Her James

Nearly four years ago, a young boy by the name of Jeremy Galmon was shot and killed after a second line had passed by, a casualty of people using bullets to settle arguments.

The fundraising for Jeremy’s family was held only a few blocks from my home, sponsored by members of the community and by Young Men of Olympia Social & Pleasure Club, who had sponsored the parade on the day that the boy was caught in the crossfire. The city was in an uproar over this latest victim of gun violence here, and the finger-pointing at the parade as a cause of the violence was happening in too much earnest. Casting blame on the second-line was far too easy to do at the time, but the bands were out in force, and people were driving by the Goodwork Network to give funding to the Galmon family and to deliver the message that second-lining was not a cause, but strove to be a solution in a number of ways. It was there that I met Deborah Cotton for the first time, working right alongside the organizers, enjoying the Baby Boyz Brass Band, the Roots of Music in one of its earliest incarnations, and assisting with style and grace.

I knew the name from her book Notes From New Orleans, which was one of the first post-8/29/2005 chronicles I’d read – I feel to this day that it is still unjustly overlooked as a smart, occasionally sassy, and heartfelt window into that time. I then found that she was contributing to Nola.com under the name Big Red Cotton via a blog there entitled Notes On New Orleans (I wonder where that title came from?), where her amazing voice and perspective jumped off the web browser and stood out among all that hot mess. She’d made it a point to immerse herself in the second line culture and invited me out to do so sometime.

I’ll tell everyone a secret: for quite a while, I wanted to write like Deb. Her frankness about how many people were on some sort of antidepressant to deal with the aftermath of the levee breaches helped make me bolder about admitting that I was on them and will most likely be on them for the rest of my life. There’s one post of mine that’s directly inspired by her examples: a multimedia account of a visit to another fundraiser, the Dinerral Shavers Educational Fund, filled with brass bands, love, laughter, and even some “Halftime,” anticipating the Saints’ Super Bowl win later that same month. I was happy to see her posting at the Gambit’s Blog of New Orleans, and touted her extensive online archive of second line YouTubes when I could.

Life gets crazy, and 2010 flew by, then 2011, 2012. I saw Deb again at a Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities program, then at Rising Tide 6, but I wasn’t able to take advantage of that opportunity to dance with her as she took in another of the second lines she so loved. Once I heard she was among the 19 shot by someone lying in wait for the procession to come by this past Sunday, my heart was in my throat. She’d worked so hard for so many years to show that this was a welcoming part of New Orleans culture, and one kid with a gun had struck that down, taking her with it…

She and a few others are still recovering from their injuries. The suspect(s) in the shooting is(are) still at large. And, for whatever reason, I find myself thinking about James.

James is no one specific. In Notes From New Orleans, Deb wrote about wanting a James to come along, and referred to him in one of her most recent tweets. James isn’t someone who can come and take her away from it all completely, but he can certainly make it all bearable for quite a while. James will know just what makes Deb tick, and will respond to her in all the right ways when she’s low, bringing her out of whatever doldrums she’s in. James is a supportive, seductive dream of a black man who hasn’t arrived in her life…but I wonder…

New Orleans may not have been perfect, and it may have lashed out at her, but it has sustained her all these years. She’s believed in it for so long, worked so hard for it, that I couldn’t help but think that one of the greatest tributes to her toils was Ronal Serpas making the point that the second line was not to blame for the shootings – and most everyone agreeing with that assessment. Jeffrey the yaller blogger is correct in saying “no one has done more to cover and celebrate this generation of NOLA street culture.” Deb treated it so well that if it were a person, I’m sure it would be a James.

It’s now time for us all to do what a James would do – support Deb and those others hurt in the shootings.

The Gambit is working with the Tipitina’s Foundation on a fundraiser for them all. Go here and stay alert for further details.

Deb kick-started New Orleans Good Good shortly before Sunday’s parade. Sign up for updates on her condition and details on fundraising. It would also be great, if you are in a position to do so, to sponsor some advertising on the site and keep her work going.

A blood drive effort for shooting victims is being scheduled for May 22, from 2-7 PM. At least 25 donors are needed for the blood drive. Contact meglousteau@gmail.com for further details and to volunteer.

Liprap

Cross-posted at Humid City

Screw You, Times-Picayune Subscriber!

It comes to this for the “can’t get its act together digitally OR dead-tree-wise” New Orleans Times-Picayune. Something – perhaps a prodigious drop in subscriptions? – has compelled the management of the T-P to make this move:

After slashing its newspaper printing to three days a week in late 2012, the Times-Picayune is beefing up its printing, according to a post the paper’s website Nola.com.

Part of the new printing plan is a new publication, TPStreet, a three-day a week paper “focusing on breaking news, sports and entertainment,” which “will appear in a tab-size format, publishing on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said Jim Amoss, editor for the Times-Picayune, in the Nola.com article.

TPStreet will cost 75 cents and only be available for street sale in the metro area, as opposed to home delivery. The paper will continue to only offer home delivery on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Further details on this latest development say that the subscribers will get an e-edition of TPStreet rather than having the paper delivered to their door – which means Newhouse Publications/NOLA Media Group still only has to pay door-to-door delivery people for 3 days/week deliveries. From NOLA Media’s end, it’s giving the people what they want and only paper cutting themselves a little in the process. (Well, not everything T-P readers want. There’s still no Saturday edition…)

From the still-hanging-on-by-their-ink-stained-fingers subscribers, though? This is still a big “screw you.” The NOLA.com website is still no paragon of navigation. It remains to be seen how prominently the TPStreet e-edition will be featured on the NOLA.com page, or how easy it will be to find the news on it. And nothing has been done about the cesspools that are the NOLA.com comment sections.

If this is NOLA Media Group responding to the public and to pressure from the competition The Advocate has presented, I’d say they need to go back to the presses. This is not a move that inspires confidence in the robustness of their product – in fact, it smacks of desperation. And a huge middle finger pointed in the direction of the people who willingly give them funding for an inferior product.

It’s sad, and it’s no better than Scott Thompson of The Kids In The Hall in the above sketch declaring he wants the right to masturbate in public. Enough of this dicking us around, T-P.

Update, 9:59 PM: Seems that millionaire and wannabe Louisiana politician John Georges has finally bought The Advocate and has installed two former T-P editors as key staffers. Is it merely coincidental that NOLA Media Group announces TPStreet on the same day as this development is made public? All I know is that New Orleans’ newspaper wars are fast headed to 451°…

Adventures In Sexism

Perhaps it may just be me and the particular people I follow via Twitter, but my obsessive tweeting has unearthed far too many misogynistic postings lately, stuff that we were supposed to have left behind us in this country but clearly haven’t yet. I’m having some trouble dating this particular spate of insanity over men’s and women’s roles in society…perhaps it goes back to this past bunch of national elections…or the Makers documentary on women in recent history, the third part of which I still can’t bring myself to watch…

…or all this talk about “leaning in,” which you, too, can do in a circle with the right materials, but only if you’ve socked away a lot of dough to get your own personal staff to help with things like child care:

How much do you have to spend on household help to replace a traditional at-home mom—someone to do the schlepping, cooking, cleaning, child care, and laundry? About $96,261, according to Investopedia.

In all of the voluminous ink that has been spilled on Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, and on women and the barriers they face in cracking the glass ceiling, no one is saying what is glaringly obvious to anyone thinking about how to have a big career and a family: start saving for the army of help you’ll need to pull it off. In other words, a nanny, a housekeeper, and a baby nurse.

This is no longer some bourgeois luxury; it’s a necessity given the lack of affordable child-care options and the reality that men have not picked up much of the slack at home (whether because they are burning the midnight oil at their own work, or because they prefer to watch football with the guys).

All of which, when one cannot afford to lean in despite the stunning amount of talent and hard work one has exhibited, results in the decision I and many of my fellow women have had to make out of necessity and NOT of true choice: to stay at home with the kids instead of essentially working to pay just enough for child care and little else. You’ll have to excuse me when I post the following links for your perusal; I’ve read only one of them all the way through. Guess which one and you’ll win a Twitter follow from lil’ ol’ me.

  • The Retro Wife, in which feminism is somehow still affirmed even when the woman goes right back into the place where patriarchy says she’s gotta go. Someone tell me please how that works – does said woman not go quietly? Is there a message of protest every day in the kids’ & husbands’ lunch boxes? I’m still trying to figure this out.
  • Turnabout is fair play, and Ruth Fowler’s The Retro Husband makes the most of it. So smarmy & darkly humorous, I wish I could really belly laugh over it. I must instead be content with a knowing, wistful guffaw.

And then a tempest in an oven comes down the virtual pike with rocket scientist Yvonne Brill’s obituary in the New York Times:

New York Times obituary for Yvonne Brill, a rocket scientist and inventor of a propulsion system that helped keep communication satellites in orbit, sparkedcontroversy over the weekend, as writer Douglas Martin led not with Brill’s notable scientific achievements but with the fact that she “made a mean beef stroganoff.”

After a number of complaints on Twitter — and the agreement of the Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan — the opening of Brill’s obituary was altered and the stroganoff line scrubbed. But the new opening sentence provides only the tiniest improvement — it rightly acknowledges Brill’s role as a brilliant rocket scientist up front, but it does so in the same breath and sentence in which she is commended for being a dutiful wife and dedicated, flexible mother: “She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. ‘The world’s best mom,’ her son Matthew said.”

In contrast, recently deceased film critic Roger Ebert did write a cookbook, but it is mentioned in passing in his many obituaries - and certainly not as a defining element of his life right off the bat, though he dearly loved his wife Chaz and his stepchildren and step-grandchildren and had himself described that love as a transformative force in his life. It just wasn’t deemed by the media to be as defining a role in Ebert’s life as it apparently was in Brill’s.

I wish I could say all of this was new and startling, but it’s the same ol’ same ol’ since well before my time. All of us, women AND men, keep juggling with sexism in our lives. In the movies. In who gets called first when there’s a family emergency. In who should be leaning in – or leaning out, as the case may be. In what we do or do NOT do to help when women start families.

April 9 is Equal Pay Day, calling attention to the fact that women still earn approximately 1/4 less than men do. Why April 9? It represents the time a woman has to work to earn what a man got in all 365 days of 2012 – a year and a little over three months. A suggestion by economics professor Anne York is that the household tasks be split more equitably than they have been to help achieve greater awareness for all and, through both the equal pay and household work time measurements, this will achieve the equality we all crave.

It takes far more than that. It takes our fully recognizing that men are just as capable as women as being child-rearers, nurturers, and caregivers, and that it is just as important as women being successful in traditionally-male roles. It takes all of us making conscious choices to not give in to the stereotypes and to act accordingly.

We’re not there yet…and at the rate we’re going, we may not get there in my lifetime. But I sure hope it’ll happen in this century. And I certainly wish I didn’t have to keep setting my expectations so damned low.

What We Must Grasp: Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope

Everything managed to align perfectly. The little guy did his homework in time for us to go (it helped to bribe him with a special something from the shop if he finished), I found a seat in time for the reading, and away we went…

Though I missed recording Octavia Books co-owner Tom Lowenburg’s noting the large numbers of former Times-Picayune reporters that had published their own books since leaving the paper, I got what Sarah Carr had to say and read, which can be listened to below. My apologies for the sounds of me pounding the keyboard on my smartphone during the recording, as I was tweeting a bit.

At the time of the reading, I’d only read about 70+ pages of Hope Against Hope and could already see the similarities Carr noted between the approach she took with her book on public education in New Orleans and Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers about the fierce living (and dying) happening within a Mumbai slum. There is a similar sort of ferocity brought to bear in principal Mary Laurie’s helming of O. Perry Walker High School, to the hopes Geraldlynn Stewart’s parents have for her as she begins her first year of high school at a new charter, to the sense of mission Aidan Kelly brings to his first year teaching at a New Orleans East charter school created by someone only a few years older than he – a sense of what author Madeleine Blais used for the title of a book about a group of girls high school basketball players: hope is a muscle that needs exercising if it is going to stay strong.

In today’s public education climate, they need all the hope – and all the help – they can get.

Hope_Against_Hope

The idea of telling the stories of key people living the experience of public secondary education isn’t new – classic examples include Up the Down Staircase, Educating EsmeThe Children In Room E4, some of Jonathan Kozol‘s work – but when considering how polarized the current views are on public education these days, this is an important work by a keen observer of the recent changes who wanted to go beyond the shouting to see those actually living the current climate in education. What Sarah Carr found didn’t completely conform to either side’s views. People living their lives can rarely be pigeonholed like that.

Before Geraldlynn’s, Aidan’s, and Mary’s stories begin, however, there is a lot of explanation stemming from Carr’s many years as an education reporter, so much of it that it nearly gets in the way of seeing a young ninth grader try to dissect and navigate the discipline problems in her new school while trying to perform academically, of observing a novice teacher try to roll with constant schedule changes designed to boost student test scores while trying to deal with student attitudes ranging from indifferent to outright defiant, of following a veteran school principal as she tries to keep her community together as a bulwark against the violence that returns with a vengeance after the events of August 29, 2005. Though the explanations could have been woven into the book a little better, they are very necessary. What public and charter school children, teachers, and administrators face when they start each day are a staggering amount of economic, racial, and cultural obstacles that can thwart their best efforts much of the time.

An example: Carr has said in an interview with The Gambit that “in the past schools weren’t focused enough on college, because the graduation rates were so slow, at 5 to 8 percent. Now there’s the opposite criticism, that they’re too focused on it. The best thing might be a middle road.

From Hope Against Hope, a passage on what Aidan Kelly realizes about his students when he takes them on a tour of Harvard, his alma mater:

The students looked surprised when Aidan told them more than 94 percent of Harvard’s graduates found employment, despite the university having so few courses or majors that sounded like job positions. They looked even more shocked when he said he learned more as a Harvard student through conversations than anything else. This ran counter to everything that had been drilled into them about college providing the path to income and books to knowledge. They sought universities with specific majors that would prepare them for specific jobs. Despite Sci (Academy)’s relentless focus on higher education, even many of the school’s best students did not view college as a place to network or, more important, learn to think deeply and critically.

…With their first graduation ceremony less than a year away, Sci’s teachers realized they had not talked in enough depth with their students about the purpose of college. Some of the juniors viewed higher education as a “paycheck enhancer.” Others saw it as a way to ensure they could live and work where they wanted. Almost without exception, however, the students thought of college as a means to an end. The school’s leaders knew they bore some of the blame for this. At Sci everything was presented that way: You studied hard to get good grades. You behaved well so you would not get in trouble. You ate your breakfast to have more energy. You endured Sci’s rules so you could someday be a college graduate. That was where the story stopped.

…The students on Aidan’s trip found the elitism of some of the institutions offensive in a way he had not anticipated. At their age he would have left Columbia enthused by the idea of the common core because he had been brought up to revere certain institutions…Sci’s students, on the other hand, loved NYU for its come-as-you-are message.

“Our kids are like, ‘I don’t want to change who I am,’” Aidan said. “They are not seeing it as growth; they are seeing it as an imposition.”

…(P)art of him felt ambivalent. The girls’ attitudes toward college had been shaped for years by their families and communities, just as his had been. He thought back to parents who had asked him during Harvard tours whether the university’s graduates do well in business, or whether you can become a doctor without a premed major. . At the time he had been slightly condescending; now he thought he understood where they were coming from. Maybe they were right to question whether you should accept Harvard just because it’s Harvard. Maybe his students, too, understood something he had failed to grasp.

Carr’s first book, once it gets into these lives, will have us all understanding many things we have failed to grasp. In fact, now that the inequalities seem to be growing, we will need to sharpen our sensitivities in order to right many of these wrongs. Until then, most childrens’, teachers’, and administrators’ schooling experiences will resemble these.

Hope Against Hope will scare you. It will have you shaking your head. It will make you think. It’s what not only New Orleans needs, but also the entire nation.

V-Day Pileup: On Silence and Violence

There are two links in this post I urge you to contribute to, one being the fund for the recovery of the Garden District robbery and rape victim, the other for the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. Read on to see why.

More and more, I’m finding it cannot be avoided, no matter how hard women try. We are still surrounded by people who would put us in what they think is “our place,” a position that tends to be highly restrictive on any and all physical and mental levels.

Tell me I’m crazy. Go on and talk down to me, I dare you.

…the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)…

…Credibility is a basic survival tool. When I was very young and just beginning to get what feminism was about and why it was necessary, I had a boyfriend whose uncle was a nuclear physicist. One Christmas, he was telling–as though it were a light and amusing subject–how a neighbor’s wife in his suburban bomb-making community had come running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn’t trying to kill her? He explained, patiently, that they were respectable middle-class people. Therefore, her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand….

Even getting a restraining order–a fairly new legal tool–requires acquiring the credibility to convince the courts that some guy is a menace and then getting the cops to enforce it. Restraining orders often don’t work anyway. Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist. About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It’s one of the main causes of death in pregnant women in the U.S. At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.

Events and discussions will occasionally converge that lead me to a boiling point on this subject…

Why it’s disgusting and ignorant of you to imply that a woman caught large Mardi Gras beads in a risque manner, for instance. Yeah, it’s one of the oldest, sexist, dumbest Carnival tropes, but it does get tiring after a while. I caught huge, LSU-emblazoned beads just from being at the start of the Thoth parade route. Next Carnival season, I’m gonna ask the next guy I see with giant beads on what he flashed for them.

A list of the 10 cities where women earn the highest salaries is always nifty, but women are still earning less than men.

The horrific news about the murder of paraplegic Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius‘ girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who was an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

Controversy over the Eve Ensler-organized One Billion Rising Campaign, which I only just heard about today, but I also wonder about its premise…as do many other women around the world.:

I recently listened to a Congolese woman talk in a speak-easy setting of radical grassroots feminists. She was radiantly and beautifully powerful in her unfiltered anger towards the One Billion Rising movement, as she used the words “insulting” and “neo-colonial”. She used the analogy of past crimes against humanity, asking us if we could imagine people turning up at the scenes of atrocities and taking pictures or filming for the purposes of “telling their story to the rest of the world”. Take it one step further and try to imagine a white, middle class, educated, American women turning up on the scene to tell survivors to ‘rise’ above the violence they have seen and experienced by…wait for it…dancing. “Imagine someone doing that to holocaust survivors”, she said.

I had occasion to speak with someone about the recent kidnapping, robbery, beating, and rape of a young woman in the Garden District, and large chunks of the conversation revolved around the same tropes that come up whenever something like this happens to any woman. It all came around to our living in a world where women are taught “not to be raped,” and the suspicion that comes up is generally directed first against the woman who is the victim rather than the perpetrators. When a victim’s first move is to tell her would-be comforters and shelterers “Don’t touch me. I’m evidence,” then we know who the burden of proof is on.

This hasn’t ended with the capture of the criminals and their upcoming trial. Though a large amount of funds has been raised thus far for the victim’s rehabilitation, she will need far more than that – keep contributing here. This friend of a friend of mine will be grateful.

I ask you to also consider that state budget cuts will likely destabilize what structures there are to assist women who have been victims of domestic violence as well – among them New Orleans’ own Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. They accept donations of time or money here.

Know of any other needy organizations in the city or state that help female victims of abuse, rape, or violence? Please contribute names and links in the comments. It’ll be the best Valentine’s Day gift you give. Honest.

Carnival as Goat Rodeo

From the Urban Dictionary: A Goat Rodeo… is about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it.”

- Chris Thile

Thanks to this past Super Bowl, most of the country has gotten a bit of an idea of what it is to live in a goat rodeo as we do in New Orleans. Personally, I think if the scoreboard hadn’t gone out as well, play could’ve resumed right off in a half-lit Superdome, but that 34-minute delay sure made for a lot of fun on Twitter, most of it coming from the locals.

The thing most people cannot understand unless they live here is how much the week of Carnivalus interruptus has thrown us revelers for a loop. Honestly, if I hadn’t had the Abita Springs’ Krewe of Pushmow parade in which to march the Saturday just before the big game, I’d be running through the streets begging the greasy-food stand on my parade-watching corner that disappeared for the week before February 3rd to return and rounding up a bunch of people to throw the carnival goodies collected in my attic at nearby sidewalks and neutral grounds just to justify the booth’s presence. We don’t need all the famous people here to have fun, and if they happen to be here, we don’t particularly care.

Having said that, in goat rodeo terms, this has been one of the easiest-going Carnivals I’ve experienced in part because of that break, in part because I have a bit of a particular party pooper for a son (if he goes to the parades, they must be day parades unless he’s with peers who are attending a night parade, and the weather must be pretty good, and he must be plied with snacks – some of them coming from that greasy-food stand – and a few boxes of gunpowder poppers from the carts that troll the crowds just before a parade, looking to sell wares one can most likely catch off a float later on), and in part because I’ve got so much stuff in that attic I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter much to me what we get this year. As a result, I’ve been able to kick back a little and enjoy some of the quirkier aspects of New Orleans Carnival.

I got to enjoy my fifth year of marching in Krewe du Vieux with the Seeds of Decline. We had a marvelous float tweaking Chick-Fil-A, in case you couldn’t tell from my costume:

©SeanAmbrose-47

(Photo copyright 2013 by Sean Ambrose)

I dragged my son to see the Krewe of ‘tit Rex, which he wasn’t thrilled about at first, until he got some of the mini throws the krewe members pass to paradegoers as they pull their elegant (and topical) shoebox floats through the Marigny.

Maximum Jindal: Bare Minimum State

We managed to fit in a look at the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus a few hours later on the same night – of which my personal favorite part was seeing these guys yip-yip-yip their way along the parade route. Uh-huh uh-huh.

Sesame Street Martians

But we all got together with friends for a beautiful morning of marching through Abita Springs as a band of pirates. I even emerged with sunburned shoulders this year – it’s tough being a faire pirate wenche.

Anyway, I’m sure the goat rodeo will be in full swing in this parade-packed march to Mardi Gras day. ‘Til then, roll with it, be safe

Pirate Me

and Happy Marrrrr-di Gras to all.

On Moderation

Granted, I write on my personal blog less frequently these days due to a number of circumstances, but I’m both proud and saddened to say that I haven’t linked to an online Times-Picayune article from my site since 2009.

Why is that? Let’s take a look…

Every so often, Alex Rawls of the local music and culture site My Spilt Milk gets on a virtual hazmat suit and takes a look at the interactivity of the Nola Media Group/Advance Internet/Newhouse Publications’ Nola.com site so that the rest of us don’t have to. What he found on the site wasn’t pretty:

…I saw the list of stories with the most comments stories, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s a coincidence that the top five all involved African American males – three on Nagin, one by Jarvis DeBerry on Martin Luther King Day, and one an African American male who strangled a woman. When I started looking at this issue this morning, a story titled “For Some, Attending Obama Inaugural is Relief from Anti-President Rhetoric” was on the Most Comments list (and with 147 comments as of press time, it’s the second-most comented upon active story, above four currently on the list). It includes such gems as:

You can be certain only worship for the aObamanation will be offered.

Down with the USA (created by white men)!

Down with the Constitution (written by white men)!

Hooray for the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Kwanzaa)!

Gordon Russell’s story on Ray Nagin’s efforts to settle into a Dallas suburb did offer a moderate cause for hope as the target of hostility moved off of African Americans and landed on Texas in the Comments. Evidently being Black is better than being a Texan, and it’s probably better than being a Falcons fan, but Nola.com really has to find a better solution to the Comments Section question than whatever it’s doing now.

Admittedly, much of what is there is simply bitter cynicism directed toward almost everything, and not simply coded racism. That’s harder to deal with because it doesn’t cross borders so clearly that it can be taken down, but it lays out an ugly, hostile discourse that adds a mean dimension to the site.

 

It saddens me that, since Newhouse has decided to go with less dead-tree publishing and more emphasis on the website, it hasn’t addressed this.

I wish I could say it was a surprise as well, but it isn’t. It’s been the modus operandi of the organization for quite a while now. As long as the number of hits the website gets can be translated into some sort of monetary gain for Nola.com – hey, we get this many hits per day, come advertise with us! – then any and all traffic is going to look good, even if it leaves behind a trail of filth at the bottom of each article. The racism, sexism, and plain old incivility will continue, no matter how many people from within New Orleans and without are dismayed, offended and horrified.

It’d be nice to think that the recent Sal Perricone commenting brouhaha resulting in Jim Letten’s resignation may have made some commenters a tad more cautious about typing something up straight from their ids and hitting “post,” but a lack of civility still rules online.  I keep telling people that once they get on the Internet, unless they are supremely technically savvy, their computer screens are not one-way glass (helloo, IP addresses), so they’re better off still behaving as they would were they talking to someone face-to-face. It’s been years, and that hasn’t gotten through to the general public yet. People still think their anonymity relieves them of the apparent burden of being a compassionate, thinking person…

…which leads to the other, more awful part of when comment sections are allowed to run amuck. A bunch of comments that are most likely the first, unfiltered thing to slither out of the recesses of the more reptilian parts of our brains can take the hard work of dedicated journalists and relegate it to being ripped apart in a manner akin to Cinderella’s stepsisters tearing the hell out of her first ball gown before her fairy godmother comes along to set things right. The scorched earth atmosphere that results can weaken the self-esteem of even the hardiest newshound. This doesn’t mean that journalists shouldn’t be criticized for what they do – but any references to their skin color, their families, or their lifestyles (as well as those of the journalists’ subjects) should be left out of it, and leaving it up to the commenters themselves to “flag” anything they deem offensive clearly isn’t working, judging from Alex Rawls’ examples quoted above. It’s why I subscribed to the dead-tree Picayune until the laying off of half the paper’s newsroom – to support the journalists’ work, not the commenters’ spew.

James O’Byrne of Nola Media Group kept emphasizing at this past year’s Rising Tide conference the increased use of smartphones and tablets among readers that supposedly helped push the decision to publish the TP 3 days a week. I know that when I go to a Nola.com link via my Droid phone, most of the time I don’t see the comments unless I click on another link for them. I want to hope that the monitoring of hits is taking that into account, but as long as this remains a numbers game, I don’t see that happening.

With all the current hubbub over the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras, the hand-wringing by City Hall over the good impressions we locals need to impart to this season’s big shot & tourist onslaught, and the technological innovations being touted, it’s sad that Da Digital Paper, putting itself out there as THE New Orleans news source online, cannot seem to consider all of this and take the steps to preserve whatever integrity it has left.

Yeah, admittedly, there’s not a lot of integrity there, but monitoring or eliminating comments outright would be a good step towards getting some back.

The Return

On returning to New Orleans last night, after a week of visiting family in Oklahoma City, I was struck by a few things…

- Who told Norco’s refinery it could make like Mordor? We could see those flames from Manchac.

- I’ve never seen so many fireworks being shot off up and around Kenner, Metairie, and New Orleans like that. Then again, I’ve never driven into the area on New Year’s Eve, either.

- The parking situation on my block was insane. Really. One would’ve thought it was Mardi Gras time already. Or New Year’s Eve. In the French Quarter.

At any rate, here’s to a good, sweet new year for everybody. Hold onto your resolutions ’cause king cakes are coming in five days. On the last big leg of my drive back home, I played this album in the car and fell in love with this song all over again. I’ve never been a country girl, but there truly ain’t nothing like living in the South. This goes double for New Orleans.

(My apologies to those who read an earlier version of this post. Trying to post from a smartphone is fraught with insanity.)

A Brief Meditation

Over an eighth night of Chanukah dinner, I got into a discussion about the horrible event in Newtown, CT, with a friend of mine who taught for many decades.

“Where are the emergency drills in local schools for this kind of thing? Why is the security at the schools here so lax?” she worried.

It was deemed a sad thing that lockdown procedures were even necessary at schools today, but some basic measures like keeping school gates and doors locked from the outside during school hours seem like afterthoughts here. I remarked that just after I learned about Newtown, I went to pick up my son from school and observed a school staff member head for her car just outside a school side gate, get what she needed from her vehicle, then head back onto school grounds without closing the gate behind her. It’s not like it couldn’t happen in New Orleans – it did nearly ten years ago.

“They do keep the main building closed from the outside, with the only access being via a buzzer and an intercom system,” Dan said, “but if you’re a kid or teacher in one of the portable classrooms, you’re on your own,” he finished half-jokingly.

The only drills anyone runs in the schools here are fire drills, and those not very frequently. I suppose, and hope, a lockdown drill or two will be a part of the school year. The trick is trying to give the kids a sense of safety without it feeling like a police state.

At the same time, schools across the country are being so defunded that to jump up and throw loads of money at security for impoverished schools seems cruel and ridiculous. I’d prefer that the long-term solution be more money to education and the proper treatment of mental illness, and better gun control laws…

…but chances are, we’ll be debating this stuff until someone comes into an infant daycare and opens fire.

Invitation to Profiling?

I’ll admit it: I’m a slacker mom about many things, among them my son’s homework.

Well, considering his attention-deficit diagnosis, I’m not as much of a slacker as I’d like to be. I’m constantly having to remind him not only to do what he wrote down in his assignment book, but to stay in one place and do it. Bribes such as the eventual watching of MythBusters episodes, Angry Birds and Bad Piggies playing time, and dessert upon the completion of homework also enter the picture…but I’ve rarely been uneasy about the subjects he covers in school.

Rarely, I say…but not never. It has come up a couple of times. And I think we’ve been about due.

First of all, head here and check out pages 107-108. Take your time. Look it over.

Yes, you all read it right. It’s asking kids for a criminal description.

Okay. It doesn’t say what the crime is. It just says you caught someone doing something illegal and you need to write down a description of the perp for the police. In that imaginary vacuum where crime is a rare occurrence, this isn’t a big whoop, you just describe somebody.

However, New Orleans is anything but a vacuum crime-wise; in fact, this assignment could well be viewed as prep for when something happens. Much as I and many other parents I know do our best to protect our kids from it out there – whether it’s locking our house and car doors tight, making sure that no valuables (or anything that may look like it could hold valuables) are within view in either place, not doing too much alone after dark, or just not watching the local news – we still can’t keep our kids from hearing about it. Crime affects us all here in one way or another. Our neighbors have had things stolen out of their yard. I had a bicycle stolen right out of my foyer last year. Hearing gunshots is not an unusual occurrence, sadly. Trust in the police is a laughable concept. And that’s just addressing the likelihood that an assignment like this will become something more.

As to the actual description of a criminal: shouldn’t it be “alleged criminal,” first off, or does that point out how farcical “innocent until proven guilty” can be? Also, there’s a little something known as profiling that happens even with the best of us. My son chose not to do this assignment and got a zero on it (even after repeated reminders from my husband all through Thanksgiving week to do it), but when he did do it the second time around (which his teacher has him do as practice), he used this episode of one of his favorite shows as inspiration. Something makes me wonder if studies have been done on what types of people 9-to-10-year-olds describe as “criminals” and why. I’m sure if we could hold that mirror up to ourselves, we wouldn’t find it funny or charming…not even if the kids wrote beautiful descriptions of the teacher as a giggle.

I asked my son’s teacher about this assignment. Was she concerned about the content the kids would be writing in their criminal descriptions? Was the content discussed at all or were the mechanics of the essays the only focus? No, this wasn’t about my son’s grade – he didn’t do the assignment and suffered the consequences: a big fat zero (if the essay had involved describing airplanes or snakes, I’m sure the little guy would’ve been ON IT.).

Her answers?

No, she wasn’t concerned.

Yes, they did discuss the content some. The teacher felt that as long as a specific crime wasn’t described, the possibility of controversial content wasn’t an issue.

Apparently, I was the first parent out of all the students in all the 4th and 5th grade classes (this assignment was given to more students than just the ones in my son’s class – it’s prep for the state exam) to raise these questions. Which made me wonder if I was just being a busybody.

An opinion from another teacher? This assignment is inappropriate.

My opinion? The fact that I’ve been the only parent to bring this stuff up definitely says something. I just wish I knew what that something was…

…and why it makes me feel sad.