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Monday, March 7, 2016

Henderson, Louisiana: McGee's Landing, Terroir, and Joy

Atchafalaya Swamp from McGee's Landing, Henderson, Louisiana. February 2016.

I first heard the word "terroir" in its usual context, the description of a wine. Terroir is the character -  the overall sensory experience of a wine - contributed to by "the specificity of [birth]place, which has come to include not only the soil in a region, but also the climate, the weather, the aspect of the vineyards and anything else that can possibly differentiate one piece of land from another."

Atchafalaya Swamp from McGee's Landing, Henderson, Louisiana. February 2016.

Some South Louisianans like to say their DNA is in the dirt here. The music here - the creole, cajun, zydeco, and heck, yes, even the swamp pop - has its DNA in the dirt as well, and in the swamps and the bayous.

To be in a local place, listening to and dancing to local music, looking out the door onto the Atchafalaya Basin, in this day's example, or out onto sugar cane field in another day's example, or onto a bayou-fed pond on another day, it is to experience the terroir of this music.

It is a joyous thing.

Here is the talented Steve Adams Trio at McGee's Landing:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Lafayette: African American History Parade

Princes and princesses at the 2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

The African American History Parade in Lafayette was one of my last hurrahs in South Louisiana.

Gosh darn, I do love a parade. Especially when it has marching bands. Well, truth be told, the marching bands are the best part of a parade. Marching bands trump thrown candy and beads any day of the week. Especially the drums. A parade made up solely of marching bands with strong drum corps, that would be a destination parade. OK, I guess you'd have to insert some floats or whatever between the bands just to create a space for the different songs performed by the bands.

Here's the Ocean of Soul Marching Band from Texas Southern University:

And here's the St Martinville High School band:

Before the parade, a couple of band members from a school got into a bit of trouble, resulting in the need to drop for some push ups. I believe the two boys were gawking at some pretty girls instead of paying attention to the band director.

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

There were many charmers on floats, such as this shy, smiley princess:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

There were paeans to local history makers:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

And sworded knights on horseback:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

A slide show below:


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Opelousas: The Long Reach of Racism: Pensions

A pretty house on South Street, Opelousas, Louisiana.

I went looking for a historic spot in Opelousas awhile back, and I couldn't find it, even though I had an exact street address from the biography of Cat Doucet (doo'-say), a long-time sheriff of St. Landry Parish (often referenced by James Lee Burke in his Dave Robicheaux series). 

I pulled into the parking lot of a business that, in theory, would be next door to said historic spot. I went inside, greeted the man and woman I saw within, and said, "Uh, I've got a crazy question to ask you." And I told them about the Doucet biography, the name of the illustrious owner of the business site I sought, and the exact address as per the book. Whereupon the woman explained that it was likely that street numbering had changed between the time of the book's publication and now, and she didn't know the location of the historic site.

But we started talking, and the business woman - a Creole woman in her 70s, perhaps - told me some of her story. To avoid having to refer to the business woman only as "she" and "her," I'll call her Ms. Theresa.

When Ms. Theresa was a child in Opelousas, people of color could only enter a store by way of a back or side door, not the front door. Ms. Theresa and some of her friends refused to subject themselves to this. They had a fair-complected friend of Creole heritage; Ms. Theresa's friend could enter such stores through the front door, so Ms. Theresa and her other friends gave her money to go in and buy their desired items.

Ms. Theresa attended college and obtained a teaching degree. When it came time to seek a teaching position in St. Landry Parish, she discovered she was expected to give money to certain official(s) in order to get a teaching job. This she refused to do, so she moved to another part of Louisiana to teach for a number of years. For a time in Louisiana, she taught at an integrated school, where she encountered the daily situation in which her white students were encouraged by their parents not to pay the respect to her they paid to her white colleagues at the school, such as standing up for her when she entered the classroom, as did students in that era.

Eventually, Ms. Theresa made her way to Georgia to teach, where her salary was significantly higher than in Louisiana. This is where she spent most of her teaching career.

After retirement, Ms. Theresa decided to return to Opelousas, where she'd grown up. An observation she made: Her retirement pension exceeded, by far, that of her contemporaries who'd remained in Louisiana. My impression from Ms. Theresa was that this difference had a direct impact on their respective economic quality of lives today.

Which brings me to the title of my post: The Long Reach of Racism.

Ms. Theresa's observation made me wonder: Did retirement institutions in the US, particularly in the South, adjust their pension calculations to address earlier years of discriminatory wages? To date, I haven't been able to find any answers to this.

If retirement institutions have not made such an adjustment, then there are hundreds of thousands - perhaps millions? - of black retirees who receive a lower pension than their white counterparts, based on past systemic discrimination in:
  • Wages;
  • Promotional opportunities (and therefore, higher income); and 
  • Professional development, e.g. tuition reimbursement (and therefore, higher income).

Most pension plans include these variables in their pension calculations:
  • Years of service;
  • Average payment for a certain number of years; and 
  • Some sort of percentage multiplier. 

The Louisiana teacher retirement pension plan appears to be an example of this.

Let's say I'm a 70 year-old woman of color who taught in the Louisiana public schools, now retired, but who taught between the ages of 25 and 60. I:
  • Was born in 1946
  • Began teaching in 1971
  • Retired in 2006

And let's say I began my teaching career at the same time as a white counterpart, "Ms. Marie." When we began teaching in 1971, she received $10,250 per year, and I received $10,000. ... a $250 annual wage disparity.

Every 10 years, we received a 10% increase in salary. Therefore, in: 
  • 1981: Ms. Marie earned $11,275; I earned $11,000 --> $275 disparity
  • 1991: Ms. Marie earned $12,403; I earned $12,100 --> $303 disparity
  • 2001: Ms. Marie earned $13643; I earned $13,310 --> $333 disparity

If I use the Louisiana retirement plan calculation, my understanding is that I'd: Multiply years of service x average of final three years of compensation x 2% or 2.5%.

Assuming 2%, I calculate our pensions as follows:
  • Ms. Marie: 35 years x $13,643 ($477,505 lifetime earnings) x 2% = $9550 pension per year
  • Me: 35 years x $13,310 ($465,850 lifetime earnings) x 2% = $9317 pension per year

My retirement pension is $233 less per year than Ms. Marie's, or $19 per month.


Teacher Salaries in Black and White: Pay Discrimination in the Southern Classroom (1890-1954)

From Encyclopedia of Louisiana, Jim Crow's Demise, article by Nikki Brown:
"In 1965, only five Louisiana parishes submitted plans for integration. By 1967, thirty parishes still had made no arrangements to desegregate. In 1970, forty-five parishes were ordered to come up with a legitimate plan or risk the loss of federal funding; full integration of Louisiana’s public schools did not come until the mid-1970s. Similarly, Louisiana was ordered—on at least ten occasions between 1965 and 1998—to integrated segregated universities and professional schools or compensate the state’s historically black colleges and universities for generations of neglect."

Related post

Opelousas: Death in Black and White

Monday, February 29, 2016

Stuff: 10 Tips for Downsizing Your Money Life

Art and money at an ATM in Yerevan, Armenia.

Recently, Lifehacker published an article, Go On a Regular Purge to Downsize Your Life and Save Money.

I like the take on this article, which is more about purging expenses than stuff. The author references an article in a website new to me, MoneyNing, titled How to Downsize Your Lifestyle.

Both articles are frustratingly fluffy, but there's enough yeast in them to get one thinking.

Here are my own tips

1. Get into the right frame of mind.

Set concrete financial goals:
  • "I want to have x dollars in the bank by x month and year."
  • "I want to be debt-free by x month and year." 

Your desired future guides your financial goals. You don't need to have it all figured out today, but do you have a rough idea of what you want your life to be like in the next five, 10, 20, 40, 60 years?

Accept that different phases of your life cost more than others. Depending on your age, family status, and so on, there is an ebb and flow of income outflows, such as student loans, setting up a home, daycare for young children, extra-curricular activities for school-aged children, etc. Think over the long haul (the roughed-in vision of your future), but always with an eye on living within your means today so you can achieve the goals for the future.

2. Challenge what you think you know.

Question common "truths."

For example, do you HAVE to take on student loans to get an undergraduate degree? Hell, no. But to avoid this, you will have to buck the crowd mentality. For example, maybe you'll take six years to graduate instead of four, so you can work your way through school. Maybe you'll get a relatively inexpensive associate's degree at your local community college and then go to a four-year university as a junior so you can get your bachelor's there. None of your friends are doing this? Who gives a fuck? You'll graduate without a student loan that will chain you down for 10+ years. ...

The same strategy works for other rites of passage. Does it make economic sense for everyone to buy a house? No, it doesn't. The common wisdom about a house being a better financial investment than renting isn't always correct.

3. Do follow some rules of thumb

Set aside a fixed percentage of all income for short-term and long-term savings. ANYTHING is better than nothing. The point is to make it a life-long habit to pay into your future with every paycheck or windfall.

Set these two financial goals regardless of your vision of a desired future:
  • A fund for sudden expenses, such as a car repair, appliance/equipment replacement, doctor's bill. 
  • Six to nine months of replacement income in case you lose your income stream. 

4. The road to hell: "just 10 bucks a month"

If I can get something I want for just 10 bucks a month, that sounds good to me. Unfortunately, there are lots of things that are only 10 bucks a month, and if I add them up, I'm suddenly at 100 bucks a month and, damn, how did that happen?

Go through your list of small monthly expenses. Purge the ones you use only occasionally. Peer closely at the ones you use frequently - can you get the same or similar service or product another way, for free or at a lower cost?

5. The other road to hell: Bundling and Friends

Bundling our services is seductive, as is joining a service that our friends and family members belong to, because we can (we're told) save money.

But these can suck your money in cunning ways:
  • You include an unnecessary service into the mix because it's "only" 10 bucks a month or because you "need" to add this service to get the bundling benefit of a reduced cost on a service you do want or need.
  • You voluntarily chain yourself to the bundle because you agree to a contract that will cost you a penalty if you leave before the end of the contract period. 
  • You voluntarily chain yourself to the bundle because it's such a hassle to un-bundle if you want to try one service that another provider offers, while keeping the other services in your bundle. 
It's almost always best for me in the long run to keep a diversified portfolio when it comes to phone, internet, and cable services. Therefore, I do not bundle. (Nor do I ever use an email account that is tied to an internet service provider because that is just another chain that keeps me tied to a particular vendor.)

If you bundle, look at your contract's expiration date. Research no-contract phone services. Check the numbers on your family plan to see if you can do better by each person using a stand-alone, pay-as-you-go plan. Do you still need cable or satellite TV? Do you still need a land line? Come up with a bundling exit strategy.

6. Beware of automatic withdrawals

On one hand, using automatic withdrawals for paying our bills is liberating. No more paper! No more forgetting to pay the bill! No more late due notices! Better credit rating!

On the other hand, we continue to pay for goods and services we no longer want or need because:
  • We signed up for automatic renewal of a subscription and - DAMN! - we missed the deadline to cancel and now we're stuck with another year of something we don't want, don't need, or can't afford. I have done this myself.
  • It's a pain in the ass to contact the company to stop the automatic withdrawal, so we just tell ourselves we'll get around to it next month. (Oh, and some companies are notoriously slow at stopping the automatic withdrawals.) Ch-ching. 
Pore over your credit card bills and checking account balances for forgotten or neglected automatic withdrawals. Calendar renewal dates so you can cancel timely.

Dave Ramsey is a popular financial adviser who I admire for what he says about managing our money. (Note: This does not mean I endorse his political, faith, or other personal views.)

Dave Ramsey's tag line is brilliant:

“Live like no one else now so later you can live like no one else.”

Friday, February 26, 2016

Grand Coteau, Louisiana: Among the Dead

Jesus of the Pasture. St. Charles Cemetery, Grand Coteau, Louisiana. February 2016.

A Grand Coteau friend took me on a walk in her village. Her people are from here, and she pointed out spots where ancestors lived and worked.

As a person with with no strong geographical roots, it is a remarkable thing to live in a place such as South Louisiana, where so many people live in the same area where their families have lived for centuries. 

We paid our respects to villagers past at the St. Charles Cemetery.

A slide show:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Meanwhile, Back on the Ranch ....

Temporarily, there's a lot of nothing visible going on here in the blog as I work on some projects, get caught up with posts that are in various forms of undress, and process the experiences that have been coming my way.

In the meantime, I've been uploading videos or slide shows over on my youtube channel. I invite you to take a look.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Rootless Relocation: Sold My Stuff - Again

My red chair bed, now with a new family.

With my departure from Lousiana imminent, it became time again to shuck off stuff that I won't take with me when I leave. When I left New Mexico, I left with a very full car. I wanted to do things differently this time, taking only the barest quantity of durable goods. 

Yesterday I sold all of the furniture I didn't want to take with me, in one fell swoop.

I put the lot onto craigslist for one price. Within two hours of my posting, my buyers contacted me, came to look at it, and took it away.

My red chair bed, now with a new family.

My beautiful red chair bed; you were in the lot. I will miss you. Such a rich, dark red. Your nubby fabric. The spare elegance of your lines.

My red chair bed, now with a new family.

I will miss the adventures of pushing you in and then pulling you of my car in the last three years. Of rolling you up and down staircases. Of dragging you over sidewalks on a tarp. Well, no, I won't miss any of those adventures. But I will miss your classy good looks.

My red chair bed, now with a new family.

Another sentimental sale in the lot was my poster from the Yukon, which I bought when my daughter and I took that road trip to Alaska so many years ago.

A poster from road trip to Alaska, now in a new home.

But I can come visit these pretties online any time I want.