Restaurants, Essence Festival, and #closedforessence

Essence Festival 2016

We had a great discussion about Essence Festival last year, how restaurants don’t do well during Essence, which is held annually over the Fourth of July weekend here in New Orleans. While I have no doubt that there are restaurants downtown and in Da Quarters that don’t want to serve a house full of black folks, there’s a lot more to the story than that.

Essence isn’t about dining, pubs, and clubs

This year, WalkOn’s is in the crosshairs. The pub, located on Poydras and S. Rampart, closed over the weekend, citing the need to do renovations. This caused a major social media backlash, prompting a lot of tweets using the hashtag #closedforessence. Brett Anderson’s article for Da Paper cites one commenter:

“I just put two and two together to decide that there was a racially motivated reason for their closing,” Devin Balance-Montrel said of Walk-On’s, which he called “racist” on Twitter. The 24-year-old African-American explained that he used to work in the French Quarter, at Montrel’s Bistro, a restaurant owned by family members that closed in 2013. “When other restaurants around us would close during Essence, they’d call it a ‘black out.’ They’d close because they didn’t want to deal with black customers.”

Mister Balance-Montrel would be dead wrong here. There a very important reason restaurants downtown close down for Essence weekend: Essence Fest goers don’t go out to eat in those restaurants when they come to town. For that matter, doesn’t

Music!

Think about this for a moment. Essence is about the music. Yes, there’s Rev Al and others at the workshops and panel discussions, but that’s not why folks come to down over the Fourth. They come for the music. They come for the music. And the music is in Da Dome. It’s not at Walk-On’s. It’s not at One Eyed Jacks. It’s in Da Dome. Rembert Browne’s 2012 article for the late-great Grantland is still the best review/description of Essence:

There were many acts at Essence, from the nostalgic (Dru Hill, Eve, Carl Thomas) to the rising stars (Melanie Fiona, Robert Glasper, Gary Clark Jr.). These acts, however, were held not on the main stage but in smaller venues within the Superdome. On that main stage each night were a series of acts with large followings, but they all concluded with two monster acts that could go toe-to-toe with any festival’s headliners.

Essence isn’t really a daytime thing

So, you wake up in your hotel room after a great experience in Da Dome the night before. You were in there until after 1am. You had to get back to your hotel, so assuming you didn’t hit a 24-hour place when you left, you didn’t get in bed until between 2am and 3am. It’s a safe assumption you weren’t at Ruby Slipper or Clover Grill at 8am.

Once you’re up and showered, it’s likely lunch time. You’ve got a couple of options, go explore some of New Orleans. A number of places recognize that Essence Festival folks are out and about in the afternoon, as Anderson notes:

Napoleon House routinely closed over the Fourth of July weekend dating back to the 1970s, although new owner Ralph Brennan changed the practice after he purchased the historic bar and restaurant last year.

So, there’s a crowd for lunch. Or is there? A lot of people hit the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which is the hub of activity for the workshops, discussions, presentations, and general fan-fest-style activity during the day. If you opt for the Convention Center, you’re sucked into and controlled by Essence Festival. That’s not 450K fest-goers being shunned by restaurants who don’t want to serve black poeple, that’s black people simply not going out to eat.

Essence Festival is about Fashion!

The first acts every evening for Essence begin around 7pm. The lights don’t come on in Da Dome until after 1am, after those “monster acts” wrap. Essence-goers get to the dome between 5pm and somewhere during the first act. Now, consider your routine for going to a concert. Rembert got busted fashion-wise in 2012:

Paranoid motherly digressions and self-conscious age admissions aside, it was a joy being a part of this crowd. Even though I got a few strange looks the first day because I wore a tank top and shorts (Coachella attire) to the Superdome, once I had proven myself worthy by knowing words to songs I shouldn’t know the words to, I felt as if I had been pardoned and was allowed to stay with the party people.

It takes time to get ready

Now it’s 3pm-4pm, and your wife is telling you it’s time to get back to the hotel. Fashion takes time. Essence tends to be an older crowd, and everyone’s on vacation, so nobody’s running back to the hotel. Now it’s 5pm or so. The restaurants would be starting happy hour or early-bird specials. Is anyone there? Nope. The Fashion Gods must be appeased.

Now it’s 6:30pm-7:30pm. The first acts are on stage as folks stream into Da Dome. Does anyone have a 7pm dinner reservation? Not. A. Chance. We’re talking about a concert in Da Dome here, one with a packed house. You can’t just show up at 10pm and expect to actually see. Experienced Essence-goers know this and plan accordingly. Do those plans include pre-gaming at Walk-On’s? Doubtful.

The bottom line on Essence Festival is simple: everyone needs to settle down their knee-jerk reactions and realize how a big evening event works. They just don’t include dinner at a restaurant.

“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?!

TEACHERS ARE AFRAID TO DO THEIR FREAKING JOBS BECAUSE YOU’RE SO DAMN DELICATE?!

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