Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pakistan on the bayou

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was rather, shall we say, blunt in her remarks to various groups of Pakistanis this past week.

Basically, adjusting for diplomacy-speak, she said Pakistan was a basket case, and that unless that country gets its act together, Americans will just be pouring foreign aid we scarcely can afford anymore down a rat hole.

She told Pakistanis they were too ignorant, too sick, their infrastructure was a damn mess, and that their country doesn't tax itself nearly enough to do any bootstrap-pulling at all.

HERE'S A "money" quote from a roundtable with Pakistani business leaders in Lahore.

"And so at some point, when you ask for partnership, you have to ask what the equity state is that Pakistan itself is looking to make," Clinton said, "because it is difficult to go to our taxpayers and say we consider Pakistan a strategic partner, we consider it a long-term friend and ally, we have supported it since its inception in 1947, we want to continue to do so, and have our taxpayers and our members of Congress say, 'Well, we want to help those who help themselves, and we tax everything that moves and doesn’t move, and that’s not what we see happening in Pakistan.'"

That's blunt. And it occurred to me . . . what if the federal government took that approach with various "undertaxed" American states that, nevertheless, think they have the same -- nay, more -- right to sacks and sacks of federal cash than those "nanny states" taxing themselves into oblivion.

Red-blooded, all-American, rugged-individualist conservatives in low-tax states like (Oh, what the hell . . . ) Louisiana would like us to believe they're somehow ruggeder and more individualistic and moral than us damn Yankees in Omaha, by God, Nebraska, sitting here
with the 182nd-highest property tax out of 1,800 ranked U.S. counties. By comparison, my home parish in Louisiana, East Baton Rouge, sits at No. 1,546.

And the bottom 10 property-tax counties in the United States are
all in Louisiana.

And yet, there are Louisiana's politicians standing there in Washington,
with hands outstretched or, alternately, trying to gerrymander the 2010 Census to tilt federal-aid formulas in their direction -- and maybe keep from losing a congressional district, too.

Cue Hillary Clinton.

I WONDER whether she could make time for a couple of Baton Rouge roundtables? Because if you spend a day driving around my hometown -- driving around all of my hometown -- you're going to think two things.

First, you're going to think it doesn't do much to keep itself up. You're going to, at some point, use the phrase "God helps those who help themselves."

For example, is this a school in Baton Rouge or one in Pakistan?

You ought to see police headquarters (at top).

And second, you're going to think middle-class Baton Rouge spends the money it doesn't spend on taxes on heavy artillery it trains on the city's poor neighborhoods.

WHEN A STATE doesn't see fit to collect enough local revenue to take care of its basic local needs, at what point does a strapped national government -- and Americans who do tax themselves enough to, more or less, cover local basics -- look at the able-bodied beggar and say, "Screw you, buddy! I saw you take that fiver out of your pocket and buy a pack of smokes."

I mean, read these excerpts from
Clinton's remarks and start replacing "Pakistan" with "Louisiana." It gets real interesting real fast:
The United States wants to help create more jobs in Pakistan. We see this happening in two ways: one, a direct way through programs such as what we are advocating for the creation of reconstruction opportunity zones which will open market access to the United States. We are working to accelerate this approach because it’s essential that we provide more assistance in trade and investment and help to improve the environment for you to do more business.

We also know, though, that in addition to direct programs like that, encouraging your government to do more in the way of trade agreements, looking for opportunities to open up the Pakistan economy to greater trade access, from not just the United States but from this region and beyond, but there are issues that affect how much business you can do, what kind of capacity you have.


We know that at the base of any economy are the talents of the people, and there is no doubt that the Pakistani people are incredibly talented. But it is also beyond argument that there needs to be greater emphasis on education and health, on women’s empowerment, in order to realize the full potential of the challenge that exists. I often say that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. And we have to change the opportunity structure and create opportunity ladders.

Last night, I was in Islamabad for the second drawing of the Benazir Income Support Program, and I was privileged to hand out certificates to some of the women who came from very rural areas to accept their certificates, which carried with them the promise of investments, investments in them and in their families, giving them the tools that they then can use to try to improve their lives.

Really, when you look at what it takes for a society in the 21st century to flourish, I believe that it really rests on three pillars. Sometimes I liken it to a three-legged stool. One is a democracy, democratic form of government with accountability, transparency, a commitment to produce results for people, because if democracy doesn't produce results for people, there’s a built-up frustration that can often cause instability. Second, a market economy where people are given the opportunity to flourish and to create their own wealth and spread it around because of the jobs and the other benefits that flow from it. That strong economy goes hand-in-hand with a strong democratic government. And then the third is civil society, the kind of support for society that you get from faith communities, that you get from private associations, that are really what makes life worth living besides being a citizen and being a consumer and a producer in the economy, really fulfilling oneself.

And certainly, when one looks at the results of the decisions that have been made by the kind of people that the governor referenced who have left Pakistan and have moved to the United States or to Europe or to elsewhere in the world, and when I look around this table and look at the names here and realize how much success there is and how many risk-takers there are and how many people have really prospered through good times and bad because of your own hard work and your entrepreneurial skills, I have no doubt that we can expand that and create many more entrepreneurs and successful business people of all size businesses in Pakistan. The United States is ready, willing, and able to help in whatever way is appropriate. But for us, Governor, we want to make a long-term investment in Pakistan. We think it will pay off. And we certainly believe that it is to the best interest of both the people of Pakistan and of the United States to have that kind of partnership.


But I think too that it is only fair to take a hard look internally about what Pakistan needs to do. And at the risk of maybe sounding undiplomatic, Pakistan has to have more internal investment in your public services and in your business opportunities. By any fair measure, for example, the percentage of taxes of GDP is among the lowest in the world. The United States, we tax ourselves, depending upon who is in power, somewhere between 16 and 23 percent of GDP, and right now, it usually hovers around the 20 percent. You’re less than half of that.

And so at some point, when you ask for partnership, you have to ask what the equity state is that Pakistan itself is looking to make, because it is difficult to go to our taxpayers and say we consider Pakistan a strategic partner, we consider it a long-term friend and ally, we have supported it since its inception in 1947, we want to continue to do so, and have our taxpayers and our members of Congress say, well, we want to help those who help themselves, and we tax everything that moves and doesn’t move, and that’s not what we see happening in Pakistan.

And I can say that because I think there has to be, in any partnership, but more importantly in any plan for your own economic future, a hard look at where you’re going to get the resources to meet these needs. You do have somewhere between 170 and 180 million people. Your population is projected to be about 300 million as the current birth rates, which are among the highest in the world, continue – 2.6 birth rate. I don’t know what you’re going to do with that kind of challenge unless you start planning right now.

And despite the fact that you have all of these wonderful assets that we have been talking about, Pakistan ranks at about 142nd on the Human Development Index. So as we sit here in this absolutely magnificent building, as we talk to people who are educated and worldly and successful, it doesn’t reflect what I saw last night when I handed out those certificates to the very poor women who had come to collect them.

So I think that it is important for us to do our part, and I am here to make that commitment. But that partnership and that trust deficit that was referred to can only be dealt with by an open and candid conversation. We have been friends and allies. We’ve gone through good times and bad times. As somebody said to me earlier in one of my meetings, it’s like a marriage; sometimes we just get really put out with each other. And I said yes, but we don’t want a divorce. What we want is to keep working to the benefit of our countries and our people, and, from my perspective, to really see the time when Pakistan realizes its destiny. I mean, strategically, geographically, in every sense, it’s all there. But it has to be put together by the people of Pakistan.

We are willing to help, and President Obama and I have a very personal commitment to this relationship that we will carry through on. And I look forward to this kind of conversation and then the follow-up call to action and work – the hard work – that’s translating the hopes into the reality that’s on the ground that will realize the kind of economic prosperity that the people of Pakistan deserve.
YES, HILLARY CLINTON "looks forward" to "this kind of conversation" with a country on which we're spending relative chicken feed compared to what we're spending at home. On states and localities that obviously have a lot more federal representation than they have self-taxation.

Maybe the Obama Administration has too small a pool of folks it's planning to engage in, as the diplomats say, "frank discussions."

Northern soul and Northern soul

There was a Casino in Wigan, Lancashire, but nobody gambled there.

No, there England danced. Young Brits would come from all over the country on weekends to dance the night away . . . and well into the morning. It was all about the phenomenon called Northern soul -- meaning northern England and American (and British) soul music.

THE EPICENTER was the Casino nightclub in Wigan, a gritty, working-class industrial town. Well, at least when places such as this in Lancashire -- and America -- actually manufactured things.

Above is a Granada television documentary on Wigan, the Casino, Northern soul and the plight of the working class -- and the resilience of the human spirit -- circa 1977. It's well worth a viewing, if for no other reason to reaffirm the truism that Brits and Yanks are a people divided by a common language.

What the hell were they saying, again? Subtitles, anyone?

Friday, October 30, 2009

3 Chords & the Truth: Saints and sinners

It's gray. It's wet. It's cold.

And it's drafty in here.

I've been drinking so much hot tea -- with the requisite amount of fresh mint -- that my kidneys bought one of those inflatable giraffe life-ring thingies kids use in the swimming pool. All I need to accessorize my toasty flannel robe is three days without a shave and an empty six-pack of Schlitz.

I'VE GOT SOME SORT of low-grade crud, my sinuses hurt, and I'm thinking that -- if I'm really lucky -- people will someday pray for my purgating self on All Souls' Day. I will be the reason future Catholics still are at it the day after All Saints' Day.

Hey! There's an episode of 3 Chords & the Truth in there somewhere.

Ah . . . look. Here it is.

As usual, the Big Show has the usual variety of great music, spanning various styles and genres. This week, in addition to our saintly and "soulful" musical musings, we also saunter through the '70s.

AND THEN WE . . . aw, hell, you just need to listen to the thing, all right? It'll be worth an hour and a half of your time.


It's 3 Chords & the Truth, y'all. Be there. Aloha.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Oki-poki my eyes out now!

If you want to see weird s***, one of your Facebook friends -- in my case, a classmate from Baton Rouge High -- sooner or later will come across some prime Weirdus Maximus and throw it up on his "wall."

This has happened to me once again, and I had to, as they say, share.

NORMALLY, I'd advise that this is the kind of thing best viewed with a buzz on. Uh . . . not this one. You couldn't handle this one after having a couple or three.

Trust me.
You may not be able to handle Yogi Oki-Doki and his "farmyard yoga for kiddies" sober as a judge. To tell you the truth, it made me want to go out and commit a crime.

Then again -- and I'm not 100-percent sure about this -- Yogi Oki-Doki just might have during the taping of whatever it is this is. Who knew that FFA stood for Future Freakazoids of America?

BUT IT IS POSSIBLE (also through the magic of YouTube) to turn this cringeworthy display of dexterity into some snarky techno hilarity:

THAT . . . is all.

The prophetic Wolfman Jack

Wolfman Jack had radio's number a long, long time ago -- after all, the famed disc jockey died in 1995.

As far as I can tell, this Phoenix TV interview probably was recorded in 1987. Nineteen eighty-seven . . . 22 years ago.

If the Wolfman didn't like radio then -- and he was right, radio was boring in the '80s -- he's probably spinning in his grave over what it's come to now.

My misspent youth

. . . and middle age, alas.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baton Rouge High raises its cry
. . . for the coach we all adored

If you think about it for a minute, you realize that the bottom line in education is love.

Parents who love their kids enough to want something better for them.

Teachers who love their students enough to put in long hours for low pay . . . usually after digging deep to purchase classroom supplies the school system never bothered to.

Sometimes, it all bears fruit in students who develop a deep love for learning . . . and who will, someday, complete a sacred circle of life. They will love their kids enough. . . .

IF YOU PICK UP the newspaper in my hometown, though, you'll find there's a thin line between love and hate -- and it seems a lot of folks love to hate the East Baton Rouge Parish (La.) public schools:
For the third consecutive year, Survey Communications has polled heads of household in East Baton Rouge Parish — 800 of them this go-around — with half having children in the school system and half with children who attend other schools. Those interviewed, as in past years, were read a series of statements and asked if they agreed or disagreed.

This year’s results showed an across-the-board decline. For instance, in the past, more than 90 percent of respondents agreed the school system “welcomes partnerships with community businesses or civic groups.” This year, only 80 percent agreed with that statement.

Only 46 percent of respondents agreed that students in the school system “can achieve at/above the level of other students in private/parochial area schools,” down from 58 percent who agreed with that statement last year.

Boston suggested that a rise of negative press last year, including the state takeover of eight low-performing schools, is the likely culprit.

“A lot of times what happens with those sorts of reports, it creates fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of the general public,” Boston said.

Boston, however, suggested the downturn may be temporary. “This is not something that warrants any one of you running out in the street and jumping out in front of a bus,” he said.
THAT'S PROBABLY BECAUSE if they haven't jumped in front of a bus by now -- what with the school system going, since 1981, from almost 70-percent white to 80-something percent minority and with the state taking over several schools a year -- those now serving on the board don't have a suicidal bone in their bodies.

Let's face it, experts (like the PR guy in the Advocate story above) can spin poll numbers any way they want, but it's undeniable that, for a long time now, not many people have been loving up on the parish's public schools. And while the board considers a big public-relations campaign to turn sinking poll numbers around -- and, frankly, the school system could use a PR makeover -- its members need to realize that what their world needs now is love.

Board members need to love every kid in the parish, not just those in their districts. And people in Baton Rouge need to love every kid in the parish, too, not just their own.

White needs to love black, black needs to love white, rich needs to love poor and poor needs to love rich. Young needs to love old, old needs to love young, and everybody needs to love seeing kids learn.

Learn the right things.

From teachers and books.

In the classroom.

UNFORTUNATELY, true love is a rare enough thing -- especially in education -- that it really sticks out when you come across it.

Cities and states that truly love their schools tend to stick out in national rankings. They're the ones at the top of the good rankings, at the bottom of the bad ones . . . and they're the places with all the good jobs.

Then there's Louisiana. And, specifically, Baton Rouge.

If you're a parent in Louisiana, places that love their public schools are, more than likely, where your children will end up. Believe it or not, there are places in America where private school is a lifestyle option, not a perceived necessity.

And when the expatriate sons and daughters of Louisiana raise their children in these far-off places, they might be paying higher property taxes, but they won't feel compelled to pay a much more significant "private-school tax."

I was born, raised and educated in Baton Rouge. And I left for someplace I'm convinced is much, much better. National statistics and rankings are convinced of that, too.

While I was growing up -- and being educated -- in Baton Rouge, though, I knew where I was feeling the love . . . and where I wasn't. The former were rare enough to stand out in my mind three and four decades later.

FOR THAT MATTER, some of the latter were horrible enough to stick out, too.

Like fourth grade at Red Oaks Elementary. That was bad. A 9-year-old hasn't lived until he's had a lazy battleaxe of a fourth-grade teacher who likes to yell . . . and to grab a fistful of a misbehaving boy's Beatles-style mop top and walk around and around his desk until the flowing locks were twisted tight like a rope.

That was the only time I didn't mind my culturally retarded parents forcing me to wear short hair slicked down with Greasy Kid Stuff.

Later on, there were the little rednecks at another school -- all-white, of course -- calling the two beleaguered African-American teachers the N-word to their face.

And then there was junior high, otherwise known as Hell's Anteroom.

There, we had one potbellied sadist coach who used to laugh and laugh when a bunch of hoods -- in ninth grade for something like the third straight time -- would corner a younger kid during P.E., throw him down, pull up his shirt and give him the "red belly." Today, that would be known as "assault and battery," and I have no idea exactly how I managed to avoid that particular junior-high fate.

He also was particularly fond of firearms and, once a year or so, would have some geezers bring in lots of heavy firepower to show off to the Future Criminals of America. If you ask nicely, I still can explain to you what "M-1 thumb" is.

Oh . . . the M-1 rifle was quite a heavy weapon. The M-1 carbine was much more manageable.

Then there was Mr. (Deleted), our ninth-grade algebra teacher. That was the year I stopped doing well in math and, in fact, began to hate it.

Mr. (Deleted) would write all the equations on overhead-projector transparencies, then clean it off with lighter fluid. Flammable liquid + hot overhead projector = 30 teen-agers wondering if this be the day they all burn to death.

It also was Mr. (Deleted) -- the school's golf coach when he wasn't cheating death -- who informed me I surely would grow up to be a garbage man. With the mad mathematics skillz I picked up from him (not), I frankly can't figure out how he went bad on that prediction.

THE NEXT YEAR -- after giving hope one more shot and begging my parents to let me go to the brand-new magnet school -- I discovered something important upon arrival at Baton Rouge High:

School didn't suck.

Baton Rouge High would have been notable for me if the only thing it had going for it was an overwhelming majority of students who were there to learn. Well, that and the glaring absence of Coach Potbelly and Mr. (Deleted), the wannabe human torch.

But there was more.

That wonderful school was an island of tolerance, good will, racial harmony, and excellence in a city that too often has seen too little of too much of that sort of thing.

And we all took lots of crap from our "peers" because we did something different, stuck our necks out and dared to be part of a "different" kind of educational community. No, not "educational community" . . . community, period.

Exclamation point.

I well remember the cracks about the "maggot school" and "maggot faggots." Never have I been so proud to be called bad names.

And rarely has any school as a whole so embraced what was meant to be slurs and, with good cheer, thrown them back in the faces of "old times there are not forgotten."

Look away, look away, look away . . . Baton Rouge.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? I'm glad you asked.

Part of it was us. We were at Baton Rouge Magnet High because we wanted to be there. We wanted to have dreams. Most of us didn't want any more -- I don't think -- of the status quo in a middling, underachieving Southern state capital.

Part of it was that we were the best students taught by, for the most part, the best teachers. Things were expected of us.

And part of it was that BRHS was the most integrated school many of us had ever attended -- and it worked out. Blacks, whites and everybody else got along. Not only that, we formed close friendships.

Most of it, however, was love . . . L-O-V-E. Agape, even.

WHICH BRINGS ME to Coach Robert D. Holder. Coach Holder had taught high school in East Baton Rouge Parish since 1956 and at Baton Rouge High since 1970. By the time I arrived there, Coach Holder had been athletic director for three years and had achieved Official Icon status long before.

Thing is, Coach was the antithesis of the potbellied terror of junior high.

No sadistic laughter as teen-aged thugs terrorized P.E. prey. No taunts of "Hey! Don't hurt my BALL!" when some fallen victim had just gotten a premeditated faceful of leather in a dodge-ball game.

You see, Coach Holder -- even for those of us never lucky enough to have him as a coach -- was the definition of "cool" . . . in the most profound sense of the term. He didn't need to knock others down to make himself Big Man on Campus.

Instead, he spent 42 years befriending his students. Mentoring them. Keeping tabs on their schoolwork. Encouraging them. Serving as faculty sponsor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

And, seemingly, trying to talk half the student body into going out for wrestling or track.

The Rev. Robert D. Holder died Oct. 20. Yes, reverend -- he was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1994. When he retired from teaching in 1998, Rev. Coach devoted himself full-time to his beloved Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church and to prison ministry.

SOME PEOPLE will see Coach Holder's obituary and see just another obituary -- born in Lumberton, Miss. Died in Baton Rouge. Retired educator. Air Force veteran (staff sergeant) of the Korean War. Funeral Thursday morning at Mount Pilgrim. Burial at Port Hudson National Cemetery.

I am a Southerner of a certain age, however. I know how to read between the lines.

Coach graduated from Southern University in 1951 with a degree in education. While Southern is a fine school, it wasn't young Robert Holder's choice to go there. Jim Crow made that choice for him.

Then, in 1951, he put life on hold to help fight the Korean War in the newly desegregated armed forces. In the Air Force, he could not only now fight alongside white folks, he could eat in the same mess hall, too.

But back in segregated Louisiana, he had to use the Colored Only water fountain and sit in the back of the bus. When he got out of the Air Force in 1955 and wanted to pursue a master's degree in education, he had to go up North to the University of Kansas to do it.

And after he had done that, it was back to East Baton Rouge Parish, where he taught and coached at Northwestern High School -- all black by order of the Gret Stet of Louisiana -- for the next 14 years.

Then it was on to Baton Rouge High just in time for integration under the "neighborhood schools" plan. (Yes, Virginia. In Baton Rouge, going to your neighborhood school was considered an integration plan . . . and it took a federal court order to accomplish that.)

BRHS was one of the few schools that actually ended up meaningfully integrated. I understand it was, er . . . interesting.

IMAGINE navigating that stretch of history in a land where not only are old times not forgotten, but aren't really even old times. At least not totally.

I figure an African-American of that generation would have a right to a fairly sizable chip on the shoulder. A lesser man than Coach Holder would have had a big one.

Me . . . had I been a few years older and black, I would have sported a whole damned log.

But that's not what Coach Holder was about. It's not what Baton Rouge Magnet High was about -- this in a city where the blue-light special at K-mart can turn into a racial pissing match.

The students at Baton Rouge High, to Coach and to any number of wonderful teachers like him, were just "the kids." To tell you the truth -- and I don't think this is a sad case of a middle-aged guy romanticizing his youth -- the BRHS of my late-'70s tenure was one of the least race-conscious places I can recall.

I think that's because we were a motivated bunch . . . and because we stood on the shoulders of giants. Educational giants. And Coach Holder was one of the "giantest" of them all.

When a man dies, those who knew him get to reminiscing, remembering all those little, unremarkable moments that make up a life. Only we discover those moments weren't so unremarkable at all.

Here are some of the Coach moments from the lives of some Bulldog alumni:

* I attended BRHS from 1977-1981 and remember Coach Holder as a constant presence always ready with a smile and a word of encouragement, and I never had him as a teacher.

*Coach Holder was my PE teacher and impacted my life from his positive example. He believed in me even when I did not always believe in myself.

* My freshman year was scary, and running track for the first time didn't help with the transition and nervousness, either. The first day I stepped into the gym to change for practice, Coach Holder, the Guardian, as I at some point began to call him, saw that I was afraid. He told me "Everything will be OK. All you can do is your best. I'll be watching you to make sure of it!" I never looked back and ran cross country and track for four years. He paved a way for my confidence and made my years at Baton Rouge High School memorable. For the confidence he helped me find, for the love of God as he always preached, I will forever be grateful for having him in my life.

* I attended BRHS from 1976-1979. In those years, Coach Holder was the head of the Athletic Department and was my wrestling coach. More importantly, he served as a mentor for me throughout my years at BRHS, and never relinquished that role. Over the last 30 years, I have worked with Rev. Holder in many ministerial capacities. He was one of the original instructors in our Fourth District Congress of Christian Education, and his class on effective Bible reading was one of the most popular year in and year out.

* Some of the members of the cross-country team decided that we didn't want to run to the LSU lake and back, so we went to a friend's house and ate snacks. Later, that friend's brother dropped us off a few blocks from the school. Coach Holder occasionally would get in his car and drive our running route to make sure we were all safe. Well, that was one of the days that he was out making sure that everyone was okay. When we returned back to the school, Coach Holder made us run sprints until our legs were about to fall off, and some of us threw up. We never cheated again.

* I knew Coach Holder since I was a freshman in 1973. He not only cared about what you did on the track or the field, but what you also did in class and helped mentor young girls and boys into responsible adults. I am still a good friend of his son Jonathan, and this relationship continues until this day. I will miss Coach Holder very much. Many of us are very blessed to have had this man in our lives.

* He recruited me to wrestle after I had him for tennis in 9th grade. Who can ever forget his rainbow suspenders and Bible? He was a true one of a kind. I remember after getting an A in his PE class, he was trying to chase me down to give me a 'B' for bad.

* In '73, Coach Holder was getting everyone into a huge variety of sports. He was unique. I remember he had us play everything from badminton to golf.

* The last time I saw Coach Holder was when I was still living in Baton Rouge, so it was probably in the '90s. He said something that still makes me grin: "David, you're one of the few in your class who hasn't gotten fat!" I definitely can't say that I've always lived up to his praise since then, but it's a nice memory to have. He was a very kind man -- like a huge Teddy bear. He had good words for me every time I saw him. He was a dedicated Christian and a strong coach. He was the sponsor of the FCA during my tenure at BRHS, and I considered him to be a wonderful mentor and a father figure to all of us.

* I attended BRHS from 1977-1979, and Coach Holder was the sponsor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes -- of which I was an officer my senior year. Besides meeting on the appointed club meeting day, Coach Holder would meet some of us each morning at the flag pole to pray with us before classes. He was a very dedicated teacher and dear friend.

* I was on the wrestling team and a member of the FCA. Coach Holder was like a father to us, keeping his kids out of trouble. He put his faith into practice every day and was an inspiration to me and many others.

* I took regular phys ed for my first semester there, because one couldn't get in the ballet classes mid-year. I might have considered that a waste of time but for getting to know Coach Holder. He always tried to get me interested in athletics, but being a part of FCA and meeting at the flagpole was as far as I went with that. He didn't give up on a kid, though.

He had me by his side doing high kicks one day in an attempt to show me how good I would be at the high jump. I told him what we were doing reminded me of the Radio City Rockettes. I think he was a little disgusted with my attitude, but I thought he was adorable for trying.

He had a nice high kick for a grown man, too. It is probably good that we didn't have a girls basketball team or he would have been after me (6 foot 2 inches) for that, and he would have been crushed that I didn't go for it, unless he ever saw me play.

Still, he would likely have been there offering extra help whenever possible.

GET THE PICTURE? That's why a number of us Baton Rouge High alumni want -- after the upcoming campus renovations and rebuilding are complete -- the new gymnasium to be named the Robert D. Holder Memorial Gymnasium.

There could be no more fitting honor for a man who gave so much for so long to so many students -- transcending generational, racial and class divides in a city too long defined by what pulls it apart instead of what draws it together.

The above comments were drawn from comments left on alumni Facebook pages, and from an online petition to the parish School Board asking that the new gym memorialize a man who was Baton Rouge High. If the man shattered even one stereotype in a place and time infested by stereotypes, that would be reason enough to name the gym for him right there.

But Coach Holder did more than that. He stood for more than that.

ROBERT DANUEL HOLDER was the embodiment of the ideals Baton Rouge Magnet High stands upon -- that it's not what you are that matters, and it's not who people say you are that matters . . . it's the kind of person you become that matters.

It's the ability to think for oneself that matters. It's the ability to shatter narrow stereotypes by our actions and by the content of our character that matters.

The Baton Rouge High that I know stands for these things. It stands for these things because of faculty members like Coach Holder. Because of the great faculty who worked alongside Coach Holder.

They set the tone.

That critical mass of administrators (like magnet school architect and founding Principal Lee Faucette) and faculty gave our generation of students the freedom and the guidance allowing us to, in many cases, transcend what we thought we were when we walked into our place in Baton Rouge history that first day in 1976.

I owe -- we owe -- them all a debt we cannot repay. And Coach Holder stood . . . stands still, having transcended this vail of tears . . . not only on his own merits, but as a representative of theirs as well.

IF BATON ROUGE needs reminding of what a good public-school education can mean for a city's children -- and it does -- maybe the School Board doesn't need a big public-relations campaign after all. Maybe it just needs to remind a fragmented city that there was a man named Robert Holder, and he wasn't on the faculty at Parkview Baptist. Or Catholic High.

Maybe it just needs to remind a fragmented city that it's about to give up, perhaps, on the next "Coach Holder" . . . a kid on the "margins" of society who not only can't afford private school, but might not be particularly welcome in some of them.

Maybe it needs to remind a stratified city that the original Coach Holder was enabled, in part, to do such a good job with earlier generations of young Baton Rougeans because Kansas' margins were considerably wider than Louisiana's back in the day.

To tell you the truth, maybe the School Board just needs to use the example of Coach Holder and all those he represents to challenge itself -- it's capable of more. It can do better.

The once-upon-a-time example of a humble coach at the city's oldest school ought to accuse the school system as it inspires it. Challenge old assumptions; smash ugly stereotypes. Think for yourselves.

And remember that when we're all dead and gone, our white-folk dust and our black-folk dust will all end up the same shade of gray. Love one another.

AND THERE WE ARE . . . back to the bottom line of education. Love.

That is what everything's all about: Love. Love for your home . . . love for your neighbor . . . love of your children.

What public education in Baton Rouge needs is a good example. And the rest of the city could use one, too.

The Bible that Coach so loved says, in Matthew 23, "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant." Truer words. . . .

What Baton Rouge's public schools need is what Coach Holder had. Indeed, that's what we all need.

Please, let's name a new gym at an old school for a good man. Let's do it not just to honor Robert D. Holder -- though honors he deserves -- but let's do it to honor all those who put their "kids" before themselves.

Let's do it to remind ourselves that's really, really important.

Rest in peace, Coach.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mein Nebraskenkampf

Oh, Lord. I'm gonna have to start buying Depends if I'm gonna keep watchin' this stuff.

Nebraska football: If you've gotta cry, it's better to laugh yourself into it.

IF YOU WANT to know why newspapers are doomed, doomed, doomed . . . it's because they spend millions and deploy scores of journalists to cover stuff and give us their learned opinions, but still can't come up with something as screamingly funny -- and ultimately truthful -- as some guys posting from home in their spare time.

And that's why they call it

As seen on Facebook. . . .

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Confederacy of Dunces

This is what the American university has come to.

When faced with questions so fraught with scientific, moral and ethical complexities as embryonic stem-cell research, top brass of the University of Nebraska now have been reduced to making arguments they wouldn't accept from their teen-agers for even a nanosecond.

"But DAAAAAAAAD, all the cool kids are doing it!"

"But DAAAAAAAAD, Malia and Sasha's dad says it's OK!"

"But DAAAAAAAAD, everybody will make fun of me! You're making me into a laughingstock!"

"But DAAAAAAAAD, it's not like I bought the beer with a fake ID. All I did was have two or three of them."

"But DAAAAAAAAD, everybody's going to the party. If I don't go . . . Gawwwwwd, I'll be hated. Nobody will be my friend."

I THINK that covers all the arguments made by NU President J.B. Milliken and others in favor of expanding embryonic stem-cell research at the university's med center in Omaha. From the Omaha World-Herald:

University of Nebraska scientists don't need formal approval from the Board of Regents to expand their work with human embryonic stem cells, NU President J.B. Milliken said Friday.

Citing an Oct. 2 legal opinion from the university's general counsel, Milliken said existing state and federal laws, as well as university policy, allow scientists to use new lines of embryonic stem cells, once they are approved by the National Institutes of Health.

After more than an hour of public comment on the topic during a Board of Regents meeting, Milliken recommended that the board let current policy stand.

“Embryonic stem cell research holds enormous promise, and if the University of Nebraska is to be a leading research university, it should be appropriately engaged in this research,” he said.

“To do otherwise would unnecessarily limit the opportunities for discoveries to save and improve lives. It would also risk great harm to the reputation of the university and damage our ability to recruit and retain outstanding research and clinical faculty.”

Milliken said Friday that the regents had had the opportunity for review during the past several months and that he was now prepared to open the door to expanded research. He said the board has three options: affirm the existing policy, revise it or do nothing.

The Milliken recommendation upset anti-abortion advocates.

Since the Obama administration announced a change in the federal guidelines last spring, abortion opponents have been urging regents to “draw a line in the sand” to stop NU scientists from embarking on expanded research involving cells derived from human embryos that would otherwise be discarded.

“This is unbelievable what was stated here today,” said Chip Maxwell, executive director of the Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research. “It's not for the president or any administrator to set this policy.”

Regents Chairman Kent Schroeder said the board probably will take up the issue at its November meeting.

Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said she and other abortion opponents will continue to urge the regents to reject expanded embryonic stem cell research.

“I will be here,” she said of the November meeting.

The regents agreed to take public comment on the research after anti-abortion groups announced that they planned to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The 12 people testifying in favor of the research included Omaha philanthropist Richard Holland, who is founder and chairman of the pro-research group Nebraskans for Lifesaving Cures; Lynne Boyer, daughter of the late Charles Durham, whose family has donated tens of millions of dollars to build research towers on the NU Medical Center campus; and Rik Bonness, a former Husker All-American football player whose two sons have Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes.
OH . . . I FORGOT an important instance of NU leadership's unleashing of its inner 15-year-old. "I'll do what I want, and you can't stop me."

But frankly, my gut tells me all you have to know about the university's willingness to scrap a hard-won cease-fire between it and Nebraska pro-life groups is this: Holland and Durham. The University of Nebraska, like most of us pathetic creatures, adheres unswervingly to the Golden Rule.

He who has the gold, rules.

It's embarrassing. And I'm not referring to the regents' potential for doing something that causes all the other cool scientists not to want to play with the little Cornhuskers anymore.

No, what's embarrassing is that a pre-eminent university can wade into a moral and ethical quagmire and think the mere spouting of inanities -- ones, in fact, barely worthy of teen-agers who act "young" for their age -- is enough to let it emerge without a lungful of fetid water.

What's embarrassing is that newspaper columnists such as the World-Herald's Robert Nelson can graduate from UNL and still think an effective column in favor of the university's stem-cell stance is little more than calling pro-lifers "zealots" and "rabble." Oh . . . that and regurgitating the party line -- if the Board of Regents gives in to the zealous rabble, that all the cool kids won't play with us anymore, blah blah blah, ad infinitum.

C'mon, I went to LSU, and I couldn't be that all-out dumb even after finishing off a couple of fifths of Early Times.

YOU WANT SCIENCE? I'll give you some basic biology.

Embryos are the result of the union of the female egg and the male sperm. When implanted into the womb and left alone (other than being given nourishment), they naturally grow into fetuses, and fetuses ultimately become (given enough academic degrees and fed enough bulls***) presidents of state universities spouting inanities to elected officials.

At what point do you say "not human, not human, not human, not human . . . AH! HUMAN! Can't gratuitously dissect it anymore!"? That is a question scientists have proven themselves unequipped to answer.

That's the realm of philosophers, theologians and clergy. That's "heavy" stuff, and the University of Nebraska should be ashamed -- in its cavalier handling of the weightiest material -- to have been revealed as such a collection of ethical and mental lightweights.

3 Chords & the Truth: Cold day, hot tunes

The chill is chilling, the wind ain't thrilling, but we can weather the storm!

Who cares how much under the norm? We've got the Big Show to keep us warm.

I can't remember a worse October. Just watch that low pressure form!

What do I care if low pressure forms? 3 Chords & the Truth will keep me warm.

Off with my overcoat, off with my glove! I need no overcoat, it's music we love!

The iPod's on fire, the flame grows higher! So I will weather the storm!

What do I care how much it may storm?
The Big Show will keep me warm.

With apologies to Irving Berlin, this is your Mighty Favog signing off with this final word:

It's 3 Chords & the Truth, y'all. Be there. Aloha.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Johnny Cash was right

When Johnny Cash gave young Rosanne "The List" of 100 American songs she had to know, he knew what he was doing. And, man, was he right to put "Sea of Heartbreak" on it.

Here's the first, and best known, recording of the classic by Hal David and Paul Hampton -- Don Gibson's 1961 country Top-10 hit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

As I was saying earlier. . . .

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in redneck justices of the peace, but in your culture.

THE LATEST from the Gret Stet of Louisiana, courtesy of WAFB television:

A Baton Rouge city prosecutor has been placed on paid leave as part of an FBI probe into Baton Rouge area judicial systems, WAFB's Jim Shannon reports.

City Prosecutor Flitcher Bell was placed on leave Wednesday, said Parish Attorney Mary Roper.

Roper says the offices of the city prosecutor were searched by FBI agents last week who executed a search warrant.

The federal probe, headed up by the FBI, is underway into activities inside the 19th Judicial District Court, Baton Rouge City Court, and the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defender's Office, sources tell WAFB 9NEWS.

Sources tell Shannon the investigation centers around several issues including the reduction of bail bonds in certain cases and the acceptance of bribes in exchange for dropping charges

It is not clear why Bell is being investigated.

A federal grand jury met to hear testimony in the matter Thursday.

ABANDON ALL HOPE, ye who enter Louisiana.

Meanwhile on the isle. . . .

While English and Welsh "freshers" were out getting pissed last week, Rifleman Craig Wood, 18, was otherwise occupied after a short stint in Afghanistan.

The jihadists may have a point

When a country has its knickers in such a twist as Britain -- literally -- that's when sharia starts to look not half bad by comparison.

By the time it's a common thing for college students and other "drunken yobs," as the Daily Mail put it, to shuffle down city streets with their drawers around their feet -- at least when they're not pissing on war memorials -- you're either musing about sharia (or something close enough), or you're looking for a good monastery to hide out in as the Dark Ages descend and civilization disappears.

I MEAN, for God's sake:

The image of a drunk student urinating on a war memorial has provoked a furious backlash from relatives who had laid wreaths of poppies in tribute to their loved ones.

John Ievers, the grandson of a World War I soldier who died in 1917, branded student Philip Laing, 19, a 'drunken idiot' for desecrating the memorial in Baker's Pool, Sheffield.

The 49-year-old software sales consultant said: 'I am annoyed - he's a drunken idiot.

'He should be made to clean the streets of Sheffield or do some kind of community service.'

Mr Ievers placed the tribute - a solitary wooden cross with poppy decoration - to his grandfather on the memorial on Remembrance Day last November. Edwin Ievers was 32 when he was killed in France in October 1917.

The youth was one of 2,000 university students taking part in an organised seven-hour pub crawl in Sheffield, during which many familiar scenes of debauchery were seen.

Half-naked women collapsed on the street while young men ran among passing traffic.

But by far the worst moment came when Laing, a sports technology student at Sheffield Hallam University, staggered to the World War I memorial and urinated on it. Other revellers seemed oblivious, but the incident was reported to security staff who washed down the memorial with water.

'He should be made to clean the memorial at the very least,' Mr Ievers added. 'He must have been paralytic.

'I don't think he should be flogged in the streets or anything but there should be some reparation.

'But this sort of thing goes on all the time in Sheffield with freshers week
[Freshmen week -- R21]. They had to take the fountain out because someone was killed. They would do a pyjama jump but too many of them came down with hypothermia.'

ACTUALLY, after looking at that picture, I think flogging in the streets might not be such a bad idea. Flog one, teach 1,000?

What I see in these pictures -- and in stories such as this and this -- is a culture at the end of its
days of wine and roses. A culture living for its distractions, because distractions are the only reasons it has anymore.

The distractions, meantime, are having the last laugh.

Getting "stewed" in your own juices not only is a bitch, it's also fraught with irony.

Cue Tippi Hedren in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1

I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover

-- Men at Work

How to speak Australian

Political analysis.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Omaha: To be young, gifted and white

In one day, in one newspaper, two sections told a tale of two cities.

Both of them were Omaha, and they were as different as black and white.

Yesterday afternoon, I went out to fetch the paper -- yes, the
Omaha World-Herald still has an evening edition, and we still take it -- and at the bottom of the Midlands section front, there was this column by Mike Kelly.

HERE'S HOW it started . . . and note, please, that it's just one movement of a long and ongoing symphony of civic self-congratulation:
A U.S. women’s sky-diving champion who has lived on both coasts made a big leap of faith — and moved to Omaha.

After nine months here as as­sociate director of the nonprofit organization Kaneko, she says cosmopolitan Omaha “disrupts preconceived notions” of the Midwest as seen in movies and on TV. And she sees people con­stantly trying to improve the metro area.

“What makes Omaha very special for me,” said Jacquie Scoones, “is that people have such a strong sense of pride in the city — and they don’t just say that, but actually invest in relationships. I don’t think I’ve met anyone yet who doesn’t vol­unteer for something.”

Scoones didn’t parachute into Omaha. She drove from the East Coast in January, arriving eight hours ahead of a snowstorm. But she has come to enjoy an­other kind of local climate.

“Omaha has an extraordinary climate of possibilities that I’m growing to love,” she said Mon­day. “I want to live and grow old in a place where people younger than me are fiercely invested in building a city where their chil­dren will want to live.”

Scoones, 50, said she appreci­ates what previous generations have done for Omaha but sees a fierce community investment by young professionals and oth­ers in their 30s and 40s.
OMAHA: City of Possibilities. That has a nice ring to it.

Cosmopolitan Omaha disrupting preconceived notions of the Midwest as Green Acres writ large. Damn straight! Fly over THAT, coastal America.

It's almost enough to provoke hubris in the modest, practical Midwestern soul.

And it's true -- Omaha is a great place to be now. It's a city "on the move," with a critical mass of creative individuals determined to keep up the momentum.

Dare I say it? The Big O is the place to be, a veritable creative commons . . . for the white, the well-heeled and the well-educated.

BECAUSE ON THE FRONT of the Living section, we got to hear about Cool Omaha's dysfunctional doppelganger. the one that's largely black, bad-off and ill-educated.

The Omaha that leaves some of its citizens behind. The Omaha that doesn't dare make any sudden moves when pulled over by a cop. The Omaha that, when it does go away to college and gets that degree, doesn't come home to where the alienation is.

That's the unheralded, troublesome city that no one writes glowing columns about. But sometimes it finds its way into news stories chronicling the
rare instances where folks feel free to speak their minds:
As for the hosts, Tom Hoarty was curious. Race remains such a pressing issue. Take Obama's beer summit a few months ago with the black Harvard professor who had to force his way into his own home after the door jammed and the white Cambridge police officer who arrested him.

Margaret, though, reflected on something more personal: how her childhood friend and next-door neighbor was black, how it was OK that they played together but spending the night at her black friend's house was off-limits.

This sparked a similar memory for Loretté. She was the black girl who invited her white friend for a sleepover in 1969. Her friend couldn't believe a black family's home could be as nice as Loretté's was.

Memories and experiences segued into larger questions.

About the degree to which the news media perpetuate racial stereotypes and the degree of demand for such conflict.

About how stereotypes play out. Valerie being told more than once that “you don't sound like you're black.” Ed being told he's not black enough.

“It's probably not a whole lot different,” he told the five white Catholics, “if someone asks, ‘Are you Catholic? Are you really Catholic?'”

Tom Hoarty noticed who was missing at the table: Latinos.

“We just had a roof put on our house,” he said. “The entire crew was Latino.”

Rita pointed out that you have to go out of your way in Omaha to really mingle with other races and social classes.

“How many African-American professionals do you see?” Ed asked.

Tom Tilden reflected on his job. “There are not many. Not many. There's one, that I know of.”

Valerie: “We just don't have that. When you go to Chicago … you see African-Americans that look like me that are in power-play positions.”

Take D.C. and Baltimore, said Loretté.

“I had a blast. So many people who looked like me. Black people supported one another ...”

Ed: “What's different about Omaha? … We have (four) Fortune 500 companies and no African-Americans reporting to the CEOs.”

Tom Hoarty: “I don't have an answer. … Omaha is a very divided city.”

Margaret: What happens to successful black students who graduate from college?

Valerie: “They vow never to return.”

Ed asked what the two Toms would do if the police pulled them over.
Hoarty said he'd dig for his license and registration. Tilden said he'd demand to know why.

Ed said black men have been warned about making a move for the glove box or appearing mouthy to a cop.

They talked about where black people are missing in Omaha: boardrooms, the College World Series, restaurants.

“Why am I the only black person here?” Valerie said she asks herself when dining out at nicer restaurants.

Loretté got that feeling when she attended a classical music concert at the Holland Center.

They talked about blacks “dumbing down” to be acceptable. About stereotypes they wish would die, about interracial relationships.

Loretté really struggled when her nephew married a white woman, a pattern she felt played out way too frequently among black men. And yet she describes her nephew's wife as “wonderful” and as “my niece.”
LIFE DOES GET complicated, doesn't it? Cities, too. And people? Don't get me started.

I am grateful for the Omaha that's cosmopolitan, creative and forward-looking. I am ashamed that it's mostly for people who are white (and reasonably well educated) like me.

The Omaha I enjoy -- the one attracting all the go-getters to this former "flyover" burg -- is, alas, no reason to gloat.

It would be too easy, and too deadly, to sip martinis in the Old Market and feel so very self-satisfied that we're not like some redneck justice of the peace in Louisiana. Especially when Bad Omaha -- the place where hopes and dreams go to get they ass capped -- lurks just beyond the skyline . . . whispering "j'accuse."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Louisiana's biggest deficit crisis

Deficits are killing Louisiana, which happens to be where I was born, raised and educated (but don't tell anybody).

You have your revenue deficit in these hard times, which has devastated the state budget and lots of things that hardly could stand more devastation -- like education, public-health and social services.

You have your infrastructure deficit, which leaves Louisiana with an above-average amount of crumbling roads, schools, sewers, jails and public facilities.

You have your peace-and-quiet deficit, which manifests itself in astronomical rates of violent crime and murder.

You have your knowledge deficit, which leaves the Gret Stet with a spectacularly underskilled workforce, an abysmal high-school graduation rate and a corresponding lack of residents with college educations.

And, of course, you have your wealth deficit in a state that, ironically, is incredibly rich in natural resources and economic potential. (See DEFICIT, PEACE-AND-QUIET and DEFICIT, KNOWLEDGE above.)

BUT THE DEFICIT Louisiana perhaps is best known for -- and which, in its own way, directly impacts each of the above deficit categories -- is its integrity deficit. This manifests itself in a certain Pelican State disdain for bourgeois American standards for a functioning civic society . . . and reasonably honest, functional self-government.

Unfortunately, the state has had many opportunities to showcase its glaring integrity deficit over the years, but perhaps none ultimately will prove any more glaring than the sad, racist soap opera playing itself out in Tangipahoa Parish. That's where the morally and judicially pornographic Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell has been refusing to marry interracial couples for 34 years now . . . and getting away with it.

Of course, if all you had to go on was the superficial coverage in the national and local press, you'd hardly know this. You would know a lot about this or that outraged advocacy group, and you'd know that Bardwell is defending his indefensible bigotry to the last white sheet, and you'd know that Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (but not U.S. Sen. David Vitter) have issued pro-forma denunciations of this throwback to Jim Crow, as well as demands for resignation, removal, etc., and so on.

What you wouldn't know -- at least not without a lot of reading between the lines -- is that lots of people (and elected officials) knew about Bardwell's official racism for a long time yet did nothing.

They didn't even complain -- at least not in any way that got anybody's attention.

IT'S THE EVERYDAY, ongoing integrity deficits that set the stage for the really spectacular ones Louisiana occasionally stages to grab the world's attention. (See Edwards, Gov. Edwin and Duke, David. Oh . . . and let's not forget Jefferson, U.S. Rep. William of cold-cash fame.)

What's unusual about the Bardwell case is that this long-term, ordinary travesty of justice and pedestrian (remember, this is the old segregated South we're talking about) offense against common decency somehow morphed into an Edwin Edwards-sized scumbag spectacular. And that the reason for that was how very, very ordinary Bardwell's Jim Crow show was in that corner of Louisiana.

Thirty-four-years-and-running ordinary.

An unrepentant racist being returned to public office unopposed all those years ordinary.

Nobody lifting a finger in favor of Christian decency, fairness and the U.S. Constitution ordinary.

"Hey! Why so upset? What's the big deal, anyway?" ordinary.

THE REST of America, oddly enough, finds it quite extraordinary. Much of the Western world finds it extraordinary, too. We find it extraordinary that virtually no one in the entire state of Louisiana, during this man's decades-long reign of error, ever tried to "do the right thing."


We Americans historically have taken a lot of pride in our foundational notion that no man is above the law. And we find it extraordinary that a piss-ant jurist in a piss-ant Louisiana burg somehow got his knickers in a twist about race-mixing, decided that longstanding constitutional law (and the teaching of every major Christian denomination) was full of crap, then set about putting one man's errant opinion above the law.

Call me an N-word lover -- and, trust me, someone in Louisiana will -- but I find that highly offensive, both as a Christian and as an American.

AND THE PREVAILING MEME in Louisiana . . . that is, apart from pro-forma political hand-wringing and the "Booboisie for Bardwell" knuckle-draggers? It's this: You'll have a difficult time getting rid of a backwoods judicial bigot in the Gret Stet.

That integrity deficit is a real killer. You get too far in the integrity hole and you start finding it amazingly easy to dismiss "no man is above the law" as just another quaint Yankee notion.

You start to find all kinds of reasons that Bubba not only should be above the law, but should be able to make it up himself -- especially when it's only black folk and (Negro)-lovers who get screwed over in the process.

And that's the point at which you transcend mere Louisiana Hayride graft and skulduggery and begin to plumb the full depths to which a sociopolitical freak show such as the Gret Stet can sink.

If you have the stomach for it, it's going to be a hell of a show. Literally.