Noah and the Floods

Thomas Friedman has written a timely op-ed in the New York Times, but the headline is even more pertinent to south Louisiana: “We Are All Noah Now.” Pet owners, be sure you have enough carriers for your animals, because you may need to evacuate with them.


A younger Thunder.

Last month my house almost flooded. I say “almost” because water rose fourteen inches up to the sill; another half-inch and it would have been inside. But the yard was underwater, the carport submerged, and the bird feeder soaked. Not having faced this particular emergency before, my panic was rising almost as quickly as the water at 11 am that Saturday morning. I grabbed my standby bag and put Bianca in a carrier. When I looked around for Thunder, he had vanished. Forty minutes of manic-depressive searching later, he still hadn’t appeared. I put a big plate of dry food on the kitchen counter, set a small dish of canned food on the floor, and prayed that the water would go down soon.

And it did, probably within four hours of my departure. My parents welcomed me, but I went back to check on Thunder the next day when the water had receded and the roads were open.


Flood water.

Well, you may be thinking, that’s nothing compared to the people who couldn’t get out in time (like my brother and two nephews, who were rescued by a state police boat) or to those whose houses were totally ruined and who may still be living in shelters. And you would be right.  Eleven years ago the experience of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was more traumatic, when evacuees were forcibly separated from their pets and sometimes from other family members. And the people who worked tirelessly to help, from the National Guard to neighbors who had a boat or sheet-rock skills or extra supplies to donate.

Friedman’s well-supported essay argues that humans must take more care of the earth and all its residents, or we will lose it soon. I add that each of us must be prepared with an ark for the next disaster. Meanwhile, read Friedman, support Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Federation and your favorite save-the-earth organization, and get some more pet carriers.


A Season of Performances

2016 is one of those years I wish I had continued to study sociology, because this spring is providing a fascinating array of display of how people behave in groups. The national Republican campaign for president is a public spectacle, more a horror show than an edifying display of politico-intellectual responsibility. The ratings are up, though, and people are entertained.

Last night’s concert in Eunice was a different kind of spectacle, a display of civic engagement where people contributed their talents to a constructive public entertainment. And boy, was it fun! Perhaps you can’t see it in this picture, but the video will show you. Thanks to Rick Nesbitt for his constructive media engagement with the public life of Eunice, and to Nancy and Harry Simon and the orchestra for its presentation of enjoyable serious music.

“Serious” music? Strauss, Schubert, Saint-Saens, and Jeremiah Clarke’s trumpet voluntary were on the program as well as can-can, Spanish dance music, and Ogden Nash. Though an amateur musician, I am as serious as Schoenberg or Scriabin. I play a violin, not well, but doggedly. My resolution for next year is to learn the music well enough to smile on stage. Last year I was squinting and frowning; this year I’m a bit more relaxed, but for 2017 I have hope and resolve.

Organizing from the Roots of the Jardin

This morning I have a meeting with the mayor to discuss the community garden, which after a good start is in need of more energy and people with time to keep it organized and connected.

8 am–arrive at work, spend some time talking with coworkers [build working relationships]

9:50–on my way out, speak with two administrators who are garden-supportive [more connections, contacts]

10 am–at City Hall waiting for my appointment with the mayor, I talk with his secretary, who had a student job here transporting and shelving the books for the brand new library [another connection, maybe for the 50th anniversary program. The secretary suggests another person to help with the garden.]

10:15 am–talk with the mayor about the garden community and a City Hall worker who will put the Jardin on the city’s website.phocas the gardener Her community group might also be interested in the garden as a project [truth to power. The mayor has been supportive since the beginning.]

10:45 am–on my way to pick up a sandwich for lunch, I meet a bystander and talk with him for a few minutes [you never know…]

11 am–getting my sandwich, I talk with the manager about the garden as a local source of fresh produce [another link for the garden. I get his phone number.]
All this before noon. There’s hope reblooming.

St. Phocas, patron of gardeners

New Year Letter, Part II: “Information”

A new year. No resolutions, just a wish to improve in what I already know I should be doing.

Part II

Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize. Stillness is not just an indulgence for those with enough resources — it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to gather less visible resources.

–Pico Iyer, writing about musician and poet Leonard Cohen. (Delancey Place, e-mail newsletter, January 5, 2015.

     Professionally, I want to rethink my attitude toward information technology and computerized library resources. Preparing for a conference presentation last fall, one of my co-presenters (who doesn’t know me well) suggested a sign imitating the notorious Ono-Lennon billboard:


(if you want it).

Aaargh. Her library director had recently decided to discard the printed books in their library and replace them with e-book versions.  I wrote a paper, revised another one in publication, gave some presentations, worked on a grant, taught people how to use a library for research, studied online tutorial possibilities. Am I banging my metaphorical head against a cultural wall?

New Year Letter, Part I: Music

Last summer, one of the cats peed on my Yamaha P-85 digital piano, shorting several circuits. I had to take it to Lafayette Music for repair; they had to order parts from Japan. The A/Bflat and Eflat-E pairs are still not working properly.

Meanwhile, I have taken up the violin. OK, I can hear you now, but listen: LSUE’s Continuing Ed offered a six-week fiddle class last spring. Cajun music is an authentic folk culture, and the players are way cool. (Although the instructor is from New York, he plays with Harry and Lisa Trahan’s Father-Daughter Band at the Eunice Liberty Theater, whose “Rendez-vous des Cajuns” Saturday night radio show is broadcast on KRVS-FM and streamed worldwide.) After the class, I decided that since I hadn’t found a piano teacher here I would take violin lessons to keep my hand in.  There’s a community symphony which Nancy Simon, my world-famous teacher, directs; she MADE me join it as a condition for taking me as a new student.

Well. Nancy says I’m making rapid progress. The orchestra is fun but way past my skill level, so I’m faking my way through the rehearsals. We’re playing simple arrangements of some classical music this year, no pops (yay!): two Beethoven symphonic excerpts, Amadeus, Dvorak’s American Suite, Saint-Saens’s “March of the Lions” from Carnival of the Animals, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Rossini, etc. Expect much improvement for the concert in mid-April, also at the Liberty Theater.

A friend here started taking piano lessons this year and bought a baby grand piano, so we’re playing together to amuse ourselves. She’s a real beginner (no previous training or experience), so she asks me seemingly easy questions about music theory (“What makes a minor scale?”). In December we met to play Christmas songs; we’re now working on “What Child Is This?,” which in non-holiday months of the year can be enjoyed as “Greensleeves.” Next up: gigs at street festivals and senior centers?

The Last Day of Summer

By the time it was over (equinox yesterday* at 9:29 pm CDT), I too had regained some equi-librium. After a day encountering the shortcomings of higher education in Eunice, I went to the local coffee shop.  At a sidewalk table was a fellow orchestra member, who asked how I was dealing with that troublesome passage of sixteenth notes in Dvorak’s  “American Suite.”

“Slowly,” I answered. As a novice violinist, I am not in his class.  He claims to have no talent, just persistence. We shared our practice methods and lamented the lack of interesting writing for second-violin. Don’t worry, audience; we’ll sound pretty good by April.

After the refreshing little chat, I went to meet my writing group. We discussed work we’d done, writers we liked, how to analyze a short story for revision, and the limits of  humanity. It’s a fun group. I felt much more energy, and some more optimism, as I walked in the dusk to my car. On Highway 13, low in the southwest, the teapot of Sagittarius was pouring out stars.

*Monday, September 22, 2014

“social rate of return”

Where’s the idealism?

“The social internal rate of return refers to the costs and benefits to society of investment in education, which includes the opportunity cost of having people not participating in the production of output and the full cost of the provision of education rather than only the cost borne by the individual. The social benefit includes the increased productivity associated with the investment in education and a host of possible non-economic benefits, such as lower crime, better health, more social cohesion and more informed and effective citizens.”

Education at a Glance, OECD, Paris, 2002. Accessed 15 July 2013.

“The benefits of higher learning include not only increased earnings, access to jobs, and economic growth effects, but also non-market private benefits beyond earnings to individuals and their families and external benefits to the society.

“The non-market private benefits are, for example, better health, better spousal and child health, greater longevity, child cognitive development, and increased happiness.  The value of these private benefits estimated by the income-equivalent method is substantial, and approximately equal to the earnings benefits.

“The non-market social benefits… include the contribution of higher education graduates to the improved operation of democratic, civic, and charitable institutions, to human rights, to political stability, to lower crime rates, to social capital and social cohesion, to the generation and adaptation of new ideas, and so forth. They also are substantial; estimated to be another 40% beyond the private earnings benefits.” From the July 1, 2009, cover article of Rorotoko.
walter_higher_learning_private_social_ benefits_education
Accessed 15 July 2013.

“new ideas, and so forth.” So that’s what I’m doing as a professional educator. Higher education is about rates of return on investment–economic, social, environmental. Non-economic benefits correlate with higher earnings.

Why this rant?

The  LSU system president visited our campus today; his message was serious but not too discouraging. As expected, he discussed political economics–which is dire enough for almost every one but especially for public education and other social services. More briefly, he gave us some hope that our hybrid two-year rural campus may remain an integral part of the Tiger mission, especially as an “access point” for “the costliest students” (there’s the economic metaphor again).  Yet although LSU Eunice’s student body has the highest percentage of Pell grant recipients, it also has the highest number of TOPS scholarship students in the state. We’re not just the low end of the tiger totem pole.

Go Bengals–tigers now and forever!