Saturday, February 02, 2002

Bottoms Up

How could I not link to Vodkapundit, a man who shares my tastes for good food, drink, and anti-idiotarian views?
Rocket Man

Rand Simberg is on about space policy again and explains why it is important to dynamism and liberty. I've already argued that US should have a robust but benign military presence in space. Policy should take it's lead from our current doctrine at sea. Nobody can really challenge us there and because of that everybody benefits from safe and free seaways over most of the globe.

What I have not really touched on is how we are to achieve that dominant position in space. Like most guys my age, as a boy I aspired to be an astronaut. That dream faded when, sometime around high school I realized that to be an astronaut meant joining the military (fine) becoming a pilot (ok) and dealing with NASA (fugettaboutit). Because of my dream I read as much as I could on the subject and often travelled to Cape Kennedy (you could watch the shuttle launches from my home in Winter Haven, about 70 miles away. The first launch actually shook windows and pictures in our house; something to do with not enough water dumped under the main engines to damp the force). The more I learned, the more dismayed I became. NASA existed largely because is was a pork pipeline that exploited the dreams of people like me as an excuse to redistribute government wealth. Does anyone really think Trent Lott cares an iota about reuseable launchers or single stage to orbit when he endows the John C. Stennis Space Center in the middle of friggin' nowhere (OK-50 odd miles east of here on I-10 surrounded by marsh and swamp) Mississippi with congressional cash infusions? Hell no. It's about jobs and votes. I'll bet they have almost as many people out there charged with the disbursement of federal money, administration, human resources, and security as they do actual engineers. Very little gets accomplished quickly or at all when the bottom line is not to build a better rocket but rather to secure sufficient funding for next year. See Samizdata for breaking information on the true nature of this phenomenon. Imagine if the government had decided to regulate and kill private investment in the computer industry the way they have with space. There would be no PCs, much less blogging or the web as we know it. Moore's Law happens not because we are able to make smaller, faster processors but because the market demands it. The US position in space would probably improve if NASA were abolished today. Once space service providers have to compete for market share, cost will come down and efficiencies will go up.

Friday, February 01, 2002

The Mayor's Race

The election is tomorrow. This being New Orleans, there are some 15 people (scroll down to the New Orleans Mayor's race section) jostling for what had been Hizzoner Marc Morial's place at the trough. Morial lost a bid to change the charter so that he could stay king and keep running the city like a banana republic. Most of the candidates are long time parts of the local machine who feel it is thier turn to be king. Here is a good place to read the local take. My fave: Post 1243: Is there any truth to the rumor that Irons is a crack head? State Senator Paulette Irons got elected by campaigning about how her brother was murdered, a victim of the streets. She is running for mayor as an anti-cronyism and patronage candidate. Trouble is, it turned out her brother was shot to death by police in the middle of a crime spree in which he stole a cop's gun and car. Further thwarting Paulette's designs to be our new queen is the fact that she has been the recipient of some patronage herself and has steered hundreds of thousands in state funds to her cronies. Since these revelations in the local alt weekly, The Gambit, she has grown increasingly apoplectic in the face of her critics. Once a leader in the polls her campaign is now circling the bowl. FWIW, I like Nagin, the business friendly outsider who has a lot of momentum and is loved by his employees (he runs the local Cox Cable and owns our minor league hocky team, the New Orleans Brass)

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

And another thing...

Re Simmons' ESPN article below, he laments the common refrain about how decadent and smelly (due to puke, pee, and other manmade effluvia) the Quarter is as if that reflects on the whole city. Hey, I guarantee you that other than Tulane freshmen (who aren't really locals) the mess down there is from the tourists. We have an area where just about anything goes and you can indulge yourself to excess comparatively safe from predation or arrest. Visitors come from all over the world and do just that, trashing the place in the process.Then they have the temerity to blame their tolerant hosts for the mess. For shame. I did like this line though:
(Put it this way: If your daughter ever says the words, "Dad, we're going to Mardi Gras for spring break," make yourself a Drano daiquiri and drink it as fast as possible.)

Sekimori redecorated Dawson's place. Nice.
These guys are hilarious.
New Orleans, Delightfully Third World

Bill Simmons of ESPN is "Quesy in the Big Easy." While much of his dispatch from my town is factually accurate, he has written a few things that bear comment:
As for the Big Easy, New Orleans feels like another country entirely. Is this city really in America? How is this possible? Consider the following:

The natives speak in some sort of Creole jibberish that's nearly impossible to understand. Remember Adam Sandler's old "Cajun Man" skit on SNL? He wasn't kidding. Over the past three days, in conversations with various cab drivers, waiters and people on the street, I had absolutely no idea what some of them were saying. None.

When you arrive in New Orleans, you feel like you're entering a foreign country.
Not to be mean, but this isn't the most sophisticated city you'll ever visit; I can't even imagine the collective SAT score here. It's the kind of place where you ask for change for a $20 bill and the waiter will give you back a 10 and three fives. And God forbid you ask one of the locals for directions ... you might as well ask them for the square root of Pi.

OK, first of all, as a resident of "the city that care forgot" I am acutely aware of our many shortcomings, but to write off the intellect and culture of an entire city on account of who you meet in the French Quarter is ignorant and unfair. I don't know what accent he's calling Creole, but the cajun accent that Adam Sandler spoofs is actually pretty rare in the city. Maybe he's referring to 'Yat Speak.

That New Orleans is unlike anywhere else in the US is the very reason I moved here. Essentially an island bound by the river to the "south" (more on directions in a sec), the lake to the "north", the Gulf to the east, and swamp to the west, for better or worse, it has resisted the creeping homogeneity that has overcome much of the rest of the country. As far as stupid waiters go, maybe they exist in the Quarter, in tourist traps, serving tourists who don't know better, but elsewhere the bar for service and for that matter, food quality and value is very high. Otherwise an establishment just won't survive, the competition is too great. How does and "unsophisticated" city of barely 500K get a world class rep for dining (and don't say Emiril)? In most of the joints in the city a glance and a nod is suffient to get served. Not so in chic chic Manhatten or San Fran where so many servers fancy themselves actors or models or writers or whatever else.

The reason directions are unintelligible to the uninitiated is because the city is situated along the winding Mississippi. Streets that are parallel at one end are perpendicular at the other. I used to wonder if there wasn't some sort of wierd singularity located somewhere in Mid City. Anyway the four cardinals are "towards the river," "towards the lake," uptown (up river) and downtown (down river). Once one is so oriented it is much easier to get around.

There's a reason why they call this place the Big Easy -- it's just a big, sprawling, lazy place. You'll probably see Jerome Bettis take another painkiller injection in his groin before you see somebody in a hurry in New Orleans. Does anyone even work here? People just amble around ... you're not even really sure where they're going. Usually they aren't carrying anything, and they don't seem to be headed in a specific direction. I've stopped trying to figure it out.

You are in the Quarter during a Tourist event (Superbowl), working locals avoid the area all costs. Those amblers are likely other visitors.

I'm just guessing here, but apparently there are no laws in New Orleans. Porn shops stay open all night. So do liquor stores. And some restaurants. And most strip clubs. Strippers get butt-naked and allow you to grope them within reason (um, not that I'd know or anything). Sex clubs feature performers actually having sex with one another (although they're pretty gross in a "Real Sex on HBO" kind of way -- lots of hairy backs and potbellies ... um, not that I'd know or anything).

You can walk around carrying beers or mixed drinks (vendors even sell them on the street). You can expose yourself in public, without any ramifications or repurcussions (more on this in a second). And just so gamblers wouldn't feel left out, they opened a casino (Harrah's) about three blocks from the French Quarter, which happens to be within walking distance from my hotel. As if my job weren't difficult enough this week...

I mean, is there a more astounding place than Bourbon Street? Maybe the last place in America with no rules whatsover. Even the policemen have given up -- they ride around on horses and have helpless looks on their faces that say "I hope none of these drunks try to tip over my horse." You just can't even imagine what went on there last Saturday night during the beginning of Mardi Gras.

(That's right, Mardi Gras. They're having Mardi Gras this week as well. I'm telling you, I'm not coming back alive.)

Given that I hadn't been here during Mardi Gras and only had a feel for it through two avenues -- 1.) tales from my drunken buddies who have been here, always potentially exagerrated, and 2.) those captivating "Girls Gone Wild!" video commercials on E! -- I always thought Mardi Gras was overrated. Nothing could be that crazy, right?

Well, I'm telling you, it's that crazy.

Perverts packed along the balconies of every bar, screaming at women to pull up their shirts, hurling bead necklaces at them when they oblige. Drunken idiots weaving around like they've just been shot. Gangbangers prowling around, always looking like they're up to something. Transvestites, strippers, hookers and drag queens intermittently wandering around (without anyone batting an eyelash). People throwing up, people making out, people dry-humping against the side of a building. About 15 interactions in the course of an hour that make you say things like "Hey, isn't this how 'The Accused' started off?" And everybody's holding some sort of drink. It defies description.

Sounds like the libertarian ideal to me. And in many ways, during Carnival, it is. The Vieux Carre is one of the safest parts of the city. During big events the cops' avowed mandate is to leave people alone as long as they are not hurting anybody. I remember one Mardi Gras I was part of the throng watching a parade. I was chatting with the fellow next to me, an LA cop on vacation (we may not be that bright be we are friendly), who was in awe of the scene. Thousands of people of all demographics, drinking and jostling for beads and trinkets, were behaving themselves and having a great time. There were 4 or 5 NOPD guys around, smiling and chattting it up with the crowd. My new buddy remarked that in LA they would have firehoses and a phalanx of riot geared cops at such an event.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Testing in Blogger Pro

1,2,3. Oh yeah, on top of Mardi Gras, we've the Superbowl on Sunday and a mayoral election (something like 15 people are in the primary) Saturday. I'll try to opine on each as I get time. Let's hope the Blogger Pro makes things less frustrating.

Monday, January 28, 2002

Throw me somethin’ mister!
Sorry for the comparative dearth of posts. Mardi Gras has begun in earnest around here and I find I have better things to do than stay inside and blog. It was clear and in the mid 70’s Saturday- perfect parade weather. Sunday the Krewe of Carrolton rolled through warm moist and gray weather. We watched with friends on the neutral ground on St. Charles Avenue across from Samuel’s. This was convenient to Lucky’s across the street, who along with making decent bloodies and great burgers, had adequate rest rooms. During Mardi Gras it is critical to secure access to bathrooms somewhere. For me that is as simple as buying a coupla drinks at a bar. Bars and restaurants along parade routes DO NOT let you just come in and use the bathroom, else their heads would get trashed and their customers forced to wait forever. I made good money a few years ago working at a bar which Orpheus passed in the warehouse district. I was hired as bathroom bouncer, tasked with ensuring all people using the bathroom were paying customers. People would be issued a bathroom ticket with their drink. One ticket per drink, one ticket per trip to the bathroom. No tickee, no washee.