Saturday, March 19, 2005

Did social and financial conservatism kill the Crescent City? 

New Orleans is having a month-long celebration of John M. Barry's Rising Tide: the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how it changed America, as part of a community-wide effort to fight illiteracy. I'm anxious to attend some of the events and discussion goups which are part of this laudable effort. Yesterday I just finished the book, which couldn't have been better. If you want to get smart fairly quickly, read Barry's books. Like Robert Caro, Barry gives you far more than you expect in a gripping, page-turning narrative. Most importantly (again like Caro), he brings you into the secret meetings of powerful men behind closed doors, where so much of consequence is decided.

So, at the end of Rising Tide, Barry writes a veritable epitaph for New Orleans. Once the wealthiest city in America, the old "Queen of the South" fell long and hard in the 20th century. Berry charts some of the reasons for New Orleans' degeneration, and doesn't sugarcoat it:

New Orleans had never been open, not in the way cities in the West were, where "old money" was measured in months, nor even in the way cities in the East were, where immigrants could muscle their way into first political and then economic power. New Orleans had been exclusive from the first.... But before the flood New Orleans had at least accepted transfusions of new blood. After the flood the city grew even more insular. The Boston Club and the finest Mardis Gras krewes closed even more tightly about themselves and seemed to take special pride in excluding newcomers, especially oil company executives. And the city's elite held grudges: Russell Long, Huey's son, was elected six times to the U.S Senate and chaired the Finance Committee for many years, but was never invited to the Comus ball.

The social conservatism intertwined with the financial conservatism; the one magnified the effect of the other. In the 1970s, a local economic study concluded:"[The] social system excludes executives recently transferred to New Orleans and discourages their participation in community issues... A narrow circle of wealth-holders... represent a closed society whose aims are to preserve their wealth rather than incur risks in an effort to expand it... This development has reduced the opportunities." At the same time, Eads Poitevent, a bank president and Boston Club member, conceded: "The long-established New Orleans financial community has often been accused of beinga conservative aristocracy that was tight-fisted and wanted to keep things as they have always been. To some extent, that is absolutely true." As a result, business in the city did not expand; it shrank. Local companies found it more difficult to grow. Large companies looking for headquarters, or even a regional headquarters, put their operations in Houston or Atlanta. Only one Fortune 500 company, Freeport McMoran, has its headquarters in New Orleans.

And so the city decayed. Before the flood New Orleans had vastly more economic activity than any city in the South. Decades later, while in the newest New South such cities as Charlotte and Miami-- not to mention Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston-- thrived and grew, New Orleans fell far behind its old competitors, and banks even in Memphis now dwarf those in New Orleans. Meanwhile, the city's social and business elite increasingly went separate ways; in the early 1990s not a single bank president belonged to the Boston club.

New Orleans had become even more ingrown, and it was dying. Only the port, created by the great river and [James] Eads, remained vital. The city had become a place for tourists, and picture postcards...

It would seem difficult for a city to celebrate and promote a book containing such "rough truths". But I'm proud that so many have come together to do so.
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Friday, March 18, 2005

He took his eyeball out and inserted it directly into his navel... 

Last week bloggers listed their favorite philosophers.

This week's indulgence is ranking favorite/best movies of the 90's. (Though I've yet to see a list with Army of Darkness on it-- a damning omission.)

Hmm. How 'bout we combine projects? I proudly present Friedrich Nietzsche's favorite (mainstream) movies of the 90's.

1 Goodfellas (Fritz had a shinebox)
2 Blade Runner Director's Cut [1992] (robots aren't "all too human", or are they?)
3 JFK (because the truth of untruth is out there)
4 L.A. Confidential (two guys striving to merge into one Ubermensch)
5 Barton Fink (pretty much the exact same thing)
6 Rushmore (Max's acts of love and art were beyond good or evil)
7 Fight Club (see #4 & #5, plus Meatloaf)
8 Trainspotting (seemingly odd choice-- but unbeknownst to many Fritz loved the "c" word, and can often be found laughing at Emerald Bile).
9 Big Night (must be a misprint, Fritz wasn't a gourmand)
10 Passion Fish (wait a sec, oyster-- you just added that cuz it's set in Louisiana!)

You already know my favorite artist since 1970. But you can go defend him here.
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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Our Future 

From Ricky:

The class of Oak Hill [High School] students, who all read a newspaper daily in class, revealed their concerns that the media has too much power, sometimes reporting too much personal information about people, including people who commit minor crimes.

The Oak Hill students also believe the media should censor itself to preserve national pride. Most in the class agreed people shouldn't be able to disagree or disrespect the President in the media -- they all said they're Republicans.

"If Americans don't support him, you can't run a country," said Kayla Smith.

Apparently now more than ever, "Youth is wasted on the young." What the hell happened to rebellion? Or even the barest resistance to falling in line?

Gracious. I don't care who is President when my daughter's sixteen, just as long as she wants to disagree with them at least part of the time.

This quote came to mind:
A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head. -Benjamin Disraeli

OK, so perhaps those students are just exceedingly precocious. They're in a race to sixty and want to skip that pesky "romantic dreamer" stage of life. Is that it? Let's meditate on that possibility while listening to some punk rock.

they call it youthful idealism,
and even i would have to agree with them
except some of us grow up
and its still there

i grow up too slow
i don't wanna go

--Operation Ivy, "Junkie's Runnin' Dry"

You're dead before your 35
I'm gonna stay young until I die
I'm gonna stay young until I die

--7 Seconds "Young 'Til I Die"

We are the sons of Reagan heil
We are the god forsaken heil
Right is our religion
We watch television
Tons of fun and brain washed slime

--Bush Reagan Youth (one of the more painful bios you'll ever read)

That was rejuvenating. Screw Disraeli's political formula. Whether one's sun is rising or setting, let's remember the words of Ben Franklin:

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Hopefully, our little goosesteppers from Oak Hill will one day muse: "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."
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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

We Link Dump, You Decide. 

(Updated:) Murph relieves himself in a unisex bathroom, pulls a "Sloppy Poppy", and gets called on it by Grace Jones(?). He then relents, washes his hands, and later has the chutzpah to claim that if she confronted him again, he wouldn't back down a second time.

I see.

Now, with all due respect to the auteur from Louisiana (and his allegedly clean penis): if the situation were to arise again, my money's on Grace getting the upper hand. I might even go all in on that one. Not because I have a reckless Passenger 57 gambling-style, but simply because I'm confident Grace would take Murph down. With little sweat. She's an intimidating, athletic woman who wouldn't tolerate impudent backtalk, much less an assault on her person with unwashed hands.

Can someone go over to Hobson's Choice and help me understand what James thinks of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton? He's far too cagey and subtle when discussing them, and I can't be sure of his viewpoint. Like the brown "bum smear" imagery at the end of the post... how is one to interpret that? Positively? Negatively? I cannot be sure-- it's like a freakin' Derridean word game over there.

My only guess is that James is trying to complete a book collection, and that he's making an oblique request for Clancy and Crichton titles. Very well. Seems like an Amazon wishlist would streamline things, but that's ok. I'll endeavor to post James' shipping address so that my generous readers can better assist him in building his personal library. Update to follow.

Fellow N.O. Metblogs contributor Ray posted this hilarious collection of military absurdist humor (but I repeat myself) which uses direct quotes from guys on the ground. A lot of it seeks to make the best of a bad situation, but there are also several quotes which border on the profound. Here's a few examples:

"You only know as much as you don't know." GO (EUCOM).

"No. Now I'm simply confused at a higher level..." Foreign GO/FO when asked if he had any questions following a transformation brief at JFCOM.

"If I'd had more time, I'da written a shorter brief..." Maj (EUCOM).

"That guy just won't take 'yes' for an answer" MAJ (EUCOM).

And then there's this helpful chestnut:

"Never pet a burning dog." LTC (Tennessee National Guard).

Oh, and for all the readers interested in how my New Orleans Metblog entrepreneurial forum went... ew. Ew, ew, ew. It never quite became the creative, scintillating online discussion that I hoped for. And as for my gift to the city-- my free money-making idea-- how was the reaction to that?

Um, shall we say: subdued.

On a much more serious note, Michael has a powerful, uncharacteristically personal post "On Dignity". Amanda Marcotte (now writing at Pandagon) reprints a strongly argued post on abortion rights that contains what I believe to be one of the most potent insights into the emptiness of (many) so-called "pro-life" positions:

So, when does life begin? To say that it begins at "conception", i.e. when the sperm meets the egg and fertilizes it, is to say that actually begins before a woman is really considered pregnant. As Hugo admits on his blog, a good deal of fertilized eggs do not implant at all; in fact, I've read estimates that put it into the majority. As a culture, we do not actually consider miscarriages and even passed fertilized eggs to be humans worth mourning. We do not have funerals for miscarriages and we don't baptize women's menstrual flow just in case.

Forcing a fertilized egg not to implant isn't even considered an abortion in the medical sense. Conflating the birth control pill and the morning after pill with abortion is a falsehood. But the pro-life side doesn't accept this, because to accept that is to accept two big issues that completely undermine their argument--that abortion is terminating a pregnancy, not killing a baby, and that what makes a pregnancy has more to do with women's bodies than men's bodies.

Oh and remember the Houston Chronicle's endorsement of Bush, where they argued he would become more moderate in his second term, like LBJ? At the time many (including myself) scoffed at this buffoonery. Stephen even cancelled his 35 year-old subscription to the paper in protest.

Well, Kevin Drum reminds us about how naive that expectation was:

So George Bush has tapped Paul Wolfowitz to be head of the World Bank and John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN. Earlier this year he resubmitted all ten of the judicial nominees that Democrats had filibustered before the election. And Alberto Gonzales, the guy who wrote the torture memos, is now Attorney General.
I never understood the wish fulfillment fantasies of people who thought Bush might change in his second term -- he's obviously a guy with only one gear and a profound need to crush his enemies -- but I wonder if anyone still believes this? If so, it's time to face the music. It's going to be a long four years.

Yeah, the Bushmobile has one gear alright. Unfortunately, Rove is driving, and his idea of "cruise control" is putting a brick on the gas pedal. The tac is definitely in the red with these guys. And it's dangerous to drive a car in the red.

What about the "crushing the enemies" part? Well, to some extent that's true for nearly anyone who plays high-stakes politics. James Carville said:

Elections are about fucking your enemies. Winning is about fucking your friends.

Pretty much. Let me maintain that feisty, bare-fisted spirit and recommend that the liberal community try out "Weepublicans" instead of the stale "Repugnicans" or "Rethuglicans". It seems to mock on so many levels, for me. It's got the capital "W", it disparages size, and it evokes the clueless, impotent Elmer Fudd. No doubt others have used the word at some point, but it occurred to me independently, so I thought I should throw it out there.
After a quick Googling, yes, it appears the GOP embraces the term, for their tots, as in "Wee"publicans. Heh, heh. Even better.

When it comes to (corporate) corruption, Louisiana's just a piker compared to her neighbors: Healthsouth in Birmingham, Worldcom in Jackson, and Enron & KBR in Houston.

Simpsons voice and comic actor Harry Shearer is posting over at TPM today. He lives (when he can) in New Orleans. I liked this quote he made in a Salon interview several years ago:

As I say, I live part-time in New Orleans where there is so much more spirit of community that it puts what goes on in the rest of America kind of in dramatic relief. People aren't different but the circumstances that they are in as living arrangements tend to either push them toward more of that or less of that.

You see a yearning to get more of that again in these Main Street-style malls that are being built, which are trying to summon the semblance or a simulacrum of community without actually the essence of it.

And to the idiotic shill who claimed last year that Anchorman was one of the "10 funniest films of all time": by Zeus' beard, sir, you are a mouthbreathing philistine!

I apologize to all readers for linking to the reviewer back in July. Please don't sue me. Only now did I get around to netflixing the movie, and wasted 20 minutes of my life last night before I had to turn it off. The definition of Lackluster.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! (Pretend the blog background is greener than it is.)
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Revenge of the (inner) Seth 

Seeing the new Star Wars trailer last week got me tittering in excitement. And viewing it during my beloved O.C. was... almost a sensory overload. My goodness there are some handsome young actors on that program!

Afterwards, every part of my body felt strangely rigid and electric. To calm down, I took a soothing bubble bath while playing my favorite Scentstory: "Lavender Streaks". Luckily, that did the trick. And while luxuriating, nakedly, in the warm bath I had the most wonderfully random idea:

Wouldn't it be great if I could find a strong, cool, James Dean-type to indulge me in a little jedi "swordplay" atop a massive, protruding volcano? I mean, what dangerous fun we could have, dancing with our glowing light sabers! I could be Obi-wan, and my strong, silent companion could be Anakin. Or, I'd let him choose. Yes, whatever he wanted. Just as long as we could hang out together without the girls around.

It's perfect because some serendipitous climate changes have provided us with the perfect location for an Episode III re-enactment. We could play atop the old African volcano during the day, and share a pitched tent during the (now much warmer) nights. And on the mountaintop, in the tent, I could whip out my portable DVD player and show my new friend a riotous scene from Skin Deep, which I'm sure he'd enjoy.

So, anyone game for a memorable outing?

(Supposedly there's a thawed leopard carcass up where we'll go. Hope it doesn't reek.)
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New Orleans: not Bobo's world 

Michael and others flagged this cringe-inducing column by David Brooks yesterday. It's difficult to fully appreciate his utter ninnery if you haven't experienced "the treatment" at Antoine's restaurant.

Hmm, how to put this?

The excesses in a private room at Antoine's are legendary, and, I'm happy to attest, have not diminished in intensity or degeneracy from the glory days of decades past. Not only does the food and drink flow relentlessly to the table, but, shall we say, the staff can accomodate nearly any whim a customer might have. (If they know you, obviously.) Now, I'm sure Brooks' table was fairly tame compared to some of the crowds I've revelled with-- BUT, I'm positive the atmosphere was one of excess, freedom and amorality. To have experienced all this (an Antoine's dinner can easily last four hours) and at the very end, during the flaming devil's coffee ceremony, to have the uptight prudery to ask-- with total seriousness-- "Is it decaf?!?"

Oh, lawdie there is no saving this man.

Bobo says, "At least we have New Orleans." No, Bobo. If you inquire about decaf after the Antoine's treatment, you've totally missed New Orleans. Next time, your query at that stage of the evening should involve something like booze, bud, blow, boobs or barf.
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Monday, March 14, 2005

"Staring at myself reflected in the eyes of the dead man on the beach" 

When I read that Bush had cited Camus in one of his speeches in Europe, I knew I had to find the quote. So I did, and of course it didn't disappoint. Luckily, I also found a wonderful smackdown at Counterpunch by Gary Leupp, a History Prof at Tufts. Bush's speech stated "Albert Camus said that, 'Freedom is a long-distance race.' We're in that race for the duration -- and there is reason for optimism..."

Leupp responds:

What an insult to Camus, whose notion of freedom was very different from that of the president! His was the radical freedom that comes from abandoning myth and dogma, and questioning the existence of any meaning in the universe other than that which the human mind creates. The powerful novel The Stranger ends with its hero, convicted of murdering a man in a moment of confusion, a protagonist who throughout the narrative has been thoroughly dispassionate, finally exploding in indignation at the attempt of a priest to comfort him before his execution.

"I hurled insults at [the priest]. I told him not to waste his rotten prayers on me; it was better to burn than to disappear. I'd taken him by the neckband of his cassock, and, in a sort of ecstasy of joy and rage, I poured out on him all the thoughts that had been simmering in my brain. He seemed so cocksure, you see. And yet none of his certainties was worth one strand of a woman's hair." As the startled priest is removed from his cell, the convicted murderer stares out through his prison bars, opening himself to the "benign indifference of the universe."

Camus' freedom involves rejecting religion and accepting that meaningless universe. It also means abandoning any notion of a "direction of history."
For Bush, a cocksure man full of worthless certainties, who seeks to impose fundamentalist Christian morality, sideline science and actually diminish freedom in the name of the "war on terror," to invoke Camus is an outrage. Surely some in the Brussels audience wanted to puke.

Yes, nausea would seem appropriate.

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Brilliancy !! 

YRHT salutes Garry Kasparov's decision to leave chess and combat Putin:

Kasparov, one of Putin's most vociferous liberal critics, released a statement Friday on his web site,, saying that Russia was "moving in the wrong direction," and that he would "do everything possible to fight Putin's dictatorship."

"I did everything that I could in chess, even more," he said in the statement. "Now I intend to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics."

Over the years, we've followed Kasparov's no-holds-barred editorials against Putin in the Wall Street Journal. It's clear that he's passionate about expanding democracy in Russia, and we wish him the very best from here on out.

However, we can't help but note a glaring omission in Kasparov's latest series of chess books, entitled My Predecessors. New Orleanian Paul Morphy, whom no less than Bobby Fischer regards as the "the greatest genius of them all" is excluded, because Kasparov limited himself to analyzing only official world champions. It isn't Morphy's fault that the chessplayers of his era were too scared to face him in a championship match.

Bobby Fischer said of Morphy, whose professional career lasted 16 months:

Perhaps the most accurate player who ever lived, he would beat anybody today in a set-match. He had complete sight of the board and seldom blundered even though he moved quite rapidly. I've played over hundreds of his games and am continually surprised and entertained by his ingenuity.

And if you think that's just Fischer being provocative, then consider Cuban master Jose Capablanca's assessment of Morphy:

The magnificent American master had the most extraordinary brain that anybody has ever had for chess.

Enthusiasts can enjoy Morphy's "Opera Game" (perhaps the most famous in chess history) here. Reviewing that obliteration reminds us of last May, when YRHT released a transcript of a conversational exchange between Morphy and a familiar soul.

[Update: For the record I think Marshall-Levitsky 1912 is the most famous ever, because it ends with the greatest move in the history of chess. Queen sacrifices are so... sexy.]
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By all means, keep "digging"-- but shouldn't we consider some non-geological metaphors? 

The Moose is excited, and tells us not to miss this article:

Susan Schmidt has delivered a fascinating front page Washington Post story about the sordid tale of the Abramoff/Scanlon/DeLay/Reed Indian gambling scandal. Interestingly, the Post is devoting Watergate length coverage to this unfolding saga that apparently involves the entire Republican establishment.

The Louisiana angle in this drama is huge. Vitter, McCrery, Blanco, Foster, Tauzin, Breaux, all played different roles... not to mention DeLay and Hastert. Yeah, if/when this breaks it could be volcanic, er, potent. I just hope no one jinxes it with any TPM-style overpromises.

As the Moose has been preaching for months, this scandal could have seismic political implications.


For background, you may recall this Texas Observer piece which printed emails of K street Republicans who casually refer to their Native American clients as "troglodytes," "monkeys," and "stupid mofos".

Ah, those compassionate conservatives.
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