Wednesday Night Church People

Like most of you, I was shocked and saddened last week when I woke up to the news of the shooting at the Emanuel  AME Church in Charleston South Carolina. Nine worshipers were shot and killed by an evil young man following a Wednesday night church service.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when incidents of mass violence seem far too common.  In some sense, I think we are all guilty of being desensitized to things like this.  But this time,  it seemed to pierce all of us deep in our heart.  We were shocked by the pure evil of someone walking into a church, the house of God, and shooting down folks how were doing nothing more egregious than attending services.  And just when we thought it could not get much worse, it did.  When they arrested the shooter, he told the authorities details about what  happened.  It turns out that he didn’t just walk in to the church and open fire.  He actually attended the service and then started shooting when it was over. He worshiped, with them, prayed with them and then shot them. Oh, and he told the police that he actually reconsidered his plan, “because everyone was so nice to him”. That takes a special kind of evil.

I cannot imagine the grief and sense of loss of losing a loved one that way. Most of us would be, justifiably, angry and seeking not just justice, but revenge.  But, when the shooter was arrested a few days later and made his initial court appearance, which was carried on live TV,  Something totally unexpected, and a little shocking, happened.  It was a simple bail hearing, with the foregone conclusion that he would be held without bail in the murder charges.  No one really expected to hear from the victim’s families, but under South Carolina law, victims or the victim’s family may make a statement at the bail hearing.

When that time came, the families rose to speak.  Predictably, they spoke of their loved ones and the lives lost, as well as their grief.  But then, one by one, they said something totally unpredicted.  They told the accused shooter “We forgive you.. and we are praying for you.”  Whoa.  I don’t think anybody saw that coming.

Most of the media types covering the story were totally blindsided by that.  For people who make their living talking about stuff, they seemed to be speechless. They seemed to be unable to comprehend  how folks who had just suffered such losses could talk of forgiveness and offer compassion. Then one of the commentators said something I found both succinct and profound:

“Well, you have to understand, these are Wednesday night church people.”

Wednesday night church people.  Four words that seem to say a lot.  Some of you may not be familiar with what that means, but if you were raised around the Southern protestant/evangelical, it says a lot.  For southern Baptists, Methodist, Pentecostals and other denominations, Wednesday night church was a big deal.  I can remember growing up in my parents house and never missing church on Wednesday night.

It is called different things in different places.  Prayer Meeting. Wednesday Night Bible Study.  Mid-week Services. Whatever you called it, it was pretty much the same thing.  A more laid back experience than Sunday services.  Wednesday night services were usually less well attended that Sunday morning, which provided the opportunity for a closer, more intimate experience to fellowship with other believers. It almost always involved a short Bible study, then taking time to tend to the prayer needs in the church; to pray for those who were sick, had lost loved ones or who were going through a hard time, whatever the reason. Wednesday night church people seemed to be the most faithful among the faithful.  They came because they took seriously the Biblical admonition about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another” .  They came because a week is to long to go without coming to services.  They came because they were the kind of people who were there every time the church doors were open.  They came because there were other who needed someone to pray for them. They were those kind of people.

Unfortunately, Wednesday night church is not what it used to be. Attendance is down  People are busy.  Some churches don’t even have Wednesday night services anymore. But at the Emanuel AME Church last week, those who died were there, like they were every Wednesday.  Because they were Wednesday night church people. And it appears that their family members where Wednesday night church people too

They are followers of The Lord. People who are willing to show forgiveness and compassion, even when it is difficult. People who strive to be Christ like.  People who understand his example of love and forgiveness. For folks like that, it comes down to a simple question: “what would Jesus do?”.  Maybe more of us should ask that question sooner, rather than later.

Another thing that has been interesting to me over the past week is the response of the people of Charleston and how they have acted over the past week.  While we have seen racially charges situations lead to rioting, looting and arson in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, there has been none of that in Charleston.  In a city in the heart of the Old South, we have not seen riots.  We have seen people, both black and white, coming together.  They have mourned together.  They have prayed together. They have worshiped together. They have sought common ground.  They have showed compassion for each other.

Maybe they understand what it means to be Wednesday night church people too.

Guest Column-A Tribute to Jim Foley

(Today I am presenting a guest column from my long time friend, Tom Easterly.  Tom and I go back as far as I can remember. We were boys growing up and going to school together in Watson, Louisiana way back when.  Life has taken both of us to many places we could not have imagined growing up  in the northwest corner of Livingston Parish.  Tom is a petroleum engineer, who spent many years working in Iraq and other parts of the world.  Today’s column is a remembrance of his friend, Jim Foley, the independent journalist who was captured by ISIS in Syria and beheaded in August, 2014.   Well said my friend.)

It is with a hard heart that I write. I have started this essay so many times I cannot count them all. I am not writing an email, or sending a simple text message. It is a story of a young man, passionate beyond words, but he was able to find the words. But part is also of my own experiences. I am not accustomed to writing in the first person, or for an audience. This is for Jim.
I first met Jim Foley like I met many in Baghdad – via telephone. I was under a pretty good bit of stress, as I was trying to hurriedly get out of town. I had somewhat settled into the day to day stress levels of living in Baghdad. After having been in country about 4 months, when I heard a really loud noise I only jumped 2 inches out of my seat instead of 6. It was a Wednesday night, in May of 2008, and I was leaving the next morning for the BIAP headed home. My father was on his deathbed, literally. In making preparations to get home, I went through the exercises necessary to be able to get on the plane. There, it wasn’t as simple as showing up at the airport and checking your bags. Earlier that day I had checked with Major Sayer the head of our PSD contingent, to reserve a seat in one of the vehicles. (Mr. Sayer is, by the way, one of the finest men I have ever met and known). The drive itself was along a road that at one point in that recent time the deadliest road in the world. After that, I started down the path to get clearance to leave Iraq. My group was in a separate compound in the Al Kharradah District of Baghdad, away from our main compound in the Al Mansour district, closer to the airport. The first trip several of us made to the main compound, our PSD’s let us know as we were traveling through Nisoor Square. This was early in 2008, and the September 2007 incident with Blackwater was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Our main compound housed the bulk of our administrative folks, so some of the hurdles I really had to clear myself. In doing this, I had to wait until 7:30 AM in DC, to see what I had to do with the home office. The young lady I got on the phone did not inspire my confidence, but I thought she would have been extremely accommodating considering the prior time she had handled travel and visa arrangements for me. That time was my first trip into Baghdad, where because I had gotten the wrong paperwork, I had one of the handful of experiences where I was truly terrified while in country; not just afraid and my heart racing, but I was taken back to being five years old, and it was the middle of the night, and pitch black, and I heard something under the bed, and I didn’t breathe because I didn’t want whatever it was to know I was there. That’s probably the best and most universal description of a truly terrifying situation. During the first foray into Baghdad I was summarily escorted back onto a plane headed back to Amman. At gunpoint. Your perspectives on a lot of things can really change after being in a situation like that, with a Beretta 9MM knockoff being pointed in the general direction of your head, and a Kalashnikov nudging you in the midsection. I believe the Iraqi government had taken over passport control January 1st. I went in on the 10th. Although I didn’t know him at the time, the head of our security company witnessed it all, and at a later date told me he was impressed that I didn’t piss my pants. I told him that my cold medication was doing the job. I didn’t really get the shakes until I got to Amman. When I got off the plane, I was not really sure where my passport was, or who had it.

Returning back to the night I was trying to wrap up and get out, I go the aide in DC on the phone, explained my situation, asked for assistance, and was told “You know you can’t leave without the kotar’s permission.”
That statement inspired something, but certainly not confidence. My next phone call was to Dick Dumford, who was one of the COTR’s reps. I went through one more explanation of why I was calling, and that I desperately needed to get in touch with Rodeina Abdel Al Fattah, our COTR. He told me that she was sitting right next to him at dinner. He handed the phone to her. I explained my situation, and probably added some derogatory comment about the folks back in DC. She told me “Tom, you’ve got my verbal approval. Tell the people on DC we can take care of the paperwork later.” It’s nice when someone places a stick of dynamite into a mountain created out of a molehill, and lights it with a smile in their voice.
Once that crisis was resolved, I got back to completing a mid-month report that needed to get out before I left. I had compiled the bulk of the report with Jaina Ford, and was told about 2 new media folks in the Mansour compound who could help me wrap the report nicely, and get it into USAID format. I was mostly translating any technical terms for them so that we could ensure the report was understood. After dinner, I went back to the office within the compound, where I got on the phone with Debbi Morello and Jim Foley. I got Debbie’s phone number first, and then called them via Skype so that we could work much easier. As we started into the report, Jim started asking questions to understand what had gone into the report. When we got to the sections I had authored, he picked up on the subject matter quickly. He asked if I had written the section, then said “You write pretty good for an engineer.”
Probably the next experience I had with Jim was waiting on an early morning flight out of Amman to Frankfort. I was sick as a dog, and had stayed overnight in the airport, as I didn’t really like the hotel in Amman. He laughed at how lousy I felt, as I had gone down a pants size in the previous ten days. I was preparing to go through the metal detectors, pulling all metal out of my pockets. I extracted 4 cell phones, and Jim said “Tom, only you. Why the 4 phones?” My rationalization was that I had a US number phone for overseas and a domestic one (Sprint), an Iraqna phone (Baghdad), and as Asiacell phone. I had not yet upgraded to the dual sim card mobile phone, or used the Skype forwarding trick so I could answer 5 telephone numbers on one device yet.
Once we got out of Amman and into Frankfort, I was excited to get comfort food; in that case, McDonald’s breakfast. I had previously never understood the concept of comfort food until traveling into and out of Iraq. My first trip out I had either a Quarter Pounder or Royale with Cheese in the Dubai Airport. I felt my body relax as I was eating French fries, and drinking a diet Coke with ice.
The menu at the Mickey D’s in Frankfort was nearly identical to one in the USA. I had traveled through there before, and my mouth actually started watering once on the ground. I think I ordered 2 orders of pancakes and sausage, with an extra order of scrambled eggs. Jim asked me if I was hungry. I told him I was mad that they didn’t have grits! We were able to sit down and talk a bit more, about what we were going to do once we got home, and plans for the next R&R. He told me he was planning to reconnect with a Marine unit that he had embedded with in the early days of the Iraq invasion. I asked where they were, and he said “Somewhere around Helmand Province.” After realizing that was Afghanistan, I asked him if he’d lost his mind. He smiled, and explained that he always wanted to do a follow-up after having been embedded with them for a period of time in Iraq, and wanted to show the same guys 5 years later in Afghanistan. At that time I realized I was talking to someone who was passionate about what he did, not just doing it for the money. We finished breakfast, and then sat until it was time to go our separate ways, to board planes for home for Christmas.
After we got back from R&R, and things started re-cranking for the New Year, I got a package I had shipped to myself containing among other things an Xbox. Jim & I had talked about it in the Frankfort airport, so I picked up a used one and shipped it over before I left. My children were a little miffed, but I figured their Wii and other Nintendo systems should keep them happy. Just because Papa’s on a different platform with different games I thought was no reason to be unhappy. I had barely dabbled playing except for a bit of time with one of the NFL games on the NS platform, and some experience with the Lin King game when my son got his first Nintendo. Xbox has Halo, which I found the PSD’s liked, but my first pantsing came at the hands of Jim. I don’t remember the score, just the dumbfounded look on my face in the mirror. I wondered how he had become so good with this game, since he didn’t have any kids to practice against. I asked him, and he sheepishly admitted the group he was embedded with were a bit fanatical about Halo, along with other systems that they maintained at their FOB. I quickly ceded any hopes of victories when playing against him. I got to where I could hold my own with some of the PSD’s, but Jim would just smile when he came to our compound, looking for me for another training session. During this time we also would playfully argue back and forth over the best configuration of Moleskine journal to use. He naturally had the reporter’s style, where the cover flipped on the short side of the page. I used the “traditional” style, where the cover flipped on the long side. He would challenge me to record as much as possible about my experiences, telling me to fill up 2-3 pages per day. Many times I did, and I’d share bits and pieces with him. He told me “Hey, you write pretty good for an engineer.” Some time between then and now a couple of those journals have been lost. I am sad that they disappeared.
I spent a good bit of time in Erbil those first couple of months in 2009, and then my base got moved to there in March. Jim & I kept in touch on monthly and quarterly reports. I had left the Xbox behind in Karradah for him & others. When we would go over reporting information, he would always tell me “Hey, you write pretty good for an engineer.” I was in Erbil until September of 2010, in Basrah for a couple months after that, then to Baiji, to Baghdad, then to home in June, 2011. I tried keeping in touch with folks, but it was hard coming home, and readjusting to domestic life.
The next I heard of Jim he was on his escapades in Libya, where he was a guest of forces loyal to Col. Gaddafi for about 6 weeks. During his time in captivity there, one of his colleagues died in prison. That had to affect him. I decline to believe that he converted to Islam while in the care of the bastards affiliated with ISIS. While I was not there, I can only surmise that after repeated interrogation and abuse, he converted under duress. How long he held out, I do not know. I prefer to remember my friend talking about Psalm 18:48 to me after his escapades in Libya.
I went to India in early 2012 to build a facility, and got home just before Thanksgiving. Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas I go the word that he had been captured in Syria. I communicated with a few guys from Iraq days, and asked around why we didn’t get him on a no fly list. I thought he was charmed, and would be out of there in a few weeks. I was mistaken.
My general observation has been that Islam is a religion of peace. My encounters with Muslims have not led me to prejudice against all members of the faith. In early 2011, I was living on a FOB on the grounds of the Baiji Refinery, Iraq’s largest, about 200 km north of Baghdad. At approximately 0400 the morning of February 27th, I heard loud booming noises, which were not of the usual loud booming sort. The refinery had been hit by insurgents, who had placed satchel charges at the inlet piping to the crude tower feed preheaters, probably one of the most difficult pieces in a refinery to replace. They knew where to place their charges. Nevertheless, at about 0700 my phone rang, and it was Sheikh Manaa Al Obaidi, one of the heads of the Obaidi family, and the Emeritus Director General of the North Oil Company. A little over a year before that phone call was made, he had been responsible for approximately 1/3 of Iraq’s oil output. If the NOC had been a private company, I had figured out one time they would be somewhere between number 230 and 245 on the Fortune 500. I answered, and he said “Tom, I have my driver here, and my wife I getting her housekeeper in to get a room ready for you. Do I need to come get you?” I do not believe ISIS members would display such hospitality and concern for an infidel.
Eric Greitens, in his book “The Heart and the Fist”, describes his life as a humanitarian visiting the Balkans and Zaire, and in one instance a refugee asked him “What are the Americans going to do?”. He quickly came to the conclusion that there are refugees because there are wars, and the corrupt prey on the weak, raping, pillaging, plundering, and attempting to destroy hope. He goes on to explain his belief that the ounce of prevention to the issue of refugees should be a strong opposing force, even if it is one that is borne by the international community. Eric went from his erstwhile career as an NGO member, to joining the US Navy, and becoming a SEAL.
Jim took a different approach. His membership in the Fourth Estate, as well as his own conscience compelled him to be on the front lines as an independent journalist. Yes, maybe he was a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but I truly believe it was more important to him to get the truth out. While he would blow off steam with the rest of us, he was one of the most passionate about his work. Sometimes I thought his question sessions took a bit long, but when I saw what he put out, it was worth the time.
I often hear people try and talk about foreign policy, who have not seen our foreign policy apparatus up close and personal. I think it should be a prerequisite for anyone who opens their mouth on the subject to actually have been in a conflict zone, where you can be awakened by the sound of small arms fire in the middle of the night. That can change your perspectives. Jim did not go into war zones to talk about war, he was there to talk about what war was doing to the indigenous population, to real people, not just people gathered for a photo op with a dignitary.
I have not had the stomach to see the video that was posted of Jim’s death. I simply do not want that to be my memory of him. I simply prefer to remember a smiling young man, ready to show me who’s the man in Halo. I have read stories of his torture – crucifixion, being hung by his ankles upside down, depriving him of food and water. Jim was a very strong person to live through that. I am not sure that I am or could be that strong, but Jim is a shining example of courage under adversity. I believe that Jim is one of those people who, though taken from us too young, fully lived. I believe that this quote, spoken in March of 1965, about 8 years before Jim was born, is testament to that.
“Our lives are not fully lived unless we are willing to die for those we love and for what we believe.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Almost as a postscript, I also remember Jim in a different way. In our family, we will name inanimate objects – cars. Some have been Whitey, Strawberry Shortcake, Lady (or Diablo), the Yellow Submarine, Bonnie, Bruce, and others. Now, there is one named Foley, to remind me that an awesome journalist; no, a great man, once told me “Hey, you write pretty good for an engineer.”

Why you should vote YES on May 2

On Saturday, May 2, voters in the Watson area will have the opportunity to vote on two very important property tax proposals. One is the renewal of a 15 mill tax to support Recreation District and the Live Oak Ballpark. The other is the renewal of a 7 mil parish wide tax for the School Board for repairs and maintenance to school facilities. I would urge all voters to vote “YES” on each of these important renewals.

It is important to note that both of these proposals are not ‘new taxes’. They are renewals of taxes that the people of Livingston Parish and the Watson area have supported for years, supported where it counts, with their hard earned dollars. The School Board tax has been around since 1955. The Recreation District tax was first implemented over 35 years ago. And ever since they were first approved, both taxes have brought great returns to our schools, our children and our community in general.

The current Live Oak Sports Complex began with a single ball field in the early 70’s and has today grown a large, modern and updated facility that provides recreation and team sports opportunities for everyone in the Watson community. The complex recently underwent a multi-million dollar upgrade and expansion. Far from just a baseball field, the complex includes numerous lighted baseball and softball fields with dugouts, a lighted running/walking track, soccer fields, a youth football field, wall ball courts, renovated and air conditioned bathrooms, family picnic areas, two playgrounds and over 800 paved or improved parking spaces.

It has been a part of our community for years. If you are my age or so, it has been a big part of your life. People my age played ball there when we were kids, went on to see our own children play there and now some of them are seeing their grandchildren participate in sports programs in the same park. It has been home to the Live Oak High Baseball and Softball teams for many years. Each year, hundreds of children, from 5 years old to high school age, participate in team sports offered there, which includes everything from t-ball, baseball, softball, soccer, youth football and cheerleading. That seems to be quite a lot for a few dollars a month.

The 15 mil tax currently generates about $845,000 per year. The important thing to remember is that this amount makes up over 75% of the complex’s annual operating budget. Without it, it’s not just a matter of cutting back. It means the park would have to close down completely. The Rec Board would not be able to maintain its facilities or operate the youth sports programs currently in place. Both the LOHS baseball and softball teams would have to scramble to find a new home field. At a time when we hear about how bad the obesity problem is and how kids tend to just sit at home and play video games, it might be a good idea to continue to support programs that get them out of the recliner and on the field.

The school board tax is just as important. There is no denying that the outstanding quality of schools in this parish has been the driving force in driving our local economy for the past 20 years or so. Families have relocated to Livingston Parish for the quality of our public schools. Like rain follows thunder, new retail stores, restaurants, banks and other businesses have come as well, following the shifting population trends. This has lead to more opportunities, increased revenues and jobs. And it all goes back to the fact that voters in Livingston Parish have supported our schools for over 60 years. While other parishes around us are dealing with crumbling facilities, failing schools and a general lack of confidence in public education, Livingston Parish schools continue to grow and set the bar.

New schools continue to spring up across the parish. The public school system in Livingston Parish currently educates over 26,000 students at 45 campuses across the parish. These facilities are maintained by the 7 mil tax that has been around for over 60 years. And, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The tax generates over $3 million dollars per year, which works out to about 34 cents per day for each student. Livingston Parish schools, overall, have one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in the state. Despite that fact, they have continued to do more with less and have been successful in maintaining one of the top 10 systems in the State. I don’t think it is asking too much to continue to support those efforts.

Now, I know nobody likes paying taxes. I am not fond of them myself. Unfortunately, whether right or wrong, there is a big anti-tax sentiment going around. But there are a few important thing to point out about these two proposals. First, neither of these proposals are new taxes. They are renewals, which will not increase anybody’s property taxes. Both the Rec Board and the School Board are simply asking voters to renew and continue two longstanding taxes that are already on the books. Second, if you are fed up with the Three Stooges drama that is the Parish Council and other public agencies, I hear you. In fact, I am with you. But neither of these taxes has anything to do with the Council. The funds generated here are dedicated to their respective agencies. They are not, and never will be, in the control of the Council or part of the Parish general fund. They support programs that actually work and give value to the voters and taxpayer of Livingston Parish.

Most importantly, both of these taxes support programs that actually work. They have both done a good job of doing more with less and being good stewards of the public’s money. They deserve our support.

Finally, these taxes do not exist in a vacuum. They both go to support and maintain facilities and programs that you and I have both paid for over the years. To spend millions of tax dollars on programs and facilities over the years and not vote the money to maintain them is both ignorant and short sided. If you think you want to vote against these proposals because you are fed up with taxes, you are uninformed and are willing, as my Momma used to say, to cut off your nose to spite your face.

That is why Watson voters should vote YES on May 2.

Deadly Times Ahead in Baton Rouge

Within the next week, the oldest continuously operating hospital in Baton Rouge will close its Emergency Room. In February, The Baton Rouge General announced the closure of the Emergency Room at its Mid-City hospital on Florida Boulevard. In 1900,  there was a train wreck on the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley  near downtown.  Dr. T. P Singletary treated victims in a nearby building and realized that Baton Rouge needed a hospital. For over 100 years, the Baton Rouge General has provided emergency care to Louisiana’s capitol city, first at its original location on Government Street and, since 1950, at the “new” hospital at Florida and Acadian. Like most people in Baton Rouge, I was shocked to hear this and wondered “how could that happen and who is responsible for such a reckless decision”? It turns out that the responsibility falls squarely at the door of the Governor’s Mansion on the other side of Baton Rouge.

Yep, the conclusion is inescapable and the conclusion is this: Starting on April 1, PEOPLE IN BATON ROUGE ARE GOING TO DIE BECAUSE BOBBY JINDAL WANTS TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT. There, I said it. Everybody in Louisiana knows it, but I said it.

We are all familiar with “Bobby Brady” Jindal and his aspirations for higher office. We all know that in the past 3 years, he has spent more time out of the state than he has in it. And, not coincidentally, those trips are almost always either to states where early presidential primaries are held or where he can court ultra-conservative Republican voters and donors. We also know that most of his policies, or lack thereof, have more to do with being a viable Republican presidential candidate than what is best for Louisiana. Think privatization of state health insurance and prisons, school vouchers, meddling in education, tax credits for billionaires, tax incentive financing schemes, etc. And even though he inherited a surplus when he took office and Louisiana is now facing a $1.7 billion budget hole, he refuses to look for new sources of revenue, i.e., raise taxes, since good conservative Republican candidates avoid tax increases like the plague. But, unfortunately, this latest stunt will become much more personal and deadly for some of us who live, work and shop in Baton Rouge.

The Baton Rouge General has been a fixture in Baton Rouge forever. Like many Baton Rouge natives, I was born there in 1962. The Mid-City campus was once a thriving, sprawling medical facility. People were born there and died there. Baton Rouge’s first open heart surgery was performed there. It housed the region’s only burn unit. And it had a very busy and vital emergency room. Over time, many things changed in Baton Rouge. Eventually, those who were able left Mid-City and North Baton Rouge for the suburbs. New hospitals were built. Our Lady of the Lake, located right behind the State Capitol, moved across town to Hennessy Lane. Woman’s Hospital took over labor in delivery on Airline Highway. And, a new hospital, now Ochsner Medical Center, was built on O’Neal Lane, near the parish line. And finally, the Baton Rouge General built a second campus off of Bluebonnet Boulevard. And, although the Mid-City campus has seen better times, it is still a viable and important part of Baton Rouge’s healthcare landscape. Especially since Bobby Brady decided to close the old Earl K. Long charity hospital on Airline a few years ago.

Although in 2014, the Baton Rouge General emergency room treated over 46,000 patients, it was losing about $2 million per month. You may ask why? Well, first the closing of Earl K. Long, a Jindal plan, shifted more and more uninsured patients to Baton Rouge General where, under federal law, the hospital was required to provide emergency care, regardless of whether the patient could pay or not. Secondly, and more importantly, Governor Jindal refuses to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid, since he is vehemently opposed to Obamacare. The problem is succinctly summed up in a recent editorial in the L. A. Times:

“Jindal has tried to position himself as the last stalwart Republican opponent of the ACA, but his state’s experience shows that his position is folly.

“The ACA was designed to encourage states to expand Medicaid–almost entirely at federal expense–as a means of cutting the uncompensated medical care hospitals had been forced to provide for low-income individuals and families. Much of that care has been customarily delivered through the ER.

“In the expectation that Medicaid would pick up the slack, the ACA reduced so-called disproportionate share hospital payments, which went to hospitals serving a large number of the uninsured. So institutions in states that have refused to expand Medicaid, like Louisiana, have faced a double-whammy–they still have to serve a large number of uninsured patients, but they have less money to do so.

You can read the whole article here: When a state blocks Obamacare, ERs close: The lesson of Louisiana

So, Louisiana could have solved this problem by expanding Medicaid and having the Feds pick up the costs. But, since Bobby is opposed to Obamacare, and wants to be able to prove it on the campaign trail, he opted out of the deal. And in doing so, he left the Baton Rouge General holding the bag.

Now, like many of you, I am not a fan of the Affordable Care Act. I think it is wrong in a number of ways. But, at the present time, it is the law of the land. And turning down federal money which would solve a serious healthcare crisis, at no costs to the State, does not seem like what you would expect from someone who is supposed to be a healthcare genius. But hey, what do I know?

However, the point here is not about money or political ideology or politics. It comes down to some serious numbers.

Last year the Baton Rouge General emergency room treated 46,000 patients, or about 3800 per month. And we all know that a lot of emergency room visits are not really emergencies. We all get that. However, the American College of Emergency Physicians estimates that 0.5%-1% of all ER visits are classified as critical cases. That is, people who are bleeding, have suffered gunshots, head injuries, internal injuries, are in cardiac or respiratory arrest, have severe burns or other serious conditions. In other words, people who are going to die if they do not get extensive medical care right now. Taking those numbers and doing the math, that means that each month, between 20-40 people in Baton Rouge are going to need critical medical care that they would have received at the Baton Rouge General. And some of those people are going to die. Even at a conservative rate of 5%, that means at least one to two people each month, maybe as many as three or four.

Because now they are going to have to travel across town to another hospital, probably the Lady of the Lake, to get to an emergency room. On a good day that will take an additional 15 minutes. On a bad day, with Baton Rouge traffic, it could take 30 minutes or more. Thirty minutes that they don’t have. Thirty minutes that could mean the difference between life and death. Emergency medical professionals refer to the first 60 minutes after a traumatic injury as “The Golden Hour”, the time that is crucial to treat a patient to save their life. Unfortunately, soon many people in Baton Rouge will spend the first half of that Golden Hour being driven to the hospital. Because Bobby Jindal wants to run for President.

And if you don’t live in the Mid-City or North Baton Rouge areas and don’t think this will affect you or yours, think again. This is not just a poor person or uninsured issue. Not only will the uninsured be turned away from the Baton Rouge General emergency room. After next week, it won’t matter how good your insurance is, because the emergency room will be closed. For good. And just because you do not live in North Baton Rouge, that doesn’t mean you may not need it one day. What if you work at Exxon or one of the other plants along the riverfront and suffer a heart attack or on the job injury? Or if you work for the State in one of those new office buildings around the Capitol? Or if you eat, drink or party downtown? Or if you are in an automobile accident on I-110? Or if you suffer some trauma while at Baton Rouge Metro Airport? Or if your child is seriously injured on a field trip to the Centroplex or the old Governor’s Mansion? Or if you commute down Government Street or North Boulevard to work each day? All of these scenarios involve people who would typically have been transported to the old EKL. But it is closed now. So, the next nearest hospital would be Baton Rouge General Mid-City. But it will be closed as well. So now you, your spouse, your child or other loved one will be off to OLOL on what maybe a half hour ride. A half hour you don’t have. And some of them will be among the two to four people per month that are going to die in Baton Rouge because there is no ER at the Baton Rouge General. And that is because Bobby Jindal wants to run for President.

The TSA Security Plan

All of us who have flown in the past 14 years have had to deal with TSA checkpoints.  On the whole, I think most of the agents in airports take their jobs seriously and try to do the best they can. However, I have said many times, they are hamstrung by a bloated bureaucracy that just doesn’t get it.

Under their current regulations and procedures, TSA is very good at making sure people don’t take pocket knives, cigarette lighters and too much hair gel or mouthwash on a flight. Apparently their plan when someone actually shows up with weapons and bombs is not so well thought out. A case in point was this weekend when a man with a machette and a backpack full of Molotov cocktails charged the check point on Concourse B in the New Orleans Airport.  Apparently, the TSA agents did the best they could and fortunately the guy, literally, ran head long into a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy, who was armed with a loaded gun and knew how to use it.  On the other hand, TSA’s plan to defend a concourse full of innocent people in an actual attack was less perfect. You can see my take on it here.

My take on all this

WHY THE SEAHAWKS LOST THE SUPER BOWL

I was so upset last night after the end of the Super Bowl, I had to wait 12 hours and get a good night’s sleep before I could coherently put my thoughts into words. Those of you who know me know that I am passionate about football. Not the teams or the hype, but the game itself and what it represents. I am old school. If football were a religion, I would be a Fundamentalist, Primitive, foot washing, Apostolic Pentecostal. As for Super Bowl this year, I did not have a dog in that fight. Not a fan of the Seahawks or the Patriots. But I watched and was pleased that it turned out to be a good, competitive game between two talented and well coached teams. But, after the way it ended, I feel I must preach a little bit about why the Seahawks lost, when it seemed victory was inevitable. Inevitable in a way that, had it happened, people would be talking about for the next 50 years.

….In a word, Pete Carroll and the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl because they do not have HONOR. And, they do not respect the football gods.

Football is a collision sport. It is the modern day equivalent of the ancient gladiatorial games. It is a game where strong, well trained, well motivated men don full body armor and helmets and engage in mortal combat, “mano o mano”. Only the strongest and bravest survive.

Football is a game where speed and quickness meets brute strength.  A lot of brute strength.  The heart of football is something called ‘rushing’.  That is a fancy name for picking up the football and running straight ahead to see who can stop you.  I am sure even cave men used to do that.  Pick up a rock, yell to your mates “Hey, I am gonna run this rock right through there. See if any of you guys can stop me!”

So, last night, Seattle has the chance to be the first team to win 2 Super Bowls back to back in like 20 years. They start their last drive down 4 points with 2:02 to play. They move the ball a little. Then, with less than a minute to go, they complete a pass that clearly shows that the football gods believed that Seattle should win. Marchand Lynch, who runs like a small steam engine at times, carries the ball down to the half yard line. So now Carroll just need a half yard, just 18 inches, to make football history.  18 inches.  That is just slightly longer that the width of your laptop screen.  Understand, Seattle has a hell of a running back, with 5 very big, mean, motivated men weighing a combined total of over 1500 lbs.  in front of him.  They only need a foot and a half. All they have to do to win the Superbowl is run the most basic play in football, the tailback dive up the middle and get just 18 inches.

So, what do they do? Do they hand off the ball?  Do they match strength with strength? Do they make a call like Vince Lombardi or Chuck Knoll would make?  Do they line up and say to the Patriots “Hey, I am gonna run this rock right through there. See if any of you guys can stop me!”  Do they win the game and bathe themselves in glory for all time? No.  Instead, they line up  and run some mamby pamby, West Coast, basketball style, dumbass “set the pick” pass play. And it was intercepted.  Oh yeah, there’s that.  Hey Pete, a guy named Woody Hayes used to say that when you throw the football, 3 things can happen and 2 of them are bad.  Yeah.

After the game, Pete Carroll magnanimously took the blame. “It was my fault”, he said.  Ya think?   That play call was SO bad, it was read and intercepted by a defensive back that, when the season started, was selling fried chicken at Popeye’s. Really?  And you got beat by a team that plays with under-inflated balls.  Come on, Man!  Line up and play FOOTBALL! Smash mouth, straight ahead, big boy football.  Granted, there are times to run those “pick” plays or other tricky passes. But this was not one of them.  This was a time to buckle up your chin strap, pull your jock up tight and push the other time off the ball and get those yards.

Alas, it was not to be. And the Seahawks, like gladiators of old, lost because they did not fight with Honor when it counted.

So, the Patriots will go down as the winners, Tom Brady takes another MVP award and the thing people will be talking about when I am dead and gone is a bone headed call when the game was on the line.  Sad day for lovers of football, no matter who your team is.

P.S.

I don’t want to be too hard on Pete Carroll. No matter how boneheaded he may be, apparently he is my cousin Matt Cotton’s long lost twin.

Let The Good Times Roll… Watson Style!

Saturday, I had the opportunity to participate in a great event, the 5th Annual Watson Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook Off. I had the privilege of cooking in the first Annual Watson Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook Off and have made every one since.  I even won Second place one year, and I would not miss it for the world.

Last week, I wrote about our trip to Cafe’ des Amis in Breaux Bridge. One of the things I talked about was the Louisiana value of “Joie de vivre” or the joy of life. Another Cajun saying is ‘to live is to eat’.  Both of those sentiments were very prominent in Watson on Saturday.

In case you don’t know about the Annual Watson Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook Off, it is a big deal. It was started 5 years ago by Bobbi Jo and her husband Berlin.  They were looking for something fun to do with friends around here around the first of the year.  January is the ‘dead season’ in South Louisiana. After Christmas and before Mardi Gras is in full swing. It is also ‘gumbo weather’.  So, they decided to throw a party at the barn behind their house, invite some people to come cook gumbo and pass a good time.  And, they decided to make it a fundraiser for a worthy charity.

That first year, a couple of hundred people showed up, 15 teams cooked, first place paid $230, the proceeds went to St. Jude’s and everybody had a good time.  Saturday, a couple of thousand people showed up, 50 teams cooked, first place paid $1000, the proceed went to Raven’s House, a shelter for homeless veterans and everybody had a good time. My how times change in a few years. And, at the same time, the more they stay the same in some ways.
Bobbi Jo and Berlin who work very hard to pull this thing off
Bobbie Jo and Berlin, who work very hard to put  all this together!

The rules are simple and have never changed.  Any type of bird and any type of sausage. No other meat of any kind. Make your own roux, no precooked ingredients.  No glass, no pets, and no pets in glass bottles, please. Turns out it took a couple of years for some people to figure out that shrimp, crabs, oysters, tasso and the like are not a bird. But now everybody pretty much gets it. People often ask me what time does it start and when is it over. My answer is always the same. Cooking starts at 9:00, judging is at 3:00 and it ends sometime early Sunday morning with the Sheriff’s Office shows up and tells everyone it is time to “get the hell out of here and go home”.

The teams cooked and there were 4 live bands through out the day, and even a dance floor that got a lot of use. Supporters came out, paid $10 for an arm band that entitled you to taste all the gumbo you wanted, plus everything else that was being cooked by the teams, like jambalaya, barbecue, boudin, grilled chicken and burgers.  There were games and a slide for the kids. You could even get a funnel cake or fried Oreos for $3, all proceeds going to Raven’s House.  From the size of the crowd, it is an event most folks around here don’t want to miss.

My day started early. I got to the venue about 7:30 a.m.  After the second year, it got to big to stay at Bobbi Jo and Berlin’s house, so it was moved to a bigger location.  Although my day started early, it started even earlier for the staff, including my wife Jo Ann.  They all got there about 6:00 a.m.

Some of the staff getting ready.

It still makes me proud that in a small community like Watson, so many people will give up their Saturday to make something like this happen and support a good cause.

I unloaded my stuff, set up my canopy and kitchen and got ready.  It was a cold crisp morning, but the weather was beautiful and the sky clear. My first task for the day was to cook breakfast for the staff.  I was ‘voluntold’ to do that by Jo Ann.  I got started.  Two dozen biscuits in the dutch ovens and a big Mountain Man meal in a cast iron pot.  Mountain Man is real comfort food. Ground sausage, hash browns, a dozen eggs and 2 lbs of shredded cheese.  Yes, it tastes as good as it sounds.

Got breakfast done and everybody full. Then it was time to start cooking gumbo!

I could smell the delicious aroma off cooks all around us getting the pot going.


My first step was to get my chickens ready for the pot. This year I decided to roast them in my infrared fryer and then de-bone them. Had them cooking and wasn’t long til they were ready.

We started cutting vegetables and slicing our good andouille sausage, so everything would be ready at the right time. About that time, the official photographer, The Picture Lady, came around taking team pictures.  We posed for ours.

In case you were wondering, that good looking guy in the middle is me. The other two are my friend Calvin Jones and my youngest son Joel. My middle son Matt was also on our team.  He helped us a lot later, but after a hard week, he slept in and missed the picture, so I took one of him myself.

 

With all the prep work done, it was time to get cooking. There are many great recipes in Louisiana. Funny thing is, at least half of the best ones all start with the same phrase “First you make a roux..” 3 cups of flour and 3 cups of oil, turn on the fire and we were ready to go.

Got the heat up and then, as Vernon Roger’s momma used to say, “Braise, braise, braise”, which in English means “Stir, stir, stir!” Before long we had a traditional Cajun brown roux.

Fried the onions and stuff, the it was time to put the ‘juice’ in.

Once we that simmering good, in went the bird and sausage.
Now all it needed was time to simmer and getting the seasonings right.

By this time, the party was really getting started. The first of the bands took the stage, people were lining in to get in and cooks were hard at it from one end of the place to the other.





And of course, as always, Bobbi Jo was keeping everything running smooth

“Move your car if you are parked on Arnold Road!”
Which brings us to what the Gumbo Cook Off is really all about. Yes, it is a fundraiser for a good cause. And, yes we serve up some good gumbo. But what it it really about is a good time with friends and family. Spending a nice day with friends you see all the time, reconnecting with old friends you haven’t seen in a long time, making new friends and spending some quality time with family. I would estimate that there were upwards of 2,000 people out there Saturday, and you could just look around and see they were all “passing a good time, Watson style”.

You always make some new friends at the Gumbo Cook Off. Saturday I noticed a guy standing near my pot, with a big smile on his face, just taking it all in. I did not know who he was but he obviously having a good time. When I was seasoning my gumbo, getting opinions, I asked him if he wanted to taste. He did and we struck up a conversation. He admitted that he was just standing by my pot because it smelled so good. Turns out he was a charter bus driver from Marrero, Louisiana, who had driven a group of people to a wrestling match at Live Oak High School. He was looking for something to do and heard about the Gumbo Cook Off. Like everyone else, he was having a blast, passing a good time, Watson style. Another interesting thing about this is that at least 3 of the 5 years, I have had the opportunity to serve some foreigner from “up North” their first taste of real, sho’ nuff gumbo. Saturday was no different.

 


That young man in the Michigan State shirt was there with his wife and a friend. They all teach at Glen Oaks High in Baton Rouge. He is a transplant from Detroit, ergo the Lions ski hat. He loved my gumbo and admitted that they ain’t got nothing like this in Motor City.

Later in the day, it was time to announce the winners. Actually, at that point it really didn’t matter, because everyone who participated was a winner, especially the displaced veterans at the Raven’s House. Just to show you how this works, one of the ‘prizes’ was the 50/50 Raffle. The lady who won claimed $757, and immediately handed the money back to Bobbi Jo to go the charity. You gotta love people from Louisiana. In case you are wondering, no I didn’t win anything, but like always, I went home with the real First Prize.

I went back Sunday morning to get the rest of my stuff and help Bobbi Jo and Berlin clean up. Bobbi Jo asked me how I thought it went. I told her it thought it went great, especially when I evaluate it like I do some of my wife’s extended family get togethers. Not too many people got real drunk, there were no fights, the cops only got called out once, nobody went to jail or the emergency room and everybody had fun. I would call that a successful day!! If you understand that analysis, maybe you should check out the Gumbo Cook Off next year. If you don’t, maybe you should avoid the Gumbo Cook Off and any future Herrington family reunions.

Cest la vie!