that he could probably do without, I'm happy he feels the same about crazy ol' me.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

I managed to hop on and off the First Draft Crack Van a few times last night, and, aside from asking everybody to applaud my mom's vote on sharia law, things were chaotically gloomy, especially in the careening van's last gasps of the night. However, I did find the temporary antidote to all the gloom and doom, or, rather, my husband found it on our favorite crap cinema channel, and not a moment too soon.

The scene that had us both laughing:

And if there have been too many videos in this neck of the interwebs, well, there have been a lot of bugs going around - it's that time of year.  I must've caught my recent YouTube posting compulsions from Adrastos.

Other good post-election musings come from Maitri and Pistolette.