“Working” at the Obama White House (@slatepodcasts, @Jacob_Brogan)

“Working” at the Obama White House (@slatepodcasts, @Jacob_Brogan)

slate working podcast

Listened to a great edition of the Slate’s “Working” podcast–an interview with Ms. Fiona Reeves, who work for President Obama as his Director of Presidential Correspondence. I just love any inside-the-White-House content, and this lady’s job is fascinating. Some takeaways:

  • It takes three weeks for a paper letter to get to the Office of Presidential Correspondence. Reeves calculates a week in transit (assuming regular first class postage), then two weeks for the letter to be screened for threats in the envelope.
  • The Obama Administration is the first to process email, forward it to the President, and respond
  • The Obama Administration discontinued accepting faxes as Presidential correspondence
  • Reeves and her staff select ten letters and/or emails a night to include in POTUS’ evening briefing book

Ms. Fiona Reeves and President Obama

It’s fascinating to see Barack Obama through the eyes of someone who has worked for him since OFA set up shop in New Hampshire, for the 2008 campaign. In some ways, Reeves fits the “Donna Moss” archetype from The West Wing, working for the campaign since the beginning, then going to a position in the White House, and staying for two terms.

The discussion about accepting email started the wheels in my mind turning. In “Enemies Foreign and Domestic” (West Wing S3E18), Charlie Young receives a letter routed to the Oval Office directly, because it had a private code number in the address that presidents use to bypass correspondence processing for truly personal mail. In the story, Bartlet chose the same private code number that FDR used. A letter from a boy who’d seen FDR speak in 1932 was delayed for decades, and made it all the way to the Oval because of that code. I assume that POTUS still uses a similar system, but I also wonder if President Obama has a private email that goes straight to him, or someone close to him, the electronic equivalent of that mail code? Sometimes I wonder if the issues of “private mail servers” that go back to the Bush43 administration start out with just the notion of a place where POTUS, or SecState, can talk to folks about simple things without someone reading everything they do/say. The rest becomes unintended consequences.

One final observation, totally off the topic of the interview: POTUS didn’t re-model the Oval upon taking office in 2009. They’re standing on the rug from the Bush43 administration in that photo. President Clinton had a dark blue rug–the Bartlet Oval was modeled off of Clinton’s. It will be interesting to see what Hillary does with the room.

Will #JazzFest 2016 changes help the crowd situation?

jazz fest 2016 location ap

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation announced some changes for the 2016 edition of Da Fest they hope will improve the flow of people around the infield of the New Orleans Fair Grounds.

As the map above shows, the “Standing Room Only” sections at the big stages on either end of the infield, Gentilly and Acura, have been pushed further back, meaning those who want to camp out for the day will be further back from the stage. They’re also setting up bleacher seating towards the back of the area for each stage. These are good additions, so long as the SRO area is actually enforced.

The change that doesn’t make a lot of sense is the ban on chairs, tarps, and blankets on the dirt racetrack itself. The actual racetrack has three purposes:

  1. It’s where the port-a-potties are located
  2. The track is the fastest shortcut from one place to another at Da Fest
  3. Vehicular traffic (all those golf carts and support vehicles) use the racetrack

I don’t see where banning “camping out” on the track makes much of a difference, other than to create the impression they’ve banned chairs/blankets/tarps at the stages, and they hope folks won’t read the fine print.

Diversity in Social Media conversations

I am all about diversity.

Boromir star wars-star trek meme demonstrates diversity

Disagreement and Diversity vs. hate speech

It’s important to recognize the difference between encouraging diversity in the public discourse while rejecting hate speech. I take great pride in the fact that my online friends are quite diverse, coming from multiple religious and ethnic backgrounds, many of which have little to nothing to do with New Orleans. There are numerous topics we can discuss that show this diversity:

  • Which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars?
  • Should you read the book before or after seeing the movie?
  • The extent to which historic preservation should be carried
  • Antoine’s or Galatoires?
  • Government supervision of public education: federal, state, or local level?
  • Starbuck or Number Six?
  • Are leggings acceptable as pants?
  • Priorities for government spending
  • Wine Pairings
  • The role of the US Military in fighting terrorism

All these and so many more are subjects that generate a wide and diverse range of opinions, making for wonderful discussions.

  • There are some subjects, however, that just don’t make the list:
  • Basing public policy on religious faith rather than scientific fact
  • The virtue of interring people whose ethnic background is different from the majority
  • Inciting violence in political discourse
  • Threatening people because they disagree with you
  • Demanding everyone adhere to your religious beliefs

There was a time when the two political parties in the United States reflected the diversity of the country. In the last thirty-five years, however, the parties have split to the point where it’s a challenge to have a discussion about partisan politics without the participants shouting past each other. The biggest problem in this election cycle is the disconnect between people who identify as “conservative” and the incredibly hateful rhetoric their candidates put forth. Look at the current top four in the Republican field:

  • Trump wants to lock up Muslims like we did the Japanese in WWII, while barring entry to the US to Muslims from other countries.
  • Carson doesn’t think Muslims should be allowed to hold public office
  • Rubio wants to class LGBT citizens as being in a lower class than straight citizens
  • Cruz openly advocates Christian Theocracy as a form of government for the US

It’s one thing to say you support many of the traditional conservative positions that are part of the public discourse. It’s another to espouse one religion over others, advocate discrimination, and espouse outright hatred that incites violence. We’ve come to that point in our national political debate where one of the two political parties does these things. When you vote for Republicans at the state and local level, it enables the horrible things we see at the national level. That’s a discussion we can have as rational human beings.

Those who openly support internment of people for their religion, those who demand we all follow the specific tenets of their religious faith, and those who are OK with violence to further their political goals are unacceptable to me. Those who enable these various types of hate are unacceptable to me. If you show me that you hate, or enable hate, I’m done. That includes saying you “Like” Donald Trump on Facebook.


Millenials: Generation Cry-Baby

Millenials butthurt - the struggle is real

What is the deal with Millenials?

Everytime I read an article about college students, “Millenials”, and recent graduates whom everything offends, I get happy. That’s because my boys, who are now 27 and 21, aren’t part of that culture. The oldest is a Naval officer (O-3). He works with people of differing opinions, beliefs, religions, and cultures daily. He’d have to take a medical separation from the Navy if the butthurt we’re seeing from some of his generation had an impact on his work performance. Oh, and prior to joining the Navy, he did internships in downtown Atlanta and at an Entergy power plant up the river from New Orleans. Neither locations are good for the tender sensibilities of some of these really weak-willed twentysomethings. Then there’s my kiddo. He’s 21, and just finished his fourth football season in the Golden Band from Tiger Land at Louisiana State University. Trust me, Death Valley is not for the fainthearted who are easily offended. Even if that environment wasn’t what it is, a band of 350 young men and women requires that everyone check their attitude and close in their personal space. A lot.

This particular rant was pretty good, and sums up my feelings nicely:

And this isn’t just some backless rant. Oh no, it’s backed by psychology and science. PsychologyToday has gathered information from colleges saying that teachers are essentially giving up and grading easier because they are AFRAID OF STUDENTS’ EMOTIONAL REACTIONS ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!


I was a camp counselor this summer, and the next generation is worse than ours. These kids are being raised on so much organic, special snowflake bullshit that they’ll probably have a psychological breakdown the second someone tells them they’re not as perfect as they think they are. And it’s nauseating.

I got an audio dose of this a couple of weeks back on The Gist, when Mike Pesca played back some of the butthurt from Yale over a faculty supervisor who suggested some students unwad their panties. The piece was an end-cap to wrap up a podcast, so it’s not listed on The Gist’s story page. The audio was of some female student yelling obscenities at the faculty, because she was told that some people in life were going to offend her and she should consider, you know, sucking it up and moving along.

So, when I read things like this rant, I feel better about my own kids. They’ll be the ones these crybabies will ask, “would you like fries with that?”

The “Rural Electification” of the 21st Century

Conservative pundits and villagers like George Will are, by and large, idiots. Will made a comment years ago, where he said the one thing the federal government did right was Rural Electrification. Bringing electricity into areas outside America’s cities was an infrastructure task only an institution the size of the federal government could handle. Even a “small government” advocate like Will had to concede this.

The Internet is the next big “rural electrification” project. We’ve had two generations of “big government is bad”, however, so, for now, bringing the Internet to folks living outside urban areas won’t be a big-push, big-government concept. Fortunately, there are always folks who step up with ideas:

Near the shore of the murky Salton Sea in this southern California desert, a bus drives up to West Shores High School each day with a critical connection: A Wi-Fi router mounted behind an interior mirror, providing Internet access for students whose homes aren’t wired.

For openers, the notion of mobile Wi-Fi in a school bus is a brilliant idea. It’s been standard procedure on public transit buses in numerous cities for decades now. Put webcams in the bus and transmit the stream back to an ops center via wireless telco. This helps keep incidents and crimes on buses down dramatically. It does the same thing on school buses, where sorting out a fight or other incident involves a lot of he-said/he-said.

So, what to do with those buses when the school day is done? A lot of wireless telco contracts are priced on 24/7 service. If you put all those school buses in the district’s central parking lot, you have a lot of wasted bandwidth. So, put them in places where the average household doesn’t have Internet access. Those homes can use the


Are #essenceproblems really just #whitepeopleproblems?

Screenshot from 2015-07-05 08:53:44

You hear it every year:

Essence people don’t go out

Essence people don’t spend money in New Orleans

Fourth of July weekend is so slow in New Orleans, in spite of the Essence Festival

The griping usually comes from folks in the tourism/restaurant/hospitality/service industries, as well as the musicians who gig around town.

Thing is, the complaints are true, but don’t blame the folks who come to town for Essence for them. Blame the folks not going out on Fourth of July Weekend.

First, some background. Just what is the Essence Festival?

Rembert Browne is one of the people I listen to, on a number of subjects. Rembert likes Essence Fest. I would, too, if I was 28 years old, in a target-rich environment of a festival sponsored by a magazine catering to middle-aged women. Rembert starts with a bad number, though: 400,000. No, 400,000 folks don’t descend on New Orleans for Essence. That’s a four-day aggregate number. Think about it, you simply cannot put 400K people into Da Dome. You can easily put 100K people a night for four nights, though. So, with that note for perspective, here’s Rembert’s description of Essence:

Four. Hundred. Thousand. And I’m pretty sure 162 percent were black.

For the majority of Americans, regardless of race, this is not a comforting figure. Throw in New Orleans, alcohol, an oft-religious lean, and 90-degree weather, and that sentiment only intensifies.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Essence is very black. So black. So black, it’s post-urban. I’m talking 2008 Inauguration-black. And by all that I mean, to many, worringly and uncomfortably black.

This is the foundation of the list of #whitepeopleproblems concerning Essence. To say it’s “worringly and uncomfortably black” nails it.

Then there’s his description of the attendees:

Yes, a reality of the festival is that it’s organized by a magazine aimed at black women, thus the crowd mirrors the readership. So the festival may be perceived as a “by us, for us” (BUFU) event, which I have to assume alienates Essence’s non-target audience. They may not feel “invited.”

“Alienates” – you ain’t kidding, Rembert. But that’s #whitepeopleproblems. The Bayou Classic “alienates” white folks. So does Jackson Avenue on Carnival Day. This isn’t because those involved in these events go out of their way to make white people uncomfortable; their blackness is all that a lot of white people need. But let’s put that basic concern about black people aside. There’s not much that’s going to change that attitude. Alas, it’s an attitude that takes money out of the cash drawers of restaurants in New Orleans on the Fourth of July weekend, though. It’s not because Teh Black People have invaded, either; it’s because white people don’t go out.

Rembert, Da Paper, and Hizzoner all make a big deal about all the people coming to town for Essence. Locals read/hear that 400,000 people are coming to town, and we tend to batten down the hatches. It’s not simply because they’re black; you can’t get me anywhere near Canal Street or Da Quarters on the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, for the same reasons.

There are two main expectations when a big event comes to town: First, folks coming to town will fill up restaurants, clubs, and Bourbon Street. Second, because of the first, they don’t need my local support for the duration of the festival. With respect to Essence, both of these expectations are dead wrong. But anyway, back to the complaints.

Essence people don’t go out

Essence Festival is incredibly insular. It revolves around two locations. In the daytime, there are events at the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center, and at night, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Keep in mind, Essence is a music festival. Rembert on the music:

Beyoncé Knowles headlined the 2013 Essence Music Festival.

No, not India.Arie. Or Melba Moore. Not Evelyn “Champagne” King, either.

B E Y O N C E.

That about sums it up. You’re heading to Da Dome for the music. You came to New Orleans to go to Da Dome to hear the music. You’re not coming to New Orleans for the garlic chicken at Tujague’s, or to see some band at Le Bon Temps at 10pm.

You’re also making a night of it at Da Dome. Look at this year’s main stage schedule for Essence:

Screenshot from 2015-07-05 08:32:28

Assuming on-time starts for these acts, COMMON took the stage at 7:35pm. Usher’s set on Saturday night didn’t end until 1255am, so the house lights in Da Dome didn’t go on until well after 1am.

That’s typical for a music festival. Think about it, Jazz Fest acts start around 11-11:15am, and the closing acts wrap round 8pm. Shift the focus from afternoon to evening, you’ve got the same basic situation. It’s that time shift, however, that gives Essence a bum rap with NOLA locals. Back to the first complaint: Essence folks don’t go out. This is spot-on! They’re in Da Dome! They’re not at a classic Creole-French restaurant. They’re not at Jacques-Imos, or some small-plates place on Magazine Street. They’re in Da Dome, having the cultural/social/musical experiences that keep bringing Rembert back.

Here’s where the white-people-disconnect happens. A lot of white folks know how Da Fest works. We all have that friend (Hi, Kerri!) who gets out to the Fair Grounds before 10am and doesn’t leave until after 9pm. We all know folks who pass on the last act of the day, to get back to the hotel, shower, change, then have a nice dinner somewhere. The hours from 7pm-10pm are re-charge time. Sit, have a cocktail (something you don’t have many of at Da Fest, because of the prices), then head out to a late show at some bar/club.

Essence folks do none of this. Well, most of them don’t; I’m sure there are folks who come to town and don’t go to the concerts. They’re at Da Dome in advance of the first show they want to see. If you’re making a full night of it, that means you were there last night between 6:30-7:30 to catch COMMON. Earlier if you’re prepared, later if you’re with that gal who can’t get her shit together in the hotel room in less than two hours. And let’s not forget, there’s a lot of shit to get together. Essence isn’t about shorts and sandals. Rembert, again:

Fashion is not a game at Essence. It’s a sport. A professional sport. And everyone who shows up is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

We nabbed some of the best on Friday and Saturday night as they entered the Superdome. Most had plenty to say, usually about their own outfits, and occasionally about my own.

Getting dressed up takes time. That’s going to start between 3pm-5pm, so there goes the early-bird dinner at wherever.

So, why do folks complain? Because white people don’t know how Essence works. They don’t know the schedule. They don’t know talent that comes to town.

Keep in mind, though, that not everyone who goes to a big music festival goes every day. There’s always a hardcore cadre who refuse to miss a minute of the music, but there are also folks who look at, say, the Friday schedule and think, we’ll pass. Maybe we’ll just have a nice dinner. White folks will notice that four-top of black folks in the restaurant, but they quickly forget about the overwhelming numbers in Da Dome.

Essence attendees don’t spend money in New Orleans.

Yes-and-no. They spend money on hotel rooms. They spend money on food and drink in Da Dome. They take taxis and shuttles to and from Da Airport. All that money goes into the economic impact estimates touted by the city. The money is concentrated in a few hands, though, and those hands aren’t those of waiters and bartenders.

I tried to crowdsource thoughts on the subject of “Black people don’t tip”, hoping to add that at this point. I can’t. It’s too all over the place. I’ll have to treat that subject separately.

Fourth of July weekend is so slow in New Orleans, in spite of the Essence Festival

Yeah, it probably is. Fourth of July is, for many people, an “escape” holiday. It’s a chance to leverage one, maybe two vacation days into a proper vacation. Want a good table at Antoine’s or Galatoire’s? Go on Fourth of July weekend. Everyone’s in Florida. Locals who stay around are at the lakefront, picnicking, in the backyard, grilling, or over at their brother-in-law’s house. You know that family member who has the swimming pool.

The bottom line

Fourth of July is a mixed-bag weekend for New Orleans. There is a positive economic impact to having Essence in town. It’s a limited impact, however. The fact that it’s a very-black event stirs a pot of racial bullshit that is just incredible. It’s not indecipherable, though. It’s #whitepeopleproblems.