Apr 14

Where I pretend to say smart things among smart people

I had the good fortune to take part in two panels today, the first one was titled The Ethics and Political Implications of the Edward Snowden Document Leaks. The description in the conference program was:

This panel will explore the ethical and political implications of the classified United States documents made public by Edward Snowden. Many of the released documents indicate that government agencies have spied on Americans and foreigners, and the revelations have sparked sharp criticism and anger from several foreign leaders. Reflecting the conference them, panelists will discuss the ethical considerations of Snowden’s and the government’s actions and envision how these revelations might impact both future domestic and foreign affairs.

For my part I recalled what Lenin said about useful idiots. That’s pretty much where we are with Snowden at this point, I think. I talked about how all of this is going over with the American public in surveys, including one I found just this morning about how the security revelations are apparently changing people’s online habits.

Here’s the scene from the second panel, which featured some of the region’s finest political scholars — and me!


The title of the panel was Envisioning the Future: A Roundtable on Themes of the 2014 U.S. Midterm Elections. The description read

Panelists will discuss emerging themes of the 2014 U.S. midterm elections. Among the topics that will be addressed are: political issues facing the electorate this election cycle, political communication strategies in light of changes in campaign-finance regulation, and technological shifts in campaigning. Reflecting the conference theme, panelists will look forward to the upcoming elections based on analyses of recent campaigns and issues.

The word of the day was “Obamacare.” No one will run on anything else in the midterms. We talked about Scott Brown, since he was topical today. It was also important to bring up the Supreme Court’s finding on aggregate limits.

We had a late lunch at a place called Red Gravy, a high end Italian joint nearby. It was tasty. We had dinner at the House of Blues, which was a continuation of last year’s Hard Rock Cafe misadventures. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed more than at those two tables. This is always a fun conference, no matter the city. It is the people, not the restaurants or the burgers or the panels and papers, but the fun and funny folks we get to visit with for a few days.

Apr 14

A day at the conference

Took part in a panel this morning. It was titled The Future of Campus Journalism. The description:

What are we teaching our journalism students? What should we be teaching our journalism students? Given the prolonged state of flux of the journalism industry, it is more important than ever for educators to be conscious of the ever-changing nature of the skills that our students will need to be able to adapt in today’s job market. Panelists will share their experiences with and suggestions for journalism education, both in the classroom and in the newsroom.

I talked about entrepreneurship, partnering with other entities on campus — Samford’s JMC teams with the business school and the law school for combined degrees — and initiative.

Other conference things took place. We attended sessions and other sessions. We visited the welcome mixer and then had dinner across the street at the Palace Cafe:


It was one of those places that was widely suggested to us by friends. (Tell people you are going to New Orleans and everyone has a restaurant list.) I had the braised pork shank:


It only needed to be bigger. And there was banana’s foster, which was prepared and fired in front of us. All the people infatuated by fire recorded the moment. The maitre d made a note of it and called the fire marshal, I’m sure. There was also cheesecake:


Tomorrow I’ll get to take part in two panels at the conference. Also, Wrestlemania is being held in New Orleans. The fans are starting to filter in. And some of the wrestlers. I think Mark Henry is staying in our hotel. That guy is massive.

Apr 14

26 minutes

The thing about New Orleans, I’ve discovered already, is that everyone wants to give you their restaurant recommendations. This is a good thing, so long as restaurant suggestions don’t play like car mechanic recommendations. Everyone has a A Guy, and they are sure he is better than every other guy. And if you don’t go to your friend’s guy … well, you’re taking your carburetor into your own hands, aren’t you?

We have a list of suggestions — not a suggestion, but lists — from at least three different people. Our friends at this conference are arriving today with similar lists. It is a remarkable thing.

One of the places we were told that we must go was a little dive bar and grill. The directions were “Go here and look across the street.” The idea being that you’d never see this place if you were looking for it:


We were told two things. First, order the macaroni and cheese, which is not on the menu, and they will treat you like locals. We forgot this instruction entirely, mostly because we were trying to work up the courage to follow the second piece of advice. The second tip was that we had to order the peanut butter and bacon burger:


The burger was, we were told, life changing. As in you will leave the place a different person. That’s a lot to say, and a lot of pressure to put on a burger. Oh, but this burger brings peanut butter and bacon to the party, too. The waitress agreed, this was a good burger. So we ordered them:


It was OK. The peanut butter overwhelmed the burger and you only occasionally noticed the bacon. It was very filling, go figure. It was a half a pound of beef with a whole lot of peanut butter. But we’d walked five miles last night. When I woke up this morning I was sore and tired and dehydrated. And then we went down to the fitness center and ran a 5K before lunch. The burger was fine, but it wasn’t something that you should order often because beef, bacon and peanut butter. So maybe it is a “when in New Orleans” thing. And you wouldn’t need it very much more often anyway.

We emerged from the place the same people. But later tonight I found myself thinking about how a peanut butter burger sounded like a pretty good idea …

This is the view from our hotel room in the Sheraton. Down that road there are some great neon signs that I’ll have to take pictures of later. The river is nearby. We found Jackson Square last night. Bourbon Street, which we haven’t even considered visiting, isn’t too far away. We’re apparently in the center of the business/tourist haven.


Now almost all of our conference friends are here. The conference begins (and my first panel presentation is) tomorrow.

I’d tell you about the place we had dinner tonight, which was also on a list from well-meaning friends, but the dining experience left something to be desired. Let’s say it this way, the meal was so weird that someone looked at a watch and wondered how long it would take us to go from getting the check to leaving the table. Consult this post’s title, above.

Apr 14

Travel day

In New Orleans, this is the Cathedral of St. Louis King of France (a minor basilica).


The first church on this site was built in 1727. In the 60 years that church stood, parishioners saw colonial children and the children of slaves baptized inside. At least a dozen people were buried inside. Change came after a fire ravaged the neighborhood in 1788. The “new” church was finally finished in 1794, and a quarter of a century later the central spire and the clock face went in. The bell still rings today. Restored in 1844 at the order of the Baroness Pontalba, the church had already seen two presidents, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor. It was restored and rededicated in April of 1976 for the bicentennial. The church still considers “the greatest moment in the history of the St. Louis Cathedral was the visit of Pope John Paul II in September, 1987.” He celebrated an outdoor Mass for over 200,000 on the New Orleans lakefront.

I think the night shot was better:


The building next to the Cathedral is the Cabildo. It was the seat of colonial government and is now a museum. The original building was destroyed in the same fire, of course, and this one was built just before the down of the 19th century. Among other things, the Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremonies in 1803. It was also the home of the state’s Supreme Court during much of Reconstruction.

Across the square, in our foreground, is a statue of Andrew Jackson, who looks wild and crazed on his horse. It fits.

Here’s a shot from the Tremé Brass Band.


But you really need a video of the Tremé Brass Band:

We walked five miles. We had gumbo and red beans and rice and a po’boy. We met some people from Atlanta. We saw amazing musicians on almost every street corner. It was a fine evening.

Mar 14

My ride: It felt like pneumonia without the pain

Took this while I was panting and wheezing and considering the alternative hobbies life might enjoy. I’d just gotten off my bike, the first exercise I’d had in a week since I couldn’t shake my illness and the first time I’d been on the bike for two weeks for other shameful reasons.


I’d decided late this evening that the weather was nice. It was a beautiful day. And I allowed myself to ignore my coughs and listening as I rationalized how I felt so much better, really. And I did, on the sofa, or in a chair or on the bed. I even felt good pedaling off my little neighborhood street, and then over the freeway and through the old neighborhood and all of that was fine. Right up until the first little hill, where I realized I couldn’t take any breath into my lungs.

It felt a lot like pneumonia, but without the pain, so at least there is that.

My route was going to be a simple one. A few weeks ago I saw a guy riding up the ramps of one of the parking decks and I thought That’d be fun. So I laid out a little route to get two of the parking decks. I figured this would be about six miles all told, just enough to stretch my legs and get the parking decks off my mind.

So I did the one and then the other and I thought, There are those other three parking decks … so then I had to do those. Four of them were great fun. The fifth one, the oldest one, was a bit narrow and sketchy. It has a nice view of … rooftops, though. So I sat up there and had a banana and smelled the smell of the barbecue coming from next door and looked out over the air conditioning units and satellite receivers of downtown and feeling a little like Batman, which is to say self-conscious in spandex.

About that time The Yankee texted me that she was going for a ride, so I descended the parking deck, got back on the road and had a woman almost pick a fight with me because she doesn’t understand traffic laws or how she almost hit me. She had her window down, so she heard my reaction to all of this. Anyway, I went back through another old neighborhood, by one of the city parks and up a little hill where I met the local riding group coming from the other direction. So I felt the need to make a good showing for them, standing up out of the saddle and smiling when I really wanted to be panting and moving listlessly. My legs felt OK, but it seems my lungs aren’t as over being sick as I’d like them to be.

Down another two hills and then onto the back of the local time trial route. On one end I passed my beautiful bride smiling and riding the other direction, “I know you!” she said.

So I turned around to follow her, but she was off like a rocket. Took me forever to catch her, and that was just before she got back home. Somehow my two parking deck, six-mile-or-so adventure turned into a nice 20 mile meandering course. Watching the sunset I wasn’t sure how I felt about any of it. I told her that I regretted the ride, which seemed the wrong thing to say after a bit. I’ve only regretted one ride, and that was just the abrupt and unexpected end of that particular ride, really. I didn’t regret today’s ride, just how I felt on it, and that it had been two weeks since I’d been in the saddle.

Hate when that happens.