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22 January 2005

Fiber Update 

It's been an eventful couple of weeks since I've last checked in with a summary post; apologies for the absence. Lafayette's fight to be allowed to invest in itself with a state of the art phone/data/cable utility has been beset by what has mostly turned out to be confusion.

Here's the executive overview: The tide is rising. I sense one of those tipping points coming where suddenly all those folks who have been guarded about the project and a shockingly high percentage of those who'd been clearly dismissive of the possibility discover that they've been ardent supporters all along.

That's a good thing and is both natural and necessary. But it's hard for those weary pro-fiber partisan smiles not to be a little wry.

Here's a little tale that illustrates how the last two weeks have gone:

When last we visited on these pages BellSouth's Williams had issued each truck in his service fleet a copy of the anti-fiber petition to tote around town with them while they service the public. (Apparently the workers didn't necessarily greet that with enthusiasm.) What was most noticeable about William's support was that nothing visible came of it. No announcements about numbers of signatures gathered by blue and white trucks and no further supportive comments from BellSouth headquarters. Word then leaks out that Williams has talked to his employees again, and that the memo's instructions this time is that they are not to circulate the petition on company time. Finally we are treated to the spectacle of BellSouth's William's disingenuously declaring that he has always been for bringing "Lafayette forward in the world of technology" in the midst of "overtures" by both incumbents.

So what happened to produce that strange little trajectory?

That's the right question. And the short answer is that by the end of the recent two week period the balance between profit and loss had shifted, the cost of support had risen and the likelihood of eventual success had fallen. Cold calculation...and perhaps that the word has come down from corporate central that bad national publicity at this moment is too costly.

[open timeout for background]
Monopolist generally are amazingly immune to public opinion except when a regulatory commission is meeting. And right now BellSouth has some things before the Federal Communications Commission that are critical in the Baby Bell's real and inevitable battle with cable. A battle which realistically rates much higher in BellSouth's priority than publicly resisting our city's right of self-determination. With the resignation of remarkably pro-corporate Chairman Powell from the FCC imminent, it is in BellSouth's interest to get while the getting is still good. BellSouth and the other Baby Bells would dearly love to be exempted from what is required of their opponents, the cablecos; that they reach a franchise agreement with local communities like Lafayette before they are allowed to run cable TV. The FCC apparently believes they could step in and define cable TV offered by the telecos into a category they control. This would do considerably more than "save" the teleco's the annoyance of having to deal with all those little guys and pay some local folks for the use of their poles and rights of way. Much more crucial, it would exempt them from the standard clause in such contracts that they offer service to all citizens equally. Universal Service. They'd much rather cherry pick just the rich districts, keep their capital cost down, and drive the cablecos out of the most profitable parts of each local market. That is where the long term advantage lies.

And having a lot of publicity in the national press about how you are keeping a little municipality in colorful Cajun country down hands their opponents on the FCC valuable ammunition which is targeted right at the heart of the issue of local control. BellSouth can't want that.
[close timeout for background]


The events: National: Negativity

The biggest single event was a national blockbuster: USAToday endorsed Lafayette's plan in an editorial that followed up an analytical piece that indicted the baby bells for pursuing a plan to regain monopoly status. In the story and the editorial Lafayette's role was symbolic. We played the part (quite well, thank you) of the small town determined to control its own destiny lead by a fiery and idealistic mayor. BellSouth plays the symbolic role for the Telcos: the grey behemoth the whose monopoly ambitions are expressed in its attempt to keep even such wholesome competition as Lafayette's at bay. I don't mean to demean the battle here by saying that USAToday made it symbolic. Quite the contrary. Symbolism is most powerful when it is the simple truth. And the mythic story taking shape here, regardless of the details, is fundamentally true.

Other national events are less momentous. But in their narrow areas, no less important, and no less a danger to the story the private incumbents would like to see told.

A continuing series of negative stories about supine state legislatures giving away the store to the telecom industry emerged following the passage of a law in Pennsylvania intended to outlaw all municipal participation in broadband. Lobbyists in Pennsylvanida made the egregious political mistake of handing local sovereignty over to corporations and that tactic, finally, drew some media attention. (In Pennsylvania these days a community has to ask permission of any corporations that might want to provide telecom services and if they say they do then allow them to try. Sometime. Maybe.)

Intel, a behemoth itself, came out endorsing the idea that there is a legitimate role for municipals in the provision of broadband services. It clearly understands that if broadband is to expand rapidly local governments must not be written out of the competition by state laws.

A string on Lafayette's battle on Slashdot resolved, as much as such things can resolve, into slashing expression of technorati contempt for the incumbent providers of broadband and a defense of municipalities right to break free.

The Consumer's Union, the venerable gray lady of smart consumerism, launched a surprisingly activist website, hearusnow, devoted as much to rallying opposition to the developing monopolist practices of incumbent providers of telecommunications as to smart consumption of their products.

Ministers called SBC's plan, and by association BellSouth's very similar one, to roll out fiber to the (wealthy) curbs redlining. Since that is uncomfortably close to the truth, having it pointed out wasn't all that welcome. Especially while regulations are pending before the FCC which would allow them to do just that.

A meme emerged with some force in the media that incumbent providers in the United States are not doing their job as US rankings in broadband penetration continue in free fall and as those Americans with the limited broadband the incumbents provide discover that faster service is available for less in countries we once disdained as "second" or "third world."

Yes, BellSouth might well have thought that right now wasn't the time to confirm criticism of the ways it handles local broadband competitors by helping fix a local petition drive that appears doomed to failure anyway.

The events: Local: Confusion

The news wasn't good locally either.

The petitioners, by accepting BellSouth's aid, made BellSouth a target and lent credibility to the suspicion that they were doing work that the incumbents desired but had failed to accomplish themselves.

News broke (on LPF) that Cox had made "overtures" to the city. After a week the mainstream media picked it up. Even the hint of a possibility of an alliance between Cox and LUS had to make BellSouth very, very nervous. The current alliance between Cox and BellSouth is both unstable and unequal with BellSouth the weaker network in Lafayette.

Doubt mounted as to the legality of petition as it became more apparent that petitioners were simply looking for the easy rather than the legal path.

Bellsouth found itself allied to a group that couldn't shoot straight. They called press conferences to bemoan the fact that they were going to be prevented (by what would have been their own oversight) from presenting their petition before a deadline. The city-parish had to tell them that they were mistaken and they could present...but that it was the wrong petition, one which didn't apply to the type of bonds issued. So they issued another press release saying the drive was back on in full force. And later they asked for the city to halt progress on LUS' project while they tried to clear up legal questions. The mess did not reflect well on BellSouth.

The petitioners attracted some pretty telling criticisms as the administration used every opportunity to insist that a signature on the petition did signify opposition to the project regardless of what the petitioners said. They hit hard on the idea that it would hand decision-making power over to bureaucrats in Atlanta. And the obvious point was that this was all poor sportsmanship by folks who understood neither the technical nor legal frameworks they were dealing with.

That turned into a lot words, regardless of my attempt to focus the narrative on BellSouth's little turnaround. Still, the point is clear: BellSouth had its reasons for abandoning its open support of the petition. Both locally and nationally the leadership can't be happy with the way the battle has shaped up to date.

But the collapse of open incumbent opposition, even if it proves temporary, is a huge opportunity. Let's hope LUS is in position to take advantage of any fleeting goodwill at the PSC where BellSouth is rumored to be trying build roadblocks into LUS' regulatory regime.

21 January 2005

Bonus TKGOTW 

Admit it, you didn't much like that last game either, so here's an extra to get you through whatever boredom might be upon you. It gets hard pretty quickly, but don't let that distract you from conquering Stackopolis.

And just for kicks, here's the latest sign that wireless obsession has gone too far.

(pm.com via the gang at B3ta.com)

Time Killing Game of the Week 

Be a dog and save your girlfriend edition.

Don't bother downloading the Japanese text support. Just know that to start the game you click on the word on the top. Directions are below that, but I wouldn't bother with them. To play you click on Tobby's platform and hold and pull it like a rubber band. Avoid the spikes by ricocheting off the walls. Solid platforms can be destroyed by bopping them with your head. Enjoy, but not too much. If you haven't beaten the game by your second or third try, you're probably not cut out for computer games. After that it's all about points.

Wow 

Cajun Ken hits the big time.

I am a little disappointed he has yet to post how his big win came about. All in with a 3-4 and other such moves ought to shouted from the rooftops if you come out the big winner.

EKL doomed 

Possibly entire charity system in Baton Rouge doomed as well? Frankly, I don't know what to make of this report that Our Lady of the Lake and the LSU Health Sciences folks are in discussions over a "partnership." The report states that LSU is prepared to move forward on a $120 million hospital construction thanks to the recent news that EKL probably can't be accredited as a teaching hospital in its current or any future state, but that move has stalled as unspecified partnership agreements between the private hospital and LSU are mulled over. There's no discussion in this report about the consequences of such a move for the poor and uninsured in Baton Rouge who seek medical treatment. Of course, I'm probably reading too much into a very non-specific article.

Indoctrination alert: Liberal bias in the classroom! 

You should go over to Oyster's place for his account of yesterday's New Orleans protest, but I should really point this out from an otherwise worthy story about the Jazz Funeral in the Times-Pic.
Among the many marchers carrying video cameras was New Orleans Center for Creative Arts teacher Connie Kringas, who filmed the funeral for her middle school students. They are learning about the democratic process while studying "Hamlet," she said.

The students are comparing Hamlet to John Kerry "because he is a person with a lot of words but ineffectual," Kringas said. Like Claudius, Bush is "so sure of himself but lacks understanding of the real meaning of things," she said.
I don't read the letters to the Pic, so I don't know if something like this would spur the same outrage that it would in my little hamlet of Lafayette, but I can almost guarantee you that if this happened here and was reported in the Advertiser that there would be no fewer than fourteen letters demanding that this Bush-hating teacher be fired and we stop funding public schools. I wonder if they'll perform the play impersonating the President and his most recent rival as a production for the entire school...

20 January 2005

The ties that bind 

Reader pc sends a link to this story that JP Morgan Chase created a scholarship fund as a goodwill gesture to the black community after realizing that they had acquired the assets of two New Orleans banks that once participated in the slave trade:
The public disclosure of the education fund came today in response to a 2003 Chicago ordinance requiring companies that do business with the city to disclose any previous profiteering from slavery.

Spencer said the company, which searched records of the more than 300 predecessor banks that it has acquired, finished its due diligence this week. JP Morgan filed its disclosure today with the city of Chicago.

In a letter to JP Morgan Chase’s 120,000 employees, company officials issued an apology for the slavery-era activities of the predecessor banks.

“Two predecessors — Citizens Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana — served as banks to plantations from the 1830s until the Civil War, accepted enslaved individuals as collateral on loans, and sometimes took ownership of them when the plantation owners defaulted on the loans,” the letter said.

All told, the two banks accepted 13,000 slaves as collateral and took possession of 1,250 of them as a result of defaulted loans.

“Slavery was a brutal and unjust institution. We apologize to the African-American community, particularly those who are descendants of slaves, and to the rest of the American public for the role that Citizens Bank and Canal Bank played,” the letter states. “The slavery era was a tragic time in U.S. history and our company’s history.”
This sounds like one of those undeniably positive outcomes of Chicago's controversial slavery disclosure ordinance (see opposing view on the ordinance here.) Hell, if the realization and then disclosure of different corporation's complicity and participation in the slave trade shames a few into things like scholarships and proactive minority hiring practices, then maybe even the loudest voices for reparations will finally let it go. Despite all the sound and fury wasted on opposition to these ordinances by many conservatives, maybe they'll appreciate it as a nudge for companies to "do the right thing" thus forestalling any possible tipping point that could result in class-action lawsuits and multi-billion dollar jury decisions.

JFfD 

The AP covers the New Orleans Jazz Funeral for Democracy. There isn't much to the pictures included at WWL, but if anyone who reads this was there I'd love to read about your experience (if you're not still partying...). Unfortunately, it looks like Oyster's concerns about whether or not the protesters would respect the "unique cultural tradition" of a true Jazz Funeral weren't entirely out of line. At least judging by the pictures I've seen, but I wasn't there so I don't really know whether or not that's right.

My concern is more about the wisdom of protest for its own sake, but this one has seemed like a little something more than that. The theme seems to suggest that the moment should be cathartic for the participants even if they're not necessarily trying to affect any kind of immediate political change (political change being the most worthy goal of any protest, but hey, that's just, like, one dude's opinion). Whatever, I'll be glad to hear impressions from people who participated.

Goth culture in depth 

I knew at least one of my local stations couldn't resist the temptation to pursue the goth cemetery bandits story to its most boring conclusions. In four separate reports from the crack "Eyewitness News team" we learn that at least one of the teens is also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia; according to the New Iberia Senior High guidance counselor, goth kids have low self-esteem; the friends had long joked about cemeteries; and--the shock!--the same cemetery had been vandalized many times before. Surely it couldn't have been devil worshipping kids dressed with a predilection for black every time?

Thank God for KLFY. TV-10 does love Acadiana.

Our long national nightmare is over... 

No, George Bush is still President, and the inauguration appears to have gone off without a hitch, but as Jeffrey and Brett point out in comments below, Rose is back, after the longest vacation in history. Had it gone on any longer, we might have called it "sabbatical."

Whatever the case, I'm happy I have something to look forward to in the Pic at least three times a weeks now. And there's this too:
And then there's me. I'm back from several weeks' vacation and I think I should get overdressed and someone should buy me lunch at Galatoire's to mark this momentous occasion.

Someone should celebrate me, the reporter, because, after all: It's about you, the reader.
You got it. We love you. But be careful of the tourists from Texas at Galatoire's.

Gay marriage ban 

Gay rights group says, "it's not so bad." The state Supreme Court threw the Forum for Equality a bone and said the amendment could not threaten contracts drawn up between two people regardless of the circumstances of their lives.

Lemons, be lemonade!

They're kidding 

Our poor state legislators have it so hard. Orphaned tsunami victims in Indonesia probably don't know the depths of their woe:
State law allows lobbyists to buy tickets for elected officials to attend sporting or cultural events -- up to $100 per occasion.

...

Lancaster said the $100 maximum prevents him from attending LSU and Saints football games or Hornets basketball games as a guest of lobbyists because better seats cost more than that.

"It basically prohibits you from sitting anywhere you can see the game," said Lancaster, R-Metairie.

Rep. Billy Montgomery, D-Haughton, said he would like to see the ceiling adjusted "to get somewhere closer to reality."
Our legislators are apparently tired of settling for life as ten dollar whores and want to move up to the ranks of high-priced "escorts."

Economic Development 

Well, there are guaranteed investments and then there are poorly thought out gambles.
Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom wants to spend more than $130 million on what even proponents say is a gamble with public money to build sugar mills on the outskirts of cane country in Jefferson Davis and Avoyelles parishes.

State governments are rarely in the business of building major manufacturing plants, but Odom says the mills -- one under construction in Lacassine and another proposed for Bunkie -- would be a way to help struggling sugar cane farmers.

...

Construction is under way on Odom's state-of-the-art $45 million sugar mill in Lacassine, a small town just east of Lake Charles in Jefferson Davis Parish. The Bond Commission approved the project in September 2003 after just 15 minutes of discussion.
What's been happening with sugar mills lately? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the state spending money, but people should really find a way to muster the same outrage at a proposition like this that they manage for every dollar even considered being spent on Dome renovations.

Rose Watch 

Day 20

Still missing! Where am I supposed to get my midweek laughs?

19 January 2005

Just a Reminder... 

Tomorrow is the big day for the folks organizing the Jazz Funeral for Democracy. They're kicking things off with a "wake for peace" this evening at six o'clock at Turtle Bay on Decatur St. There's music and a cash bar for people who want to meet up with "fellow travelers" and have a good time.

The hate mail they're getting over there is pretty funny.

Repressive two-fer? 

Headlines seen one above the other on the Louisiana AP newswire:

Court reinstates Louisiana's anti-gay marriage amendment

La. Supreme Court upholds sodomy law

That second headline may be a bit misleading. The court only upholds portions of Louisiana "sodomy" law that deals specifically with solicitation of "unnatural sexual acts." It's not quite the same thing as criminalizing homosexuality, but whatever...Just make sure you always read beyond the headline.

Say it ain't so, Breaux! 

Umm. Worst. Idea. Ever. In the spirit of the comments on goth culture below from Ryven and Jboo, there's this.

National Sales Tax:
protects accumulated
wealth; feasts on earned pay.

Senator Breaux says,
"I'm a millionaire lobby'st,
screw the working man!"

If we lived in a just world the man positioned to head up the panel that will rewrite the tax code would be laughed out of public life for suggesting something like this.

Voting Machines 

The public will get a chance to provide input on whatever voting machines the state buys. The companies begin their "certification" process from McKeithen's office this week, and then they'll make them available for the public to try out.
The clerks of court meet Feb. 16 in Baton Rouge at the Embassy Suites and the registrars Feb. 25 in Lafayette at The Hotel Acadiana. Other demonstrations will be conducted Feb. 14 in Monroe at The Atrium Hotel and Feb. 15 in New Orleans at the Cotton Exchange Hotel.

The demonstrations will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day.

...

Those companies seeking to do business with the state include Sequoia Pacific Voting Systems, Diebold Elections Systems, Accupoll, Populex, Hart Intercivic, Elections Systems and Software, Advanced Voting System and Liberty Elections System.
McKeithen has expressed doubts about the costs of EVMs, but that doesn't mean he won't be convinced that they're best for the state. Public input in the process may be the only way to keep Diebold and Sequoia out.

Lafayette Day? 

The Advertiser editors must have assigned their entire staff to cover the goth business, because what they don't bother to report this morning is the news that UL has suspended all fratenity activity that would involve new members until the University can reiterate it's hazing position to each of the organizations.

What's shocking to read from this story is how what looks like such mild hazing could have caused such an uproar:
The investigation showed that pledges to Phi Kappa Theta had been asked by fraternity members to "exercise" in the early morning hours, and one of the pledges suffered an asthma attack.

In March, the university also announced that the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter on campus would be banned for two years following a 2003 incident in which pledges were hosed down with water and deprived of sleep.
Now I'm sure that the University has a stated "zero tolerance" policy regarding hazing of any kind, so any reports are investigated and dealt with, but you have to wonder what these pledges expected when they signed up. They were the whistle blowers in these cases, so apparently they weren't happy about it. Early morning "exercises" and getting sprayed with cold water seems like par for the course to me, but what the hell do I know? I bet the girls at Tri-Phi could beat the crap out of these guys.

Goth attack 

Well the big story out of Acadiana this week looks like it will be the terrifying news that a few goth teenagers found an open tomb in a New Iberia cemetery on New Year's Eve and removed some bones from it. Cheers to the Advertiser's Jason Brown, who actually scooped the Advocate for once by getting an interview with at least one of the kids and his mother. Presumably he also secured permission to publish their names since they're all minors charged with a criminal act. Will wonders never cease?

The best part of these stories is the attempt to describe just what the hell it means to be "goth":
Hebert said the young men did not damage the bones, which included a human skull, and took them because of their "gothic" beliefs. The "goth" subculture includes dressing in dark clothing, wearing dark makeup, and having piercings and tattoos. It can also involve a fascination with the occult.
What beliefs? Dead people are cool? At any rate, this will surely set off a firestorm of worry and fury about devil-worshipping teens running around the area. I can't wait for it. The IP coroner gives us a taste of what's to come:
"The recent discovery that several 17-year-old individuals were involved in grave robbing for the enjoyment of their grossly abnormal satanic behavior is inexcusable and incomprehensible," he wrote. "This type of crime violates all rules of our society and inflicts severe hurt and disgust on those families who have buried their dead."
He seems to be attaching too much significance to their fashion choices in this case, though I understand the outrage at people who would desecrate a grave site. I can't wait for the letters to pour in at the Daily Advertiser.

18 January 2005

D'oh! 

Mayor [Nagin] discovers ankle is broken after march.

That's dedication for you.

If only Baron Davis treated injured feet the way the honorable mayor does (just kidding there BD fans, I know he's the only person worth a damn on the worst team in the NBA.)

Promoting the community? 

Boy, I almost hate to give this Drudge Report clone project Louisiana any traffic help, but it looks like it could be indispensable.

...also, Greg Peters is back to blogging at Suspect-Device. I swear one of these days I'm going to update the sidebar and you folks aren't going to know what hit you.

I also ought to alert you to a recent correspondent in exile from Louisiana at a random coastal enclave in northern California who helps out at the once frequently updated TestPattern.org.

Rose Watch 

Day 18

...at least but it might be longer, and still nowhere to be found.

Bipartisan pandering 

More than two years after both of our Senators (of course Vitter was then a Representative) voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, knowing full well that the current state of our military would require the extensive use of National Guard soldiers, they now believe our guard is "stretched too thin."

I guess it's hard not to care when people are dying, or when they're stop-lossed in one month and then called up for 18 months of active duty in Iraq a few weeks later. It does seem like too little too late to me. Landrieu is on the Armed Services Committee, what did she do before this war to address the military's unhealthy reliance on parttime soldiers to prosecute a war. Back in '91 less people died, but that didn't mean there weren't also thousands of Guard called up to serve in Iraq then anyway. It shouldn't have been any secret that state's forces would need to be utilized this time around.

Only a matter of time... 

Last week I wondered where the faculty anger was at new LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe's salary package that includes as much as $50,000 from private LSU "booster" groups. It seems they were just gearing up for another battle. LSU appears to be shuffling O'Keefe through the quickest tenure track ever.

The Faculty Senate is worried that this will devalue tenure for those that actually earned it. If I were on the board of trustees though, I'd be worried that the university was putting itself in a corner with a guy whose capabilities in academia are mostly unknown. Considering all the perks they've offered him, it strikes me as unwise to essentially allow him to serve in good faith, as though he were a federal judge or something.

17 January 2005

TKGOTW 

MLK day edition. Busy. Get to it.

So, Iran here we come, no?

16 January 2005

Sunday Papers 

A 44 year old story of race and crime was finally brought to its conclusion late last night when Wilbert Rideau's murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter and he was set free. The jury came later than the papers I get at home went to print, so the Picayune has all you need to know. The Lake Charles Paper, serving the city where the crime was committed and where divisions have pulled at the community since it happened, is also a good place to go for more information about this. My lack of interest in this story when I read about the new trial was completely unwarranted. Thank God and man for justice no matter how long it was delayed; may He also have mercy on the families of Rideau's victim and give them the strength to forgive.

Nothing else really seems as important as this, but I'd be remiss not to point out a few things of interest in the Advocate before I get out of here this morning. First is a profile of new Louisiana Democratic Chairman Jim Bernhard. The article makes much hay out of the fact that Bernhard is "relatively new" to state politics. Also, the Advocate continues their polling on state public opinion matters. This time they deal with "moral" issues in general, stem cell research, and paying religious groups with tax-payer dinero. And since I skipped yesterday, some misleading headlines characterize a supposed majority of support for "Bush's war effots", even though the graphics included in the print edition show that Louisiana's voters only approve Bush's actions against terrorists like Al Qaeda by a majority. Voters are actually split about Bush's handling of Iraq. Also, less than fifty percent of Louisiana voters believe we should have gone to Iraq. Note that all these polls were taken before the recent spate of local deaths rocked Louisiana, so opinion may have changed considerably since this poll was conducted.

The last thing I'll mention is an article in the Advocate about another venture in Lafayette's multifold ambition to become the technological epicenter of the Gulf South. Don't know much about this, but it sure looks interesting.

Football today. If the Vikings lose the football gods will have exacted their vengance against the lowly teams who denied the Saints their chance at glory by losing/winning in the last weekend of the regular season. It was particularly ugly for those Rams yesterday. The missed field goals by Doug Brien in Pittsburgh were appropriate too, since if he could have only kicked it a little better in St. Louis a couple of weeks earlier, the Saints would have enjoyed at least one extra week to their season. The gods only know what their plans are for the Washington Redskins in this offseason.

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