05 November 2022

Up Yours Benson

The Saints are leaving. We'll have some up and down days, some "maybe they will, maybe they won't" interim time, but they're really gone. Benson is a repellent, ungrateful foolish asshole extortionist. Even if he stays he will demand money in subsidies that the city and state don't have to give him. Or, they have it, and think it might be spent better on people who have lost everything-- not on car salesmen with big yachts and millions of dollars in the bank. The team is gone. We all know it, and we might as well get used to it. It's building in me an enormous disdain for San Antonio, a town I used to kind of like. But if Benson wasn't happy with New Orleans revenues, he's going to love San Antonio-- a smaller Dome, no commensurate tourism or industry, fewer and lesser hotel rooms and fewer and much lesser restaurants and less convention business, and fewer, I might add, luxury suites. Let that fat old bastard Benson go-- and bad luck to him. He'll be known forever as the guy who, confronted with the worst crisis in his hometown's history, turned and ran. The city has given him years and years of goodwill and forebearance for the love of a team that has one exactly one playoff game in nearly 40 years. He's given the city a sucker kick to the gut while it was down. I wonder if the fans in Texas, which already has two other football teams, will be a fourth as tolerant as the poor people he's so willing to to abandon to their destitution. Wait 'til the San Antonians have to pony up $75 to watch a team blow a game. I kind of hope-- as Ray Nagin does-- we get what Cleveland got a few years back. Let us keep the name and the logo. But I don't tink that will happen. I think the best we can hope for is a name and logo change-- like what happened when the Oilers left Houston to become the Tennessee Titans. Let Benson move his team of jerkwads to Texas and become the San Antonio Salsa, or the Banditos or whatever the fuck they want to call themselves. Seeing the fleur de lis on the helmets of a team belonging to another city would break my heart. But hell, the Utah "Jazz" still pisses me off. I'm cranky in general. Benson's people are laying the groundwork already. Marketing in Baton Rouge for the games here has been non-existent. I haven't seen one ad. And the game on Halloween is against Nick Saban's Dolphins-- with Ricky Williams back in the lineup. There's only one reason the team isn't pushing this matchup. They just don't want the state to look like it can sustain the Saints. The San Antonio games were "sold out" due to lots of relief organizations and charities giving away tickets they were given. But the organization isn't even giving Baton Rouge a chance. I have tickets to all four games here. I bought them when I was proud the Saints were going to make an effort to play in the state, when I thought they might be serious about sticking around and helping us rebuild. I'm toying with sending them to Benson. With expletives scrawled on them. But I won't. I'll go to the games. I'll wear my Saints hat and yell my head off. Enjoy myself while I have the chance, and do my part to poke holes in the notion that the team had no support. And I'll say goodbye. Just another damn leave-taking necessitated by this storm. There have been a lot of them these days.

27 June 2020

Not Real Work...

Friends and family and acquaintances ask me from time to time what it is I'm working on, and I find from time to time that I go on far too long discussing the very fine nuances of what I'm up to. It's a dissertation, after all. I can explain it short ("Nature and Text") or I can explain it long (Please see final dissertation copy, due on file at LSU in January 2010).

But I've found a way to do a pretty easy and fun shorthand: graphic word clouds of my writing. This program selects out the words I use most in the work I'm doing, and arranges them in little clusters, with the most frequently-used terms in the biggest type.

Here, for example, is what my prospectus looked like (it's changed since then. A lot. I'm not going to go into how):

Here's a draft chapter I did on Deep Ecology:

Here's a cloud for some work I'm doing on Thoreau:

Here's some work I'm doing on John Wesley Powell and Deleuze:

Last ones. An article I wrote on Kant and the commodification of the sublime in wilderness:

And an article I'm working on about Marx, Nietzsche and Badiou and their ethical (horrors!) response to Callicles's challenge in the Gorgias:

There. That should clear it all up.

Now: back to work generating more of this kind of thing.

At Sword's Point

It's going to be beautiful outside this weekend, so naturally I'm spending it inside. All day today I'm on deadline for a magazine piece I'm writing. The piece should have been a breeze, but it hasn't been. I'm not getting the words and the structure to do what I want them to do. Now, though, I'm up against a deadline, so I'm going to do the best job I can in terms of execution and send it. Better to be good and on time than brilliant and too late to publish. Editors don't like that stuff, and I like this editor, so best to be as pro as I can be. I'll go into the content and treatment when it's closer to publication, but I love the magazine it's running in-- one of the best around these days.

Tomorrow, I'm fencing in the Crescent City Open, as an unrated épeeist. I thought the tournament would be challenging for me, especially considering I haven't fenced competitively in 12 years. But I had no idea this would turn into such a huge event. According to the AskFred information site for fencing nerds, this could be an A2 event.

For those of y'all not familiar with fencing arcana-- it's the third to highest-rated competition. Fencers work hard to earn their ratings from A to E. It usually reflects one's experience and ability. To win an A rating requires winning a major tourbament, for the most part. A fencers, naturally, are very, very good. An A rating is hard to come by. Bs also mean excellent fencing. Cs and Ds mean competent guys, and Es mean good enough to have done pretty well once or twice in small tournaments.

I'm unrated.

In the épee division, of 57 entries, 17 are As and Bs. I'm in a lot of trouble. Even to earn an E rating in this size tournament, one would have to finish in the top 12. That's not going to happen unless a lot of As and Bs beat up on each other, and then I manage to get extraordinarily lucky with more than one of them, which I don't see happening. But it should be fun anyway.

The tournament starts at 8 a.m. at the Hilton on Poydras. If you're bored, come on by. Don't cost nothin'. But be quick if you want to see me. I suspect I may get eliminated quickly enough to walk down to CDM and get a consolation cafe au lait and plate of beignets for second breakfast.

But my new épee arrived today from Leon Paul (in busted carton-- thanks US Postal Service in NYC). It is, if I may say so, beautiful. Maybe I'll fence better with it (kind of like relying on new shoes to run fast, but...)

I am the champ

That's what I was telling myself yesterday-- if not always at the most appropriate times. I'll explain:

I adopted a policy-- suggested by another fencer-- that I not check the ratings of the other fencer before my matches. That is, I didn't want to know that I was fencing A or B rated fencers. It gave me an excuse to lose the match, if that makes any sense.

So my second match was really hard fought-- the two of us trying everything we could to win the touches. I finally won by controlling my distance as the other fencer threw a fléche at me. I retreated, parried and threw a riposte right off the mask. Good touch. After we had saluted and unmasked, the rest off the pool gave me awed looks and kept saying things like: "Wow. Terrific bout, man." I thanked them, but wondered what the big deal was. Then another Baton Rouge fencer took me aside and murmured: "Dude, you just beat the pool's A fencer." I was, of course, stunned. And thrilled. This was the first A fencer I've beaten in serious competition.

Two matches later, I did the same to the (unknown to me) B fencer. At this point, the rest of the pool is wondering, "Who is this 'unrated' fencer beating up on everyone?" And in my head I was shouting something like: "I AM THE MOTHA@#$%ING CHAMP! WHO AM I? My name is YOUR DOOM! COME AND MEET ME!"

I promptly lost the rest of my matches.

To E-rated and unrated fencers-- all of whom I should have beaten, but who sandbagged me by using my innate impatience against me. And it worked. Julie and Lucy showed up just in time to see me lose my last bout of the day. But Lucy was a huge hit with the other fencers-- especially when she demanded "Knuckles, Uncle Richmond!" and hit fists with me afterward.

In short I fenced really well--better than I had anticipated-- and had a lot of fun. There's something there for me to build on.

The rest of the day involved lunch, wandering by the Louisiana in Words presentation party at the Maple Leaf, a couple of cups of coffee, and dinner at my sister's house. Not a bad Sunday at all.

Flood Insurance Misconceptions

The Times Pic ran a story Saturday that should, in all justice, go a long way toward making some of New Orleans's worst detractors in Washington and the rest of the nation shut the hell up about "having to bail out people too stupid to buy insurance." New Orleans has the highest flood insurance rate in the country-- 67 percent on average, compared with a five percent average nationwide. Five. That is, the flooded areas of metro New Orleans had 1300% the flood insured rate of other areas in the country. And that includes other flood prone areas. The damaged areas in Mississippi only had 30% of the damaged homes covered. Little whining about helping those guys. I'll quote some of the article:
In fact, as Katrina has made clear, Louisiana is a standout success in a nation where the vast majority of people living in high-risk areas don't buy flood insurance.

Consider Jefferson Parish, where Metairie became the first community in the nation to join the flood insurance program in 1969. Of the top 100 flood insurance markets, Jefferson Parish has the highest market-penetration rate in the country, with 84 percent of all single-family homes covered by the program, according to an analysis of flood insurance and census data by The Times-Picayune.

Also in the top 10, in terms of market penetration: St. Bernard Parish, ranking eighth with a 68.4 percent rate, and Orleans Parish, 10th with 66.7 percent. Altogether, six Louisiana parishes have market penetration rates that rank in the nation's top 25.

At the other end of the spectrum is Harris County, home to Houston. Though Harris County has generated the third-highest number of repetitive flood claims in the nation -- after Jefferson and Orleans parishes -- its penetration rate for federal flood insurance is 25 percent.

There's a lot more, of course, about how the federal flood insurance program is a wreck-- unable to cover the damages it purports to insure, and how it encourages people to continue settling in flood-prone areas. The whole article is worth a read, though. Jeffrey Meitrodt and Rebecca Mowbray did a really thorough job researching the piece, explaining how the system works, and then showing how it affects individual people. It's what reporting at its best is supposed to do.

It's at:http://www.nola.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news-5/1142756509159350.xml?nola

In other sad news, a friend of my brother was shot to death by a shotgun blast to the chest in Marigny as he returned to his car yesterday morning around 4 a.m.. The gunman demanded money, and as he and his friend turned over their wallets, the guy shot him anyway. Police are looking for him now.

The city is really dangerous still. Be careful out there. At least as careful as you were before the storm.

Merry Christmas, Allstate Douchebags...

So the Bowl Championship Series, the shadowy entity that inscribes algorithms on the entrails of live goats to determine the will of the gods as to whom they wish to see play for the NCAA football championship, has made its selection. Florida will challenge Ohio State. Nice. Michigan will play USC in the Rose Bowl. Fun.

Most interesting of all: LSU will play Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. LSU fans, naturally, are thrilled. It's going to be a good matchup, close to home. The Dome will be packed with LSU fans.

That sound you heard was a bunch of Allstate management executives mumbling something like "Yuh-oh..." It was followed by a clatter of leather laceups as said management scramble not to represent the company at the game.

Here's why: LSU fans tend overwhelmingly to be from, well, Louisiana. Many of them from South Louisiana

The exact region, that is, where the Sugar Bowl's sponsor, Allstate Insurance, has been doing its diligent best to rip off its policy holders. From attempting to cancel basic hurricane insurance for 30,000 households to putting the corporate hammerlock on people who don't also carry Allstate car insurance, the company has been behaving like a pack of soulless, grasping, tin-pot bullies. The kind of smiling, suit and tie greedheads that will burn slow if there's any justice in the afterlife.

But really, I don't care about the afterlife. I pity the poor fool, the chump, the management asskiss, who will have the honor of representing Allstate at the game.

It will be a beautiful opportunity to rain fire on those assholes before a national audience. With LSU's tradition of



sober merriment

at football games, I'm sure Allstate has plenty of room to hope the boos will be gentle, polite and short.

Merry Christmas you corporate insurance douchebags. Better spend the holidays praying you're not the suit who draws the short straw...

Bringing Hope to a ravaged city and blahblah blah... bromide...fatuousness...

I've developed a weird tic in the year after the storms. (Well, honestly, probably more than one, but this is a good one, so I shall focus on it.) I'm talking to myself. But the talk is specific. At odd moments in the day, I find myself assuming a deep, resonant tone and commenting on my actions:

"And now, I shall chuck my empty Abita bottles in the recycle bin-- bringing hope to a region devastated by Hurricane Katrina." or "I am trying to find a pair of jeans that isn't noticeably dirty-- an act that is part of 'The New Normal' in post-Katrina Louisiana..." or "Cleaning the toilet-- just one more task to accomplish as the city tries to rebuild..."

I can do this because I live alone.

My point is: in the eyes of the media, anything anyone does in or for New Orleans has tremendous redemptive symbolic value. Painting a door. Picking up some trash. Doing a benefit. Making a first down. Blocking a punt (well, that one really did help, I guess...).

But I'm carrying over what I hear on TV and the radio and read in the papers to my daily activities. And I'm being drawn into the vortex of hopey cliché. (It's kind of like what I went through during the whole "...or the terrorists will have won" period after the al-Qaida attacks here: "If that waitress doesn't come back soon with my bourbon on her tray, the terrorists will have won...")

The sympathy is nice; please don't misunderstand. It's much better than neglect, or worse-- blame for living where we live and doing things the way we do them. But let's not delude ourselves, please, about the value of sympathetic words. And let's be wary of the value of symbolism. Sure, the Dome is loud, but there's a lot of rot and chaos and despair and pain in the city around it. I'll tell you what's not bringing hope to a ruined city.

It's not displaced children singing Christmas carols on the White House lawn and it's not comedians pretending to flash tits on Bourbon Street. It's not U2 and it's not Green Day. And as much as I love them, it's not the Saints (though God knows they rock).

You know what would really bring hope and joy to my benighted city?

Money. Lots and lots of cash. Investment. Public and private. We can start with the oil revenues out of which we have been shafted since the days of Huey Long.

With some cash, we can start restoring coastline. We can build levees out of something other than dust bunnies, spackle, and pudding pop sticks. We might even be able to afford our new, outrageous insurance costs and utility bills.

And while I'm pursuing this pipe dream: some leadership. Some bold thinking. Those would be nice too.

29 August 2015

Reviving The Periphery

It is time, I think, to revive this blog.

And I have, at a new site. The address is here: https://reustis.wordpress.com/

Bear with me, as it will be a work in progress for quite some time.

I will be in Amman, Jordan, for a year or so. If anything, I have moved from the periphery of world events to the center, in many respects. Amman is the first capital city I've inhabited for a long time.

I'll still write about the things that usually interest me: outdoor education, literature and the environment, higher education (especially in Louisiana), music, occasional politics and sports.

It's been a while since I posted here, so I don't know how many of you will follow me over to wordpress, but if you do: welcome!

Or, maybe better:  Ahlan wa Sahlan

An Article About Katrina

Let's begin as I began long ago: with a story I wrote about my Katrina experiences. Keep in mind that I wrote this for my old newspaper in Atlanta (The Fulton County Daily Report) while I was a grad student at LSU.

I was volunteering at the River Center as a halfassed medic, taking second year PHD classes, and "conducting" a graduate-level seminar for my professor Jeff Humphies, who was having trouble returning from his evacuation in Pineville.

Jeff was a brilliant poet, theorist, and translator, and his course was on "New Orleans and the Arts." I mention it in the piece. Jeff died late last year, and I miss him.

My father, too. He said would rather die in New Orleans than stay in Houston one more day. He died in 2009, in his home in New Orleans, his family around him.

There's a lot I loved about that city that is gone now.

I also must mention that I was writing while all of this was going on, and my information was spotty, and colored by reports from people who had access to media (I had little). We know now that, far from preying on each other, survivors actually banded together for mutual aid. I've left the article as I wrote it, however. It was originally published in Sept. 2005.

I donated my pay for this piece to the relief efforts in Baton Rouge. It won an award for feature writing.

Like all of us who lived through this event, I'm exhausted by talking about it, and shaken by some of the memories. But I would feel irresponsible to let the day go by without marking this time in some way.

Special to the Daily Report

BATON ROUGE, La.-Every New Orleanian grows up steeped in water. It saturates the air on the city's driest days. It laps at the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, where I sailed as a boy with my grandfather, father and uncles. And there is the Mississippi, the reason for the city, repository of American power and myth, carrying enormous freighter ships that pass level with the second story of my parents' house two blocks away.

Water is our medium, our background music.

It is the backdrop against which most of our significant memories unfold: endless dinners of boiled seafood and Dixie beer at the lakefront, soggy Carnivals, stolen kisses on the levee with the river golden and scarlet in the fall evening, road trips to Pass Christian or Bay St. Louis to bathe in the Gulf and bask in the sun, football games in torrential afternoon thunderstorms. And always-always, always-the threat of The Hurricane. The one that would return our home to the waters. The one we always seemed to dodge.

To borrow a phrase from Norman Maclean's novel “A River Runs Through It”: those who make their home in New Orleans are “haunted by waters.” The waters always lay in wait to claim their own. We knew it, and we laughed in their face, held parties in the shadow of fragile levees, named drinks after the natural disaster that would sink us one day.

My Last Visit

The last time I visited my home in New Orleans-two weeks ago-I barely spared it a glance. I was in a rush-in transit between a summer spent as a guide in the Wyoming backcountry and a fall semester at LSU that started far too soon. I stopped to spend the night at my parents' house and eat a long breakfast with plenty of sweet rolls and chicory coffee. Then I raced west and north, cursing the heat and humidity. Why, I asked myself, hadn't I just stayed in Jackson Hole?

On the Friday before the storm, I bypassed the city altogether as I made my way to east Tennessee to kayak the Ocoee River with friends. I assumed Katrina was another piddling Category 1 storm-the kind that always seems to knock out power in Mobile for six months but just affords my neighbors an opportunity for a hurricane party. After letting our frightened dog in for the night, my dad and brother would pour their usual tumblers of bourbon, light cigars and sit on our porch to watch the storm pass.

Thirty-three years of hurricane threats I had seen. Not one of them had ever landed a real blow. Of course, any riverboat gambler, any French Quarter casino sharpie, anyone who spent any time at the track at the Fairgrounds, could have told us that runs of luck like that don't last.

When I finally turned on my cell phone late Saturday night, I intended to tell my parents that I would pass through New Orleans for a night on my way back to school in Baton Rouge. Instead I found message after message asking where I was and telling me that the storm looked horrendous.

A Call Home

I called home immediately. The raucous raft guide party 50 yards away faded to a whisper.

“We're going to Houston,” my mother said. “Your dad's boarding up the house right now.”

My grandmother, aunts and uncles were going with them. My sister and her husband were fleeing to Atlanta.

If my father was leaving, this was serious. The Jim Bowie who died in the Alamo would have appreciated my father's attitude to New Orleans. Pop doesn't like to venture farther than our place in Lafourche Parish-about 80 miles away. He'd rather be home. Countless times my mother, grandmother and sister had fled for drier parts before a storm, while my dad stayed home, cooked a steak, watched a football game, and then cleaned up the yard and went to his law office the next morning.

“Some of us have work to do,” he said. My sister-also a lawyer-has adopted much of his attitude.

But this time he sensed the danger was for real. He and my mother now have an apartment in Houston. He refuses to unpack his suitcase. The Central Business District will have power soon, he reasons, and someone will have to get to work. He also checked out a satellite photo of our house Uptown. The deck is still in one piece, and the roof is still on, so he might as well go back.

He hasn't yet. He can't. No utilities yet, and there's the threat of diseases that haven't surfaced there since the 19th Century. Not even the courts are open yet-and there's no telling when they will. The Fifth Circuit federal appeals court may be out of its magnificent New Orleans digs for a long time.

A Changed Baton Rouge

I returned to Baton Rouge on Tuesday, running backroads to escape the Interstates rumored to be impassable. I drove through ditches and over logs to get through. The side of the road was lined with people dragging salvaged belongings, or those who had run out of gas. The radio crackled with spotty AM stations desperately conveying what little information they had to whomever had survived and could listen.

Highway 90 in Mississippi, the conduit to so many spring weekends on the gulf shores: gone. Not just impassable. Not there. As if nature had tired of it and decided to erase it forever. The owners of convenience stores stood in their doorways with shotguns.

Working in a Shelter

The next day I started work as a medic in the evacuee shelter at the River Center in downtown Baton Rouge. My cable was out, so no TV or Internet news prepared me for the crowds: The young, the sick, the hurt, the scared, the old.

My medical training is as a Wilderness First Responder; I can dress wounds, splint breaks, reduce dislocations, wrap the hypothermic and immobilize spinal injuries. But I was dealing with diabetes, with heart conditions, sores and ailments brought on by filthy water, people so sick and scared and traumatized we hardly knew what to do with them. All of them had spiritual hurts I could do nothing about.

One seven-foot giant of a man arrived barely sentient, able to do nothing but cradle his face in his hands and weep. He had been trapped in the Superdome, and could not locate his wife and five children. One woman, once a nurse, had suffered a stroke, and refused to be parted from her husband to receive the care she needed. We had at least a dozen children whose parents were missing.

The first days were terrible-barely organized, supplies short, and hurts deep. Without the few doctors and exhausted nurses who kept the clinic running, the body count already would be much higher than it is.

Since then things have improved. A team of doctors has set up in the clinic, and we have plenty of supplies. My cousin, a displaced Tulane medical student, is coordinating the efforts of medical students nationwide from her new room in my apartment.

The offers of help have been huge-not only in material, but for morale. We haven't been forgotten.

Things Have Changed

But a million things have changed-some of which I notice, some of which I have chosen not to think about. There is no part of my life this storm hasn't touched. In Baton Rouge groceries and gas are in short supply, as is space on the streets and in our homes. There's no place to park, no point in trying to drive. Starting this weekend, my apartment, luxurious for one, will have five people in it-including my three-month-old niece. We don't know when they will go home-or where that home will be. Materials I wanted for school are at my parents' house. These are little things, of course. We're lucky.

My sister's firm is looking for office space. It might be in Baton Rouge. Or it might just continue with its Lafayette office. Or maybe Houston. My brother-in-law is looking for a teaching job. They don't know if there is anything for them to return to in New Orleans-whether their new house of six months survived the storm. My father wants to get back to work-and presumably to his partners.

I am back in class, studying literary theory. I have never been so convinced of the inadequacy of language. As a favor for a professor unable to return to Baton Rouge yet, I have agreed to lead his
graduate seminar: “New Orleans and the Arts.” We're beginning with Walker Percy's “Lancelot”, a work suffused in tragedy and loss, in which some horrible things happen during a hurricane. I honestly don't know how to begin.

Next is a book by Percy's Uncle Will-the classic “Lanterns on the Levee”. Then John Kennedy Toole's “Confederacy of Dunces”.

I have forsaken television news. I turned on the TV when power returned, only to find people bickering over politics while my neighbors drowned, starved, dehydrated, preyed on each other, rotted in the flooded streets an hour away from me. I nearly vomited.

Assigning Blame

If they like, I can assign blame for them; it's the blame that lies at the heart of all such disasters: some combination of man's breathtaking folly and nature's rage. Nature, as Edward Abbey said, always bats last.

I hate everything about this disaster. I hate the glimpse of humanity it has given me-how quickly people can become beasts. But as New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said a few days ago: there's a ray of light. The Quarter survived, as it always does, along with parts of Uptown. The rest is draining slowly. There are stories of great bravery, tenderness, selflessness, to counter the nightmarish brutality we've witnessed in the storm's wake. Signs that civilization may hold.

And there are signs that the city's peculiar magic realist grace will persist. There is the woman we treated, who broke into the boxing gym across from her submerged house and floated to safety with her infant son on a boxing ring. There is the man I saw who swears he was led by a flight of butterflies to the empty skiff that saved his family.

The nation will pay late and large for what it should have paid for early. One day, there will be someplace to live in the crescent of the river south of Lake Pontchartrain. Someplace, we hope, that's worth salvaging. But I wonder whether the New Orleans flair, its Creole, Mediterranean comfort and glee in the face of death, will ever return.

I loved that city.

I wonder if I'll feel the same about the place that will bear its name. r

RICHMOND EUSTIS is a former staff reporter for the Daily Report. He
is currently a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at
Louisiana State University. He can be reached at reusti3@lsu.edu.

23 June 2012

Motoring on the A13

Here's the southern end of the Cassiar.
I was going well past Stewart and Hyder.
But not really. Instead I've spent the past two days rolling up the Cassiar Highway, which is by far the most beautiful, interesting stretch of (mostly) asphalt I have ever driven. For you New Orleans types, thing of a road about the width of one side of the neutral ground on, say, Napoleon.

That's the highway.  People in huge trucks drive on it at a great rate of speed.

Fortunately, I think I saw fewer than 15 cars in the space of two days of driving. This is one reason to take it instead of the Al--Can highway: fewer folks puttering along in rented RVs.

Not to say that I'm exactly tearing up the road. My speed made good is slower than I care to report. But I'm not in any rush, really. I dawdle. I get out and talk to people. I stop at rest areas and take pictures and make coffee on my camp stove. It's nice when the rest areas are as pretty as the ones in BC.

There's no phone signal. At all. Not just "roaming"-- no signal at all that my phone recognizes. I'm hoping it picks up something again when I cross into Alaska sometime tomorrow evening. But lots of places have WiFi. Which is why I get to send and receive emails from time to time...

And I've been passing the time listening to audio books on my Kindle's Audible account. Pretty neat, actually. However, my choice, while fun in many ways, is worth a review later. Keep an eye out.

This is a rest area in BC.
(As beautiful as the scenery is, the food: not so much. Lots of fried stuff on toast. I ordered a lunch special at a roadside grill. The special was a "steak sandwich." Sounded fine. Ordered it "medium rare" when they asked. Odd. It turned out to  be a slab of beef on a piece of garlic bread. The salad was out of the bag, with french dressing out of the little peel back containers. Sigh.)

Whitehorse, though, is not bad at all. I'm staying in the NOLS staff house, which is very handy-- and the chance to shower and clean up a bit has been VERY welcome. Next, I must find some laundry...

I've been camping. Last hotel I stayed in was in Prince George. It was expensive, and kinda ratty. I've slept better in my tent, despite the depredations of the hordes of mosquitoes in British Columbia and the Yukon.

Did I mention that the roads in the direction I'm going just opened a few days ago? The rivers have been flooding like crazy up here, wiping out several small communities (you might imagine I feel a sort of kinship, although it's not the fault of the Canadian government that these places flood...). Getting to Alaska from Whitehorse, I'm told, has been a bit of challenge. The waters in most places have receded over the past week, just in time for me to pass them. But the rivers have been stomping. I looked in at the Stikine and the Fraser in particular. Yikes.

It took all my mature discipline and restraint not to jump on one of them. I had to remind myself that I didn't know them, didn't know what they do in flood, and didn't know how to get back to my car if I did.

But on the way back...

24 June 2009

I saw three deer

...at my campsite on San Juan today. Three blacktails: a doe and two fauns. The doe slinked out of the brush near where I was dripping coffee for breakfast. She looked at me with caution-- not as if she were afraid of me hurting her, but as if she didn't want to startle me, wake me up, disturb my breakfast.

I squatted and turned my head, making myself look small and unthreatening. She crept out of the brush, two spotted fawns scampering with excitement next to her.

It's the kind of thing I would have called my father to tell him about last summer-- and I almost tried to today. I had pulled his number up on my cell phone before my bleary, early-morning brain remembered.

It made me think of this poem by Donald Hall:

White Apples
when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear
I sat up in bed
and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes

Tomorrow I leave on the first of six sea kayaking trips over the next couple of months. The trips are shorter this year, to my dismay, but should be fun all the same...

01 June 2009

Richmond Minor Eustis, Nov. 24, 1945- May 30 2009

This runs Tuesday and Wednesday in the Times-Pic. It was the most difficult thing I've had to write-- for many reasons.

I don't feel capable of writing much more about this right now. There is, of course, much more to say, but somehow it feels trivial to write about it in this medium. I may write more about my father's death later, but I doubt it will be here.

I am resigning myself to missing this man every day for the rest of my life.

Richmond Minor Eustis, a lawyer, died Saturday in his home in New Orleans after surviving cancer for nearly two years. He was 63.

The son of David Eustis and Molly Minor Eustis, Richmond Eustis was born in New Orleans and graduated from Isidore Newman School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia, where he was a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, and he earned a JD from Tulane University Law School.

An expert in corporate and admiralty litigation, Eustis began practice at Phelps, Dunbar, then joined Monroe & Lemann, where he became a partner. He later founded the firm Eustis, O’Keefe & Gleason, where he practiced until shortly before his death. He was a member of the Maritime Institute and the Louisiana Bar Association, and was admitted to federal practice before the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

His survivors include his wife of 38 years, Catherine Baños Eustis; two daughters, Julie Eustis Vaicius of New Orleans and Molly Minor Eustis of New York City; two sons, Richmond Minor Eustis, Jr. of Baton Rouge and Joshua Leeds Eustis of Chicago, IL; his brother David Leeds Eustis of New Orleans; his sister, Kate Eustis of Birmingham, AL; son-in-law, Christian Vaicius; two grandchildren, Lucy and James Vaicius, and more than a score of adoring nieces and nephews. His family and friends were gathered around him as he died.

Eustis served on the board of the Children’s Bureau and the New Orleans Board of Trade, and was an advisor to family-owned White Plantation. He was a member of the Inns of Court, the Sons of the Revolution, the Louisiana Club, and the Boston Club.

In addition to his legal work and his board work, Eustis enjoyed working outside in his yard or around his Lafourche Parish house. Blessed with what he liked to call “a trivial mind,” he was fond of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, of punning humor, and of the dogs who flocked to him.

He also was one of a handful of people expert in the history, repair and maintenance of traditional Carnival flambeaux.

A funeral service will take place Friday at noon at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1329 Jackson Ave., in New Orleans—the church where as a boy Eustis served as acolyte. Burial will follow at Metairie Cemetery. Visitation will begin at 11 in the church.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to one of the following groups: the Trinity Episcopal Church Medical Mission, 1329 Jackson Ave. 70130, the Kellermann Foundation/Bwindi Community Health Center—Uganda, P.O. Box 1901 Penn Valley, CA 95946, or the Delta Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at the University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400314, Charlottesville, VA 22904.

19 January 2009

Humanism Ends With a Whimper

Yes, after 800 years of education as a process for the liberation of the soul, a new way of considering education has come to dominate: the training of students for standardized jobs. Contemplative thought is out, problem-solving and rote repetition of tasks is in.

(Of course, in a sense this is nothing new: education almost always serves the needs of the society footing the bill for it. If you think education isn't working or that the schools are crappy, it's not a bad idea to start asking why we have chosen that such should be the case.)

Anyway, here's Stanley Fish on a new book by a student of his, Frank Donoghue (called, incidentally The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities):
How has this happened? According to Donoghue, it’s been happening for a long time, at least since 1891, when Andrew Carnegie congratulated the graduates of the Pierce College of Business for being “ fully occupied in obtaining a knowledge of shorthand and typewriting” rather than wasting time “upon dead languages.”

Industrialist Richard Teller Crane was even more pointed in his 1911 dismissal of what humanists call the “life of the mind.” No one who has “a taste for literature has the right to be happy” because “the only men entitled to happiness . . . are those who are useful.”

The opposition between this view and the view held by the heirs of Matthew Arnold’s conviction that poetry will save us could not be more stark. But Donoghue counsels us not to think that the two visions are locked in a struggle whose outcome is uncertain. One vision, rooted in an “ethic of productivity” and efficiency, has, he tells us, already won the day; and the proof is that in the very colleges and universities where the life of the mind is routinely celebrated, the material conditions of the workplace are configured by the business model that scorns it.

The best evidence for this is the shrinking number of tenured and tenure-track faculty and the corresponding rise of adjuncts, part-timers more akin to itinerant workers than to embedded professionals.
I've ranted here before about the ascendancy of the corporate model for increasingly large shares of our world. By this I don't mean the corporate takeover and "privatization" of more and more of economic life. Rather, I'm referring to the adoption of an efficiency-obsessed, profit-fetishizing, model for non-business pursuits such as law, medicine, and yes, academia. Market pressures make an operation leaner; it's true. More efficient, sure. But one loses the point of pursuing law, medicine, or deep study of a subject. It's just not the right model for these things (or many others). I'm not going into it further here.

The main purpose of some (though increasingly few) pursuits is not the generation of profit.

So, even those who hoped to escape the god of efficiency by going into medicine or, say comparative literature, are reduced to "service delivery" cogs in an enormous profit-generating machine. And the profits are generated, no doubt there. But if you can deliver service without the doctor-- or with only 4 minutes of a doctor's time, or by eliminating tenured professors in favor of podcast lectures-- then that's efficient. But medicine is harmed. As is education. Fish and his student are right. I'm hoping against hope I don't end up in a miserable adjunct job for the rest of my life. Increasingly it's the kind of hope one generates on buying a Powerball ticket.

To repurpose a quote by Gov. Edwin Edwards: "A Ph.D. program is tax on people who are bad at math."

More from Fish
The for-profit university is the logical end of a shift from a model of education centered in an individual professor who delivers insight and inspiration to a model that begins and ends with the imperative to deliver the information and skills necessary to gain employment.

In this latter model , the mode of delivery – a disc, a computer screen, a video hook-up – doesn’t matter so long as delivery occurs. Insofar as there are real-life faculty in the picture, their credentials and publications (if they have any) are beside the point, for they are just “delivery people.”

Those ideas have now triumphed (Carnegie and Crane are victorious), and this means, Donoghue concludes, “that all fields deemed impractical, such as philosophy, art history, and literature, will henceforth face a constant danger of being deemed unnecessary.” And as a corollary “professors will come to be seen by everyone (not just those outside the academy) as unaffordable anomalies.”
In other news: in an effort to save the state a couple of bucks, Gov. Jindal has proposed cutting health care (never medicine, now) and higher education. One of the departments on the chopping block?