Louisiana Politics

8 March 2006

Things are getting interesting. Most notable is that Kimberly Williamson Butler, our city’s former CAO (quit/fired because she’s a “strong Christian woman”), turned abysmal clerk of court (hasn’t filed insurance claims; couldn’t get voting booths here, despite the fact that it’s her main job), went into hiding after being wanted for contempt of court after she wouldn’t turn over her office to people who knew what they were doing. Now she’s come out of hiding, is serving her 3rd of 3 days in jail for contempt, and should emerge tomorrow to begin her mayoral campaign(!). It’s quite an accomplishment to be considered one of the nuttiest politicians in Louisiana history.

On other levels, my city councilman is a dick named Jay Batt. He basically favors business above all else, but mainly only those of his friends. I responded to a survey the other night that was obviously sponsored by him because it had all these great things about him imbedded in the questions. What I would rather have told the questioner was that I wouldn’t vote for Batt if he were the only person on the ballot. This guy essentially holds disdain for my neighborhood, and he hasn’t delivered on his main campaign pledge of his first term–to put a grocery store on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton. There was one there when I first moved to town, but it’s been empty for more than a decade. Batt said he wouldn’t run again if he couldn’t get it done, but of course that was BS. Typical Republican. I’m ashamed to say that I voted for him because I thought no one could be worse than our previous councilman, Scott Shea. Boy was I wrong. It’s not on the scale of people who miss Clinton’s scandals, but we really could not be more poorly represented.

More optimistically, the first mayoral debate occurred last night. Although I question the sanity of anyone who would want the job, I’m actually pretty encouraged by the field (save for the incarcerated one mentioned above). So far, Mitch Landrieu has my vote. I don’t hate Nagin or resent the job he’s done, and I would hope he’d have a job in the next administration. However, I think these are going to be extremely tough times, and Mitch has the experience, wisdom, and perspective to get the job done. I’ve been impressed with him for many years because of his willingness to give the bad news and to focus on longterm goals. He’s still a politician, but I think he could be good. Of the others in the debate last night, I can generally have a quick reason not to vote for them: Arey’s too lightweight, Wilson’s a Republican loon, Watermeier’s not up to the task, Watson is a reverend (sorry, not voting for a reverend), and I don’t know enough about the rest yet. Forman did well last night, and I’m sure he’s a good leader, but he pissed me off several years ago when E and I called him on the zoo’s prominent placement of a McDonald’s and the lack of vegetarian food on site. We wrote the following letter and received basically a “sorry, we put it out for bids” response. Fine, but you can still put constraints on the bidders, and Mickey D’s doesn’t deserve a place among animals that we should appreciate.

As longtime Audubon supporters, we would like to bring your attention to an issue that is of serious concern to us. Although we are generally happy with the general maintenance, exhibition, and education regarding the animals, we believe that you should address the manner of concessions in the zoo.

We realize that problems such as concessions may seem minor to most people, but we have two observations of hypocrisy that should be addressed. One is the lack of vegetarian options in the zoo, and the other is the dominance of the presence of McDonalds.

We are both longtime vegetarians, and we are continually frustrated by the lack of concessions for people who choose not to eat meat. Although this may seem to be a complaint regarding only our personal inconvenience (and a few extra dollars for you when we visit), we believe that the problem is larger than that. Specifically, a zoo should encourage appreciation and preservation of nonhuman animal life, and yet the message at the concession stands is that animals, once again, are the only things available for our consumption. You tell us about the struggle to bring the alligator back from endangered status and then sell us its meat. Another message is that, although some animals are exotic and rare, the cow is common and therefore should be our lunch.

Although we disagree with the consumption of these animals, we are not expecting you to discontinue your marketing of animal products in the zoo. We are, however, asking that you seriously consider selling a variety of vegetarian meal options. At present, french fries and drinks just about comprise the entire vegetarian menu. Someone who attends the zoo and becomes, for the first time, sympathetic to the plight of animals, is quickly brought back to the mentality that animals are here only for our use. We believe it is inappropriate for the zoo to be the agent of that disillusionment. Such menu items would not complicate the fast food nature of your offerings. Veggie burgers are everywhere nowadays; why not at the zoo? In Toronto, one can get vegetarian hot dogs on the street. Taco Bell serves vegetarian burritos. Wendy’s has baked potatoes and vegetarian pita sandwiches. Many companies sell vegetarian wraps and even falafel. There are many options, and we would very much like to see the zoo move in that direction.

Our other concern is the presence of McDonald’s at the zoo, which, frankly, smacks of a major sellout. As you should know, McDonald’s has a long history of anti-environmental behavior, and, therefore, goes directly against the purpose of the zoo. Although it is telling about their policies, we are not referring to their persistent refusal to move away from Styrofoam containers (until public pressure became too much). Rather we believe that McDonald’s has no place in a zoo because of the countless acres of Central and South American rain forest that have been destroyed to graze cattle for McDonald’s to sell in their stores. Again, the hypocrisy: We need to preserve the ecosystems of the world, but let’s give McDonald’s a hugely visible presence in our park. Such a move once again tells people that profit comes before principle at that Audubon zoo.

We realize that you could make the argument that the (certainly) hefty sum McDonald’s pays for its presence goes to the greater good of the animals, but we disagree because of the message that it sends to the public. It influences everyone who comes to the zoo to think of the company in positive terms, which is a serious mistake. Surely a lower-impact restaurant (perhaps a local one?) could fit into the zoo’s plans without endangering the zoo’s financial situation. Even if the money were essential to, say, the new entrance buildings, we encourage you to scale back such ambitions for the sake of integrity and loyalty to the park’s mission.

Please respond to us and let us know what you plan to do to address our concerns. Thank you for your attention and for the many hours of enjoyment and education with which the park has provided us.

So although I won’t be too upset if Forman wins, I sure can’t vote for the guy.

Should be plenty more election news coming.


8 March 2006

I’m pumped to have just ordered a new bicycle. My friend Michael encouraged me to look into cyclo cross for a road bike that could handle the bad roads of NOLA. So I bought a Motobecane from a woman who deals on ebay and has excellent prices. Can’t wait. I’ll be joining Michael and a couple other friends next month for a tour of Oregon wineries. Last year’s bourbon tour in Kentucky was immensely fun.

I’ve long held that even though I’m not a “serious” cyclist, the bicycle is one of the greatest inventions of all time. I know of no other machine that provides exercise, transportation, and fun with no negative effects on the environment or anyone else. I’ve written a number of letters to the editor (none of which gets published, probably for reasons I’ve discussed before on this blog) on the topic, usually after frustration at being treated rudely or put in peril by drivers. Here are a few of the reasons I contend that drivers (and I’m one of them much of the time) should appreciate cyclists and give wide berth: we reduce the price of gas; we don’t take up a parking space; we’re one less car you have to race against to get through the light; our health may reduce medical costs; we don’t tear up the roads; we don’t endanger pedestrians.

What do we do wrong? Well, I’ll admit that I’m prone to zip ahead of drivers stuck in a traffic jam, and I often go through a red light on my bike, when I never would in my car. Yes, I know it’s illegal, but I justify the light running with the reasons cited above and the fact that I can stop on a dime. I have no real compunction about moving to the front of the line in a line of cars (in fact, I relish it). Now, I don’t cut in front of those cars, but I do go around them and feel some righteous indignation in doing it; to be fair, I’m also jealous when I’m driving and see cyclists doing so. I’ve had a small bit of hostility in doing this, but I would gladly respond to anyone who confronts me by explaining that my alternative would be riding legally in my lane and holding everyone up. (I take a similar approach in putting my dogs’ “leavings” [in a bag] into someone’s trash can. That is, I could just leave it in their yard, but wouldn’t they prefer I soil their can a bit?) In fact, some dumbass LA legislator proposed a law prohibiting bikes from blocking the flow of traffic. I hate this idea on many levels, even if I’m blocked temporarily. I’ve never seen a cyclist intentionally block traffic, and what we need is to encourage more people to ride, not to discourage them.

Which brings me to my other bike-related issue of the day. For my trip to Oregon, Continental Airlines tells me that I’ll have to pay $80 each way (that’s $160 added to a $400 ticket) to bring my new bicycle. I wrote them an email asking about the policy and whether it was firm, and they wrote back that it was, but with no explanation. I wrote back asking for an explanation, so I’ll post later on that. Here’s what I said:

Thank you for getting back to me. However, you didn’t explain why this policy exists. Given that there is no hazardous material involved, why would I have to pay extra if my baggage weighs less than others’? I’m not trying to be difficult, but I don’t understand why you would have to charge extra, and, if you do, why it would be $80 each way. That’s 40% of my total ticket price.

Please give me some insight into why this charge needs to exist and why it is so high. Frankly, in an era where I know some airlines are charging extra for overweight passengers (who have to buy two tickets), wouldn’t it make sense to encourage the sort of slimming activities that transporting bicycles would do? I could see that being a major PR move for your airline. Please write back to give me more undertanding of this issue.

It’s not easy for me to restrain myself on these things, but I mean what I’m saying. I think the policy is bullshit, and again, we need more, not fewer, people to be bicycling.