Monday, July 27, 2009

The College Rankings Are Out!

Today the Times-Picayune reported that the Princeton Review college ranking is out, and Tulane was listed as the #19 party school in the country. I went to Tulane so I think it is quite a party school, so the ranking is not terribly surprising. Also of personal note was the University of Florida, ranked the #2 party-ing-est school. Again, no surprise. But one part did surprise me. Living in New Orleans has its ups and downs, for example, this morning a woman cut us off twice while driving down Claiborne Avenue. However, one of the must insufferable parts is being a Gator and living in Tiger country. LSU Tigers, that is. Purple and gold. RVs with beer spigots on the outside. Every Tiger in town has something to say about you if you are a Gator. I understand the rivalry. I went to two games in Baton Rouge while in college, been to several since then. This year the Gators are reigning college football champs. Last year it was the Tigers. Year before, it was the Gators. However, it does get a bit old sometimes.

So I was truly surprised when the Princeton Review rankings did not include LSU for top party school. They didn't even make the top 20. Other rankings I would have expected to see LSU: Major Frat & Sorority Scene, Students Pack The Stadiums, Lots of Beer, or Lots of Hard Liquor. University of Florida ranked in the top 20 in these and others; a total of 13 categories. LSU did rank in three categories: Best College Newspaper, Students Study The Least, and Class Discussions Rare. Two of these aren't even flattering.

But lets face it, the Princeton Review rankings are not about the quality of education one may receive at any particular college. It is more of a barometric measure of what life is like at those colleges. In some strange way, LSU should have ranked on some factors, where I would compare them favorably to Florida (like partying). They surveyed over 120,000 actual students, so the results should be statistically relevant.

This survey begs the question about rankings based on the quality of education that is actually available in colleges, and there is such a survey. US News and World Report does an exhaustive survey every year of colleges and their programs, including undergraduate and graduate, majors and specialty programs. The survey can be found here. For the record, all data I present here comes from the online, free version of the survey.

One other important point should be made. Someone once told me that they knew some of the worst (insert profession here) came from a program that was well ranked. Well, of course that is true. A well-ranked program does not guarantee that all who graduate will be knowledgeable and/or competent. Somewhere out there is the world's worst doctor, and they could have graduated from anywhere. But, it is much less likely that they graduated from a program where everything was available for them to learn. In other words, a ranked program. The point is that these surveys rank the programs and what they offer. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how some schools ranked in the US News & World Report. Some categories were not available in the free version so they are excluded.

Category Florida LSU Tulane
Top Public Schools 19 67 NA
National Undergraduate Program 49 130 51
MBA Program 37 Not Ranked 48
Graduate Engineering Program 25 75 NA
Law School 51 75 45

For me, this tells the other half of the story that the Princeton Review survey does not address. In short, it tells something about the quality of these schools' programs and what they offer. Another factor not addressed in either survey is the political aspect of choosing a college. If, for example, the private high schools in your city can cost over $10,000 per year for tuition (not including required contributions, endless hours of parental participation, etc.) only to prepare students for the state public university, then a parent may want to consider the value of the relationships that their child will gain at that state public school. The quality of the education available may truly be secondary. To be clear, I am talking about LSU. There are circles in New Orleans that place a higher value on an LSU degree than an Ivy League degree. I've seen them.

What survey is more valuable? What unmeasurable factors are important? For me, the most important factor is that any college my children attend must, and I mean must, be at least 500 miles away from my home. I'll leave that up to the reader to decide.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What defines neighborhood contribution?

One of the things that Katrina has done to New Orleans, besides the obvious destruction and recognition of the type of help that can be expected from the federal government, is the understanding of community. I have found how a community can come together to address its issues. I have seen it at the city-wide level, where many residents have come together to help build a plan to rebuild the city. I have also seen it at the neighborhood association level, where a group has rallied together to rebuild a local park or clean up debris. I have also seen it at the city block level, where residents work together to keep their gutters clean or support the reuse of an old commercial property.

I have also been strongly reminded of what can happen in work groups of more than four people. To put it bluntly, everyone has their own agenda and mostly no one wants to share their agenda. That does include me. So, the ability to get a project done seems to be inversely related to the number of people there are planning that project. So much talking has to happen before any real action occurs. And, some people really don’t want to solve anything because they just want something to complain about. For me, it creates a problem. How can I be involved in an organization (such as a neighborhood association) and still get anything done?

Here is my most recent example: the broken blue house across the street. Here is what I know . . . a tree in the backyard fell on the house during Katrina. The tree knocked the house off its foundation. Not much, but enough for the city to declare it unsafe to live in. An old man lived in the house before the hurricane. By himself. He did not come back to the house afterwards. The house is open to the elements in the back, where the tree hit the roof. This is the only home on our block (and for several around) where someone has not returned and repaired their home. I know, for an area that took 3-4 feet of water, that is a pretty good statistic. Since then, the man has died and the property has gone into succession. No action has been taken on the home or its contents.

Obviously, this house and property is not being maintained. Last year I mowed the yard in front and unfortunately mowed through a nice patch of poison ivy. It only took two weeks and two treatments for it to go away. But, that effort and a liberal spraying of poison ivy killer managed to make the front area of the house presentable for the remainder of the year.

This year I was wary about doing any yard work, mostly because of the poison ivy. But recently something changed my mind. Our neighborhood association sponsored a ‘crime walk’ which encourages neighborhood residents to walk around their neighborhood along with their neighborhood association leadership, police district representatives, and our city council member. We participated in the walk, because I feel one thing you can do is represent your neighborhood when asked. Along the walk, our neighborhood president pointed out some items of ‘concern’, such as missing sidewalks, cars improperly parked, and abandoned properties. Did I say abandoned properties? Like the blue house across the street from me? I did, and the example home was, in fact, the blue house across the street from me.

I cannot disagree that the house is abandoned and not maintained. But nobody on the walk seemed to know the circumstances of the house. Someone knew that the owner had died, but that didn’t seem to be a sufficient explanation for the condition of the house. Someone should call the city. Someone should call the Road Home. There must be a way that the owner can be forced to do something. Another nearby neighbor claimed he had tried to mow the back yard but he had been threatened by the next door neighbor with claims of trespass. It seemed to me that those in attendance were coming up with ways to come up with ways to do something, so I decided I would take acre of it myself. Without the neighborhood association and without any committees.

So, this weekend I managed to mow the front and a small portion of the backyard of the blue house. It took longer than I had hoped, maybe three hours. There is probably another three hours of work involved as well as a bottle of round up. The angry next door neighbor who threatened someone with trespass is also my neighbor. She lives next door to the blue house, and is a very nice retired lady who seemed very happy that I would clean up the blue house. There was lots of poison ivy this time, but I was prepared. I had a bottle of poison ivy killer, jeans, shrimp boots, and a long sleeve shirt. No, there aren’t any pictures.

I will inform the neighborhood association of my work at the blue house. I don’t want the credit, but I don’t want anyone to think that their walk around the neighborhood got the owner’s attention and they rushed over to correct the obvious blight. I guess it is more satisfying to take action than to talk about taking action or to spend energy on finding out who is responsible.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hurricane Supply Tax Holiday

Here's some good news from Baton Rouge. On May 24 and 25, there will be a statewide tax holiday on hurricane preparation supplies, up to $1,500 in purchases. The state bulletin can be read here.

These items will have the tax exemption:
- portable self-powered light source
- portable self-powered radio, two-way radio, or weather band radio
- tarpaulin or other flexible waterproof sheeting
- any ground anchor system or tie-down kit
- any gas or diesel fuel tank
- any package of AAA-cell, AA-cell, C-cell, D-cell, 6-volt, or 9-volt batteries, excluding automobile and boat batteries
- any cell phone battery and any cell phone charger
- any non-electric food storage cooler
- any portable generator used to provide light or communications or preserve food in the event of a power outage
- any “storm shutter device”
- any carbon monoxide detector
- any blue ice product

Note that the tax exemption is only on the state tax and not the local tax. Items can be purchased anywhere except any airport, public lodging establishment or hotel, convenience store, or entertainment complex.

I know we could be better prepared for the upcoming hurricane season, and anyway we always need batteries and flashlights.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's Caterpillar Season!

To paraphrase someone else, I hate those f*****g caterpillars! You know them, you love them. They are buck moth caterpillars and they live in live oak trees all over the city of New Orleans, and in mid April to mid May they start crawling out of their evil lairs. They crawl out of the trees, they jump out of the trees, they find the most unlikely spots so that you can sit on them, grab them, etc.

Why do I care about these seemingly minor part characters in the life of New Orleans?
Because they have hundreds of needle-like hairs lined with very uncomfortable poison, that's why. I get stung every year no matter what precaution I take. Maybe I am just an idiot or a glutton for caterpillar punishment. Either way, I try to be careful, but they are alway waiting for me. Under a brick. On the handle of the recycle bin. In the debris that has collected in the drain area of the trunk of my car. One year two caterpillars (not just one because their conspiracy against me requires joint efforts) crawled onto a blanket I had put down for the express purpose of avoiding the caterpillars. Of course, I rolled over onto both of them, giving me a nice size welt on my leg for two weeks.

The week we moved into our house was the last in April, 2005. Three months before Katrina. The sidewalk in front of our house, as well as the stairs of our house, were a teeming mass of caterpillars , like some evil carpet of pain. You can step on them but for every one you kill there are a hundred out there. Waiting. So there must be a way to kill these guys, right? Old school New Orleanians will tell you to wrap your live oak with aluminum foil, about six feet off the ground. This will confuse the caterpillars and they will not crawl down and out of the tree. I guess they are supposed to turn back around and hang out until, well, just until. I don't mean to be disrespectful but the foil method does not work. It does not work! The caterpillars still get out of the tree, by crawling out or by falling out. At least your foil-lined tree looks festive.

The other and more reliable way is to call Parkway Partners. They are like a city organization, supplementing the city Parks & Parkways group. That's the group that will not mow the park by my house but that is another story. Parkway Partners will come out and spray your tree(s) with buck moth caterpillar poison for only $75 a tree. Once they spray, no more of the pesky buggers. At least until next year.

So watch out under the live oaks. Don't open your sunroof or put your convertible top down. Look at everything before you touch it. Get your kids to squash every caterpillar they see, they love it.

2008 French Quarter Fest And The Food That Comes With It

This weekend we went down to the French Quarter to enjoy the music, the people, and the food of the French Quarter Fest. It was crowded,no doubt, but it seemed a bit less so than last year. We seemed to have no problem navigating through Jackson Square or around The Mint. Of course, we never made it to Woldenberg Park and that is usually where it is the busiest. We had no trouble finding a place to sit down while we enjoyed the food and the music either, which made it a wholly enjoyable experience.

This year we decided to avoid the big stage at Woldenberg Park for two main reasons: its always crazy crowded and Pam has a broken toe. This makes it difficult to do a lot of walking (for her). I also decided to document all of the foods we ate while out and about. There are many food vendors and I always have a hard time choosing a few from the many. I usually end up ordering something from nearly every booth and eating myself sick, but this year we shared every plate and I think this ended up much better. So, here it goes . . .

The pupusa (left) and the chicken tamale (right) came from Jazz Tacos. The pupusa was delicious and the salsa was well done and complimented well. The chicken tamale was chock full of veggies as well as chicken.

Jonathan insisted on raw oysters but finally came around when I convinced him that there were none for sale. He settled on this cajun roast beef po boy. I am not sure what made it 'cajun' but it was good.

This is a pulled pork and cole slaw po boy. It is not the same as the famous Jazz Fest Cochon Du Lait po boy, but it was pretty darn good. BTW, the cochon du lait po boy can be purchased all year long at Walkers BBQ, 10828 Haynes Blvd. This is good news for me because it is my favorite Jazz Fest food item!

Paige tried the egg rolls (not pictured here) but found them too difficult and painful to eat with braces. So we went in search of some easy to eat food and found the grilled chicken with lemon grass from Bach Dang Cafe. The chicken was tender and had a strong lemon grass flavor. Of course it did, there was grilled lemon grass in the dish! It was served over vermicelli.

Spring roll from Bach Dang Cafe. These are available on the weekends in the French Market and we think they may be the best spring rolls in town.

A taquito from Jazz Tacos. This was the least impressive of the items we got at Jazz. But, I am not really a fan of fried Mexcan fare either.

After listening to Zydeco music for a while we decided to walk down Royal Street to hear some other sounds and to eventually work our way to Jackson Square. We listened to VaVaVoom for a while and enjoyed their music. I also enjoyed that they performed right across the street from Touche Bar, where I was able to get some drinks for me & Pam. When they finished up we moved on to Jackson Square, and to more food . . .

A stop by Jacque-Imos yielded boudin that was tasty and smoky. Oh, and it came with homemade creole mustard that tasted a lot like a white remolade. Go figure.

We also got the well-known duck debris po boy. I have read elsewhere that some do not like this and it was a bit goopy. But, it tasted like a delicious slow cooked duck in goopy duck-flavored sauce, and that is OK by me.

This is a spice seafood caprese salad from Cafe Giovanni. It had shrimp, crawfish, and maybe a scallop. The dressing wasn't too spicy and I have always been a sucker for the tomato/mozzerella combo.

Muriel's goat cheese crepe with a crawfish/seafood sauce. Pretty good but nowhere worth the 45+ minute wait in line. Fortunately it was my sister-in-law who did the waiting. Ha ha.

I welcome any opinions on the food choices at the French Quarter Fest or any opinions on my opinions. And since this is my first blog ever, maybe go easy on me.