Thursday, November 10, 2011

My powers of persuasion have been validated by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Department

Many of you know that my commitment to justice very rarely yields positive returns, except on the rare occasion that my blogposts of rage are actually funny.

Yet following my stint with international fame on BBC radio, it appears that my powers are indeed sharp and forceful, and I can make real things happen.

Yesterday I reported that a car licensed to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Department had a broken tail-light, an offense that trips up countless numbers of civilians in encounters leading to searches and arrests of dubious legality, a matter for which the New Orleans Police Department is under investigation.

Today, I saw the same car (license plate number 193515) WITH A FIXED TAIL-LIGHT.  While I was unable to snap a photo, as I was driving and that sort of multitasking activity is frowned upon by the Sheriff's Department, look out for this car and its brand new shiny and functional left tail-light.

So, Dear Readers, I have only you to thank for following my exhortation to pull that beast over and give him a what-for.  Congratulations, and know that I'm taking y'all to the top with me!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Sheriff has no standing to pull you over for a broken tail-light

New Orleans drivers are a creative bunch.

They pull over unexpectedly, they stop in the middle of the road to chat with their friend passing by on the sidewalk, they think signalling is optional, and many of them are engaged in dubious sobriety.

I never played video games as a child, but I imagine that the experience of operating a motor vehicle in the City of New Orleans is a similar one.

Driving here often resembles an obstacle course, especially when it comes to avoiding law enforcement attention.  The dedicated officers of the Orleans Parish Police Department may be negligent in preventing most violent crime, but they will not let you off the hook for traffic offenses.

Indeed, there are so many traffic-related tickets and summonses issued in a given year, neither the City clerk, a NOPD public information officer, nor a Traffic Court representative was able to say with certainty how many were paid or unpaid. [The NOPD is currently under investigation for falsely issuing traffic tickets, and the City is currently pursuing an estimate of $91 million in unpaid parking tickets dating back 20 years.]

With such diligence at play, imagine my surprise to find an official public vehicle belonging to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Department - the agency charged with enforcing all laws relevant to Orleans Parish - with a broken tail-light.

The broken tail-light, as most New Orleans drivers know, is anecdotally one of the main reasons that cops will pull you over.  They do this as an excuse to check licensing, registration, insurance, immigration status, and body cavities, as unknown threats to public safety are apparently revealed once the drivers are pulled over.  It is also a big money-maker for the City and its brake tag (that's "inspection" for all you non-Louisianans) industry that sets prices seemingly based on the changing alignment
of the stars.

So I am considering it my service to the City to alert the general public to the hazards presented by the driver of Sheriff's Office car license number 193515.  I urge you all to practice your civic duty to place this delinquent under citizen's arrest until the authorities arrive and do what's right.  And if I know New Orleans, what's right will be to excuse public employees for unlawful behavior.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My 5 minutes of fame...Still got 10 to go!

This morning I received a call from "Dani S.," a BBC employee who invited me to be a participant on today's "Have Your Say" live radio show.  The topic was to be Obama and Sarkozy's off-the-record catty exchange about Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and how it was revealed that neither particularly cares for him.

Dani had found me on Twitter after I posted in response to an NPR report about the incident.  She asked me to be the sole American caller on the show, weighing in on this event's impact event on domestic affairs in the US.

Despite my greed for fame, I was wary of participating on this program.  I feared it was the sort of show common in US media, one that provides a platform for smarmy hosts to provoke misinformed people into saying something inflammatory.  Indeed, when I told Dani I'm not an expert on US-France-Israel relations, she told me that "We don't like experts."

However, the show turned out to be slightly different than I expected.  True enough, the staff don't seem to care who you are, what you do, nor how much you know or don't know about the given subject.  Yet it's a little more intelligent an operation than most American caller-based shows, in that they do pre-screening to make sure you're not a crazy jackass trying to bring back the Confederacy.  Or at least if you are a crazy jackass trying to bring back the Confederacy, at least they'll know that before they let you on their radio show.

In my pre-screening interview, the only eyebrow-raising question Dani asked was if I thought it was a conspiracy that the mics were left on for reporters to witness the exchange.  I told her no, but that's probably done sometimes to either humanize or embarrass powerful people.  She also asked me if Obama would be hurt by the revelation of his disdain for Netanyahu, to which I responded that he probably would be if rabid Zionist Republicans went on the attack like they probably will.

My reservations in check, I decided to go on the show because I thought it would be funny - after all, why would British people care what a shmo like me thinks about anything? - and also an opportunity to address a broader audience on the issue of global imperialism, as represented by the G20 summit where the conversation took place.

When the show called me for a live interview, I was given about one minute total to address the issue at hand.  Asked about "the American response" to Obama's comments, I said something to the effect of:

Nobody likes seeing their country's figurehead do something foolish, especially on an international stage.  I don't know how this particular event will affect Obama.  It does seem like an unprofessional misstep.  Yet relations between world leaders are sometimes notoriously strained, as in the one between Sarkozy and Merkele.  If we are lucky enough to be employed, we all have a coworker we can't stand.  But it is a problem that so much global focus is on this one gaffe and we aren't examining who these 20 powers are that convened in the first place to make political and economic decisions that impact the rest of the world.

The BBC disconnected me from the conversation shortly after I made my comments, telling me "thank you, that's enough."  How very succinctly British.

I was glad I got in my points about Obama being a "figurehead" (as opposed to a leader), the existence of massive unemployment, and the global dominance engineered by the G20 to suit their own interests.

In the end, Dear Readers, even though I am now very famous from my token presence on British radio, I will still talk to you and be your friend.  And as far as my more detailed prepared remarks on US militaristic incursion in Palestine, there's always next week's show.

The people Occupying New Orleans

I stopped by the OccupyNOLA camp yesterday to try and meet up with the Anti-Racism Working Group, a coalition of organizers who examine race-, class-, and gender-based power and privilege within the OccupyNOLA encampment and broader society as a whole.

While a formal meeting failed to take place, I had a very tough yet very important conversations with some Occupiers there:

Jessica, a white 20-something member of the internal "Integrity Camp," whom I met while searching for the Working Group meeting, told me her role on-site is to act as night security for the encampment.  After hearing numerous reports of violence at the site, especially against women, Jessica and her companions decided to take on the responsibility of patrolling the area armed only with small cans of mace.  She said that since her group began its effort, all nighttime disputes have been resolved peacefully and without the use of force.

Jessica introduced me to Peter, a white Vietnam War veteran, who says he camps at OccupyNOLA because he wants a better world for his grandchildren.  Having worked hard all his life, including his two-year stint in a war zone on behalf of American interests, Peter found himself struggling to maintain his home and VA medical benefits.  "I can't imagine what young people think of this country," he said.  "We didn't know what we doing in Vietnam, but we knew America needed us.  These kids feel like America has nothing for them."

While Peter and I were talking, a few young white men sidled up to listen in.  After hearing that I was looking for the Anti-Racism Working Group, one of the men expressed his frustration with the group, accusing its members of being exclusionary and detached from the main encampment.  "They meet in a totally different place" than the other working groups, he said.  "And they waste time at [General Assemblies] talking about things that aren't relevant."  When pressed, he told me that some of the members "took over" a General Assembly one time to "force everyone to talk about power and privilege."

The other men sitting around us agreed that while power and privilege are important things to consider, their examination may not be appropriate in a setting such as a General Assembly, where "other things need to get done."

I was a little unsure how to approach the subject, as issues of power and privilege do indeed affect the goings-on at OccupyNOLA, even within so-called progressive organizing circles.  It seems that the work of an anti-racism group would be important, and even necessary, to help all OccupyNOLA participants examine the injustices that they personally may be complicit in furthering.  That is, just because someone commits themselves to camping out in opposition to police brutality, corporatocracy, or even capitalism at large, doesn't mean that individual has been able to acknowledge personal privilege that has the potential to exploit or silence others.  This is especially evident when Occupiers disrespect each other at different events, including General Assemblies, by interrupting, talking over one another, and committing other acts of repression.

Accordingly, I experienced this particular conversation with the young men by feeling a bit dismissed in my projected view that the things that actually "need to get done" should include deep and introspective inquiry into privilege, specifically pertaining to whiteness and maleness.  I had suggested that maybe the reason people were being turned off to the encampment had to do not only with the real threat of physical violence - however tempered by the internal security patrols - but also with the manifestation of structural and systemic violence against certain groups, including women and racial minorities.  The men I was talking to seemed mildly receptive to what I was saying, but there's clearly more work to be done as far as consciousness-raising goes.

Luckily, I had the fortune to meet up with another white female activist on my way out of the encampment, who agreed that OccupyNOLA should work towards establishing safe spaces for women on-site, much like the Occupy Wall Street organizers have done.

So there is plenty of room for progress at OccupyNOLA.  If participants can manage to have these tough conversations and really digest what's being presented, we may be able to collectively realize that overcoming issues of power and privilege doesn't distract form the "real work," it IS the real work to be done.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I have finally enhanced my online presence enough to have the NYU Wasserman Center call me to ask why I keep being mean to them on Twitter

My most loyal readers will remember that I began this blog back in 2009, following the advice of a counselor at the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development, who told me to "enhance [my] online presence because all the jobs are in social media."

I was more than miffed by this response, as I had inquired as to how to market a degree in "Equality Studies" from The Gallatin(TM) School that awards diplomas in "Individualized Study," aka "Fuck around and read books for ~four years, and as long as you sound semi-smart at the end we'll graduate you."

In fact, I was so irritated I started the Shtetl Chic Media Empire (with matching Twitter account! twitter.com/shtetlchic) to rant about how out-of-touch the NYU Wasserman Center is.

I figured I could put my critical analysis and writing skills to work for myself, seeing as how nobody else would hire me to use them.

The project quickly expanded, as the NYU registrar proved equally horrendous an institution, as did the U.S. State Department, the City of New York, food porn, New Orleans City Council, and the democratic process at large, among others.

And apparently - despite having under 300 Twitter followers - I have more influence than I think.  I am so annoying, in fact, that a certain "Heather Tranen" from the NYU Wasserman Center called me this afternoon to "open up dialogue" about how the Wasserman Center might better serve NYU students.

I was more than happy to oblige Ms. Tranen, who very patiently listened to me explain how the Wasserman Center's offer to have a 15-minute Skype call with unemployed NYU alumni, for example, could be perceived as condescending.

Don't offer tips for "acing the interview," I suggested, when interviews are just as hard to come by as jobs.

Moreover:
  • Don't imply to Gallatin(TM) students that our degrees don't matter, especially after so many go into debt and therapy just for attending NYU.  Degrees in individualized study prove success in self-direction, time management, and creativity, all useful skills to have in grad school and the workplace.
  • Educate career counselors about AmeriCorps, which functions as basically the backdoor entrance to the nonprofit sector in this country.  Let students know what sort of alternative direct-service employment options are available through the federal government, and how they may be used to further students' ambitions in public administration.  It's not enough to throw some PeaceCorps brochures in the waiting room of the Career Center.  I did an AmeriCorps service year because I couldn't find a real job after graduating college.  It was really difficult on many levels, especially because it didn't pay much. Maybe the Wasserman Center could have given me resources on personal budgeting and nonprofit management.  Instead, my counselor told me she wasn't "familiar" with AmeriCorps, but maybe I could Google it for her. [UPDATE: It should be noted that AmeriCorps and other similar "volunteer" organizations can have a destructive influence on the very issues and populations they intend to serve, mainly by ostracizing more locally appropriate initiatives and their advocates. That being said, it is not the most misguided federal program to alleviate poverty.]
  • Monitor the internal CareerNet job postings database so that advertisements for "Cat Whisperer Wanted" and sketchy English teaching positions in Taiwan don't supersede real and relevant career advancement opportunities.

And above all, I told Ms. Tranen, don't be confined by what Wasserman Center directors think you should say to students and recent graduates.  Tell us what we want to know, like what is a 401(k), what sort of graduate degrees should we select to further our career goals, and how do we market an NYU degree in regions outside of New York (such as here in Louisiana), where they don't really give a shit about my Yankee education, and in fact disdain it a little.

So thank you for reaching out to me, NYU Wasserman Center, and I hope that this counseling session has been productive for you.  I know I feel better.