Friday, September 30, 2011

I missed tossing my sins into the Mississippi this year (why symbolically toss your sins into a moving body of water? Fish don't blink.). I've never done this*, and I had no clue that there was a large amount of protest surrounding it. I should've figured. This is pretty cruel:

To get their message of peace for poultry out, The Alliance To End Chickens as Kaporos is going to host not one, not two, but THREE two-hour protest/demonstrations in Brooklyn this year. The group argues their side like this: 
The use of chickens in Kaporos rituals is cruel and contrary to Jewish teachings. It is not a mitzvah but a custom that originated in the middle ages. Most observers give money to charity which they express symbolically by swinging coins while reciting prayers for mercy and peace. Swinging and slaughtering chickens as Kaporos violates tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the Jewish mandate not only to avoid needlessly hurting animals, but to show them compassion.
There are indeed other ways to show that you've repented. At this point, the chickens ought to go on strike...

Here's to a good, sweet new year. Leave the chickens alone. 

*The Gothamist article makes a cheeky reference to the Occupy Wall Street protests in the article to boot. Perhaps some swinging of money about the heads of some investment firms' CEOs might get a little repentance going there. Who knows?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I still cannot resist bookstores to save my life, and I really should, but I took a look in a local one today to get a surprise tome for the little guy (okay, and a little something for myself). I found myself browsing through this one:


My little guy is going on nine and is already engaged in reading and talking (or should I say lecturing?) about environmental issues such as recycling, the oil spill, and alternative energy: if he could stand up in front of a group of people and give the impassioned speech he gave on the above-mentioned subjects to his carpool mate in the backseat on the way to school this morning, he could well get more people to start hounding Congress and private research entities for affordable clean alternatives. Yet I hesitated to get this book because of its frightening implications...

A few things instantly came to my protective mama brain:
  •  An interview in comic form Art Spiegelman conducted with Maurice Sendak around the time Sendak came out with a children's book about the homeless. I could only find it in Spanish through the interwebs, but I recall the discussion between Sendak and Spiegelman presenting a justification for a graduate school instructor I had to deny her young daughter the opportunity to read Spiegelman's comic opus Maus until she was older because of its frank discussions and depictions of the Shoah. There's something to be said for age-appropriate introduction of thorny subjects - but then there's the point where you have to ask yourself, as a parent, when the protective nature of your child-rearing becomes overprotective.
  • There are differences between reading about this stuff and seeing it. Big mistake on our part: taking the kiddo to see WALL-E. We'd been warned about the entire first half of the flick being kind of scary for young kids - a dusty, abandoned planet with a lone robot charged with compacting mounds of garbage, his only friend being a small cockroach he nearly squashes - and he didn't calm down until the lone robot hitched a ride to the humans' ship with his robot love EVE. It's pretty much why we rarely watch the news or take in documentaries like Gasland or anything about the Macondo blowout with the little guy at this age. Does he really need the weight of possible futures on his shoulders at this stage of the game?
  • That said, we've all got to struggle with the fact that our time on this planet is finite, as are our resources, yet here we are doing the things that will supposedly ensure that we'll stick around for generations to come: having children, raising them to carry on as we have done. We must also struggle with the fact that some things have gone awry in this assumption of "progress" and take solid steps to alter our paths, because no amount of sheltering our kids is going to keep them from seeing that this world is, in fact, not perfect and we could be doing a hell of a lot better. Any possible models we may have presented them with for living may well be turned inside-out and stood on their heads despite our best efforts. Ultimately, willful ignorance on our part - and on our son's - could be our undoing. But - once again - can an eight-year-old really handle this?
I flipped through World Without Fish quickly and liked a few things in it towards its end. There are actual suggestions of what individuals can do to stop the demise of the fish populations around the world and guidelines for local activism that include having a sense of humor. Not bad, really.

But...not until he gets a little older.

I'm sure he will then be ready for the following:
Heart-breaking pictures of seabirds covered in black crude oil, arresting as they are, can miss the hidden story of an oil spill's impact on wildlife.

Exposure to even tiny concentrations of the chemicals present in oil can also cause harmful biological effects that usually go unnoticed, according to a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's striking that even though the analytical chemistry doesn't indicate exposure, the biology does," says Andrew Whitehead, a biologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, who led the study. "We can measure all the chemistry we want in the environment, but if want to know whether organisms have been exposed, we have to ask them."

The researchers studied the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) living in the Gulf of Mexico. They collected water and tissue samples three times from marshes where the killifish lived: once in early May, before oil from the blown well had arrived; once in late June, when oil had reached the marshes; and again in late August, after oil was no longer visible. They collected samples from six sites, but only one -- in Barataria Bay, Louisiana -- was heavily oiled following the spill...

...Whitehead has previously shown that exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can cause harmful gene expression changes in killifish, which are an important food source for many species, including economically important ones such as red snapper. Because PCBs and the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in crude oil have similar biological effects, the researchers looked at their impact on the same set of genes.

They found analogous changes in gene expression in killifish from the marshes, and in killifish embryos exposed to contaminated water samples in the lab. These changes have previously been shown to cause developmental abnormalities, decreased embryo survival and lower reproductive success. "It doesn't take much PAH to mess with development," Whitehead says.

"The ability of fish larvae to survive has a huge effect on the population down the road," says biologist Lee Fuiman, director of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, who was not involved with the study. "A small change in the percent survival equals a large change in the adult population."
If he decides to write about it for school, here's hoping it won't be suppressed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sorry, folks, can't resist this:


Geaux, Saints.

9/24/2011: Oh, and, my gut reaction on hearing about this was...well, it kinda started to turn my gut inside-out. I agree with Ian that it is indeed probably the worst trend in sports, this insane, seedy business of selling a stadium's naming rights, but the upside is that it spawned a heck of a Twitter hashtag harnessing the best of this town's sense of humor. Go add to it if you've got anything. It's better than antacids.

And, if Benson & Co. were really serious about trying to attract sponsors, they shoulda taken a cue from the New Orleans Levee's second issue ever and put a giant "You Can't Beat Wagner's Meat" bumper sticker atop the Dome's roof.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Halcyon Daze

It's never something known fully at the time - when you're busy living your life, the possibility of stopping to look around is mostly not an option - but there are times that shape and scar your mental landscape so vividly that their impact isn't fully realized until years later.

See, I embarked on something kinda new for me a few months ago (check the, um, reviews in the back of the pdf for my by-line on a few). It's been a challenge, but a good one, although nearly every time I rack my brains trying to come up with ways of describing what I hear (and wonder why I jumped at doing album reviews in the first place in the low points of the process), I discover more and more about the prism through which I see today's music.

1989: My family moves me from sprawling metropolitan Houston to small town Pennsylvania at what I felt was the worst possible time. Sixteen, missing my friends with every fiber of my being, I find some solace in watching MTV on cable - something I never had access to unless I went to friend's houses back in Houston - getting a subscription to Rolling Stone, and getting to know my dad's record collection better than he did. My parents, one New Year's Eve, watching The Last Waltz, were racking their brains trying to figure out which band was the main attraction. "Who are these guys?"

"Dad, you have their albums. It's The Band."

"What, who?"

"They're right here, Dad," I say with teenage exasperation, yanking out the Brown Album and Stage Fright.

I go through the rest of my high school years convinced that, by and large, popular music is kind of a wasteland except for R.E.M., most early-'80's era music coming out of Athens, Georgia, Neneh Cherry, Talking Heads, They Might Be Giants, and early Violent Femmes. My suspicions are confirmed when I go to my first concert, a double-bill of Squeeze and Katrina & The Waves, after a friend urges me to go see a band that's still playing music, not one that's alive only on records, tapes, and posters like the Beatles or the Who. I admit that it was good to dance to but it didn't really speak to me any more than that. It's okay to dance, don't get me wrong, but man, did I want more.


This past Saturday, I turned on NPR and heard snippets of this interview. Later on, that same day, I saw this post, and could not believe how freaking old I felt. 1991? It's been that long ago? Don't tell me that. '91 was the beginning of the process of my busting out of the small town I'd been held in for two years, the home of those who expressed surprise that I'd actually made plans to go to a college outside of Pennsylvania. Yes, the world was bigger than the Keystone State, and it was certainly much larger than my parents' house. Location, location, location...

And if what I'm going to say next sounds like a cliche, well, it happens to be one that has truth behind it. Not much gets the kids into music more than location, and that goes doubly so for kids attending art schools. All-day studios three times a week, homework designed to make you nearly lose your head (you don't want to know about how horrible designer's gouache is), and terrible cafeteria food combined to make the freshman dorms a holding tank for all sorts of crazy doings at all hours. When clandestine underage drinking wasn't going on (all you had to do was look in the recycling bins in the trash rooms to see that it was, in fact, happening), all sorts of furtive sex, some drug use (and hey, wasn't it great that Spray-Fix, a relatively cheap high, was pretty much required in freshman foundation?), or random acts of public art and public annoyance (woke up to two of those: both the upper and lower quad covered with masking tape outlines of people, animals, and bikes one morning, and then sixty people drumming in the lower quad at 3 AM), the next best release was music.

If you could afford going to shows after blowing loads of money on art supplies for your courses, you went. If you couldn't, you got hold of albums wherever you could - if you hadn't already brought a ton of them with you - and you blasted them as you worked in the super-messy dorm studio spaces. The Doors would beat against Blues Traveler shouting down Bob Marley, melding into that Julee Cruise/Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks music my roommate would play ad nauseum when she wasn't watching my copy of When Harry Met Sally... on our VCR practically every time I walked into our room (I still can't watch that movie all the way through), folding into De La Soul, Public Enemy, the latest U2, and some Metallica screaming down another hall where, when two guys discovered they were in the room a rock star briefly stayed in during his time at the school, they somehow determined which side of the room his bed had been on and positioned their beds against that same wall to "pick up his vibes." Jane's Addiction vied for attention with Black Flag, Sonic Youth, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, the latest R.E.M., the Flaming Lips, and Helmet. The effect of walking through the halls was sometimes schizophrenia-inducing; I wasn't entirely sure which music was out to get me more, or which I wanted to carry me off, for that matter.

Once I got hooked on glassworking, I didn't have much of a choice. If you had a blow slot for three hours, one of the best ways to cut the roar of the furnaces was to blast the hot shop stereo. Second or third year glass students would usually monopolize it - one trio would constantly get the Allman Brothers or the Pixies on; I liked the latter better than the former - but the default was always the local indie station, where so many more sounds were piped directly into our brains as we kept hot glass from falling off stainless steel blowpipes and got better at shaping it into vessels and other art works. It thus seemed much more than serendipitous when some of those sounds were coming out of one of the great studio glass Meccas of the 20th century. Seattle was it in no small part because one man with an eyepatch decided to establish a couple of Glass Wonderlands, one of  'em by Puget Sound, another 50 miles north of Seattle proper, where the first students legendarily braved the rain and the damp, raced banana slugs in what little spare time they had, and slowly, steadily built a school for generations of other glass artists.

I finally got to the Mecca to do mostly what I'd been doing up to that summer: work away with my favorite medium. The Pilchuck campus was beautifully isolated and very dry that summer, the only trip into Seattle was to see Chihuly's Boathouse studio, and the only music I remember hearing in the hot shop was Professor Longhair, Morphine, the Iguanas, and Ween. The imagined Pacific Northwest shone so much more brightly back at my art school on the East Coast - the reality was a gas station barista getting pissed off at me because I didn't order a cappuccino the way she thought I should. No wonder Kurt Cobain wrote the kinds of songs he did.

Life went on after that, as did the music. I found I liked Pearl Jam's second album much better than their first, that Nirvana's Unplugged was better than their regular albums in some ways because of their versions of great tracks by the Vaselines, the Meat Puppets, and Bowie, and that I really preferred Hole to Bikini Kill. My time with glassworking flamed out, but my love for music never did.

So, hey, bear with me as I try to decide whether to be shocked or pleased that some of these guys and gals are still making music - or not, as the case may be - and I find some new stuff that may or may not be to my liking. This is supposed to be fun, I'll tell myself as I rack my brains once again over how to put music into words. Fun - or obsession?

I'll get back to you on that...

Monday, September 19, 2011

 The combination of massive dispersant use, fewer obviously dead birds and animals, the capping of the well, and the government's apparent eagerness to help BP tell the story in the past tense, dovetailed nicely with our own short attention spans and eagerness for novelty. When anyone dared bring up the fact that there were still troubles in the Gulf you could almost see the country cringe. Please, we said, Haven't we covered that already?  
 Despite this, in late October of 2010 I returned to the Gulf to see things for myself. During the summer I had gotten to know Ryan Lambert, a Cajun fishing and hunting guide in the town of Buras, about an hour and a half south of New Orleans. In July Ryan took me out in his boat to show me the necrotic fringe of oil along the wetlands, and that fall I wanted to visit him, and his landscape, again.  
 After we shook hands in his lodge, Ryan told me he wanted to show me something. We walked out behind his house to massive fish scaling tables where two hundred pounds of shrimp was piled. The shrimping season had finally opened, despite the objections of many shrimpers themselves and the reports of tarballs coming up in the nets. A cry of "Ollie, Ollie, in-come-free" had gone up. Everyone back in the water. Now, while I watched, Ryan started flicking through them until he got to one that he held under my eyes. He pointed to the black gills.  
 "Something is wrong down here," he said. "Very wrong. Look at this shrimp...I don't know what that black is but it's not right. Yesterday we had 500 pounds of shrimp and I looked at the gills and I could see black inside every one of them. I called the authorities and they said, 'Well, yeah, that's black gill disease. It's a bacteria.' So okay, I'll buy that, a bacteria. So then I got a question for you. Why haven't I ever seen it before in thirty years of hunting and fishing here? I try to be open-minded about all this to make sure that I don't overstep. But things are not right. I know when things are right because I been here so long and I live outside. In all my time here I've seen only one fish kill. But since the spill I've seen nine with my own eyes. Nine massive fish kills. Fish suddenly thrown up dead on shore or floating on the water. Why? For thirty years it didn't happen, so why'd it happen this year? And the fish too. Usually in October, when the trout come in, you have ten to twelve boats out fishing which means you're catching a thousand fish a day. But that's not what we're seeing. I've seen only seven boats limit-out since July. Seven boats! Unheard of. Ought to be seven a day. I can understand why we don't have business because of the perception of the oil. But not to have fish." 
When the media did occasionally check in with the Gulf story, they liked to ask the question "Where has all the oil gone?" It turned out that Ryan Lambert had an answer to that question too. In the two weeks before my visit they had picked up 36,000 gallons of oil just in Bay Jimmy, Ryan's prime fishing grounds, and 10,000 bags of tar balls. Ryan's was a different sort of news than that I had been hearing on the national broadcasts. As the year stretched on, and the spill receded into the past, it became not just a minority voice but a practically unheard one. You had the sense that people in the media, as the foreman in the bar in Mobile suggested, were a little embarrassed by how they had overreacted at first and so now compensated by swinging the other way. 
 Read more here.

Further info on David Gessner's The Tarball Chronicles can be found here. It's a helluva read.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It is a fateful time of year for the latest of the local summits on crime to be happening. Deeper thoughts on the effects of crime locally can be found from Cliff:
In general I support the summit. My only concern is that the message there makes it to the kids that actually seem to be in danger. The people who show up to crime summits are usually not the ones that are going to do any crime in the first place. Maybe with the mayor involved the conversation will lead to a plan that will get the message into the closed in subculture of our city that probably has no idea there’s a crime summit going on because they are too busy focused on doing their own crimes. Those are the kids we have to get into some programs even if we have to force them into them.
...and the G-Bitch Spot's Save Our Sons? Save Our Daughters, Too:
And then maybe we can look at the girls, our daughters. Every year I have taught in NOLA, I have had too many young women not done with high school or starting college with 1-2 children. I know I see the most determined and supported ones, and that for each there are a dozen others I don’t see in a college classroom. I seethem pushing their babies down the street in strollers or holding them by the hand [the other hand usually holding a cell phone], or balancing one on a hip to cross the street. So what about them? Can we actually have a summit on that, on the too many girls with babies? Or is that much harder? When you talk about babies, you must talk about sex and talk about sex gets very politicized and filtered through one religion or several and information gets distorted or left out or falsely discredited. The Girl’s health textbook takes the hard sell scare-’em line to promote abstinence as the only sensible option. Textbook publishers aren’t going to print texts school systems won’t buy; I understand that. So we critiqued the text with her, a conversation she started, and I gave her the link to scarleteen, which covers everything, respectfully. EverythingReally. From squirting to masturbation to vulvas and anal sexand bisexuality to penises and “A Basic Kinktionary.” But she’s my daughter and I can do that. Someone else’s daughter? If she asks me, if she is a student of mine, yes, I will give her honest, appropriate answers. I have to. She needs to know. You can’t make wise choices if you don’t have good information.  
Information, though, is not enough. Like one meeting is not enough. The hardest thing to do is have a group conversation, and we’ve failed before. But one of the few things we can all agree on, across all lines and barriers, is that too many young black men are involved in murders. I hope that common ground makes the difference this time.
I struggle with this prayer below, and I know I'm not the only one:
On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.
What the prayer is talking about is the relationship between people and God. What many people miss about the point of the Jewish high holidays is that the forgiveness of the past year's transgressions only applies to matters between people and God - when it comes to matters between ourselves, we are on our own, and it is up to each of us individually to right the wrongs against our neighbors, and it is up to our neighbors to accept our efforts. "Would that repentance, prayer, and charity towards our fellow human beings be the order of the day" is the message the high holidays are supposed to urge the Jewish people to carry into daily life.

It's a message that is still sorely needed in New Orleans in 2011. I, too, hope that not just the "right" people get it, but that all of us continue to get it and act upon it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Here's something from Dr. Daniella Cook on New Orleans and education reform:

Kinda tough to hear. Best to turn it up.

It is also worth it to give Dr. Cook's Voices Crying Out From The Wilderness: The Stories Of Black Educators On School Reform In Post Katrina New Orleans a perusal. Once Cook explains her methodology for a few chapters, the history of the New Orleans schools and the current "system of schools," combined with the stories of individual New Orleans teachers, makes for intriguing reading.


Something a little less serious, you say?

It's been twenty years since Ren and Stimpy warped our airwaves. I can't think of much better commemoration-wise than to check on what creator John Kricfalusi's been up to these days, kick back with something better than bad, and, to get a certain Yaksmen song out of your head, get a crowd at the nearest bar to join together in singing this nifty song about a whale:


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reasons To Kvetch

Not that it takes much these days...

I wasn't aware of this latest bit of crap from our latest Phyllis Schlafly-esque female presidential candidate until I saw Ayelet Waldman going off on how little morality had to do with HPV and its treatment. Frequent check-ins on Twitter yesterday saw Erin, aka, Queen of Spain, agonizing over what she eventually spoke of so beautifully in Embarrassed By That Mom On Stage. It takes my recent complaint about being unable to cheer for current high-profile female presidential candidates to another level: that of how concepts of motherhood are used and abused by moms like Bachmann and Palin to get them ahead. Check Athenae for more spot-on analysis of what Erin says...and please remember this:

So keep in mind as you see female after female take to the cable news shows calling themselves feminist pundits and politicians that these women do not speak for me. They do not speak for the women I know who call themselves feminists, truly fighting each day against the patriarchy (not submitting to it) and working hard for equality. An equality that includes more than one path for women and girls who wish to be anything they want to be, under terms they, themselves, set. 
Because despite all the rhetoric you hear from these women on stage and tv claiming to be champions of all females, the absolute only thing we have in common is the name ‘Mom.’
This wasn't the only thing that got my ire up yesterday, amazingly enough. My Queens synagogue listserv is currently abuzz with back-and-forth tussling over GOP (and Tea Party-leaning) candidate Bob Turner winning former representative Anthony Weiner's congressional seat. This got me angry at three different things right off: former rep. Weiner, then the orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jewish constituents of the district who happily got used by the NY Republicans to supposedly send a message to Obama that he isn't taking Israel seriously enough, nor is he taking enough of a stand against same-sex marriage (which only further proves that getting out the vote is very important to ensure that you are, indeed, spoken for by you), topped by the milquetoast Democratic Party for being such wusses in this whole thing. Obama not being supportive enough of Israel? Spare me. Not enough support from the POTUS against same-sex marriage? Clear case of fear being greater than good sense. Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. Moan, moan, moan.

At least The Lens' charter school reporting corps website is up and at 'em...although it will probably present even more opportunities for kvetching...but they will be informed opportunities.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Here's a deeper look via School Finance 101 at one of the tenets of the Kristen Buras article for your morning:
Map 1. Year 2000 distribution of traditional public and charter schools in New Orleans
In the first figure, there are a significant number of decent size schools in the deeper red (higher % black) areas of the city. Citywide, there are a handful of charters scattered around. 
Now, here’s the distribution of charters and traditional public schools in 2010. Yes, the city as a whole lost a lot of population (but did rebound somewhat between 2006 and 2010, hence the interest in 2010). Quite strikingly, there are simply very few schools of any size now available in those deep red zones (shading still based on pre-Katrina population). And while there are charters scatted throughout the city, even the highest concentration of those schools is in areas with marginally lower pre-Katrina black populations. There are generally more schools and more larger schools in those neighborhoods. 
Again, circle size indicates enrollment size, and if the circle has a yellow triangle over it, the school is a charter school.  Further, I’ve kept the size scaling of circles on the same scale in this map as in the previous one. So, if a circle is smaller, it’s enrollment is smaller.
Map 2. Year 2010 distribution of traditional public and charter schools in New OrleansNow, it is indeed hard to untangle supply from demand here. One can make the argument that the population didn’t return, therefore there is no demand for schools in those areas previously inhabited by the city’s lowest income black populations. Alternatively, one can as reasonably (and more so after reading Buras) argue that the dearth of available public services may provide some explanation for why families have not returned, or have not been able to return. 
One might argue that because there exist so many “schools of choice” throughout the city, that geographic location doesn’t really matter. Ya’ just got to travel a bit. Sign up for one of those great schools over there! But research has consistently shown that even in “choice’ models geographic location/proximity is central to enrollment decisions.  Location matters. And having quality options nearby is important. In fact, parents will often favor location over publicly available “quality” measures, continuing enrollment in schools identified as persistently failing if/when other options are simply not geographically accessible. Then again, those “quality” measures aren’t always particularly meaningful. 
This population density map for individuals 18 and under suggests comparable population densities in those areas where school density (especially charter school density) has remained much lower: 
Authors such as Henry Levin have explained on numerous occasions that for a choice model to yield equitable distribution of opportunity, consumers must have equitable access to information on schools and equitable mobility among options. Clearly, equitable geographic access is out the window in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Yeah, I think we already knew this from various media reports. But sometimes I have to play with the data and map them myself for it to really sink in. Whether driven by geographic assignment or by choice enrollment, the distribution of educational opportunities in Map 2 above is troublesome. 
Far more troublesome is that so many have publicly pitched this New Orleans mixed delivery model as the key to the future of urban education.
Bold red italics are mine, by the way.

To further emphasize how the less-than-equitable geographic access has been working here, I direct you to exhibits A through E from back in 2008, especially D and E. There's also the go charter and save your school building sword of Damocles that has been held above greater New Orleans communities for far too long.

And with all of this, I find myself suffering from some terrible deja-vu.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering 9/11/2001 has been kinda like being asked - or having it demanded of me - to remember the Shoah, only this time the entire country was involved in the remembrance, not just my own people. It makes a difference...I'll get to that...

It's been written about many times on this blog. I've been reading about it quite a bit in the past couple of weeks, too:

Tom Junod's The Falling Man and its follow-up, Surviving The Fall.
The scars Logan Airport workers still bear from that day.
It's incredible what lingers physically from the towers' collapse.
What most people don't realize is that, after the towers took a few hundred firefighters and police with them, a month later a plane crashed into Belle Harbor outside of JFK Airport, heaping further tragedy on a town that had already sacrificed a lot to the events of 9/11. I found this to be especially poignant.

What made me decide to leave all social media alone yesterday, however, was this:

How could I honor the loss of 2751 lives in one day of social media silence? 
Getting out my calculator, I learned the grim statistic that 2751 over 24 hours amounted to just under 2 people per minute.  By defining a “moment” as 30 seconds, it would take 22.9 hours to observe a moment of silence for each individual killed that day.  The last hour honors those that survived, yet suffered loss or trauma, and are forever haunted by the events of that day. 
2751 Moments of Silence. 
Because social media like Twitter and Facebook have given me the luxury of meeting and befriending so many new, interesting individuals, while giving me a chance to develop personally, creatively and professionally, I want those 2751 individuals to have it for a day. 
2751 individuals never had the chance to tweet, post a Facebook status update, record a Seesmic, write their blog or to decide it was all stupid and a complete waste of time.
It was a pretty good illustration of the virtual version of this.

That was mostly my day yesterday, though I was a tad stymied when I came into the religious school teachers' meeting yesterday morning and was confronted by a fear that our children - many of whom had not even been alive when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a meadow outside Shanksville, PA - would somehow stay ignorant of these events. It was as though none of us had remembered how we were taught about the Shoah. Many of the kids are too young to be taught the worst details of the Nazis' reign of terror, anyhow, or of the people trapped in the towers who decided to jump...which brings me to why the nationwide insistence on 9/11 remembrance is different from just one much smaller group of people insisting on remembering something like the Shoah.

"Never forget" has been neatly appropriated from Holocaust remembrances and used to try to keep a nation in a war that many of the people caught up in it don't even understand why we're fighting. It is being used to justify why we need to keep on the path we've been on for ten years that doesn't look like it's ending anytime soon. What lessons have we truly learned from 9/11's version of "never forget?" Is it to be kinder people, to be less enabling of the urge to go to war, to be more conscious of the hurts we still continue to put on those in our midst who don't necessarily think in the ways of those who turned those planes into missiles? I don't see much of that, unfortunately. I wish I did.

I don't fear our children having no clue of what happened on that fateful day. I fear that they won't learn that we as Americans are more, much more, than this tragedy. The best lessons of the Shoah emphasized that we as Jews are not defined by the Zyklon-B filled chambers that sent many lives that could have been into nothingness. Would that we as a nation were not defined by those planes wrested from their pilots' control ten years ago...

Thursday, September 08, 2011

There are moments in time when you realize you've been living in what has become messy, uncomfortable history, whether it has affected you to your soul or not.

I had one of those on reading Kristen Buras' "Race, Charter Schools, and Conscious Capitalism" article from the most recent issue of the Harvard Educational Review. Subtitled "On The Spatial Politics Of Whiteness As Property (And The Unconscionable Assault On Black New Orleans)," I found it to be a useful account of the advent of charter schools in New Orleans, dating from the mid-1990's, when Cecil Picard got SB 1305 passed allowing charter schools to operate on a trial basis in some Louisiana school districts, up to the present day's near-charterization of the New Orleans public schools. Amid all the analysis of perception vs. reality in how school "choice" has been faring down here (including a scathing portrait of the Cowen Institute), Buras throws in this bit of tit-for-tat that goes on whenever today's education reformers want their critics to put up or shut up:
Notably, while charter school advocates frequently refer to fraud that predated current reforms, there is much less talk about the fraudulent manner in which the schools were taken over or the ways in which their charterization enables the channeling of public monies into private hands through "legal" means.
Can't think of a better way to describe what one goes through as a critic of the current operations of the "system of schools." The in-your-face paralysis that comes upon me when someone, in a move to shut me down, asks me if I simply want things to go back to the bad old days of OPSB corruption and mismanagement when all I want is some consideration of what still isn't being done with regard to making our schools better is hurtful. Perhaps it's a reaction that comes as part and parcel of being in a city full of people looking for agency. I look at the policy ecology diagram of the New Orleans public schools embedded in Buras' article, however, and it's amazing how many cooks are jostling for position in the local public education kitchen. That's a hell of a lot of agency that could use some organization, a kitchen nightmare in major need of some Gordon Ramsay-type help. The fact that a large number of those cooks have an "oft-repeated exultation" (Buras' term) trumpeting their lack of experience in education is worrisome. The fact that critics can be dismissed as pressing agendas of their own is too cruel.

To be sure, no one's an angel here. On seeing The Lens' latest project monitoring charter schools through their boards' monthly meetings, which are subject to the state's open meetings laws, charter critic Dr. Lance Hill took aim at The Lens' news editor Jed Horne for some work he did for the Cowen Institute. What The Lens is trying to do is long overdue, and the decisions made concerning the coverage of the charter boards' meetings are being made independently of what Horne thinks (he was in attendance at the unveiling of the site devoted to the charters). But hey, it's good to know in case he decides to become another Walter Isaacson. The least we can all do is support The Lens' efforts in this area, because we can only benefit from knowing what goes on, despite the assurance that community participation is greater than ever because of the large numbers of charter school boards in operation (forget that the boards were not elected by the communities they serve).

What I do know is that these wrongs continue to be inflicted on veteran teachers, new-to-the-maligned-profession teachers, parents, and the children in the public schools here. School choice, in practice, is a sick joke designed to drive families either out of their minds, into bankruptcy to pay for quality elementary and secondary education, or out of the system of schools - and possibly out of New Orleans - entirely, and it comes down the hardest on the lower, poorer classes. This hurts all of us dearly in the long run, and yet, to paraphrase Abraham Joshua Heschel, all it takes for us to ignore possible miracles and good works is for us to put our hands in front of our eyes and see nothing. I'm damned tired of being hemmed in by the blindness of those who profess to be in charge.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

@cyganka: explaining to a friend up north: "he's an abusive husband, basically. sunny in between intermittent beatings."
Welcome to our past weekend here in New Orleans. Can't think of anything more appropriate than the tweet above as a description for what the weather was like. More than anything else, the uncertainty of what would happen in the city itself was what had us in a bizarre limbo. Flooding further south of the city and the breach of an "interim levee" at the edge of the Harvey Canal on the west bank of the river were unfortunate events further complicated by how the damages caused will be handled by insurance companies and the Army Corps of Engineers alike. It makes what I'm going to post about pithy and trifling in comparison, but fact of the matter is, a slow-moving system like the one we just had passing close by proved to us, more than anything else, that one of the greater things to fear from these storms could well be our extremely bored selves.

I own a Truisms t-shirt by the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer on which a bunch of seemingly contradictory phrases are silkscreened (I used to get into an argument over one of them with a good friend of mine every time I wore the shirt...but that's a whole 'nother story). Among the phrases is BOREDOM MAKES YOU DO CRAZY THINGS.

After one has taken in all the occasional squalls, cleared the storm drains between them, made sure the water levels didn't seep into the floor of one's car, taken the pets out despite their unwillingness to put one dainty paw on a wet sidewalk in order to relieve themselves, and marveled at the fact that the power is still on, what is there left to do but hunker down and stave off ennui as best one can? So, we cleaned house. We played computer games and board games and card games. We got more than our fill of crap teevee-watching in (and I of my own guilty pleasure through reruns online) between monitoring the meteorologist freak-outs on the local news. We cooked and baked. We read and napped. We had to make it a point to leave the house at least once a day, which usually turned out to be at breakfast. I've never seen local breakfast places so devoid of 20-30 minute waits on weekend mornings as I have this past weekend. People got shocked over the past few days, and local businesses suffered, resorting to some desperation on their part to keep customers coming. Not that I blame them. This time of year isn't normally a bad time for retail, but Lee messed with everyone's best-laid plans, including ours to venture out to the beach. Closest we got to that was the aquarium and the Algiers ferry.

Being held hostage by what the wind and the rains could do drove us more than a little nuts. Only so many goods can be baked, so many games played, so much shut-eye acquired. I know my grandparents were probably more than a little disappointed to find that this storm didn't require us to evacuate - if Lee had become a full-fledged hurricane, we'd have headed up to my parents' in Oklahoma City where, coincidentally, my grandparents happened to be visiting this past weekend. After having checked the Gulf Coast surf reports early Monday morning in a last-ditch gesture of eternal hope that was dashed on discovering the possible wave heights, I found myself wishing we'd piled into the car and gone anyhow, even if the closest body of water we'd be near would be the artificial Lake Hefner. Maybe if I were experiencing all of this by myself, things would've been different, but the cabin fever my husband was suffering was highly contagious.

My personal favorite post-storm move, though, can be seen below:

That riot of broken bamboo stalks actually came from the house that can be seen just past the palm tree, but was dragged across the street by members of that household in part as a service to people driving down the gray brick road or walking down its sidewalk. Sure, that pile is too big to be on the narrow sidewalk in front of that house - but I saw it and wondered:
  • Did the people living in the house right next to the pile give their permission for it to migrate across the street?
  • Close examination of the nicely-cut ends of the bamboo in the pile, as well as close examinations of other, much smaller debris piles in the neighborhood, red-flag this stack as a suspiciously opportunistic bit of yard work more than a casualty of storm winds. Why pay for debris-hauling when you can take advantage of a storm situation to pick it all up for you?
No, I'm not gonna whistle-blow the hell out of this one. I just could not believe the depths to which my bored mind would go to create a busybody mountain out of a pile of bamboo. I'd much rather have been schlepping up to the Catskills to assist with all their mess rather than creating messes of my own. I'd also have liked it if the weather had gone further west in order to put this out. Sure, Texas has Rick Perry, but it doesn't deserve to go up in flames.

Anyway, boredom makes you do crazy things in large part because of the partly forced idleness that is exhilarating at first, then grips your soul with an emptiness that no amount of contemplation of Elise's behavior on Hell's Kitchen or of the godawful college football uniforms teams across the nation seem to be sporting in a horrific epidemic of fashion-gone-wrong* can fully disperse. At least the aftermath of city-abuser Lee has given us a beautiful day. Enjoy it while it lasts, 'cause we aren't out of the hot-weather woods yet.

Update, 2:44 PM: To do more than just look at the pic I linked to of the wildfires affecting central Texas, head here and send help to the folks mentioned at Virgotex's link.


*Okay, so it may be yet another sign of the apocalypse, but face it, the business of sports uniforms is a fairly serious one, even if it does involve putting the state flag all about a player's head and shoulders...and it's an excuse for me to link to this.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

It's been a definite "Who by fire and who by water" situation these past few weeks.

I've had to call family and friends to ask about how they braved earthquakes and storm surges - people who live in places I'd never have thought would be experiencing such tsuris. Follow this to learn what the mainstream media seems to be pushing aside with regards to the effects of the remains of Hurricane Irene in the northeast. Upstate New York and Vermont have been hit by heavy rains and are still in need of help.

And then there's this:

Yep, that's the Crescent City Connection, barely there on this past Tuesday morning.

A good friend of mine moved here in part to escape the fumes of the wildfires that occasionally roll into greater Los Angeles and give her daughter's asthma a workout, and now here she is having to supply her little girl with the asthma medications she hasn't had to use until this week. Judging by the lines of parents outside the little guy's school nurse's office clutching inhalers for their children, my friend is not the only one in that situation, either. Thank goodness for the rain outside my window right now, even if it may screw up my husband's plans for us to head to the beach on Labor Day if it continues.

The ongoing one, though, is the fact that in these tough times, people are still going hungry. There was a food drive at Rising Tide VI this year, as there was last year, in large part because the need is still very much there. hence the addition of the Power To Fight Hunger widget to the sidebar on this blog. It leads to the site of Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, and this is their Hunger Action Month - although every month, really, ought to be Hunger Action Month. Check all the links at the site, donate some funds, canned goods, or even your time to helping feed the hungry. It isn't good for the possible future of Louisiana to be starving like this:
“One in five children in south Louisiana is food insecure and the number is growing,” said Natalie Jayroe, President and CEO of Second Harvest food Bank of Greater New Orleans. “Good nutrition is absolutely critical for children to learn and succeed in school and in life. Far too many children in Louisiana are going to bed hungry each night.” 
“Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity” provides the following data for south Louisiana, by Parish, in an interactive map format: 
o The percentage of the population who is food insecure.
o The percentage of children that is eligible for assistance from federal nutrition programs like Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), free or reduced-price school meals, and others.
o The percentage of children that is not eligible for assistance from federal nutrition programs like Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), free or reduced-price school meals, and others.
An executive summary of the report can be found at: . The study is an important tool because it provides critical information for developing strategies to alleviate child hunger.
Any assistance is of great help. Thanks in advance.