Friday, April 14, 2017
I know that most of the stuff I have posted over the years has been political in nature. That's not what I originally started out to do, but here we are. Since I have been living in Louisiana for over six years now, I have eaten a ton of Cajun food, and gained about 35 pounds to show for it.
I certainly have my issues with Louisiana. Lousy infrastructure, anti-union politicians and assaults on reproductive rights. However, sometimes you just have to put the politics aside, and sit down for a meal with people you disagree with.
If you haven't been to Louisiana, or if you've just visited New Orleans, there is a lot you're missing in the culinary scene. The northern part of the state has some Cajun-influenced food, but it is more of a Southern food scene that is as much Cajun as Trump is a legitimate president. The southern part of state from Alexandria on down to the Gulf is a region divided by Cajun and Creole styles of food.
There is a difference between Cajun and Creole, even though there are similarities which aren't obvious to Louisiana food novices. New Orleans is predominately Creole, while Lafayette and areas west of the Mississippi are mostly Cajun. Creole is influenced by the Carribean, Africa, France, Spain, Italy and other places. Cajun is predominately...well...Cajun.
New Orleans has seen wave after wave of various influences on the culinary scene over the centuries. Cajun food in the Acadiana region has some Spanish and Native American additions, and it is also divided into "prairie Cajun" versus "swamp Cajun" subsets, as I like to refer to them as. An example of this is gumbo. In areas in the northern region of Acadiana, gumbo is primarly chicken and sausage based. As you go further towards Houma and the Gulf of Mexico, seafood-based gumbo is more common due to the proximity to the ocean.
It took me a little while to learn about these differences, and to choose which styles I liked the most. In case you're wondering, I settled on Creole, due to the fact they use more vegetables in their dishes, something Cajuns seem to be hesitant about.
With that explanation of local foods out of the way, here are my five favorite foods in Louisiana, specifically in Cajun country.
5. Gumbo: Gumbo is not an easy dish to make from scratch, and my years in the restaurant industry didn't prepare me for making the Louisiana version of roux. When I make it myself now, I make my own which requires constant stirring to keep it from burning. Many people here use roux out of a jar, or use vegetable oil and flour to make it, which isn't ideal to me. I use butter or bacon fat instead of oil, and my roux isn't the color of used motor oil either.
I prefer seafood gumbo, but you can make a good sausage and chicken gumbo with andouille sausage, and a rotissere chicken from a deli if you want to cut corners. The best gumbo has shrimp, crab and oysters - and I think mixing sausage with seafood overpowers the delicate taste of the ocean.
4. Boudin: There are many sources for boudin around Louisiana. My favorite comes from Charlie T's in Breaux Bridge, especially if they are served their smoked boudin. Some places load their boudin down with cayenne pepper and liver, which is just nasty in my opinion. On a cold winter morning, a link from your local gas station and a cup of coffee will make your day right.
3. Etouffee: Crawfish etouffee is a Louisana staple. It is a tomato-based sauce usually with crawfish or shrimp, and I prefer mine spicy. I make a roux, add a can of Rotel, as well as some ghost pepper, and a little bit of fish sauce. That's my little Asian flair to the dish, and most people here love that version of it. I also add my favorite Cajun seasoning, Beazell's, which is lower in sodium and has spices other local seasonings do not.
2. Fried pork chops: Pork chops are good, but have you ever eaten one fried and put on a sandwich? I don't eat this very often because of all the fat and cholesterol, but it is magically delicious. Take a pork chop, bread it and fry it, then remove the bone and put it on a sandwich bun with pickles, mustard and tomato slices. Eat one of these at breakfast and you won't be hungry until dinner.
1. Oyster Bar Trash: This is a dish I encountered when I worked at Landry's. It's shrimp and lump crab meat blackened on a grill, then served over rice with lemon butter. I like to add mushrooms, and you can also add scallops if you're feeling fancy.
These are just five of my favorite things to eat down here. There's is also fried alligator and crawfish boils, but you'll just have to come down here to try them for yourself. Bon appetit!
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
In a national restaurant chain I once worked for, managers often sent black customers to the back of the restaurant, and were flabbergasted when I pointed that out. They would sometimes assign black servers to those sections, along with white servers they thought they could punish by making them wait on black guests.
That kind of prejudice is common across the South, but it isn't confined solely to the humid Bible Belt. I know that blue state liberals love to pretend the presumed progressive strongholds they live in are above that sort of thing, even though other forms of discrimination exist right in their backyards.
Portland has gentrification that is driving remaining black residents out, to be replaced by hipsters. San Francisco is pricing poor people, especially minorities, out of the area in favor of tech workers which tend to be white. New York has policing that unfairly targets minorities to meet police quotas, and Boston is known for its racism.
Obviously, I am not trying to apologize for racism in the South. My family's history on my mother's side includes people who fought for the Confederacy, slave owners, and even slave traders. The Montgomery family fled to Texas with their slaves when Union forces closed in, and the men enlisted in the Texas divisions to fight for their "states' rights" to own slaves.
Racism in many fashions continues to manifest itself across our country. We saw it with the hatred towards President Obama, and with the election of Donald Trump by voters in places like Ohio and Wisconsin.
Yes, the South is the easy target for accusations of racism, and it is well deserved. But let's not pretend it is a problem solely confined to the South.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
My adult life has been a long, strange trip. I was born in Virginia into a very conservative Catholic family, and ended up in Louisiana where I've been since 2010. Most of my new writing is now on Modern Liberals, but I wanted to put this here on the original blog where all of this began. This is a brief overview of the past decade since I moved to Florida, and then to Louisiana from Florida. It has been an interesting few years, and I'm glad that so many people have supported my writing since I began ranting online to save money on therapy. After getting divorced and wavering on the edge of bankruptcy nearly a decade ago, I've spent that time trying to rebuild everything I lost because of my ex-wife. Right now, I am better off financially than I have ever been, and I'm on the verge of getting full custody of my nine year old twins after years of fighting for them. I thought Louisiana would be a short layover in life. I figured that I could go back to working in restaurants get caught up on my bills, and then I would move on to bigger and better things in another state that wasn't as backwards as Louisiana. Writing started as a way to get out to the world the corruption that went on during my years working at Sprint, and it snowballed from there into politics and taking down political candidates like David Vitter. Obviously, the best-laid plans of mice and men don't always go the way we think they would. It wasn't long after I moved here that I found an unexpected love, and I'm not just talking about hockey or beer. Now we are on the verge of buying a house, combining our families, and I'm considering running for office as a progressive in an area that elected a wanna-be "street cop" to Congress last year. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in a variety of ways ever since I ended up in the last place I expected to be. All of this wouldn't have happened without you. There is no plan to quit political commentary or close any of my Facebook pages. I planned to take a break after the November elections, but Russian interference changed all of that. Maybe one day we will have a government that truly represents us, but until that time comes, I will be in the trenches.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Then you have the far-right and far-left which are convinced that the media are controlled by the elite and "Zionists" - a thinly veiled reference to a range of anti-Semitic conspiracy ideas. These individuals range from Alex Jones' Infowars and Natural News on the right, and a range of wingnut sites like The Anti-Media on the left.
Unless a website is funded by private or public groups like NPR is, that site's existence depends on traffic and ad revenue. Because of that, both traditional and new media sources tend to produce articles based on what people will click on.
This is why the media runs stories on cute puppy videos lifted from Reddit, or the latest celebrity gossip - because that's what grabs people's attention and boosts their ratings. If ratings or web traffic are low, they can't make as much money.
Most of these media outlets depend on advertising to stay afloat, and in the age of Facebook, anyone can create a website and claim that they're a reputable news source or even a health professional. Many also state that they will tell you the stories and truth the mainstream media won't, but they're selling a snake oil sideshow carnival act for the people who are convinced the main circus act is a scam.
Upworthy or World Star Hip Hop-styled tabloid headlines overwhelm quality content from NPR or the New York Times, and most people tend to gravitate to them, let alone want to pay a subscription for material that other sites will just lift and recycle with sensationalized titles like "Fox News Is SUICIDAL After THIS Happened!"
As much as we may despise that practice of clickbait "journalism," in a time where anyone can pretend to be a media outlet, it's often easy money for individuals who can't or won't work a "real job." It's not hard to sit online scraping content from other places and passing it off as your own, and some individuals will stop at nothing to keep that revenue flow alive.
A common retort I hear from the left is that Fox News is the biggest cable news outlet, but younger people tend to get their information online, not from watching TV. We usually consume what appears on Twitter, Reddit or Facebook, and I can tell you that I really only watch MSNBC for Rachel Maddow.
If you truly want quality media, you have to put your click where your mouth is. Learn what is a reputable news source, what is an opinion site like we are, and who is just trying to profit from your time online. If you find that a site is unreliable or secretly promoting an anti-government agenda like Cop Block, remove them from your news feed and move on. Another example is Occupy Democrats which I have repeatedly spoken out against. Occupy Democrats posted an image that does little else other than slut-shame Melania Trump. 357,000 people have shared this image from their page, plus whatever other pages who have used it or made their own versions of it. That's a horrible example for liberals to make of themselves, and meanwhile, the owners of Occupy Democrats and their friends are laughing all the way to the bank. If you search Opensecrets.org, there is not one single donation made to any political campaign by either owner of the website, or the Occupy Democrats organization which advertises itself as a political cause. Yes, this is nothing more than a for-profit organization trying to make a fortune off politics.
Contribute money to your local NPR station or patronize local businesses that support them. Read websites that don't constantly fail Politifact scrutiny, and always, always be sure to fact check for yourself.
Friday, May 20, 2016
I moved to Louisiana in 2010. Prior to that, I had never been to a hockey game and shrugged off TV games as boring. I was a baseball fan first, and football fan second.
To me, hockey was a boring sport like soccer that I just could not find to be exciting in any way. Hockey in the South is a very niche market. It is something that you don't grow up with in a culture that worships football, and even baseball comes a distant second to football-obsessed Dixie.
The popular kids in school often were members of the football team. Hockey was barely spoken of, and understandably so. Ice is not easy to find, especially in the Deep South where you may encounter an occasional ice storm, but never a consistent playing surface. Saturdays in the fall were college football on TV, and Sundays would have the Cowboys or Washington on every screen in every home or bar you might visit. "Hockey? That's a Yankee sport!" people would mutter between sips of Budweiser.
Basketball was usually looked down on as a game for black people, because there were hardly any African-Americans where I grew up in staunchly white, Protestant Virginia.
Shortly after moving to Louisiana, I began dating again after a couple of failed relationships. On a first date with someone I had only talked to online, we decided to go to a hockey game at the Cajun Dome - because there was really nothing else going on that January night. I remember the date well, it was January 15th, 2011 and the IceGators were playing the Augusta RiverHawks if I recall correctly. The game was electric. Suddenly, hockey didn't seem so boring after all. Despite not knowing much about the rules of the game, we both fell in love with hockey that night.
5 years later, Shannon and I are still together - and both of us still love the sound of the horn when a goal is scored. Over the last 3 seasons, I did not miss a single home game. Sometimes I would arrive late from work, but never actually missed the whole contest in a streak that lasted close to 100 games.
While Shannon wasn't always able to go, she would be sure to urge me to go because the loudest section in the Cajun Dome needed my antics which included heckling the opposing team mercilessly. During that time, we spent thousands of dollars on concessions, raffles, merchandise and even paid $300 for the uniform of the only Orthodox Jew playing in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).
We loved and lost different players due to trades, injuries and retirement. Through it all, we were devoted fans of an anomaly, a professional hockey franchise in Louisiana of all places. In Louisiana, hockey isn't the most popular sport by any stretch of the imagination even though hockey once packed the approximately 10,000 seat Cajun Dome back in the 1990s.
Back then, hockey teams popped up all over the place, only to fold a few years later. Louisiana loves the Saints and LSU, and not much else when it comes to sports. When the IceGators resurfaced for the 2009-2010 season, their games were held in Blackham Coliseum, a ancient venue used primarily for rodeos and livestock shows. One of their first goalies went on to play for a number of other professional minor league teams before winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago BlackHawks last year. His name is Scott Darling.
In 2010-2011, the IceGators started playing in the Cajun Dome. From the very beginning, they had to schedule their games around the venue's music and sports events which made for long absences during college basketball season. Sometimes you would have to go as long as 6 weeks without a hockey game as the hardwood floor for basketball replaced hockey's ice sheet. Yet, the team's management made it work despite brutal road trips that put tens of thousands of miles on a bus which liked to break down on the trips to Knoxville or Peoria.
Through good seasons and bad, a couple thousand people would turn out for IceGators hockey. Except in the worst weather, Saturdays would often find dozens of devoted fans gathered in the parking lot hours before the game to party. We would drink, grill and have a good old time hanging out. Sometimes fans of opposing teams would wander in and they would be greeted with some smack talk before being handed a plate of food and a beer. This was a gathering of people that transcended racial, political and cultural boundaries - and I loved every damn drunken moment of it.
When I walked out of the last home game when the IceGators lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Mississippi River Kings, I breathed in that cool, humid air that every hockey fan knows about. Somehow, I had the feeling that I would never see that again in the Cajun Dome.
The news came last Monday. Standing in a funeral home where I was saying goodbye to a friend, the news came that the IceGators were suspending operations for the 2016-2017 season due to renovations at the arena. Upon speaking with other people in the know, it turns out that IceGator hockey was likely done for good due to the local economy and mediocre attendance.
Our 9 year old kid doesn't know yet the IceGators aren't coming back next season. We don't have the heart to tell him just yet that he won't be able to pose for pictures with Gaston, the alligator mascot this fall. IceGator hockey was probably the only place in the world where you could catch a shrimp poboy shot out of a t-shirt gun, watch a game and a few fights, and party with some of the craziest fans you'll ever meet.
Whether or not the IceGators return for the 2017-2018 season, I will always be grateful to the owners, the staff, the players and the fans who helped me to experience a game I am now madly in love with.
Thank you for the pucks, the fights, and the thrills. Thank you for giving me something to look forward to on cold winter nights. Thank you for putting smiles on the faces of thousands of fans. And most importantly, thank you for the memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
P.S, Due to the overwhelming response to this article, I am hoping that the hockey gods will step in and save our team. Maybe a rain dance in my yard will do the trick.
Saturday, April 30, 2016
As an amateur writer, I was excited about this new opportunity, especially after running into a dead end and very brief unpaid stint at Politicususa, which told me they were dumping all revenue into further building their site. At that time, my contact "Thomas Barr" and his business partners were running a number of pages like One Million Strong Against Mitt Romney in 2012, or unofficial fan pages for Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and others which they apparently used to post links for Politicususa for kickbacks.
This opportunity seemed like the great break I was hoping for. I was honestly honored that sources I naively bought into considered me to be qualified to graduate from a lowly blog site about punk rock, politics, fraud and whiskey to what I thought was the big time in liberal journalism.
One of the factors that I believe made me a candidate for their website was my utter distaste for Addicting Info and Being Liberal - as their owners and I had repeatedly clashed over reuse of my content without proper attribution. My friend John Henry was also offered a position writing for Forward Progressives, but only if he wrote under a pseudonym so as not draw unwanted attention to our website, which he declined to do.
At first, things went fairly smoothly and I was awestruck at the amount of traffic my articles were attracting. Before long, we had amassed a respectable squad of potential writers, and things were looking great. There were articles that went viral, our pages were booming, and we reached the front page of Reddit once. When I received my paycheck after the first month of writing that was enough to buy a new laptop, I really thought that this was amazing venture I could finally believe in.
Things started changing when we appeared on the radar of political blogging. While the website had a very large reach, priority was only given to "Allen Clifton" - and some of my articles while our other writers were put on the back burner, often for days. Even when their stories were finally published by "Thomas Barr," they were given little promotion and one by one, nearly every one of those writers quit in disgust.
Eventually, almost nobody wanted to write for us, and the few people I managed to recruit didn't last long. This venture was supposed to be a collaboration of writers that were the progressive answer to the clickbait headlines that littered Facebook, but we rapidly became everything that I hated. There was almost zero collaboration or discussion among writers, and "Allen Clifton" did very little to promote others on our team, myself included. Only Arik Bjorn and his delightfully esoteric Sunday column remained, much to the ire of "Allen Clifton" who had asked me to help him force Arik (and others) out.
Within the first couple of months of Forward Progressives, I had also been informed by the website manager, "Thomas Barr" that the site had come under attack from individuals he believed to be connected to our alleged competition, Addicting Info, among others. I was asked to do what I could to take them down, which I was more than happy to do.
At his instruction, I employed a number of techniques that he suggested, including reporting their racier articles to Google AdSense for any violation we could find. A couple of years ago, Addicting Info went silent for a couple of days with no new material as their founder flew from Santa Rosa, California to Chicago to apparently meet with a buyer.
I can only conclude that we reported the Addicting Info organization so hard that they lost all of their advertising revenue sources due to the complaints, and were bought out by a guy calling himself Icarus Verum, who has the real name of Daniel Gouldman. Daniel seems to also hold partial or complete control of a number of liberal websites like If You Only News, Winning Democrats, Reverb Press, Groopspeak and others.
After almost 3 years of battling this juggernaut and letting me take most of the heat, "Thomas Barr" claimed he didn't want to fight this battle anymore. While I was the one who had been relentlessly cyberstalked and reported into 30 day Facebook bans, he told me that people from the Addicting Info cabal had supposedly gotten too close to finding out things about him and his family in Minnesota - and that it was time to shut up.
Before my relationship with Forward Progressives ended with a group chat in January, the website had descended into clickbait stories, far away from the original mission I had signed up for. Articles I had written fell on the back burner, priority was given to Allen Clifton's latest recap of Sarah Palin's pleas for attention, and nobody else wanted to work with us.
What I found strange through this entire experience is that I was almost always the focus of the attacks by the Addicting Info army of trolls, and not Thomas Barr, Allen Clifton, or the site's owner, Logan. Things like my occasional donations to people in need were made the focus of Facebook pages like The Adventures of Beefaroni Tits or Whiskey Dick & The Most Ethical Blog.
This is what I continually dealt with since confronting the owners of Addicting Info and Being Liberal back in 2012, although I have enjoyed a brief respite since ending my relationship with Forward Progressives. While "Matthew Desmond" has repeatedly told me that neither he, nor any of his associates have had anything to do with the harassment, the evidence I've seen shows that isn't true.
Anyhow, back to Forward Progressives. Despite the fact that we were supposed to be politically "objective," Allen Clifton insisted on writing one condescending article about Bernie Sanders after another. At the same time, he also created Facebook pages like "Being Progressive" which were intended as an outlet for other links that appeared to be supportive of Bernie. I was instructed, after Thomas Barr gained access to a large pro-Bernie Facebook page run by Annabel Park, to write links specifically tailored for that audience.
This is when I knew that Forward Progressives had jumped the shark. Despite being told I was joining a site that was going to be the answer to the clickbait bullshit that I hated, we had become just like the rest. Logan and the others even claimed that FP was based in San Francisco, CA despite being a registered LLC in Ohio.
When that day in January came that I began writing for my new website and the first article was published, I received a Facebook message from the others that I was being let go. In exchange, I would not talk about the operations of Forward Progressives, and I would continue to receive payments for the traffic that led to my articles, and the site overall.
Those promises were broken, and the sites I helped to build were taken away from me. I have repeatedly tried to rectify these issues, only to be ignored. So now I am releasing this story, and I have recorded all of the conversations with these individuals in case they want to state this story is false.
Let the chips fall where they may.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Within a month, I had a job waiting tables at a local restaurant. It took me another 5 months to save up the money to buy a used car, and it was nearly a year before I could find a job in my field. It was an unexpected journey from having nothing, to having a steady paycheck, a woman who loved me, and the peace of mind I had been seeking for years.
Louisiana is not where I ever saw myself ending up. A couple of years prior, I had visited with an ex-girlfriend to attend my sister's wedding, and I remarked that while I liked parts of Louisiana and its culture, it was a place that I could never see myself living in.
Yet, just a couple of years later, that's where I found myself. In time, I began to adjust and find my own niche in a culture that has a distrust of outsiders and a preference for their own ways, even those ways are decades behind the rest of the country.
What I love about Louisiana, at least the southern part of the state, is how friendly people can be. They want to know who you are, who you are related to, and many will buy you a beer during that conversation. You might even be invited to a crawfish boil where you don't know anyone else, and at the end of the night, you've made a bunch of new friends - if you don't talk about political or religious issues that might offend some folks.
For the most part, most Cajuns I've met have embraced me to some degree. After 5 1/2 years, I know people of all political and religious persuasions who I can spend time with, and we get together over our love of food, sports and beer. This isn't the place I saw myself ending up in, but I've learned to make it work.
The political ignorance and individuals fighting against their own self-interests does drive me crazy - as does the racial hatred which lingers just below the surface not only in Louisiana, but across the Southern states in which I have spent all of my life.
One of these days, I may move back to Florida, or even the state where I was born, Virginia. Louisiana has so much promise if only it would turn its government around and elect officials who have the best interests of every citizen in mind, rather than the corporate interests who have run Louisiana into fiscal crisis.
I would like to see Louisiana rise out of the bigotry and ignorance of the Bible Belt and join the rest of the United States in the 21st century sometime in the near future. But if they cannot do that, I will have to regrettably move on, Cajun recipe books in tow.