Perception is Everything

31 January 2006

Great interview with Stephen Colbert in The Onion’s AV Club this week.

It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. People love the president because he’s certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don’t seem to exist. It’s the fact that he’s certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?

Here’s the link

Not-So-Chocolate City?

27 January 2006

I expect these numbers are extreme, but 80% of Black New Orleanians staying away? I’m with the mayor–won’t be New Orleans if that happens.

Estimates have been wrong about everything so far–time to drain the city, number of deaths, rate of students returning–pretty much in universally pessimistic directions. I hope this is another case of overwrought concern. Frankly, I can’t even imagine New Orleans without an African American majority.

So much has been made of race in the city, but I honestly believe that this is a city with more interracial interaction and acceptance than just about any other. True, wealth is not proportionally distributed, but because Whites are so drastically outnumbered, we tend to have a relatively large number of upwardly mobile Blacks, and Black people in positions of power. True, the “underclass” is almost entirely Black, but this is not a city where White people just go about their business paying no attention to people not like them, at least not in my view. Instead, we go to parades, festivals, and just float around with people very different from us. I love that.

Although New Orleans has had plenty of important White cultural influences, the true culture and soul of the city is Black. My ideal would be that the people who don’t love the city would just hit the road, more Black people could leave NO East and come back to the more urban neighborhoods like mine, but I know it’s gotten expensive. I keep hoping we can get some kind of “mortgage control” in the form of rent control, but I don’t see how that could happen.

One thing that does frustrate me is that there are such differences in activities in some parts of life. Although I did the count of race on my block, and if you go up one side and down the other, it goes like this: BBBWWBWBWBWWBWWB. Pretty cool. And many blocks in NOLA are like that, but at our neighborhood association meeting, the room was packed, but with only about 4 African Americans. Sucks. I expect it’s because Black uptowners are more likely to rent than are Whites, which means lest investment in the neighborhood.

So we have to find ways to eliminate the risk of the 80% loss, or it won’t be our city again at all. That’s the strongest argument yet to abandon the moratorium or to abandon the Lower 9.

Pet Pic o’ the Day

27 January 2006


27 January 2006

Well, I just turned in my tenure packet to the administration. This is my 10th year of tenure-track teaching (6 is usually enough), but I had to start over when I switched schools. Didn’t mind, because I came here intending to stay for the long haul, and I think I do the job well enough to warrant keeping me around. No guarantees, though, as we’ve had a tendency to deny tenure (and especially promotion) lately. But I’ve got to go for it, and I’m reasonably confident. As a mixed blessing, if I get it or not, I can attribute part of that outcome to Katrina (bitch). If I get it, I’ll wonder just a bit if they were worried about brain drain. If I don’t, though, I can claim that the storm did my job in, as it has so many already.

Probably wouldn’t have gotten it done yet (or at least not so nicely) if it hadn’t been for E and JR, who essentially kidnapped me to help. See, I’m guilty of something we call the planning fallacy, which is the tendency to anticipate the conclusion of the task, but not the process necessary to get there. That’s me. I thought that putting this thing together would be easy because I had my 3rd year review stuff pretty well organized, and knew where the most of the rest of it was. But, as usual, the devil’s in the details. We spent about 3 1/2 hours last night all working pretty feverishly, and I still spent another 2-3 hours today polishing and filling in a few gaps. Wonder what I missed. But thanks, E&JR, for killing a night that you didn’t have to spare just to make sure I actually had something to submit.

Now I wait. I’ll be interviewed sometime in the coming weeks, and I’ll probably get the word in April. Promotion notice will come later. I’m tired of waiting, but what are you gonna do?

Letter to the Editor

26 January 2006

I’m not good at getting letters to the editor published. By the time I get around to it, I’m usually too pissed to get my point across clearly and concisely. I expect this one will be no exception, so in case the Times-Picayune doesn’t publish me, here’s what I wrote today:

In case the people of Louisiana needed any more evidence that the federal administration (which handily won the state in two elections) is Not Our Friend, it was right there on the front page Wednesday. Not only does King George oppose the Baker Bill, our best hope to get our people back, but he refuses to disclose documents relevant to investigations in the catastrophe.

Taken together, these two unfortunately-not-surprising stories tell us that he’s more interesting in covering his own hide than he is protecting ours. The president who lost his veto pen upon taking office has decided to use the greatest natural disaster in US history to play “conservative” in terms of how he helps his subjects—er—citizens. You can bet that he knows that the incriminations in the records are common and profound, so “executive privilege” trumps citizen privilege. How can he get away with this?

I guess having a Democratic governor doesn’t help, but what about that “compassionate” part of his identity that he likes to proclaim? I guess that only counts if Haley Barbour is your governor. The same system that failed to supervise the work of the Army Corps has failed to take politics out of the recovery, and we’re all paying the price.

But as long as Bush still has a few places he can reminisce about his drinking days, he thinks we’re doing just fine. Our city still isn’t itself, we’re missing vital citizens who want to come make a difference, but the man with the cash is too busy tearing up other countries to repair his own. Does he forget that oil comes through here too?

My initial hope after seeing the brutality unfold was that the administration would try to cover up their negligence by throwing so much money at the problem that no one could complain or want to investigate. That doesn’t appear to be happening, his claims of generosity and commitment to the contrary. Instead, we’ve all been shown that voting for Bush is not getting “our man” in office, but is to an insult to everyone in the region.


24 January 2006

This is slim. He’s a wonderful guy and one of my very best friends. He’s about 13 1/2 now, and not too long for this world. For the last few months, he’s had a urinary tract infection and is on his 3rd round of antibiotics. Yesterday he had an ultrasound to investigate a lump X-rays showed in his gut. We were worried that it might be something serious, and we decided that if it was a simple procedure, we’d get the lump taken out, but if was bad, we wouldn’t put him through chemo or anything. He’s had a full life and clearly enjoys himself.

Well, turns out the “lump” was food, so obviously we don’t need to take it out. Kinda sucks that we spent $220 to find that out, but I’m glad he’s ok. If we can take care of this infection, he’ll be back on track, although he’s slower every month, and he’s pretty much deaf now. We’ll be watching to see when he stops getting pleasure out of life, and then we will put him to sleep. I’ll post a shrine when that time comes. He’s seen me through a lot, separation from E while she started her first job, the tornado in Nashville, the move back to NOLA, and now Katrina. He’s a champ.

Hi, My President is a Moron

23 January 2006

This may be stating the obvious, but Bush obviously cheated off the wrong person when he took Logic.

Why do we have all this emphasis on how necessary the wiretaps are? Isn’t the question how legal they are? I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t be positive they’re illegal, but I expect they are because a) they sure sound illegal and b) the administration is emphasizing how necessary they are.

If I was doing something illegal and wanted to get out of it, I too would probably assert how stupid the law is. But it doesn’t work that way. If you want to do something illegal, you either get the law changed, or you are breaking the law. When will they see that we all agree that you can probably come up with some good information by spying, but that doesn’t justify illegal activity. In a democracy, the ends don’t always justify the means.

How does he get away with calling himself a conservative? In fact, he’s just the opposite. When is my “small government” administration going to get its act together?

Pet Pic o’ the Day

20 January 2006

Back in the Saddle

19 January 2006

We’re almost done with our first week back in the classroom, and I couldn’t be more happy with how it’s gone, at least as far as the students are concerned. I had visions of breaking down with emotion when walking in and seeing a good crowd in the classroom. I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I am generally touched and encouraged by the numbers.

Although many students have expressed anxiety about being back and claim only to be here because they need to graduate, most are very upbeat and taking the hassles and inconveniences in stride. As I watch them, I think, “Do they notice the garbage all around and the continued disrepair on campus?” Of course they do. So I wonder, “Do they not care?” Of course they care. “Then why do they do it?” Well, I think they do it because for all the entitlement of this generation of college students, most of ours realize that we all have a lot to be grateful for. As much as we’d all like a picture-perfect campus amid a glorious setting of oaks and parks, that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for a place where learning is valued and happens, despite the obstacles in our way.

Now I’m not naive enough to think that all of us have the intrinsic motivation to put all we should into our work because we care that much, but this is a place that is very agreeable. Most students prefer it to where they were, even if those schools had many more trappings than we have. I too would like to have a few more “attractions” on campus, but I appreciate that if you’re going to have only one aspect, the academics are the fundamentals, and we still have that in spades.

I’m glad to be back, and I’m glad that our students are generally glad to be back too. Work never felt so good.

Chocolate City

18 January 2006

Well, the mayor stepped in deep cocoa Monday. I just caught it yesterday, but he said that New Orleans will be a “chocolate city” by the end of the day.

The right-wingers are jumping on the potential divisiveness of this statement, without realizing the real problems with it and its context. I have several reactions.

1) I have no problem with New Orleans being “chocolate,” which, to most of us, would mean “Black.” The truth is, New Orleans has been predominantly Black for a long time now, and African and African American culture give the city its soul. I believe that Nagin did not mean that Whites should not be in the city. I’m not sure if his claim that he means chocolate in the form of “dark chocolate mixing with white milk to make a delicious drink” (to paraphrase his explanation) is genuine, but I don’t really care that much. If anything, Nagin has been overly-conciliatory to White New Orleans, so I think he was just trying to compensate a bit, not incite a race war.

2) The bigger problems come from the truly divisive aspects of what he said. One was that God and MLK were talking to him about all this. The other was that he didn’t care what Uptown people said, we’re going to be Chocolate.

First, the God thing. I have very little tolerance for people who think they know what God wants. I think it shows the absolute lack of critical thinking if someone says that an event is God’s punishment or God’s reward, without looking for evidence that contradicts it. If you’re going to say that Sharon’s stroke is God’s punishment, but Ryan White was called to be with his creator, that’s screwing with the data. Why hasn’t David Duke had a stroke? Gimme a break.

Now, the Uptown thing. I live in Uptown, and part of the reason I live there is because it’s diverse and generally not full of bigots. Now I’ve heard some people talk about the improvements to the city since “those people” have left, but I don’t know them, and I don’t want to. My neighborhood is richly diverse (although gentrifying–guilty as charged), in terms of race, class, age, etc. In fact, I have a friend who ridicules the people driving to the ‘burbs by saying, “Go back to honkytown.” Most of us Uptown value the diversity and want to maintain it. And everyone I know who lives there wants the city to stay majority Black.

3) Later, I just started laughing when watching the local news people try to get through the newscast with a straight face. Reminded me of Eddie Murphy impersonating Jesse Jackson’s gaffe on SNL long ago: “Don’t let me down…Hymietown.” I actually see these comments as an ingenious move toward the normal banana republic style of politics we have here. It doesn’t make me mad; it cracks me up. I don’t think anyone but Hannity took it seriously enough to think it’s going to hurt our chances for aid.

I’m thinking about t-shirts, bumper stickers, everything. I think those little oval stickers that show your car was imported from Ireland or somewhere would be good. Just the CC and then Chocolate City underneath.

And Chris Rose couldn’t resist interrupting his vacation with another classic column.

Reporting from Chocolate City–HammHawk