Showing posts with label decay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label decay. Show all posts

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Louisiana: What doesn't kill you. . . .

If you are really good at something and really want to test yourself, move to Louisiana.

Anybody can be good at something if they have the right tools and institutional support. But only the
crème de la crème can be good at something in Louisiana, where you'll be looked upon with suspicion for your uppityness and be consigned to toil in decrepitude while officialdom spends taxpayer dollars on more important things than, say, education.

Like, say, graft.

Or, say, an archive in Franklinton dedicated to a former two-term Republican governor. Who happened to be the political mentor of the present two-term Republican governor, Bobby Brady Jindal.

I'm pretty sure of two things: First, that my home state has serious problems with priorities and, second, that the best ceramics artists in the universe are found at Louisiana State University. I know this about the LSU art school because its ceramics program is ranked ninth in the country, and the students and professors have managed to achieve that level of notoriety as they dodge falling concrete ceilings while fighting off rats, raccoons and fleas in the Studio Arts Building. That's no easy feat as you struggle not to inhale asbestos particles or ingest lead-paint chips.

And then there's the electrical wiring next to ceiling leaks.

And the broken windows, some of which won't lock.

And the flood-prone basement.

And the lack of climate control like, say, heating and air conditioning. Ever been to south Louisiana in  August and September? An art student fainted during class last fall -- the temperature inside was nearly 100 degrees, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reports:
Emily Seba/Facebook

Gleason said while she’s at the building she forces herself to take five-minute breaks outside. She spends about 26 hours a week there between class and work, and she worries the mold, asbestos and lead paint that LSU’s own facilities department confirmed is on most every surface might be harmful to her health. “It’s a concern,” she said.

When maintenance crews worked over the Christmas break to scrape asbestos off of steam pipes in the building, they removed some insulation, too. The steam got so hot, it ruined a student’s artwork nearby, Gleason said. These type of maintenance efforts occur regularly, costing a “couple hundred thousand dollars” a year, LSU Office of Facility Services Planning, Design and Construction Director Roger Husser estimated. His department, too, is eager to permanently solve the building’s problems rather than continue the Band-Aid method that’s driving up maintenance costs. But it’s not his call.
As the building’s conditions worsen, maintenance costs grow and students question their safety, renovation plans sit on the shelf, awaiting $15 million from the state needed for renovations. To show they won’t sit idly by as their needs get trumped by programs with big donors or lucrative ticket sales, students have planned protests on Thursday (April 3) at LSU’s campus and Tuesday (April 8) at the steps of the Capitol to ask for better working conditions and a safe environment.
But unless what’s sure to be creatively designed picket signs inspire a change in the political will of the Louisiana Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration -- their protests this week and next, according to one lawmaker, will be in vain.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, a self-proclaimed cheerleader for the arts who toured conditions of the Studio Arts building last fall, said if it were up to him the project would get the needed funding, but “a handful of legislators are not going to be able to (get enough support) to fund it on their own.”

Without private funding matches, the arts building simply doesn’t rise to the priority level of other donor-backed projects, which tend to get bumped up the list much faster. Though Husser said the Studio Arts building has been in the capital outlay queue for “a very long time,” if the state sees an opportunity to take advantage of private match, it will usually take it. But that means projects without donor support will keep slipping down rungs of the ladder as privately aided ones climb up. “The pie is not unlimited,” Claitor said. “The budget is tapped out.”

I WOULDN'T say the budget is "tapped out," exactly. It's just that everything else in the budget -- from Medicaid to masking tape -- has been deemed more important than giving art students at Louisiana's flagship university facilities fit for human habitation . . . as opposed to that of rats, raccoons and fleas.

Still, LSU's School of Art is fielding nationally noted programs. It's rather like winning Olympic medals in the 100-meter dash while dragging a boat anchor.

For three straight Olympics.

Writes columnist Stephanie Riegel in the Baton Rouge Business Report:
Since the early 2000s, the building has been slated for renovation. Several times, the project was designated as Priority One in the state capital outlay bill, meaning it was at the top of the list to receive construction dollars. One spring, it appeared so imminent the faculty was told to pack up their offices.

But, as so often happens, other needs took priority. This year, the project—now estimated to cost $15.3 million—isn't even included in the capital outlay bill, much less specified as an item likely to see a single dime.

"It's depressing," says professor Kelli Scott Kelley, whose critically acclaimed paintings hang in galleries around the country. "It affects morale. It affects the ability to attract good faculty and good graduate students."

Which gets to the heart of why this matters beyond, of course, concern for the well-being of students and faculty. There is a connection between a thriving art school at the state's flagship university and the community in which that school is located.

Consider what the arts have done for the revitalization of downtown and the role the Shaw Center for the Arts has played in bringing about that renaissance.

Think, too, about the near-obsessive fixation in this community for all things purple and gold—about the glowing headlines that follow when graduation rates inch up to 69%, or about the time and energy the university spends trying to earn a spot in the top quadrant of U.S. News & World Report's rankings.

Do top-flight schools have chunks of concrete falling from the ceiling? Are students at Duke or Vanderbilt or even the University of Alabama forced to paint in sub-freezing studios? Do you attract the best and brightest students by building a lazy river at the rec center while ignoring critical capital needs?
THE ANSWERS to Riegel's questions are an obvious no, no and no. Yet. . . .

As I said at the outset, if you are really good at something and really want to test yourself, move to Louisiana. Compete against the best. Do it while dragging a boat anchor. Win anyway. Come home victorious to the non cheers of the non-existent hometown throng of non-existent well-wishers.

If it's acclaim you want in the Gret Stet, be an LSU football player. That or an 86-year-old, ex-con ex-governor with a granddaughterly trophy wife, a new baby and an ego overdue for its 2 o'clock feeding.

Baton Rouge High, 2007
Kelli Scott Kelley, the LSU art professor, was in my graduating class at Baton Rouge Magnet High. And where she finds herself now resembles, and eerily so,  our alma mater before the parish school board was left with just two choices: Tear down the whole school and rebuild it somewhere else . . . or tear down and rebuild most of the campus, renovate the main building and keep BRHS where it was.

Thankfully, the board chose the second option. Baton Rouge High, after 30-something years of abject neglect, now has facilities worthy of the world-class teachers and students within its rebuilt walls. Our old school has shed its boat anchor -- for now.

In Louisiana, sadly, there's always another boat anchor to weigh you down. In Louisiana, fortunately, some folks find a way to stay afloat regardless.

Unfortunately for the state that forgot to care, however, many of those survivors soon enough will weigh anchor one last time before setting sail for a distant shore.

Guess what. A state that cares so little for its children . . . for higher education . . . for the arts . . . for its future . . . deserves exactly what it's going to get. Or not get, as the case may be.

Ask not upon whom the anchor weighs.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Retail bldg. Skylights, indoor garden. Make offer.

Once upon a time, one of the nicest retail spots in my part of Baton Rouge was I.H. Rubenstein, one of a local chain of department stores and one of the anchors of the Broadmoor Shopping Center.

It sat right between the Broadmoor Theatre and the National Food Store. Way back there then -- when dinosaurs roamed the swamps, gas was 45 cents a gallon, you could buy all the 45s you could eat at TG&Y, Buckskin Bill ruled the local TV scene, and I had hair -- the Broadmoor Shopping Center was a happening place.

Then again, that was before my hometown pretty much abandoned my old neighborhood. That was before "my" part of town (and lots of others) turned into a reasonable facsimile of Port au Prince and the hair jockeys at the Broadmoor Barber Shop all started packing heat.

Not an exaggeration -- I was there just last week on a not-so-pleasant trip back home to see my 90-year-old mother in the hospital and clean out her home of 57 years . . . the home of my childhood.

SHE WON'T be living there anymore. I probably won't set foot in it again. It's a hard thing.

Like I said, I.H. Rubenstein was a nice place, and the flea market that took over the space after the department store closed wasn't unfortunate, at least as flea markets go. Then again, both were pre-Port au Prince.

What you see here is post-Port au Prince. And somebody expects to sell or rent this mess.

Somehow, I don't see that happening, though I think it would be a fine spot to relocate the city-parish government. Very appropos, don't you know?

I've written a lot about my hometown on this blog, and I've covered the creeping blight of Baton Rouge on more than one occasion; I don't need to belabor the point here. And when she lived in Red Stick for a while, New Jersey-native Colleen Kane made a vocation of chronicling the abandoned places of my old home via her Abandoned Baton Rouge blog.

She even did a post on the Broadmoor Shopping Center almost five years ago. Yes, decrepitude has been an issue there for some time now.

PLUS ÇA CHANGE . . . etcetera and so on in "America's Next Great City."

Friday, June 07, 2013

After further consideration. . . .

Kanye West was right.

Watching Taylor Swift preen and oversing her way through Marianne Faithfull's masterpiece, "As Tears Go By," is too much to bear. She needs to go away. Now.

What's worse is that the shameless and decrepit Mick Jagger has so little respect for the song he and Keith Richards wrote that he co-leads the charge in its defilement. At least Richards' acoustic-guitar work is nice.

Still, it's increasingly clear this is a band that should have hung it up before it released the "Some Girls" album in 1978. The destruction of a great legacy began then, and it's now being capped off with the band's sad and shambles-worthy 50th-anniversary tour.

WATCHING the concert videos from this tour -- videos released by the Stones themselves -- is like going to the open-casket funeral of someone who died in some horrific, fiery accident . . . with the narcissistic, imbecilic Swift preening her way through the proceedings.

Only this grotesque spectacle is totally self-inflicted.

I would have preferred to remember the deceased the way they were, back when I was young and they were good. But now I can't. The mangled, charred corpse of the "World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band" forever will be branded on my brain.

File this under "The Dangers of Planning Your Own Funeral."

Crap. Even getting myself Keith Richards wasted couldn't make me forget what can't be forgotten.

Thanks, guys.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When metaphor presents itself

When metaphor presents itself in the Gret Stet uh Loosiana, sometimes it takes a Brooklynite to line it up in the viewfinder and press the shutter release.

In other words, "Oh, frabjous joy! There's a new post on Colleen Kane's Abandoned Baton Rouge blog!"

In fact, Kane -- who more than a year ago moved back to New York after a couple of years in Baton Rouge -- made a special trip back for this post, a follow-up on the decrepit and abandoned Bellemont Motor Hotel, among the more prominent of my hometown's faded glories. You see, nature had slowly been reclaiming the Bellemont for years, but now humans have decided to give the mold, vines and trees a hand with a formal demolition.

THIS TIME, she actually got to go inside the ruins. As if shooting through the windows in previous years weren't depressing enough.

When, however, you can get a shot of a convention and visitors bureau brochure holder saying "Baton Rouge. The Flavour of Louisiana" amid the filth, the trash and the ruins . . . well, you gotta do what you gotta do. My homeland, unfortunately, is a lot better at tearing stuff up than it is at building stuff up.

All I wish is that Abandoned Baton Rouge could take the pictures of whole swaths of Baton Rouge that reside in my mind's eye and contrast them with pictures of those same areas today.

That's what I wish.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What a difference three decades made

Looking north across Baton Rouge from atop the
Louisiana State Capitol, summer 1981.

Looking north across Baton Rouge from atop the
Louisiana State Capitol, autumn 2011.

The blight of 1981 was brought to you by the failure of private enterprise and a non-profit hospital's move to the suburbs.

The renewal in subsequent decades was brought to you by the expenditure of tax dollars by state government aiming for urban renewal and seeking to consolidate state offices into a revitalized capitol complex, away from rented space flung haphazardly across the capital city. Even in Louisiana -- freewheeling, Caribbean, politically corrupt Louisiana -- government ain't all bad. Or even predominantly bad.

America's right-wing, blow-it-all-up-for-liberty, anti-government crusaders would do well to remember that and allow a wee bit of perspective to reestablish itself amid all the hyper-ideological fulminating.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

White Facebook, colored Facebook

Sometimes, "community" just isn't worth it.

When "community" isn't worth it, it's almost always because what you think might be a community is a clique instead. There's a difference, and it pretty much boils down to all of life being high school in disguise.

Or worse.

This is why I just freed myself from the crack cocaine that's the You Grew Up In Baton Rouge, La. if you remember when...... group on
Facebook. Had to do it, because as tempting (and addicting) as it is to endlessly wander down Memory Lane -- to give free reign to the part of your brain where you're always 17 and the world's still your oyster -- the group devoted to reminiscing about my old hometown had one gigantic -- and fatal -- flaw.

It was too damned much like my old hometown.

"I can't quit you" quickly became "I gotta quit you" once I got to thinking about it and realized that -- as much as I love history and pop culture -- the online Baton Rouge of days gone by pretty much embodied everything I loathed about the real Baton Rouge of days gone by. And the 2011 version, too.

IN OTHER WORDS, we have a community that:
* Would rather live in the past than look to the future (much less invest in it),

* Still bitches about "forced busing,"

* From the relative safety of purgatory, whines about the sorry state of the fresh ghetto hell that is the old stomping grounds,

* Waxes rhapsodic about "the good ol' days" which, by the way, happened to coincide with segregated schools, "separate but equal," casual cruelty and routine human-rights violations as both governmental policy and the traditional model for organizing society.

* Is still massively, mindlessly and habitually segregated by race and by class.
IN FACT, having noticed that almost everyone I ran across on the group seemed to be a) middle-aged and older, and b) white, I did a quick scroll through the 3,259 members of the group. Of the names that had corresponding profile photos, I counted four black faces. I could have missed some, but I'll bet not many.

Out of all those Baton Rougeans, just four African-Americans.

It's probably just as well. I can't imagine how crazy it would make me, if I were black, to read the unrelenting subtext of so many threads --
subtext that threatens, with a little prodding, to become pretext at any moment.

Oh, no one says anything outright, but you don't really have to within the clique, now do you?
Name deleted
How about when Baton Rouge was generally a safe place to live!
12 hours ago

19 people like this.
Name deleted Yes when you did not think twice about leaving doors/windows open or cars for that matter. I don’t know that we ever locked cars when we went any place much less worried about someone shooing us if we went out at night by ourselves.
11 hours ago

Name deleted
what about when Grand drive and Winabago St. were the places to live, not the places to die.
11 hours ago

Name deleted Yeah, but these things are generally true of most of America. There are few, if any, places that people are as safe today as we were in the 60s in Baton Rouge, La.
11 hours ago

Name deleted I moved to Mississippi because of the way things were going. I now take after The Hank Jr. song The woman, the kids, the dogs and me.
11 hours ago

Name deleted SherHOOD Forest as it is known today
11 hours ago

Name deleted I grew up on N. 11th when we used to play outside and ride our bikes all through the neighborhood including to the State Capitol ... imagine doing that today
10 hours ago

Name deleted i lived on the corner of sherwood forest and goodwood and every time i pass broadmoor jr high, it makes me sick to look at it and broadmoor high being a substandard school when it was one of the best in the city is ridiculous.
9 hours ago

Name deleted Yes! thinking about the Regina theater (see above) we would walk to the evening feature from mohican street and walk back after 10 p.m. and never a fear did we have.
9 hours ago

Name deleted I went to Broadmoor Junior High "back in the day" (1973-76), and if it was one of the best in the city, maybe the BR of our memories wasn't as great as we think. The city's public schools are just that -- public -- and as such, the public bears ultimate responsibility for them.
9 hours ago

Name deleted It is a shame. We moved away 20 years ago when my daughter was in 2nd grade at Jefferson Terrace and were told she would be bussed to DuFroc. I'm back now and it breaks my heart to drive through neighborhoods I lived and see what they have become. I still love my city just a bit more cautious.
8 hours ago

Name deleted I rode a bike with a large basket full of drugs making delieveries for my Dad's drug store all over N. Baton Rouge. Want to try that today?
7 hours ago

Name deleted A group of us girls that lived in the dorm on Laurel Street would walk downtown to a movie and walk home at midnight never thinking a thing about it. Never had a problem doing that back in 1960.
7 hours ago

Name deleted I moved to BR in 66 and stayed until 72 which covered the 2nd to 8th grades. We lived in Villa Del Rey and it was awesome to rome about without any worries. I will always cherish my childhood days growing in a safe place called Baton Rouge!!
6 hours ago . . .

Name deleted Went back one day to Enterprise street in NBR, couldn't pic out my house, but boy did I have everyone's attention!
3 hours ago

PAINTING WITH rather a broad brush, aren't we?

Yes, it's indisputable that America has a crime problem in poor minority neighborhoods, a.k.a., "the 'hood." It's also indisputable that America has problems in poor neighborhoods, period. And finally, it's indisputable that poor people have lots of problems.

They have problems because they're poor; they're poor because they have problems. One overarching problem of poverty is a systematic lack of opportunity, whether it be from a dysfunctional culture, a lack of material resources, a lack of role models or a lack of enough food -- or at least nutritious food -- in your stomach.

And perhaps the biggest problem of all is that of being ostracized. It's just like the north Baton Rouge girls blackballed from Louisiana State University sororities (and, years later, the Junior League) because they grew up blue collar . . . only worse. At least when you've grown up working class, you conceivably can lie about it and pass for bourgeois.


On the other hand, we have yet to see the first successful race-change operation. And when black becomes synonymous in certain circles with poor and dysfunctional, you have one element of perception as destiny.

The first step from Idyllic Neighborhood of Our Lily White Childhood to the abyss of Today's Ghetto Hell came when somebody with a decent union job at the refinery decided the grass was greener out east in suburbia -- or at least that the air was a lot less stinky -- and he and his family left. The second step came when the feds said African-Americans could damn well live wherever they wanted to, and then one of them moved into an
Idyllic Neighborhood of Our Lily White Childhood.

And then the white folks left. Most all of them
in the span of a decade and a half. In came the slumlords. And so did the poor . . . and their problems.

I wonder what would have happened had all the whites not taken flight? If you had had working-class blacks living next to working-class whites as the rule and not the exception.

What if middle-class blacks, back in 1970, routinely had lived next door to working-class whites, etc., and so on? What if whole areas of today's perceived Hellhole Baton Rouge had been a diverse patchwork instead of a single shade of poor and multiple layers of dysfunctional?

What if all the people bitching and moaning about Paradise Lost hadn't hauled butt East of Eden because "They" were moving into the neighborhood?

What if white Baton Rouge, as soon as "forced busing" started, hadn't up and remade itself into white Livingston and Ascension parishes (not to mention white private-education enthusiasts)? What if white Baton Rouge hadn't up and left the East Baton Rouge Parish public schools overwhelmingly minority, poor and on their own? Would some credit to the white race still be compelled to tell Facebook peeps that "
every time i pass broadmoor jr high, it makes me sick to look at it and broadmoor high being a substandard school when it was one of the best in the city is ridiculous."

Obviously, being Southern, white and nostalgic means never having to put [sic] after anything you write.

And what if You Grew Up In Baton Rouge, La. if you remember when...... had been more than .125 percent black? I wonder whether anyone might have learned anything beyond what their prejudices whisper to their fears and their fears tell their parochialism and their parochialism shouts to the world with cocksure authority?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

There is none so blind. . . .

This "Holy smokestacks, Batman!" moment is brought to you by the Baton Rouge Business Report:
When the idea of taking the next Canvas trip to Pittsburgh was first suggested to Baton Rouge Area Chamber CEO Adam Knapp, his reaction was to wonder what a “dirty, northern steel town” might have in common with Baton Rouge. But Pittsburgh might have more to teach canvassers than one might think.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What is wrong with this picture?

In the bad old days, some Southern public schools got closed down because staying open would mean being integrated.

And "separate but equal" held a lot more sway over Rebel hearts and minds than educating all God's children. Especially if God's children were black. In Prince Edward County, Va., the public schools stayed closed from 1959 to 1964.

THANKFULLY, those days have faded into history. Unless you count many cities' mostly-white private schools counterpoised with failing, dilapidated mostly-black public schools.

There are other modern reminders of "the bad ol' days," as well. Some more fraught with irony than others.

For example, in my hometown, there's the sad case of Robert E. Lee High School. It used to be the home of the Rebels. Now, with a majority-minority student body, it's the home of the Patriots.

And this band of Patriots has no George Washington to shepherd it out of harm's way so it might fight another day.

FOR THAT MATTER, they'd just as well go back to being the Rebels, because Lee High has met its Appomattox.

In this day and age of crumbling urban schools -- particularly in places, like Baton Rouge, with little history of supporting quality education for all -- you could find a hundred legitimate reasons for pulling the plug on a school like Lee High. You have your plummeting enrollment. And crumbling facilities. And too many high schools in town for too few remaining students.

I imagine all of these are factors in Lee High's pending demise, expected to be formalized tonight by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. But not the main one, says The Advocate:

Supporters of the high school, located at 1105 Lee Drive, successfully fought to keep it open in spring 2008 — and to have it rebuilt in the future on the same location for $63 million — but the school’s continued inability to meet state minimum academic standards may have sealed its fate.


[Schools Superintendent Charlotte]
Placide visited Lee High’s faculty and staff Wednesday afternoon to let them know of her decision, made Tuesday after discussing it with her education leadership team.

“The staff was very somber,” she said. “Nobody wants it to happen.”

Placide first proposed closing Lee High at a May 4 special board meeting. The two options were to close the school right away or to close it over the course of the next year, so the class of 2010 could graduate at the school.

Lee High is potentially up for state takeover as early as August, and board members worried that if the school were still operating in any form, the state would move to take it over.

Closing the school immediately could mean that today — also the last day of the 2008-09 school year — is the school’s last day in operation.

AND THAT'S the way it is, May 21, 2009. An African-American school superintendent, along with an integrated school board, seeks to shutter a failing school rather than let the state take control of it.

Stupidity always has been an equal-opportunity enterprise. Irony, too.

UPDATE: They did it. Here's some of WAFB television's story:

They fought about it all night, in fact students, parents and school board members have been at odds over the future of Lee High for more than a year now. But Thursday night was decision time. Robert E. Lee High has officially been closed.

"It is a tremendously tough thing to do. But it is the right thing to do," said East Baton Rouge School Board member Noel Hammitt.

He called the decision to close Robert E. Lee High painful. An alumnus himself, Hammitt made it clear that Lee High's closure does not mean the school has failed. He says the move to close these doors would prevent yet another take over.

"To keep the school open would mean that the state of Louisiana could take over another school," said Hammitt.
THE MIND BOGGLES. The board shuttered a school -- expressly shuttered a school -- so the state couldn't get a shot at straightening out what the local yahoos screwed up.

Something is seriously, seriously wrong in a place where such things happen. But in my hometown, it's not exactly without precedent. Thursday's s*** fit is just another twist on the old Louisiana game of cutting off one's own nose to spite somebody else's face, and it's been going on within public education ever since Brown v. Board of Education.

Would that this new version of a venerable -- and insane -- phenomenon could be pinned on something as easily confronted as "segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

My city . . . in ruins

Baby, if you ever wondered -- wondered whatever became of me -- I've been livin' in the past amid papers and stuff in Baton Rouge . . . back in better days.

Kind of.

So, what's kept me busy -- and away from this here blog -- is wading through old newspapers and through old yearbooks, and through new pictures, too. All this to make my first homegrown Revolution 21 video.

IF YOU'RE FROM my hometown, this likely will hit you where you live. That goes double if you're also a Louisiana expatriate like myself.

I did this video because, it seems to me, I can express through music and pictures what normally eludes words. Even good, well-chosen words.

Thus, I make no claim that this is anything other than a most subjective document. It represents my feelings.

My grief.

My loss.

My wistfulness.

My anger.

My memory.

My love.

IT'S MY VIEW of my hometown . . . from a distance that gives one perspective. My city: in ruins.

The concept -- and a good bit of the material for this look at Baton Rouge -- comes from Colleen Kane's excellent Abandoned Baton Rouge blog -- I owe Colleen a great debt of gratitude for doing that blog and thereby giving me the inspiration for this. Pay ABR a visit soon.

Colleen came to Baton Rouge -- and her new blog -- from Brooklyn. And when one is thrown into an alien land, and an alien culture, anthropology happens. In this case, it's the anthropology of thrown-away swaths of a middling-sized Southern city.

Abandoned Baton Rouge is still working on the "why" of a city that finds so much of itself (and its people) expendable. For that matter, so is this correspondent . . . who was born, raised and educated in Louisiana's capital city.

THE THING IS, every time I find a new ABR post, it's not just anthropology to me. Neither is it to a lot of folks like me, I'll wager.

To me, what it is, is a punch in the gut. To me, it is a document of loss. A document of dysfunction. A document of things and places I lived, knew or knew of that are dead or dying.

Of things once nice but now disgraceful.

ABR tells the story of a city that throws itself away on a regular basis. It shows the world a city that wastes itself daily and defiles itself daily. It shows God and everybody a city that seemingly lacks pride . . . self-respect.

SOMETIMES, little blogs stumble onto big stories. ABR shows us what happens to the folks -- and places -- left behind when the upper middle class moves on to something newer, more generic and farther out.

What it can't show, however, is the context behind whole swaths of a city going from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Likewise, it can't show the holes in the souls of those who love it. Who remember it and the faded glory of all the now-broken -- and abandoned -- places.

There were -- there are -- lives entangled in the decay. There are feelings in there, too.

And souls.

I guess that's what I'm trying to give a voice with this little video. I'm trying to give a voice to the soul. It's seen happier days.

Monday, August 04, 2008

You tried to tell us, Alexander Isayevich

Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn is dead.

That makes one less who will look humanity square in the eye and tell it what's what.

THIS IS SOLZHENITSYN'S diagnosis of what ails the West, excerpted from his 1978 address at Harvard's commencement -- a speech, come to think of it, about as brave as anything that had gotten him in so much trouble back in the U.S.S.R.:

I am not examining here the case of a world war disaster and the changes which it would produce in society. As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.

To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.

It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times.
THIS, MEANWHILE, is from an article in today's edition of The Sun, the mass-market London tabloid:

Many Ibiza tourists are hardcore ravers who drink, dance and smoke away their nights then spend their days in the baking sun.

No wonder it is known as the island that never sleeps.

But however much fun it may sound, the non-stop lifestyle takes its toll on the sleep-deprived, dehydrated partygoers’ faces, with many needing more than a dab of concealer to cover their facial creases.

But the party girls refuse to rein in the late nights and heavy-drinking sessions.

Instead, they have found the perfect way to revive their looks — Botox.

The latest must-do in Ibiza isn’t a new club night, it is beach Botox — and mum and daughter team, Christine, 47, and daughter Nicole Shenton, 27, are cleaning up.

They moved themselves and their beauty firm, Belisimma, to the White Isle six years ago after discovering there was a gap in the market on the island.


“Business has been non-stop since we started, especially from British party girls.

“A lot of girls admit the most sleep they get is kipping on the beach in the day.”

Mum Christine says: “We find that most of our clients are British girls who have good jobs, money to spend and are here to party.

“Their faces are obviously affected by the amount they drink, smoke and sunbathe. They want to do all those things but still look good.

“That’s where we come in.”

One of Belisimma’s regulars Laura Jackson refuses to get on the plane home looking worse than when she arrived — even though she spends a fortnight partying every night.

Single mum Laura, a jewellery designer from Manchester, says: “I’ve been having Botox out here for the past two years and can’t get enough of it.

“It’s great — the moment I land, I call Christine to get some Botox before I hit the clubs. Then after two weeks of clubbing, she gives me a top-up before I get on the plane home.

“When I tell people I’m 25, they never believe me. It’s amazing considering the kind of lifestyle I lead. It’s non-stop partying from the moment I get off the plane, and I usually come to Ibiza at least twice a year. “This means a fortnight of drinking a lot and getting hardly any sleep.

“Also, when I’m at home I go out drinking every weekend, and spend most Sundays in bed eating a fry up.”
"SINGLE MUM LAURA" deludes herself in more ways than one. Go to the Sun story page and look at her picture.

And I'm quite sure that when she tells people she's only 25, they never do believe her.

Just like -- way deep down where we can see the truth about who we really are -- we don't believe, not really, our own PR about how happy, healthy, prosperous and enlightened we are in our Western, postmodern rave-up.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Not of this nation, barely of this world

Louisiana is the kind of place where people get baited like animals, and animals get treated like . . . bait.

From the Baiting Humans Like Animals Department,
this from New Orleans City Business:

A pack of Kool cigarettes, a can of Budweiser and a box of Boston Baked Beans sat on the dashboard of an unlocked car with the windows rolled down at 1732 Canal St.

Somewhere nearby two New Orleans Police Department officers watched and waited for someone to reach into the bait car and snatch the items.

They wouldn’t have to wait long, as the police parked the car just one block away from a homeless encampment under the Claiborne Avenue overpass, where dozens of desperate, hungry and addicted people lived in a makeshift village of tents.

The first arrest was made at 12:25 p.m. June 10 when police say the initial suspect took the bait and stole a can of beer. The second arrest was made at 4:05 p.m. when police say a second suspect took the cigarettes, beer and candy.

For stealing less than $6 in items, the police charged the two homeless men with simple burglary, a felony that can carry up to 12 years in prison. Neither suspect had any prior arrests in Orleans Parish.

A month later, the men remain in Orleans Parish Prison awaiting court dates and the possibility they will spend the better part of the next decade in state prison.

“I don’t know what the policing justification is for such an action,” said Pamela Metzger, associate professor of law at Tulane University Law School. “But on a fundamental human level, it smacks of a meanness, a pettiness, a spitefulness that has no place in a city as broken as this one. It’s a way of manufacturing offenses that may not have otherwise existed.”


Not only does it take police officers off the street, but it clogs the courts and forces public defenders and the district attorney to use their limited resources and manpower to litigate “trivial offenses” instead of focusing efforts on more serious cases like homicide, said Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.

“People are still dying left and right and yet we’re playing games with baked beans and Kool cigarettes,” Quigley said. “The police officers who did this should be personally embarrassed and their superiors and the elected officials who knew about this should go to confession.”

The NOPD did not respond to requests for comment, but Superintendent Warren Riley has previously defended the practice of arresting people for minor crimes as a useful way of catching habitual offenders.

At a legislative committee hearing in October, Riley said officers will arrest someone for a minor offense such as trespassing if that person has a history of burglary arrests.

But during the car sting, officers not only arrested six people with no prior arrests, they also charged them with felonies.
AND NOW, FROM THAT garden spot of the Deep South, Baton Rouge, we have this dispatch, courtesy of the Using House Pets as Bait Department and The Advocate:

Two men were arrested Wednesday after they allegedly stood by laughing as their pit bull ate a live kitten.

Jeremy Johnson, 17, and Travis Johnson, 23, were arrested in a vacant lot in the 4900 block of Bradley Street after 911 dispatchers received an anonymous tip about the pair, a Baton Rouge police arrest affidavit says.

When police and animal control officers arrived at 11:20 a.m., they saw Jeremy Johnson holding his pet pit bull’s leash while the dog consumed a kitten, according to police spokesman Cpl. L’Jean McKneely and the affidavit.

Animal control officers had to pull the pit bull off the kitten, McKneely said. The officers located another kitten that had been mauled nearby in the grass.

Jeremy Johnson told officers “he was letting the pit bull take care of the kittens because he doesn’t like cats and thinks there are too many of them loose in the area,” McKneely said.


The Johnsons, both of 4917 Bradley St., were booked into Parish Prison on two counts of felony aggravated cruelty to animals and one count of criminal trespassing.

Bond was set for both men at $7,500, booking documents show. Their relationship to each other was unclear Thursday.

State law says, in part, that aggravated cruelty to animals includes the torturing, maiming or mutilating any living animal “intentionally or with criminal negligence.”

If convicted, the Johnsons could pay a fine ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 or spend from one to 10 years in prison, or both.

HOW MUCH you want to bet these monsters get off with a slap on the wrist?

Let me tell you a story that explains why I think that.

About three years ago, our elderly schnoodle, Phideaux, had a stroke. Without a second thought, we rushed him to the vet and, after a couple of hundred dollars worth of treatment, he recovered and lived another year. He was 16 when he died, and we miss him desperately still.

About the same time in Louisiana, another dog had a stroke. It was the pet of a friend's sister and brother-in-law, who is a professional kind of guy.

Seeing the dog in distress, the brother-in-law acted quickly. He took the poor creature out back and shot it.

THERE ARE many things I miss about my home state. There are many more I don't miss at all.

It sucks to be second fiddle . . . and falling fast

In the capital city of Louisiana, the mayor is howling at the moon and -- perhaps -- praying for another hurricane.

The Census Bureau's 2007 population estimates are in, and Baton Rouge didn't do so well. The city -- whose population swelled in 2005 with the near loss of New Orleans -- has not been able to hold on to its demographic largesse and now has assumed its historical position. That would be second banana to the Crescent City, which continues to slowly rebuild from its swamping during Katrina and now has a good 12,000 people on Baton Rouge.

NOT ONLY THAT, Baton Rouge's population drop, in sheer numbers, was the third biggest in the nation -- notching another bad-list triumph for Louisiana. In terms of percentage of population lost, the capital city was a solid No. 2, behind front-runner Columbus, Ga.

At least if you believe the federal government's numbers.

According to The (Baton Rouge) Advocate,
Mayor-President Kip Holden doesn't:
New Orleans was the nation’s fastest-growing city during the same period, regaining the title of Louisiana’s most populous city from Baton Rouge for the first time since Hurricane Katrina displaced tens of thousands of people in August 2005.
The estimated 2007 population for New Orleans was 239,124, an increase of 28,926 but still just more than half of the city’s pre-Katrina population of 453,726.

Baton Rouge’s estimated population was 227,071.

Mayor-President Kip Holden said Wednesday that the Census report is a flawed estimate that dramatically underreported the city’s population.

“They take a mathematical extrapolation — that they come up with themselves — and come up with erroneous numbers,” Holden said. “Until we have a full census, they would do us all a favor if they would just go away for a couple of years until we can know the exact population.”

Holden said the report contradicts what he said is clear evidence of Baton Rouge’s ongoing growth: steady school enrollment, climbing sales tax revenue and booming business development.

“You can go virtually all over Baton Rouge and buildings are coming up everywhere,” Holden said. “So if that number was correct, would banks be out here loaning all these people money to build condos and apartments and office buildings and restaurants?”
I'M SURE THE CENSUS PEOPLE would be happy to take Holden's contention under advisement, but first they'll have to carve out a parameter in their database for "buildings are coming up everywhere."

They'll get right on that . . . just as soon as they get their giggles under control.

At least one Louisiana demographer
is surprised that anyone is surprised by the Census Bureau's estimate.
Shreveport demographer and political analyst Elliott Stonecipher said the simultaneous population drop in Baton Rouge and growth in New Orleans was “anything but a surprise” given the ongoing resettling of Katrina victims.

“To me, it’s just very logical; it was very expected,” Stonecipher said.

Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans urban planner with GCR and Associates, said the shifts in both cities are related and most likely the result of major improvements in services in New Orleans during the summer and fall of 2006.

“When you look at when most people came back to New Orleans, it was really in that period,” he said. “Many of the people from New Orleans were clearly in Baton Rouge.”

The Census report is the second this year to estimate a population drop for the Baton Rouge area.

The bureau released population estimates for parishes and counties in March. That report estimated a population drop parishwide and was also criticized by city-parish officials.

East Baton Rouge Parish had an estimated population of 431,278 in July 2006, but that dropped to 430,317 by July 2007, or a loss of 961 residents, that report showed.

Holden said the estimates are “crippling” for Baton Rouge because federal and state funding is often tied to population. He said Congress should come up with a new method for calculating population between censuses.
WHAT MIGHT BE more useful than trying to convince the world -- and convince it on the sketchiest of anecdotal evidence -- that Baton Rouge can hold its population better than a New Orleans levee holds water would be, instead, figuring out why all those folks (presumably New Orleanians) fled after three years in paradise.

Of course, the pull of home is a strong one . . . particularly for natives of as insular a city as New Orleans. Still, we find that people are leaving Baton Rouge to return to a city that has one of the world's worst mayors at the helm.

They're leaving Red Stick for a city with the highest murder rate in the nation. And that race isn't even close.

They're leaving to return to a city where the school system is still a shambles. And where graft is bigger than Rex on Mardi Gras day.

They're leaving to return to a city that's just a direct hit by a Category 2 or 3 hurricane from oblivion. Again. Likely for good next time.

They're leaving for a city that's still largely in ruins, is a municipal-infrastructure nightmare, suffers under sky-high electric rates and needs patrols by National Guardsmen to stave off utter chaos. As opposed to its normal, everyday pre-Katrina chaos.

I KNOW WHAT IT IS to miss home. To miss one's culture . . . familiar foods . . . familiar music . . . familiar sights and sounds. For reasons transcending all good sense, there aren't that many days that I don't miss Baton Rouge.

But that's not enough to make me go back. And I live 1,100 miles distant from there. Have for 20 years now.

Baton Rouge's former exiles from the Big Easy had found refuge less than 90 minutes away from home. They found themselves relocated somewhere with a somewhat similar culture, closely related cuisine and an identical climate. And any onset of Crescent City delirium tremens would be easily "fixed" by a short road trip.

Did I mention the "one direct hit from oblivion . . . again" thing?

THAT'S WHAT Baton Rouge's mayor needs to be worrying about: Why in the name of Buckskin Bill and Tabby Thomas would people want to leave America's Next Great City(TM) for the corrupt, dysfunctional, beaten-down, dangerous basket case that is New Orleans?

Why would people do that if Baton Rouge is sitting there on the first high land on the Mississippi, just ready to launch itself into greatness?

Could it be that Baton Rouge ain't as wonderful as the mayor thinks?

Could it be that the crime isn't that much lower, the murders not that staggeringly fewer, the landscape not that less dilapidated and the public schools not that much better as to be meaningful to a homesick exile?

Could it be that Louisiana's once-again Second City barely outperforms a crippled New Orleans in the essentials that make a city livable while lacking the kind of vibrant, indigenous culture that makes the Crescent City -- in a very real sense -- the spiritual heartbeat of America?

WHEN MY WIFE AND I LEFT Baton Rouge in 1988, it was pretty much the same size it is now . . . perhaps 10,000 or so smaller in population. That kind of anemic population growth doesn't point to a vibrant, fundamentally sound municipality.

When we arrived in Omaha 20 years ago, Nebraska's largest city was about 100,000 people smaller than it is today. And even then, it still was 100,000 people larger than Baton Rouge is now.

What's the difference?

I think it comes down to this: Leaders of "next great cities" don't waste their time (and the taxpayers' money) trying to mau-mau the federal gummint when census figures don't fall their way. Leaders of great cities (those of "next" or "present" greatness) want to find out why the numbers turned against them.

They want to find out why people left -- or why more people aren't moving in. They want to find out where their city falls short.

And once they've done that, leaders of "great" cities -- or even "pretty good" cities -- move heaven and earth to fix what's wrong and improve what's right. That's not what it looks like Baton Rouge's Kip Holden is doing here.

Nobody likes a whiner, Kip. Not even exiled New Orleanians whose only alternative is "Crazy" Ray Nagin.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Aske nawt fore hoom thee bel towlez. . . .

When the president of a local school board decides that, no, public education isn't necessarily a public obligation, I'm not sure how much further a community has to go before it hits rock bottom.

After all, it's a little eye-raising -- even in Louisiana -- when a public-school poobah comes out for vouchers. What's next? Prostitutes for monogamy?

THAT'S WHERE the court of winners and wretches finds my hometown -- in a nosedive and still pushing the yoke and throttle hard. If it's indeed true that a strong community is one of proverbial "brother's keepers," Baton Rouge surely bears the mark of Cain.

Not that I'm completely surprised or anything.

Why would the president of a public school board -- such as East Baton Rouge Parish's Jerry Arbour -- say, in effect, "We give up. We can't educate your kids properly. Take the state's money and run"?

Communities outsource things like collecting garbage, not educating their children. Public funds need to go to entities accountable to taxpayers as a whole, not to entities accountable to God-knows-whom (or what) or, perhaps, accountable to no one at all.

Why would communities not insist upon adhering to such a basic principle?

Well, for one thing, because it's hard. And because, first, some sort of commonweal must exist. Individuals must find it within themselves to bond themselves irrevocably to others on some level beyond that of the clan . . . or Klan, as the case may be.

John Deaux must, somewhere within himself, find the strength to be his brother's keeper. Even if that brother is a minority, or poor, or just not all that edifying to be around.

You'd think folks in the Bible Belt would be more serious about biblical principles. But we are talking about Louisiana.

AND WE ARE TALKING about the Deep South here. We are, after all, talking about a region where -- historically -- the electorate hasn't cared much for education, and what care it had was for "white" schools. "Nigger schools" got what was left over from those slim pickings.

In state after state, community after community across the South -- and, to be fair, in many urban areas outside the South -- we have seen a familiar progression from the earliest days of school desegregation.

First, a federal court steps in to order the integration of public schools long under the unequal and unjust yoke of de jure segregation. Then, after much fulminating by local pols and sometimes violent outrage on the part of the public, a token effort is made at "integration." Usually, this involves the admittance of a token number of minority students into "white" schools under the banner of various "freedom of choice" schemes.

Of course, after some time, a federal district judge would deem such tokenism as wholly unacceptable. Baton Rouge's stab as such foot-dragging proceeded at a grade-per-year snail's pace, and had not yet reached the elementary grades by the time the federal judge had enough in 1970.

Then -- at least in Baton Rouge's case -- "integration" was to be achieved through voluntary majority-minority transfers and through a "neighborhood schools" plan. That's right, going to your own neighborhood school constituted race-mixing progress.

Except that white folks either a) fled what previously were mixed areas of town, b) fled the public schools or c) both. And the "integrated" schools largely weren't.

Finally, fed up with segregated "integrated" public schools, federal courts then turned to the B-word -- busing. That, of course, led to an explosion in the numbers of private schools, particularly in Baton Rouge. And to a population explosion in "whiter" outlying areas.

As the public schools, under "forced busing," went from majority white to majority black -- and from majority middle-income to majority lower income -- the white exodus picked up steam, with previous holdouts fleeing what they now saw as "failing schools." I'm not sure, but I think the difference between acceptably mediocre and "failing" is somehow proportionate to the percentage of African-American (and underclass) students.

Now -- almost three decades after "forced busing" began and several years after it was deemed pointless and abandoned along with the 47-year deseg case -- my hometown school district has gone from 65 percent white to 83 percent minority. Whites, once a strong majority in Baton Rouge, now make up less than half the population.

Until Katrina flooded Baton Rouge with those fleeing New Orleans and southeast Louisiana, the city's population hadn't grown in two decades.

THAT'S THE HISTORY of these things, and I would imagine Baton Rouge's troubled transformation mirrors that of more than a few Southern cities. And some Northern cities, too.

No, I am not digressing. My point is to suggest that America's original sin -- slavery and racism -- destroyed basic bonds of human affection. Racism was so prevalent for so long that the notion of commonweal has become unthinkable.

When a people has become so accustomed -- so enculturated over centuries -- to thinking that some humans are chattel, that some humans are less than oneself, it becomes impossible to think of anyone as one's brother. And impossible to believe that you are The Other's keeper . . . and he yours.

Is that, ultimately, why Jerry Arbour, the school board president, finds it easy to figuratively throw up his hands and abandon his responsibility to educate the public's children? Is that, ultimately, why Baton Rouge -- why Louisiana -- pretty much always has thrown up its hands and abdicated its responsibility too?

And why, when someone at the capitol gets the notion that the state budget is too big, it's always education, health care and social services that take the big hit?

IF PRESSED by someone up here in Yankeeland to explain my hometown and home state, maybe I'll tell them that to understand Baton Rouge (and Louisiana) you need to understand a city (and a state) that throws its hands up.


See, when you're faced with a really big problem -- as most people are sooner or later -- you basically have two choices: You bear down and fix it, or you throw your hands up.

For centuries, when faced with corrupt oligarchs and politicians, what have Louisianians done . . . what do Louisianians do still? They throw their hands up, and the crooked pols are still in charge.

When faced with endemic poverty and social dysfunction? Throw your hands up.

Sputtering economic infrastructure . . . ignorant workforce? Put on a pot of gumbo, grab a six pack of Abita . . . and throw your hands up.

Failing schools? Throw your hands up.

In other words, "It ain't me, it ain't my kin, throw the bastards a voucher and let the private schools clean up the mess."

IF I AM NOT my brother's keeper (if I have no brother, just The Other) there is no such thing as commonweal and -- unless I'm getting directly screwed here -- civic culture and governance ain't my problem. My problem is how to move heaven and earth to get a prime tailgaiting spot at Tiger Stadium.

To be born a Louisianian is to learn not to ask for whom the bell tolls.

It's much easier just to throw up your hands.