Archive for the Commentary Category
Posted by: Varg in Commentary
In marching bands, the bass drummers are usually big fellas. Not always, but often. It isn’t an absolute but it frequently works out this way. Big guys are drawn to big instruments. They bring up the back of the band like anchormen, guys who set the musical pace and thus the timing and mood of the whole damn march.
So it was notable that Uncle Lionel Batiste, a man who looked to weigh perhaps a hundred and some change, with twiggy arms and legs and a waist seemingly smaller than a supermodel’s, carried his bass drum up and down and through the streets of New Orleans and all over the world for much of his 81 year life. With sloping shoulders perhaps pulled downward by the lifelong weight of his drum, Uncle Lionel gigged all the best weddings and funerals New Orleans has seen for generations. One couldn’t help but notice him there in the midst of all the cacophony and chaos of a suitable second line. Where one may expect to find a six-foot, 250 pound musician bombastically hammering the bass drum, there was Uncle Lionel, a little old guy defying expectations with a big drum and an even bigger influence.
Kermit Ruffins, who with little argument stands as the de facto living New Orleans musician’s ambassador to the Universe said Uncle Lionel taught him “how to act, how to dress, how to feel about life.” This is grandiose. This is the Tao of Uncle Lionel and it exists not only within Kermit but in the minds of any rash soul, from here or out of town, who has succumbed to the spirits and danced in the streets of New Orleans to brass band music. The complete experience and archetype of the second line parade flowed into Uncle Lionel from his forebearers and then, with more influence and a certainly more enriched style, flowed out of him and into the rest of us. All around the world, he was the high priest of New Orleans street music’s form, mode and method.
But let’s not get too caught up in the legend because that would be disingenuous to the man on the street that he was. Often alone, Uncle Lionel would dress to the nines and make the rounds around town. It was not a strange occurrence to be caught up in some conversation or another at Harry’s Bar and reach for your drink to see Uncle Lionel had quietly placed himself in the stool next to you, or for him to be in front of you in line at Sidney’s, or walking past with a carved wooden cane while you parallel parked in Treme, or peering through a window, looking in on a Frenchmen street show. He was our personal superstar like so many New Orleans musicians are. So when one happened to encounter him in a pedestrian way, we all felt a private sort of starstruck. These were cherished moments that only happenstance can deliver to us but Uncle Lionel made possible simply by who he was.
He died this sabbath Sunday. He leaves a public life that will surpass any attempt at imitation. After 81 years in a city that does indeed give back to those who give to it, he leaves an ever-lasting legacy and a vast void far bigger than his slight and slender frame.
Posted by: Varg in Commentary
I had an editor at La Jolla Light back in 2001 who was essentially hired as a Winston Wolf-like cleaner. We had a paper that would print anything: Recycled press releases, stories not relevant to the community, editorials on whatever subject that anyone on the staff wanted to write (including interns). The paper lacked any and all vision and was all over the place editorially even though it was serving an upper class, successful, educated community in Southern California that was probably reading the New York Times and The Atlantic instead. There were nationally relevant stories found just walking out on the street and stopping people and talking to them. The Scripps Institute of Oceanography is there. UCSD is there. La Jolla Playhouse is there. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is there. La Jolla Cove is there. The Salk Institute is there, and my personal favorite, the venerable D.G. Wills bookstore is there. Gregory Peck lived there. Junior Seau lived there. Cliff Robertson lived there. Dr. Seuss. Raymond Chandler. Deepak Chopra. Rey Mysterio Jr. Interesting motherfuckers lived there. It was culturally rich and there should have been story after story covering this in the paper each week.
But instead, the paper was widely known as a rag. A place where writers and reporters could get a foot in the door, accept shit pay, get some by-lines and then move on to the alt-weekly (itself a bit of a piece of shit but more of a bloated, 800 pound, verbose turd) or start stringing for the daily or a bureau or a local magazine after a year or so. Web writing wasn’t really bringing in any money. I think $35 was what freelancers were paid and that was usually for several hours worth of work.
After doing some freelancing for a year or so, I was hired on staff by the recommendation of a friend, Buddy Seigal. Buddy told me that my new editor used to work for him and was a terrible writer. I adored Buddy for being a loud, opinionated, profound, profane teddy bear in the vein of Ashley Morris. In fact they died on the same day, two years apart. Stars that burn bright…
I knew something was fucked up at the paper but I was thrilled to be on staff at a weekly despite only having an Associates Degree in English and no J School other than Gator Tales, my high school newspaper. Actually, Gator Tales taught me a lot.
After a year or so as a staff writer, I was “promoted” (quotes because I didn’t receive a raise) to arts editor and was pretty anxious to move into a managing editor position or even executive editor should my current editor move on. Even though I tend to overestimate my ability, I wasn’t doing so here. There was almost no competition for the position at this paper. At a normal weekly, this would have been crazy. But the publisher and the editor were asleep at the wheel here (I have photos of this in the literal sense). The publisher was under the impression everything was fine and the editor was an overburdened family man who was only doing what it took to get by while having a deep interest in music trivia. So anyone showing ambition and a desire to do something extra was held in high regard.
One of the most glaring examples of how much vision the staff lacked was on the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. We were two days out from deadline. Our cover story was always laid out in the middle two pages of the paper called the “center spread.” It was already paginated and copied and ready to go. The story was about an aquarium or an exhibit or something that I don’t remember other than the large image of a stupid looking fish we had chosen for the cover image.
We had an editorial meeting about what to do that morning. My pitch was to scratch the aquarium story, send the interns out into the street to do “man on the street” interviews and get quotes with photos, have staff members call on community civic, business, science and arts leaders and get their reactions. Then run all the photos with two-sentence quotes underneath on the center spread. It wouldn’t require much work design-wise. We would have all the art from the photos. The aquarium story could run in later weeks as it was pretty much an “evergreen” anyway. We may have to stay late and go over the copy and layout but so what? It was the biggest story we would ever see and we had a decent local angle that would capture diverse reactions of sadness, shock and anger and look good historically as well.
Unfortunately, the feckless editor and publisher decided to do a summery of what occurred that day in a timeline on the first page (typically where we ran our second largest story of the week). Basically, that wasn’t anything that any reader could not have read anywhere else. The aquarium story ran and the following Thursday, La Jollans still shook from the previous Tuesday were greeted by a fish on the front page of their community paper instead of the immediate reactions of members of their community. Even as a cub, I was pretty fucking devastated at the missed opportunity.
It was the biggest disappointment in a two-year span of disappointments as I endured Bible quotes being printed as stories on Easter, clip art being substituted for article photos and, my pet peeve, bad fucking pagination and design. The cover photos were always so bad I volunteered to spend time at home coming up with graphically-rich images crafted in Photoshop to subsitute for poor photos. One is shown below but if anyone reading this is ever at my house, just ask me and I can show you the rogues gallery of these. I saved them for posterity.
But as far as the arts section was concerned, all the photos were as good as I could get them. There was a music column and a film review every week written by freelancers. There was a large calender of events and “news you can use” and a few features including a large “main story” leading the section. I tried to make my own paper within a paper as much as I could.
We paginated our own sections so I tried to make mine as dynamic as I could using the pitiful program Quark (see how that says “Revolutionizing publishing. Again”? It says that because everyone stopped using it because it got it’s ass kicked by InDesign. One undo? Really?). My office mate, the business editor, was of a different era and struggled badly with pagination and just didn’t see the necessity of aesthetics. Quark annoyed the piss out of him. He struggled so much with computers that he was constantly getting me to come over and help him with things. One afternoon he called me over saying, “My arrows have disappeared Lance! My arrows are gone!” It was his scroll bars that he had somehow closed. If I had another whole post to write I would write it about him. He was not meant for mass production. Would scratch his back with a scratcher several times a day, hadn’t had a girlfriend in a few decades because he treated women clumsily, loved sports and resembled character actor Robert Wuhl.
One day the Mafioso owner of the paper who we called “Uncle Tony” showed up, had a brief meeting in the publisher’s office and called a staff meeting at around 9:15 a.m. The current publisher announced he was resigning, it was a pleasure and goodbye. He spent perhaps 10 minutes in his office and left with a box. Uncle Tony walked out and we watched him walk over to the Jack in the Box across the street and come back with another gentleman who came upstairs and by 9:30 a.m. this second gentleman was introducing himself as our new publisher. I’m surprised Uncle Tony didn’t say, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
The new publisher was smart, young and made it clear that he was here to improve the reputation, quality and financial viability of the paper. Come to find out it was losing a shit ton of money. He made it clear though that he was there to right a rudderless ship. That was refreshing to me. I was concerned that he had a background in sales without any editorial history and wasn’t sure if I was going to be tossed on my ass for not having any experience but at $10.80 an hour, did they expect a Pulitzer candidate?
Come to find out it was my editor who got tossed on his ass after a few months. Everyone saw it coming. He was working a second job at night to support his family and was often seen sleeping at his desk. The previous publisher let it slide because they were tight but the new one was constantly waking him up and reprimanding him. Errors in the copy were getting through and when one finally showed up on the cover text it was clear a change needed to be made.
I had several conversations about ideas I had for the arts section of the paper at our meetings and I tried to show my worth and value to the paper through my section. I was loyal to my editor who gave me an opportunity right out of community college (and essentially saved me some money on state school) but I also needed to make sure the publisher knew the editorial side of the paper wasn’t a complete piece of shit.
So I was called in to the publisher’s office and thanked for doing such a good job and told that I had a future at the paper possibly as an Executive Editor but right now he needed to bring in someone with a solid, hard news background to right the course and get the paper some awards and a better reputation around town. This person was to be the cleaner.
However, they wouldn’t be able to accept the job until two weeks after my current editor left and would I mind being the interim editor for two weeks? I didn’t mind. It went well but I busted my ass to try and make some immediate changes to coincide with the short piece we ran on my current editor’s departure.
I figured out that to bring in an editor with that much more experience would require a pay raise and a pay raise would have essentially allowed my previous editor to quit his moonlighting job and concentrate on the paper more. In the end though, he just didn’t have what was needed.
My new editor what was promised. She was tough. She cursed. She had pantyhosed legs like tree trunks that she never crossed and wore skirts about two inches too short. She would argue with anyone including her new boss. If you did a bad job, you would hear about it. She knew every journalistic rule and used all the lingo. I hated sitting outside her office as she read my stories and then called me in to point out every cliche and anecdote I used throughout. She was prone to moody fits. She had several simultaneous boyfriends that she would take long lunches with. She had hundreds of rules and they were all passed on to her by previous editors and their previous editors and so on. They weren’t “her” rules they were “the” rules. And she asserted these rules early in most cases. Though she had questionably ethics outside the office, her ethics within were like a rock.
But she was very cool too. She pissed me off to no end but I never felt personally disparaged or alienated by any of it. These were critiques of my writing and my journalistic knowledge, not my personality or upbringing. We became friends.
The photographer was canned almost immediately. He never could understand the concept of the “action” shot. He was replaced by a series of interns who admittedly did a better job and some salary was freed up. See the embedded photo as an example of what he brought us when asked to photograph one of La Jolla’s most upscale restaurants.
As part of the new ethics at the paper came a broader line separating the editorial side of the paper from the advertising side. I say “side” because the office was set up almost precisely like that. One walked in the front door and there was a hoochie mamma receptionist and a board room behind her and then if you were there for advertising, you got escorted over to the left. If you were there for editorial, you were escorted to the right. It was a clear line that was essential so that staff members on one side wouldn’t be influenced by sales reps talking on the phone or vice versa.
Advertisers almost always expected some editorial in return for their ad purchase. The sales reps had the awful task of selling print advertising, a product that is abstract on its return on investment. It’s not like a Corvette that you can zoom on down the freeway and get an exhilaration from. The print ad just goes out there and sits. It takes some good ads and a few dozen issues worth of ads to begin to see results. A week or two won’t do. And ads aren’t cheap. So to sell the ads the reps at this paper were constantly telling their clients that they would talk to the editorial department about getting a story and they often crossed over into our department with press release in hand under the watchful eye of the editor. Sneaky little shit those sales reps.
You can sometimes spot a paper that is trading editorial for ad purchases because they have a story running on a restaurant and then a few pages later, an ad for that place. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the sales rep calls the restaurant to sell them the ad after they know the story is going to run. The line is often blurry.
Our approach was to afford these advertising pitches the same consideration we would any other. But the smarter reps would learn when and where we would develop holes in the copy and pitch their clients at the right time to solve a problem for us. How we chose a story at the beginning of the cycle was a lot different than how we chose one when we suddenly got two dropped quarter page ads and consequentally had a half a page to fill with editorial. If a sales rep shows up with a story about his or her client who is hot to trot and he has the art and a phone number right there in his hand then it’s hard to look the other way when deadline in a few hours away.
The publisher, having a background in sales, was willing to toe this line more often than not. The editor, having come from a daily where those two sides of the company weren’t even on the same floor of the building, was not. In these battles, my strong willed, short skirted ball buster editor usually triumphed over the young, compromising publisher.
One of the first things she put an end to was “freebies.” Local businesses were constantly offering us free tickets to shows, free food, free rooms at hotels, free everything. Plus one as well. And we took them too. This was a pretty smart move by these businesses. We would gladly take the free dinner and then go to a free show afterward and escape a $300 night with only tips and gas. The following week, if we didn’t feel obligated to do a story on the place, we often felt compelled to based on how good a time we had. I saw Lucinda Williams, Wilco, Isaac Hayes, Merle Haggard, Spinal Tap, Willie Nelson.
It didn’t take long for my new editor to get wind of this and we were called into her office and told not to accept any more offers from anyone unless the story was agreed to be written beforehand by the staff in an editorial meeting. I protested stating that we only made $10 an hour and the freebies were helping supplement our expenses. She had a meeting with the publisher and by the end of the day we had all received raises to $16/hour. That pretty much shut us the fuck up about the freebies and our released photographer.
And the paper improved. Vastly. Editorials were now pitched and written by the staff as a whole and signed as such. No story that didn’t have a direct connection to the community of La Jolla was no longer allowed. We dug in to the community. We printed no anonymous letters to the editor nor quoted anonymous sources. The AP Stylebook was on every desk. Clip art vanished. The business editor was relieved of his pagination duties and I took over (both he and I were grateful for this). A complete redesign of the paper soon followed.
We won awards. I won my only “first place” in any writing contest ever while there. I won second place so many times I have lost count. The other members of the news staff won some too and we got quite a buzz on at the San Diego Press Awards and made all the other papers take notice when we accepted one. The entire reputation of the paper was transformed very shortly.
And one of the main reasons for that was the ethics brought to the table by my editor. They changed everything. The editorial department was not beholden to advertisers or business leaders or anyone else. We weren’t bringing down presidencies, we were just doing features and news but we did them for the readers of the paper. They were who we were beholden to. They were our boss. The advertising side was beholden to their clients. We we were beholden to the readers those clients were trying to reach. We served them. If we didn’t serve them, who would read the ads? We didn’t tell them how to think, we offered things to think about. And everything we said could be traced to a source with a name used in the article. That way, we elicited the conversation among others and couldn’t be accused of operating for one side or the other.
In a short time, the reputation of that paper was transformed and it did so through ethics.
Posted by: Varg in Commentary
NOPD is reviewing arrests of 12 at Krewe of Eris parade Sunday night
Arrested at the Eris Parade
This isn’t going to be a popular opinion but, there aren’t any good guys in this. There are bad guys, more bad guys and bystanders. Some folks may be innocent, but they aren’t righteous.
Krewe of Eris
I am not quite sure where the outrage is. If the point of your Krewe is to create or celebrate chaos you must suspect there to be some response correct? So where is the outrage? Anarchists’ goal is chaos. There is no need to be all up-in-arms when you clash with the establishment. It’s the point isn’t it? So, I can’t support your outrage. There isn’t any logic to it. It seems disingenuous because covertly, it was what you wanted all along. If some bystanders get their asses kicked along the way, blame anarchy.
Whether or not every person in the crew intended it to be this way or not, the general lack of order and, yes, discord, created will always result in it. It is no feat of imagination to consider the outcome Sunday night was already written once the concept of the Krewe was conceived. When people start to really get seduced by anarchy, the tendency is to take it as far as it will go.
I understand your Krewe pined for a time when Mardi Gras was a “day of unrest when the social order was turned upside-down” but perhaps, after Katrina, it might be a time for people to be more organized so, as a group we can fix levees, educate children, so on and so forth. Levees and schools. Levees and schools. Levees and schools.
If you want to mock the social order, take your parade to Audubon Place and draw penises on their cars, because just like in any riot, the people who you are impacting the most are the ones right there in your own social strata. But hey, who can try to sort out anarchy right? What’s the point?
If you think the unruly actions were only by a few parade attendees who stood out from the pack and ruined it for the rest of you who worked hard on your floats and costumes, understand that “open to all” means Nazis, cannibalistic headhunters, the KKK, tea baggers, NAMBLA, whomever, can roll with your parade. Anarchy is truly exquisite. You organized a group based on chaos where the mere mention of rules and structure was probably taboo, so by marching with that ethos, again, it wasn’t some far reaching realm of thought to consider some would be assholes.
Krewe of Eris shouldn’t be pissed off about anything, you should be celebrating the chaos you created.
The rest of us should be the ones who are pissed. I am.
NOPD Fifth District
Were we talking about anarchy? This is the real anarchy. This is indeed the crew of discord. As in Katrina, NOPD seems to lose its mind in a crisis.
From the article by “anonymous” on Indymedia…
“Y’all fucked up,” ranted a fat officer, pacing up and down the back hall where we arrestees knelt. It was hour two of what would be over four hours kneeling cuffed side-by-side on the Fifth District’s linoleum before transfer to Sheriff’s custody. “Y’all done fucked up now. I hope I see the motherfucker who hit me. I’m gonna find him. I’m gonna see that motherfucker on the street, and I’m gonna whip the shit out of him. You DO know that. When I see that motherfucker I’m gonna fuck him up bad, and I hope he’s one of y’all’s motherfucking cousins. I should’a shot that motherucker! You heard me?”
Should have shot the motherfucker? Are kidding me? Are the people of New Orleans supposed to expect that, after Danziger, Henry Glover and everything that happened in Katrina the NOPD is still threatening to kill the people it’s supposed to be protecting? This is where we get to the real outrage. This is the stuff that really brings order to the chaos. Sorry Krewe of Eris, no anarchy today, New Orleans citizens can all agree we won’t stand for anymore goddamn violence perpetrated on us by pissed off cops.
What failures have to keep occurring for the Department to understand that threatening to shoot people (and sometimes doing so) is criminal whether it’s a cop doing it or not. How many times do the Feds have to step in?
Also, denying law-abiding citizens their first amendment rights by slapping cameras out of their hands indicts the police in my book. The camera is there to show the police were following procedure and remaining within the law in their arrests. It should provide the evidence needed to fortify their case. Slapping the camera out of someone’s makes it seems like there is something to hide.
While the city spends money on speed and red light cameras for neighborhoods, where are the cameras for squad cars?
What could there be to hide?
If medical care was denied to an arrestee as is stated in the Indymedia article, that is serious.
If officers were threatening to “trump up” charges on an arrestee, that is serious.
These are the tings NOPD has a reputation for and yet still, these are the things that are being done according to an eye witness account.
NOPD your job is not to threaten, beat, or shoot people. Your job is to help keep order. The people have so little faith in you to do so and you keep reminding us why. You think that if you have us by the balls our hearts and minds will follow but that is not how respect is doled out when we are the ones paying your salaries.
I won’t try to understand the pressures placed on an NOPD officer. They must be extraordinary. But the expectation is that if an officer is having difficulty with those pressures and that is endangering people’s lives they need to have the courage to ask for help or remove them self from service. Every officer has the power to control their own situation. The social problems in New Orleans are not driving them to violence, they are doing it them self by allowing those issues to effect their performance and staying on the force regardless.
The colloquial word is that it’s all the result of a few bad apples who are being sorted out. True or not, if some can handle the pressures and others can’t it goes to show that some are cut out for police work and others aren’t. I am sure a weak officer finds his way out of the force soon enough. Pissed off cops should too.
The people of New Orleans will not be beaten. We will not be shot. We will not be framed.
The NOPD Fifth District, like the Krewe of Eris tried to do, creates the real chaos and anarchy.
This entire post is just supplemental commentary to this post over at the Yeller…
There was a commercial a little while back that stated the Saints gave the entire city of New Orleans hope. I’d like to go ahead and clarify that statement as it relates to this one guy…
Ways in which the Saints gave me hope:
I hoped they would no longer be associated with mediocrity.
I hoped they would have a winning season.
I hoped they would make the playoffs.
I hoped they would have home field advantage in the playoffs (for them and because it would bring a lot of tourists and media to the city who may frequent local businesses)
I hoped they would go to the Super Bowl.
I hoped there would be many hours of revelry and camaraderie after their victory.
I hoped for many get-togethers to watch games.
I hoped for the long and healthy careers of the players, coaches and staff.
I hoped for many great highlights to watch on Sunday nights.
I hoped the Super Bowl victory would get the Hyatt by the Superdome redeveloped finally.
I hoped more players would take leadership roles in the community through charitable organizations.
I hoped people who worked at or near the Dome would be very busy and make lots of money and maybe even get raises.
Ways in which the Saints do not give me hope:
The Saints can’t lower my health insurance premiums.
The Saints can’t build levees.
The Siants can’t build schools.
The Saints can’t build hospitals.
The Saints can’t build libraries.
The Saints can’t lower the rents.
Pants says so much here…
American football fans spent 40 years not paying very much attention to the way New Orleans had woven its underperforming football team into its highly ritualized civic and spiritual calendar. New Orleans has a way of elevating or infusing joy into things that other cities may find embarrassing or, worse, take for granted. People think this is a lazy or backward or half-assed place but one thing New Orleans does not do half-assed is love. And New Orleans always loved its football team. For a while last year, people outside of New Orleans were forced to pay some attention to that. And many of those people, as is often the case, just didn’t get it.
Was the Saints Super Bowl victory cathartic? Certainly. But it wasn’t exactly a catharsis for Katrina. First and foremost, it was a catharsis to the many many years of (in good years) mediocrity and (in worse years) ineptitude. We are talking about touchdown play with four laterals and no time left to stay in the playoff hunt negated by a missed extra point. We are talking about never winning a playoff game in the twentieth century. We are talking about a quarterback with his helmet turned backwards stumbling around the field thinking he was blinded by a hit. This franchise broke down Mike Ditka and immortalized Jim Mora Sr. as man with no illusions about the performance of his team.
But I will admit it was a bit more than that. It also a catharsis to the struggles many of us face just living in New Orleans and witnessing the poverty, violence and victimization that exists here. And honestly, those things are what the flood was about in case anyone missed it while uttering, “they deserve it for living there.”
And the Super Bowl celebration was only marginally different than what I experience on most Fat Tuesdays. We are some cathartic motherfuckers. The Super Bowl celebration attached itself to us. We didn’t attach ourselves to it. There is some sort of catharsis on many Saturday and Sunday nights for me honestly.
Jonathon Vilma, Drew Brees, Sean Payton and the other Saints are being amazing community leaders. They are a great group of guys and I thank them for it. But there are many moms and dads out there doing the same.
Back to Pants…
We do what we do. Other people do what they do. Unfortunately what happens often when people who don’t get something are asked to explain that which they do not get is they make something up that they can get. The thing that made the most sense to national media covering the Saints in 2009 was the Katrina meme.
Yes! At the paper we used to call that the “hook to hang it on.” The flood is a good way for America to sum up New Orleans. The story is already there so the journalist has less work to do. The complexities are dismissed. And that’s why Steven Godfrey ended up looking like a jackass. That’s why many people who live in other cities and comment on New Orleans seem like jackasses. They are in such a hurry to assert themselves they ignore the details.
I am actually surprised Godfrey fell for it. I’m thinking if one is in the business of writing commentaries, there should be more critical thought. Everything should be considered. He apparently was critiquing the Saints fanbase for milking Katrina when that really wasn’t a huge part of it. But it’s too complicated (even though it isn’t) for short attention spans.
I never got to read the entirety of his article but if it was taken down by the publisher then he must have failed in his task as a writer somehow. It seems as though he was attempting to justify hating our city because we use Katrina as a way to elevate ourselves. It is amazing that he never considered that his own colleagues perhaps were the ones orchestrating the entire thing. He fucking FELL for it!
I guess when the Lions finally win a Super Bowl they will hang it on the collapse of the auto industry hook rather than the fact the team has been losing for many seasons now and has never made it to the Super Bowl. The Detroit fans need something to rally around and it will be football that gives them hope. Sounds like bullshit doesn’t it? I suppose John Lennon could have wrote that we are doped on religion and sex and football. Only many of us know where football ends and life begins.
I love the Saints. I watch every game. I listen the radio. I holler at my friends about them. I have much love for the defense. I watch replays a little too much. The teams gives me a certain amount of hope. But that hope remains in the realm of football and football related activities. My finances, my health, my marriage, my community – those things remain the same regardless.
And Katrina? I’m not sure if the national media knows this or not but sometimes, I actually go a whole day without even mentioning it. Without even thinking about it. But very rarely do I go a day without showing at least some sort of quiet love for New Orleans.
Posted by: Varg in Commentary
Serpas takes hard stance against lying in plan for NOPD
A question I wanted to ask Chief Serpas on Saturday at Rising Tide was in reference to his “You Lie, You Die” policy toward the department. Just wondering if the end result will be more firings or less lying?
I think it depends a lot on Serpas’ level of respect within the department and how swiftly the rule is enforced when the first few instances come up. Will it be zero tolerance? How will mistakes be separated from lies? If an officer mistakenly writes “Opelousas and Verret” whn it was really “Opelousas and Vallette” will it result in him being shitcanned? Or will it be done on a case-by-case basis perhaps resulting in popular, well-liked members of the department will get special treatment?
It also depends on how brazen the corruption is within the department. As we have begun to see from the reports following Katrina, it is systemic and widespread. Saying nothing of the
Unfortunately, the public demands measures like these. They spell things out for them in terms they can easily understand. Even I have to admit if Serpas said, “We will be examining reports with greater scrutiny and lying on a report could be cause for termination,” doesn’t sound as cool as “You lie, you die.”
Another problem with enforcement of such a rule is it is reactive rather than proactive. It puts brass a few steps back from where the corruption is. The Corruption has to occur before it is detected. Another question for Serpas is, “What is being done to prevent lying on reports in the first place?”
It’s as if rules within the department are mimicking rules of society, we are becoming obsessed with laws, enforcement and punishment. Root causes like education and poverty are just tossed aside and thought of as novelties that we could have taken care of years ago but the problem is so bad now we need to lock them all up. It’s “a war.”
Also, let’s look at why a cop may falsify a report? Perhaps as a means of covering up some offense committed on the job which he or she may face termination for in the first place? It’s like falsifying a resume: If they call to check, you don’t get the job. If you don’t lie about your experience, you don’t get the job. Or perhaps when Nagin deleted his e-mails. What’s more damning, deleting the e-mails or someone finding what is in them? Wouldn’t a crooked cop be better off being fired for lying on a report than say, kicking the crap out of someone or sprinkling some crack on a kid?
Then there is the matter of experience and attrition. Serpas has said there will be emphasis on recruit training with help from the State Police. Excellent. Inexperienced police are easily overwhelmed, make mistakes, create “misdemeanor murders.” If, “You Lie, You Die” does create a glut of firings and as a result, new recruits, consideration to the training and experience of these new officers should be a priority. This story from a few years ago leaps to mind. Then I remembered this one too.
This all sounds like an indictment of “You Lie, You Die” but it isn’t. Nobody wants crooked cops falsifying reports. It’s unfortunate I have to clarify that but it seems a typical response would be, “You must want crooked cops on the force!” That’s not it. I just want to examine the effectiveness of the new rule and I hope it’s not going to be the cornerstone of the department’s restoration. It seems like it could be a good tool if used effectively but the potential for abuse could make it a tool for corruption it is trying to bust up.
Posted by: Varg in Commentary
After witnessing the effects of hurricanes over the years of living on the Gulf Coast, one of the most amazing things about them is the chaos they create, and what comes out of it. You take a group of variables and apply the same stimulus to them, after a period of time, patterns form. You suddenly alter that stimulus and … chaos. But after the chaos, new patterns begin to form.
It’s like that well-known Butterfly Effect theory: If a butterfly’s wings can unleash a hurricane, how many butterfly wings can a hurricane unleash? Dubious I know, but the point is while hurricanes are known destroyers of lives and livelihoods, they are also inspiring. They change routines. They expose. They bring weakness and prejudice to the surface. They show the mettle of high-powered men. They punish the weak.
Hurricanes are nature, God, The Universe, whatever you consider the higher power to be. A brash man who meticulously mows his lawn every week and arranges shrubbery and large stones to different positions on his parcel may think he has subdued the land. A hurricane tames his arrogance.
The Hurricane doesn’t have a plan, it has no intent. It is our charge to apply meaning to it. It’s the discussion of science vs. art. We are tasked with telling the stories, writing the words, singing the songs and painting the pictures of what happened.
Five years ago, a hurricane with a huge storm surge pushed seawater into a lake created by a meandering river and into canals that had poorly built floodwalls and caused a flood that not only killed many people but also destroyed photo albums, business forms, heirlooms, pieces of history. It also pushed sea water over levees that were too short and down a navigational canal where it lifted a barge and pushed it into a neighborhood.
I still can’t imagine it. A scared Ninth Ward resident with water flowing through their home, hears a louder, more bound and relentless sound and looks out their window to see a barge coming at them. And then that’s it. What chance did they have?
The chaos of a storm is unyielding. It can throw a barge into a neighborhood and also takes the time to obliterate the matchbook a man wrote his future wife’s phone number on 30 years before.
Today is a day of remembrance and those neighbors we lost will be honored. The voids they are leaving are a chaos all their own. Along with the “other victims,” those unclassifiable friends we lost from cancers, heart attacks, drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide in the years following.
I’m just one person and not some symbol of New Orleans but I have seen improvements in my life since the Flood. I am earning more income, have a better quality of life and live by many of my own terms. I have been married. I have finished working on my home and added value to it. I have developed and continue to develop a circle of friends and social contacts – these are New Orleans artists, builders, mothers, business people. I have a deeper empathy, sympathy for my neighbors. So, for me, things have recovered. We’ll see.
That’s not saying much though. When the storm hit, I was recently laid off, had a solid but dumpy house. Was engaged to my wife but had no reasonable plan to get married. I was also uninspired, blogless, artless and very much wanting…of anything.
The flood happened and everything just changed, strangely for the better.
But I know it’s different for my neighbors. My wife and I took a day trip through Saint Bernard Parish recently and it hasn’t recovered. I spoke with a friend who lives in Lakeview and it hasn’t recovered. I have a few clients down in Plaquemines and it’s still recovering. Brad Pitt has built some innovative housing in the Lower 9 but it hasn’t recovered.
Some may say that with Ray Nagin out of office and Mitch Landrieu in, that city government has recovered but with the millions and millions in budget shortfall, I couldn’t agree. City government hasn’t recovered. Of course, the disaster of our broke city (like the Flood) was man made. Just not the same men.
The Criminal justice system, with the departures of Eddie Jordan and Warren Riley has begun its recovery in the courts. But with a dozen or so indictments within the NOPD, they haven’t recovered.
Flood protection is improving but not there yet. It’s recovered but we need it greatly improved.
But there is a greater realization and importance now in our own salvation. More people care. Whether they are a dejected local who thought things were never going to change or an outsider who has since come here to help.
But where will it all lead?
It’s like the Taoist fable…
An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“We’ll see,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“We’ll see,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“We’ll see,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“We’ll see” said the farmer.
Posted by: Varg in Commentary
“I apologize for this groggy review. I drank some moonshine and ate fresh pork last night. The editor said it was good to go though.” – V
I finished Ethan Brown’s “Shake The Devil” Off” last week like I finish most books – 100 pages straight through to the end. I get so anxious about what is going to happen and so, well, in the habit of reading by that point I always just stay up and finish it in a flurry or set aside an entire Sunday afternoon for a relaxing finish. Unfortunately for me, In Brown’s book, those are the most gut-wrenching and haunting parts of the story, the parts where Brown recounts the lives of New Orleans’ residents and the close friends and family of Zack Bowen and Addie Hall after the flood and gruesome murder / suicide.
Ultimately but not entirely, what I gathered at least, the book was about trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder specifically. In the first part, Brown puts together the pieces of Zack Bowen’s trauma. It’s easy for the reader to distance his or herself from him in the way that we all attempt to distance ourselves from horrible stories in the media, even the local media. We say, “That’s not my neighborhood” or “What were they doing out at that time of night?” or other sorts of defense mechanism based philosophies. Folks say them as a futile means of eliminating the possibilities that such horror could be visited upon them. So with the Bowen / Hall situation one could make a comment about “crazy kids in the Quarter” and then read the book or the numerous articles about them in a removed state.
But Brown doesn’t let the reader (at least the local ones) get away with that. By the book’s end, Brown parallels Bowen’s mental breakdown with that of the entire city after the flood. In doing so, he draws right into the anguish of Zack Bowen.
As I read I began to think about the people who I know who, like Zack and Addie, stayed during the storm and how their lives were effected. There were two guys who stayed on our block. They looked over the houses and ran people out of our back yards and essentially watched over the place (we are several blocks away from where the supposed “Algiers Militia” went on their rampage). About a year after the storm one of them, a healthy, gregarious man, dropped dead at his gym. The other, his partner, has now retreated into the house and can only be heard screaming and chasing his pets.
Instead of an isolated act of horror, Bowen’s murder of Addie Hall was a sentinel of the downward spiral New Orleans’ faced after the levees broke and chaos ensued. It made a great story but it needed more examination that the “New Orleans man kills, dismembers, cooks girlfriend” headlines and the following stories gave us. To Brown, Dinnerral Shavers, Helen Hill, Robin Malta and the hundreds of others are all the same story, a story of trauma.
Brown also adeptly avoids any sensationalism in his treatment of Bowen and Hall. In many magazine articles today, we see a lot of Gay Talese-style decoration of events and situations that, honestly could not be correctly confirmed or denied. Brown essentially sticks to the facts. It’s appreciated. He pays respect to his reader by allowing them to think critically about his discoveries.
He also seems to have been closer to his subjects than a typical writer might have been. His decision to move to New Orleans after the storm and his worry in regard to his wife’s safety thereafter suggest that he endured at least a slight mental health crisis of his own as crime crept closer to his doorstep after moving here (I’ve been there). It doesn’t interfere with the story but is palpable.
To his credit, anyone with empathy would have a difficult time interviewing and developing any sort of relationship with Bowen’s friends and family after being so close to the case. Brown actually has perhaps more insight into the incident than any one person involved as a result of his having spoke in depth to many different people deeply involved.
I interviewed and became friends with Mike Sager, an Esquire writer a few years ago. He had all the real twisted assignments – John Holmes, Rick James, Gary Condit, Veronica Guerin, if there was a sensationalist crime involved, Sager got the gig. He told me that over the years, his involvement in the cases began to effect him. “I started to feel like a sin eater,” he said in reference to an act in Scottish history where a man would take up the sins of the dead through consumption of food and drink at the deceased person’s doorstep.
I know I’ve been walking around with the Ghosts of Addie and Zack on my back for a week even after just reading the book. Working and reveling in the exact streets where Zack and Addie’s drama unfolded, where their atoms likely remained. I too needed to shake the devil off.
Psssst. Have you heard? We’re doomed. America. It’s finished. The books are written. The articles are scripted. It’s everywhere. Liberals and conservatives agree. The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
But it isn’t.
This isn’t your grandfather’s America. That notion of it being the “greatest country in the world” isn’t so illustrious as it once was. It’s not that the country has lost status, it simply never deserved such status in the first place (no country does). Though, as countries go, this one is damn fine. Unfortunately, nobody realizes it. Everyone is too busy complaining about how its going down the tubes.
We get it. The country is not as great as it once was. But wait, hasn’t it always had challenges? People have always been broke. Government has always been corrupt. Folks have always been dumb. Perhaps instead of these problems producing a snowball effect it is simply a clearer awareness and realization of those problems?
Or perhaps it isn’t America that is falling apart as the rest of the world simply catching up? Is it really so bad? I have a car, a computer, an air conditioner (praise the lord) and a house. Yet if current newscasts or recently written books are to be believed, I am the equivalent of a Roman on the brink of his civilization’s decline – morally, spiritually and financially destitute.
Americans have always had a fascination with entropy, notice the blockbuster films of Jerry Bruckheimer and his ilk over the last decade that showed prestigious U.S. landmark’s being pulverized by meteors or aliens. One might think that after Sept. 11 these would cease but they still pop up every now and again. Conjuring up notions about the fall of America isn’t simply hypochondriac drama, it can also be quite dangerous because it deteriorates hope and fortitude, two essential building blocks of a great nation. That’s a huge difference between the Baby Boomers and the next generation. Somewhere along the way, there was a loss of hope. It could be Nixon’s fault. It could be Bush’s fault. It could be the media’s fault. It could be education’s fault. It could be because of JFK’s assassination It could be because of Sept. 11. It could be because of Viet Nam. It could be because of Iraq.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the notion really gathered moss. Certainly every generation before us has looked at the generation after and thought all was lost. But there is something adrenalized about this latest round. Perhaps it is because the country is heading into a recession. And not having money to waste always gets Americans in a tizzy. Maybe for too many years we rated our own success on how far ahead we were than the rest of the world. Like the man in the recent New Yorker cartoon who sat smugly in an empty section of first class and said, “First class is best when my friends have to ride coach.” With globalization and its effect on poorer countries (specifically, China), that cartoon takes on a worldly meaning.
There are other events that may have left us jaded: Bill Clinton lied to the American People and was impeached, health care began its descent, cable news began exploiting everything to fill a 24-hour news cycle, Election 2000 was a debacle, Katrina …it goes on. These are hard times to be sure. But they aren’t America’s end of days.
We are strong.
At some point though, it became passe to love your country. There has long been a self-loathing current running through American’s minds in the modern era but, with George Bush as its figurehead in recent years, hating America was just too easy. Think about it. Poor blacks hate America because they are broke and kept down. White racists hate America because the poor blacks get stuff for free (and the Latinos are taking over), rich folks hate it because they pay too many taxes. Liberals hate it because the corporations run everything. Conservatives hate it because there are too many minorities and gays. For many people, there is certainly a lot to hate. Unfortunately, not enough people realize they can’t change anything but themselves. They don’t know it starts with them. Rather, people will run around like Chicken Little and scream about the falling heavens rather than look within themselves. It must be ego. It’s always someone else’s fault.
Of course, no comment about the fall of America would be complete without mentioning what seems to be the real problem – an utterly absurd political system that is so eaten with the termites of greed and deception that everyone assumes a Napoleonic code when it comes to judging them. They are all assumed to be crooked and have hidden agendas (or at least suspected of them). This isn’t just South Louisiana either.** It happens in every city, county state and federal government all the way up the President George himself.
Thing is, the politicians are our fault as well. We have gotten to the point where we have learned helplessness. Nobody expects anything but lawlessness from them. No one is demanding faster impeachments, quicker recalls and loud, forceful calls for resignations. At some point between the Clinton and Bush administrations, the shame of a political blunder became shrouded (by downplaying the wrongdoing in Clinton’s case, by spinning it in Bush’s). The politicians aren’t vulnerable. Not enough anyway. They might wrangle among themselves but when it comes between them and the people, the partisanship will be amazing. Is 14 months in Federal prison really such a punishment if there are eight people whom you made rich waiting to offer you a private sector job at its conclusion? That’s shorter than college.
The reason politics is relevant to American entropy is because many times this nation’s psyche is reflected in its president – the turbulent ’60s fallowing Kennedy’s assassination, the materialism and bland pop culture of ’80s via Reagan and the paranoid distrust of the new millennium’s Bush White House.
Now the nation faces an election between an inspiring junior senator candidate running on hope and a four-term conservative senator from Arizona. Logic would suggest, in light of America’s perceived state of decay, the choice would be obvious. But what if it’s all just Chicken Little? The more our current state is perceived to be falling apart, the greater the likelihood of someone voting for the “change” candidate.
Now I have seen a lot of press friendly to Barack Obama. There is probably not a single edition of Rolling Stone printed in the last year that doesn’t glowingly mention him within the first few pages. He is currently running an advertisement on CNN.com. Most media loves him. Any article, book or notion that America is going the way of the Roman Empire only behooves his campaign.
Unfortunately for the point I was trying to make, he really is the better candidate. So far. But four years is a long time (eight years is even longer) so if he begins to change horses mid stream we will all be along for the ride. And after the last eight years with George Bush, we know how bumpy the ride can get.
Until then, it should be at least understood that the sky isn’t falling. Yes, its cloudy but that’s it. High gas prices won’t kill us. They might makes us smarter though.
Skyscrapers in Dubai or China compared to (as our mayor said) “a hole in the ground” in New York aren’t symbols of anything grandiose one way or the other. It isn’t (and I don’t want to overuse this phrase) a zero sum game. Wealth can be distributed. Our situation doesn’t need “have nots.” It doesn’t make me unpatriotic that I revel in the rise of other nations. It’s unpatriotic to herald the fall of our own and blame our own countrymen for it. To sit your ass in an easy chair complaining about the evening news and hating your neighbor.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for pointing out the errors and missteps in our culture. I’m saying, yes, we get the point. America isn’t realizing its potential. It’s a torn and divided country. I just wonder how much good the incessant bitching is doing. Folks seem content to sit in their Barcaloungers and complain as their form of protest. We understand the malcontent. The stage is set. The drama is: What are we going to do about it?
* This post was partially inspired by this Dan Carlin Podcast (MP3). Especially what he says around the 11 minute mark.
** The reason Louisiana gets so much attention is because folks like to point their fingers and say “that’s where it’s really screwed up.” This helps them swallow the pill that convinces them their politicians are on the up-and-up.
Posted by: Varg in Commentary
I’m always elated when someone links to my blog because it is an indicator that what I wrote must mean SOMEthing. See, bloggers, like to feel as though what they toss out there is of some importance, even if it is simply an ingredient that coalesces into a larger opinion over several posts on different blogs, or even a spirited discourse among them. The point is communication, “words, words, words” as Hamlet said. Get it all out there.
Every moment the world gets more complicated (especially around these parts) and if one seeks to understand, it helps to read up. Media has grown. It’s not just print, radio, TV and documentaries anymore. Now it’s the Internet, forums and, yes, blogs.
It all works together. The more voices out there, the more likely truth will emerge. Not always the clear-cut truth but sometimes a globular shape of it. That’s what both the real journalists and us novices are all after isn’t it? That ancient romanticized search for truth?
Well, it seems two New Orleans publications have rules written into their terms of service pages that require every day folk like you and me to request permission before linking to their sites, something that seems a bit counter intuitive to everything I have ever learned about Internet marketing. I have always heard that it’s best to get your links out there, everywhere, the more the better, be RELEVANT. Even search engines use this as part of their crawler software.
What is amazing to me is that some publications (don’t want links? Fine! I won’t even mention ya!) have these policies. Especially considering that links keep this whole thing running. Back in the day before search engines, it was the ONLY thing keeping it running. The only reason I have posts, comments and readers of this blog is through links. And I am damn pleased and grateful for every last one that I receive! Thanks everybody!
Back when I was a real journalist (the paid kind, not this gratis job), I would put my heart and soul into features that never so much received a word back from the readership. Whenever I received a letter, I was again elated. It showed the information was relevant. One time on this blog I was linked by the New York Times, I could have shut the whole thing down right then and been satisfied. Even though they never asked permission. I wonder if I could sue them? I’ll call my lawyer. That’s some MONEY there!
I urge these publications to rethink their linking policies or else actively seek writers and bloggers in which to send e-mails granting permission to link in HOPES that they will receive feedback from a broader segment of the community on their journalism, like the politician is slave to the electorate, the publication is slave to its readers (the folks that read the ads and click those ad links)
Anyone who uses the media must realize no publication, newscast or blog is an island. Unless we are in Nazi Germany of course. We call that Godwin’s Law here on the Internet y’all. That’s right! The linking policy is unAmerican!
Truth and relevance are an impressionist painting. Pull back and you will see the big picture, but please don’t erase crucial posts, er, parts.
Posted by: Varg in Commentary
It’s been a week since Eddie Jordan resigned and I still think to myself that perhaps we made a slight difference. There is a saying that speaks of accepting things we cannot change and changing the things we can. You can spend a few hours on any New Orleans street corner and see some things you cannot change and some other things you can. I know that those who openly protested Jordan had a minuscule role in his resignation. Probably even tinier then one teen-age armed robbery suspect. But it still felt like something that we could change. And we did.
Now if only Jordan’s frequent political crony William Jefferson would assist the region in its consistent battle against corruption by doing the same. One may think that a Congressman fighting an indictment may do right by his or her constituents and step down to address the charges without distraction. That way, the still-recovering area could have its needs addressed full time. Jefferson’s decision to stay on speaks volumes to his character, even if the charges are false.
And if Jefferson eventually goes down, perhaps the rumored Federal investigation of Mayor Nagin might kick in to high gear. It was these three men who I have always thought were the largest threats to the recovery of the city. Their arrogance and willingness to deceive entire groups of people in the name of leadership is offensive. With their removals from office, perhaps forward motion might finally be achieved and the city could rid itself of the corruption that has plagued it for decades and forward motion might finally be achieved.
Or actually, perhaps not.
What might occur instead is that they would be replaced with equally corrupt and conniving men or women who, seizing on the attrition of the Jefferson group’s wanning influence, will put on their Beowulf costumes and lead us to a new era of crookedness. Then a few years will go by and they will be the ones terrorizing the mead halls.
Like sharks’ teeth, crooked politicians are easily replaced.
So long as the voters of New Orleans play the role of the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs, the politicians will continue to manipulate them into doing their bidding. It’s not the the politicians fault really, it’s their enabling electorate.
Pampy Barre and Oliver Thomas can give up as many Una Andersons and Cynthia Willard-Lewises as they please. The future of the city comes in electing able-minded, straight-and-narrow leaders to replace them. With the recent At-Large election as an example, I’m not sure there are any out there who have the competence and willingness to do it. There were those who had the will but not the skill. there were some who had the skill but not the will.
What did Yeats write?
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand.