Beauty On The Fence Line

Today we walked through the Marigny Faubourg neighborhood to Bywater, in search of two junk shops Russell wanted to visit. We didn’t find anything worth buying among the piles of junk, but it was fun to see some of New Orleans’ neighborhoods. Marigny Faubourg, in particular, is a place where you can find beauty and color around every corner.

Men’s Bathrooms, Ladies’ Bathrooms

Women may not realize this, but ladies’ rooms are almost mythical places to many men.

We’ve heard tales of the pink palatial rooms that are kept spotlessly clean and equipped with chaise lounges and other luxurious features. But we haven’t seen them, of course — they’re forbidden territory.

There’s nothing mythical about men’s rooms, however. This photo of the facilities at one of the joints along Frenchmen Street gives you an idea of what to expect.


El DeOrazio And Friends

The first act on tonight’s music crawl on Frenchmen Street was El DeOrazio & Friends. Wow, were these guys fantastic! The pumped out terrific blues riffs, and DeOrazio is a spectacular guitarist. What a treat to sit within five feet of a great group and enjoy live music!

They were so good I bought one of the CDs. Support local music!

Almost The Toughest Job In Town

President Obama announced today that Jay Carney is resigning as his press secretary.  Carney had been press secretary for three years.  He’ll be replaced in the position by the appropriately named Josh Earnest.

Carney was the Washington bureau chief for Time magazine before he took the press secretary job, but apparently he had flackery in his blood:  he worked as communications director for Vice President Biden during the first two years of the Obama Administration.

I’m not sure why anyone would want to be the press secretary for any President.  It’s a thankless and often humiliating job.  On most days, you’re droning out agenda items, hoping to get the press corps interested in the latest boring policy initiative or presidential speech.  When crises hit, or scandals erupt, you’re the point person who needs to go out and face the questioning so the President doesn’t have to.  In those instances everyone knows that you’re spinning the news like crazy to try to make your boss look good.  Your credibility ends up taking a licking, and often you end up looking like an idiot in exchanges with the press that then get posted on YouTube.

I suppose the lure of being an insider is part of the attraction, but I’d like to think that actual journalists have too much self-respect to cross over to the other side and put their personal credibility on the line for a politician.

Food On Frenchmen

I’m not sure what’s better in New Orleans — the food or the music.  It’s too close to call.

We started our evening on Frenchmen Street at 20140530-103158.jpgthe Praline Connection.  It’s a cool soul food spot where the waiters wear black pants, black Fedoras, and white shirts with neckties.  The tables in the restaurant have a permanent plastic covering for easy clean up and feature two condiments — a hot sauce, and a hotter sauce.

We began our meal with some appetizers and our first beer of the evening — a local brew called Abita Amber that was quite good.  The appetizers, selected after careful analysis of a menu that was filled with tantalizing options, were alligator sausage slices with a thick and tangy tomato dipping sauce and fried chicken livers.  Both were excellent.  I’ve always had a soft spot for fried chicken livers, and these were plump and crunchy.

20140530-102952.jpgFor my entree I ordered crawfish etouffee.  I’ve loved that dish since I spent time in Lafayette, Louisiana on a case in the early ’90s and had my first crawfish etouffee at a wonderful restaurant called Cafe Vermilionville.  The Praline Connection version of this traditional Cajun dish more than met my lofty expectations.  Served with a volcano-like mound of white rice in the center of the gravy and tender crawfish tails, with cornbread to crumble over the top and help to soak up the goodness, it was the perfect start to our New Orleans adventure.  We ate every morsel and were ready for some music.


A Great Day For CoGo

IMG_2412It was a beautiful sunny day in Columbus today, with temperatures in the low 80s.  It was perfect biking weather.  I know that because when I left the office this afternoon I noticed that every one of the CoGo ride-sharing bikes at the transfer station at the corner of Gray and Third Street in downtown Columbus had been taken from its slot and was out being used.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen that CoGo transfer station totally empty of bicycles.

Picking Up Food Stamps In A Mercedes

The Washington Post website carried an article a few days ago that has provoked a lot of comment.  Entitled “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps,” it tells the story of a middle-class woman who falls into poverty — at least, poverty of a sort.

It’s a sad story, but also the kind that naturally raises questions.  The woman grew up in an affluent suburb, goes to good schools, and gets good jobs.  She meets a guy, gets pregnant, then gets married — but her husband loses his job, they’re saddled with a mortgage that is more than they can afford, and she has twins who are born early and need expensive formula.  Ultimately, she ends up signing up for Medicaid, food stamps, and the Women, Infants and Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program.

The woman recounts embarrassing anecdotes.  She’s got to answer a lot of questions before she gets the aid.  She’s afraid an apparently well-meaning older man will give her money, but instead he makes a friendly religious pitch and she takes off to avoid further contact.  A busybody woman questions her purchase of root beer using food stamps, and the check-out girl stands up for her.  And finally, one day, she has to take her husband’s Mercedes — a 2003 Mercedes Kompressor — to pick up her food stamps.  No one said anything, but they did stare at her . . . and to this day it’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to her.

They kept the Mercedes because it was the one reliable thing in their lives.  And now, after years of her husband being unemployed, he’s found a good job that pays well, and she’s going back to grad school.  She says that “President Obama’s programs — from the extended unemployment benefits to the tax-free allowance for short-selling a home we couldn’t afford — allowed us to crawl our way out of the hole.”  She closes the story by noting that they still have the Mercedes.  Thank God the combination of years of unemployment benefits, food stamps, and a federal program that let them get rid of a bad house purchase let them keep their Mercedes!

As I said, it’s a story that raises many questions.  If this woman grew up in an affluent suburb, where was her apparently well-heeled family during this period of her falling into Mercedes-owning “poverty”?  How could her husband have remained completely unemployed for years, as opposed to taking any job that would produce some income?  If he wasn’t working at all, why did they need two cars?  Why didn’t she make him go get the food stamps, perhaps to motivate him to get off his duff and find a job?  How do we define poverty if a couple can own and drive two cars and get significant financial aid?

But Kish, as is usually the case, asked the most pertinent question of all:  why would this woman write this story in the first place?  If she’s as embarrassed as she claims to be, why not keep this sad tale of her struggles to herself rather than publicize her circumstances?  Isn’t writing this story just a pathetic cry for attention from some needy person who wants the world to know that yes, she’s had her brush with the common folks?

Two Talents At The Apple Barrel

This little duo at the Apple Barrel — did she say their names were Hillary and Miles? — are great. The guy plays like Django Reinhart and the woman has a fabulous smoky voice. Blue Gardenias was awesome.

So far we’ve stopped at three places, heard three totally different kinds of music, and they’ve all been fantastic.

The Latest Government Rating System

The federal government has announced that it plans to “rate” America’s colleges and universities.  The New York Times story linked above describes the ratings push as “a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons.”

IMG_0747The underlying concept is that colleges and universities receive $150 billion in federal loans and grants, so the federal government should determine whether the schools are “worth it.”  The proposed rating system would apparently be based on how many students graduate, how much debt they accumulate during their college years, and how much money they make after they graduate, among other factors. The federal rating would compete with the college guides, like that produced by U.S. News and World Report, that are all too familiar to the parents of a college-bound high school student.

College administrators are reacting with horror to the idea.  In some respects, it’s hard not to feel a certain schadenfreude when you read their outright dismissal of the idea.  For years our institutions of higher learning have been relentlessly raising their tuition and fees and administrator salaries, blithely rejecting thousands of applicants, and happily operating in their own, comfortable sphere of almost complete autonomy.  Now they’re the ones who will be judged, and they don’t like it.

But the college presidents have a point.  One Department of Education official said the rating system would be a cinch, like “rating a blender.”  Sounds like the same unfounded  bureaucratic arrogance that led to the disastrous roll-out of the website, doesn’t it?  And speaking as someone who went to a land-grant school for college and a private school for a law degree, and was the parent of children who have gone to small and medium-sized private schools and a state school for college and master’s programs, I have zero confidence in the judgment of anyone who thinks that rating schools is even remotely comparable to rating an appliance.  There are far too many variables and differences, and focusing on financial issues — like how much graduates are paid — inevitably gives short shrift to the idea of getting a well-rounded liberal arts education.

More fundamentally, I am royally tired of the federal government injecting itself into every facet of American life.  The process is always the same — first the government provides money, then it says it needs to establish oversight to ensure that the money is being spent wisely. (Of course, there’s never any reconsideration of the idea of the federal government spending the money in the first place.)  We know from years of experience that if the Bureau of Federal Higher Education Rating is created, it will immediately become another calcified government program that can never be cut or terminated.

We don’t need President Obama or the federal bureaucracy dreaming up new ways to regulate and new administrative positions that need to be filled, we need them to focus on doing a better job of running the programs that already exist and figuring out how to run them more efficiently — and determining whether they are truly needed at all.  I’d give the notion of establishing a federal college rating system an “F.”

Frenchmen Street

Tomorrow Richard, Russell, UJ and I are heading off to New Orleans.  On this “boys weekend” trip, our needs are few.

We want to watch live music at every venue on Frenchmen Street, from the Blue Nile to the Spotted Cat Music Club.  We don’t really care what kind of music it is, as long as it is live.

We want to visit the New Orleans Oyster Festival and eat oysters until we just can’t stand it anymore.

We want to eat Cajun food that is so hot and spicy that the collars of our shirts ignite spontaneously, without the need to add Tabasco sauce.

We want to drink Dixie beer that is so cold that it hurts your teeth to chug it.

We want to smoke cigars that are as long as a man’s leg.

Yes, New Orleans is in our future.  Our needs are few.

Considering The Self-Driving Car

Google has announced that it will be building and producing its own self-driving vehicles, rather than retrofitting cars produced by other manufacturers.  The announcement means that we’re one step closer to the future envisioned in sci-fi books of days gone by — but I’m not sure it’s a future that I like.

According to the BBC story linked above, the Google car will look like a cute little cartoon bug, with two lights like eyes.  (That’s a specific design feature to make a self-driving car seem more harmless and fun and to encourage people to give it a try.)  It will seat two, be electrically powered, have a top speed of 25 mph, and have only a stop-go button — no steering wheel or pedals.  The car will follow Google maps built for the vehicle and operate using radar and laser sensors.  Google says its self-driving cars have already covered 700,000 miles of roadway, and it will produce a fleet of 200 cars and test them in Detroit within a year to make further advances in self-driving technology.

Advocates of self-driving cars say they will be safer for the car’s drivers, for other drivers, and for pedestrians.  If the cars are limited to 25 mph, of course, there is bound to be a safety enhancement, because there is a direct correlation between vehicle speed at the time of a crash and severity of injury.  Pedestrians also will benefit by a design that features a foam front end rather than a bumper.  But the safety arguments go deeper than that.  They assert that computer programs, lasers, and machines are bound to be more precise and careful on the road than humans, with no risk of distracted, texting drivers, drunken, impaired drivers, or macho, road raging drivers.

I’m somewhat skeptical about relying wholly on a machine guidance system — anyone who has GPS knows that it isn’t infallible — but more than that I’m leery of a future where machines do more and more for human beings.  We’ve already got problems with people becoming less active, less creative, and less self-reliant; self-driving cars is just another step toward a future of flabby, passive people waiting for a machine to move them around in slow-moving cars designed to maximize safety and security.  Sorry, but I don’t like it.