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Over Easy: Letty Owings, Age 89, Recalls More New Orleans History

By: Crane-Station Wednesday September 17, 2014 4:09 am
Ball gown and crown worn by Queen of the Krewe of Hiacynthians for their Mardi Gras ball, 1955.

Ball gown and crown worn by Queen of the Krewe of Hiacynthians for their Mardi Gras ball, 1955.

Letty Owings, age 89 and the author of this post, recalls history, customs and experiences in New Orleans in 1958-1959.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

No chapter on New Orleans would be complete without something about the Mardi Gras experience. We knew about the big parade, but beyond that we knew nothing of the festival. The secrets and functions of the city that revolves around a carnival remain obscure to outsiders. Mardi Gras is not just a celebration, it is a way of life meshed with social structure and status. Anyone who is anyone belongs to a krewe, an organization built on social status, occupation and ancestry. All year long each krewe prepares for the season which ushers in the balls and the parades.

The first balls begin on New Year’s Eve. Generally the functions closest to the New Year have the least prestige. That statement has many variations, so I should not be dogmatic with my pronouncement about the worst first. The parades, mostly at night, happen more and more frequently as the weeks approach the “real” Mardi Gras on Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. As an aside — “Shrove” days are set aside for celebration and excesses not allowed during Lent.

The date of Mardi Gras is strictly governed by the length of Lent in any given year. As Lent approaches, the parades pick up both in number as well as in prestige. People line the streets to view the floats and catch the trinkets thrown to the crowd by masked revelers. Why a cheap pair of beads thrown from a float takes on the mark of a status symbol is hard to say. It all has to do with the spirit of the occasion when good sense gets exchanged for excitement. I have still in a box somewhere the beads and trinkets we caught from the parades.

After a season of fever-pitch excitement and parades and balls, the Tuesday before Lent comes at last. This is the Mardi Gras tourists know about. Two Krewes are left to do their thing, Rex and Comus. Both Krewes parade in their finery, and their awesome collection of real jewels and royal robes. All participants remain masked until the Rex and Comus ball when the King (Rex, of course) and Queen are revealed to the public. Always the distinctive honor goes to well-known socialites of New Orleans. Few people ever get invited to the Rex and Comus affair. In fact, few outsiders or non-members of krewes ever get to go to one of the balls. Essentially they are closed affairs.

After the revelry and costuming and marching bands and drunkenness in the streets, at the stroke of midnight when Tuesday turns to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the doors close and the ball stops. The celebration is over until next New Years Eve. But even at that time, many are beginning to plan the next year’s floats and balls.

Most persons outside New Orleans who go to the city to experience Mardi Gras, see only the last day parades and the wild confusion. That is not all there is, but in order to see the real thing, residence in the city for a time is a necessity. Even then, the rituals and preparations are mostly kept from outsiders. We were fortunate in that our quarreling neighbors who belonged to a krewe wanted our oldest daughter to experience the real thing. I made her a formal and off she went. At the balls, all men are masked. The women have a card signed by different gentlemen who care to dance with them.

A flood

 

43 Million People Kicked Out of Their Homes

By: David Swanson Thursday June 30, 2011 1:18 pm
A soldier hands supplies to Afghan child refugees.

“Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem.”

War, our leaders tell us, is needed to make the world a better place.

Well, maybe not so much for the 43 million people who’ve been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes.

The U.N.’s figures for the end of 2013 (found here) list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. The cost of escalating the war in Syria is often treated as a financial cost or — in rare cases — as a human cost in injury and death. There is also the human cost of ruining homes, neighborhoods, villages, and cities as places in which to live.

Just ask Colombia which comes in second place following years of war — a place where peace talks are underway and desperately needed with — among other catastrophes — nearly 6 million people deprived of their homes.

The war on drugs is rivaled by the war on Africa, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo coming in third after years of the U.S.-backed deadliest war since World War II, but only because the war on “terror” has slipped. Afghanistan is in fourth place with 3.6 million desperate, suffering, dying, and in many cases understandably angry and resentful at losing a place to live.  (Remember that over 90% of Afghans not only didn’t participate in the events of 9-11 involving Saudis flying planes into buildings, but have never even heard of those events.) Post-liberation Iraq is at 1.5 million displaced and refugees. Other nations graced by regular U.S. missile strikes that make the top of the list include Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen — and, of course, with Israeli help: Palestine.

Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem.

Part of that problem finds its way to Western borders where the people involved should be greeted with restitution rather than resentment. Honduran children aren’t bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They’re fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers.  The “immigration problem” and “immigrants rights” debate should be replaced with a serious discussion of refugee rights, human rights, and the-right-to-peace.

Start here.

Star Spangled Birthday

By: Elliott Monday July 9, 2012 7:18 am

 

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner.

Bursting in Air

Richard Armour gives us the background:

In an attempt to take Baltimore, the British attacked Fort McHenry, which protected the harbor. Bombs were soon bursting in air, rockets were glaring, and all in all it was a moment of great historical interest. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis Off Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner”, and when, by the dawn’s early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror.

To celebrate here’s Whitney Houston, you gotta admit she nailed it.

 

And Jimi Hendrix nails it as only Hendrix can.

 

Not surprisingly Baltimore went all out for the bicentennial with a week long celebration, tall ships and all. And fireworks.

(Speaking of flags, what happens to the Union Jack if Scottish independence queues up Auld Lang Syne?)

 

Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday September 16, 2014 8:05 pm

 

Tonight’s music video is “All Night Long” performed by Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers at Bluesfest in Gaildorf, Germany.

‘America’s Hottest Accordion’ winner, Dwayne (Dopsie) Rubin, plays a unique, high energy style of zydeco. Dwayne hails from one of the most influential Zydeco families in the world. Although inspired by tradition, he has developed his own high energy style that defies existing stereotypes and blazes a refreshingly distinct path for 21st century Zydeco music. This singer/songwriter and accordionist has performed all over the world since debuting his band, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, at age 19.

Dwayne, born March 3, 1979 in Lafayette, Louisiana, was the last of eight children. Dwayne attributes his musical ablilities to his father, Rockin’ Dopise, Sr., a pioneer of Zydeco music. As a small child, Dwayne was interested in the washboard, but quickly realized he had incredible talent with an accordion. He has played the accordion since age seven and states, ‘This is my calling – Zydeco music is in my blood and it is my heart and soul.’ As a tribute to his late father, the most influential person in his life, Dwayne plans to record an album of his Dad’s greatest Zydeco hits.

Dwayne Dopsie holds his accordion in front of an outdoor stage.

Dwayne Dopsie raised Zydeco hell in San Antonio, Texas Saturday at the Arneson River Theater at La Villita.

Like Tsuumi Sound System, Dwayne Dopsie is another artist I saw at International Accordion Festival. The group had an intense energy that got the crowd to their feet. The theater was crowded and the efforts of two police officers to keep a walkway clear turned fruitless when Dopsie and his wickedly talented washboard player Paul Lafleur came into the audience to close out their set with a dance off. Everybody but the police was smiling and enjoyed this little bit of Louisiana hellraising in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

Is writing good for your health? Rachel Grate of Arts.Mic has compiled a collection of science that seems to support this idea.

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts.

It turns out writing can make physical wounds heal faster as well. In 2013, New Zealand researchers monitored the recovery of wounds from medically necessary biopsies on 49 healthy adults. The adults wrote about their thoughts and feelings for just 20 minutes, three days in a row, two weeks before the biopsy. Eleven days later, 76% of the group that wrote had fully healed. Fifty-eight percent of the control group had not recovered. The study concluded that writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress.

Even those who suffer from specific diseases can improve their health through writing. Studies have shown that people with asthma who write have fewer attacks than those who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.

But does writing about the cancerous corruption in America make us more optimistic about our political prospects, too?

Thanks to Rachel Hurley for this link.

Bonus: Radical Librarians are protecting patrons privacy, via Boing Boing

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Strange Logic of the ISIS War

By: Nat Parry Monday September 15, 2014 3:50 pm
A caricature of John Kerry

John Kerry: “We are at war with ISIL but I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that.”

Officials in Washington are inadvertently providing some insight into the strange logic of their nebulous war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in contradictory and puerile statements about whether the military action should be called a war, or perhaps something else.

Backtracking on an earlier statement that the action against ISIS is simply a “counterterrorism operation,” Secretary of State John Kerry clarified in an interview on Sunday that it is, in fact, a “war.”

“In terms of al-Qaeda, which we have used the word ‘war’ with, yeah, we are at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“And in the same context if you want to use it, yes, we are at war with ISIL in that sense. But I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that,” Kerry said, adding that there’s “kind of tortured debate going on about terminology.”

On one hand, Kerry may be right that these semantic arguments are something of a distraction, since the debate should be more properly focused on whether the policies of airstrikes are effective, legal, moral and justified, not whether they are called a “war” or a “counterterrorism operation.”

On the other hand, the very fact that we are having this public dispute about which of our military actions qualify as “wars,” which ones are “counterterrorism operations,” and which ones are just run-of-the-mill bombing campaigns should sound the alarm that our political culture of perpetual war is out of control, having reached a bizarre and perilous point about which Americans are increasingly confused and the Constitution is ill-equipped to handle.

Indicative of this strange new normal was a poll released Sept. 4 revealing that few Americans actually know which countries the U.S. is currently bombing. Only about one third of Americans, according to the YouGov survey, knew that the U.S. has not yet conducted strikes in Syria, while 30 percent thought that it has, and the remainder admitted they were unsure.

At the same time, just a quarter of Americans knew that the U.S. military has carried out strikes in Somalia and Pakistan during the past six months, and only 16 percent were aware of strikes in Yemen.

It’s hard to imagine another country on earth in which the citizens could be so confused about which countries were currently being bombed by their government, but then again, no other country on earth is bombing so many other countries so regularly.

When it comes to the strikes targeting ISIS, when administration officials are not arguing about what to call the operation, they seem to be crafting flimsy legal foundations for the strikes by dusting off the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force.

These rationales have not been terribly convincing, with the New York Times pointing out that the 2001 law applied specifically to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and al-Qaeda more broadly, but since ISIS is not affiliated with al-Qaeda, the law clearly doesn’t apply to the current situation.

“The fact that al-Qaeda has disavowed ISIS, deeming it too radical, does not seem to prevent the administration from ignoring the logic of the law,” the Times noted.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has not even bothered to provide a justification for the strikes under international law.

It has instead asserted without elaboration that borders present no constraints to U.S. military action. “We are lifting the restrictions on our air campaigns,” a senior administration official told reporters during a recent background briefing. “We are dealing with an organization that operates freely across a border, and we will not be constrained by that border.”

Under international law, however, borders most certainly do pose constraints. The sanctity of borders is enshrined in the UN Charter in fact, which states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

One reason for the administration’s silence regarding the international legal basis for the possible use of force against ISIS in Syria is that none exists, since the Bashar al-Assad regime has not consented to the use of force in its territory.

As John Bellinger writes at Lawfare, “This will leave the administration to cobble together a variety of international legal rationales.” Some of these might include the argument that ISIS is part of al-Qaeda and therefore part of the U.S. armed conflict, or perhaps some sort of co-belligerency theory, or perhaps collective self-defense.

“Ultimately,” Bellinger speculates, “the administration may choose not to articulate an international legal basis at all, and instead to cite a variety of factual ‘factors’ that ‘justify’ the use of force, as the Clinton administration did for the Kosovo war. But it would be much preferable for the administration to provide legal reasons.”

Extended Surveillance Bill in Turkey: Legal but not Lawful

By: GREYDOG Wednesday November 19, 2008 8:24 am
Cartoon Erdogan holding a Twitter bird.

Erdogan signed more restrictions on Internet freedom into law.

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

Just days after Turkey hosted thousands of delegates from around the world for the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul and boasted about policing and pressuring Internet freedoms in the country, a law has been passed in urgency, almost like escaping from fire. The new law allows the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) – which consists mainly of former spies and about which there was talk of disbanding it to make it an office under the national secret service – to carry out surveillance operations and block access to Web sites without a court order. The law now includes the clauses that were rejected by President Gül when the last update was made in February 2014.

The bill came at a surprise moment when it was not being talked of in the media and was definitely not debated at all. Just days before it was passed at 4 a.m., there was criticism of Turkey’s approach to digital rights and liberties, and while activists were expecting a loosening of censorship, surveillance, and profiling activities by the government and secret service, it just happened to get even worse.

Concerns and worries were expressed by an anonymous EU diplomat based in Ankara, and the Turkish EU minister criticized him/her saying “this is not that person’s business.” The minister continued his remarks, saying “This is only in times of national security, not on a regular basis,” referring to the clause of the new bill that states that “this bill can be applied in matters related to national security, public order, and prevention of crimes” yet failed to address exactly what constitutes a breach of national security. One can remember the 2013 Gezi Uprising and how it was labeled a “coup attempt,” activists were declared “traitors,” and the millions who supported the uprising were called “terrorists.”

From Miners to Censorship

Drafting of the reform package began upon the death of 302 miners in a terrible mining tragedy, due to lack of security precautions; yet the draft bill evolved to address censorship, surveillance, and profiling cases. President Erdoğan approved the bill on the 34th anniversary of the 1980  military coup, Friday September 12 – thus initiating a new level of obstacles to rights and liberties.

Raiding of the TIB

The TIB was raided last February and several top managers were replaced after some phone conversations were leaked on the Internet revealing the biggest corruption scandal in history involving the Turkish government. Now the new team will probably be using the “server-ville” facilities just nearby the capital city, where all telecommunications data are being stored. When combined with the plans to install the NetClean and Procera software throughout the country’s telecommunications backbone, this new bill allows the Turkish secret service to become nothing less than a digital Gestapo. It may be legal to carry out such actions in Turkey, but for sure it is not lawful.

Russian-Style Tight Control

Turkey now prepares for yet another stranglehold on digital rights and freedoms. In October there will be a new bill in the parliament which will address Internet and press publishers. The new law is much like the Russian bloggers’ bill, requiring all digitally published content creators to reveal their names, addresses, and contact details on the Web site, make all content available for at least a year without the possibility of deletion, and comply with already tightened media laws in the country. The new bill is set to mainly target citizen journalism platforms, including bloggers.

Mining the Earth: 16 Sep 2014

By: KateCA Tuesday September 16, 2014 10:29 am
Asteroid Mining image -- a satellite landing on a asteroid with the Earth in space as a backdrop

Fracking: coming to an asteroid near you?

Mining the Earth

*Everywhere. Intriguing chart out of Finland showing when various resources obtained by various extraction methods will be depleted. So, what plans do our policy-makers have in mind to meet these challenges?

*USA. Since they can’t seem to accomplish much else, the US Congress is turning its attention to the business of mining asteroids.

*AZUpdate on the suit about resumption of uranium mining around the Grand Canyon: The US District Judge is to rule within two weeks.

*KY, VA, WV. Guess what’s making a comeback: “A Debilitating and Entirely Preventable Respiratory Disease among Working Coal Miners.”   Progressive Massive Fibrosis among coal miners was virtually eliminated only 15 years ago but is back and “can only be due to overexposures and/or increased toxicity stemming from changes in dust composition.” Shameful.

*VA. VA’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is working “to restore streams damaged by coal mining that took place a century ago” in Russell County. Companies that want to mine in previously mined areas must have plans for reclaiming the land, which has led so far to “21 miles of streams cleaned up in the coalfields right now.” One such project, in Dumps Creek, will cost about $3.35 million.

*WV.  Transition ahead as “declining coal markets, mine closures and efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions” make their impact on coal mining communities in the state, particularly in Boone, Marshall, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming Counties. To ease the shock of transition, the US Department of Labor has provided $7.4 million for retraining and reemployment services—although the industry reportedly does not want the workers retrained.

*WV.  Trans Energy has agreed with the US Environmental Protection Agency and WV’s Department of Environmental Protection “to restore portions of streams and wetlands in West Virginia that were damaged by natural gas extraction activities.” 15 sites, polluted by “unauthorized discharge of dredge or fill materials,” are included in the clean-up as well as a $3 million payment.

*WV.  The Obama administration set out to take “‘unprecedented steps’ to protect the environment [in Appalachia] from the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining.” After five years, results have been “mixed.” Environmentalists want more action and protections while “the mining industry says the government’s actions have taken a toll on Appalachian economies.” Mountaintop mining reportedly has taken its toll in terms of “birth defects, cancer and lower life expectancy, among other issues.”

*WV. Lawsuit filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court by a mine worker who says “she was fired because she did not donate to Murray [Energy] CEO Robert Murray’s preferred political candidates” and also because she’s female. Murray Energy disputes her claims and will “vigorously defend against her.” The political candidates Murray wanted $200 contributions given to were Republican (surprise!) Senate candidates “Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Edward Gillespie in Virginia, Terri Land in Michigan, and Mike McFadden in Minnesota.” Who can forget the “stunning visual” Robert Murray achieved when his mine workers stood behind Mitt Romney during a presidential campaign rally in OH a few years ago?

*Canada. The President of the Mining Association of Canada discussed the “high cost of doing business in Canada” and offered this solution:  “government needs to partner with mining companies” by building infrastructure needed by the mining companies, which will also benefit First Nations peoples. The benefits of “reaching out” to aboriginal communities was referred to several times.

*OntarioMines Minister has been “scolded” by several First Nations Chiefs about the absence of First Nations representatives on the Ring of Fire Infrastructure Development Corp. Chiefs from the Eabametoong First Nation, the Long Lake #58 First Nation, the Neskantaga First Nation and the Matawa Chiefs Council and others have complained. The Minister responded “we absolutely respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights”.

*British Columbia. The Tahitan First Nation “has banned [Fortune Minerals] from its lands as a bitter fight over a proposed [open pit] coal mine escalates, again.” In other action, the Klabona Keepers of the Tahitan Nation “have shut down an exploratory [copper-gold] drilling operation by taking over the site” known as the Sacred Headwaters (of the Stikine, Skeena and Nass Rivers). They shut down Black Hawk’s big drill; Black Hawk responded by airlifting its workers out. Video.

*British Columbia. The Tsilhqot’in First Nation has proposed a 3,000 square kilometer park and incorporated an area around Fish Lake which just happens to include a proposed mining site. The Vice President of Taseko, which wants to develop a gold and copper mine there (twice rejected by the government) said “We really don’t know what that means when that declaration is made by some local First Nations.” Perhaps he’ll be finding out.

*Saskatchewan. All 96 miners trapped in a potash mine due to a fire were finally rescued, though some 54 workers had to remain in underground smoky refuge stations since some of the fans used to clear the smoke broke down. The fire started in a water truck inside the mine.

A Modest Proposal for Dealing with ISIS or ISIL or Whatever

By: Ohio Barbarian Monday September 15, 2014 2:46 pm
The last sultan saluted by soldiers as he leaves his role after the end of the sultanate.

The last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire abolished his role in 1922. If we revived the Empire to fight ISIS, nothing could possibly go wrong.

Well, you’ve probably heard a lot lately about all of the proposals being put forth to deal with the Brand New and Improved Terrorist Threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria(ISIS), or as the current Fascist President of the United States calls it, the Islamic State in the Levant(ISIL), or whatever you want to call that genocidal pack of Wahhabist(I think) Sunni Muslim religious fanatics who’ve made a fair amount of progress in establishing their very own Islamic Caliphate in portions of Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Obama, chastened from the American public’s rejection a year ago of a Brand New Shiny War in Syria and by his grossly stupid underestimation of Russian resolve where it comes to Ukraine,  driven by corporate concerns about the safety of Iraqi oil fields (which he never mentions, BTW), and the constant beating of the war drums from everyone from Hillary Clinton to Lindsay Graham to (again, never mentioned) American weapons manufacturers, is for an air campaign against ISIS supported by various Arab “boots on the ground.”

The war hawks, like Graham and John McCain, want to send in the American Army and Marines. It doesn’t matter that that approach turned out so well in Iraq and Afghanistan, but hey, send in the troops often enough and sooner or later it’s bound to work out, right?

Yeah. Right.

Don’t these fools know their history? There’s a simple solution. When was the last time what we call Syria and Iraq were more or less peaceful and stable for centuries?

I’m waiting. Bueller? Bueller?

Yes! When they were both ruled by the Ottoman Empire!

The Turks controlled that whole area for at least 500 years. There wasn’t much war in the region, the imperial government in Constantinople(er, Istanbul) pretty much let the locals run their own affairs so long as everybody mostly paid their taxes, saluted the red flag with the Crescent and Star, and didn’t harass or kill imperial Turkish officials or anything like that.

And the great thing is that the Turks are still around! Why not arm the Turks with those A-10 Warthogs that are being decommissioned,  give them a bunch of Patton and Abrams tanks, helicopter gunships, and old F-16′s and tell them to go forth and re-establish their Empire as it existed in, say, 1914? That would include Palestine, I mean Israel, I mean both, but they could be autonomous provinces subject to the heel of the Turkish boot. Arab-Israeli conflict solved! That would include Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, too. Assad could become a Turkish bashar or be executed, his choice. ISIS? Well, the Turks could just genocide their ass. I’ve heard Armenians say they have some experience in that department, and who cares about a bunch of fanatical ragheads, anyway?

Yeah, Kuwait, Yemen, and the east and west coasts of Saudi Arabia would go to the Turks, too, but it was Saudis who carried out 9/11 anyway, so screw ‘em. I’m sure the Turks would make very reasonable oil deals with the West, too, so long as they got a reasonable cut for themselves to help solve their own domestic problems. The House of Saud could retreat to the inner desert where Lawrence of Arabia found them back in World War I. They’d still be rich and, if they fought, well, the Turks could deal with them, too.

We can revisit the situation in a few centuries and see whether or not it needs any tweaking. Who knows? The Turks might even rediscover their inner Mustafa Kemal and just secularize everything. Wouldn’t that be a shame? Hell, they might even let women dress as they please and let them vote!

Why not? Well, I’m sure there’s a whole host of good reasons why not, but is my modest proposal really any sillier than what is being floated about by our so-called leaders?