Saturday, February 26, 2005

Anyone who would actually care about this already knows, but I feel compelled to provide another "update" in regards to the New Orleans-area American Idol contestants. David Brown and Lindsey Cardinale are still in! Whoop de freakin doo ... I mean, fantastic! Hurray! Do us proud throughout this interminable process that I'm now hopelessly sucked into...

Apparently I neglected to mention some dude with New Orleans roots who made it to the final 24, but got eliminated Wednesday. Sorry, dude.

My wife Lovely likes Constantine. (No, not that one, this one.) She says he looks cute most of the time, except for some moments when he appears... "touched".

(h/t Murph)
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Homer Plessy 

My apologies. Like the Pope, I've suffered a relapse of the flu. Posting will be light this weekend, but I wanted to send out this historical digest regarding New Orleans' history (and its preservation).

Anyway, just hours from now seven local restaurants and organizations will contribute 70 gallons of chili for the "Free Chili for Civil Rights" event, which will be held Saturday from 12:30 to 3 p.m. in the basement of St. Paul Lutheran Church (2624 Burgundy). Donations are requested for the all-you-can eat chili cook-off. Keith Plessy, a fourth generation descendant of Homer Plessy, will be one of the judges. Be generous: the groups involved in this project need to raise $500k for the civil rights memorial celebrating Homer Plessy's disobedience 113 years ago. More local angles here in the T-P article.

In the summer of 1892, at the intersection of Royal and Press Streets, Homer Plessy, a New Orleans shoemaker of African heritage, was pulled off a railroad car reserved for white people, then arrested and jailed. He had ridden only one block.

It was actually a set-up. Civil Rights activists knew Plessy, an octoroon (7/8 white, 1/8 black) could easily "pass" as a white man. However, they informed the train personnel of his "blackness", and when he refused to move to the "colored" train cars, he was arrested, and Plessy's case would eventually be taken to the Supreme court. Interestingly, railroad companies supported the case, as they felt it unnecessary to pay the cost of separate cars.

Plessy's action has been described as the "birth of the modern civil rights movement." Regrettably, the "separate but equal" reasoning of the decision would hold for sixty more years. Justice John Marshall Harlan, the lone dissenter, was himself a former slaveholder. Here's a selection from his classic opinion:

The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a State to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.

In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case.
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Friday, February 25, 2005

Something new every day 

When not hobnobbin' with the beautiful people, Murph knows about the dark, corrupt underbelly of the "gret stet".

The criminal organization of Carlos Marcello was by far the largest "industry" in Louisiana during the sixties and seventies, bringing in over $2 billion per year. Marcello became the wealthiest, most influential, most powerful, most independent Mafia leader in the U.S.. His underworld empire spread throughout Louisiana and Texas, with illegal businesses and virtual monopolies (slots, casinos, racing wire services) bringing in huge amounts of cash. Naturally, he could influence or pressure any judge, councilman, politician or cop whenever the need arose (which it often did). Marcello generously funded LBJ's Senatorial campaigns, and was amply rewarded by "the Master of the Senate", who made sure anti-racketeering legislation wasn't passed.

I'm currently reading Mafia Kingfish by John Davis, and will have more about Marcello later. I promise.

Didja know? The largest mass lynching in the United States occurred in New Orleans in 1891, which, according to Davis, was also the only "popular uprising against the Mafia in American history". One night, members of a New Orleans Mafia family shot and killed the chief of police. Months later, a bribed jury acquitted all eleven principals who were charged with the murder, a verdict which infuriated the citizens of the Crescent City. So, the next day a protest rally morphed into an enraged mob of 2000 people, who stormed the jail in which the Sicilians were still being housed. The angry mob shot and killed the eleven mafioso and hung them from lamposts.

Despite this brutal spectacle, the New Orleans mafia (this country's oldest) grew rapidly throughout the 20th century, thanks in large part to its rising star Carlos Marcello. Yet, whenever confronted about his activities, Marcello would play dumb and insist he was just a "tomato salesman".

We'll have more on this in coming posts, but for now I just wanted to underscore one of John Davis' observations about the mob in New Orleans:
Before long there would be more assaults on public officials, a practice that came to distinguish the New Orleans Mafia from all other Mafia families, which for the most part tended to confine their killings to offenders and rivals within their own organizations and competitors from other families.

Soon: more New Orleans history from the 1890's. What a way to start your weekend!!
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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Take a guess 


What was the biggest industry in Louisiana during the 1960's and 70's?


Hint: It wasn't tomato sales.

Hint #2: It grossed $1.5+ billion in the sixties, and surpassed $2 billion in the seventies.

I'll have the answer in a post tomorrow.
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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

"...after all, it was you and me" 

Seems like an appropriate time to update you on JFK Reloaded-- you may recall that's the assassination simulation game where "players" re-enact the "Crime of the Century" again and again... from the shooter's perspective. I know I've told you before how hideous it is, but let me just re-emphasize once more: this game is not for the young, nor the weak of stomach, nor the pure of heart.

The purported rationale behind this graphic simulation is to see how accurately one can duplicate the ballistic trajectories as understood by the Warren Commission. You try to aim and time your shots just as "Oswald" did back in November of '63. And the player who most closely matches their three shots (first ricochetes off Elm Street, the second being Arlen Specter's "magic bullet", and the third being the brain exploding kill shot) to the evidence wins a prize of up to $100k.

Now, granted, this is an amazingly realistic simulation, and your goal is to basically "thread" three needles from a distance in eight seconds. It's not easy at all. But you have an unbroken scope and unlimited chances to "practice". There's also a "player's forum" where techies trade tips on improving one's score. Anyway, the bottom line is that after three months of countless simulations, the JFK Reloaded competition finally concluded yesterday. A sharpshooter from France (perhaps a Corsican?) won the grand prize-- despite his or her score being only about 800 out of a possible 1000. "Magic bullet", indeed.

So what does this "competition" tell us? Nothing conclusive, certainly, but it underscores the enormous odds of such a freakish shot sequence ever occuring. Instead of helping to prove the Warren Commission's conclusions, the simulation has shown how much of a "longshot" their theory really is.

In previous posts I've indulged in some assassination history and conspiracy innuendo.

Like it or not, there'll be much more of that to come.

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"There is no such thing as paranoia." 

If you want my full and undivided attention-- I mean, if you want me rigidly alert like a German guard-dog-- simply compile an intriguing set of "dots" which include phrases like:

"...he never realized he was being used as a cat's-paw in a conspiracy."

"...went through his military file in 1997 and removed any embarrassing information, and tossed documents in the trash."

"I may have been a patsy."

And, of course, make it powerfully evil and set it in beautiful, wholesome Tejas...

F.X. Leach (Altamont, 1969)
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Monday, February 21, 2005

Ya Mama was Pro-Choice, dawlin' 

Recently, when debating abortion, I've been asking more and more pro-lifers if they attend memorial services for miscarriages.

Uhh... whaddya talkin about now, erster?

Since a child's life begins at conception, and (as per the GOP platform) the rights of the unborn should not be "abridged" for any reason, I wonder why there are almost no funerals for, say, miscarried babies. Seems like pro-lifers would be the first to mainstream such memorials, and yet... I've never heard or seen any notices for such a thing. Shouldn't pro-lifers formally remember the lives of dead children-- both born and unborn? Shouldn't all fetuses and fertilized eggs have burial rights?

From the Talent Show, I found an editorial that drives this point home magnificently (in addition to many others). It's titled "Unintelligent Design" by Jim Holt, and this part got me all atwitter:

[Why] should the human reproductive system be so shoddily designed? Fewer than one-third of conceptions culminate in live births. The rest end prematurely, either in early gestation or by miscarriage. Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians who believe in both original sin and the doctrine that a human being equipped with a soul comes into existence at conception. Souls bearing the stain of original sin, we are told, do not merit salvation. That is why, according to traditional theology, unbaptized babies have to languish in limbo for all eternity. Owing to faulty reproductive design, it would seem that the population of limbo must be at least twice that of heaven and hell combined.

Nature can be such a Mutha.
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"Kill the body and the head will die" (and vice versa) 

"It never got weird enough for me"

Well, the Doctor of Gonzo killed himself.

In Hunter Thompson's 1994 book, Better than Sex, his "About the Author" paragraph concludes: "He will be gone by the year 2000." I took him seriously then and doubt anyone who followed him closely can be totally surprised by this.

I've been a fan of Hunter S. Thompson since first discovering him in junior high. I could hardly summarize him any better than a hundred other devotees will, but let me just say two things.

First, if you haven't read one of his rants, you don't know what a rant is. Period.

Second, his analytical method of comparing political campaigns to drug trips is perhaps the most profoundly accurate insight in political science.

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