Friday, January 29, 2010

Raise High the Moonbeam, Salinger

When John Hughes died last year, I thought a great voice in cinema that spoke to teens and understood much of their collective psyche had been stilled. Somehow I knew there would never be another filmmaker with as much to say in as short a span as him. For someone who lived to be less than 60, he was prolific for less than a decade beginning in 1985 with such incredible films as "16 Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Pretty in Pink," "Weird Science" and "Home Alone" to name but a few. Hughes was less productive in his later years, becoming a veritable recluse in 1991. The last production attached to his name was in 2001. The idea of becoming famous virtually overnight and then, nearly as sudden, turning the spotlight off to wallow in the emptiness of solitude seems odd to most of us who have yet to leave a mark in this world. For Hughes it was worth the effort to have his own happy existence beyond the infringement of cameras and recorders. Perhaps he was depressed. Perhaps he was disillusioned with life. It was his choice to run away and people respected that choice no matter how much they wished he still made films. Sudden fame has been thrust on several artists, but for writers there was probably no greater impact made in as short a period of time in the last half century than that of J. D. Salinger. Salinger, who died yesterday at the age of 91, was a recluse's recluse. He lived in obscurity for decades after he was acclaimed as one of the greatest American authors of the 20th Century. It may surprise many to learn that his most regarded work, "The Catcher in the Rye," published in 1951, was the last novel he allowed to be published. There is no doubt that the 65 million copies it has sold to date puts it in the stratosphere of bestsellers in the company of only one other contemporary work, Dan Brown's 2003 novel "The DaVinci Code." But more than its popularity is the importance of his first person narrative to detail the angst, alienation and rebellion of the young generation. Perhaps that is why Holden Caulfield will always remain as a living, breathing creature to millions of readers the world over and why his words have always spoken as genuine and authentic. Infamously, Mark David Chapman held a copy of Salinger's most famous work when he assassinated John Lennon and when asked by police why he had done it, replied that the answer was inside the book. If multitudes thought they knew Caulfield, hardly anyone knew Salinger. Practically from the time of his meteoric rise, he shunned publicity. He hated attention and the press in particular whom he labeled as panderers of gossip. To understand his aversion to fame, one might delve into his philosophy expressed through Caulfield's own sentiments. In Chapter 12 he watches Ernie, a nightclub owner and piano player, perform with great precision and to the obvious delight of the crowd. Caulfield is impressed with his play, but repulsed by the adulation Ernie receives from the audience. "I swear to God, if I were a piano player or an actor or something and all those dopes thought I was terrific, I'd hate it," Salinger's character quotes. "I wouldn't even want them to clap for me. People always clap for the wrong things....If I were a piano player, I'd play it in the goddam closet." It may surprise some of the lovers of Salinger's works, which also include the novellas "Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters" and "Seymour" as well as "Franny and Zooey" and the short story collection "Nine Stories," that he continued to write for most of the past four decades of isolation. He so highly prized his privacy that he cut himself off from much of civilization and outside influences and only allowed a few chosen family members and very select friends to be a part of his world. Like Ernie, he locked himself inside his own closet, writing to please his greatest critic, himself. There are books waiting to be published that have already been cleared by Salinger for release through his estate and others that he has written in spiral notebooks that will need some further editing. There will be a treasure trove of Salinger books available at book stores in the near future and I, for one, can't wait to see what that sly fox of an author has in store for those of us who only wanted to stand outside the closet and hear him play.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Louisiana Technology Council

The logo of "the tech capital of the South"®

I don't think I've ever spoken before about the Louisiana Technology Council and the incredible job they are doing to bring all members of the burgeoning information technology and business sectors together. Located originally in New Orleans, the LTC has branched out to Baton Rouge, but has members and sponsors headquartered in Shreveport, Monroe and smaller metropolitan markets like Lafayette. Last night I attended the annual business meeting of the small, but determined group led by the charismatic Mark Lewis. Lewis, who formerly worked with IBM, has been at the helm of the LTC for eight years. He is the spark that makes the engine run. This past summer he fan afoul of the Mayor's office when he and some of his partners ended up restoring thousands of "missing" e-mails from Mayor Ray Nagin's e-mail account that they claimed had been mistakenly erased and therefore not accessible to public record requests from the media. Lewis had been operating under the behest of the mayor, but when he held a press conference to announce that the e-mails had been deliberately erased, the contract under which he was performing the service for the city was scrapped. Later, he revealed the entire data drives were turned over to the F.B.I. So, I will admit there are some bad feelings there, but with the exception of Mayor Ray Nagin and several City Hall workers, he is almost universally hailed as a one-man dynamo and diehard promoter of technology in the state. Lewis ,whose expressed vision is to see Louisiana achieve status as "the tech capital of the South, " actually registered that phrase as part of his strategy. Last night representatives from area member firms (including me) heard of Lewis's ambitious plans for 2010 and one after another gushed praise upon him for all of his efforts. Lewis previewed a soon-to-be unveiled website that will update his present site and he has encouraged several partners to develop social networking tools and training opportunities for businesses and members that will make the site even more impressive. I am proud to be a member of the LTC and hope to contribute in a meaningful way to its newsletter. Unfortunately, I write too much for little or no pay and have even less time, so I will have to offer my services cautiously and on a limited basis. Nevertheless, there is much to hear about from the LTC and I encourage anyone in the area to consider becoming a member and deriving a number of benefits by doing so. I find the advantages of meeting with other like-minded IT individuals and firms to be of prime interest to me and invariably it creates an environment for expansion of business and informs them about better security and efficiency of networking and computing in the process. Lewis raises his entire staff's salary from the private sector, so he is not a public servant. They receive no public funding for which he is beholden and can operate with virtual impunity in promoting the organization's cause. My hat is off to Lewis and the fabulous staff he maintains at LTC. Despite the controversy of 2009 from which he is distancing himself and the LTC, we can all expect very good things from Mark Lewis and the Louisiana Technology Council.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It wasn't just another game

I've been fairly quiet over the course of the last week. I was trying to write something that would do justice to the swelling of fanaticism with respect to the upcoming NFC Championship Game that had the New Orleans Saints pitted against the Minnesota Vikings. Words seemed hollow as the radio waves filled with the taunts of rabid fans determined to bring home a championship to the city for the first time in the franchise's 43 year-0ld history. The Superdome was going to be a major factor in the game and the noise level was predicted to be at all-time high levels. All of the hoopla proved to be horribly understated. The game was thrilling, but not especially well-played by both sides. Brett Favre, who admitted being a New Orleans Saint fan when he was growing up as a boy in nearby Kiln, Mississippi, was determined to defeat the Who Dat Nation, but in the end his tremendous effort was upended by turnovers committed by his teammates and one ill-advised errant toss that proved to be the difference in the game. Led by the incredible Drew Brees, who led the nation in offense, the Saints had terrible offensive production in the second half, but they managed to stay in the game, eventually taking the lead for the first time in the third quarter. The pitched battle continued into sudden death overtime and the largest crowd in the Superdome since 1979 erupted when the Saints won the coin toss that determined who would get possession of the ball first. A huge runback by Pierre Thomas put the Saints in excellent field position and it wasn't long before 23-year-old Garrett Hartley kicked the game winning field goal that put the Saints ahead for good 31-28 and punched their ticket for Miami in early February. As soon as the Saints had won the game, there was a huge noise out in the streets. I opened the door to hear screams throughout the entire neighborhood. Cars were blowing their horns. Fireworks, illegal in Orleans Parish, were going off all over the city. The noise didn't abate for nearly a half hour as Bourbon Street filled up with huge numbers of partying fans. It was as big a crowd as any had ever seen there for a Sugar Bowl, Superbowl or a Mardi Gras gathering. The difference was that most people on Mardi Gras or any other previous sports event being celebrated there were not local. Practically everyone on the street tonight is a resident of the city. So what does this mean to New Orleans? Following the heartbreak of Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005, the Saints were forced to move their season to other venues. The Superdome was in shambles and team owner Tom Benson was seriously mulling an offer to move the team away from the city of his birth to San Antonio, the place where much of his business dealings was now centered. Diehard Saints fans were apalled. Arnie Fielkow, the general manager and a relative newcomer to the city, had a well-publicized argument with Benson over the proposed move. He lost his job, but made his point. Fielkow became such a great folk hero that he was elected to the city council almost immediately thereafter and has become a major political force in the post-Katrina recovery. This city has always had a special place in its heart for pro football. LSU has captured three national championships and even Tulane University posted a perfect season a few years ago. However, despite an almost unhealthy loyal fan base, the Saints always seemed to find a way to lose. It took them 21 years before they had their first winning season. Imagine that. There were children born in the first year of the franchise who grew up and were ready to graduate from college before the Saints would win more than half the games on their schedule. That was 1987 when the team went 12-3. It took until 2000 before the team went to the playoffs and registered their first win. They actually played for the NFC Championship once before in Chicago, a debacle of a game played in snowy and frigid conditions in 2006 at Soldier Field during Coach Sean Payton's first year of rebuilding which they lost 39-14. This was more than just a game. The hopes of the city, the demeanor of its people and the culmination of recovery from the horrors of Katrina made this victory all the more sweet. This was a team many years ago that had a brilliant quarterback, who with a better offensive front line and one or two receivers and running backs might have taken the club to the Super Bowl. Try as he might in front of his adoring fans, it wasn't to be. Instead, he married and made New Orleans his home. He raised three strapping boys, passed his raw talent to each and instilled in them a love of the game. Growing up, their team was the Saints. Archie Manning was the color commentator for the radio broadcasts for decades, but it was only in recent years with the success of his two youngest sons, Peyton and Eli, that he felt he had to distance himself somewhat from calling the games. Now, there is the question: who will Archie be pulling for? And like Bret Favre, who lost the championship to his favorite team, will Peyton be up to the task of defeating the team with whom his dad was so closely associated and his own hometown heroes? It will be one heckuva game and I am intrigued. It will be the game of Payton versus Peyton and one more interesting twist on a name. Of all the years for the NFL to pick the halftime act to perform, what made them pick the storied British rock band that stars Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry? Is there any doubt the sportswriters of the world will proclaim the Who as the Who Dat?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The horror, the humanity - Haiti!

The first stories that told of the incredible devastation from the earthquakes in Haiti were horrific. The news reports that were broadcast yesterday and this morning suggest that words can never quite give full measure to the heartbreak, pain and hopelessness being felt by millions of Haitians. There truly is an international response that is doing its best to counter the effects of 40 seconds of damage that will be felt for decades by survivors and their progeny. Americans have found themselves in a remarkable competition with Canadians, Chinese, Icelanders and others to rescue victims and get aid and supplies to those in need. It is ironic that Haiti, a survivor of four hurricanes in 2008 and terrible mudslides in 2009 that killed hundreds and left thousands homeless, was struck so ferociously by this latest disaster. History tells us that tragedy - whether from nature or man-made - has been a constant companion for Haitians. It was a revolution in Haiti an resulting unrest that caused waves of refugees to seek shelter in New Orleans two centuries ago. The city fathers took them in and they added to the melting pot of what was still then in large part a French-speaking province. Their influence and culture led to the practice of voodoo by large segments of the population and forever changed the complexion of this cosmopolitan city. Ever since its discovery by Christopher Columbus in the Fifteenth Century, Hispañola, has been host to scores of disasters. Haiti, which occupies the western portion of the island it shares with the Dominican Republic, always seems to get the brunt of the natural disasters. Recent history has shown HIV-AIDS as rampant and a string of kleptocracies have taken undue advantage of the already impoverished people there. This latest tragedy may well be more than this troubled people can take. There is not one section of Port-au-Prince affected by collapsed or heavily damaged buildings. The appalling death toll is almost unimaginable. There is little medical help available and so the lucky wounded and homeless can only sit in the street waiting and hoping for help. The lack of supplies and basic human needs like food, water and sanitation will no doubt ramp up the numbers of dead and dying. This is a race against time and the humanitarian effort underway will have to be increased to meet the demand. My hope is the nations of the world, including the United States, will see what needs to be done and rise to the challenge.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Midori is not a liqueur

Midori at the LPO concert on January 9, 2010 in New Orleans

For those of you who don't already know my propensity for music, allow me to explain. My mother and uncles ran one of the oldest record stores in New Orleans for nearly 50 years. The inventory ran the gamut - from popular music to classical to Broadway to opera to New Orleans funk to rhythm and blues and even world music and country thrown in for good measure. I was first steeped in classical music appreciation as a child, but preferred the popular tunes for my first two decades. Later, I became an authority on all music because I sold it at the store and managed it after my broadcasting career was over. Even as a child working at the store on Saturdays, it was important for me to become familiar with the artists, repertoire and, in the case of classical and opera, to be able to recommend one performance over another. When CDs were a fairly recent addition, Deutsche Grammaphon helped launch the recording career of a young Japanese prodigy in several performances. Her name was Midori Gotõ, but everyone knew her simply as Midori. In the classical world, there are rare instances where a figure or personage has but one name. It is not unlike those one-named popular stars such as Cher, Madonna or Sting. Midori at 12 was an astonishingly accomplished star, who played like an experienced veteran of decades of play. She had been playing since she was seven and was a student at the Julliard School of Music for four years before she left as an artist in her own right. One night she played a performance at the Tanglewood Music Center, a music complex outside of Boston. In the middle of her play of the very difficult Bach "Chaconne," her e-string on her violin broke. She was forced to borrow the concertmaster's instrument in order to finish when that e-string also splintered. After she finished the concert with a third violin, Leonard Bernstein was reported to have bowed to her in admiration. She actually played here with the New Orleans Philharmonic back in 1986, but that was before the reorganization of that hallowed group into the present musician-run Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, a necessary outgrowth of self-preservation. To my delight Midori returned last night to New Orleans. She appeared on the Mahalia Jackson stage in a program along the side of the very capable Maestro Carlos Prieto. She played the Sibelius Violin Concerto, a 37-minute long classical ride that was both lilting and powerful. The support she received from the orchestra and the conductor was outstanding, but none of that lessened her skillful play nor her graciousness after the performance, when she insisted on greeting doyens at intermission. It was one of the opportunities that I could not pass by. I had 15 seconds to tell her how I used to sell her "records" and to have two pictures snapped of the now nearly 40-year old classical star. The first picture was of her alone beaming her lovely countenance and the second showed the two of us together that a member of the LPO staff took on my behalf. As you can see, it was a very proud night for me and the second half of the performance included one of my favorite symphonies, the Dvorak Symphony 9, titled "From the New World." It was an exquisite night of music and one I will always treasure. It is my understanding that Midori and the LPO will perform for local underprivileged youth today, part of the work she does now as a psychologist. This has been a lifelong passion for her. In 1992 she formed a group in New York City called Midori and Friends and has held numerous concerts to benefit the inner city youth there. About ten years ago she graduated from New York University's Gallatin School with a psychology degree and subsequently earned her master's degree in psychology a few years later. Midori is not only a great performer, but a great humanitarian too. Currently she is the strings department chair at the Thornton School of Music and the Jascha Heifetz Chair at the University of Southern California near her Los Angeles home. If I am fortunate, I shall one day hear her perform yet another time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Broussard's resignation

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard video

Just two days after his Chief Adminstrative Officer Tim Whitmer stepped down in a hail of controversy, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, a lifetime politician with a career three-plus decades old, abruptly resigned from his office yesterday. In a shocking turn of events, precipitated by a months-long federal investigation in alleged improprieties in parish government, Broussard did by himself what thousands of angry homeowners had hoped he would do right after Hurricane Katrina. It was Broussard who decided he wanted to not imperil the lives of parish employees who worked the drainage pumps in Jefferson Parish. Fearing the housing complexes where they worked would not stand up to the pummeling from the hurricane's winds, Broussard ordered the men to leave their posts and evacuate the area. Many of them resisted, wanting to man the pumps despite the risk to their lives and limbs. When the drainage canals overspilled from excessive water backed up from the storm and from breaks in levees leading to Lake Pontchartrain, Jefferson Parish suffered extensive damage to homes and businesses. Broussard took the brunt of the criticism, but defended his actions as having potentially saved lives. Angry homeowners saw things differently. They surmised that had pumps been working during and after the storm, much of the billions of dollars in damages to personal and public properties would have been lessened. Broussard survived a recall petition launched against him in 2005 after the storm, but his criticism of the federal government's response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina helped him regain favor in some voters' eyes. Broussard was featured on two segments of Meet the Press with Tim Russert in the weeks after the flooding had occurred in September of 2005. On his first appearance on September 4 he made emotional statements about the death of one of his employee's mother in a St. Bernard Parish nursing home and the lack of a response to save her before she died. Broussard was challenged about the accuracy of his earlier statement on a later show on September of 25 by Russert when it was determined that statement contained glaring inaccuracies. While never disputing the discrepancies, Broussard claimed he was only repeating the story told to him by his staffers. It took Broussard two years to climb in popularity again and he narrowly escaped having to be in a runnoff against one of his more outspoken detractors only two years ago. If ever there were an example of an entrenched politician, Broussard was it. It was such a surprise to everyone in the news media that special local reports broke into regular programming throughout the day. Speculation now is rampant over whether Broussard resigned in the face of an impending federal indictment for malfeasance in office or other impropriety. Tim Coulon, a Jefferson Parish mainstay and a close confidante of Broussard, was forced to resign his position with the Louisiana Superdome Commission at the behest of Governor Bobby Jindal over allegations of wrongdoing - or the appearance of the same - not that long ago. Following Whitmer's resignation under fire and Broussard's decision to follow him, political observers are now wondering if the veritable straw that broke the camel's back wasn't a story that leaked to the news media a day after Whitmer stepped down. The story dealt with the possibly improper leasing of a Nova Scotian lodge owned by Broussard to vendors who had done extensive work with the parish government. The Metropolitan Crime Commission questioned the practice and Broussard was on the defensive just the day before he decided to quit, telling reporters he was innocent of any wrong-doing. At the time that Broussard was making his decision to resign Friday, Jefferson Parish officials were busy handing over documents to federal investigators related to the 25-year River Birch garbage disposal contract with the parish that experts suggested could be worth $160 million over the life of the contract. Between allegations of improper awarding of parish contracts and other finger pointing by critics, Broussard was in a no-win situation. He probably did himself and the parish government a great service by stepping down. Now the question is who will fill his very large shoes? Only five days ago Jose Gonzales was a middle management employee, who assisted CAO Whitmer. By Tuesday he was the CAO and with Broussard's departure is now the defacto parish president. An interim president will be named by the parish government soon and by law he or she cannot run for the permanent office. Sources suggest the election for a permanent parish president will be next February, but that will only be for the final two year's of Broussard's existing term. For the pundits it could be a very interesting race. For the voters of Jefferson Parish, it's either an embarrassment or a blessing. With the ongoing investigation ramping up, it shouldn't be long before we hear from the federal prosecutors if Broussard is in their sites for more attention. Many of us will recall Broussard as a district councilman and school board member prior to his entry into the Kenner mayor's race in 1982. That bitterly fought race against two other established politicians - Raoul "Skip" Galan and Kernan "Skip" Hand - cost Broussard dearly. It took him nearly a decade to pay off his gargantuan campaign debt. Only days after taking the oath of office, Broussard became a national celebrity when a tragic Delta plane crash occurred just outside the boundaries of the New Orleans International Airport. Beside the 146 on board the plane, eight residents in their homes or on the ground were killed in the explosion and fire that raced through the Kenner neighborhood. Broussard was given high marks for his take charge attitude and the baseball cap he wore with the "K" for the city of Kenner became an overnight best seller. Following two more successive terms as mayor, Broussard decided to venture into more powerful positions in Jefferson Parish politics. He won election to the Jefferson Parish Council and was selected as chairman from 1995 to 2003. Voters gave him the parish presidency in 2003 and he last ran for office in 2007, winning re-election without having to enter into a runoff by 1.5% of the vote. There is little doubt that he leaves behind a formidable legacy. Whether he is fortunate to stay retired and not become the target of the federal probe remains to be seen. Lips are pretty tight down on Camp Street at the Hale Boggs Federal Building, where the prosecutors led by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten have been quietly pressing forward, interviewing witnesses and pouring over large caches of documents. Who will follow Broussard as interim president and who will run for what's left of his term is anybody's guess right now. It all shapes up to be more local politics as usual, but how history will recall Broussard - as hapless victim or corrupt politician - no one can say.
Art Clokey, the animator of Gumby and Pokey, first premiered on the "Howdy Doody Show," passed away yesterday at the age of 88. Clokey resisted putting replicas of the green bendable figurine on store shelves because he didn't want critics to suggest he was only in the animation field to reap retail sales. Despite his late entry into the marketplace, Gumby and Pokey figures eventually rang up millions of dollars in sales, but not before two television series were aired 20 years apart starring the green figure with the slanting head and his horse friend. Clokey figured it took him 40 years to make substantial money from TV receipts and merchandising. Eddie Murphy's "Saturday Night Live" depiction of Gumby was well regarded by Clokey, who said Gumby needed to laugh at himself. Now that Clokey is gone, one wonders what will become of the green animation figure? I've heard of one report that says a distraught Gumby and Pokey have both gone on a bender. (Ouch.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Thank you. Thank you, very much, Elvis

I will forever be indebted to Elvis Presley for a number of things, but foremost are my patented combination lip curl and pelvic thrust. Elvis was a star when I was just a toddler, so my recollections of him were as some sort of throwback to an earlier era when I was growing up in the Sixties. Yet, despite his lack of importance in music at that time (compared to his absolute domination in the late Fifties), everyone respected Elvis Presley as the guy who came around at the right time. He was the fresh faced Southern boy who not only could sing rhythm and blues music, but could make it accessible to other white music buyers at a time when "race" music was starting to be broadcast over mainstream radio. I still find it incredible to hear that Pat Boone's version of "Blueberry Hill" outsold Fats Domino's at one time. But that was the way the music industry was run back then. I should know because my mom and uncle ran a very successful record store at that time. My collection of Elvis albums and Elvis books all died during the flooding after Hurricane Katrina, so I now have to rely on a few greatest hits CD collections to muddle me through. There are a number of fans, women mostly I guess, who still think of Elvis as "the king," and I won't ever denigrate then for that. He was a spectacular iconic figure who inspired millions of fans both young and old alike by changing the face of popular music. He will forever be remembered for his legacy of song, although not as many people feel his work in film was as noteworthy. Frankly, I always had a more than grudging admiration for Elvis the star performer. Anyone who could star against Ann-Margret, Shelley Fabares, Juliet Prowse, Nancy Sinatra and Mary Tyler Moore had to be able to hold his own as an actor, although many of the latter scripts were pretty simplistic and left one wondering where the production values had been left in the process of making these films. In any event Elvis is dead, but he's never been bigger. He's 75 and bringing in tons of cash each year, now managed by his estate, at Graceland and through continuing sales and leasing of his images and songs. Happy Birthday, Elvis! If you ask me, when it comes to "the King," cash is definitely king!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A new year and a disturbing trend

I have just completed my second year as a blogger and noted that the first year I had posted 266 blogs. Not bad when you consider weekends and holidays, I thought to myself. But this past year the number of blog entries was half of that at 130. I am aghast. I am appalled. I am concerned. But will this change my seemingly lackadaisical approach to this blog? Probably not. I make no apologies because I am truly doing the best I can. I regret the fact I cannot add more, but I am delighted when I do have the time to add to my commentaries here. Please forgive me if I am not more steady, but I promise that I will try to make up the lack of quantity with more quality. That's what Kander and Ebb called "razzle dazzle 'em" in "Chicago. Meanwhile, happy anniversary to us. Another year for Kosher Computing and a year which already has had some very interesting things occur. Meanwhile, Twelfth Night was last night. Carnival is just around the corner and I am busy preparing manuscripts for the various balls I will narrate beginning next weekend. Be still my heart. It's Mardi Gras time in New Orleans. Meanwhile, anybody care to reveal what resolutions you've made for the new year?