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.