Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

This Site Has Moved

July 16, 2015

I have moved Crescent City Confidential over to its proud new custom URL at

As of July 14, 2015 I will no longer be posting here. Visit the new URL and stay in touch!




That Duel

July 11, 2015

211 years ago today, Aaron Burr (the Vice President) shot and killed Alexander Hamilton (the former Treasury Secretary and still leader of the Federalist Party) on a dueling ground in Weehawken, New Jersey.Aaron Burr

In addition to a) being a fabulous story, and b) playing a peripheral role in my book (mainly because Burr, under indictment for murder in New Jersey, undertook a bizarre Western “adventure” that had all sorts of consequences in New Orleans), this happens to be c) the first historical event I can remember having any specific awareness of.

It was like 5th grade or so, and I was reading my US history textbook in class — whether directed to, or surreptitously, who knows — and I came across a paragraph about the duel. Double take — wait — what? The Vice President shot the Secretary of the Treasury? Why? Where? How? He didn’t get prosecuted? What exactly was going on in this strange foreign world of this early American republic?

I don’t consider Burr a villain, nor do I make him out to be a hero as some of his contrarian advocates do. He was an interesting blend of democratic ideology and self-interested opportunism — in other words, a really good emblem of the early republic writ large. Hamilton, on the other hand, although he gets tons of great press lately, was basically Mitt Romney, an advocate for the banks and the wealthy, and a skeptic on democracy. (No wonder he gets lots of great press lately!) They’re both among the most interesting figures of this whole period, and reading about the Duel will teach you a lot, if you’re willing, about politics and society in Jeffersonian America.

I’d suggest Thomas Fleming’s Duel and while it is slightly eccentric and idolizes Burr way too much, Roger Kennedy’s Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character; also, if historical fiction is your bag, Gore Vidal’s Burr is a loose but entertaining treatment of the episode and Burr in general.

Sarah Carr, Hope Against Hope

June 15, 2015

This is a profound, beautifully written, intelligent and moving book about the jarring changes in the New Orleans public school system since Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. As you may have heard, our Crescent City is now on the cutting edge of the school privatization/reform/charter movement that has been sweeping the Sarah Carr Hope against Hopenation, and has been cited by Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, as a model for the nation. Those of us who actually live here tend to see things differently; in my own opinion, New orleans becoming a model for the nation would be a tragedy of the first order. In any case, what is really wonderful about Carr’s book is that she avoids the postage-stamp caricatures that both sides in the debate generally make of each others’ points of view. She explores all viewpoints with nuance and compassion, following a freshman at a KIPP high school, a young white teacher at Sci High, and an experienced black woman principal at O. Perry Walker school, through the ups and downs of a whole school year. While doing this she also considers the history of public education in the United States and New Orleans in particular, segregation and integration, No Child Left Behind and the quantification movement, Teach for America, and many other aspects of the subject. There are many books about these issues — I also like Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System — but Hope Against Hope is one of the best out there, a must read for anyone interested in education.

Jazz fest

May 5, 2015

This is my third year attending the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It really is enormous and a lot different from the “ordinary” festivals in other places: add in the second lines, the New Orleans food, the party atmosphere, and the simply staggering number of stages and artists. Also the prospect for extreme weather, either in terms of rainfall or scorching sunshine.

Last year we brought both our kids; Millie went off with her friends while Lisa & I dragged the boy to see Bruce Springsteen at the ridiculously overcrowded Acura Stage. This year Lisa and dude stayed home and I took Millie with her friends. I avoided the Acura stage (where Elton John was headlining) and spent most of the time sitting in a folding chair reading Robert Gordon’s book about Stax, listening to a succession of mediocre performers while waiting for Ed Sheeran.

And Ed Sheeran was great. I’m a big fan. It feels real since it’s just him with the loop pedal, he can be a bit unscripted, and he’s got great energy and great tunes. But I realized something at this Jazz Fest, something I’ve kinda known for years, but have been in denial about because, you know, one likes to try to get in the spirit of things. But the fact is this: I hate music festivals. Bad sound, way, way too many people, wars over your little patch of grass, bad overpriced food, long lines for food and bathrooms: what is enjoyable about this? Well, for some people, the music, I suppose. For me it’s not worth it. There, I said it. It seems ungrateful, in a way, since my career for a long time depended on the fact that other people, bless their hearts, enjoy this sort of thing. But it’s not my bag, baby.

Author Photos

April 19, 2015

Taken by the fabulous Cathy Weeks.


September 18, 2014

Scottish independence? meh.

This is what I say to Scottish yes voters: the USA fought a nine year war to get away from British rule. India struggled constantly from 1857 to 1947. Ireland fought on and off for about FOUR CENTURIES. And you … you waltz up to the polls to have your little “referendum,” and we’re supposed to be impressed? Back in the day, we had to work for things.

I’m disappointed in the English, too. Time was, you guys cared enough to fight! Could it be you never really loved those Scots after all? I mean, when part of our Union seceded, we didn’t send politicians to make nice — we sent Grant and Sherman.

Not to mention — and this is the last point I’m going to make — there’s something unconscionably crass about seceding for the sake of a few shillings of North Sea oil revenue. For that you end a 307-year partnership? At least when the Confederacy seceded, it was for a principle. An unthinkably evil principle, and racist to boot, but still a principle!

The Anti-copyright freak parade

September 18, 2014

This article is not all that interesting on its own — yes, if you own a venue that features music, you need to get a license. It’s been this way a long time, everyone understands how it works, and if you don’t get a license you run a real risk of being sued or shut down. The bar owners who try to flout this are no different from that Montana rancher whose selfish desire to welch on paying grazing fees for federal land became a cause celebre last year.

But what’s really scary are the 160 (and counting) comments, which run about 19 to 1 in the direction of copyright is wrong, ban or cripple all copyright protection, how anyone dare restrict our god-given freedoms with this thing called copyright protection.

It’s deeply disturbing for multiple reasons. It’s disturbing because of the level of ignorance on display — the commenters simply have little understanding of how copyright works, why it exists, who is protected. Nor does this prevent them from arrogantly and righteously proclaiming what they think is the truth. But it doesn’t stop there — some of them are positively willing to advocate Violence to overthrow the hated tyrannical copyright regime. For example there’s “lemuero” who argues “How about we all unite and rally up and TRASH WARNER BROTHERS HEADQUARTERS AND BURN DOWN THEIR STUDIO?” — to which “John Jacobs” agrees that “Repeatedly burning, looting, and rioting” are necessary because we need to “make it _painful_ for people to keep supporting the copyrighting monopoly.” “Guest9001” chimes in that “besides fractional reserved debt based currencies, intellectual property is the greatest threat to peace and prosperity in the world.”

Really? With all the problems going on in the world, musicians making money from their music are the greatest “threat”? Not nuclear weapons, genocide, the Ebola virus, environmental destruction, Middle East conflict, Russian brinksmanship, terrorist groups who kidnap schoolgirls and behead journalists — but copyright? (And non-gold-backed currencies, of course, which gives away that these are mainly Ron Paul tinfoil hat types, Keyboard Kommandos typing away in Mom’s basement, young friendless white males whose excess testosterone and proclivity for violence is being channeled into this utter nonsense, privileged people who believe the slightest threat to their “freedoms” trumps anyone else’s problems including their right to make a living.)

And that’s really the most disturbing thing about this fetid little comments section. It showcases the degree to which internet culture allows and encourages little echo chambers of like-mindedness to form. The freaks who want to ban copyright are a small minority of the general population. But their forming here in a group — a very likeminded group, very hostile to the occasional “trolls” who try to argue a contrary position — makes them feel like a majority, endows them with a group solidarity and esprit de corps, fosters this sort of poisonous radicalism that permits itself violent fantasies in support of its twisted notion of what is right. You see this on political blogs, too, all the time, on the left and right alike. Everyone’s forming themselves into little self righteous tribes, smugly hostile to everything else. These guys are among the most deluded members of a society in which so many of us are spending our time in closed little echo chambers of delusion. This is how people end up believing the Sandy Hook shootings were staged by the government, or joining ISIS. I’m not saying the anti-copyright loons are as bad as that, but they’re going down the same road.

Because the truth is, it’s not corporations and greed that are the greatest threat to this world. It’s idealistic young men who think they know what’s right. They get together in these self-amplifying little groups and egg on each others’ fantasies of righteous violence. Sooner or later the fantasies always turn real.


The Saints …

September 14, 2014

have started the season 0-2. Both close games, lost in heartbreaking fashion in the last seconds. Does this ruin the whole season, or do they find a way back from this? Could go either way.

My new toy

August 29, 2014

Lap Steel 1Did I mention on top of everything else in my life, I’m trying to teach myself lap steel? I’m learning it in C6 tuning which is really just mind melting, it’s so not like the guitar, but it’s the authentic country & western sound, and to me the lap steel is all about baby steps to the pedal steel.

So the awesome Tad Troilo built this lovely thing. It stays in perfect tune, looks and feels great, has a Seymour Duncan humbucker with tremendous gain. Makes practicing so much fun, I’m playing all the time lately. Love it!


August 2, 2014

We’re back in steamy, comfortable old NOLA. It’s nice to be back in the city where I live, the city where I work, the city I’m writing a big long book about, the city my kids think of as home. Three and a half weeks until teaching starts, a nice stretch to get settled in, do some writing and some home improvement, and hang in the hot sun by the pool watching the boy for hours on end.