Sunday, August 26, 2012

Isaac

















Here we go again.

State of emergency declared for Southeast Louisiana including New Orleans.

Right now we've been told by Mayor Landrieu to be ready to shelter in place. Governor Jindal has opened voluntary evacuations for folks in low lying areas in the coastal parishes and those outside the levees. This will probably turn into mandatory evacuations for the same folks before noon tomorrow. Some parishes are already closing down their schools.


Folks who have i-Stuff can download "Get a Game Plan" app.

Right now, the weather is beautiful in New Orleans, though the grocery stores and hardware stores are packed. Glad I went early this morning. Here's hoping all those levee improvements that have been made over the last seven years work.

Best case scenario is that this thing stays as a rain event, and brings some much needed precipitation to the hinterlands, and nobody gets killed. But we're prepping for the worst case.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Crisis In Journalism

What the hell is happening at the Red and Black? How have we gone from editorial control questions to reporters and the folks in charge tussling on the floor?

When I first saw that the student editorial staff of the Red and Black had walked out in protest over editorial control, I've got to be honest, I thought it was a little bit of an overreaction. Maybe I'm just buying into the stereotypes of college kids who get mad when faced with real-world problems, but I'll admit that's where my incredulity comes from. I'll be honest, the reporting regarding the walkout in the regional and national press was pretty thin on the reasons why, save the story from the folks who actually walked out, and tended more towards a repetition of the situation without any in depth look at what was going on. Oh, and also because the Red and Black, when I was in college at UGA, provided a platform for a whole lot of college kids getting mad when faced with real world problems on their op-ed pages.

So you could say I was primed by the current state of the media (college, regional, national) to pretty much dismiss this story. New Orleans has her own problems with media, and they relate to slightly more robust publications than the Red and Black, and we've got a whole lot of more pressing issues on the plate. Though there are enough similarities between the situations in Athens and New Orleans to keep things interesting for me - a once daily news publication switching (or already switched) to a less-than-daily printing schedule to  supplement the online content; a question of editorial turnover and what that means for quality of reporting; issues of organizational hierarchy about where decisions were made; local groups turning to reporting bodies made possible by the internet (blogs, investigative websites, competing publications, etc.); the publication's value to the community it serves; the strange aspect of people having been removed (willingly or not) from a job having to re-apply for said job; value of the content reported; etc. Sound familiar? As someone who consumes a great deal of information from various sources of media during any given week, the fundamental changes and turmoil to how media works is something I consider important.

But I'll admit, I was willing to accept the official story of college kids and their outrage, and turn my attention to other, more interesting train wrecks.

Strange enough, a friend posted a link on Facebook about someone actually doing some investigating in to the Red and Black story. This is a link I never would have looked at in the course of my normal media consumption. But when I clicked on it, the page was down.

So I do what I always do when a page is down, I assume somebody got the URL wrong, and click on the website's headline. And then I read this. Holy ironic twist, Batman. A report investigating editorial control and possible censorship was removed from an organizational blog to a personal blog because the overall editors didn't like the content. This makes the situation very interesting, because what is going on isn't about college kids and their outrage, this is about the state of the media in our culture, and who controls it. This is big. This draws the line between what's happening in Athens and what is happening in New Orleans and Alabama and Michigan and all of these places where the institutions where people consume their information are undergoing radical changes.

We'll be talking about those changes in New Orleans at this year's Rising Tide conference. I can only wonder if those changes inspire the same sort of conversation to take place at the University of Georgia.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Joe Biden Goes Too Far


So, let me get this straight:

After four years of hearing about the birth certificateKenyan anti-colonialismapologizing for America, the Ground Zero Mosque, the long form birth certificatespiking the football about Osama bin Ladendeath panelsshaking down BP, the state of Hawai'i's conspiracy to falsify the birth certificate, "you lie," Reverend Wright, the Black Panthers and the Justice Department, the Fast and the Furious and the Justice Departmentkeeping the President's name off the ballot because of the birth certificateShirley SherrodACORNvoting fraud, the "unconstitutional" ACAMichelle's racist thesis, "you didn't build that," "gutting welfare reform," and "Obama SAID he killed Osama personally with his own two hands and everything"... everyday, all day, on Fox News, talk radio, all over the internet, in Facebook posts and chain emails...*

But Joe Biden is the guy orchestrating a "campaign of division and anger and hate?"

Really?

Some of us aren't all upset about the "put y'all back in chains" comment because we remember the lessons we learned about indentured servitude and sharecropping back in public school history classes. In economic terms, those aren't too far away from the systems of credit default swaps (where big owners purchase and sell someone's personal debt), underwater mortgages, and actual crushing personal debt. We know exactly whose economic plan led us down that rabbit hole for ten years, don't we?

And we all remember which economic system we had to "compare and contrast" to indentured servitude and sharecropping, right? Leads right into a "y'all in chains" image, doesn't it? But I guess drawing that line is just "going too far." Unless you willingly misrepresent the metaphor.

I know! Let's get rid of Medicare instead.

* (I have a feeling I'll be using this paragraph for a long, long time.)

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

What the heck is up with all the Neighborland hate these days?

When I first heard about Neighborland and what it was, I thought it was a cool idea: there's this website, and if you create an account, you can post ideas for the neighborhood and city that you live in or "like" other people's ideas. You can make comments and connect with folks based on common interests. And that's cool when the majority of my online interaction happens over Facebook and email, and those are folks I already know who I've already bored to death with my ideas big and small. This all seems pretty basic and benign to me.

I mean, click over and look at the front page of Neighborland New Orleans. The top issues when I looked at it this evening are:

Recycling glass - which you can't do in New Orleans, but is something I would like to have in town,
Bike shares - which we kinda already do in New Orleans, but the folks you're sharing your bike with generally don't bring it back,
Saving live music - because the City Council doesn't want to write ordinances that make sense,
Supporting food trucks - because the City Council doesn't want to write ordinances that make sense, and
Recycling access - because it would be nice to have more receptacles for the stuff that usually ends up on the ground around here.

Do any of those items inspire some righteous anger within you? I'm sure not feeling it.

I also know Alan in passing. I've been to several events sponsored by Neighborland, and they were all well organized with worthwhile content. He gave a Neighborland presentation at last year's Rising Tide conference, and the organizers and audience seemed pretty excited about having him (registration is open for THIS year's Rising Tide conference, by the way, including a panel on Community vs Commodity). I recently attended a Food Truck Symposium he organized and Neighborland supported, because I'm all about opening up economic opportunities for small business, and I know exactly how expensive and risky it is to open up a restaurant. These things were fun, informative, and - again - not exactly the stuff that incites my ire.

I never signed up for an account over there (before tonight) because I figured I didn't really need one more online thing to keep up with, especially when the ideas being talked about are generally the same ones that get airplay elsewhere around town.

But recently, hating on Neighborland is starting to get airplay around town. Who knew that behind the fascade of a basic and benign local ideas website, this organization would actually represent the sinister aspect of creeping outside agitation and public policy takeover in New Orleans?

If you too are scratching your head about how we get from "I want to recycle glass in New Orleans" and "food trucks would be fun here" to "we're taking over St. Claude Avenue and there is nothing you puny locals can do about it," you aren't the only one. I have to say I'm completely baffled.

From what I can gather, NPR ran a report that referenced the "Post-Katrina New Orleans is a Blank Slate" narrative that never goes over so well with people who live in New Orleans. That unfortunate introduction led into a report where Neighborland was discussed, and the association was made. It didn't matter if Neighborland did or didn't have a hand in the syntax of the article or the choice of words, as the Gambit comments section proves - to some folks, the mere association is enough of a crime. Especially if the organization in question might serve as a convenient caricature of the "influx" of out-of-town folks moving to New Orleans with the intention of turning the place into Cleveland. People proposing ideas for New Orleans have to have impeccable #standing, after all.

But that could just be a comment section getting heated? That happens all the time on the internets, right? Thing is, even those of us barely paying attention to the exchange took notice when The Lens published an op-ed that could only be considered a hit piece against Neighborland and founder Candy Chang. That's right, in one editorial, the basic, benign website had morphed into some shadowy organization hell bent on driving long term residents away from St. Claude Avenue, and making decisions for the community without community involvement.

The plot thickened when The Lens, a premier online investigative news source for New Orleans, quickly published a retraction and apology for printing the editorial. Because now, there's an entire blog apparently dedicated to defending that editorial and exposing the excesses and out-of-townness behind Neighborland. Apparently it isn't OK to work and secure grant funding for beautification projects, especially if you invite community comment and input about how to spend the money. Despite the invitations to participate in the process, certain folks feel they are being left out. Because that's what it sounds like folks are raising the alarms about, here. (And I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, I'm totally baffled to be honest.)

So tonight, to test the theory of not being allowed to participate in the process, I went over to Neighborland and set up an account. I was able to begin posting comments and "liking" local ideas immediately, and it was pretty easy to do. I guess that's all part of the plan, though, and they're just waiting to shut me out of the process when they spring their sinister trap and bring a Trader Joe's to Mid-City.

Wait a second....I know why it was so easy for me to sign up for an account over there! They must already know that I'm not from New Orleans. How sinister indeed! I'm actually part of the outside agitators taking over town. Guess there will be some hate mail sent my way directly.

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Deep Fried Religious Persecution

Well, at least we now have a template for the open arms acceptance of religious freedom in this country – start a fried chicken restaurant. Well, maybe not a fried chicken restaurant. That market is probably cornered at this point. But the lesson is well learned: provide a service or product beloved by suburban America and any criticism of your business OR religion will be roundly rejected, and thousands of everyday Americans will rally to man the ramparts against your critics. It won’t matter if those criticisms are grounded in facts. If people love your product, your beliefs are unassailable. You will be able to celebrate any controversial position, and not only will your critics be unable to touch you, but those who dare continue their critique will be labeled haters and oppressors.

Yeah, I’m still talking about Chick-fil-a. And I know some of you are already done talking about it. (Y’all can stop reading right now, because this is not something you’re going to want to read.) But I’m also talking about the Ground Zero Mosque and the very real religious persecutions that exist in America – and that is something which I will never, ever stop talking about. Finally, behind it all is the power local governments have to make rules you have to live by, which is a power few people pay attention to because they’re too busy focusing on issues far, far away.

On the chicken sandwich thing, I was vaguely aware of their “Biblical” beliefs and practices for a long time, and continued to eat there. I love the food. Love it. I used to eat it four times a week. When people talked about the “Cult of Chick-fil-a” I thought they were talking about me and SEC football. I figured they could do with their money what they wanted, and that was OK because I patronize plenty of places where I don’t agree with the politics of the owners or that support causes I don’t. As someone who has been labeled a “Cafeteria Catholic,” my access to Chick-n-minis was consistent with my overall lifestyle.

But a funny thing has happened in the last decade. Stuff that didn’t used to bother me has started to bother me. Maybe it is because I live in a town most of America would rather give up to standing water, and because some folks said that drowning this city was God’s punishment. Maybe it is because people who disagree with me on politics have gone from joking about it over beers to seriously asking me why I support a communist dictator from Kenya and policies that will “destroy” America. Maybe it was all the people yelling “MERRY CHRISTMAS” at me back in 2005 because they thought people like me were working hard to cancel Christmas. Maybe it was a lot of things, but at some point in the recent past, someone drew a line in the sand and put me on one side of it.

Now, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t do opposition research on places where I spend my money. If they deliver a good product and good service, I’ll likely spend money there again.

However, if any business goes out of its way to celebrate and promote the fact that it will use my consumer dollars for causes I find morally objectionable, I will find somewhere else to spend my consumer dollars, simple as that. When the chicken restaurant decided to really start broadcasting what they do with the dollars I spend there, and why, and people started making a big deal about how I should just shut up and eat my chicken, well, that started to bother me. My behavior changed accordingly.

And I’m not going to judge folks who still spend their consumer dollars at such a business. They earned their money, they can spend it where they want. I’ll be getting my food elsewhere. They have their reasons, I have mine. Maybe the issues I find morally objectionable aren’t that important to them. Different strokes for different folks, right?

Wrong. Apparently, not spending my consumer dollars at a certain restaurant indicates my lack of respect for the “traditional” family and God. Apparently, me explaining my own personal reasons for my own personal economic behavior is tantamount to telling everyone who doesn’t share my reasons or behaviors that they are wrong. Apparently, posting irreverent pictures about the issue on Facebook is joining in some sort of widespread campaign of religious persecution or limitation of a certain restaurant’s free speech rights. I guess I’m just on the wrong side of that line in the sand.

The strangest thing is the reaction to my opinion, as if my simply holding such an opinion is considered completely offensive to a bunch of people. Telling is how many people feel the need to try and undermine the reasons for my decision. All I’ve said is that I’m not eating there anymore, and all I’ve done is state the (factual) reasons why. For that, I’ve been called all manner of names for finding this issue important, from silly to hypocrite.

More telling is how many people feel the need to justify or rationalize their continued patronage of this certain restaurant. Hey, folks, you don’t need to explain yourselves to me or anyone else. If you or your kids like the food, go ahead and eat. Enjoy the waffle fries, I live in New Orleans, I ain’t hurtin’ on food options.

Of course, all that being said, the whole issue is an litmus test on how American culture views religious persecution, and that’s where things start to get very interesting. Apparently, the “progressive” mayors or aldermen of several majors cities made a big deal of announcing how unhappy they were with what the chicken restaurant was able to do with their profit dollars. Additional announcements were made about how these mayors would “do everything in their power” to block the chicken restaurant from opening franchises in their cities. Political and ideological opponents of these politicians quickly took up the banner against such oppression on “free speech” and “free religion” grounds (along with the ever innocuous War on Christians), and using these blustery statements that progressives and liberals were at the very forefront of the march to Tyranny! Dictatorship! Totalitarianism! End of Freedom! “Conservative” and “Tea Party” politicians jumped right up on the bandwagon, holding press conferences at chicken restaurants, faces full of chicken nuggets and lemonade stains on their ties to prove how much they believed in Freedom! God! America!

If you’ve ever wondered how hyperbolic our political discourse has become, just let that last vision sink in a little.

But this whole Mayors vs. Freedom thing has a lot more to do with the TV cameras and the website pageviews than any sort of creeping totalitarianism. City officials “doing everything in their power” could be either “not much” and a “whole lot.” How does that work? Well, there are about a thousand different zoning requirements, city ordinances, and permits any restaurant has to get to open their doors in almost any municipality in America. If someone who works for the city wants to sink your business, they can almost certainly bury you under permits, fees, fines, paperwork, and inspections the likes of which would stun the average small-business supporting American. And it is all perfectly legal, because a lot of folks are more concerned with the Rush Limbaugh radio spot or Daily Kos to pay attention to what goes on at their own city halls. It ain’t like local newspapers cover those proceedings anymore.

Thing is, the chicken restaurant is very good at navigating zoning, ordinances, and permits to get their franchises open. They’re a $4 billion/year restaurant business that has a piece of four major college football games. Say what you want about their politics, but they have the compliance within the law down to an art (or, if they believed in evolution, a science).

That means these “progressive” mayors only recourse would be to change the laws at the last minute in order to place restrictions on the franchises based on their religious behavior. Not only will the chicken restaurant’s attorneys have a field day with that one (as the attorneys for these cities will tell these mayors), but it is tough to change laws and city ordinances on short notice. That’s why so many outdated and obsolete ordinances that hinder small business are still on the books in many municipalities in the first place!

So viewing the host of obstacles in front of them, I have to assume that these proclamations are more thunder than rain; as are the equally hyperbolic responses to this sort of fake institutional tyranny. Each side gets to rile up their respective bases, maybe make some cash via campaign donations, and get their names in the papers (or twitters).

But the rush of so many to “defend” the chicken restaurant’s “religious freedom” against personal boycotts like mine and toothless attention grabs by politicians rings quite hollow to my ears. That’s because this country is experiencing a very real assault on religious freedom that few individuals are talking about.

Basically, there are a bunch of “conservative” politicians and pundits all over this country that have been announcing how unhappy they were with members of a certain religious group owning property and building places of worship. Announcements are constantly made about how these politicians will “do everything in their power” to block members of this religious group from building places of worship, places of education, or places of business in their city. And that's the best case scenario, when this religion's places of worship and business aren't being burned to the ground by arsonists, or when houses of worship of completely different religions are attacked because they appear similar to ignorant gunmen.

Only this one religious group is singled out so adamantly by these politicians, and this religious group has been so thoroughly demonized in American popular culture, hate groups can't even figure out which religion it is that they hate. Even those who would take up the banner against such oppression on “free speech” and “free religion” grounds are said to be anti-American or anti-Christian. Advocates of extending such rights of speech and religion to members of this religion would place those advocates at the very forefront of the march to Tyranny! Dictatorship! Totalitarianism! End of Freedom! As a matter of fact, even portraying members of this religion in a positive (or even a normal) light, or in any way that may contradict the current cultural zeitgeist is viewed as an attack on American values.

Going even further, this whole specific religious group vs. Freedom thing started out having a lot to do with the TV cameras and the website pageviews, but has really become a cottage industry of actual creeping totalitarianism. The difference is that people in government are actually working and passing legislation authored to specifically restrict the rights or demonize this particular religious group. As a matter of fact, politicians fall all over themselves promising to “do everything in their power” to restrict this religion in America, and they have very real legislative goals in mind, even if those legislative goals include forbidding completely unrealistic concerns. And America’s culture-of-fear being what it is, it isn’t difficult to get local, regional, and national news outlets to contribute to the fear.

Of course, you won’t hear about the very real attacks on this group’s religious freedom in the United States, because most of the politicians organizing that attack are the same politicians up in arms over the very fake attacks on the chicken restaurant’s religious freedom. And I’d wager that an awful lot of the people who waited in lines to show “support” for the chicken restaurant’s religious freedom yesterday will vote in November for politicians and policies that restrict the other group’s actual religious freedom.

And that’s why I’m still talking about the Chick-fil-a thing. It ain't just about fried chicken, and it ain't just about homosexuality.

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