Fat Tuesday Reads

Revelers toss confetti at float of Momus, patron god of Mardi Gras, in New Orleans in 1960.

Revelers toss confetti at float of Momus, patron god of Mardi Gras, in New Orleans in 1960.

Good Morning!!

Today is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in French, the last day to celebrate before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday fall on different days every year, depending on the date of Easter Sunday. It begins 46 days before Easter (Sundays aren’t counted). Lent in the Catholic Church was meant to be symbolic of the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent fasting in the desert while enduring temptations from the Devil. Traditionally Christians gave up meat during lent and spent time in prayer and meditation. As kids, we gave up candy or chose some activity to perform during the Lenten season.

So how is the date of Easter determined each year? You guessed it, it depends on the date of the Vernal Equinox–one more example of how Christians absorbed Pagan holidays into their calendar. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is the culmination of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, beginning on The Epiphany, January 6–the day of the supposed arrival of Three Kings (or Wise Men) bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh for the newborn child. This year Easter falls on April 5.

From IB Times:

The time between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is commonly referred to as Carnival, during which parades take place in Catholic strongholds like Brazil, Venice, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and New Orleans.

Like many Catholic holidays, Mardi Gras bears resemblances to ancient pagan rituals, particularly Saturnalia and Lupercalia. The former honored the god Saturn, an agricultural deity, and was marked by gift-giving, revelry and gambling. The latter was conducted in mid-February to honor Faunus, the god of fertility, which involved feasting, drinking and debauched behavior.

When Rome was Christianized, the Catholic Church adapted popular pagan holidays into the new faith. Mardi Gras season became a time to celebrate before the 40 days of Lent marked by prayer, repentance and atonement. As Christianity spread throughout Europe and the New World, so did Mardi Gras traditions. The pre-Lenten festivals continue to be marked by drinking, dancing and feasting on fatty foods containing meat, eggs, milk and cheese – ingredients that are restricted during Lent.

Shrove Tuesday falls on the same day as Fat Tuesday. It is the day before Ash Wednesday when Christians are reminded they will soon enter a season of penance. “Shrove” comes from the word “shrive,” which means to confess. In the Middle Ages, Catholics began marking Shrove Tuesday as a time to confess their sins before Lent.

Rasberry pakzi

Rasberry pakzi

In places where many Polish immigrants settled in the U.S. Fat Tuesday is celebrated as “Pakzi Day.” From Michigan Live, Fat Tuesday means paczki: One generation prepares the next for the biggest day of the year at Davison Home Bakery.

DAVISON, MI — Lydia Herron is a bit nervous. And excited.

After about five months of working at Davison Home Bakery, she’s preparing for the biggest day of the year: Fat Tuesday.

“They tell me it’s going to be pretty insane,” she said, standing in the bakery the morning of Monday, Feb. 16, wearing a white baker’s apron.

Fat Tuesday is the day before the Christian tradition of Lent, when practitioners give up something for 40 days and 40 nights. Sweets are a common thing to give up, and for many, Fat Tuesday is one last chance to splurge. And the favorite way to splurge on Fat Tuesday?

Paczki.

Paczki are like doughnuts, if you’re the kind of person who thinks there just aren’t enough calories in cream- or jelly-filled doughnuts as it is.

Diane Henson, a baker at Davison Home Bakery, has been making paczki since 1972. The morning of Feb. 16, she and baker Mitch French had already made 200 dozen, having been there since 9 p.m. the night before. They plan on having 600 dozen baked by the time Fat Tuesday rolls around.

She said to make paczki,they use their doughnut batter but add more sugar, butter, and eggs.

Of course the biggest celebration of Mardi Gras is in New Orleans. Here’s a schedule of activities for today that includes links to watch video of the parade. I’m sure Dakinikat can also fill us in on what’s happening down there.

Time Magazine has an interesting article about how Mardi Gras was liberated from being a celebration only for the rich and influential people in New Orleans.

A float in the Krewe of Proteus passes down Napoleon Avenue during their Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015.

A float in the Krewe of Proteus passes down Napoleon Avenue during their Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015.

These days, Mardi Gras in New Orleans — which falls on Feb. 17 this year — is a party for all. But, not that long ago, Mardi Gras celebrations were more exclusive affairs.

As TIME reported in the Feb. 9, 1948, issue, balls and “krewes” were for the city’s elites only, and that situation lasted for decades after the first Mardi Gras parade was held in the 1850s. In the 20th century, however, the celebration expanded:

For half a century, New Orleans’ fantastic Mardi Gras balls were strictly for the upper crust. Nobody without money, blue blood, or both gained membership in the secret men’s clubs or “krewes” which staged them. Before 1900 there were only five clubs: Comus, Momus, Twelfth Night, Rex and Proteus. They culled guest lists with pernickety care, asked only the fairest of debutantes to serve as carnival queens. But times changed. The socially ambitious began forming their own krewes.

In 1928 New Orleans had 16 Mardi Gras balls. In 1946 there were 36. This year, a record-breaking total of 49 are being held. Last week, with Carnival Day (Shrove Tuesday) fast approaching, New Orleans’ social whirl had assumed the proportions of a maelstrom.

By the 1940s, there were krewe options galore. “Italian krewes, Irish krewes, German krewes… krewes for college men, businessmen, professional men,” TIME wrote. “To the horror of New Orleans’ old guard, there are even krewes for women.”

But that didn’t mean Mardi Gras was an all-inclusive celebration. The krewes may have multiplied, but they were still separated along racial and gender lines.

As recently as 1991, the relative exclusivity of the Mardi Gras krewes was a source of controversy in New Orleans. That December, the city council voted to require the krewes to integrate by 1994, or else lose the right to hold parades. (The krewes are private clubs, but the city controls the streets.)

Read more history at the link. The photo at the top of this post is from Time in 1960.

In winter weather news . . .

The latest winter storm hit the South hard yesterday. NBC News reportsIce Storm Coats South from Oklahoma to Carolinas, Heads to Northeast.

A band of snow and ice sliced across the South on Monday from Oklahoma to the Carolinas, cutting off power for more than a quarter of a million customers and threatening to paralyze major cities on its way to the Northeast.

For once, Boston wasn’t the center of the winter weather. Instead, New England-like snow fell on parts of Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia: 17 inches near Coleman, Kentucky; 15 inches in Logan, West Virginia; 14½ inches near Oceana, West Virginia; and 12 inches in Dickenson County, Virginia.

 At 3:45 a.m. ET, The Weather Channel reported that 26 million Americans were under winter storm warnings — with three million in Tennessee and South Carolina under an ice storm warning.

Ice coated power lines in Georgia where 174,000 customers were without power early Tuesday.

I sure hope JJ, RalphB, and Mouse are doing OK. Beata too–my sister reports that southern Indiana has been hit hard for the past couple of days.

At least 55,000 customers were without power in Tennessee, the state Emergency Management Agency said late Monday. It also declared a state of emergency late Monday.

Trees and power lines came down in Arkansas, where Entergy Corp. said about 17,000 customers were without power, and in Mississippi, where the state Emergency Operations Center said 10,000 customers were in the dark.

Power failures were affecting nearly 62,000 early Tuesday in South Carolina and an additional 19,000 in North Carolina.

The hardest hit areas, according to NBC today:

About 22 million people across parts of the South and the Mid-Atlantic are under winter storm warnings as a band of ice and snow continues its assault. More than 330,000 people across 13 states and Washington, D.C., are without power, according to The Weather Channel. Parts of Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia got the brunt of the snow Monday, including more than a foot in several areas. Now, as the system starts to pull away, forecasters say D.C. could see about 8 inches of snow, New York could get 3 inches and parts of New Jersey, 7 inches.

Take care, Janicen, Delphyne and Joanelle. For once, it wasn’t Boston in the eye of the storm. A man came to my door last night and offered to shovel my car out and clear off my sidewalk for $40, and I took him up on it. I don’t know if I can actually get out. He didn’t shovel down to the pavement, but at least I don’t have to deal with that wall the plows left at the end of my driveway. I’ll go out and look at it later on.

More news links

Judge Andrew S. Hanen

Judge Andrew S. Hanen

NYT, Obama Immigration Policy Halted by Federal Judge in Texas.  Sigh . . .

The White House responded with a statement explaining why the policy is constitutional.

The Supreme Court and Congress have made clear that the federal government can set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws—which is exactly what the President did when he announced commonsense policies to help fix our broken immigration system. Those policies are consistent with the laws passed by Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court, as well as five decades of precedent by presidents of both parties who have used their authority to set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws.

The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts, and the district court in Washington, D.C. have determined that the President’s actions are well within his legal authority. Top law enforcement officials, along with state and local leaders across the country, have emphasized that these policies will also benefit the economy and help keep communities safe. The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision.

IB Times, via Raw Story, Who is the Texas judge obstructing Obama’s immigration plan?

CNN, Poll: Most disapprove of Obama handling of ISIS.

Frankly, I doubt that “most” Americans have the slightest idea of what is going on with “ISIS” or a clue about how Obama his “handling” the “threat.”

Karoli at Crooks and Liars, The Islamophobia Fear Factory And The Billionaires Who Pay For It.

NBC News, The Chapel Hill shooter, Craig Hicks, has been indicted for murder.

Outspoken atheists Penn Gillette, Neill Degrasse Tyson,  Bill Maher,  Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins,    Ricky Gervais, Aayan Hirsi Ali

Outspoken atheists Penn Gillette, Neill Degrasse Tyson, Bill Maher, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, Aayan Hirsi Ali

And speaking of Islamophobia, what’s with the supposedly intellectual “movement atheists” who are so obsessed with Islam? Amanda Marcotte, an atheist herself, writes: Time for atheists to take a hard look at ourselves.

One of the reasons that I was attracted to movement atheism was I believed that, by rejecting the gods-and-masters idea, it was inoculated against that knee-jerk tribalism that characterizes so many religions. Without a supernatural cover story for why we’re the chosen people/the righteous/the holy ones, I thought, we would have to rationally accept that we are nothing special. I thought it was protection against the special pleading you often see from people who are wed to conservative movements and institutions and identities. That hope of mine is being sorely tested in the light of Craig Hicks shooting, execution-style, his three Muslim neighbors that witnesses say he had an ongoing bug up his ass about. Hicks was an outspoken and aggressive New Atheist sort, but that’s all we really know about him, alongside his apparent gun-loving tendencies.

Yes, yes, I know we don’t know if it was over religion or a parking space, but it’s clear as hell that many in the atheist world are hoping—dare I say praying—that there’s some kind of exonerating evidence to show that he barely even noticed the headscarfs on the heads of two of his victims. To which I say, why? If we are, as we purport to be, rational people who are above the knee-jerk tribalism of our religious brethren, then we should be open, without any defensiveness, to an open and honest discussion about how the rhetoric of some of the big names in atheism—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher—treads past the ordinary criticisms of faith and turns into ugly and demonstrably silly arguments about how Islam is somehow uniquely poisonous as a religion. While claiming to oppose Christianity, these men have allowed themselves to be useful idiots for the cause of the Christian right, giving them an “even the atheists agree!” cover for their desire to stoke religious animosity and drumming up support for even more unnecessary wars in the Middle East.

Read the rest at the link.

Furthermore, what about the misogyny among these (mostly) male atheist obsessives? Here’s an earlier post by Marcotte: Atheism’s shocking woman problem: What’s behind the misogyny of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?

At first blush, it would seem that an atheist movement would be exactly the sort of thing that would attract many women. After all, much of the oppression of women—from forced veiling to restricting abortion rights—is a direct result of religion. Unsurprisingly, then, feminism has a long tradition of outspoken atheists and religious skeptics within its ranks.Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton preferred “rational ideas based on scientific facts” to “religious superstition.” Major feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir argued that belief in God exists in part to “repress any impulse toward revolt in the downtrodden female.” Modern feminist writer Katha Pollitt received the “Emperor Has No Clothes” award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2001, where she said that religion is dangerous because “it connects with very terrible social energies that have lain in civilization for a very long time.”

But despite the natural and cozy fit of atheism and feminism, the much-ballyhooed “New Atheism” that was supposed to be a more aggressive, political form of atheism has instead been surprisingly male-dominated. The reason has, in recent years, become quite apparent: Many of the most prominent leaders of the New Atheism are quick to express deeply sexist ideas. Despite their supposed love of science and rationality, many of them are nearly as quick as their religious counterparts to abandon reason in order to justify regressive views about women.

Atheism needs some new spokespeople. These guys are nearly as ugly and nasty as their fundamentalist christian counterparts. I nominate Dakinikat.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links and storm updates in the comment thread, and have a great Fat Tuesday!!


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

images (20)I’ve been looking at some of the elections coming up for the midterm season as well as reading the scuttlebutt about the presidential campaigns likely to gear up at the same time.  There’s still some worry that the Republicans may have the momentum going into the midterms and that the Democratic Party may lose its majority in the Senate.  I figured I’d start looking towards fall with my own vulnerable senator and overtly ambitious governor.

The Koch Brothers’ money is hot and heavy in most of the races that are seen as potential switches including my one sane–albeit owned by the oil & gas industry–Senator Mary Landrieu. I’ve been getting really sick of the same stupid Obama-care based attack ad on her that plays endlessly on TV.  The Democratic party is evidently trying some new strategies to run the Koch Brothers express off the tracks. Here’s the new response to that ad that’s been bugging the living daylights out of me for months now.  The analysis comes from Greg Sargent.

A Dem source tells me the spot is backed by a $200,000 buy. Script:

Out of state billionaires spending millions to rig the system and elect Bill Cassidy. Their goal: Another politician bought and paid for. Their agenda: Protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas. Cut Social Security and end Medicare as we know it. They even tried to kill relief for hurricane victims. Cassidy’s billion dollar backers: They’ve got a plan for him. It’s not good for Louisiana.

As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) whilecutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states –  become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.

GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents.

Mary Landrieu, meanwhile, is out front and center trying to force through the Keystone Pipeline.  This is likely to bring a few jobs to Louisiana and make her oil company donors quite happy.

Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana intensified the pressure on Secretary of State John Kerry, a former Senate colleague, to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

During a hearing on the State Department’s 2015 budget, Ms. Landrieu, a Democrat who has been a strong pipeline proponent and faces a tough re-election fight this year, pressed Mr. Kerry to approve the project, which would carry crude from Canada’s oil sands and from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Formation to Gulf Coast refineries.

Ms. Landrieu, the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, said, “Canada is our closest, strongest trading partner,” and “a majority of American people” support Keystone. “It is hard for me to understand why there are still questions about whether building this pipeline is in our national interest,” she said.

Actually, it really isn’t in the national interest since most of the Canadian tar sands oil will be sold on the open market and the danger of polluting the major source of fresh water for five states in the center of the country remains.  However, Landrieu always moves to the right during the election cycle. I am certainly not going to vote for Bill Cassidy who could be worse .  He still rings all the usual right wing bells albeit not with much charisma as some of his Texas compadres in congress.

Leading Republicans figured Cassidy to be her perfect foil, as a physician (treating the poor in public hospitals) with only eight years in elected office (experience but not a career in politics). He’s not especially charismatic, but he is intelligent and trustworthy. In the recent government shutdown/debt crisis, he voted along with conservatives but, in his rhetoric, he did not get wild-eyed about it.

And that’s a problem. Though U.S. Sen. David Vitter has run interference, Cassidy has been unable to close the deal on the right. For Republicans running for Congress these days, it is not enough to be conservative. If you are not ultra-conservative, then you’re moderate, which is just a slippery slope away from closet liberal. This nagging distrust about his conservatism has created an opening on the right, into which have stepped two other Republican candidates, Rep. Paul Hollis of Covington and Rob Maness of Madisonville.

Maness, with tea party connections, lumps Cassidy together with Landrieu as compromised establishment politicians. Hollis assured Vitter that he would not criticize Cassidy but keep his aim on Landrieu. Yet in his first TV ads, standing under an oak tree, he distinguishes himself as unspoiled by the partisan politics of Washington. His bid for home boy status — “lifelong Louisiana,” he describes himself — is a sly dig at both Maness, an Air Force brat, and Cassidy, whose family moved here when he was 6 years old. His underlying message is: I’m one of us, and they are not.

A more direct slap at the GOP anointed one comes from Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana legislator, who recently told The Hill newspaper that Cassidy can’t beat the incumbent because he’s not conservative enough.

Perkins has his eye on a seat some where right now so he’s hardly an objective  on the candidate.   Of course, the Republican Party and the Koch ads are hammering away at “Obamacare”.  This is an interesting tactic in a state like Louisiana where the needs of so many go unserved and the governor is taking heat for turning down the Medicaid expansion from every paper in the state.  Then, there are these numbers.  Ted Cruz’s fears have come true.  It’s getting popular and most of the recent advertised scare stories used in the political ads are being successfully debunked,

President Barack Obama’s health-care law is becoming more entrenched, with 64 percent of Americans now supporting it outright or backing small changes.

Even so, the fervor of the opposition shows no sign of abating, posing a challenge for Obama’s Democrats during congressional races this year, as a Republican victory in a special Florida election this week showed. In addition, 54 percent of Americans say they’re unhappy with the president’s handling of the issue, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

That’s an improvement since the last poll, in December, when Obama’s public standing on health care hit a low of 60 percent disapproval after the botched rollout of the insurance exchanges, according to the March 7-10 poll of 1,001 adults.

So, this Louisiana race may be one to watch if you want to see what could happen in the fall.  The other thing is that it’s pretty certain thatimages (19) Governor Bobby Jindal is not giving up his presidential dreams no matter how badly he shows in all the polls.  He’s on the campaign trail and introducing legislation that’s been written by the Koch machine.  Oh, and he’s in New Hampshire.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal launched a new political action committee (PAC) on Thursday (March 13) to assist conservative candidates in the 2014 midterm elections, just before heading off to New Hampshire for a series of events.

Jindal’s PAC, dubbed “Stand Up to Washington,” will feature former Mitt Romney campaign manager Jill Neunaber in its leadership role. Neunaber is getting to be a familiar name around Louisiana, as the head of Jindal’s PAC and also his recently-formed nonprofit “America Next,” which is aimed primarily at national issues and supporting Republican candidates in this year’s gubernatorial races.

“Obviously, my main focus is still going to be continuing to help governors win their races and candidates to win gubernatorial races,” Jindal told POLITICO in a reported 18-minute phone interview about the new PAC.

“But I also get a ton of requests to go and speak and help federal candidates in the Senate and the House. So we just thought this was a logical thing to do.”

Soon after announcing the PAC, Jindal will head off to the battleground state of New Hampshire for a series of events. He will keynote the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference on Friday; The Nashua Telegraph also reports he will appear at the Wild Irish Breakfast that morning.

Nothing says candidate like Pancake breakfasts and parades.  Oh, and appearing on comedy and talk shows.  Did you know that Texas Governor Rick Perry got booed during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel live?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was booed when he took the stage at ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ on Tuesday night at the South by Southwest conference in Austin.

“We do know how to get it stirred up,” the Republican said as he sat down, presumably referring to Texans.

The booing continued throughout the interview, until Perry mentioned decriminalizing marijuana – that prompted the crowd to cheer.

When asked if he’d ever smoked marijuana himself, Perry responded, “No, thank God!”

Kimmel also asked Perry whether he planned to run for president in 2016, after an unsuccessful attempt in 2012.

“This is not the crowd that I want to make this announcement to,” Perry said.

I have to think that most of the folks in Austin will be really glad to get rid of the man, but then you probably should ask Ralph about that since he would know more than me.

images (18)I might as well follow up on my post last Friday since this post seems to have taken on a Louisianan flavor anyway.  There have been a few more folks–recent transplants and visitors–writing articles on the state still.  I’m thinking it must have something to do with True Detective but maybe not.   I don’t feel like I can be the outstanding transmitter of what’s special and frustrating about this state as well as a native because frankly, after 20 years, the place still can make me dizzy in both good and bad ways. So, I’m going to quote Lamar White here.   See, Lamar, I not  only attribute and cite you but I put your name right here.  Too bad I’m not any one that matters, but hey, you’re out there making some waves and that’s good.

On Tuesday, Dave Thier, a freelance writer based in New Orleans, published a piece in Esquire titled “Sorry, Louisiana Is Not Actually Made Of Magic.” I really wanted to like Mr. Thier’s piece, because I thought the headline was provocative. But the article was absurdly patronizing and completely disconnected. Mr. Thier is a Yale graduate who has lived in New Orleans for only three years. While we should all celebrate smart, young, educated professionals who move to Louisiana, it is unwise, arrogant, and misguided for a self-described “transplant” to hold himself out, to a national audience, as a curator of Louisiana culture, particularly when he implies that his understanding of his newly-adopted home has been informed by Hollywood.

Indeed, that seems to be the point of his article: Hollywood has lied about Louisiana being magical, which he can prove by way of juxtaposing the banalities of his own life. He watches Netflix and plays video games and prefers Thai take-out over the native cuisine of his adopted Louisiana. And this, I think, may bolster Mr. Thier’s argument that he’s just an ordinary American in his late twenties. But it completely destroys his credibility when it comes to opining on the culture and, yes, the magic of Louisiana.

The same group of Louisiana Bloggers, Twitterati, and Facebookers had it out re: Thier’s article in Esquire, harkened back to Kalegate and the NYT,  and then hashed over if we should even be paying these folks some never mind anyway.  I personally wonder why these recent transplants get the paid gigs on what is and isn’t New Orleans or Louisiana instead of folks that have either been born here or at least lived here long enough to have decoded some of the unique charms and frustration.  Here’s another take in Salon that’s called True Detective goth Southern porn characterizing Louisiana poverty as stemming from a stereotyped swampbilly culture.

As someone who studies southern Appalachia in popular culture, I have become occasionally numb to the portrayal of other parts of the southern United States, viewing their representation/stereotypes as being less severe. Louisiana in particular.

Louisiana gets heaps of praise. “True Blood” made it sexy and campy. “Treme” showed its heart. The last season of “Top Chef” showcased its deliciousness.

There’s another side, though. A bit darker. “Duck Dynasty,” “Gator Boys,” “Cajun Pawn Stars,” “Swamp People,” etc. All reality television series that showcase people living off the land or trying to get by, often downplaying the intelligence of its stars. It paints the state as a different country, with different rules.

But those rules are not as far-flung as “True Detective” might have you believe. Creator Nic Pizzolatto, who grew up in the Lake Charles, La., depicts his hometown as a post-apocalyptic landscape in which the rapes and murders of women and children are covered up by kin connections. He follows what I have deemed the three rules of a Southern horror story: Close Family Relationships, Weird Sex and Malicious Rednecks.

Important note: The more overlap between the above three elements, the better.

Essentially Lake Charles received its own “Deliverance” through the episodes of “True Detective.” Has ever a show depicted such a large number of beaten and bruised female prostitutes? As far as the series reveals, there’s no reason that Marty’s elementary-school-aged daughter draws graphic pictures of people having sex or sets up her toys to depict a doll getting gang-banged. It’s just one of those things kids in rural Louisiana do.

By the way, Lake Charles was not really the center of the series or the filming location or the plot, but then I quibble. I’m not exactly certain why the writers of establishment media have decided to put every one in Louisiana on the couch, but it appears chickenchasing2there’s some kind’ve creepy fascination that’s playing out in the press right now. Yes, there is unique culture down here. This area has given the world a lot of musical forms, food, and reasons to party. The landscape can be breathtaking in both its lushness and its austerity.  You can see any and all of it play out just by visiting here and taking note.  But, really, does that mean you can decode it for the rest of the world to earn a few bucks?

Here’s the Cajun version of  Mardi Gras that shows you there is plenty of unique culture to celebrate, to learn about, and to appreciate. Thier should take some time away from his video games and Thai take out food to chase some of this down. The last thing I did when I first moved here was to sit at home with all things mundane. I just participated.  This part of the country will amaze and capture your attention.  The problem that I have with these accidental tourists and transplants is they really haven’t taken the time to let their gumbo simmer.  But, when has Hollywood or the New York/Washington DC -centric press ever put any place in any kind of real light?  I frankly remember growing up watching TV where every hayseed that became the butt of a sitcom joke haled from Nebraska. (It’s actually a subtheme of The Big Bang Theory right now.)  It would absolutely make me even more embarrassed of having to grow up in the place knowing that the rest of the country had a worse opinion of the place than me and mine was pretty darn low.

What I’m more worried though about is this kind of thing : U.S. Agrees to Allow BP Back Into Gulf Waters to Seek Oil.  Since corporations are people my friend–at least that’s what Citizen’s United declared–then I say we ought not let a mass murderer out to kill again.  But, that’s not the kind of story that’s likely to create any human interest.  Well, not yet.  So, what should we be more worried about?   It does no one a great service to characterize a culture, but at least that doesn’t have the power to take down the culture itself. What’s gotten me to start writing about my adopted home has been my experiences with Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil spill because having lived here 20 years, I know exactly what’s at stake if the country would lose it.  There are things down here both human and natural that are awesome.  It’s worth appreciating, experiencing and protecting.

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?


Friday Reads: Us Savages in New Orleans have Done Been Discovered

bourbon street after

Good Morning!

And pardon me for a provincial rant here this morning!

This year will be my 20th anniversary of living in New Orleans.  Yes, I was here before, during, and after Katrina.  Yes, I have lived in the French Quarter and now I’ve been in the Bywater for nearly 15 of those 20  years.  When I moved here, most of the folks were very old people, people living in section 8 housing,  a gay contingent working in the quarter, and a very odd sundry of people trying to get out of the Quarter that had been a counterculture enclave but was rapidly turning into weekend condos for people from Texas and Georgia.

I had a few friends that owned bars and galleries here.  Then, a few friends that opened up some restaurants. Then, Katrina happened. Then, we extended tax credits to movies studios and got Treme and a few interesting movies and now, well now it’s really, really attracting a group of people who have “discovered’ our wasteland and decided it’s ripe for their sort’ve civilization.  We’re all so quaint here.  No taxis would come here before they moved here.  And, there is no kale to be found any where.  But, it so authentically authentic.  Isn’t it wonderful they discovered a new Brooklyn?

For some reason, I didn’t feel the need to civilize the city when I moved here.  I just sort’ve dove in and let it wash all over me.

I will admit that some things are not as they should be here in the Not Always so Big Easy.  There’s the NOPD. There’s still a contingent of politicians down here that are way too generous to their friends and to their own bank accounts.  There’s plenty of institutional racism, sexism, and provincialism to go around.  But I see this every where and at least New Orleans fills its cracks with good food, good music, and a lot of friendly people.  Believe me, that makes up for a lot.  However, for some reason, we’re attracting a lot of folks who want to turn us into Brooklyn or what Brooklyn has become.  For this, I will reference Spike Lee who shouts “We’ve Been Here”. Discovering new lands that already exist and contain culture and people is not just a Christopher Columbus kind’ve thing.

Then comes the motherfuckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherfuckin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in nineteen-motherfuckin’-sixty-eight, and the motherfuckin’ people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherfuckin’ house in nineteen-sixty-motherfuckin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the fuck outta here!

Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherfuckin’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.

You can’t just — here’s another thing: When Michael Jackson died they wanted to have a party for him in motherfuckin’ Fort Greene Park and all of a sudden the white people in Fort Greene said, “Wait a minute! We can’t have black people having a party for Michael Jackson to celebrate his life. Who’s coming to the neighborhood? They’re gonna leave lots of garbage.” Garbage? Have you seen Fort Greene Park in the morning? It’s like the motherfuckin’ Westminster Dog Show. There’s 20,000 dogs running around. Whoa. So we had to move it to Prospect Park!

I mean, they just move in the neighborhood. You just can’t come in the neighborhood. I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now shit gotta change because you’re here? Get the fuck outta here. Can’t do that!

Yeah, you right.

You may have been reading my previous columns about how people that have just moved here have suddenly become the authentic carriers of New Orleans Culture and all things civilized.  I have written about it before.  The NYT just will not leave my neighborhood alone. Now, I have neighbors moving in from New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York, and all over.  They just have decided that we’re passable if they can just civilize us a little bit more.  We’re quaint and they can make us tolerable.  Part of this post is about the hubris that comes from journalists.  Part of this post is about the hubris that comes from being young.  A lot of this post is about the hubris that comes from deciding that you’re just going to come into some one’s neighborhood, label them quaint, and then proceed to become the authority on what it is and isn’t.

“New Orleans is not cosmopolitan,” said the actress Tara Elders. “There’s no kale here.” Her husband, Michiel Huisman, the actor and musician who moved here with Ms. Elders in 2009 to shoot the HBO series “Treme” (he’s currently on the series “Nashville”), agreed. “The sign on a shop says that they’ll open at 10? You’re there at noon and it’s not open,” he said.

We were sitting outside at Sylvain, a restaurant in the French Quarter that Mr. Huisman said “takes Southern cuisine and pushes it a bit more modern.” With its elegant but rustic décor, cocktails featuring noirish names (Blood in the Gulfstream, Dead Man’s Wallet), and inventive food, Sylvain wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn — but Ms. Elders said spots like this are still the exception. “So many of the cool places here are really rundown,” she said. “And not because a stylist designed them that way.”

Just for your information, we have plenty of kale here. I went to Rouse’s Market yesterday and you can barely spot the mustard greens through the various assortment of kale.  In fact, we’ve decided that #kalespotting is the new event for the post Mardi Gras let down just so they NYT knows we’ve got it. I have it on good authority that the Walmart in Chalmette even has it now.

In a long-ago episode of “The Simpsons,” a tourist to Springfield enters Moe’s bar and declares, “This isn’t a faux dive! This is a dive!” That was satire. But Goodman quotes Elders saying essentially the same thing and with apparent sincerity. “So many of the cool places here are really rundown. And not because a stylist designed them that way.”

Goodman’s story also includes a new transplant’s translation of a Mardi Gras Indian chant: “Shallow water, your mama.”

“Music really flows through the veins of the town, like where we are going tonight,” Mr. Huisman said, referring to the United Mardi Gras Indian Practice. “It’s so true to itself and so African. That really resonates with me: Nothing moves me as much as that beat, that rhythm that is truly New Orleans.”

We all piled into the family Jeep and drove out to Handa Wanda’s, an open warehouse space with a band set up in the back, a bar in the middle, and red beans and rice on hot plates up front. This spot is home base for the Wild Magnolias, one of dozens of tribes. Come Mardi Gras day, the tribe leader, or Big Chief, will lead a procession in full costume, challenging other tribes to mock battles. But tonight is an open practice and all are welcome.

Perched upstairs in the rickety balcony, we drank whiskey and Cokes out of Dixie cups while revelers of all ages shook it to a rollicking beat punctuated by chanting from the Big Chief. Instinctively, all of us leaned over the balcony and started bobbing our heads. Mr. Huisman saw me trying to sing along to words I couldn’t decipher. He smiled and said into my ear, “They’re saying, ‘shallow water, your mama,’ ” a traditional Indian call-and-response.

We are now fighting for t-shirts that say “Shallow water, Yo Mama”.   Yes,  the new dats are singing their own special  lyrics in the shower cause you know how authentic and how, well so true and so African it all is.”

— Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses
“Take me down to a very nice city” Actual lyric: “Take me down to the Paradise City.”

— Rock the Casbah by The Clash
“The sheep don’t like it, rockin’ the cat box” Actual lyric: “Shareef don’t like it, rock the Casbah”

 Africa by Toto
“I left my brains down in Africa” Actual lyric: “I bless the rains down in Africa”

— Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“There’s a bathroom on the right” Actual lyric: “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”

— You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate
“I Remove Umbilicals” Actual lyric: “I believe in miracles”

— Suffragette City by David Bowie
“This mellow fat chick just put my spine out of place” Actual lyric: “This mellow thighed chick just put my spine out of place”

— Waterfalls by TLC
“Don’t go, Jason Waterfalls” Actual lyric: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls”

So, a group of the local New Orleans Twitterati and facebookers spent the day coming up with just the precisely right phrase to dub our invaders.  Oh, excuse me, those that are here to authenticate and purify and discover our lowly asses along with their search for Kale.  We’ve adopted the term Fauxhemians.

campanella-bourbon-4_525New Orleans does have a long outsider tradition.  After all, the Barataria pirates and Jean Lafitte wandered the swamps here quite awhile ago before being pardoned for their outstanding fighting during the War of 1812.  We’ve had our share of people chasing the local muses. You probably know that our long literary tradition includes Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. The filming of the movie “Easy Rider” sent in an entire new group that took up residence in the quarter.  However, Bourbon Street has always been a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  

 Educated young people were aware of their privilege, and a certain segment grew bored and anguished with it. As Adam Nathaniel Mayer writes, they “suffered a kind of postmodern malaise which in turn spurred a quest for meaning.” [2] Previous generations had common causes like escaping poverty or fighting wars to satisfy the top tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; this generation did not. So they sought meaning through individualized quests for authentic experiences.

Because authenticity seemed to call for a certain demeanor, its seekers brooded, acted aloof and squinted when they dragged on their cigarettes. Because it needed a certain look, they grew or chopped their hair defiantly, got tattoos, and donned ragged or vintage clothing. Music, food, cinema, literature, cars, religion: just about every aspect of culture had a “groovy” (1960s), “alternative” (1980s) or “critical” (2000s) counterpart which pitted itself against the mainstream and viewed itself as authentic. And because authenticity also had a geography, its seekers packed their knapsacks and hit the road — out of suburbia and into the wilderness, to distant countries, communes, college towns and mountain villages, and to the decaying inner cities abandoned by their elders. In the past few decades, educated, mostly white youths from prosperous backgrounds have transformed urban spaces in cities like Brooklyn and Oakland and Baltimore and Boston and London from shabbiness and indigence to restoration and gentrification.

New Orleans fit the bill perfectly. It had history, culture, and the poignancy of tragedy and past grandeur. It had a European look, a Caribbean feel, an expatriated vibe, an abundance of historic housing at low rent, a pervasive booziness, and music, food and festivity to boot. It was authentic!

Richard Campanella has been examining the process from an office at Tulane University and a house in my neighborhood. 

Gentrifiers seem to stew in irreconcilable philosophical disequilibrium. Fortunately, they’ve created plenty of nice spaces to stew in. Bywater in the past few years has seen the opening of nearly ten retro-chic foodie/locavore-type restaurants, two new art-loft colonies, guerrilla galleries and performance spaces on grungy St. Claude Avenue, a “healing center” affiliated with Kabacoff and his Maine-born voodoo-priestess partner, yoga studios, a vinyl records store, and a smattering of coffee shops where one can overhear conversations about bioswales, tactical urbanism, the klezmer music scene, and every conceivable permutation of “sustainability” and “resilience.”

It’s increasingly like living in a city of graduate students. Nothing wrong with that—except, what happens when they, well, graduate? Will a subsequent wave take their place? Or will the neighborhood be too pricey by then?

But, at least we’re some what separate from the state. The right wing side of the media has decided one of the movies filmed down here and about down here is far too mean to the institution of slavery.   I guess every one has their notion of what we’re supposed to be about down here.

Some conservatives have started laying into the Oscar-winning movie 12 Years a Slave for creating an unfairly negative portrayal of slavery. You see, the movie portrays slaves being made unhappy by slavery. But that negativity is merely anti-slavery “propaganda,” according to James Bowman in conservative magazine The American Spectator:

If ever in slavery’s 250-year history in North America there were a kind master or a contented slave, as in the nature of things there must have been, here and there, we may be sure that Mr McQueen does not want us to hear about it. This, in turn, surely means that his view of the history of the American South is as partial and one-sided as that of the hated Gone With the Wind.

…Yes, there was much cruelty and hardship in the slave-owning South, as there has been in most of the rest of the world most of the time, and Mr. McQueen’s camera is all over that. But it strains ordinary credulity to suppose that there was nothing else.

We are wondering, was Bowman equally aggrieved by the lack of happy Jews in Schindler’s List?

To be fair to the American Spectator‘s readers, the comment thread under the article is mainly filled with people asking WTF the article is all about. The top comment reads, “‘a contented slave’ – is this article a joke of some sort?”

This state has been cursed with some of the worst leadership that could walk the planet.  The head of the current plantation system is a cruel master.

“We’ve got Eric Holder and the Department of Justice trying to stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent minority kids, low-income kids, kids who haven’t had access to a great education, the chance to go to better schools,” Jindal said.

As the Washington Post points out, Jindal’s rhetoric is an apparent allusion to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s 1963 “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” demonstration, during which the anti-integration governor stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama as two black students attempted to enter the institution.

Jindal also gave a shout out to some of his home state’s biggest celebrities — the stars of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.”

“We must not let [the left] silence the Robertsons,” Jindal said of the reality show family, referencing national outrage over patriarch Phil Robertson’s homophobic remarks last year.

A new report from the state auditor shows these schools are failing miserably. jindal_630_0

The report also says that:

  • 41 percent of voucher students scored at grade level or above on key tests.
  • Voucher students account for more than half the enrollment at 18 schools in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas of the 118 reviewed statewide.
  • The state was overcharged for tuition by 35 of the schools, including a top overbilling of $5,566 per student.

The school was not identified.

Those who get the state aid — backers call it scholarships — are not supposed to be charged more than others.

Vouchers are state aid for students who attend public schools rated C, D and F, and who meet income rules, to attend private schools with the tuition and some fees paid by the state.

Whether they provide students viable options to low-performing public schools is one of the most hotly-debated issues in Louisiana education circles.

Jindal is making a run at president and wants to replace Chris Christie as the Governor that can be taken seriously.  But, any on that watches him from down here knows he only does what best for Jindal.  It is only about him and his ambitions.

As governor, Jindal had an opportunity to put his big ideas into action. But his bold prescriptions look a lot like the same ideas Republicans have been pushing for decades—perhaps not surprising for a man who started out in an industry built around telling corporate leaders what they already know.

The centerpiece of his agenda was education. When he took office, Louisiana had some of the nation’s highest dropout rates and lowest literacy scores, and Katrina had battered New Orleans’ school system. Like another Southern governor, Jeb Bush, he built a reputation as an education reformer from the GOP mainstream—charter schools, teacher merit pay, and a voucher program to pay private-school tuition. But Jindal’s agenda also had a strong Christian flavor. In 2008, he signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows public schools to teach creationism. Jindal framed it as a matter of giving local districts more control, but the effect was obvious: Thousands of high school students, especially in the state’s Baptist and evangelical north, were instructed that (for instance) the Loch Ness monster proves humans and dinosaurs coexisted.

Some think Jindal was simply playing politics, rewarding a religious demographic that was instrumental to his rise. “He’s smart—he was nearly gonna go to Harvard Medical School. I can’t believe that he believes in creationism,” says 20-year-old Zack Kopplin, who, as a high school student, persuaded 75 Nobel laureates to sign a letter opposing the legislation. But Jindal’s own statements suggest otherwise: As far back as 1995, fresh off his final semester at Oxford, Jindal wrote that there was “much controversy over the fossil evidence for evolution.”

Jindal’s voucher program has so far funneled at least $4 million to religious institutions, many with strict discriminatory policies. In the state’s northeastern corner, Claiborne Christian Academy students believed to be pregnant can be suspended and expelled upon confirmation. (An abortion warrants expulsion, too.)

Other voucher-funded schools in the region subject gay students to the equivalent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. At Northlake Christian School in Covington, students can be refused admission if they or their family promote the “homosexual lifestyle.” Northeast Baptist School in West Monroe states that “students that profess a sexual orientation contrary to God’s Word will not be accepted and may be un-enrolled…upon discovery.”

“I guess they would confess it, and they would talk about it to the kids, and I would ask about it,” says Anita Watson, Northeast Baptist’s principal, when I call to ask how the school would find out about gay students. “To be honest, it hasn’t ever really come up because the teenagers that, I don’t know, that are leaning in that direction, they would probably choose not to come here.”

While aspects of Jindal’s education policies evoked Bush-era compassionate conservatism, in most areas he has embraced brute austerity. In the name of cutting waste—overspending has historically been a vehicle for corruption in Louisiana—Jindal has sought to slash the services on which residents of the nation’s third-poorest state have depended. He moved to cut the retirement benefits of some state employees by as much as 50 percent, while blocking even incremental increases in levies like the cigarette tax. State funding for higher education has been cut by 80 percent, with Jindal turning down federal stimulus funds that could have filled some of that gap. And last spring he vetoed $4 million to help relieve a 10-year waiting list for developmentally disabled Louisianans seeking in-home care.

His constant travel has eroded his stature at home. One state appointee who supports Jindal calls him an “absentee landlord.”

Jindal touts his record as the first Louisiana governor in recent history not to raise net taxes. Instead, his approach has been to shift more of the tax burden onto the state’s poorest residents, while giving high-earners a break: In 2013, he proposed increasing sales taxes so the state couldeliminate all income and corporate taxes. (The plan died amid bipartisan rebellion.) And like 24 other Republican governorsacross the country, he turned down funding to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, denying coverage to 214,000 low-income Louisianans.

Jindal’s zeal to keep spending low and protect his reputation as a budget hawk has undercut other initiatives. He brought on environmentalists to help write his 2012 plan to shore up the coastline, but has so far fruitlessly insisted Washington, not Baton Rouge, foot the bill. When the state’s independent flood control board sought funding for the plan by suing 100 oil and gas companies for elevating flood risks through the construction of pipelines and canals, Jindal—who has received more than $1 million in contributions from the industry—asked the courts to throw the case out, and when that failed, replaced three of the board’s members. And even though Jindal had called outdated ethics rules the No. 1 obstacle to economic investment, and had pushed through an overhaul, his budget dramatically slashed the number of employees keeping watch; an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity gave Jindal’s administration a D+ for enforcement of corruption laws.

So, here I sit in a really changed post-Katrina world coming on 10 years after the flood.  Who could predict that my neighborhood would be discovered by people seeking a new culture path to Brooklyn?  Or that, my governor, a Rhodes Scholar who was a pre-med student at an ivy league college would put in a law that puts creation mythology on the same footing as science?    It’s a strange reality and one that makes you wonder if any really cares about authenticity these days or even knows what it is.

So, there’s a lot of links to be shared down thread because I didn’t do it here.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: Russia and Ukraine, Obama the Weak Dictator, and Fat Tuesday

How Europeans picture an American breakfast

How Europeans picture an American breakfast

Good Morning!!

I saw this photo on Twitter yesterday, and I couldn’t resist sharing it. The comments were pretty funny too. Several people noted that the gun goes on the left; others said the gun should be turned over for quicker access if needed. Others said the bacon was just right but there should be a couple more eggs and some doughnuts.

I feel like I’m writing for an exclusive group this morning; we seem to have lost a lot of our regular commenters over the past week or so. I hope it wasn’t something I said.

Maybe it’s just that we’ve reached the dregs of a very long and exhausting winter. I must admit that yesterday I was selfishly relieved to see a nasty storm coming across the country that didn’t involve the Boston area. Nevertheless, I know it did affect places where we have readers, and I am well aware of how very depressing and tiring it can feel when the snow, ice, and cold just won’t quit.

The political news isn’t exactly cheery either–It’s mostly endless civil wars in the Middle East accompanied by the one here at home in the Republican Party; constant attacks on President Obama for being either too wimpy and weak or a vicious, drone dropping, privacy-invading dictator; and the press digging up old Clinton smears in preparation for Hillary running for President in 2016.

Right now, the main focus is on the events in Ukraine–Syria and Egypt are all but forgotten by “journalists” who seem unable to focus on more than one story at a time. Somehow, they never fail to find a way to blame everything on Obama though, no matter what crisis they are reporting.

Even Dana Millbank, who often judges Obama harshly has noticed: Obama, the feckless tyrant.

President Obama is such a weak strongman. What’s more, he is a feeble dictator and a timid tyrant.

That, at any rate, is Republicans’ critique of him. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Obama’s critics pivoted seamlessly from complaining about his overreach to fretting that he is being too cautious. Call it Operation Oxymoron.

Last Wednesday, I sat in a House hearing and listened to Republicans describe Obama exercising “unparalleled use of executive power” and operating an “uber-presidency.” They accused him of acting like a “king” and a “monarch,” of making the United States like a “dictatorship” or a “totalitarian government” by exercising “imperial” and “magisterial power.”

But after events in Ukraine, this very tyrant was said to be so weak that it’s “shocking.”

“We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) proclaimed Sunday on CNN.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday that Obama has “a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”

US President Barack Obama talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone

For once Millbank, the ultimate Villager, hit the nail on the head. On Twitter over the last few days, I’ve even seen people complaining about the White House photo of Obama in shirtsleeves talking on the phone to Putin, because it supposedly shows how weak and unprofessional Obama is.

Michael Cohen at the Guardian has it right, IMO : Don’t listen to Obama’s Ukraine critics: he’s not ‘losing’ – and it’s not his fight.

In the days since Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into the Crimea, it has been amateur hour back in Washington.

I don’t mean Barack Obama. He’s doing pretty much everything he can, with what are a very limited set of policy options at his disposal. No, I’m talking about the people who won’t stop weighing in on Obama’s lack of “action” in the Ukraine. Indeed, the sea of foreign policy punditry – already shark-infested – has reached new lows in fear-mongering, exaggerated doom-saying and a stunning inability to place global events in any rational historical context.

This would be a useful moment for Americans to have informed reporters, scholars and leaders explaining a crisis rapidly unfolding half a world away. Instead, we’ve already got all the usual suspect arguments.

Cohen offers a number of examples:

Personality-driven Analysis

Let’s start here with Julia Ioffe of the New Republic, a popular former reporter in Moscow who now tells us that Putin has sent troops into Crimea “because he can. That’s it, that’s all you need to know”. It’s as if things like regional interests, spheres of influence, geopolitics, coercive diplomacy and the potential loss of a key ally in Kiev (as well as miscalculation) are alien concepts for Russian leaders.

Overstated Rhetoric Shorn of Political Context

David Kramer, president of Freedom House, hit the ball out of the park on this front when he hyperbolically declared that Obama’s response to Putin’s actions “will define his two terms in office” and “the future of U.S. standing in the world”.

Honorable mention goes to Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group for calling this crisis “the most seismic geopolitical events since 9/11”. Putting aside the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Arab Spring, Syria’s civil war and tensions in the South China Sea, Bremmer might have a point.

Unhelpful Policy Recommendations

Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Commander of Nato, deserves a shout-out for calling on Nato to send maritime forces into the Black Sea, among other inflammatory steps. No danger of miscalculation or unnecessary provocation there. No, none at all.

Much more panicky heavy breathing at the link. Does anyone in Washington recall what happened when George W. Bush was president and Russia attacked Georgia?

Here’s a great example of Obama-blaming at Politico. Their top “morning brief” is DoD suspends military relationship with Russia

The Pentagon is putting on hold its military-to-military relationship with Russia over its incursion into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, according to Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. “We have, in light of recent events in Ukraine, put on hold all military-to-military engagements between the United States and Russia,” Kirby said in a statement last night. “This includes exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences.”

Kirby also said there’s been “no change” in U.S. military posture in Europe or the Mediterranean, despite speculation in the news media about possible ship movements. “Navy units continue to conduct routine, previously planned operations and exercises with allies and partners in the region,” he said.

But apparently the Politico gang doesn’t see how that new could relate to President Obama, the Commander In Chief of our armed forces. Here’s what they say about Obama in the same “morning brief.”

AT THE WHITE HOUSE, the big question is whether President Barack Obama has what it takes to unite Europe behind a package of sanctions that would, in his words, “isolate Russia.”

Because Obama has no balls, get it?

Sigh . . .

At Time Magazine, Simon Shuster notes that Putin is also being judged harshly at home, despite the efforts of the Kremlin-controlled media: 4 Reasons Putin Is Already Losing in Ukraine.

At home, this intervention looks to be one of the most unpopular decisions Putin has ever made. The Kremlin’s own pollster released a survey on Monday that showed 73% of Russians reject it. In phrasing its question posed in early February to 1,600 respondents across the country, the state-funded sociologists at WCIOM were clearly trying to get as much support for the intervention as possible: “Should Russia react to the overthrow of the legally elected authorities in Ukraine?” they asked. Only 15% said yes — hardly a national consensus.

That seems astounding in light of all the brainwashing Russians have faced on the issue of Ukraine. For weeks, the Kremlin’s effective monopoly on television news has been sounding the alarm over Ukraine. Its revolution, they claimed, is the result of an American alliance with Nazis intended to weaken Russia. And still, nearly three-quarters of the population oppose a Russian “reaction” of any kind, let alone a Russian military occupation like they are now watching unfold in Crimea. The 2008 invasion of Georgia had much broader support, because Georgia is not Ukraine. Ukraine is a nation of Slavs with deep cultural and historical ties to Russia. Most Russians have at least some family or friends living in Ukraine, and the idea of a fratricidal war between the two largest Slavic nations in the world evokes a kind of horror that no Kremlin whitewash can calm.

Indeed, Monday’s survey suggests that the influence of Putin’s television channels is breaking down. The blatant misinformation and demagoguery on Russian television coverage of Ukraine seems to have pushed Russians to go online for their information. And as for those who still have no Internet connection, they could simply have picked up the phone and called their panicked friends and relatives in Ukraine.

And at Quartz: The markets are punishing Russia more swiftly than diplomats ever could.

Strongly worded statements, threats of travel restrictions, and summit no-shows. So far, these are the relatively mild diplomatic implications for Russia of itsincursion into Ukraine, as few in the West can stomach an open military confrontation with Moscow over its apparent occupation of Crimea.

But the markets are punishing Russia much more swiftly than the diplomats. A wide range of Russian assets—stocks, bonds, and the ruble—plunged in value today. To shore up the ruble, which is plumbing record depths, Russia’s central bank unexpectedly hiked interest rates today. It ratcheted up the benchmark one-week rate from 5.5% to 7%, and traders report that the central bank has also been spending billions of dollars in currency markets to stem the fall in the value of the ruble.
The two main Moscow stock markets, the Micex and the RTS, have fallen by more than 10% at the time of writing, in a broad-based selloff. Big Russian companies like Gazprom and Sberbank saw their share prices plunge as traders dumped their shares.
King Cake

King Cake

Is there any other political news? Not much to speak of, so I’m just about to wrap this up. But first, today is Fat Tuesday and, despite the bad weather Mardi Gras is going forward in New Orleans. From ABC News: Cold, Gray Morning Won’t Stop Mardi Gras Revelers.

A cold, gray day greeted revelers gathering Tuesday along parade routes as the Carnival season in New Orleans headed to a crest with the unabashed celebration of Mardi Gras.

The first street marching groups — including clarinetist Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Club — were to begin their marches along oak-lined St. Charles Avenue and into the business district. Later, the floats of the Zulu and Rex parades and hundreds of truck trailers decorated by family and social groups would wind down St. Charles Avenue.

Light rain began to fall early in the morning, but revelers were still expected to gather by the tens of thousands in the French Quarter, where the bawdy side of Mardi Gras was expected to be on full display.

Mark Nelson of St. Louis said he would be in the mix even in a downpour. It’s his first Mardi Gras.

“That’s why God made washing machines,” said Nelson, who was sipping on a daiquiri as he enjoyed the sounds of trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, who performed at the Lundi Gras festivities Monday along the Mississippi River.

For those of us who can’t get down to NOLA, the LA Times offers Mardi Gras: Celebrate with king cake and 16 additional recipes!

So . . . what’s on your mind today? Please let us know in the comments. We want to hear from you!

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Thursday Reads: Winter Storms, Political and Corporate Corruption, and Other News

winter2013bookshelves

Good Morning!!

Snow began falling here before 7AM, and there is already a coating over everything. Of course we already had a around a foot of the stuff on the ground, so whatever we get will pile on top of that. Depending on where the rain/snow line falls, everything may be coated with ice by tonight.

Once again the South has been hit hard with winter weather. The Washington Post reports: Winter storm headed toward D.C. knocks out power across the Southeast U.S.

A powerful winter storm dropped a coat of snow and freezing rain across the Southeast on Wednesday, leaving almost 300,000 customers without power, forcing the cancellation ofmore than 3,600 flights, and creating gridlock on roadways in North Carolina.

In Atlanta, where another recent snowstorm had caused massive traffic jams, people seemed to have learned their lesson. Schools were closed. Workers stayed home. The city turned into a kind of wintry ghost town.

But in North Carolina, drivers didn’t seem to have learned the lesson at all.

In both Charlotte and Raleigh, news outlets reported that people headed out onto ice-covered roads in mid-afternoon. The result was the same it had been in Atlanta two weeks ago: creeping traffic, abandoned cars and folks offering stranded motorists a place to stay the night….

As Wednesday went on, the storm swept from Alabama, across Georgia and up into the Carolinas on its way toward Virginia and the Washington area.

Another Winter Storm Affects Atlanta Area

CBS Atlanta warned Georgians to stay off the roads today if possible.

Georgia Department of Transportation officials said they are expecting road conditions to remain treacherous into Thursday morning as sleet and freezing rain is expected to continue. GDOT is urging the public to avoid all but emergency travel until at least mid-day Thursday

Forecasters at the National Weather Service said they are expecting falling pieces of melting ice to pose threats to drivers and pedestrians near overpasses and tall structures on Thursday.

Forecasters are also anticipating wet roads to refreeze Thursday night, which could lead to patches of black ice.

Several inches of snow could accumulate in North Georgia while the area across the state between a line just north of Columbus, Macon, Warner Robins and Statesboro and extending northward to above Interstate Highway 20 are experiencing icing roadways, power lines and trees. Moreover, winds gusting to as much as 30 m.p.h. could cause limbs and trees to fall on power lines and roads. A State of Emergency remains in effect for 91 counties in this region.

Traffic in Charlotte, NC

Traffic in Charlotte, NC

NPR: Winter Storm Paralyzes Roads In North Carolina, Despite Warnings

They knew it was coming. But drivers in North Carolina still fell prey to the winter storm that the National Weather Service predicted would be “potentially crippling” to the area. Even those who left just after noon have been trapped by the heavy snow that arrived today.

“Snow arrives in the Triangle as expected but causes gridlock anyway,” reads the headline in the Raleigh News Observer, referring to the Research Triangle of the cities Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The intense traffic came one day after Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency ahead of the winter storm.

From what we’re seeing, people are blaming the problem on two factors: The snow came on fast and immediately stuck to roads; and most commuters who worked Wednesday tried to leave at the same time, adding to the gridlock.

The worst of the conditions may be yet to come, as officials expect freezing rain and sleet to hit the area as the storm moves out.

From NBC News: ‘Very Rough Commute’ Looms as Snow Blankets Much of Northeast.

The winter storm that tore through the American South, knocking out power to a half-million people, has marched up the East Coast to terrorize the morning commute Thursday.

More than 150 million people remain under a winter storm warning or advisory as snow falls in some Northeast cities at a rate of 1-2 inches per hour.

“The rate of snowfall will be hard to deal with,” said Kevin Roth, a forecaster with the The Weather Channel. “It will be a very rough commute. The may have enough plows to deal with normal storms but with two inches an hour the they drive by and the snow just builds back up. This will affect any roadways or airport runways in the region.”

It could be a very long weekend for many parents. Since Monday is a holiday, schools may just decide to close tomorrow as well as closing or letting out early today.

ray-nagin

Down in New Orleans, it was a bad day for former Mayor Ray Nagin and former St.Tammany coroner Peter Galvin, but a good day for a city that has endured more than it’s share of political corruption. From Nola.com’s James Varney: Ray Nagin convicted, Peter Galvan sentenced – a good day for Louisiana.

Wednesday was a very good day at U.S. District Court in New Orleans for those who favor good government in Louisiana. Or maybe simply for justice.

Either way, when a former mayor of New Orleans gets convicted on 20 of 21 corruption counts in one federal courtroom, and a crooked coroner is sentenced to two years in another, it at least means the bad guys don’t always get away with it.

Who knows what Ray Nagin, New Orleans’ mayor during its darkest hour of Katrina, will be sentenced to? He faces up to 20 years in prison, and I’m hard pressed to come up with many reasons he should get much less….

Meanwhile, disgraced former St. Tammany coroner Peter Galvan, who managed to make himself the highest paid official in the state and sweeten his pension pot while also raking in undeserved sick pay and other goodies, got off with a 2-year sentence when he could have gotten five.

From the Christian Science Monitor summarizes the evidence against Nagin:

The case against the former mayor was towering. In the nine-day trial, prosecutors summoned many co-conspirators to the stand who testified to the pay-to-play schemes Nagin orchestrated, plus the bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that he sought and then redirected to Stone Age, a granite countertop business operated by his sons, who were not charged.

In addition to the witnesses, prosecutors presented jurors with a mountain of evidence – e-mail correspondence, business contracts, credit card and bank statements, and more – that they said proved the mayor was a willing participant in wielding power for personal profit.

Nagin was convicted on five counts of bribery, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, four counts of filing false tax returns, and one overarching count of conspiracy. Jurors acquitted Nagin of a single charge of bribery related to a $10,000 bribe that prosecutors said he accepted through the family business.

“The physical evidence was so overwhelming that for Ray Nagin to have successfully defended this case, he would have had, in some way, to refute these documents and use his credibility,” says Michael Sherman, a political scientist at Tulane University in New Orleans and a former legal adviser to current mayor Mitch Landrieu.

ComcastMonopoly

Now if we could just get the Federal government to stop letting corporations to get away with murder. My jaw dropped when I saw this headline at Reuters: Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion.

Comcast Corp said on Thursday it would buy Time Warner Cable Inc for $45.2 billion in an all-stock deal that combines the two largest U.S. cable operators.

The friendly takeover comes as a surprise after months of public pursuit of Time Warner Cable by smaller rival Charter Communications Inc, and immediately raised questions as to whether it would pass regulatory scrutiny.

Comcast will pay $158.82 per share, which is roughly what Time Warner Cable demanded from Charter.

The combined company would divest 3 million subscribers, about a quarter of Time Warner’s 12 million customers. Together with Comcast’s 22 million video subscribers, the roughly 30 million total would represent just under 30 percent of the U.S. pay television video market.

The new cable giant would tower over its closest video competitor, DirecTV, which has about 20 million video customers.

WTF?! Comcast already owns broadcast giant NBC, and now they will essential control the distribution of TV and internet cable? If the feds let this go through, it will be another huge step backward to the Robber Baron days. Whatever happened to the Sherman AntiTrust Act, anyway?

ncv-sinkhole-2

This news out of Kentucky is just unbelievable: Sinkhole ‘erupts’ inside National Corvette Museum. From the Autoblog:

A 40-foot sinkhole (see photo at left)  developed inside the National Corvette Museum overnight in Bowling Green, KY, swallowing up eight vehicles, including two Corvette models on loan from General Motors. No one was in the museum at the time of the incident, which happened early this morning.

According to the NCM, motion sensors were set off at 5:44 AM, leading museum authorities to discover a 25 to 30-foot deep chasm, that Executive Director Wendell Strode called “pretty significant.” The sinkhole developed in the museum’s Skydome, although it can’t be seen on any of the museum’s webcams (the Enthusiast cam is the closest look we can get to what’s going on).

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports emergency personnel remain on the scene, and have only allowed museum employees to remove a single vehicle – the only remaining 1983 Corvette, which was part of a mere 44-vehicle run.

The two cars on loan from GM were a 1993 ZR-1 Spyder and a 2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil,” while the damanged museum-owned cars included a 1962 Corvette, the millionth Vette ever built (a 1992), a 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 and the 1.5 millionth car produced. None of the damaged vehicles were on loan from private individuals. The extent of the damage to these vehicles remains unclear at this time.

Finally, some science news: Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory claim to have achieved nuclear fusion. From the LA Times: Nuclear fusion reactions mark a ‘milestone’

It took 192 lasers and a building big enough to contain three football fields, but physicists have finally produced a pair of nuclear fusion reactions that created more energy than was in the fuel to start with.

The reactions lasted less than a billionth of a second, and they released only a few thousand joules — enough to power a 100-watt light bulb for less than three minutes. But it marks the first time scientists have been able to harness the power of stars here on Earth.

“This is really an important milestone,” said Warren Mori, a plasma physicist at UCLA who was not involved in the effort.

The experiment, conducted at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, is still a very long way from “ignition,” the point at which the reaction generates more energy than was required to kick it off with lasers. Scientists agree that significant hurdles remain before that goal can be reached.

But the tests, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, give researchers a promising sign that they’re finally on the right path to reaching this goal — one that could ultimately lead to cleaner nuclear energy, safer weapons arsenals and a more profound understanding of astrophysics.

So . . . what stories are you following today? As always, please post your recommended links in the comment thread and stay safe and warm where ever you are!


Friday Reads: Lords Of Misrule

twelfth night

Good Morning!

We’re coming upon my favorite time of the year marked by 12th night.  It’s a big deal down here in New Orleans because January 5th is the first day of the carnival season.  It’s when we eat our king cake and try to avoid getting the plastic baby!  It’s also one of my favorite Shakespeare Comedies. Even high school English classes didn’t ruin the fun for me!  We still have 12th night masquerade balls down here and it’s just generally a great time because there are only locals.  It’s fun to see folks walking around the quarter in medieval costumes and masks. The art, photos, and tidbits that decorate the post today are all related to the upcoming and past 12th nights which celebrate the 12th day of Christmas which is also known as the eve before the Epiphany.

My favorite thing about 12th night balls is the entire idea of having a time dedicated to the “Lord of the-lord-of-misrule-1829Misrule” or the “Abbott of Unreason”. If you have no idea what I’m writing on then we can safely assume you don’t have any old timey Scots, French or Brits in your family because that’s where the old Saturnalia festivals hid out for many years. Boxing Day is also part of this tradition.   Our favorite Abbott presides over the Feast of Fools. 

In Britain, the Lord of Misrule — known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots — was an officer appointed by lot at Christmas to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying, in the pagan tradition of Saturnalia. The Church held a similar festival involving a Boy Bishop. The celebration of the Feast of Fools was outlawed by the Council of Basel that sat from 1431, but it survived to be put down again by the Catholic Queen Mary I in England in 1555.

While mostly known as a British holiday custom, the appointment of a Lord of Misrule comes from antiquity. In ancient Rome, from the 17th to the 23rd of December, a Lord of Misrule was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, in the guise of the good god Saturn. During this time the ordinary rules of life were subverted as masters served their slaves, and the offices of state were held by slaves. The Lord of Misrule presided over all of this, and had the power to command anyone to do anything during the holiday period. This holiday seems to be the precursor to the more modern holiday, and it carried over into the Christian era.

The entire thing, of course, has pagan roots and was morphed into a different celebration by christians or at least those who didn’t try to ban the celebration outright.  He’s also called the King of the bean which is why a bean was placed in King Cake prior to the little plastic babies we find in today’s modern king cakes.

In medieval times, most Europeans adopted the Roman taste for a good time by electing a Lord of Misrule, or King of Fools. This harlequin king went by many names: King of the Bean in England, the Abbot of Unreason in Scotland, the Abbe de la Malgouveme in France. All had the power to call people to disorder. Cross dressing, bawdy songs, drinking to excess, and gambling on the church altar were only a few of the wanton acts reported

In some places the Festival of the Ass was commemorated. A young girl with babe in arms entered a church riding an ass or donkey. During the mock services, prayer responses that would have normally included an ‘amen’ were substituted by a hearty ‘hee-haw’. Parisians had a particularly infamous reputation. By the 15th century, an embarassed Catholic Church finally clamped down on the ‘monstrous’ celebrations in which, centuries later, Victor Hugo wrote of Quasi Modo as the King of Fools in Hunchback of Notre Dame

You can still find hints of the pagan festivities in Philadelphia’s Mummer Parades as well as the rituals down here in New Orleans that deal with the celebration of 12th night.  Of course, cross dressing, bawdy songs, drinking to excess and all those wanton acts actually survive down here and sans tourists which makes it very merry for the lot of us.

So, let me now change the subject.

First up, some statistics on why a woman with out a man today, is like a fish without a bicycle. It came from a Time story with an outrageous headline that I shall ignore here.  Here’s to my theory that women and gay men are the really source of civilization.

Over the last few decades men’s incomes have been slowly declining and women’s have been rising. Last year one in five men vivian leigh as viola in 12th nightwere not working, something economists call the biggest social crisis we will face. Party this is because the economy is changing quickly, but men aren’t. As the manufacturing economy gets replaced by a service and information economy, men are failing to adjust or get the skill they need to succeed.

Meanwhile, women are moving in the opposite direction: In 2009 they became the majority of the American workforce for the first time ever. Now in every part of America young single women under 30 have a higher median income than young men, which is really important because that’s the phase of life when people imagine what their future will look like. As one sorority girl put it to me — remember, I said sorority, not someone from the women’s study center — “Men are the new ball and chain.”

It’s the end of men because men are failing in schools and women are succeeding. In nearly every country, on all but one continent, women are getting 60 percent of college degrees, which is what you need to succeed these days. Many boys start falling behind as early as first grade, and they fail to catch up. Many men, meanwhile, still see school as a waste of time, a girl thing.

Be sure to check out the comments because the men are literally revolting.  The term “mansplain” is just inadequate.

e66ffecf922fe69af4b20eee46f1a8ba
Senator Mary Landrieu will be targeted and challenged by Republicans for her seat this year.  How serious will the challenge be?  The most interesting thing may be the primary which could pit the Tea Party and the neoconservative, religious hate groups against Karl Rove’s establishment republicans.

The national publication POLITICO reports that prominent social conservatives are still mentioning former Louisiana legislator andFamily Research Council President Tony Perkins as a potential candidate in the state’s contentious U.S. Senate race this year.

In an article about social conservatives’ plans to raise big money nationwide around issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, writer Kenneth Vogel says activists have floated Perkins, in particular, as a candidate they could get behind.

As a member of Louisiana’s House of Representatives, Perkins passed the state’s convenant marriage law, making it more difficult for people to get divorced. He has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage on the national stage.

According to Vogel, several conservatives gathered in Virginia recently to discuss aggressively financing and coordinating political efforts around social issues. The religious right is trying to counter fiscal conservatives, who have raised more money and gained more influence in the Republican Party in recent years.

South Dakota businessman and conservative organizer Bob Fischer was part of the team putting together a strategy for elevating social issues on the national stage. He mentioned Perkins, according to Vogel.

“Fischer in his private conversations has singled out the possibility of a long-shot Perkins 2014 Senate candidacy in Louisiana as just the sort of campaign that the new effort could support,” Vogel wrote in the article.

If Perkins ran for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, he would hardly be the only person trying to unseat Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu. Landrieu is a top target for the national Republican Party in 2014, and many candidates have already jumped in the race.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is largely considered the Republican frontrunner in the campaign. Several fiscal conservatives, such as billionaires Charles and David Koch, have already donated money to Cassidy’s campaign.

Vogel speculated that Perkins’ entry into the Senate race could highlight the split between social and fiscal conservatives within the Republican Party — not just in Louisiana, but around the country.

Vogel wrote in the article: “A Perkins campaign would make an interesting test case, since he would be pitted against Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has been singled out as a rising star by (GOP strategist Karl) Rove’s (American) Crossroads groups and is the GOP establishment’s choice to take on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.”

tnr1884Mary’s always been a mixed bag for me even though I have done fundraising, volunteer work,  and attended misc. women’s fundraiser’s for her in all of her elections.  She is totally captured by the oil and gas industry but tends to support all the decent social justice issues that manage to come up in the Senate.  I will vote for her again but I’m never really happy about it. I’m currently volunteering for her brother Mitch’s re-election as mayor.  He will undoubtedly be a target too and he’s also a mixed bag.  They are the only viable alternatives to the crap we’ve gotten since Bush/Rove basically made it difficult for black people to return here after Katrina so it is what it is.  Louisiana was a purple state before the Rove/Bush purge of people of color. My hope is Jindal has ruined the republican brand so much here that a lot of folks will return to the folds of the Kingfish.  Meanwhile, I’ve been spending the week supporting friends who’ve been lambasted for saying the many of our big post Katrina changes aren’t particularly good ones.   You can find me sticking up for one such friend here.

Happily, I am going to introduce you to HIllary Clinton’s graph of the year via Wonkblog. It’s about reading and singing to your children.

I used to sing to Chelsea when she was a baby — until she was old enough to gently tell me that I couldn’t carry a tune. This graph shows us that about two thirds of our youngest children are fortunate enough to have a family member tell them a story or sing to them regularly, and about half are read to by a family member. That’s a great start. We’ve known for years that singing, reading, and talking to our children helps their brains grow and develop. Now new research is telling us even more about how important this is for our kids as they build vocabularies and prepare for school. Seven hundred new neural connections are formed every second, laying the foundation for learning, behavior, health. What happens to children’s brains in the earliest years shapes the adults they become, the successes they achieve and the contributions they make to our economy and our society.

Every child deserves an equal chance for success. But studies show that by age four, children in middle and upper income families hear 15 million more words than children in lower income families, and 30 million more words than children in families on welfare. So we’ve got work to do. That’s why the Clinton Foundation is focusing on closing this “word gap” through an initiative called Too Small to Fail. We want to help all parents give their kids a good start in school and in life. That’s what this graph is all about.

I love the idea that children should be “Too Small to Fail”.  Run, Hillary, Run!!!!

One last little bit about the duck dick that has made my entire state look like a backwater of haterz. I’m mostly disturbed by the bevy of right wing politicians that say they are supporting his right to free speech when what they are really saying is they agree that women are men’s property, gay people are perverts,  black people should be poor and happily working in the fields, and that any one who isn’t their kind of  christian is some kind of subhuman monster.

Roberts’ initial interview resonated so deeply with conservatives because it fit with the narrative they mutter to themselves daily: “Things used to be better, and once we’re all dead you’ll see we were right all along.” Gay sinners in the closet, darkies picking and grinning on the porch, America the way God (their very particular and peculiar God) meant it to be.

For the Right to reject Robertson now would mean acknowledging that his advocacy of cradle-robbing is of a piece with his comments about the blissful black workers of his youth and his anus-centered eschatology. The thing about marrying off women before they got old enough to know better? It used to be that way, as well. And it was justified with the same paternalistic logic and ruthless rejection of anything that dared to threaten the position of those in power.

For the professional Right – candidates, pundits and the like – this Duck Dynasty flap is a reminder of a different disturbing truth: the gap between what you want voters to believe you stand for and what it’s OK to say out loud. There’s a reason they call it a dog whistle and not a duck call.

So, that’s it for me today.  A little of the old, new, and some hope for future as we move towards the Feast of Fools.   Kinda makes you stop and think about who the real fools are these days.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Try checking out the real Haunts for Halloween

13475891-mmmainThere are many really cool things about living in a very old city and in very old houses that I don’t know where to start.  You pretty much knowlalaurie-mansion that death, disaster, and the wicked part of human nature have not been sanitized for suburban pearl-clutchers or commercialized by the mercenary.  You live next to churches built for victims of Yellow Plague and cemeteries where the rain can wash up bones.  Living in New Orleans isn’t like living in a European City with their pits filled of tens of thousands of black plague victims and underground cities stacked with skeletons.  But, being in the French Quarter on Halloween night sure beats handing out candy to future obese, diabetics decked out in WalMart’s worst.

I really love watching spooky shows and movies this time of year.  One of my newest addictions is the FX TV show American Horror Story: Coven.  It has some great American actresses in it and it’s filmed in New Orleans.  It stars Jessica Lang, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett.  The two latter actresses play real New Orleans people.

Delphyne posted a link to my Facebook about scary as hell places in the USA.   New Orlean’s St. Louis  Number One Cemetery–where Marie LaVeau is supposedly buried–always pops up on the list.  Bassett plays LaVeau in Coven.  Bates plays Madame LaLaurie whose house is considered so haunted that no one lives there for long.

Frankly,  I’ve never found St. Louis One to be spooky or ooky.  Holt Cemetery is far more full of those weird vibes that you can feel in cemeteries.  Holt is the potter’s cemetery where many of New Orlean’s best Jazz musician’s were eventually buried.  The graves are shallow and not the little above ground houses you think about when you think New Orleans cemeteries  so if you go there after flooding or rain you are likely to find human bones about the place. There were lots of them scattered around  after Katrina.  They’re trying to redo the place to stop these kinds of events.

I lived across from the LaLaurie Mansion for five years and never ever experienced anything akin to a haunt or a wicked bad vibe. Kathy Bates plays Madam LaLaurie who is supposedly cursed by LaVeau to live forever and is buried alive to be found in modern times by Jessica Lange early in the series.  The series very much uses the city as another character in the story.  The rest–of course–is pure fiction and very much in the genre of making a spooky story based on the modern idea of spooky.  But, I do have to say it’s a fun twist and I love watching it display New Orleans in all its spookery.

I thought I’d share with you the actual stories of the LaLaurie House–which has been considered haunted for well over a hundred years–since it figures prominently in the 13459083-mmmainplot of Coven.  Here’s the original news story on the house that exposed the horrific things that Madame LaLaurie did to her slaves.  This is also something that is essential to the plot of Coven.  Again, I  I lived across from the house for five years and really never experienced anything.  That can’t be said for my own house now or other places I’ve been.  We will get to that later.

April 11, 1834

The conflagration at the house occupied by the woman Lalaurie in Hospital … is like discovering one of those atrocities the details of which seem to be too incredible for human belief.

We would shrink from the task of detailing the painful circumstances connected herewith, were it not that a sense of duty and the necessity of exposing and holding to the public indignation such a wretch as the perpetrator, renders it indispensable for us to do so.

The flames having spread with an alarming rapidity, and the horrible suspicion being entertained among the spectators that some of the inmates of the premises where it originated, where incarcerated therein, the doors were forced open for the purpose of liberating them. Previous however, to taking this liberty, (if liberty it can be called), several gentlemen impelled by their feelings of humanity demanded the keys which were refused them in a gross and insulting manner. Upon entering one of the apartments, the most appalling spectacle met their eyes. Seven slaves more or less horribly mutilated were seen suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other. Language is powerless and inadequate to give a proper conception of the horror which a scene like this must have inspired. We shall not attempt it, but leave it rather to the reader’s imagination to picture what it was.

These slaves were the property of the demon, in the shape of a woman whom we mentioned in the beginning of this article. They had been confined by her for several months in the situation from which they had thus providentially been rescued and had been merely kept in existence to prolong their suffering and to make them taste all that the most refined cruelty could inflict. But why dwell upon such aggravating and painful particulars! We feel confident that the community share with us our indignation, and that vengeance will fall heavily upon the guilty culprit. Without being superstitious, we cannot but regard the manner in which these atrocities have been brought to light as an especial interposition of heaven.

81455-AHS-Coven-Kathy-Bates-jnHPThere are a series of later articles on the house’s haunted status that are also great reading.  I love reading the articles in the vernacular of the day. This one is written in 1892 and describes the house’s reputation at the time.

In the Rue Royale stands this quaint, old-fashioned house about which so much has been written, and around which cluster so many wild and weird stories, that even in its philosophic day, few in the old faubourg care to pass the place after nightfall, or, doing so, shudder and hurry on with bated breath, as though midnight ghouls and ghosts hovered near, ready to exercise a mystic spell over all who dare invade its uncanny precincts.

“La maison est hantee,” that is what the Franco-Spanish residents of the “vieux carre” will shake their heads and tell you; and every one who lives in the rue Royale, whether descendants of the ancient habitue or member of that recent cosmopolitan element that has invaded the street, know the history of that old house, and repeats in guarded whispers, “The house is haunted” and will volunteer strange stories of how ghosts and spirits may be seen flitting mysteriously about the rooms after nightfall who the witches and hob-goblins hold high revel there, of the strange unearthly noises that proceed from the damp dungeon and attic, the mysterious, lambent lights that flit rapidly from window to window and then vanish, only to reappear with confused rapidity and the long, ghostly procession that winds up the stairway at midnight, and peers cautiously over the roof, where the figure of a little child may be seen upon moonlight nights haunting the latticed belvedere. And all this began long ago, when the great house was shut up for many years and broken windows and defaced galleries told the story of the uprising of an indignant populace and

delphine-lalaurie-6laid the foundation for the wild and ghostly legends which succeeding years have woven about it. No house in the rue Royale has attracted so much widespread attention. Every stranger who visits New Orleans inquires for it, artists have painted it and travelers have written about it and several years ago Geo. W. Cable made it the subject of a special article in the Century Magazine. How much of that story is true, and how much the creation of Mr. Cable’s fancy the old Creole of New Orleans will tell you; but this fact remains, that the house has a history, a real true history that needs neither imagination nor art to make it one of the most interesting studies in New Orleans, both from a historical and romantic point of view.

The house is still on the Haunted Tours that are omnipresent in the Quarter.  It was, in fact, owned briefly by Nicholas Cage.  It is an imposing structure.  My kids were anxious to take these tours but I have to admit I’ve never done it.  I have been on many a street when guides were spinning the stories they spin at some point in time. I do know a lot of people that have lived in houses they will not return to and the majority of them are not on the tours so I kind’ve judge the entire thing based on that. In my experience, there’s an apartment sitting near Cabrini park at the edge of the Quarter that’s got far more hauntings.  I’ve known folks that have lived there and nearly all of them have left within months of moving in the place.

I have had my share of really strange things that have happened since living in New Orleans and you can officially place me in the category of no longer skeptic about some kind of weird energies that exist that cannot be explained.  Nearly all of my experiences have happened after really raging hurricanes which seem to have a habit of stirring up energy and the watery ground beneath the city.  I’ve had experiences in my own home close after Katrina that I really can’t explain. The first one happened shortly after I got home when there was no electricity to speak of and no one else around.  It was deadly quiet because there were also no birds about.  I was lying in my bed and I had my curtains open wide.  I no longer leave my curtains open on that side of the house now at night.  Just call me extra cautious.  I saw a glowing round, orangish face in the window over my desk.  I really thought it was a person and since the neighborhood was mostly deserted, I was freaked out.  I ran to the window and pounded on it.  I broke the glass actually.  It occurred to me the next day that there is no way any person could peer through my window.  They would have to be standing on the shoulders of some one else to do that.  There was no light to play tricks on me so I have no idea what it could’ve been.  I was not drinking. I was not asleep.   I was in the dark reading a journal article by small flashlight.  If you can develop some plausible hypothesis let me know.  Like I said, I never leave a curtain or window open on that side of the bedroom after dark any more.

My second experience in my house was not too long after that.  I was walking towards the door to the laundry room by the same desk.  A very solid thick glass, cheese crock that holds odds and ends lifted about 18 inches off my night stand, went across my chest in front of my eyes and dropped to the floor without breaking.  My lama was in the house at the time and I ran to get him to show him the crock sitting on the floor. I have absolutely no explanation for that.  It was midday. I was not drinking and I am very much a logical, data oriented person so I am not the kind of person that just sees spirits in everything.  I know what I saw.  I know there is absolutely no logical explanation for it.

The last time I really experienced something strange was last year after Hurricane Issac when I was sitting at a table at Buffa’s in the Quarter.  I had gotten up to talk to a friend of mine.  I felt a distinct tingly,freezing cold sensation in the shape of person walking through me on the left side of my body.  It was like some one about 4 inches shorter than me walked straight through that half of my body.  It was electric and cold and totally in the shape of a person. I distinctly remember the shape of a head and torso.  It was not a linear shape.   I didn’t feel it completely on that side. It felt like the imprint of a short-person.  My friend Randy saw me turn pretty pale and could feel the temperature difference between my left and right hand.  It was very odd.

Anyway, if you spend your Halloweens in the suburbs with kids and candy and fake costumes and fake tombstones bought at Walmart you are really missing out on things.  I really love the Day of the Dead Celebrations that have gravitated here from Mexico.  They’ve got the “spirit” of the day down pat.  You really need to take the day to go to a real “haunted” location or cemetery and check out the energy then ride it to wherever it goes.  Of course, New Orleans is probably the premier Halloween destination on my list.  But, there are so many wonderful historical American cities with equally rich and real culture that I am sure you can get to one or the other.  I’ve never been to Salem, Mass but I have to say I envy people within driving distance.  Now, there’s a perfect Halloween destination!!!

Anyway, we have a lot of severe weather moving our way tonight.  I’m going to be keeping the shade down on the window over my desk tonight for sure!!!