Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The injustices of the working world

"Arielle, please remove all references to 'class society' from the meeting minutes. It's not appropriate."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving solidarity

I had the pleasure of attending Common Ground Relief and lowernine.org's Thanksgiving dinner last night. I went as quite possibly the world's worst embedded reporter, being told at one point that my notepad was just a "cheap party trick to hide [my] social ineptitude." Well, there you have it. Gotta be cruel to be kind.

Here is my unadulterated final product. Another version can be found on NolaDefender.com, where the editing crew has become a more engaged/enraged entity.

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Last night's Thanksgiving dinner lent many moments to nostalgia.

"I'm glad we could finally get together," Sam was saying. "Last Thanksgiving we had White Russians. This is sort of a step up."

"Yeah," Erin cut in, "This year you have sangria."

Sam smiled as he wrestled with the turkey he had just pulled up from the deep fryer. "That looks so good," Erin said. "I can't wait." Pork Chop, the resident chow chow, looked on with approval.

Attendees piled their plates with stuffing, roasted squash, and cranberry pie. The dinner - sponsored by Common Ground Relief and lowernine.org, both rebuild organizations in the Lower Ninth Ward - brought together volunteers and neighbors around a laden picnic table on Deslonde Street.

Erin is Erin Genrich, a high school teacher and an employee of The Green Project, which sells low-cost building materials. She waited patiently as Sam Friedoff, a native Illinoisan and volunteer with Common Ground for the past year and a half, carved the turkey. "My Thanksgiving is going phenomenally," he said."It is great that everybody made it out tonight."

"Inviting people from the community, having family and friends around, that's Thanksgiving to me," said Tom Pepper, operations director for Common Ground Relief. "That's how it should be."

One neighborhood resident, Smitty, poked gentle fun at some of the more ragtag volunteers.

"I was around when Alice's Restaurant first came out," he told the group. "Those were real hippies. You're all too young to remember."

Smitty had been a client of Common Ground Relief, which, like lowernine.org, assists homeowners with rebuilding their Katrina-destroyed houses. Both Common Ground Relief and lowernine.org have been presences in the neighborhood for years.

"We invited Brad Pitt, but he had other plans," said one attendee who wished to remain nameless for fear of celebrity retribution, referring to Pitt's Make It Right Foundation. "Maybe next year."

Most were gratified by the confluence of their friends, co-volunteers, and neighbors.  "I'm really glad to have met the people who are doing the same kind of work down here," said Arianna Tilton, a lowernine.org volunteer from Maine. "It's important so we can create a comprehensive response to anything that's going on in the Ninth Ward."

"We work really hard here," Eryn Gilchrist, lowernine.org's client services coordinator added. "We help our clients figure out how to come home." Gilchrist, who was also celebrating her birthday, said she came to New Orleans from Connecticut two years ago because she wanted to "do something that felt good." She landed at lowernine.org, where she felt "the people are amazing."

"They sure are," Evan Howard cut in. "I've been crashing on [lowernine.org Development Director] Laura Paul's couch for weeks." Howard, who in 2005 was a first-responder with Habitat for Humanity, is now assisting lowernine.org with construction projects. "My Thanksgiving has been awesome so far," he said. "I think I should quote W. B. Yeats and say 'it was very good and I'm full."

Tom Pepper started laughing. "I think you're thinking of Alfred E. Neuman."

Common Ground Relief and lowernine.org are actively seeking skilled and unskilled volunteers to support their efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward. Those with construction management expertise are especially encouraged to apply to volunteer for either group, and Common Ground Relief is seeking volunteers with environmental science backgrounds to assist with an ongoing marshland restoration project.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Time and tide wait for no cream cheese

It seems all my efforts at having a serious journalistick career have either paid off or been terribly derailed recently:

The second-most popular article on NolaDefender.com for the past two months has been not my deluxe review of a Hurricane Katrina memoir (which I totally read most of), my serious and life-endangering (I fell into a sinkhole!) of road repairs on Iberville Street at Jeff Davis, not has it been my hard-hitting coverage of the time when the serviceworkers union held a strike but forgot to inform the company they struck against what their demands were (that part was actually true). No, gentle warriors, it has been my treatise on bagels.

Now, those of you familiar with the Shtetl know that bagels are very important to me. In fact, I consider them one of the major food groups, along with falafel and other delicacies irrationally shunned by the infidel gourmands of Orleans Parish.

Food writing is apparently the hot thing now, and for someone who doesn't give a shit about Tuscan suns or the relationship between eating, deity-worship, and romance, I seem to be doing pretty well at it. You read my Nixonian interpretation of Pandora's sno-ball stand, right?

Let the record stand that I violated only six rules of journalistic ethics in producing this particular article, the primary one being that I made up the special flavor menu (Laura has since agreed to at least experiment with the pumpkin idea). I will admit the rest of them if only Laura agrees to never, ever tell about the time I temporarily stole her bike and kidnapped her from synagogue, preventing the bubbes from setting us up with their favorite grandsons (and they're in law school, mamelach!).

But in all earnestness, the discovery of Laura Sugerman's bagel kitchen has completely revolutionized not only breakfast but my experience of New Orleans. (And friends, you know I do not use the word "revolution" lightly.) It prompted my friend Lee to buy me a toaster so he could be sure that I wasn't just hanging out with him for the sole purpose of toasting my bagels. It pretty much turned my life around, got the kids off the streets, and resolved the Israeli-Palestinian debacle, all in one four-ounce, sesame-coated wonder meal.

My point here is that if you are living in the Greater New Orleans area and you have not tried one of these bagels, you should. They are very, very good. And you know I would not ever lead you astray. At least not intentionally.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bon voyage, patriot

Second Lieutenant Drew Pham is being deployed to Afghanistan on Thursday.

To the Army, he is an "officer." To the federal government, he is a tax-paying defender of American democracy - "our boy." But to me, he is friend, comrade, and brother. It's the truth that he is important, he is special, and he is loved.

Be safe, Drew. We miss you already.

Photo by Chris Klarmann. Drew's art can be found here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

NO City Councilman Endorses "Jug Machines" as Public Works Investment

Sorry to have neglected you for so long, dear Friends of the Shtetl. Posts are forthcoming, one addressing how best to remember the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and the other about one man's quest to be a great American despite the Fascist challenges inherent in the New Jersey Transit Corporation. Basically, what we provide here is a road map to outstanding patriotism.

For now, satisfy yourselves with this screenshot of a recent chat with a New Orleans City Councilmember about the reforms to the Recreation Department. I'm not sure what "jug machines" have to do with park safety, but that may well be addressed in a follow-up session.

Carry on.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who died and made me book review editor?

While originally featured on NolaDefender.com, the following piece is now showing up as a "Page not found" number. So during this fun downtime on the intertubes, you, dear reader, get to hear it HERE. FIRST. ¡OLÉ!

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A Howling in the Wires

Edited by Sam Jasper and Mark Folse

When the President flies back to Washington, and Anderson Cooper exchanges his Musicians Village backdrop for a more commodious New York network studio, New Orleans remains. It exists before, during, and after catastrophe and celebration alike, seemingly impervious to suspicious political tides, and resilient enough to accommodate seasonal hordes of tourists and Lutheran volunteers. Despite (or maybe because of) what everyone thinks about it, New Orleans is. Not only does it exist as a space or place, but as a frame of mind, a constantly evolving reference point for experiences, memories, realities, and lives.

New Orleans is known as a place that defies description. Just as sure as the individual visitor or resident each has a unique sense of the city, documentation of the experience of New Orleans becomes difficult: How can one do written justice to something so inherently inexplicable? How can the writer avoid homogenizing, or at worst, tokenizing, something that differs from every dimension?

As editors Sam Jasper and Mark Folse have found, anthologizing appears to be the best method in reconciling such potential dissonance. Their new book, A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans, compiles bloggers’ accounts of New Orleans through – directly before, during, and after – Hurricane Katrina.

What could have been a sticky effort at recording the trauma of the storm instead is a reflection of an evolving community – the Katrina-motivated literati, and, some might argue, the blogosphere as a whole – and a text that by its own design admits incompletion.

Jasper and Folse readily acknowledge the delicate nature of publishing a book composed solely of online material. Their preface notes that in editing the text, they have left most typographical errors intact; Jasper and Folse believe them to reflect the emotional urgency underlying the context in which the pieces were written.

Such issues may well become a more common concern as bloggers gain respect as legitimate journalists and artists and the publishing industry embraces electronic media. For now, there remains no benchmark in this respect, but it may be an important point for future editors of similar projects: The text should , after all, speak for itself. If the story’s form requires description or justification, then what of its content?

Concerns of this ilk were dashed momentarily at last month’s book release party, at which many of the Howling contributors were present. Over several hug-filled hours upstairs at Mimi’s in the Marigny, they shared aloud selections of their published pieces, supported by each others’ words, tears, and drink tickets.

Through the spoken-word medium, the stories gained the kind of emotional profundity that one assumes had given birth to the words in the first place. Attendees were visibly moved by many of the performances, through which writers became readers. They were able to share their thoughts in an emotionally gripping way that may well have differed from the original experience produced from a keyboard.

In its physical form, Howling is an important testament to the visceral power behind the spoken words. It speaks to the difference and universality of experience, without sacrificing earnestness. As Valentine Pierce, a Howling contributor who blogs under the handle “Backpocketpoet,” writes in her piece “Reluctant Migrants,” New Orleanians are not a special breed in the sense that they should be considered alien to all other forms of humanity. Decisions should not be made for or on behalf of them. Rather, “we give a damn in spite of what you may believe. We honor our dead, respect our elders, celebrate our lives, spoil our babies and pay homage to our heroes.”

Like New Orleans itself, the book unfurls at its own pace. Most contributors have three pieces published, allowing the reader a more full experience of the breadth and dexterity of each writer. This structure works especially well for the journalistic prose writers whose works are complementary, at times sequential, adding to the reader’s understanding of events.

So while the Katrina anniversary buzz fades away – at least until 2015 - what we have left is the stories of what happened and what continues to happen: those of trauma, anguish, painful recovery, and memories distilled in the collective conscience.

As with most important things in New Orleans, these stories will be remembered and retold, and it is in their retelling that they communicate most effectively. A Howling In the Wires is an excellent compilation of these stories, respectful of the raw form and innovative as a historical document. One can only have faith that many more experiences can be preserved in whatever medium does them the most justice.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fat people of New Orleans be warned! FLOTUS will be on yr case like a sprinkle on an ice cream

Maybe Michelle Obama wants to go for a jog with me when she visits New Orleans this week...and by "jog" I definitely mean "brisk walk," and by "brisk walk," well, of course I mean "beer."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Waiting for my niece/nephew to be born: A liveblog

My sister Alissa is scheduled to have a C-section this morning. She and her husband, Aaron, haven't found out if they're expecting a boy or girl - why impose gendered treatment on an unborn child? I highly approve of this decision - and my entire family is now in the waiting room at Mt. Sinai.

10:09am
Walked into the hospital building. My father asks a man carrying an infant carseat if he's going to the "Claims Department."

10:12am
My sister Erica asks if we get priority at the vending machines because we were also born at this hospital.

10:16am
My mother is furiously knitting a blue blanket. She has already knitted a pink blanket. She is getting "ahead of the game," as she says. I'm not entirely sure what game she's talking about.

10:17am
Many nervous men are in this waiting room. I'm not sure if they're nervous about their baby mamas or their actual babies. Probably a combination of both.

10:18am
My father goes to the bathroom for the second time since we got here.

10:19am
Aaron's mother realizes she forgot her phone at home. We rifle through our collective address books to see if anyone has her sister's cell number for when the big moment comes.

10:21am
Over in the grandpa-to-be section, Aaron's father is trying to get onto the wifi network at the hospital without success. My father is reading a book about vampires. Periodically he tells me how excited he is about the new Louis Armstrong movie.

10:24am
Aaron's sister shows up. There is some confusion about the missing phone. The security guard is unmoved.

10:25am
My father points out that many of the signs in the waiting room are in Spanish and not English. He is proud that he can translate them. "Yo soy cool," he says. My sister Erica rolls her eyes.

10:27am
I have to figure out how to buy flowers for my sister Alissa without anyone noticing. Grandma Selma wants to send some, but her son (my father) has told her she shouldn't. I'm counting on finding a lull in the craziness once Aaron comes downstairs to tell us about the baby.

10:31am
Discussing the New Orleans public school system with Aaron's mother. It is still a mess, we agree.

10:32am
"You're not writing a blog, are you?" my mother asks. I nod.

10:33am
Every time the elevator dings, my mother and Aaron's mother look up to see if Aaron's coming out. As Mt. Sinai is a high-volume facility, this holds the promise of becoming a stressful practice.

10:35am
Someone turns on the bachata. Nothing like a dance party in the waiting room of the Mt. Sinai maternity clinic.

10:36am
My father is playing with someone else's toddler in the waiting room. This is both alarming and amusing on many different levels.

10:37am
We aunts-to-be are discussing where to buy Aaron a chocolate cigar. The consensus is that there's a candy store "around the corner." I don't know if you've ever been on 5th Avenue between 98th and 99th Streets, but there's no candy store "around the corner." This applies to much of the Upper East Side.

10:39am
Aaron's mother is talking about her new house. Her cat has adjusted well to the move.

10:43am
My father asks me if he can read on Shtetl Chic what is happening. I told him of course, but I'm just blogging about his asking me if he can read on Shtetl Chic what is happening. Trippy, huh?

10:44am
The nervous dad-to-be across the row is eating a turkey sandwich. I've heard about the sedating powers of tryptophan. Maybe I should ask him if that's why he chose that particular kind of snack.

10:46am
Some kind of commotion is occurring by the elevator bank. I think it has to do with the Shabbos elevator having stopped on all the floors. That can be annoying if you have somewhere to go, such as the operating room of a hospital.

10:48am
A woman on the phone is talking about how the baby hasn't come out of her daughter yet. She says she hopes it is born soon because come on already.

10:49am
Aaron's dad takes out the Kindle. Why not get some reading done, he says. Why not indeed.

10:51am
Another man comes into the waiting room with an infant carseat. So far, the most popular color of infant carseats has been black with red accents.

10:53am
Got an email from my friend Laura about a Katrina article written by our boy Matt Davis. She's upset that she's quoted "cursing like a sailor" about Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation. I suggest that maybe she should curtail cursing like a sailor in the presence of reporters. She is not happy with this suggestion.

10:56am
Aaron's father tries to kill a mosquito. I hope he gets it. That thing's bitten the shit out of my ankle already.

10:57am
My sister Erica is texting her friends, probably to complain about how annoying the toddler's talking truck toy is. "STOP GO," "STOP GO," it says. Ugh.

10:58am
A doctor walked out of the elevator. It must be a cool job to deliver babies all day.

11:00am
I am supposed to be writing a book review of A Howling in the Wires for NolaDefender.com, but I am obviously very, very distracted. One piece written by New Orleans-based blogger Valentine Pierce in early November 2005 sticks out for me right now, because it addresses the universality of human relationships:

Despite the media's portrayal of [New Orleans residents]...we do not run wild in the streets like dogs on the hunt because we've cleaned those streets. We've had homes on those streets. We raised our children in those neighborhoods and buried our dead in those cemeteries. We give a damn in spite of what you may believe. We honor our dead, respect our elders, celebrate our lives, spoil our babies and pay homage to our heroes.
11:09am
Another infant carseat walks through the door, toting a nervous new father. This carseat is black with taupe accents. Fancy.

11:17am
Sorry for the hiatus, Friends of the Shtetl. The internet cut out. You didn't miss much, except for the text messaging tutorial I gave to my father. That and the mysterious banging coming from inside the elevator shaft. I hope nobody got stuck. That would certainly not be ideal.

11:18am
I have never hated talking truck toys as much as I do now.

11:20am
My dad is excited to add a new member to the Men's Club if the baby is a boy. So far, membership includes my dad and Rudy, the family dog. He tells my sister Erica, who's pursuing a Masters degree in Feminism and Globalization, that he'd be happy to accept a girl in the Men's Club.

11:24am
An Orthodox posse rolls into the waiting room, bringing the demographic tally to Latinos: 6, Jews: 9.

11:25am
A man walks into the waiting room and asks the guard where the Women's Center is. The guard tells him he's here. "Like, for babies and stuff, right?" the man asks. The guard nods.

11:26am
There are way too many cute children in this waiting room. Thankfully, only one of them has a talking truck toy.

11:28am
There really aren't better ways of spending a Monday morning than waiting for a new baby to be born. That being said, I hope it's born soon.

11:29am
I remember Vidal telling me he was eating a cheeseburger when his first child was born. I continue to find that very strange.

11:30am
Received a text from Drew with a premature "Mazel tov." Would very much like to have some news.

11:31am
I stand corrected: My father is actually reading Snow Falling on Cedars. It is about Japanese internment camps outside of Seattle. How uplifting.

11:32am
The waiting room has a mirrored ceiling. I'm not sure why that is. There are certainly no vibrating beds in here.

11:33am
An ambulance is going by. So is a pack of tourists looking for the Guggenheim.

11:35am
It occurs to me that the Guggenheim might be closed on Mondays. Maybe they are seeking clarity and mindfulness. Or Alice.

11:39am
My mother is discussing the merits of marrying a Jewish man. Apparently they are myriad.

11:41am
My mother scurries to the bathroom. We're not allowed to find anything out until she gets back, she informs us.

11:48am
My dad says we need to remember to save today's Times for when the baby grows up. I ask where they saved the Times from the day I was born. Silence.

11:49am
My dad asks if Aaron is going to text us when the baby is born. My mother gives him a look.

11:50am
Many people have come out of the elevator in the past hour and a half. None of them have been my brother-in-law.

11:51am
It's kind of hot in this waiting room. I wonder who would choose to be nine months pregnant in August. Note to future self: Timing is key.

11:52am
Holy shit that talking truck is so irritating.

11:57am
IT'S A GIRL!!!!
AVIVA MIRIAM

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Update: Check out Liveblogging the birth of my sister and brother-in-law's 2nd kid

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Barry vs. Katrina

President Obama spoke at Xavier University today on the fifth anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. He began his address by thanking the politicians present, including Louisiana Governor Bobby "Anyone but Blanco" Jindal, Senator Mary Landrieu (whom Obama referred to as "better-looking" than her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu), and Lisa "Homegirl" Jackson, the EPA Administrator. [Why Obama feels the need to editorialize on the part of his female colleagues is beyond me, but maybe The Patriarchy hasn't yet made it to the top of his "to change" list.]

He said:

It's been five years since Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. There's no need to dwell on what you experienced and what the world witnessed. We all remember it keenly: water pouring through broken levees; mothers holding their children above the waterline; people stranded on rooftops begging for help; bodies lying in the streets of a great American city. It was a natural disaster but also a man-made catastrophe — a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men, and women, and children abandoned and alone.

Unfortunately, there is need to dwell on what was experienced, because trauma is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. "Shameful" is too tepid a word to describe what happened and is still happening.

Let there be no mistake: New Orleans is still really, really fucked up. So is St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and other parts of the Gulf Coast. Not only are lifelong residents of these areas still displaced in regions as disparate as Houston, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Boston, but they face mountainous barriers to coming back and reclaiming their homes. Not only is this a failing of the US government; this is a humanitarian tragedy.

A federal judge recently ruled that the Katrina-related federal recovery money managed by the Road Home program has been dispensed in a racially discriminatory manner. This is a pitiful, disgusting truth. But it is too late for many black homeowners to pursue recourse.

Spike Lee's sequel to When the Levees Broke addresses, among other themes, the BP disaster and its impact on small business owners in the Gulf. These people are fucked. Not only had their livelihoods been disrupted and, in some cases, completely ruined by Katrina, they now are facing another punch in the gut that, this time, may not lend itself to recuperation.

While many believe the invisible microbes in the Ocean are eating all the oil particles, and every White Sox game carries at least one commercial about BP's "Community Outreach Project," this problem is not going to go away anytime soon.

It is sad enough that the dolphins and turtles are dying in droves, but it is going to be much sadder when entire communities of people turn to already stressed food banks and housing shelters and walk away with a pat on the back and a grim piece of encouragement from the President. Even FDR did better in a national crisis.

Don't get me wrong: I am glad that Obama came down for the anniversary. I am glad that Anderson Cooper keeps showing up in his black t-shirt. The issue still needs attention. But rather than looking into the camera and waxing poetic about a fucking shrimp poboy, why not initiate a concerted and efficient effort to fix what's been desperately broken, and revamp the systems that caused the trauma to begin with?

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For more Katrina photos, see my friend Lee Celano's work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mr. Banksy, I tore down this wall

The French Quarter Business Association is sponsoring its second annual "Graffiti Clean-Up" on Saturday, August 28th. Intended to coincide with Katrina-related events throughout the city, this initiative is billed as a service to the community, and one that will "remove blight" from and "beautify" the historic downtown area of New Orleans.

What is neglected in the relevant publicity is mention of the so-called graffiti that some cherish as artwork, an expression of unique time, space, and experience. One may remember the fracas surrounding the Banksy "graffiti" in the Lower Ninth Ward, which resulted in his paintings literally being torn off the walls and sold.

Though Banksy himself might have been pleased by this somewhat ironic inversion of the relationship between what is vandalism and what is vandalized, the FQBA's project for this coming weekend ignores the artistic potential of graffiti as part of the city's self-articulation, and disregards the historic roots of the Vieux Carré as a bastion of creative evolution and cultural production.

Moreover, the so-called blight doomed by this event's mission is peanuts compared to the actual physical devastation that so thoroughly mars New Orleans' urban landscape. True beautification efforts would best serve the city via the streamlining of long-overdue relief initiatives, specifically those intended to benefit communities marginalized by the systematic failure of political and social resources, pre- and post-Katrina.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On the death of Judith Dunnington Peabody

Using your power for good, and not evil:
You're doing it right.

PS: Any time Frank Rich finds it appropriate to quote Tony Kushner, it's probably a good elegy.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fight crimes with squirt guns

The Big Easy does Night Out Against Crime, a national initiative to take back the streets from "criminals." I saw only one person getting arrested the whole night! It must be working.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sarah Palin says "balls" on national television

In support of Arizona's anti-immigrant policy package, Sarah Palin went on FOX to talk about the size of AZ governor Jan Brewer's balls, in comparison to those of American President Barack Obama. This is notable mainly because Palin used the Spanish word "cojones" to describe the offending/defending anatomical devices, even though she backs the Tea Party-Goers in their quest to institute "English" as the official language of this country.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cockabilly on Clio Street, and other misadventures

This one time I was in a dance troupe and we performed at the circus in New Orleans. Then I wrote about it for The Nola Defender, and copied and pasted the link here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Record/Panty Raid with Friendly Neighborhood Anarcho-PunkRock-Syndicalists

Greetings from the Marigny! Read up on the shocking and breaking news of the past weekend. Hint: It's about a record fair. Pretty pictures by Friends of the Shtetl Chris Klarmann and Kate Fogle!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We're sleeping til Brooklyn, k?

Safety alarms that monitor EXPLOSIONS and FIRES and TOXIC GAS are regularly turned off aboard BP-leased oil rigs so crew members can get a good night's sleep, says one Transocean technician. Read more on Noladefender.com, a bastion of information and misinformation alike.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sniff Sniff BOOM

Another hard-hitting journalistick piece for Noladefender.com. This one's about the extremely technological methodology of testing seafood that originated from the Gulf of Mexico.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Oscar Grant

The Oakland office of my organization is closed today due to fear of widespread "panic and rioting" in response to the verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, or killing someone by accident and without intent. It seems he had meant only to Tase the unarmed black man, and reached for his real gun instead.

Many armchair-activisty emails have been flung my way about this case, and it is indeed sad to read about yet another act of targeted violence against black people in urban communities.

Justice-related riots in the past have stirred up and articulated the deep-seated distrust of the police presence that exists in many areas of this country, but productive action has been stunted by the mainstream collective consciousness' painting of the involved parties not as an actively democratic citizenry, but as an angry, wild, and uncontrollable force.

The message is that it is inadvisable to even go to work when black people are upset in Oakland. We must take refuge in our homes and the fact that the police are keeping us safe from the violence. No matter that the rioters are seeking refuge from the police. But is it so unreasonable to wonder quis custodiet ipsos custodes, anyway?

The reports of rioting and looting of course bring up confusion: How does breaking into Foot Locker help anyone? Why throw rocks at a Walgreens window? What does any of this do to further the establishment of true justice?

One answer is that many people, especially those who share a demographic with Oscar Grant, feel entirely marginalized, ostracized, and disenfranchised by the current system. Protesting injustice in a court of law has proven to bring acquittal after acquittal, and in the rare instances of conviction, those related to lesser crimes than the ones committed.

It may be true that there is little redemption in storming a shoe store, but the image of an enraged citizenry is useful in pushing a justice-centric agenda forward. Not only are the people angry, they are active. They are willing to bring down symbols of a system that oppresses them. Yet their interest is not only in dismantling that very system, but creating a new one. And this last piece is what gets lost in the fearful reports of uncontrollable violence.

On the flip side, that same image of "looting" has been used to punish the very same people who are pursuing justice in their communities. We have seen this in post-Katrina New Orleans, post-earthquake Port-au-Prince, and everywhere else where people seek empowerment through unorthodox means.

So it is not only the destruction of symbols of power that will advance the cause towards justice, but rather the movement towards constructing new and improved systems. I'll buy one and get one free of those.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Grandma's heating up, or, Will this road ever get paved?

From my award-winning travelogues, documented online at noladefender.com:

Street repairs on Iberville between Jeff Davis and Telemachus have been stalled for the past four business days because of the heat, according to the crew's supervisor, whom we'll refer to here as "Janet." As many New Orleanians have noticed, it has not actually been...

Friday, July 2, 2010

The limits of fame are just unbelievable


Here is my hard-hitting coverage of the New Orleans Green Collective's Declaration of Energy Independence.

Those kids are so cute with their idealism about politics and the world-at-large! Takes me back to my youth.

See also my treatise on whale sharks.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I AM SCOOPING THIS DON'T LET ANYBODY TELL YOU DIFFERENT

That is, I would scoop it if I didn't think my editor at noladefender.com was going to post it any minute now - - - hey, Ben: post it, will you? It's not every day you come across such distinguished investigative journalism, amirite?

Here's a tease:

Canal Street between North Gayaso and North White Streets was momentarily closed to traffic this afternoon to allow for Mayor Mitch Landrieu's press conference outside the Regional Transit Authority Headquarters. Mayor Mitch was rumored to have been fulfilling a campaign promise to "dialogue" with city workers, but according to the yawning videographer across the street...

UPDATE: Here it is.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I'm totally famous you guys

Shtetl Chic is taking this show on the road, people!

A tease:

Local21A Protests Layoffs in RSD, Sodexo



New Orleans, June 16 - A rainy Tuesday afternoon flooded the streets with water and union members. Protesters - mostly custodial and cafeteria workers within the Recovery School District (RSD) - gathered at the SEIU Local 21LA on Canal Street to fight massive layoffs in the school district as well as what one participant called “outrageous” working conditions.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Liveblogging the crime scene across the street from my office

3:56 Guy across the street tells my coworker his TV and iPod got stolen from his house while he was gone. Apparently the robbers broke through one of his windows. The police are on the way, he says. It's only a matter of time before the circus begins.

4:15 The police roll up to the house.

4:26 The police question my coworker about two men he saw earlier this afternoon. MAYBE THEY WERE CASING THE JOINT, thinks my coworker.

4:46 Oh shit it's the CSI!

4:47 The lady detective has gloves on and maybe a magnifying glass?

4:48 My coworker says the cops asked him for a better description of the two men he saw walking from the house's backyard earlier this afternoon:

Coworker: They were wearing, like, shirts and pants. Nothing special.
Cop: That's all you can say about them?
Coworker: I can make something up if you want.
Cop: Well...

4:49 The cops are back at our office. There are two cops standing on the porch of the guy's house. The cops decide they don't need anything else from us, because we're unhelpful fuckheads.

4:51 A third cop rolls up. This makes a total of 6 NOPD employees, three of whom are standing around in front of the guy's house.

4:52 One of the detectives is leaving. I think he hasn't noticed the neighbors smoking weed on the porch next door.

4:55 The guy whose house got broken into is chilling with the neighbors. An irrelevant but interesting side note is that this guy has the cutest dog in the world. Its name is Maurice. I'm glad Maurice wasn't stolen too.

4:57 The police are back at our office?

4:59 The other neighbor is stopping by the robber-house for some gossip. It's become a neighborhood affair. Maybe I should take this opportunity to ask the neighbor why he has a giant desk chair on his front porch.

5:00 The cops are still downstairs at my office. I can't stealthily slip away so it looks like you, dear reader, are in for another few more minutes of quality liveblogging.

5:01 The detective has finally left the building. He has a serious-looking notebook in his hand.

5:07 The detective left in his car. The Crime Lab van is still parked outside. Maybe they found the missing TV and iPod.

5:13 Show's over, kids. Sorry it wasn't more conclusive or interesting

Further adventures with the NYU Registrar

This latest installment of "I thought graduating would put me out of my misery" is brought to you by the NYU Registrar's Office:

My health insurance provider is requiring documentation that I was a full-time student through the month of January 2010. They don't believe me or my bill-footing parents, of course, so I called up the NYU Registrar to request that such documentation be faxed to my mom, who's the primary insurance holder.

After being bounced around to various different representatives, I finally got to speak to my lovely friend Thelma. Thelma is my favorite Registrar person because we totally bonded during a three-week-long period back in February I call the Diploma Debacle:

Thelma: "We can mail you proof of degree completion within 1-8 months, Ms. Shneckers."
Me: "You mean my diploma?"
Thelma: "It may come in diploma form, yes."
Me: "So are you mailing my diploma?"
Thelma: "It depends."
Me: "On what?"
Thelma: [Silence]
Me: "I'm sorry, what's your name?"
Thelma: "Thelma"
Me: "Thelma, this is absurd."
Thelma: [Pause] "I know."

This time, Thelma told me to fax over my request for enrollment verification in writing, which I did immediately.

I called the Registrar's Office again this morning to check that they were on the case, which of course they weren't. I explained the situation to "Jason," who assured me that he would look into the issue:

Jason: "Let me do a little research to verify that this issue has been resolved."
Me: "It hasn't been resolved."
Jason: "Well, let me just check."
Me: "With all due respect, I'm telling you it hasn't been resolved. I requested that your office fax this letter, and we haven't received it."
Jason: "I understand."
Me: "I don't think you do."

Jason told me that someone at his office would be getting back to me within the hour. Of course nobody did, so I called back just now and Jason told me he talked to his supervisor and that the issue would be resolved, "pending acknowledgement."

I asked him what kind of acknowledgement was pending:

Me: "What exactly is the issue?"
Jason: "Well, I really need to check again with my supervisor..."
Me: "Listen, Jason, I'm not unfamiliar with the inability of NYU bureaucracy to function efficiently, and I'm sure this isn't your fault, but...
Jason: "I'll look into it."
Me: "What exactly are you looking into?"
Jason: "Your request, if someone's received it."
Me: "Do you mean someone lost my fax and you need me to send it again?"
Jason: "That would be good."

In any event, no sign of Jason's dignity or my verification letter. To be continued.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

5-year-old Arielle's revolutionary consciousness

For your pleasure, dear reader, I give you a sampling of some of my early literary production.

I know: this has been a slow month for us all. Righting the wrongs of the world can be an arduous task, as can pulling 9-hour days at a desk job that reminds me that I will never be the "key player" everyone seems to think I can be (hello, Emergency Communities, circa Camp Hope days).

In any event, my mother loves me and has saved the following document for everyone's enjoyment. You can tell by the moral of the story that I, even as a kindergartner, demonstrated a deep love and respect for a common humanity (or at least for chocolate).

Our heroic protagonist, Smiles the Clown, looks out not only for his own material wellbeing, but for that of his comrades as well. Yet he also is cognizant of the fact that strategic friendships have a dual importance - that is, for better or for worse - in enabling change for the individual experience.

UPDATE: I realized that I should have acknowledged the person I assume to have been the recorder of this artful masterpiece, Alissa "Ussa" Schecter Wright, age 10 at the time of transcription. Thanks, big sis!

Read on, gentle warriors, and be enlightened:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Let's apologize for having periods

A husband-and-wife team has invented an iPhone application called "Code Red," which tracks and forecasts a woman's menstrual cycle.

Marketed to a male audience, the app - which of course can be used on the infamously named iPad - allows the user to enter in the dates of a woman's last few periods, and then predicts when the next one will be.

A female face with devil horns appears onscreen during the few days before a period is expected. This image is intended to warn the user of impending "PMS" and the emotional havoc it apparently wreaks on a man.

(The linked article has an accompanying photo of a woman baring her teeth in a shout. I can only assume this is meant to validate the image of a "bitchy," menstruating woman.)

This demonization of menstruation is hurtful to women. We are not lunatics just because our bodies remind us of their fertility. In fact, this "lunatic" moniker derives from the connection - especially evident before the advent and hyper-adoption of artificial light - between menstruation and the lunar cycle.

The existence of "Code Red" implies that periods are a nasty affair, and men would benefit from a system that alerts them when their female partners are about to have them. Perhaps they would become enlightened to the emotional and physical duress of a period. A woman is not crazy just because she might get more angry, sad, or anxious than usual during a certain stage of her menstrual cycle. She is in tune with her body and emotions. It is probably more unnatural not to have emotional swings during this time.

But I'm fairly certain that the intention behind this application has little to do with sensitivity. It is supposed to serve as a warning - "Get away from your girlfriend this week: She's hormonal"; or "Don't have sex with her tomorrow; it will be gross for you."

Through this technology, women are again subjected to the judgment that our bodies are dirty and we should feel ashamed not only of our physical beings, but our emotional selves as well. I can only wonder what the wife of the husband-and-wife team was thinking.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Don't worry, New Orleans - The government's got this one

We here on the Gulf Coast are having Barry over for tea tomorrow, in the hopes that he might do something about the demurely named oil "spill" that has killed 11 men, and is threatening marine wildlife, already endangered marshland, and the southern Louisiana fishing industry.

What currently passes as "cleanup efforts" is essentially a blame-game between BP, which is technically responsible for the management and operations of the now-exploded oil rig, and the US government, which is promising military intervention to quell the gush of oil before it causes more damage.

The global oil industry has been helplessly underregulated since its inception, and it probably will take a disaster like this to even spur debate on safeguard implementation.

BP and the government have demonstrated a truly alarming lack of preparedness for what has turned out to be the worst-case-scenario. A portion of the oil has been lit on fire in an attempt to slow its spread across the Gulf. A Coast Guard officer said of the burn: "It's a test...We’re trying to see how it works."

So we're left with a dirty (and
smelly) situation that nobody but the robots is rushing to remedy.

UPDATE: This is what we've come to as a nation. "The Ritz-Carlton in downtown New Orleans is accepting donations of nylons, hair and fur on behalf of Matter of Trust to create booms to combat [the] oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico."

UPDATE: Again, Jon Stewart explains it best, beginning at 5:37.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oklahoma wants you to listen to the fetus' heartbeat - I mean REALLY listen to it before you get that abortion

The Oklahoma State Legislature overrode two gubernatorial vetoes for legislation that relates to the rights of pregnant women. It is now mandated that:

- a pregnant woman must view a sonogram of the fetus and listen to its heartbeat before having an abortion; and

- an ob/gyn has no legal responsibility to inform the pregnant woman that the fetus may have genetic defects or disorders.

The laws make no exceptions for victims of rape and/or incest.

One argument in favor of this legislation is that pregnant women should receive all the relevant information available in order to make an informed decision regarding the full carriage or termination of her pregnancy.

This argument fails, however, in consideration of the second mandate: that doctors may legally withhold information that could affect a woman's decision to carry a pregnancy to full term. Such condoned imposition of an individual doctor's personal belief is hardly in line with the standardized ethics associated with the medical professions.

The state of Oklahoma has in this way effectively subverted a patient's rights in relation to her protection from governmental as well as doctoral intrusion in her medical treatment experience.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Three city blocks threaten to take down America

In response to the City's budget woes, today's Scottish pride parade has been cut from 13 to ten blocks long. The event is the first procession affected by the NYPD's decision to shorten parade routes in order to cut down on officer overtime hours.

I have been to parades in many places - New Orleans, DC, Havana, Saigon, Bangkok (the photo here was taken on March 20th at one of the Red Shirt rallies - note how non-violent and generally chill everyone is) and others - and I have to say there is something about the NYPD that takes all the festivity out of a processional.

Police crackdowns on the monthly Critical Mass parade have produced what is in San Francisco a leisurely, semi-politically inclined bike ride, in Manhattan an unpleasant and sometimes dangerous cat-and-mouse game in which participants must dutifully stop before the crosswalk at all red lights lest the accompanying phalanx of cops on motorbikes issue a summons for jaywalking or other such violations of City security.

Several years ago, while attempting to leave the established parade route during a City-approved rally several years ago, I was physically restrained by an Auxiliary officer who demanded I throw away my foam board poster (which read "Justice Not Violence") before cutting through the police barricades. She said I might use the poster as a weapon, prompting me to wonder if she could read.

Now why do we need so many rules and cops at these events? Exactly what and whom are they protecting? I doubt the security demands are so tight at the Scottish parade as to warrant overtime commitment for officers. If the police were instructed in these circumstances to help rather than hinder, everyone would be safer.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bristol Palin advises abstinence for the poor

In a recent PSA, Bristol Palin implores poor women to "pause" before they "play," citing her famous, wealthy family as the only reason her efforts at single parenthood have been successful. The implication is that young mothers without her privilege are alone and destitute, depicted in the ad as having frizzy hair and being stranded in an empty room with a needy baby.




Bristol Palin is hardly the first to suggest that poor people not have children. Margaret Sanger preyed on mainstream fears of rampant Irish Catholic breeding to gain support for her Planned Parenthood initiatives. From 1929 to 1974, the state of North Carolina ran a sterilization program that targeted poor black people, thought to be miscreants.

But Bristol Palin's message is misguided also because it presumes that wealth is a necessary factor in managing teen motherhood. True, babies are expensive. But other teen mothers have families too, even if they can't all have governors for parents. Those mythical "villages" have been raising children for as long as humans have been having them. How could any one person do everything that is necessary for the wellbeing and development of another?

Family support is of course crucial in mitigating the difficulties of [young] single parenthood. Yet mention of the child's father as a reliable - or even viable - nurturer is absent in this ad. That the female parent is responsible for a pregnancy and child goes unquestioned. Male consciousness should be examined as it is interpreted, validated, and institutionalized by mainstream society in ads such as this one.

Bristol might have used her platform to advocate for healthy, informed relationships, instead of the blanket admonition for abstinence. Sex does have consequences, but ignorance has more.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thanks for the tassel, JSex

I received my graduation tassel yesterday: it is gold to indicate that I have been on the privileged end of grade inflation over the years. Too bad it says the wrong year:














This mailing is probably the only one I've received from NYU which does not solicit funds. They even put a polar bear stamp on the envelope instead of the usual metered postage mark! What a great day this is turning out to be.

To the driver who almost hit me, and then dumped a cup of water on me as I was biking past

Dear Sir,
Last night, we were both traveling down 9th Avenue in the 30s. I was on my bicycle; you were in your SUV. I was rolling to a stop at a red light just as you pulled out of your parking space and tried to cut across a lane of traffic, even though - again - it was a red light and all the cars were stopped.

I was wearing a bright pink dress. I had reflectors on my bicycle and my shiny silver helmet, and I was wearing a flashing red light that fastened around my upper arm. In short, I was supremely visible.

However, you were distracted by your desire to get into the second lane, which maybe is your lucky lane (?), and you either did not see me or you thought that I would get out of your way because, hey, you're in an SUV and I'm just on a bike. To give you the benefit of the doubt, it is possible I was in your blind spot.

But sir, I too have a drivers license, and I know that one of the first and most crucial rules of the road is to look both ways before doing anything. This includes turning, leaving and entering a parking spot, and generally being a responsible driver. Additionally, it is courteous to use your turn signal to indicate that you will be leaving a parking spot. This is helpful for other people on the road in their quest to not hit you.

When I realized that you were not going to let me by, I stopped very short so as to let you do your maneuvering. This same scenario, albeit with a different driver, cost me a broken shoulder last year, so I immediately was put on edge. In turning my bicycle around to get by your car - which at this point was taking up not only the parking spot and first lane, but part of the second lane as well - I grabbed onto the back part of your SUV to keep my balance.

I realized when I got around to your window that you had interpreted this action as a violation of your personal property. You decided to articulate your discontent by calling me, alternately, a "fucking bitch" and a "fucking cunt."

Now, you are correct to point out that I, like most everybody else, do have my bitchy moments. However, I thought it entirely inappropriate that we be discussing my cunt at such an early moment in our relationship. I responded by reminding you to look both ways next time. I believe I said, "You should look both ways next time."

After your harangue showed a sign of impending pause, I added a neighborly "fuck off" to let you know I still had some fighting spirit after my near-accident experience due to your negligence. Not that you asked, but I was okay.

Now, dear sir, I am not a loud person. In fact, I doubt that you even heard me tell you to fuck off because your window was still rolled up. So your subsequent actions were all the more confounding.

When the light turned green, I continued pedaling my way to glory. I had a party to go to, and I was not about to let you and your unpleasant problem-solving skills get in the way of a good time. You see, I have been trying this new thing called "letting it go." It is an excellent coping mechanism, and I recommend it to you.

After three or four blocks, I was feeling a lot better about the situation. I realized that you probably hadn't had any interaction with women in a while, so you were just unfamiliar with how to relate to a female. I can forgive you for that, even though that's not a great excuse for what you did next.

Five blocks after our encounter, you pulled up really close to me so as to force me closer to the line of parked cars. I thought maybe you were lost and needed directions. Maybe you were going to apologize for almost hitting me. Then I realized you had something more nefarious in mind. I turned to see what your situation was all about, only to be greeted by the overturned cup of water in your hand.

All I felt in that moment was fear, because I was stuck between your SUV and a line of parked cars. There was no curb for me to pull up on, and your cup was very, very full of water. Maybe you had one of those Big Gulp cups.

I couldn't see because there was so much water in my face, and also I was trying not to run into your front wheel.

Do you know what adrenaline is? I had a lot of that coursing through my blood in that moment. I thought maybe I would get hurt or die. You did not seem to recognize my plight; rather you only continued to deluge me with your water.

Actually, I wasn't sure that it was water until I tasted it running into my nose and mouth. You dumped your beverage all over my face, neck, chest, and back. You got your water all over my new dress and my little bag that had an iPod in it. I imagine you drank from the cup before dousing me with its contents, so for all I know, you also got your mouth germs all over me too.

I started screaming at you. Very intelligent things like "What the fuck you fucking fuckface." But you thought the whole situation was hilarious. You laughed and sped off.

I was not laughing. In fact, I was close to crying. Who does things like that? Apparently, you do. I cannot imagine a problem to which dumping a cup of water on a defenseless and scared biker is an acceptable resolution. We must have been raised with different values systems because you clearly thought it would be the optimal resolution.

But not only did you endanger and scare the shit out of me, you also endangered yourself. I believe the reason you were so upset in the first place was because you imagined what trouble you'd be in if something had happened to me while you pulled out of your parking space without checking to see if anybody was in your way. You would probably have to pay higher insurance premiums, for one, and also live with the fact that you injured or killed somebody. I'm sure that would suck pretty hard.

Anyway, I suppose you've been helpful in pointing out a flaw in my new Zen phase, which is that I am still capable of and willing to throw shitfits in the face of adversity. And if I ever see you again, I will thank you for it. Right after I show you what a fucking bitch I can be.