A Year In The Life of Ivan

Remembrance of Things Past

Now here at the end of 2009 Our Advocate takes a day to look at a year. They take quotes and stories from the front page for the entire year and I’m thankful that they made this very easy to recap the year. Though there is far too much for me to comment on – or to elucidate with much greater detail and nuance. They give the task to Mr. Smiley Anders. He is perhaps the most popular of all Advocate columnists. He’s a wry comedian of sorts. I enjoy his column on page B1 everyday. This one is on the opinion pages, and so I take it to be a wry comedic look at the past year here in our currently below average chilly mush pit. Smiley, as he’s known around town, does not usually tackle politics, or the big story. He deals with the cuter side of our very cooperative free society. Things like the beefy young man who helps the little old lady fix a flat out on some lonely highway, and she’s tickled pink and has renewed faith in the Good Samaritans of our world. Good Samaritans are so common actually, that they do not make the news. Look – almost everyone is in the news for doing some criminal, corrupt, inane, stupid, self-serving, licentious or other nefarious reason. But We the people who do good all year? Nope, we are not newsworthy.

(Shameless plug-disclosure: He’s used more than a few of my items that I sent him. He even helped promote the research I was doing on my esoteric book: “A Hidden Impact: The Czechs and Slovaks of Louisiana from the 1720s to Today.” A rather ambitious project I might add, that resulted in a 400 page book. No one had thought to look at all the details before.)

Perhaps you missed some of the details of the past year. The article is entitled “2009: A big year for big news.” Fully a third of the page is given over to a cartoon – rather than news we can use, or rather, since it is a recap – connecting the dots. Anders is known for disjointed comments in his daily column, but still, for the whole year surely there could be a connection or two between events, no? Sure there are.

The first thing to notice is the abundance of the word “Republican” or just an “R” and all sorts of phrases indicating one or the other politician is a Republican. But few are the Democrats. Not the people – lots of Democrats are mentioned – just not mentioned they are Democrats. I wonder why that is? Did Anders not know? Or does he think that the readership only knows who the Democrats are and does not know who the Republicans are? That would be odd for sure, given the number of Republicans wandering the halls of power looking for something to do. Even in comedy I do believe, however, that the party affliation of any politicans should be mentioned. If you mention some – then mention all. If party affliation is part of the news, part of the way we identify our employees, then, well, identify. Why only some and not all? It’s mushy, if you ask me.

James Joyce wrote a big book called “Ulysses” about a day in Dublin. It was banned for years in the United States. Back in the bad old days of the late 1800s and on into the early 1900s. A book banned – zero tolerance or something. And what is a highlight that Anders brings up? A photo of a nude woman was removed from the Art Melt show at our Shaw Center. But that’s what happens when the art display places are publicly funded. The public – and thus our politicians – get to say what art should be displayed. It’s part of the social contract. Community standards and all that. There are two options here:
1)The photo should have been displayed in some privately run space – the Art Melt is part of a citywide art show – it is not limited to the Shaw Center. And the public that wanted to view it could view it as they pleased. No fuss, no muss, no mush.
2)But Anders is concerned somehow with the fact that the publicly funded space removed the photo. He quips “alledgedly an art gallery.” Well, Anders, it is an art gallery – alas, it is under the control of political forces – and not art forces. Art forces, privately operated, show nude photos with great abandon. But political forces play to the outraged few over the who-gives-a-damn many. Still, we many are taxed – and thus we are paying for the privilege of watching censorship and the lament half stated that there is something wrong with this – it is the government after all which decreed that the art is verbotten. Hence – more government funding of art = more political control of art. Get used to it Anders, the people whose party affliation you don’t mention won.

He quips “As the Brain Drains” and points out that a headline stated that more than “2000 people 25 and older with bachelors or graduate degrees who have left Baton Rouge recently.” I’d like to know how our Advocate could come up with such a precise number. Did they ask at the border? Or at the airport? Who on earth is keeping track of such minutae? Such detail is akin to Joyce’s Ulysses. And it should be banned too. There is no use for such detail. And it can only be a snapshot of a small period in which the data is collected, and might be wrong the very next day. It is alarmist and pointless at the same time. And how would they collect it? For such a conclusion to be drawn someone has access to a lot of data about the free movements of the population. I’m sure it’s a government thing, whether directly or through a well placed grant. But still, where does an exact number come from? Or is it just a guess? Based on some gut feeling? And hence not news at all. I might add that I have a bachelors and I have left and came back to Baton Rouge many a time in 25 years. I have been a legal resident here, and elsewhere, and back again. I must be mucking up the statistics out there in Phoenix where I was resident. When I left Baton Rouge lost one – who knew besides me and my friends? I was not asked, that’s for sure. And when I went to Phoenix I don’t recall filling out a form with any agency saying a new BA is in town. And when I flipped? What then of the statistic? It’s mush. Pure unadulterated mush from so many angles that I would cringe it the mush could be thrown at me.

He quips “Keep Your Filty Money! Part 2” — and kvetches that “state transportation officials suddenly dropped plans to seek $300 million in special federal aid to launch passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.” Oh, my. Free Federal Money gone a-wasting. What a shame right? No, not at all. Perhaps, in a moment of sanity, these unnamed officials realized that the money was a boondoggle. There was no way that the service could be set up for $300,000,000 – and that it probably would be tied up in courts over environmental issues, rail time usage, upgrading facilities contracts, station building issues, placement of stations, and a whole host of other thorny issues, including no doubt some yellow striped thorny wiggle wort weed that needs protection from habitat destruction. Not to mention that who would ride the thing? How many passengers could there be? How many were needed to justify the expense? How much would be necessary to charge to make the thing pay for itself? You know, the silly mundane issues. I wrote previously about two other fearless leaders who said something along the lines of “don’t worry about the money to run the thing – build on what you build.” Sweet.

Meanwhile, there’s a perfectly good highway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. There are also two bus services. One is run by Greyhound, and goes about twice a day for about 20 bucks. The other is the LA Swift program set up by FEMA and operated thereunder still I believe. It leaves from the 22nd Street City Bus Terminal, with not a lick of parking for any who might travel its sleek buses for the wonderful $5 price to the very center of New Orleans – Canal Street.

Of course, the transportation needs of getting around Baton Rouge by bus are verklempt – discomboombalated – rustically inefficient – and perenially short of a mere $700,000 or so. New Orleans bus and street car system is still recovering from Katrina of course, and they could probably use a few bucks. There are all sorts of far flung suburbs that feed tens of thousands of cars into both Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and in and around and loop-dy-doo – it’s quite an integrated area now, from Slidell to West Baton Rouge, from Ascension Parish to New Orleans. It’s Ring around the Lakes Land for sure.

Now, suppose, just suppose, this $300,000,000 was available for a coordinated network of buses, trolleys, street cars, and parking facilities that tied the whole darn place together. What could $300,000,000 buy? Oh, I don’t know – 40 buses to ply the route between BR and NO every 15 minutes or so 24/7/365. Express commuter buses from Denham and West Baton Rouge into our Capitol Building itself. A citywide bus system that actually went citywide slightly more often than every hour and a half. How about a whole bunch of new drivers for New Orleans, and making buses that operate in Jefferson Parish and in New Orleans actually go back and forth between the city and the burb. And Express commuter buses from the North Shore and Slidell, to the business and entertainment districts of Jefferson and Orleans Parishes. Oh I bet $300,000,000 could buy a wonderful integrated system. I bet the purchase costs would be about $100,000,000. The other $200,000,000 could be put into an annuity to return about $20,000,000 a year to keep it up and running, helped along with a rational fare system. My my, what a turn on for the environment! Amazingly, all the infrastructure is there – the roads, the parking lots, the bus fixing garages – and the people who could be very gainfully employed in running this great new system. One that would serve 3,000,000 people nearly instantly in political terms – about one year from concept to a bus ride. But no, we are to lament that $300,000,000 wondrous dollars from Big Daddy DC – which he took from us in the first place – to have a rail line between two cities that might carry 1,000 people a day. My my, what dumb transportation officials right? No, I think though, that they should clamor for the money for the BusWeb and be done with it.

But no, we are to get rail funds or no funds. Such is big government. The rest of the article is filled with endless stories of political grief of one sort or another. Which brings to mind Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich.” It’s all about one man’s horrible journey through the Soviet Gulag in just one day. We are not quite ready for the Soviets. But we are getting big government, bigger, more expensive and more directed by Washington as surely as Russia was directed by Moscow. And with the same huge bureaucracies that decide that $300,000,000 local bucks shall be taken away to the capital for examination of some kind, whereby it be decreed forevermore that these funds are for rail lines and only rail lines. Meanwhile, back at the mush-lag (sort of Gooey eh? Goo-lag = Gulag, um, language art.) there is much gnashing of teeth over lousy bus service, terrible traffic, lack of money for bridge repairs and limited bike paths, and pollution from vehicles of every kind.

What would we know about spending our own $300,000,000 on resolving such problems? Apparently naught. Surely Smiley didn’t see it. Obama hasn’t seen it. No unmentioned-Democrat saw it, or the much mentioned Republicans. Nor even, it seems, unnamed transportation officials. Why, not even Jindal the Governor could come up with this response to the Washington Tax and Spend Mandate Machine. Oh well, back to the mush pits to labor for the taxes we must pay for the wisdom of our leaders and our Advocate.

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