Monuments: The Second Council

Sounds a bit like an ecclesiastical synod, doesn’t it?

Is there life after the “Monuments” chapter of “Uncivil Wars” and “Republicans.”? Poking the sillier spots of residents associations running their little hustles or bleating about invisible encroachments on their pampered Quality of Life is one thing, but sticking pins into Republicans, theists, creationists, Confederacy aficionados, coded racism and the sacred myths of the Old South – is that a few steps too far? Do I have to dig out my old copy of Dale Carnegie? Maybe to save myself getting ridden out on a rail, I better head out of town until I can see all those sacred cows in my rear view.

Or else just roll on, in the best Clete Purcell tradition.

In the Monuments saga, the Mayor and the Council took on a serious issue, with ramifications historiographical, philosophical, sociological, political and practical. You have to look hard to find any funny parts. They did not start in perfect agreement, but they arrived at a consensus. CM Cantrell took a pretty severe exception to how it was done. Landrieu had gone a bit autocratic. He admitted it – with reservation, but I’ll call it an admission – and interestingly said, “Even if it was top-down, it was still right.”

They all stepped up to the level of seriousness appropriate to the matter. Stacy Head, who despite some open pressure refused to join the others for a unanimous symbolic vote, was also serious, not just crotchety. She took an unpopular position. She tried to dominate an exchange with Landrieu and Williams, but they did not allow it. She lost with dignity. Her summation was clear. Wrong, but she held her nerve. The summations of the others were excellent. Those of James Gray, Nadine Ramsey and Susan Guidry stand out in my memory, but they were all fine. That day could be this council’s legacy.

The question was: can the Confederate statues remain in their current places (not Liberty Place; there must be an obscenity ordinance to take care of that one) while exposing the fish-belly white underside of the motivation that put them there and simultaneously zooming the viewer forward to now, showing that the Lost Cause is just that – lost?

Confederacy clubbers and preservation fundamentalists suggested explanatory plaques to provide context – a rearguard compromise to keep the four monuments in their current locations. In the second session, one woman from the Monumental Tasks Committee suggested the appointment of committees to draft texts, then public sessions to critique and modify the product of the committees. It still hurts to imagine the literary gems that would emerge from that process.

Text plaques would in any case be too feeble to validate the years of struggle, suffering and death, even starting from 1865. I and some others had suggested counterweighting them with monuments to Civil Rights figures who helped drag us at least part way out of the moral miasma that people like the monument contributors sunk us into. Not just comfortable figures like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Establishment comfort is more often than not part of the problem. Get closer to the edge, with Marcus Garvey, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali. Civil Rights activists and BLM will know many more. Show the nightmares the supremacists and segregationists pushed this country into, and don’t forget to mention that they are still out there. Maybe some of them were right here, in the Council Chamber audience.

It would not work, though. Like some of the public debate in Council, it would be seen as Black v. White instead of a condemnation of racism and oppression.

After the first session, I was wavering.

Early in the second, the one with the vote, I shifted. The Removalists had made their case.

The Lost Causers’ case was a thin, pallid thing expressed in chill speech that they could not bring to life. I heard no serious message from them beyond the catch-all excuse for doing nothing: it’s “history.” A New Orleans cliché: our way is “historical”; yours is vandalism. The Confederacy buffs drop a few extra names, but the message is not new. We sit through hours of that from preservation groups and residential NIMBY clubs.

Slavery would not be a good idea now, they seemed to concede, and maybe the crueler parts of racism are not very nice, but in 1884 and in 1911 and in 1913, if you overlook the humiliation, oppression, brutality and lynching, and think only of these fine gentlemen in their tailored uniforms, fighting to prolong them could be portrayed as a noble cause that we should now continue to honor, commemorate and be proud of, with hand over heart and eyes rolled heavenward.

Rubbish, right?

CM Jason Williams said: Remember history, don’t revere it.

Before the Civil War some people promoted more humane regulation of slavery as an alternative to abolition. Better food and clothing, don’t break up families. They wanted to improve slavery. Some of the anti-relocation people reminded me of that. They wanted respect for the symbols of Jim Crow, even from the victims of the horrific regime they represent.

I wonder whether the opponents of relocation were as unaware as they sounded. At least some of them must know perfectly well what political monuments signify if they consider Augustus or Napoleon or Stalin or Sadam Hussein. Perhaps the vain belief in American exceptionalism, or maybe Confederate exceptionalism, clouds their vision.

Speakers and Council Members observed that the people the statues represent were not the meaning of the monuments. If they were, why is P.G.T. Beauregard pictured in battle for the Confederacy, his military role from 1861 to 1865, when he spent the next 28 years of his life as a prominent citizen, railway engineer, manager and advocate for equal civil rights? Fighting to prolong slavery was not what the ex-General was likely to have chosen as his legacy.

The Civil War monuments are artifacts of the post-Reconstruction rebound that led us into one of America’s too common social crimes, Jim Crow, and that one ain’t over yet.

The dark, immoral path of Confederacy diehards used Lee and Beauregard as symbols and cover for a regime of oppression enforced by official brutality and semi-official lynching that lasted a hundred years explicitly, and still carries on in code. A friend sent me a great quote this week by E.O. Wilson, the great biologist: “We have Paleolithic emotions, Medieval institutions and God-like technology.” Fear and communal dominance are among our Stone Age emotions; public humiliation and punishment and execution are Medieval. If you can find anything God-like in this story, check your theology.

Why were the Sons of the Confederacy not apologizing for their groups’ participation in the obscenity, asking for a chance to atone? At this point in history (the actual process of history, not the preservationists’ “History”), when we understand the outcomes, what point are they making by demanding a little more of the same?

The Confederacy and general preservationists claim that placing a statue is History but relocating it is Not History. Doesn’t compute, does it? Repetition of “Historical,” the poor word they have worn out, is not an argument. Mayor Behan and the supporters of the Lee Monument who attended its unveiling on February 22, 1884 are no more historical than Mayor Landrieu and the Council and citizens for relocation.

Ex-General P.G.T. Beauregard attended the unveiling that day. It would be a decent bet that if he could have been in Council last week to see the effect the Confederate military statues, including his, have on tens of thousands of people in his city, he would have said: move them.

In its day, the Lost Cause put a respectable veneer on a horror story that set social progress back at least three or four generations. Bad ideas weren’t better because they were common in 1884 or 1911. Now, if people want to play mint julep rebel, I guess they can. It might even be fun for some. But don’t let those ideas have a voice in city policy. The social perceptions of a big chunk of White America were as blind and stupid in 1965 as in 1860, and possibly less self-aware. In the opinion of many historians and economists, one of the reasons we do not have national healthcare and the working conditions by law that other advanced countries have is that racial division in the industrial period prevented Americans from standing together in common cause.

Some of the pro-monuments speakers said it was the Generals’ heroism that counts, not the cause. That idea requires moral blindness. Think of condemning ISIS while honoring Jihadi John. The cause was obscene, but he certainly helped it. How does that feel? What message does glorifying soldiering in a bad cause send?

A few argued on behalf of the monuments’ artistic value, but that is not an argument for the locations. No one suggested destroying the statues or selling them to another city, just moving them. Even marbles of Michelangelo have been moved. Alexander Doyle will survive.

In the summations, CM Stacy Head defended the anti-Removalists and their sincere patriotism for their Confederate cause, Lost as it is, thinner, paler and hopefully fading. But their cause has helped sustain destructive social division, oppression, poverty, injustice and crime. Now it is boring and out of date. Sincere attachment to a bad cause doesn’t make it a good cause. Let them lose this round. When the statues are shifted to a Civil War park, the preservationists will have a new site to fuss about and the Confederate clubs can still play in their mental sandbox. They will even have a new event to be indignant about, one of the spiritual pleasures of membership.

Remembered, not revered.

Frequently repeated in the Council sessions: you cannot erase, change or re-write history. That is not really accurate, but you can certainly try to get free of it.

Reevaluation is normal and natural. It is inevitable that secession and the Civil War do not occupy the same chunk of the historiographical landscape that they did 100 years ago. Comparable periodic reevaluation awaits Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Vietnam War, the invasions and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Even the actual events of the USA’s canonical Revolutionary War and its Founding Fathers are continually reevaluated, though that rarely penetrates state education, which generally chooses indoctrination and mythology over critical thinking.

Repositioning the Civil War in New Orleans’ historiographical map is justifiable and desirable for a confident present. For one thing, New Orleans was not even a proper Confederate city. It was occupied in 1862 without firing a shot or suffering a casualty, and was a Union city until the surrender.

For the future, we should be wary of a form of ideological preservation puritanism, that has retarded the country with two dimensional views and two dimensional minds, and can again.

If left where they are, those statues will wedge our divided communities a bit farther apart, ratchet the tension a bit higher, push the chances of reconciliation a bit farther off. Crime will be more likely, hostility more common, polarization, the defense of supremacy and injustice reinforced.

While we might not agree with all Landrieu moves, at least he has the courage to consider himself a player in history, not just a prisoner of it.

Next: Monuments III – The Lawsuit.

© Bob Freilich 12/15

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Republicans

NOLAscape is going national for about 1,500 words.  We’ll swing back to nice things like monuments and trying to protect New Orleans civilization from its greatest non-natural threat: preservation clubs that have slipped their leash and stopped taking their meds. But with the Democrats coming up in a few hours, and signs that the DNC trying to hobble the Sanders campaign (the chairwoman of the DNC is Hilary’s former campaign manager) the Candidates Reality Show is on what’s left of my mind. To those whom I am about to offend, let’s not fall out over it. As New Orleans hero Clete Purcell says, It’s only rock and roll.

Republican “Debate
Did anybody watch the Republican show Tuesday night? Or are they getting too toxic to risk without a mental Hazmat suit?

The first four schoolyard braggarts, the “undercard,” were all about who would kill more Muslims. They could have saved us the yak and decided a winner with a multiplayer ISIS video game. Santorum, Pataki, Huckabee and Lindsey Graham. with names like that, they don’t even need to invent avatars. Graham said elect him, he will wipe out everybody. The others said, “Yeah. Me too.”

Santorum flashed his theological chops to try to explain nuances of Islam, deciding that the US should back the Sunni because there are more of them, and eventually coming out with the notion that Islam is a different kind of religion that the Constitution writers would not have understood, so the First Amendment does not apply to them. The God of the Christians would be in safe hands with President Rick. Don’t know about the rest of us.

No-Fly Zones all around. They would show that Putin who’s boss.

Santorum and Huckabee had a brief pissing contest about who is more Christian. Were these the real candidates, or had SNL smuggled some ringers into CNN”s set? Anyway, they don’t poll four points among the lot of them, so not much danger of having to put up with them much longer.

No-Fly Zone was a big theme of the later debate of nine slightly more nuanced nutters, too.
They all declared ISIS the main threat to life on Earth, and sneered at anyone who might believe otherwise. You don’t see Islamic Jihadis worrying about biodiversity, do you? No ISIS delegation wasting time at the Paris climate conference, right?

The air and water filling up with carbon compounds exceeding the processing ability of depleted forests and plankton – don’t waste time on it. Rapacious resource extraction, from tar sands to overfishing – we can address all that stuff in 300 years. What we need to do now is pump up the world’s biggest ever military even bigger, feed more loot into the bomb-and-drone complex, and kill or deport everybody who doesn’t sign a loyalty oath to Jesus.

People cheer for this stuff. Are about half of Americans really this stupid, or is it just a form of entertaining spectacle for a declining empire? A cock fight with commercials.

So where Is the No-Fly Zone going to be and who is it for? Over all ISIS territory, including the Syrian side of the old border, where Syrian territory is currently protected by the Russian air force? Or just the Iraq side? Or will they draw a wider circle including Turkey, Iran, Armenia, Lebanon? You fly, you die.

No country that has an Air Force is openly pro-ISIS, and ISIS has no planes. If it did, Russia, France or the US would knock them out quick. We can be reasonably certain that anyone who is going to fly anything over Syria, ISIS or Iraq already makes sure the Russian and American air controllers give them clearance, because being chased around the desert until a quick death is delivered by an F-16 or a Sukhoi SU-35 is not the start of a nice day.

So who are they going to shoot down? Besides US sorties, there is the occasional Jordanian mission, an ally attacking ISIS; French planes from their aircraft carrier – an ally attacking ISIS; a couple of Turkish flights – mysterious purposes, but they are NATO; and Russian planes, whose target may not be exactly ISIS, but not US allies, either. If you really think that telling Russia where it can fly over its client state Syria, where it it has been invited by the closest thing to a legitimate government, or actually shooting down Russian planes, are cool tricks, say hello to WW3. Even one of them, Rand Paul, said that.

What happened to Mexicans? Since Paris, Mexicans have lost their bogeyman spot. Syrian Refugees have been promoted. But it’s okay – as long as there is somebody identifiable as “them” by skin tone, an accent or religion, we have our evildoers, and the Republicans will protect us.

I guess it is too soon to say whether Trump will get bored of Syrian refugees and loop back to his Mexican Wall, but if he does, don’t expect one of them to point out walls do about the same thing to stop migration as the War on Drugs did to stop drugs: raise the price, maintain or increase the volume. At the Falls Road in Belfast as in Berlin, walls provoked more violence. They like the Israeli border walls, but they are as bad. People pass with difficulty, but rockets fly over them. Greece put up higher fences to restrict Syrian refugees. One of the results is the Turkish and Syrian equivalent of coyotes charge more and put 13 people on inflatable dinghies designed for six. A Mexican wall would upgrade the coyote industry. It would raise the price and change the entry points.

The Republican primary cage fighters are talking simplified Neocon, the American version of Neoliberal, twist on capitalism championed by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. It seemed a good idea at the time, but has been distorting or destroying economies around the world since. The Neocon version progressed under Cheney, Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, adding preemptive strikes, invasion and imperial domination to the Neoliberal program.

Suppose one of these deranged jingoists calling himself Conservative did announce a No-Fly Zone in the Greater ISIS region to include everyone, except, of course the Exceptional Nation – us. How long would it take the Russian government to declare a No-Fly Zone in the same space that included everybody except them? The Tea Party mentality hears “tough” – but it is plausible that the Republican candidate class does want to restart the Cold War. Or maybe they are just stupid. Which would be worse?

Let’s stick with the traditional American Way. Are we the Exceptional Nation for nothing? Skip all this foreplay. Just invade, make some New Rules, wait for the chaos to get up to a full boil, and bugger off. Neocon Paul Bremer could help with that again. Soon there’s a new President and Congress picking up the pieces, and the military corporations have arranged the right deals.

They were all associating Hillary Clinton with Barrack Obama, as if they were co-Presidents. I guess the plan is to associate her with the hated foreign African Muslim.

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Ben Carson was still there, with decent poll numbers. Amazing. This guy combines science-based education, medical skill and sophisticated wealth management with comic book beliefs that tell him that the Pyramid of Cheops, or Pharaoh Khufu to us post-Hellenics, built around 2550 BC at a cost we can’t even quantify in current economic units, probably about 100,000 slaves and corvée laborers working for 30 years, was really built by a mythological but possibly representative Semitic vizier about 1,000 years after Khufu popped off, not as a tomb but as a grain storage warehouse. The Great Pyramid is a hell of a bread box, but you know: be prepared. Those seven lean cows . . . it was nice of them to wait 30 years to start the famine.

And Doctor Ben is a Creationist! Isn’t that fun? Let’s have one of those for President. Sound on climate and geophysics, are the creationists. They just say it isn’t happening, so no problem. But even if it were, if you can’t solve it by shooting at it, just pray. That should work.

Now I have to copyright the next bit, because I don’t hear it in evolution discussions. It’s mine! Hands off! You see this: ©. So watch out.

If God created species individually, why is each living individual fully equipped with a reliable mechanism of reproductive variation, such that phenotypes that survive gestation will be subject to the ineluctable processes of natural selection? What is the purpose of a setup that not only enables but ensures variation and mutation, if plants, animals, protozoa, archaea and viruses needed individually creating? Maybe Creation was just for gigantic cell+microbe colonies like us, and maybe flowers and animals we like. Evolution is for the tiny guys we can’t see, who have to take care of themselves. Us. We’re different, separately created, stuck in one lousy species for all time. Yeah, I know, one of creationism’s shticks is that there is variation within species but not change of species. That requires maintaining total ignorance of taxonomy, but they like it.

A couple of weeks ago, reporters swarmed on Carson’s beliefs about himself, asking us to wonder whether he Is lying, embellishing or fantasizing – which we all do, to some extent. That seems to matter far more to the Republican mentality than the demonstration that he is willing to “believe” fairy tales and to base big conclusions on no evidence at all. Do you want decisions about your life to be taken by reference to somebody else’s beliefs instead of evidence?

So how can Carson still be a thing? Or is Priebus just messin’ with us?

Bob Freilich December 2015

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Uncivil Wars

  1. The Monuments
  2. Sound and the Silly Season

1. The Monuments
Did you see LaToya Cantrell’s statement on the Confederate Monuments?

Brave stuff.

(Remember that silly flack for VCPORA who said LaToya was afraid of some boring stuff?) I am going to re-print it here, in case you are not on that mailing list, or didn’t see it in the papers, and so I can read it again.

This is the week after, though, not the day before, so let’s set up a context. I watched the Council session, expecting funny parts, comic moments (to me, anyway) about Beauregard and General Robert E. Lee, clichés of Southern mythology, crossing swords with people possibly taking idealized moments of admittedly unattractive history frozen in stone and bronze too seriously, thinking you could finesse history by taking them away instead of superseding them

Turned out not to be funny at all.

The public comment session was acrimonious. Cat-calls, cheers, jeers and boos from both sides, interruptions – unruly stuff. I think they had extra security in, but it didn’t turn physical. We could be stuffy and criticize the verbal rowdiness, but it was a measure of the emotion the issue has released.

Looks like the Civil War has not ended for some among us, not just deadly distorted jerks flashing Confederate flags and guns, and getting into mass shooting from time to time, but respectable, upright citizen types as well.

The conversation broke down largely but not completely into a Black/White divide. A noticeable number of White commenters said, Take them down, they are an embarrassment; and a few African Americans said, leave them; they are part of history; deal with the wrong by placing in context. I read the passion and emotion of the those favoring removal as sincere. Removalists, if I can call them that, were by far the most colorful, expressive, interesting speakers. Some great speakers, like Chuck Perkins, managed to communicate those collective feelings convincingly. We were watching strong drama.

I can’t mention them all. But I can’t omit Dyan French-Cole – Mama D. Enchantment. I can’t understand every line she says, but together, it was music.

There were others. I apologize to the fine speakers I am not mentioning.

LaToya Cantrell came in for some rough handling from Black advocates for removal, saying she had betrayed her race and her ancestors. That was out of order – Political Correctness turned upside down. The last speaker made the point for me. He spoke about poor white people siding with a class that oppresses them, not even knowing why or what they are standing for. Supporting oppression of rich over poor, “just because they are White.” In other words, people have to think. The matter is cheapened if it devolves into Black v. White. There are more than two facets to a full sized question. If people have to choose a side based on racial identity, if they are shamed for saying what they think, there is not much purpose to the open discussion.

Some speakers against removal said, with some justification, where does revisionism stop? What about street names? President Jackson was racist to the point of genocide. Take his statue down and change the name of Jackson Square? The current craving for PC and comfort in everything is starting to turn queasy. A Philadelphia school has just banned Huckleberry Finn – an undisputed great book that Hemingway said was the starting point of all American literature that followed – because the 19th century vocabulary of race and slavery made the kids “uncomfortable.” What kind of real learning is going to take place when history and great literature are trumped by “comfort”?

When I was a kid, I got interested in the Civil War for a time. I got a lot of books out of the library. I read about the higher purpose of the North’s cause, and it’s less noble economic causes. About the alleged nobility of the great Southern officers, their courage in battle, grace in eventual surrender and self-sacrificing devotion  to their Lost Cause. I tried to empathize, To get into an appreciation of the old Southern Way of Life and the defense of the plantation-centered economy. It didn’t work for me. The old model looked like a fantasy overlay to a horror story. Now I think the school history was trying to bridge George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who had to look good, with the same culture 50 years later, when the whitewash had worn off.

Jim Crow, segregation, systematic humiliation reinforced by lynching cast shame over us all. Ancient slave economies had the decency to be remote were in space and time; the South made us feel queasy, because the backlash of slavery clearly had not ended. It was in our country and time. You could drive to it in a day from Philadelphia. But why would you want to?

In some times and places there were ridiculous gradations of what percentage White a person was, sometimes exploited by “both” races, in the binary division of the time, as in Storyville. In the end, I was no more impressed with the 19th century Southern way of life than I am with the Taliban way of life now. When I was a little kid, I even got to see a bit of the tail end of it in Virginia – separate bathrooms and water fountains. I’m not sure segregation at that level was still legally enforced, but the traces were there. I was just little. I had to look away.

New Orleans was probably different. I suspect the war and Reconstruction finished cornering it into the Deep South, but glimpses of another culture showed through.  Storyville toyed with the strange inner demons of White males. Music suffered from segregation, but also played it. The Anglo invasion, Jim Crow and binary racism sent much of the Creole culture into exile.

Now we see racism deeply embedded in right-wing neighborhood associations, in the gentrification process, in the police and “justice” system. One speaker was excellent on New Orleans’ position as the incarceration champion of the world, disproportionately on the backs of the African American population to the point where it is another method of segregation and enslavement. This lingering aftermath of slavery is as shaming as those bathrooms and water fountains in Virginia, and you even have to watch what you say, because White racism has devised a code language of defensive ambiguity. Safest to check who their lawyer is before accusing them in print.

Some of the White opponents of monument removal yesterday were as embarrassing as those separate water fountains. They spoke arrogantly of the Civil War not being about slavery but about States’ Rights – as if there were a difference then. As if States Rights wasn’t code for White supremacy. If slavery or endemic injustice embedded in law were consequences of states’ rights, what difference did it make what you called it? We could say the Taliban is not about suppression of individual rights and brutal punishment, it is about religious freedom. What would that change?

Some spoke about the Confederate generals being brave, capable soldiers; the monuments commemorated their military excellence, not the virtue of their cause. You always have to honor the military, they said. That is a pretty boring idea, too, despite that morning’s ceremonies at Council. Glorifying soldiers without reference to the cause is a destructive cliché in current America, a militarized imperialist country. Now every US soldier backed by incredible weaponry, technology and endless money who menacingly enters a Central Asian village where the US shouldn’t even be is a “hero.” That is not what hero means. I have met men who were partisans in the French resistance when they were young, fighting the Wehrmacht in the forests with no weapons at all, who would not accept that label. The current abuse of the word seems to have started after Vietnam. It isn’t doing us any good.

A chilling thing about these stiff White Sons of the Confederacy was their pride in showing no sympathy for the feelings of the African Americans in the chamber, who were exposing the internalized consequences of these centuries of ugliness in a way we rarely get to see and should have the good sense to value. The Confederate sympathizers, these Deep Southers proud of supposed battlefield bravery and death just blanked the feelings of the people around them. My judgment: they look away to preserve a bubble of illusion. Leaving the monuments in place is a defensible position, but if you seal yourself off from the people around you, your defense is invalidated.

Listening to these guys, I knew that if I spoke or wrote against them, I was up again for the accusation of the fallback refrain, the pedigree. “I am an n-th generation New Orleanian; my great grandfather . . . .” It doesn’t signify much to me, that roots business. It is something like ad hominem against the hominem in question’s great grandad. By my observation, it is used more often – not exclusively but more often – to justify stuff that wouldn’t stay healthy in the light of day than to stand up for good. Edward Douglass White III, the monument on the courthouse steps, was the scion of the establishment since the Revolutionary War and son of a sugar planter, eventually Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and a venomous toad of postwar White terrorism. So much for the moral value of pedigree. Won’t stop them saying it.

One of the White opponents, Jason Sutton I think his name was, said that there was no division and no hot emotions on this subject until the Mayor stirred it up for political purposes a few weeks ago – a stunning disrespect to the African Americans in the audience, telling them that their personal and collective feelings about the Confederacy are artificial constructions just installed in them by a tricky White politician. He was getting a lot of catcalls and delay. Not the Roberts Rules, but if anybody deserved it, it was this guy. I don’t think these Confederacy apologists did themselves any good. Their act was repellent to anyone but themselves.

The tone-deafness was not universal. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Westmoreland, a southerner and fighter pilot, said the Confederacy was a lousy cause that brought the USA close to the death of the nation, and no one deserves honor for participating in that treason, whatever his military skill. In the interests of social kindness and unity, take them down, he said.

Whatever your take on memorial sculpture, blocking out the horrors inflicted by the American White class, especially Southerners, on African Americans is simply delusional – a pustulant mental deformity. And stubbornly blanking the validity of the social and personal emotions of many thousands of your fellow residents of this city, including those present in the same room, is repugnant and stupid.

But there were some others, African American, European American and New Orleans American, who thought, Let’s leave the damned statues stand and do something else to put them in their historical place by explaining history since then. Let’s not blank out the post-Reconstruction ugliness: let’s lay some shame on it.

First, let’s refresh on CM Cantrell’s message, then carry on.

December 9, 2015

“I would like to clarify any speculation from the public at large about my position on the monuments.

“I am opposed to the current ordinance before Council that will remove four of the multiple Confederate monuments and memorials of our city. The reason I am opposed is because it was not a community driven process based on the concerns of citizens. This idea was thrust upon the City and the Council from the top down after it was created by a small, select group of individuals.

“There was no movement rising up to demand this action. There was no willingness to take into account people’s outrage about other symbols of racism not included in this ordinance. There was no discussion on whether one or two of the selected monuments might be more offensive than others.

“Rather, it was determined to be necessary by leadership from the privilege of power. This is not fair.

“I also oppose this ordinance because it is a distraction from the real issues I hear about every day that need to be addressed:

  • that parents fear for their children who might get shot or assaulted;
  • that our roads create a nightmare out of our daily commute and challenge small businesses during the holiday season;
  • that over 70% of our citizens pay over 30% of the income for housing;
  • that blight remains unresolved in our most challenged communities;
  • that our city is in awash in illegal guns;
  • that we as a city need to pay our debt to citizens who have been waiting for court settlements for many years;
  • that restaurants have had to hire security so that people will be willing to patronize their restaurants without fear of armed robbers;
  • that children on playgrounds are unprotected;
  • and last but certainly not least, that we have to take radical and immediate measures to have a sustainable future in New Orleans.

“Finally, I oppose this ordinance as it has been written and debated because it divides us into two groups: ‘for’ and ‘against.’ In my many years of working in the neighborhood, my leadership was always informed by a diverse public who provided insights on the way forward. From this inclusive process, we succeeded in rebuilding a community that people had given up for lost.

“As leaders, we need to move New Orleans forward by addressing the needs of citizens and by building the trust and the determination of all of the people to work together so we can become a welcoming, inclusive, equitable, and tolerant city.”

Tough, bold and in view of the flack she took from some of the speakers, that she would have known was coming, brave. Note Ms Cantrell does not say the monuments should never be relocated. She says, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right, and let’s get the priority list in order.

I had some ideas to throw into the ring. I guess it looks like a compromise, but I thought of them in the first days of the Mayor’s campaign. I say it with some diffidence, because as much as I would stand with the African American experience and not that of the apologists for the oppression, I obviously can’t actually share it, Yet with another instinct, I favor the reality of history. I can’t favor whitewashing.

  • These statues, whoever they represent, are memorials to the shameful, even criminal intentions and repression that gripped too much of the “respectable” South from 1877 until 1965, when it gradually slithered underground, but is not yet gone. There is a risk of whitewashing that history if you hide the statues away. Would it be better to out it publicly, or give it a place to hide?
  • If you take them down, start with Edward Douglass White on the courthouse steps at 400 Royal Street. Even if the city doesn’t own the statue, find a way. The military guys seem to have been decent chaps according to the regional standards of their time. White, however, eventually Chief Justice White, is real short on redeeming qualities.  When Lee surrendered, he surrendered. White joined white supremacist underground movements to reinstate subjugation of African Americans through terror and murder. Eventually, as Chief Justice in Plessy v. Ferguson, he capped his career of subverting national law and undermining the fragile beginnings of a potentially decent society by confirming establishment of the hideous Jim Crow sickness, of which the United States is not yet free. (Check Scalia for latest update.)
  • For Lee Plaza and maybe the others, consider inaugurating a period to supersede the Lost Cause. Perhaps Recovery or Rediscovery. Found Cause. Surround Lee’s high perch with statues of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Angela Davis, Barrack Obama, Assata Shakur, Julian Bond, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali and James Baldwin. New Orleans likes to identify with music so the choice becomes wider. I would nominate Billie Holiday and Nina Simone for a spot, just to test old Robert E’s stony civility.
  • Say what the Confederate statues stand for on clear plaques: not just to commemorate the people they represent and their military service from 1860 to 1865. They commemorate the repellent immorality of the people that put them up. One guy  even read out some of their names, as if that was going to improve their standing. Even if you have some respect for Robert E. Lee, it is hard to respect the indecent intentions of the people that stuck him up on that stone pillar. If General Lee of the Lost Cause could return to life for a day or an hour, even he might say, “This exaltation is not right. We were wrong, and we lost.” Let the purpose of the monuments be clear.
  • If the explanatory text is too long, so some products of American education can’t get to the end, have an alternative plaque that says: “You lost again, motherfucker.”
  • Put up some monuments to the Creole culture, before Anglo White supremacy had re-set New Orleans race politics to Deep South Binary: Black v. White. Without the English North American dominance and the War’s forcing Louisiana to join the Deep South, and Edward Douglass White and the ilk, New Orleans might have come through the upheavals better.

That was my idea. Having seen the passionate animosity of some of our very interesting people Thursday, I might say, if they care that much, let’s do it. But it won’t end the Civil War.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

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2. Sound and the Silly Season
Talking about music, the noise ordinance must be coming back into the frame. The police are showing signs of the kind of goofy behavior that used to go on in the beginning of the last phase of the Sound Wars, when they got into all sorts of confused, complaint-driven “enforcing,” much of it unconstitutional as well as unconscionable.

After the Paris attacks, NOPD decided that a defense against potential terrorist activity was to open the daytime Royal Street Mall to car traffic. That would show global jihad! Or maybe allow the emergency services to cope with the aftermath faster, if the event was on Canal and the EMS truck was at CC’s having coffee. The thought process behind this is probably one nobody is ever going to admit to or publish details of, so speculation is a reasonable amusement. If the EMS truck had to drive through Royal, not having the movable barriers up might save up to two seconds of barrier shifting, as opposed to several minutes getting around the cars that would be in its way if the street were open to traffic.

Somebody in the police or their boss’s office spotted the silliness of this pretty quickly, so NOPD instructed reinstatement of the daytime mall. But the movable barriers had been chained up and locked to a post. The Royal Street buskers can’t find out who is in charge of them. Commander Walls of the 8th District says his men do not place the barriers. That is for the health department. So MaCCNO called for a demo Sunday morning, and somehow they found the guy with the key.
A MaCCNO director had suggested the street artists bring Jazz Fest chairs Sunday to make their own barrier. That sounded a bit pale to me. I suggest a mini-parade of people in costumes with lots of feathers and a bolt cutter, and a chain-cutting ceremony to the accompaniment of a loud chorus of Iko Iko. Elect the mental wizard who couldn’t find the key as Lord of Royal Misrule. Sober heads say no – somebody would go to jail for destroying city property. I thought, What? Four bucks worth of chain? Bring a spare, give it to the city as a donation.

So are some people in municipal government messin’ with the buskers, or is it just standard ordinary municipal muddle? Time won’t tell. Nobody will admit to anything.

On Frenchmen Street meanwhile, some uniformed crusaders forced the street’s brass band to close down. I believe the reason given was: curfew.

Dum-da-dum-dum. Curfew is a bad law, unconstitutional. The City Attorney tried to get it amended out, but with some rambunctious assistance from VCPORA and that lot, Council balked. The Attorney bypassed the legislative failure, instructing police not to enforce. So what’s going on?

A Frenchmen Street business association hired Pinnacle Security to provide a two man patrol to shut down unlicensed vendors or vendors using technically incorrect sites, and incidentally keep an eye out for any crimes they can deter. But they are only on duty Friday and Saturday night, and the incident did not take place on either of them. NOPD says they didn’t do it, but witnesses say the officers who shut them down were wearing NOPD uniforms. It would not be easy to confuse city police, deputy sheriffs and state troopers, so what’s going on?

That damned elusive Pimpernel. I guess we will never know who the phantom brass band hunters really were.

Then just to make sure we don’t miss the start of Silly Season, several of New Orleans’ Finest in pursuit of their sacred duty to protect us from harm busted a four year old girl’s birthday party in Lakeview at 5.30 on a weekend afternoon. As far as I can pick up from gossip and rumor, some of our best sources, the stimulus was ten (yes, 10) calls to 911 complaining about kids playing guitars in their own back yard. And at least one of the pretexts was, did they have a license for outdoor music? Legal nonsense, of course. You don’t need to involve City Hall in a kid’s party in your own garden. It was not commercial or at unsociable hours. Even the Perdido Palace license selling offices haven’t said you need a rubber stamp from them to play a bit of music at a children’s birthday in a back yard on a weekend afternoon.

So what kind of people would insistently call 911 about a kid’s party in daytime? What aliens live among us? And what is with the cops, who probably thought it a ridiculous expedition but gave in to the complainer anyway? In Lakeview! Down here in the riverside neighborhoods, complaining has been institutionalized. It is a major function of neighborhood associations. They elect special officers to do it professionally. They would scoff at ten 911 calls. Two maximum, then sue for disturbance of the peaceful enjoyment of a blank mind. Go to City Hall with a PowerPoint. Arrange a TV interview and some radio talk shows. Unlicensed kids! What are we coming to? That is not “historical.” And at least four weeks notice of the application, with enough time for public comment, so we can generate another useless rumble. The NAs will demand a licensing process to include at least one off-duty officer for security and surveillance by Sound Check, the Health Department’s new sound police.

So it’s silly season again. Shhh! No music outside. Construction machinery, leaf blowers, weed choppers, heavy trucks, motorbikes – whatcha gonna do? But a guitar or a horn – off to the parish!

Yes, this used to be New Orleans, and still looks like it, but we have moved on.

I take this officious authoritarian farce as a sign that a Noise Ordinance will bubble up again soon. There is something about sound that brings out the absurd in officialdom. Noise ordinances hit the reptilian brain at an even lower level than the Trump campaign.

VCPORA and other advocates for turning chunks of the city into quiet retirement communities and orderly cemeteries will be writing drafts and submitting them to their favorite council members. How they must miss the sunny Clarkson days, when a legislative director could just look at the cover page of VCPORA’s draft and initial it on to Council. Now a tougher breed of CMs send their stuff to the round file and try to write real laws.

© Bob Freilich, December 2015

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Six Easy Pieces

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Did you see the resurrection of 007 at DBA Friday night? Maybe even rebirth, if we’re lucky. A lot of the liveliest of the downriver population was there. I don’t qualify for that, but I managed to lean against the wall and watch. People dancing to the Rock Steady beat for almost four hours. Mostly women. I was falling in love with them all at once. I think I saw Patty Hearst in the crowd, and then not far away, Monica Lewinsky. Big crowd.

If you weren’t there, you may be missing an important stepping stone on your spiritual path. If you don’t agree with everything in NOLAscape, consider meditating more to catch up.

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Plastic shopping bags

I get to agree with CM Susan Guidry about something! A rare privilege. Ms Guidry always seems an honorable person and a good Council Member, but she keeps on supporting the preservation fundamentalists of the French Quarter. Simplistic, paranoid, sanctimonious, narrow, they are repeatedly outed as cynically immoral organizations tainted by racism, impairing the life of the city, but somehow still hold on to some shreds of credibility. Trump-like survival of serial indecency. They are to serious urbanism what a suicide belt is to a Sufi, but Ms Susan keeps supporting them. I would suggest she spend more time thinking about CM James Gray’s wise advice: there are people you just can’t run with.

But charging for shopping bags – yes! Or ban them. They are not just litter. They have become almost indestructible major pollutants. The billions of them in landfills will take millennia to rejoin earth chemistry, maybe even await the evolution of microorganisms that can digest them, and the hundreds of millions that escape landfill and recycling are fouling forests, rivers and the sea. Recycling does not help that much, because the resultant product is another immortal polyethylene artifact.

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Walmart particularly seems determined to fill the world with them. If you buy three things, they give you four bags.

Are five and ten cents enough? Won’t Rouse’s or Wholefoods shoppers who left their reusable totes in the car just pay 10 or 20 cents instead of taking the walk out to get them? And do people on benefits really need free ones? Just because they are on benefits does not mean they are unaware of pollution. I wonder if it is really a hardship to rustle up a bag or two, or re-use their free carriers. Maybe it will take care of itself. Like seat belts, drunk driving and dog poop, reusable bags will probably be reinforced by social pressure as well.

(But what will you pick up after your dog with if you don’t have all those free bags?)

Nemmind. Most people quickly learn to like reusable shopping totes. It’s a good move.

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Pole numbers:

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There is pressure to harden enforcement of a rule that prohibits women under 21 from dancing in the “adult” clubs, stemming from Covenant House’s director Jim Kelly, who promoted the law in the first place about 20 years ago.

According to an Advocate article a few months ago and other news at that time, Mr Kelly renewed his attention to the measure after a dancer at Stiletto’s was found murdered. Sounds like a typical exercise in crisis exploitation to me. Shock Doctrine. How is the crime risk related to age? Are women less at risk at 21 than at 20?

Some council members got on it pretty quick. I wonder if they were testing the popular response. What I recommend considering, and I hope we can get some more voices on this: drop it.

Justifications so far include human trafficking and the sex trades, and also the 21 yr. drinking age.

Kelly runs a Catholic charity. I am sure it does fine work. Covenant House has had a scandal or two, but that is not a disqualifier. Anybody who still expects universal purity in a population of priests and lay catholics (any more than any other large group) has been asleep the last three decades, and dozing five or six centuries before that. I accept that they do fine work, and perfection is not required.

Nevertheless, the young and homeless who come to Covenant House for help and shelter come because they decide they want its help, not because Mr Kelly sponsored a law requiring them to be there. We should be very careful with compulsion. It always comes with unintended consequences.

I have no more knowledge of sex slavery than what we see in the news, but it seems a bogus association. The people in that business are not going to be baffled by some extra enforcement of pole dancing rules in one medium-sized city. At best, it will help the citizens of the Respectable Tendency feel a bit more smugly righteous. It seems to my innocent imagination that making a decent living in the clubs is probably more a protection from than a path to the industry. Trafficking is a crime. It is a job for police, not for a religion-linked virtue crusade.

Mr Kelly brings up the legal drinking age. That is what should be changed. No other significant western country enforces the ridiculous age of 21 to be allowed to order a beer. Most of Europe allows teens over 16 to order beer and wine in public places, and distilled drinks at 18. South America and Mexico are 18. Rare among EU countries, the UK regulates drinking age at home. The minimum age for wine and beer at home is five. (I don’t think this law gets a lot of attention in the country.)

The outcomes in America are no better than other countries. There is no benefit to the embarrassing provincial puritanism but to placate the unattractive stiff-necked American Gothic prairie mythology. Italians, French and German kids are not more drunk and disorderly than ours. And since the U.S. has locked itself into a quasi-permanent state of war, with military industries a major mainstay of the economy, our kids enjoy the special privilege of permission to be killed for country and capitalism, but not to order a beer in their local pub. Let’s change that first.

A real story: a young woman, just under 20, who works in one of the “adult” clubs is the sole support of three children (not her own; she is too young) and her mother. She has no other marketable skills or qualifications that would get her anything above minimum wage in a service industry job, but she is attractive and can move well. She can persuade strangers to like her from a stage and tip generously. If Kelly has his way, that is one girl out of a job, five people on food stamps, five people moving from okay to poverty. Is that really the right thing to do, just to reinforce the tired old puritanism that America can’t get out of its head, even though it is only a noisy minority of us that want to live or aspire to that life?

Come on, Council – let this one go. Don’t encourage another little puritan seizure which will do nothing for anybody. Let the preachers sermonize. Let them tsk-tsk and tub thump until the pious feel real good about themselves. Then, let’s separate church and city as well as church and state.

People with an evangelical zeal to sell their model of virtue may be unable to stop themselves from trying to impose it. But one of the implications of the separation principle is that governments should defend us from that. Puritanism and evangelicalism have done enough damage to America. Let’s try to awaken from that bad dream.

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One of the fine things about New Orleans now is that Wendell Pierce has become a national star with a national level forum, and is taking an interest in city things. Mr Pierce is perceptive, articulate and the city is deep in his blood. I suspect he can sense things quickly that I have to look at and think about long and hard to see what is right.

A couple of months ago, Pierce got into it with FMIA, one of the most enthusiastically toxic of the fundamentalist neighborhood clubs, but fortunately not all that effective. They were as usual trying to mess something up. Prevent, obstruct, block, shut down: that’s the life of these cults. I think our hero soundly kicked their ass, but it can be hard to tell. FMIA’s current officers and board had gone off the rails.

Mr Pierce wrote an editorial for NBC News. Everybody has probably read it by now – but read it again. Brylski and the other participants in the meetings summarized in her memo are not replying to the racism allegations. They are letting the reliable modern media-trained short attention span deal with that.

Lest we forget, the names of the participants: Meg Lousteau. Patricia Meadowcroft. Carol Gniady. Susan Guillot, Cheron Brylski. They must not be let off the hook of that memo without appropriate penance and change. If you give them a pass, you are a contributor to the damage they will continue to do. Preservation of the artifacts of history is good. With some time in exile to re-find it and some evidence that they have, perhaps they might be allowed a probationary period in public life. Until then, a council member that supports them should be under suspicion as well.

I remember a serious city official involved in Downtown administration telling me once that the Quarterites and FMIA ganging up on Habana Cafe were not only all the things I called them, but deep-down racist as well. Even I thought at the time, maybe that was too harsh. VCPORA has a racist history, but surely they were past that now.

As Ms Brylski kindly informed us, nope. Still there. They haven’t been able to come up with the courage to address any of the points of shame, except for their president Meadowcroft’s assertion, believed by no one, that they had nothing to do with it. That Brylski thinks up this dark and dirty stuff all on her own and tries to corrupt the innocent.

If they would respond politically, I suspect their answer would be that they are not racist or even divisive, just realistic about racial perceptions in our society and politics. Just swimming in these dangerous waters, trying to survive. A most genteel Realpolitik.

How is that working for you? Do you believe it? Is it even different?

I didn’t think so.

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Sound Check

We seem to be going all magazine in this NOLAscape. Maybe it’s a good way.

MaCCNO has published a nice guide on current sound law, to help musicians and police to understand the rights and restrictions that apply. That’s good.

Be careful, though. The city government is running a program called Sound Check, under the health department. Teams are measuring sound in music venues and bars, taking notes, handing out pamphlets telling people about hearing damage and side effects. The ostensible mission is to identify problems and increase public awareness. Does that pass the sniff test? What if the real mission is to compile data to justify recommendations of the consultant they put on, Monica Hammer, to replace or displace the recommendations of Dave Woolworth, which were about music and the city’s soundscape? Woolworth’s decibel recommendations didn’t come out low enough to suit some people, most noisily the chronic troublesome tribes of FQ residentialism, so in the death throes of the antic Clarkson Council, the decent ordinance fell over. The administration hobnailed in to take another tack, working within the increasingly salable nanny frame, the public health wheeze, that brings us smoking bans and jaywalking violations, instead of a paradigm built around art, entertainment and city life.

Council members have indicated a new noise ordinance may come up in early 2016. With Christmas decorations up everywhere, that feels like in about a minute. Sound Check’s recommendations for music may turn out okay, but they may also be no more than some indigestible pages and a fallback to OSHA stuff, maybe even misquoted and misrepresented, as Nathan Chapman used to do last year.

Expect some of your neighbors and friends, and a lot of the NOLAscape Most Unwanted list to be out in force again, seeking authority to tell you what you can’t do.

That’ll be bar and street music in the crosshairs. I doubt they will be messing with orchestras or the opera.

I wonder what will happen when some bright spark of a medical consultant finds some disadvantageous trace chemical in oil paints, or maybe only in yellow colors, and yellow gets ordered out of art. When they discover that marble dust can get up your nose, welding torches are hot, chisels can cut and bronze foundries generate fumes, so sculpture in hard materials is too risky for Americans.

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The Trump Body Count

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This could be a regular feature: who is Trump going to kill, deport, defeat, lock up or beat up this week? It could run until he either gets squeezed out as a sociopath, or wins, which would probably mean it’s over.

Trump Victims of the Week are the families of ISIS fighters.

“ . . . you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”

I am waiting for operational details. Will Trump-branded bombs carry DNA detectors, so he hits the right wives, mothers, fathers and children? Or will he use the wedding drone system, which has been tested eight times, where you just kill a bunch of families and figure the odds are somebody could have been related to a terrorist.

Trump kill lists generally start with whose stupid actions he will correct by killing or deporting somebody. This time it’s Obama, who “doesn’t know what he is doing.”

No Sunni nationalist adherent of a religion lauding martyrdom would dare attack again after our armies killed some more of them. Yep, threatening them with American and Nato attack has been doing a great job for the past 15 years.

One answer to Islamic jihadism is: Dylan Roof, George Zimmerman, Robert Dear, now Syed Farook and Tashwan Malik, and of course some of our trigger happy cops.

Is Trump a symptom of a national homicidal nuttiness? Americans cheerfully kill each other in droves, with inattentive driving and gun violence, then go completely crazy about the threat from an enemy our military, used as a tool of corporatist empire by the sociopathic Neocons, roused and provoked.

The 2013 body count:

Firearms:
> 84,258 nonfatal injuries
> 11,208 deaths by homicide
> 21,175 by suicide with a firearm
> 505 deaths due to accidental discharge of a firearm
> 281 deaths due to firearms-use with “undetermined intent
Total of 33,169 deaths related to firearms, not counting police killings.

Road crashes
> 32,719

So pollution, climate, drought in the West and about 66,000 deaths a year, many of them by murder, inattention or stupidity. We ourselves make ISIS look pretty punk at the killing game.  We’ll be seeing what the clique of lunatics offering political blowjobs to the Republican base for the nomination says today. The NRA and the politicians on its payroll say it’s not cheap access to murder weapons and the mentality that their ownership reinforces. It’s a mental health problem.

I agree. The street gun mentality, the NRA and the Second Amendment are the mental health problem.

(c) Bob Freilich, December 2015

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