Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sins forgiven, time to move on

Now that the ordeal of Yom Kippur has been surmounted and my month-long jury duty has finally come to an end (two voie dires but not once selected for a jury), it is time for me to survey all that remains in the coming months of 2009. Believe it or not, the first of several coronation balls started this past weekend, signaling the beginning of the Carnival celebration in New Orleans. No, Mardi Gras is still scheduled for February 16; that hasn't changed. It's just that the powers that be have dictated this is the time of year to prepare for the inevitable. It is time to announce at a private gathering just who is going to be king or queen in the forthcoming year for each respective krewe as well as the other members of each royal court. It is true that the School of Design's Rex and his queen are only known to family members in addition to the captain and officers and that the identity of Comus known by a close coterie of family, friends and officers will never be revealed. But, then again, neither of them has asked me to narrate their balls. This is an exciting time for the krewes with whom I do associate and my job is to accomplish several things. First, make sure all of the names are pronounced correctly. Second, coordinate with the musicians to cut the music on cue. Third, make it fun. By far and away the first two take the most time, but the third, while the most elusive, can oftentimes be the most rewarding.
I noted with sadness the passing of political pundit William Safire, the New York Times columnist, from pancreatic cancer. Safire, 79, follows Patrick Swayze as another highly visible victim of this insidious disease. His "On Language" column found in New York Times Magazine was a must-read for lovers of English grammar and a lexicon for would-be writers the world over. His rules for writing included "Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and try to avoid mixing metaphors. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!" Safire got his start in politics working with Richard Nixon. In fact, he set up the so-called "kitchen debate" between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and then Vice-President Nixon. When that title changed from Vice-President to President, Nixon invited Safire to become one of his leading speechwriters. Yes, he was responsible for coining the term "nattering nabobs of negativism" when referring to the members of the media. But, I won't hold that against him. Safire was also a tireless supporter of the State of Israel and counted most of its political leaders as acquaintances and friends. In fact, he and Ariel Sharon were very close. Yet, it is important to recall he did question actions by the Jewish State and on several occasions openly criticized Israel when he felt leaders had crossed a moral or ethical line. Safire was a frequent guest on NBC's "Meet the Press" and I expect there will be a tribute to him next Sunday morning. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his investigation surrounding Carter administration member Bert Lance, Safire had an uncanny habit of making friends out of enemies. Later, when the charges against Lance were not proven, he and Safire became pals. Eight years ago Safire suggested that Abe Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, should resign because of the ADL's successful campaign to gain a presidential pardon for Marc Rich from Bill Clinton. He also was highly critical of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for his part in the affair. Foxman responded by criticizing Safire for his having worked for Nixon, whom Foxman considered anti-Semitic. Safire took the criticism in stride and later he reported that the two of them had reconciled over coffee and wished each other a "Happy Passover." Safire was a four-time novelist and had several works published on language as well as his memoir of the Nixon administration "Before the Fall." He leaves behind a wife, daughter, granddaughter and millions of devoted readers who will truly miss his wit and prowess over the printed word.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stormin' the Sazerac

Stormin' the Sazerac !

The weekend is nearly here and a most unusual event is on tap for Friday afternoon. Set to take place at the historic Roosevelt Hotel (recently reopened and restored in name and splendor from the opulent Fairmont Hotel of pre-Katrina days), "Stormin' the Sazerac" may seem like an event hardly worthy of mention. But, as Ann Tuennerman of the Tales of the Cocktail points out, the admission of women to the fabled Sazerac Bar on September 26, 1949 was a turning point for New Orleans feminism. It was the first time women were allowed to enter what had previously been a strictly male domain on any day other than Mardi Gras. When I refer to Mardi Gras, I specifically mean Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, rather than the weeks-long Carnival celebration that has taken on that appellation in more recent decades. Because nearly everyone masked on that day, it was virtually impossible to police who was admitted to the Roosevelt's most famous watering hole. On any other day prior to that date, women entering the bar were politely, but firmly refused service. Saturday is the 60th anniversary of the day when the powers that be threw in the towel and allowed women to take their rightful places belly up to the bar. It's all part of the branding of the Roosevelt Hotel, recently renovated to the tune of $145 million as the newest addition to the Waldorf Astoria luxury chain of Hilton Hotels. The Sazerac Bar, replete with an impressive room-length wooden bar and decorated with vintage artwork by muralist Paul Ninas, is a true throwback to an earlier time of luxury and impeccable service. The signature drinks served there – their namesake Sazerac cocktail and the Ramos Gin Fizz – are veritable stars of the mixological firmament. The Ramos Gin Fizz actually takes nearly three minutes to prepare, much of that spent in shaking the concoction of gin, egg white, powdered sugar, orange flower water and club soda. The Sazerac is reputed to be the oldest cocktail by many authorities and is the official New Orleans cocktail, as designated by an act of the Louisiana Legislature a year ago. It is my favorite drink and one that the legendary Huey Long was also quite fond of as well. Apparently, a new drink made with 18-year-old Sazerac Rye whiskey is to be unveiled in honor of the 2:30-5:00 p.m. event. It is to be called the "Miss Sazerac." How appropriate that a drink with a feminine name will commemorate the eve of the date when six decades before women achieved true equality. So, to all the ladies, I lift up my glass and salute all those who took part in the original Stormin' the Sazerac. I look forward to seeing those who will arrive adorned in vintage 40's and 50's era clothing to make the event even more memorable. Salut, cheers and bottoms up!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Video killed the Internet blog

I have been most favorably impressed with a new product recently unveiled by the Louisiana Technology Council. It is something that will allow businesses to reach out to current clients and customers and to try to reach hundreds or thousands more via a remarkable tool. Or, in its most simple application, it will mean an easy way for friends and relatives to correspond with each other in a more direct and personal manner. The technology employed is a video e-mail that can be customized with templates for each business with typical video lengths of up to five minutes. Imagine receiving a flashy e-mail with a custom-tailored business name and logo and a "click here" button enabling the launch of a short video. The incredible difference between this product and other video players is that these videos are not downloaded to one's hard drive or streamed from a server in a way that will cause buffering problems. These video e-mails are played with total throughput through the services of the host company with no loss of video signal as one might see over a media player or through an online video service like You Tube. The Louisiana Technology Council was so overwhelmed with the possibilities of getting others like me interested that they are marketing the product through individuals like me. I believe this product will be a great sales tool and a terrific way for businesses to connect to others. Whether a simple thank you to a client or a congratulatory video to a member of a sales team, all of these videos can be expertly produced and archived for later use. The product has such a crisp, professional feel that I believe it will be positively embraced by IT-savvy managers and administrators. The technology also has an impressive potential as a training tool. Each account that signs up for one of three levels of service will receive a free video USB camera that can be used to aid in the production of videos (a $100 value). Personally, I hope to use this product for video blogging, which will be a new method for me to connect to my community of business clients, friends and family. Anyone interested in a live demonstration of this promising new technology should contact me at (note the spelling should include the "@" sign instead of "-AT-") and leave both a daytime and evening phone number for contact putting "Videos" in the subject field. Mark Lewis of the LTC has promised to make personal demonstrations on my behalf and anyone else who is interested in knowing more about this cutting edge product. In the meantime I am positively jazzed about the promise this business proposition portends. There is a modest sign-up feet, but after that the cost is minimal (packages start at $20 per month to reach up to 1,000 people at a time). The returns look like they could be lucrative. According to Lewis, people involved with the host company have been in the video production business for a number of years and this particular business model has been developed over the course of the last two years. This has all the earmarks of being something that will explode over the Internet in the coming months and years and I hope to be on the ground floor when it does. Besides, with Mark Lewis and the LTC behind it, there is little chance it will not succeed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

5770 is here

Well, I've never been accused of being overly dramatic. So it's very unlikely you'll see me jumping up and down as Rosh Hashanah occurs over the course of the weekend. Those of you who are not Jewish will probably not know that the Jewish New Year occurs over a two-day period everywhere even in the land of Israel. Most two-day holidays like Passover and Shavuot are only observed for one day in Israel This is a fallout from the Diaspora that occurred after the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Because the first day is a Sabbath, this year's first day of Rosh Hashanah has even bigger consequences–read that as more prayers. Also, because it is the Sabbath, we will have to wait until Sunday to hear the blasts of the shofar (ram's horn) that signals the beginning of the new year. Following a long morning of prayer, a noonday meal, late evening prayers and an evening meal, it will all begin again Sunday with more of the same. It's an introspective time of year as everyone should consider their lives and what they hope to accomplish in the ensuing year. So, in the spirit of this holy day, I offer you some virtual apples and honey for a sweet new year. To all of my Jewish friends and community I offer you the traditional Hebrew greeting L'Shana Tova Tikatevu ("May you be inscribed for a good year.")

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary takes her place on the Great Mandala

The influence of folk music was very high for those of us who grew up in the Sixties before and shortly after the British invasion. There was a time when Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Buffy Saint-Marie and Judy Collins reigned supreme on the musical charts and in our hearts. The time of the Weavers was waning and the protest movement of the Viet Nam era had yet to take foot, so we listened to the Kingston Trio who told us about the "M.T.A." and heard from others who preached about peace in a perfect world. Dylan's music was important and ground shaking, but his voice left a lot to be desired. One group above all others made his music and other folk music accessible to the common people. It was Peter Yarrow, Noel Stookey and Mary Travers, better known as Peter Paul and Mary. I had the distinction of being informed of Peter Paul and Mary much earlier than most of my peers. You see, my mother and uncle owned a record store that sold their records. Moreover, they were in the concert promotion game, paying for recording artists to appear in venues in New Orleans (and elsewhere) and selling tickets to the public. Some of the biggest names of American recording artists were brought to New Orleans by S&S Productions, named after the partners of Smith (my uncle) and Smason (my parents). My sister and I always had front row, direct center seats and we watched in glee as artists like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band, Simon and Garfunkel, the Supremes, Glen Campbell, Maurice Chevalier, The Hootenary featuring the Geezenslaw Brothers, Dionne Warwick, Nancy Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Rivers, Donovan, Sly and the Family Stone, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, The Vanilla Fudge, O. C. Smith and many others performed for our company. But the very first act S&S Productions brought down was Peter, Paul and Mary. The time was 1963 and I recall the evening as having been one that kept me thoroughly entertained. Not bad for a nine year old, I guess. At the end of the night all of the three performers signed concert posters to our family. Those and my treasured posters from Simon and Garfunkel were lost in the flooding from Hurricane Katrina, but the memory of their kindness and talented performances still lingers. I recall this because I learned this morning of the passing of Mary Travers from leukemia at age 77. A statuesque blonde who was as smart as she was pretty, Travers broke ground for women in many ways. She was an equal with Yarrow and Stookey and, in my opinion, her voice helped meld the other two male singers into a harmonic entity that would have been lacking significant soul had she not been present. The group was formed in 1961 and generated success with recordings of "Blowin' in the Wind," "If I Had a Hammer," "Lemon Tree" and their chart-topper "Puff, the Magic Dragon." Some of my classmates in sixth grade will recall how I brought tears to the audience's eyes at Robert Mills Lusher Elementary School when I sang my version of "Puff." When Puff failed to return to little Jackie Paper, well, it was just too much for me! I'm getting a little amongst yourselves....
Peter Paul and Mary broke up in 1970, the same year the Beatles, the group that took away much of their thunder and forever changed the American musical landscape, also broke up.
In any event I wish I had been able to hear Travers' beautiful and strong voice once again in person before she passed away yesterday. I had heard her perform in recent years and marveled at how crisp and clear her voice remained since her golden years. I leave with the lyric to a Peter Paul and Mary tune that describes the circle of life and appropriate as Travers leaves this world to journey to the next:
Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time.
Win or lose now you must choose now
And if you lose you've only wasted your life.
(© Peter Yarrow)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The dwindling power of the press

News came out yesterday that the Jewish Reporter, the Las Vegas area's Jewish community newspaper for the past 33 years, is shuttering its doors. This is strictly a financial decision by the United Jewish Community/Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, which determined that the amount of money spent in publishing the 17,000 copies every edition (sometimes twice a month) would be better spent in other ways of communicating with its core group. Even here in New Orleans the Deep South Jewish Voice, of which I have been associated since my permanent return in April 2007, has morphed into Southern Jewish Life, a glossy magazine format that publishes monthly. This has led to outcries from several key figures at both the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana that the needs of the community are not being served by a publication that publishes half the amount its predecessor did. The financial decision to change the newspaper into a magazine was not undertaken by independent publisher Larry Brook lightly. He has published the Federation's official newspaper since the fall of 2006, but newspapers have had a very hard time over the course of the last two years. Indeed, the choice for the Deep South Jewish Voice was either change with the times or cease publishing entirely. The good news is that the new format is a marked improvement in terms of design and graphics and, because of the nature of a monthly magazine, it will no doubt have more feature stories of lasting interest to the community rather than the more timely, transitory stories a newspaper would offer. Considering the alternative, I don't see how anyone can be upset, but I do understand. The fact is the Milwaukee Jewish Chronicle, whose editor Elana Kahn-Oren is the national president of the American Jewish Press Association, went from publishing weekly to monthly a few months ago. Kahn-Oren saw her entire staff sacked, not unlike others across the country – particularly those funded by financially hard-hit Federations – who have seen the need to downsize staffs and curtail the number of editions. It is a trend that shows no sign of reversal and as the older newspaper reading generations are replaced by younger, hip Internet-savvy and multimedia- minded generations, the gap between newspaper readership and alternative media users will undoubtedly widen. The same problems of declining ad revenue and diminishing circulations that have confounded daily newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have hit Jewish community newspapers too. But with smaller publications like Jewish newspapers, the loss of revenue has been nothing short of catastrophic. With Jews comprising a small percentage of most metropolitan areas (New York being the biggest exception), high advertising rates to reach those communities seem overpriced to potential clients and with fewer publications the number of impressions also appear to be less than adequate. Federations want newspapers out of necessity. They are not major proponents for Jewish journalism. When it comes down to it, if a case can be made to save money by sloughing off a proven drain to their revenues, it is my opinion that those decisions will be made more frequently as the financially-strapped institutions look to alternative means of communications that portend better penetration and produce more meaningful results. Such a trend augurs a dismal prospect for the future of Jewish newspapers and newspapers in general. As a newspaper writer and editor, I picked a heckuva time to give up ___________ (fill in the blanks: drinking, smoking, sniffing glue, juggling sharp knives, or playing Frogger on an Interstate).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Time to reflect

Well, if it's Tuesday, it must be the Orleans Parish Criminal Courts Building again. Jury duty means another opportunity to learn about what the criminal justice system is all about and to reflect on the events of the previous few days. First of all, the death of actor Patrick Swayze from pancreatic cancer, while expected, nevertheless hit me hard. The reason is a bit personal: my father died from that insidious disease and I know how hard he fought it for the past two years. A friend of mine's father is fighting the same battle even at this moment. Swayze's recent starring role in "The Beast" should go down in the annals of Hollywood history as one of the most brave and stalwart efforts by an actor, similar to the extraordinary effort exerted by Spencer Tracy when he turned in his final performance in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." While most recall Swayze's memorable roles in "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing," his athleticism and prowess made him a actor to be admired by guys too. "Point Break" in which he plays a surfer turned bank robber and the cult classic "Road House" in which he plays a philosopher turned bouncer were two roles which showed fans he could be more than a pretty boy. Swayze kept fans and producers guessing when he did all of the skydiving shots in "Point Break" (Take that, Keanu!). Although "Road House" has generated many more jeers than cheers by movie reviewers, fans kept it popular throughout the years since, even spawning a DVD-direct release of a sequel a few years back that starred none of the original stars. It really all boils down to Swayze, who as an actor first came into renown when he starred in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders" along future big screen stars Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio and Diane Lane. The fantasy "Red Dawn" in which America is invaded by Russians and defended by a ragtag group of teenagers armed with rifles also generated some positive reviews for Swayze. I seem to recall it playing ad nauseam over HBO when I still subscribed to that cable service and was hoping for better. Of course it was as dashing Johnny Castle opposite Jennifer Grey's character of Baby that made Swayze a true movie star. It was a movie with a shaky plot and, despite the presence of the great Jerry Orbach and others, there was very little character development apart from the two main stars. Yet, there was something special about this little film. Perhaps it was because it was set in the Catskills Mountains – the so-called Borscht Belt – at a time when the nation was still fairly innocent and yet to go through the full extent of soul-wrenching fallout from the assassination of its young president and reaction to the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. When Phil Medley and Jennifer Warnes' "I've Had the Time of My Life" is played at the terminus of the film and Swayze held Gray up fully extended as if in flight, a moment was etched forever in the collective mind of film enthusiasts everywhere. I'd like to think I had a small part in the success of the song, since I was one of the first individuals to play it for the public in New Orleans even before the motion picture was released. Swayze lost his battle to pancreatic cancer at 57. Other prominent actors like Michael Landon, Fred Gwynne, Donna Reed and Joan Crawford were victims of this particularly virulent form of cancer many years ago. The youngest of them was Landon, who died at 54, and the oldest was Crawford, who passed away at 72. My dad lost his battle at 69 some 14 years ago.

Meanwhile, something also happened at the MTV Awards ceremony this past weekend. The entire nation reeled in shock as bad boy Kanye West (who would have been the first person to open his mouth had anyone else done what he did) yanked the microphone away from amazing wunderkind Taylor Swift and launched into an unsolicited and improper call out to Beyoncé for her just-defeated video "All the Single Ladies." I must admit that I didn't take time out to watch the proceedings as they aired live, but I did watch the entire broadcast via the Internet and it was even more shocking seeing it as it went down in realtime. I must admire Swift's response to reporters after the show in which she admitted to being in awe of West at first and later feeling the kick to the belly his ill-advised remarks caused her. She never put West down and declined to do so when prodded by the media. She is a real classy star. So, too, it turns out was Beyoncé, who allowed Swift to have her measure of spotlight following the earlier debacle with West. The most telling incident to this was last night's innaugural "Jay Leno Show" in which Leno expertly asked West the best, most-measured question of his career. "What do you think your mother would have said?" West, whose mother died last year while undergoing cosmetic surgery, was silent. He couldn't answer because of his overwhelming guilt and the feelings his mother's death still have on his psyche to this day. In a way, it's especially ironic because at the beginning of the MTV broadcast the mention of West's name brought considerable cheering. After his impromptu announcement, Sean "P Diddy" Combs mentioned his name and heard considerable booing afterwards. Perhaps it is a good time for West to take time off and consider his career and the effect his unkind words have had on those like me who hold him accountable not for being talented, but for being boorish and brutish. A little more gentleman and a litle less gansta, if you please.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fourth time's the charm...

Bride and groom at the Millennial wedding at Mardi Gras World

My cousin Sidney, a tireless self-promoter and husband many times over has done it again. After marrying three times within three decades, he couldn't let another ten years pass before finding Miss Right again. The girl he chose Saturday night, Georgianna, is probably the loveliest and may be the youngest bride he has ever wed, a mere 26 years old. At 55, Sidney, that old rascal, is twice her age and then some, but the couple seems truly happy and unconcerned about conventionality. Take the wedding, for example. It was held at Blaine Kern's recently opened Mardi Gras World, the interior of which houses an antebellum mansion replete with faux live oaks bearing Spanish moss and all manner of fake flora and fauna. The bridal party seemed like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean with "wenches" dressed up in specially-designed costumes that looked like, well, wenches. Leading the procession was a young fairy, complete with genuine gossamer wings. The bride's mother and the bride each wore period pieces with hoop skirts. The bride's black-tinged and dark red taffeta gown featured a breathtaking four-foot long train bejeweled with crystals. The two wedding cakes were also anything but standard. The bride's cake was a three-foot tall expansion of a red bass drum, a blue throw pillow, a woman's bodice and two smaller red drums on top , the uppermost adorned with peacock feathers. The groom's cake was a guitar festooned with sugar figurine faces of all four Beatles. The band played many Beatles tunes in obvious homage to the influential band that led Sidney to pick up his first guitar and, more importantly, to pick up a camera and start documenting some of the most famous musicians who came through New Orleans in the period beginning in the late Sixties. Sidney's photographic essays at the Warehouse and other venues became so well-known that his work became legend even so that his idol Paul McCartney chose Sidney to take pictures during his recording sessions at Sea-Saint Studios for the album that became "Venus and Mars." For those of you who wonder why Sidney's pictures aren't credited on the album, there is a sad story there. Apparently, the awe-struck photographer was the victim of thievery when someone spied his bag full of cameras and rolls of spent film and decided to make off with it from a party aboard a Mississippi riverboat McCartney had rented. To this day he only wishes he could get back the irreplaceable film of McCarntey, his wife Linda and other famous friends that probably landed in the garbage somewhere. Even though those pictures got away, Sidney has plenty of others behind that he's taken in the decades since. A French Quarter gallery on Royal Street showcases much of his photography as well as that of his son Justin's artwork. Also, since the decade of the Eighties he became a tour promoter, emphasizing the macabre and mysterious in the form of his Haunted History Tours, seen on the Travel Channel and written up in travel magazines the world over. His company is the original, although many copycat operators have sprung up in the decades since. The wedding reception went on until late evening Saturday night and then to continue the celebrations he invited family and friends to his Uptown home where he hosted not one, but two bands to serenade guests with even more Beatles music throughout the very rainy day. Not to miss a beat, Sidney unveiled his new TV show "Haunted New Orleans" at midnight on Sunday, the first of 13 shows that will be repeated an additional three times each over the course of the next year. The host of the show as seen on Channel 26, Chicago Tribune owned WGNO-TV, of course, is none other than the incontrovertible and redoubtable executive producer Sidney Smith. In a little over a day, he has gone from bachelor to husband and from promoter to producer. Nice job, Sidney, and many happy returns....or is that reruns?

Friday, September 11, 2009

National Day of Service and Remembrance

Today not only marks the eighth anniversary of the 2001 attacks on America. It is also the first National Day of Service and Remembrance as proclaimed by President Obama. This is far more than turning lemons into lemonade. It is in fact a way to remember all those Americans who perished during the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the aborted attempt on the White House. It is a way to honor the survivors of those families and at the same time to forge an amalgam of determined, altruistic service providers and give them an opportunity to make our nation ever more strong and supportive of one another. If the September 11 attacks showed our terrorist enemies one thing, it was that we as a nation are ready to come to one another's aid in a time of crisis and that we are an irrepressible force who will never be deterred in the purpose of providing our citizens with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those men and women who render charitable service to others should be honored for all they do in making this a better place in which to live. May their actions today strengthen the bonds of peace and love and make our enemies even more fearful of our resiliency and resolve.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The day before

We live in interesting times. Eight years ago we lived in an age of innocence and naiveté. All that changed on September 11, 2001 when organized suicidal Al Queda murder squads commandeered jetliners and flew them into the Twin Towers, the glimmering symbol of American capitalism, and the Pentagon, the seat of American military prowess. Prior to this attack, with but a few exceptions, we all felt comfortable in knowing that the threat of terrorism was real, but somehow less menacing to us in our daily lives here in America. All that changed as the roar of American Airlines Flight 11 bore down on the North Tower. The subsequent crashes of United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower, American Airlines Flight 77 into the west side of the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania only added to the misery and pain that all of us Americans have suffered in the eight years since. We have engaged the nation's enemies on the field of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have overthrown a crazed dictator who probably should have been dealt with a decade before during the first Gulf War. Yet, I don't believe any of us feel much safer with the shaky democratic government that has been put into place in Iraq and the truth is the Taliban is becoming more brazen and shoring up many of its strongholds in Afghanistan. The recent election process there did little to aver my fears that an assassination there of one or more top leaders could plunge that country into a far worse crisis and embroil that conflict even more, threatening many more of our brave soldiers. The news that Iran is on the brink of achieving nuclear weaponry is a chilling prospect. It would seem the only country willing to engage the Ayatollah and Ahmadinijad is the tiny Middle East democracy of Israel, which they have threatened for years. Whether Israel will fight that battle alone or not seems uncertain, but make no mistake about it. Were we to be pulled into that conflict, we would certainly be starting down a slippery slope from which we could not remain unscathed. I remember as a child how I felt about communism and the threat of mutually assured destruction from nuclear weapons. Somehow, though, I knew we were dealing with governments, which were answerable to the people. The possibility that religious fanatics bent on the destruction of Israel and America could wield nuclear arsenals makes me no less frightened. Indeed, because of the nature of their philosophies and lack of humanity towards "infidels," my fears are ramped up even higher. I somehow wish we could return to those innocent days of yesteryear when our shores seemed more protected and when the hate manifested by those who would destroy us was separated by vast oceans. The destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was a wake-up call about homegrown terrorism. The attacks of September 11th made the external threat much more real. Today the continuing threat of terrorism looms as a reminder of what we as a nation have endured and the pain we have shared since that eventful day. I hope the world my son inherits is one that will not be as nearly as horrifying, but somehow I know that is wishful thinking on my part because of all that changed eight years ago tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The day after

Labor Day is not even a few hours over and I am back at the keyboard killing time while week number two of jury duty begins. Labor Day is an unusual holiday. Few people, if any, can explain its meaning or why we celebrate it. It is not like Memorial Day, Veterans Day or even Thanksgiving, all of which we have specific knowledge. Labor Day is an amorphous holiday that celebrates the workingman, but the reasons why it exists, other than a convenient way to signal an end to summer, is unknown. Let me state for the record that Labor Day is a federal holiday, but the reason it is celebrated in this country is directly due to earlier celebrations held in our federal neighbor to the north, Canada. The Canadian labor movement of the 1870's grew out of a desire for a nine-hour workday and other demands in Toronto. It eventually spilled over into other provinces of Canada, resulting in annual parades and festivals to celebrate the passage of legislation preferential to them. It was in 1882 that American labor organizer Peter J. McGuire witnessed one of these festivals in Toronto and decided it would be a great import to the United States and help shore up his efforts for promoting labor interests. The first Labor Day festivities were held in New York City on September 5 of that year. Through the intervening years other cities and states followed suit, but it wasn't until 1894 that President Grover Cleveland helped rush legislation designating Labor Day as a federal holiday in the hope it would help appease labor interests following the contentious Pullman Strike in which 250,000 workers in 27 different states were involved. That strike led by Eugene V. Debs and his American Railway Union created animus between the railroads and striking workers, eventually causing Cleveland to send federal troops to Illinois to break it up. His response to the crisis eventually cost him a possible third term as president and led Debs to prison, where he began reading the works of Karl Marx. Debs later emerged as the leading socialist of his day. All of this began in one way or another as an outgrowth of a Canadian labor movement. Stranger things have happened in American history and I guess other countries can give credit to us for some of their celebrations. In the meantime we won't celebrate another national holiday until Columbus Day in October. I guess we'll look into that one next month when I won't have jury duty (hopefully) and try to figure out why we remember an Italian captain who sailed for Spain and somehow missed most of the landmass of North America in his voyages to the New World.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The gift of time

It is a sad fact that many of us squander our most precious possession, time. We are so busy scampering from pillar to post for much of our lives conducting our regular business, raising our families, being with our loved ones and sleeping that a change in our daily activities and schedules can hit us like a load of bricks out of the blue. The inactivity associated with waiting in the jury pool is a shock to my system. I am restless, confined to one room filled with 50 people. Across the hallway is another room with at least another 100 potential jurors. The powers that be have warded us Internet access, so many of us are keeping busy writing or checking e-mails or working on proposals for business. Some of us are blogging (lucky us). Others are working on the morning crossword puzzles and sodeku. We are all trying to entertain our minds, anxiously awaiting the news as to whether Orleans Parish will need to utilize our services as jurors or not. If so, we may be impaneled for the the remainder of the day or sequestered for an even longer time. If not, we may have a half-day to do with as we see fit. When time is one's own, it is largely taken for granted. When our time is given over to an employer or other taskmaster of our own choosing, we do so with the knowledge there is a recompense we receive. Usually, it is some financial reward or, at the very least, something that results in our feeling charitable or helpful. When our time is given over to a government, we don't receive anything other than a slap on our backs and a hearty thank you, if that much. Does that mean we should be resentful for doing our civic duty? I think not. After all, if we don't serve, who will? As American citizens, we need to be involved in the process. Some authoritarian governments wouldn't be bothered with the albatross of empaneling a jury of one's peers. They would simply find the parties guilty via a kangaroo court or panels of judges who would act as the state would demand. So, my being here is a lot about justice. I believe in the American system of juris prudence, but I must admit that seeing it up close and personal is not something I would willingly chose to do. Nevertheless, I am happy that I am hearty, hale and able to add my voice to the system. The number of courts needing jurors started at six and has now dwindled down to three. I'm hoping I won't be needed, but if I am called, I will serve. I just hope the judges realize there's a Saints game tonight at 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fires and storms

The scorched earth and smoky skies near Los Angeles are clear evidence that no matter where one lives, no matter how pleasant and peaceful life may be, there awaits the constant threat of death and destruction. In Mexico Hurricane Jimena and in the Caribbean Tropical Storm Erika have lashed pleasant villas and otherwise tranquil beaches and still threaten hundreds of thousands of others in their paths. Four years ago the sleepy and charming Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans suffered catastrophic wind damage and flooding from Hurricane Katrina. Living in a post- Katrina environment, we see constant reminders of the pangs and anguish we have endured. We tend to define life in terms of pre-K and post-K. Yet, we are still here, a bit more jaded and distrustful of government and false promises, but nonetheless here. We endure because of our own support systems that are in place and, when government fails to deliver, we know we can count on each other. I would never wish a firestorm or a hurricane on any community. The horrors of countless tales of survival or those recounting the tragically lost would compel me to think otherwise. However, I do wish that Los Angeles, Mexico and the Caribbean would have the collective strength of character to pull together and help one another in the wake of these acts of destruction similar to what we've experienced here in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. It's a shame that tragedy must precede such common bonds and sense of community. Perhaps, in the future, these feelings will manifest without natural disasters. I pray one day they do and wish the best for all those communities affected at present.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In the pool

So here I am caught in a situation that is both unwelcome but absolutely necessary. I am writing today's blog from the basement of the Orleans Parish Criminal Courts Building, one of many structures that suffered tremendous flooding in this area four years ago. For a while many of the activities associated with the long arm of the law in New Orleans ceased to exist. While the Criminal Sheriff managed to hold onto all of the prisoners he housed in the nearby Orleans Parish Prison ("you down with O.P.P. "), much of the prosecution of criminals ground to a halt during the last half of 2005 and much of 2006. Eventually, though, the powers that be got most all of the Criminal District Courts Building restored and in working order. That meant that a full schedule of jury trials had to be reinstalled and the necessary jury pools organized to fill those juror positions. In Orleans Parish it used to be if one voted, one was almost always called to serve as a juror. However, because a large number of individuals from the less affluent sections of the city didn't vote, many defense attorneys were able to claim foul when it came to having a jury that was representative of the social and economic makeup of the city. The state agreed and so other methods are employed in determining who gets picked to serve on present-day juries. Today it is my turn. I have just listened to the indoctrination from Judge Laurie White of Section A, who thanked us all for attending to our civic duty of being part of the jury system for this entire month of September. Yet, while I recognize the need to serve, I am torn by the fact that this service comes at a great cost to me, my business and to those clients dependent upon me. The last time I served was pre-Katrina. It was 2002 as I recall and I managed to serve on three jury trials, none of which were as romantic as those depicted in the movies or on TV. Most of the trials involve defendants accused of robbery or burglary or drug dealing. Most are not capital cases, but some are. There is a possibility I could serve on a jury that will be sequestered for as long as three weeks, but the likelihood of that happening is very remote. I'll probably have to sit until 12 noon most days and wait for my name either to be called or not. So far, I have missed being called to serve on two juries. The likelihood I will be picked in the next hour looms large and that means that I may have to be on a jury until the late afternoon. While I appreciate it is a great privilege to serve, I really have mixed feelings about being away from work, clients and friends. Nonetheless, it is an opportunity for me to write on a day when I would shirk such good fortune. It is much better to keep me focused than staring at the bare walls and I thank goodness for my laptop. I only wish the imposition of forced duty were a little less harsh, but I am sure it will be a positive experience in the long run.