Thursday, June 30, 2005

Help Desk Solutions …

This is the conclusion of the article by Jim Edwards,

Help desk solutions run the range from free to several thousands of dollars for a custom program.

Two very workable and reasonably priced solutions are and

(You can also do a search in Google for "free help desk software" if you don't want to spend any money.)

Both offer the choice of installing the software on your own server, or paying a monthly fee to get a copy of the software installed and maintained on the provider's server.

Which option you choose depends on your level of technical ability, level of customization needed, and how much support you'll need over time.

I suggest starting out with the hosted version until you get the hang of the system, then switch over to a version on your own server to avoid the monthly charges.

An online help desk operates fairly simply.

A customer submits a ticket through a form on your website, the customer support staff (even if it's a staff of one) responds to the ticket through the website, and all communication gets posted on a private web page.

Both Kayako and Perldesk enable customers to search a "knowledgebase" or collection of articles to try solving their problems on their own (especially during non-business hours), thus frequently eliminating the need to get a live response.

Anyone who does business online should consider installing a help desk solution from the start rather than putting it off until the future.

Get your customers conditioned to operating with a ticket system rather than switching on them in mid-stream once your business gets too busy to handle support via email.

Here are a couple of other tips to help you.

Designate one person to act as the "sorter" answering the basic issues, then referring off the ones they can't answer to other staff members.

Also, post your help desk hours and stick to them.

Answer questions the same day if possible, but no later than the next business day.

Jim Edwards is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the creator of an amazing course that will teach you step-by-step and click-by-click how to finally create your own money-making mini-sites...


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

No Customer Left Behind ...

This is the first half of an article by Jim Edwards,

We'll conclude tomorrow

As more companies make the jump to cyberspace every week and billions of dollars flow across the Internet, nobody can deny that ecommerce plays a significant roll in business today.

However, as the aisles of your local online shopping site get more crowded, the tendency for customer service issues and contact to fall through the cracks increases dramatically.

The main problem for any site revolves around the fact that email as a means of communication has become unreliable over the last couple of years.

Spam (unsolicited commercial email) lies at the heart of the problem since it clogs the email boxes of both the company and the customer.

In an attempt to stem the tide of spam, email gets filtered, lost, or deleted on both sides, often leading to hard feelings as customers think their emails have been ignored when actually they've never been received.

As a result, many companies, large and small, have started using "help desk" software to manage their customer communication.

Gone are the days of just emailing for support and getting a simple reply back from a live human being on the other end.

Spam makes it impossible for a company of any size to operate with email-only support.

A help desk makes it possible not only to maintain a "chain" of communication, but also avoids messages disappearing into cyberspace.

Help desk solutions run the range from free to several thousands of dollars for a custom program.

Two very workable and reasonably priced solutions are and

(You can also do a search in Google for "free help desk software" if you don't want to spend any money.)

We'll conclude tomorrow.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Fear and loathing on the bayou …

This is the eighth and last column in a series that started at a column called “Wirth-less”.

After a few months on the job I realized how limited my influence was at the computer center that I supposedly directed. Edwards’ powerful commissioner of administration, Charles Roemer II was orchestrating the development path of the center through his trusted lieutenant Bill Allen. By the way, this CR II, the one who went to jail, father of CR III who later became governor.

The Honeywell computer at Charity was running at about 10% capacity, and I was calling on local state agencies to tell them about how we wanted their business. In the process, I was hearing of several Honeywell mainframes destined for agencies I had thought were to be my clients. Further, the system at Charity was to be upgraded.

Allen saw that I was bothered, and got me an appointment to “have an audience” with CR. In our meeting, He basically reiterated the earlier message to leave the consultants to Bill Allen, and added that I should stop worrying about how Honeywell computing power was being distributed.

On returning to N.O., I realized that my position was high enough in the organization to require a figurehead. I also had very little to do within the boundaries placed on me. Allen then delivered an ultimatum that sounded like an attractive offer.

We were building a new house at the time, and Allen suggested that it was ok with them if I just worked on my new house and didn’t even show up at Charity except to pick up my paycheck. Also I could keep the state car. It was left indefinite as to how long this arrangement might last, but I assumed that they were already seeking my replacement.

I gave my notice, thinking I would be a “whistle-blower” and bring the operation down, but once I left I lost interest. CR II was convicted a few years later in a federal sting known as “Brilab.” He served some jail time, but I think won an appeals court case.

After five years as a college professor, and less than one year in state employment, I was ready for the for-profit world.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sweet Charity …

This is the seventh column in a series that started at a column called “Wirth-less”.

It’s part of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans (MCLNO), but to most people it is still "Charity" or "Big Charity." Opened in 1736, Charity Hospital has been in its sixth and current location since 1939. At that time it was the second largest hospital in the United States with 2,680 beds.

Its unofficial historian, Dr. John Salvaggio, says that “This institution has remained standing (sometimes barely) and caring for the population throughout the amazing history of Louisiana from epidemics, wars, hurricanes, pirates and politics.” It is very possible that politics took the heaviest toll of all those hazards.

Still, many people have counted on it over the years. Charity spokesman Jerry Romig recalled one of Edwin Edwards' childhood stories in a recent Gambit article. "He and his brother boarded a Greyhound bus at Crowley, where they lived," says Romig. "Their mother put them on the bus and told the driver to let them out at Charity to get their tonsils out."

In early 1975 I reported for duty as the director of the state computer center at New Orleans. Our mission was to provide computing services to all the state agencies in N.O., and for that purpose a chunk of Charity was cleared and fitted to house a giant Honeywell computer and its support staff. Charity was expected to be our biggest customer.

The cultures of the hospital and the computer center were poles apart. Charity had a good reputation for patient care amid the chaos. Thirty years ago, the computer took in data in batches and paper circulated like a blizzard until some of it was collected to be keypunched.

Where the medical situation was care amid chaos, the computing operation was slow progress in a casual atmosphere. I remember an article from those days saying that the world of commerce was being held hostage by the “high priests of programming.”

Tomorrow – Fear and loathing on the bayou …


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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Watchdog needed ...

We'll take a one-day break in my story on "Edwin and me" in order to cover breaking news. Today’s title comes from an email from C.B. Forgotston, pointing out a legislative end run as the session ended. He concludes:

“Of course, this is merely an academic discussion until LA has a public interest litigation group that is willing to challenge such matters in court. Otherwise, everything passed the lege is presumed to be done so in compliance with our constitution.

WHERE ARE THE CURRENT "WATCHDOGS" to which the media daily refers?”

At the state level, the C.B. Think Tank is my major source of information of when the leges fail to read the laws that supposedly govern them.

PAR seems to be at work, and maybe if I read the Baton Rouge newspaper I would have a better idea of how they view the goings on. Others, like LABI and ACLU, have more limited agendas. The Times-Pic often has the information we need in the fine print, and editorializes for good government occasionally.

Public opinion expert Susan Howell (in the spirit of full disclosure, she is my wife) suggests that casual observers, which seems to describe LA voters, may view this as the worst legislative session in memory. I know there’s more to these votes than these convenient labels, but they seem anti-teacher and anti-nutrition, pro-cigarettes and pro-slush funds.

In many cases, I suspect that their term-limited lame-duck status has allowed them to drop any pretense of public service and bend to favored interests. Those who are charged with making this a better state are sneaking in pay raises and insurance breaks.

So if that is how legislator’s without accountability act, what methods do we have to stop them? Certainly, C.B.’s call for a public litigation group to step forward is in the finest American tradition. Is there a group that we can get behind? What else can we do to express our outrage?

There seem to be more questions than answers. Let's hear your opinion.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A loss of innocence …

This is the sixth column in a series that started at a column called “Wirth-less”.

On his way to prison in 2004, Edwin W. Edwards said "I will be a model prisoner, as I have been a model citizen." Well, I must have met him on an off day in his model citizen role.

By 1975, EWE had taken the hiring of unclassified employees to a new level, and the state civil service commission was ready to take him on over it. Edwards’ staffers, when hiring me and many of my colleagues, told us that our unclassified status was necessary for them to offer us a competitive salary. That was not the publicly stated reason, however, since it was not a valid justification for circumventing civil service rules.

LIPA was a function of the office of the governor, so those of us working at the professional level, i.e., the unclassified ones, were summoned to the Capitol for a meeting with EWE to discuss where the dispute with civil service was headed. At the meeting, as I remember it, there were about twenty of us, and we assembled in a meeting room at the Capitol.

We were given a little time to settle down before EWE came in. He looked a bit somber, and didn’t “work the room” as I had expected. But once he started talking he really took charge; I felt like I was being recruited for the fight against evil.

As EWE invited questions, I realized that he had just coached us in how to bend the truth under oath. We were all to say that we were his trusted political advisors, and that he calls on us regularly. When Edwards left, we went from dumbfounded to boisterous, laughing and joking about all the time we spend at the mansion, and going there next week for a cookout.

Fortunately, Edwards and civil service settled “out of court” and we weren’t tested on what we could say comfortably when the time came. This was near the end of his first term, and he easily won re-election to his second term.

This was well before Edwards become “Fast Eddie” or “the crook,” and I feel that our group was one of the first to experience EWE’s flexible ethics code.

Tomorrow: Sweet Charity …


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Honeywell “honeypot” …

This is the fifth column in a series that started at a column called “Wirth-less”.

Louisiana has had 11 constitutions; more than any other state. The present constitution took effect on January 1, 1975. Later that year, the Super Dome in New Orleans would open, and Edwin W. Edwards would be re-elected Governor of Louisiana.

Now that we have set the time frame, let us get back to our story.

The jobs being offered at LIPA were unclassified because salaries required by computing specialists were still way above anything with which civil service pay grades could compete. It was still a pay cut for me from my academic salary of the year before. On mentioning this, I was told they could pay no more, but they could give me a state car. The car was a “land barge,” a giant Pontiac sedan which had seen better days.

A decade earlier I had worked for IBM, and as a university computer center director I had worked with DEC equipment. Louisiana was committed to Honeywell. I mean really committed. Edwards’ Commissioner of Administration, Charles Roemer II, went to jail over what the Feds thought may have been an over-commitment to Honeywell.

As I remember it, the computer was already up and running when I got to Charity, it just had nothing productive to do. There were a few state programmers, willing to work at civil service pay grades, and an army of consultants doing essentially the same things for triple the pay.

New Orleans is in many ways a small town; I knew almost all of the consultants. I had worked for a well-funded software startup in the late 60’s, IDS, which did not survive to the 70s. The consultants here were from a successor to IDS, less the bloated executive corps that had dragged it down, but with some political connectedness.

The consultants were there primarily to fill out time sheets, and they would occasionally write a program or two. The hierarchy there made it seem that the consultants were in charge, and the state programmers, who were working pretty hard, were merely functionaries.

Well now the state had someone (namely me) with authority over the consultants, and we clashed early and often. My attempts to manage the budget would clearly call for cutbacks, and I tried to convince higher-ups that the consultants’ ranks should be thinned.

I was not originally warned to leave them alone, but the message was delivered forcibly on my suggestion that we begin replacing consultants with state programmers.

Tomorrow – A loss of innocence


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A patronage two-fer …

This is day 4 in a series that started at a column called “Wirth-less”.

In early 1975, I left a great job in Boston to return to New Orleans, where I would join the job-seekers. The move was not exactly my choice, but was made necessary by a previous series of bad choices.

Well, anyway, I do not remember how long I had been looking or how it occurred to me, but I decided to see if I had any political capital left with the Edwards administration. Whoever my contact was, next thing I know I am being summoned to Baton Rouge as soon as possible for an interview.

Remarkably, a very small role in a campaign over three years earlier had gotten me placement on a “Friends of EWE” list. The summer job that I was given last time I called apparently did not move me to any “favor repaid” list.

My timing was flawless. The state had recently formed a central computing agency called the Louisiana Information Processing Authority (LIPA), and set up its flagship computer center in Baton Rouge. The best I could tell, the New Orleans political contingent wanted a center located in N.O. to serve state agencies there.

Certainly it was not my political clout that caused the “technocrats” to create a job for me. I was an experienced computer center director when those were hard to find, and I represented an opportunity to address a political situation before it could become a problem. So I left Baton Rouge as the new associate director of LIPA, in charge of the N.O. computer center, then being set up at Charity Hospital.

“Big Charity,” the oldest, continually operating hospital in the country, was an interesting choice for the center. It certainly represented the biggest opportunity of all state agencies for “data processing” to make significant improvements. On the other hand, its culture was more political than medical, a place where good ideas went to die.

Tomorrow - The Honeywell “honeypot”


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Edwin, Bob and me, 1973 …

This is day 3 in a series that started at a column called “Wirth-less”.

So, a little volunteer work for Edwin Edwards in 1971 turned me on to political activism.

At the end of 1972, I left UNO for a similar position at Bentley College, in greater Boston. The Bentley position paid a little more, and gave me summers off.

Good things were happening professionally. I got a contract for a book, "Introduction to FORTRAN," and picked up a consulting position that generated a few trips to Taiwan during that time. I also taught Management Information Systems as an adjunct at Boston University, and for little cost or effort got a Master’s degree in Communications (6 years after getting a Ph.D.).

In the summer of either 1973 or 1974, I was back in Louisiana and decided to look for summer work. As a long-shot, I called someone in the Edwards camp (maybe Jim), just to ask whether they had some work for me before I had to go back to Boston.

As I remember it, I was told about a day later to report as soon as possible to Baton Rouge for an assignment which I should find acceptable. Because of the short-term nature of the position, I would work for the state through a consulting firm. I was to work out the particulars with (as I remember) one Bob Grapp, president of Software, Inc.

So, having been a minor cog in the EWE election machine, I was entitled to rapid response patronage. Wow! What did the major players get?

The assignment was meaningful, preparing a report on the state’s telecommunication assets with suggestions as to how they might be better networked. I was assigned an assistant who was knowledgeable on telecom, and we produced a very good report.

I was paid a nice hourly rate for my work. I thought I had provided great value for the state until I found out that Grapp got a 200% burden, i.e., twice what I got for every hour I worked.

Some time after that I think that Grapp got into some legal problems and left the state hurriedly. Over time, I began to think that some of his Louisiana income was kicked back to the Edwards version of the “deduct box.”

Join us tomorrow for "A patronage two-fer."


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Edwin and me, 1971 …

You may want to read yesterday’s column to see where we are headed.

In 1971, then U.S. Representative Edwin Washington Edwards won the Democratic nomination for Governor of Louisiana in a very close runoff with J. Bennett Johnston, Jr. (anybody remember how close?).

As they used to say then, winning the Demo nomination was "tantamount" to winning the office. According to form, Edwards easily beat Republican nominee David C. Treen in the general election, and served from 1972 to 1980 (and two more terms later, but this story ends in 1975).

By the way, I will bet that I am one of the few who ever worked for Edwards AND Treen. The work for Treen was unofficial, and that’s another story anyway.

In the early days of the 1971 campaign, I happened to catch EWE "on the stump." I was so taken by him that I volunteered to work in the campaign. This was the start of about 15 years of political activism on my part, which I regret to this day.

At the time, I was the Director of the Computer Research Center at the University of New Orleans, and in my late 20s. I lived in Jefferson Parish then, and at the first Edwards rally I attended I was appointed a precinct captain by Jim Donelon, the top guy in my ward. Aaron Broussard was the parish chairman for Edwards.

Precinct captain! Even though I was the only one there from my precinct, I thought I had to be one of the great political success stories. I remember my role as making a lot of phone calls, then delivering donuts to poll workers on voting days.

The first "perq" I received for my efforts was an invitation to the runoff victory party at some hotel in downtown N.O. (Monteleone?). TV accounts were saying that the race was so close that we were in for a long night.

As I was arriving with my date (Mary Ann, I think) at the hotel, pinned and pasted full of EWE paraphernalia, a stranger apparently assumed I was an Edwards insider and asked me how the race was going. I authoritatively rattled off a list of areas of the state that were about to report in Edwin’s favor, making it up as I went along, and the stranger was duly impressed.

My date was also impressed, and I began to see the appeal of being in politics…

Join us tomorrow for Edwin, Bob and me, 1973.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Monday, June 20, 2005

Wirth-less …

Scott Sternberg, in Sunday’s Times-Picayune, reminds us that a "N.O. site made mark in computer history:"

"When demolition began last week, the long-derelict Wirth Building took its biggest step yet toward being reborn as a high-tech hub that will be a linchpin of the now-forming medical district.

But the site's high-tech future as a so-called BioInnovation Center -- it will house laboratories and biotech business start-ups -- will be a reflection of its past.

The Wirth Building was once a nationally recognized center of technological innovation. In 1957, it got one of the first IBM 705 computers …"

Reading about Wirth brought back some memories for me, memories from 1975 when I was briefly a political appointee of then Governor Edwin Edwards.

At the time, I was the associate director of the Louisiana Information Processing Authority (LIPA), the state’s central computing authority. The director, Ed Schellhaase as I remember it, ran the Baton Rouge computer center. As associate director, I was in charge of the N.O. center, then located at Charity Hospital.

It seems that the entire time I was there we were talking about moving the center to the Wirth Building, and I do not remember why it never happened. So, as a Wirth Building story this is pretty lame; it is obviously just a pretext to getting into a story about my experience in the first Edwards administration.

And it was quite an experience. I assume that the statute of limitations has run out on punishing the perpetrators of the illegal acts that I witnessed. I may be over-dramatizing; what I saw were really "only" breaches of ethics, but even then I knew how to "connect the dots." Still, as one of the most junior (and least "plugged-in") members of the administration, I am amazed that the "perps" let their guard down around me as much as they did.

I will further assume that my recollections of events of thirty years ago cannot be considered libelous. Hey, it’s only a blog, lighten up!

Beginning tomorrow, I am going to give this story some shape. Look for "Edwin and me, 1972."


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, June 19, 2005

U.S. indicts four ...

Here is another take on the story we featured yesterday, this by Adam Nossiter of the Associated Press as it appeared in the Duluth Superior.

NEW ORLEANS - A businessman close to ex-mayor Marc Morial and the city's former top property manager have been indicted in a kickback scheme, part of an ongoing federal probe into municipal corruption here.

Businessman and restaurateur Stan "Pampy" Barre was charged Thursday with taking tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from a city subcontractor, then sharing the money with Kerry De Cay, the director of property management under Morial.
Morial, now head of the New York City-based National Urban League, was not named in Thursday's indictment.

However, his administration, which ran the city from 1994 to 2002, has been under federal investigation for several years over its contracting practices. Other businessmen close to the ex-mayor are known to have received subpoenas, but Thursday's charges were the first major indictments in the continuing investigation.

An attorney for Barre, Jack Martzell, said he had not read the indictment and would have no comment. De Cay attorney Buddy Lemann told a television interviewer his client would fight the charges against him.

The new indictments center around a $65 million contract to upgrade chillers, boilers, lights and other energy-related fixtures in municipal buildings. De Cay oversaw the contract with Johnson Controls Inc. of Milwaukee; Barre was hired as a subcontractor. The owner of a New Orleans restaurant popular with city power brokers during the Morial years, Barre also holds lucrative concessions at the New Orleans-governed Louis Armstrong International Airport just west of the city.

Federal officials say Barre did little or no work for Johnson, though he was paid thousands by them. They say another Johnson subcontractor, also indicted, "funneled" $546,000 to Barre, who then shared the money with De Cay and a Johnson official. The other subcontractor, Reginald Walker, also was indicted Thursday; the Johnson official was not.

The contract drew heavy criticism from Morial's successor, current Mayor Ray Nagin, soon after Nagin took office. Nagin has since canceled related deals with a number of subcontractors and renegotiated the maintenance contract with Johnson Controls, cutting payments by $200,000 a year. Nagin aides had complained that the original deal was full of noncompetitive contracts for Morial associates.

Money from the lucrative Johnson contract was spread around, according to the indictment - used to pay, for instance, for metal security doors at Barre's concession stands at the New Orleans Cultural Center.

Letten said the investigation was continuing and that it was his "fervent hope and belief" that other federal charges would be forthcoming "in the coming weeks."


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, June 18, 2005

City Corruption Probe...

I am amazed that there are well educated and politically aware friends of mine who are still Morial "disciples." A typical statement is along the lines of "Marc was a great mayor, but may have overdone the patronage." This is in the same sense that Edwin Edwards was a great governor, just ethically challenged. provided the following excerpts. The inartful editing and comments in italics are mine.

NEW ORLEANS -- Indictments were announced Thursday against four people associated with the administration of former Mayor Marc Morial.

Indicted are restauranteur Stan "Pampy" Barre, 60...

This will be the most interesting case, a member of the "inner circle."

... accused of contract fraud in business dealings with Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc. The contracts were supposed to pay for themselves in energy savings for the city -- with Johnson replacing outdated equipment in city-owned buildings -- but instead, the city actually paid $3.2 annually toward the debt using capital improvement funds from bond issues.

Barre, a subcontractor to Johnson Controls, is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, multiple counts of mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

In one instance, the indictment alleges that while Barre was being paid by Johnson Controls to help manage its subcontractors, he was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by one of them -- Moss Creek. Barre would then allegedly share the money he received from Moss Creek with ...

... a maximum 130 years in prison.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Friday, June 17, 2005

How To Create A Web Site in 5 Days ...

Following is an email solicitation from an Internet marketing "guru" to which I would like to get your feedback. Does it over-promise? Can a person who, so far, only knows surfing and email learn how to create a web site in five days from a book? Can a movie tutorial "literally lay out the groundwork for you?" How do you web designers out there feel about a book, read in five days, being called an alternative to your services? And now, the guru speaks:

Hi John.

If you're like most folks, once you learn surfing and email, chances are you are ready to tackle building your own website.

If that sounds like you, what comes next? There are tutorials that abound to teach you everything you need to know about html code, php and just about every other kind of technical stuff you could ask for.

The problem? It's all written in "geek speak." The very tools you need to get started are usually way over the head of the novice, would be webmaster.

That was then. . .this is now.

How To Create a Web Site in 5 Days overcomes all those obstacles. Written in "plain english" so that anyone can follow the instructions, it is THE premier guide for the novice webmaster.

Plus, this book comes with a "movie tutorial" that will literally lay out the groundwork for you with sound and visual tools.

This power packed system will have you designing your web site like a pro in just 5 days! It just doesn't get any better than this.

Grab your copy today and in less than a week you will be on your way to becoming a top notch webmaster.

Learn more about it here: (Link)

PS. Compared to the alternative of hiring a web designer, this is the most comprehensive and inexpensive alternative you will find online.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Voir Dire means "to speak the truth" ...

Can you stand some more jury duty "lore" from our unknown author?

You will be sworn to tell the truth and answer questions in open court. The questions are designed to reveal any conflicts of interest you may have in judging a specific case. For instance, if the case is about bank fraud, the court wants to make sure you're not a banker who is too biased to judge the case fairly.

Expect questions about your employment, friendships and family relationships. You may also be asked if you have friends/family members in law enforcement. You will be asked standard questions about your belief in the jury system and if you can judge the case fairly. Questions may be asked by attorneys or from a list of prepared questions presented to you by the judge.

You will likely be asked at this time if you have any scheduling or personal conflicts that will prevent you from serving as a juror. Regardless of whether the question is asked, at this time you must make it clear that you have a conflict with jury service. Be prepared to state why you cannot serve (work, family, philosophical difference.) If you are passionate enough you shouldn't be asked to serve. The court only wants to select jurors who want to serve.

You will be asked if you believe in the jury system and if you can judge the case fairly. Answering with a simple "no" is a sure way to get dismissed. However, you should tell the truth... you are under oath at this time. Expect the judge to ask you why you feel as you do.

Following questioning, the group of potential jurors will be excused for a break. During the break the judge will decide which jurors will be excused "for cause" (meaning they have a legitimate conflict in fairly hearing the case.) Attorneys will also reject potential jurors using a limited number of "peremptory challenges."

Peremptory challenges can be used against you for any reason. They are mostly used to eliminate jurors that either the defense of prosecution thinks will be too detrimental to their side. Once the final list of jurors is determined, you will be asked to return to the courtroom. The names of the chosen will be called by the judge. The people who were not selected as a juror or an alternate will be excused for the day (though they'll have to continue calling in each day for the remainder of the phone-in period.)


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Adventures in Criminal Justice ...

The dreaded letter, summoning me to jury duty, arrived last month. The dates conflicted with my vacation so I asked for a postponement, which was courteously given for the small inconvenience of having to go in person to do it.

Some pundit suggested that a jury of his peers was hard to find among a group of people who are not smart enough to get out of jury duty. Denizens of the courthouse say that the mayor couldn’t get out of jury duty now.

Criminal justice in New Orleans is headquartered at the "Israel M. Augustine, Jr. Criminal Justice Center," but the locals generally still call it "Tulane and Broad" for the nearest major intersection. An entry in blogthings entitled "You Know you’re From New Orleans When..." offers as one of the sure signs is that "Being in a jam at Tulane and Broad isn't the same as being stuck in traffic."

It looks like art deco to me, but at the court’s web site I read that "The Criminal Courts Building located at 2700 Tulane Avenue was erected between 1929 and 1931 entirely by local New Orleanians. The sculpture work on the buildings exterior was executed by Angela Gregory, the plaster relief by John Lachin, and the only existing mural was painted by Ellsworth Woodward."

Once inside, we go through the obligatory security checks and are directed to the jury lounge in the "basement." That is in quotes because there are no real basements in New Orleans; the water table is about an inch below ground. We even have to bury our dead above the ground. Here a basement is the first floor where the entrance to the building is on the second.

Well, I am running over my target number of words without having gotten to the point. Well, if I had a point, it has gotten lost in all my side trips about the idiosyncrasies of "America’s most interesting city." At least New Orleans was called that when I was growing up, but I think San Francisco has laid claim to the phrase. I’ll see how it happened and let you know in my next report.

Oh, I was going to tell you about jury duty. They made us wait incessantly, broken up by occasionally herding us like cattle into a courtroom. Once there, the judge gave us a high school civics lecture, and the lawyers dismissed us wholesale based on written questionnaires that we had filled out days before. I fail to see what purpose our presence served beyond satisfying the curiosity of those who wanted a visage to put with our written descriptions of ourselves.

Next time, only call me if there is a fighting chance that I might get chosen.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Ethics and your legislators ...

The Advocate had a couple of news briefs on ethics and our leges (C.B.'s term for legislators). The first shows their creativity in defeating the spirit of recent ethics rules, the second shows them approving the rules on executive branch appointees.

Legislators help raise funds for caucus

Legislators can't hold fund-raisers for their own election campaigns while they are in session, but they can still do some fundraising for their favorite caucuses.

The State Democratic and Republican legislative caucuses have had their traditional annual fund-raisers.

Now comes the year-old Louisiana Sportsmen's Caucus, which on Tuesday hosts a skeet and trap shoot at the Hunters Run Gun Club. The caucus, which advocates for sportsmen, is joining with its congressional counterpart to host the event.

The event has sponsorship levels ranging from $250 to $2,500. Guns, ammo and clays are provided as well as food and beverages.

Caucus co-chairmen are Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth; Sen. Robert Barham, R-Oak Ridge; Rep. Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday; and Rep. Tom McVea, R-St. Francisville.

Executive-branch lobbying rules OK'd

State ethics officials have gotten the final legislative approval for rules implementing the new law requiring lobbyists to report how much they spend trying to influence the governor and others in the executive branch of government.

The rules will be published in the June 20 State Register. Lobbyists must start filing reports on Aug. 15.

A July 22 seminar is also scheduled at ethics headquarters "to help people out if they want our help" if they still have questions, ethics lawyer Kathleen Allen said.

The Legislature approved the new disclosure requirement at the insistence of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who wanted to instill confidence in the way the state does its business.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Monday, June 13, 2005

How to get out of Jury Duty ...

I am on Jury Duty today. Thought you might enjoy the following article, author unknown:

Ways To (Honestly) Avoid Juror Service


If you have a legitimate hardship that prevents you from serving, write a letter to the court. Do so even if the court doesn't specify your situation as "excusable." You may be let go through the mail.

Remember that the court may empathize with your situation, but may not let you off the hook easily through the mail. If your request for excuse is rejected, don't worry. You will generally find the court more reasonable when you appear for your first day of service.


If you have been unsuccessful getting excused through the mail, the next step is to get and excuse when you report to court.

Shortly after reporting for service, a court employee may ask if anyone has a compelling problem that will keep them from serving. THIS IS THE BEST TIME FOR YOU TO REQUEST TO BE EXCUSED. If you have a legitimate reason (such as work, travel, medical or family care responsibilities), you may very well be excused at this time.

People wanting excuses will be asked to come to the front. You will be questioned by the court employee. You will then either be excused or told to return to your seat. If you are excused, you will have to continue to phone-in for the remainder of the jury duty call-in period. You may be required to report again for jury selection. If you are not excused, you may still have a chance to get out of service during the jury selection process.


Once the initial jury assembly is complete, the remaining group ("panel") is eligible for the jury selection process. You will be asked to line up in a specific order. You will be taken as a group to the courtroom and guided to a specific seat. A seating chart has been created so everyone in the courtroom will know who you are.

The judge will then offer a greeting and general instructions on what is about to happen. The judge's instructions may take 30-45 minutes. Following the judge's initial welcome and instructions, questioning of jurors will begin. You may hear this process called "Voir Dire" (pronounced 'voy dare'.) Voir Dire means "to speak the truth."


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, June 12, 2005

First ‘Reality Show’ on the Web ...

A little off topic today, but fun stuff:

"106 Hemingways" project invites the public to watch as 106 individuals from all walks of life create original e-books and launch electronic newsletters, available to the world.

Bonita Springs, Florida (PRWEB) June 10, 2005 -- Electronic publishing and marketing expert Alan R. Bechtold claims he can turn 106 people, from all walks of life, into "Hemingways" -- profitable published authors -- in six months' time. He's launched The E-Publishing Marketing Mastermind, which officially gets underway June 18, to make it happen.

Now he's inviting the world to watch.

So far, more than 50 "Future Hemingways" have signed up to join Bechtold in his quest. According to Alan, applications are pouring in daily, increasing in numbers as the launch date approaches.

"I'm absolutely confident I'll achieve my goal of 106 members before we begin," Bechtold said. "Then we'll move forward with my next goal -- 100 percent success for every member. And I'm inviting the public to watch our progress and get to know each of the group's members personally through updates on our Weblog (or Blog, as they've come to be known), making this the first true 'reality show' on the Web!"

The public can monitor the group's activities through frequent comments and updates from each of its members, including Bechtold, on an official "106 Hemingways" Weblog, located at An official "Future Hemingways" newsletter has also just been launched, and the public can subscribe for free, at, to receive updates in their "inboxes” as they happen.

Bechtold says he's certain of his ability to create successful published authors because he's teaching every member the same techniques he's employed. He's providing them with the same tools he's used to build a highly successful multi-million dollar electronic publishing career over the past 21 years.

"I've always been a publisher and author," Bechtold said. "The Internet makes it possible for anyone to publish a book and newsletter at little or no cost. These two things, when combined properly, will generate more customers and make more sales for any business, in any industry. They can even make money for people who have no business at all!"

Beginning June 18, members of Bechtold's group will meet on the telephone once each week for six months, to develop and launch their individual books and newsletters. A hands-on, live workshop in Tampa, Florida, September 30 through October 2, is included.

"When we've completed the process, the public will be invited to visit our online '106 Hemingways' bookstore, where they can download and read every book the members create, at no charge, then subscribe to their free newsletters," Bechtold said. "This is absolutely the most fascinating 'reality show' you could ever watch -- and everyone watching will benefit from the results when we're done!"

Complete details on Bechtold's "106 Hemingways" process and all the tools involved can be found at

Alan R. Bechtold is president and CEO of BBS Press Service, Inc., a company he founded in 1984, specializing in electronic marketing and publishing solutions for businesses of all sizes. Bechtold's simple three-step e-publishing system makes it easy for anyone, in any business – even people without a business yet – to tap the Internet and generate tremendous profits. Bechtold is currently available to the media for interviews, guest appearances and, for reference purposes, as a general Internet marketing and publishing media expert.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Is 40 really the new 30?

In an article for Reuters, by way of Yahoo news, Patricia Reaney suggests that "40 could be the new 30 as scientists redefine age"

Everyone is getting older but in many ways people today act younger than their parents did at the same age.

Scientists have defined a new age concept and believe it could explain why populations are aging, but at the same time seem to be getting younger.

Instead of measuring aging by how long people have lived so far, the scientists have factored in how many more years people can still look forward to.

"Using that measure, the average person can get younger in the sense that he or she can have even more years to live as time goes on," said Warren Sanderson, of the University of New York in Stony Brook.

He and Sergei Scherbov, of the Vienna Institute of Demography at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, have used their method to estimate how the proportion of elderly people in Germany, Japan and the United States will change in the future.

The average German was 39.9 years old in 2000 and could plan to live for another 39.2 years, according to research reported in the science journal Nature on Wednesday.

However, by 2050 the average German would be 51.9 years old and could expect another 37.1 years of life. So middle age in 2050 would come around 52 instead of 40 as in 2000.

"As people have more and more years to live they have to save more and plan more and they effectively are behaving as if they were younger," said Sanderson.

Five years ago, the average American was 35.3 years old and could plan for 43.5 more years of life. By 2050, the researchers estimate it would increase to 41.7 years and 45.8 future years.

"A lot of our skills, our education, our savings and the way we deal with our health care depend a great deal on how many years we have to live," said Sanderson.

"This dimension of how many years we have to live has been completely ignored in the discussion of aging so far."


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Friday, June 10, 2005

How Good Are Hurricane Forecasts?

In an article subtitled "Last year, they blew," Daniel Engber reports in

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we can expect somewhere between 12 and 15 tropical storms this year. Scientists at Colorado State University predict 15 tropical storms, while a private company based in Britain says there will be around 14. If these predictions are accurate, we're in for an active season—the historical average for storms per year is 9.6. But how reliable are these hurricane forecasts?

Not bad at all. In general, the predictions fall within a storm or two of the observed totals. Last season, though, the forecasters had a bad year. 2004's six intense hurricanes doubled most predictions. The seasonal total of nine hurricanes was also significantly higher than expected. Forecasters blamed the poor predictions on a "year [that] did not behave like any other year we have studied."

Forecasting groups use more than 50 years of data to find correlations between oceanic conditions, weather patterns, and hurricane-season severity. El Niño seasons, for example, tend to have few hurricanes, while warm sea temperatures portend stormy weather. Since 1995, ominous temperature and wind patterns have foreshadowed a particularly long run of bad weather.

A seasonal hurricane forecast typically includes predictions for tropical storms, hurricanes, intense hurricanes, and ACE ("accumulated cyclone energy"). In a tropical storm, winds measure between 33 and 63 knots; hurricanes reach speeds between 63 and 95 knots, and intense hurricanes swirl at more than 95 knots. ACE measures the season's total storm energy—to compute it, meteorologists tally up the squared, maximum wind speeds of all tropical storms at six-hour intervals.

Each group has its own style and methods. The seasoned Colorado State forecaster William Gray uses both statistics and intuition to arrive at exact numbers for each kind of storm. NOAA prefers to make probabilistic statements—will the season have an above-average or below-average number of storms? These statements correspond to ranges of expected storms: This year, they say, we should get seven to nine hurricanes.

The British company Tropical Storm Risk and the Hurricane Climate group at Florida State University use their own statistical models to assign probabilities for how likely we are to get different numbers of storms. Tropical Storm Risk then publishes the mean values for these distributions (which turn out not to be whole numbers). In 2005, Tropical Storm Risk is predicting 13.8 storms, 7.8 hurricanes, and 3.5 intense hurricanes.

Good hurricane forecasts are important for the insurance industry, which has a deep financial interest in assessing risk to coastal property. But an insurer doesn't care about storms that never hit the coast, no matter how big they are. There were only four hurricanes during the 1992 season (just as Gray and others had predicted), but one of them happened to be the catastrophic Hurricane Andrew.

Forecasters try to assess how many hurricanes will make landfall each season by looking at how certain climatological features—like the placement of a high-pressure area in the subtropics—might affect the path of tropical storms. Gray's team says there's a 77 percent chance of a major hurricane landfall in the United States this year.

Daniel Engber is a writer in New York City and a featured member of


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Family Fun ...

This is the conclusion of the article we started yesterday, a story that ran recently on

About a nine-block walk from the French Quarter, 80 second-graders from an Alabama public school raced from exhibit to exhibit at the Louisiana Children's Museum. Some clambered up a 7-foot-high climbing wall. Others played at shopping and working in a kid-sized supermarket. Some lined up to ride a stationary bicycle while a skeleton pedaled in a glass case next to it.

One of the most popular stops was a cut-down tractor tire holding an inch or so of soapy water. Hauling on a rope at its center pulled a hoop up from the water, and a giant bubble with it.

"For us, a good day is when it's noisy," marketing director Leslie Doles said.

"The children have not stopped playing," said Cindy Sayasane, a teacher at Robert E. Lee Elementary. "They have not stopped learning. This is just an awesome place to bring children."

They had left Mobile at 6 a.m. for the three-hour drive to New Orleans, and spent the morning at the Audubon Zoo, picnicking in Audubon Park.

What was the best part of the museum? Ashley Dix, 7, liked the climbing wall. Bradley Jackson, 8, liked the exhibit where children can pull a big bubble up around themselves.

Before the family campaign started in 2001, family travel was "not even a blip on the radar screen in New Orleans," said Sandy Shilstone, president of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. "We've always been known as an adult destination."

A study by the University of New Orleans found that between 2003 and 2004, the percentage of adults traveling with children to New Orleans rose from 6.8 percent to 15.4 percent.

In contrast, about 10 percent of those visiting Las Vegas are adults traveling with someone under 21. Some Vegas hotels added family attractions in the early 1990s, but "the primary target market for Las Vegas is the adult market," said Kevin Bagger, director of research for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

For some family-oriented New Orleans attractions, out-of-towners are nothing new, consistently comprising 80 percent of visitors to the aquarium, half the visitors to the zoo and half the visitors to Six Flags.

In the French Quarter, Rachel David's favorite sight was a man making music from wine glasses filled with different levels of water. Running dampened fingers around the rims, he played songs in harmony, with tones almost achingly pure.

"We watched him for 15 minutes," she said.

The David family hopes to come back to New Orleans next year.

"Seven days," Paul David began, "I don't..."

"...Think it's enough," finished Rachel.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Beyond Bourbon Street ...

We like to bring you stories about how people in other parts of the U.S. and elsewhere view the New Orleans area. Today we bring you the first half of a story that ran recently on

Posted on Tue, May. 31, 2005
NEW ORLEANS: Beyond Bourbon Street, family fun
JANET McCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS - It's a city of hot times and cold cocktails, known in the 1800s as the Great Southern Babylon and now as an annual gathering spot for women willing to bare their breasts at Mardi Gras.

But now New Orleans is cultivating a new reputation - as a destination for families.

Sure, the city has casinos, more bars than you can shake a swizzle stick at, and strip joints where signs boast "Bottomless topless tabletop dancing."

But it also has a highly regarded zoo, aquarium and children's museum; a theme park with enough rides to keep you dizzy for a week, and one of the nation's largest city parks, with an antique carousel and a miniature train exhibit.

In addition, it's a short drive to swamp and plantation tours and only an hour to Baton Rouge, with its new planetarium and an Old State Capitol built to look like a castle.

These and many other attractions - including the family-friendly side of Mardi Gras (yes, there really is one) - are featured in a new marketing campaign by the city: "If your family hasn't been to New Orleans, you haven't lived."

On a recent day, the David family from West Los Angeles was visiting the Aquarium of the Americas on the riverfront. They came for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and a condo time-share that Paul and Mary David bought during a visit 15 years ago - before Rachel, 14, and Will, 5, were born.

The Davids had rented out the condo to others until this year, when they decided to start with Jazz Fest and stay a week.

"We were a little worried about taking the kids," said Paul David. But they found lots of great places to take them, including swamp tours and plantations.

"There's a lot of history for kids this age," Mary David said.

Of course the city also has a sleazy side - like the strip joints on Bourbon Street. "I wouldn't call Bourbon Street a family promenade," said Dan Cornwall of Marietta, Ga., visiting on business but traveling with his wife, Kris, and their children, Jessica, 14, Rebecca, 12, and Aaron, 9. But he added that he liked the art and antique stores there.

Join us tomorrow for the rest of the article.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Parting Remarks on "Uneasy" ...

This concludes our consideration of a recent article from the Los Angeles Times entitled "Big Easy Is Uneasy After Death of Black Clubgoer."

In an effort to quantify some of New Orleans' problems, (Mayor Ray)Nagin commissioned the nonprofit Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center — which typically investigates allegations of discrimination in the housing market — to look into claims of racism in the French Quarter this spring.

Teams of young adults, black and white, visited 28 French Quarter bars. The groups coordinated their dress — some dressed sloppily, while others made sure to wear dress shoes and no hats — and their drink orders.

In more than half of the bars visited, whites were treated better than blacks. At nearly half, blacks were victims of price-gouging. They were told more often than whites that they must abide by a drink minimum to enter, and they were more frequently told — as Williams reportedly was before the scuffle that killed Jones — that they did not satisfy a dress code.

James Perry, the executive director of the housing center, said the different standards were part of an elaborate, off-the-books effort to establish "quotas" on the number of blacks in some bars. He said some bars believed they could maintain a steadier profit margin by avoiding being labeled black clubs.

One of the white testers, Casey (the agency withheld participants' last names to protect them) said he was charged $7.25 for a Long Island iced tea, a potent drink that is popular among young adults. His black counterpart, Anthony, was charged $9 at the same bar 10 minutes later.

"Being white, I almost felt like I was part of the problem," Casey said.

Also dividing the city has been a jury's unanimous ruling that Orleans Parish Dist. Atty. Eddie Jordan, who is black, discriminated against 42 white employees when he fired them after taking office in 2003.

Jordan's office has been ordered to pay the former employees more than $3 million, which Jordan has said he cannot afford.

One plaintiff, fired typist Deborah Stansbury, said after the verdict: "Even when I knew I hadn't done anything, it was satisfying to know that [Jordan] couldn't do this and get away with it." The lifelong New Orleans resident, 53, had worked in the district attorney's office for 16 years.

Jordan, who did not return phone calls seeking comment, has said that he wanted his office to more accurately reflect the racial composition of the city.

Many blacks said that New Orleans has long run on a system of patronage and the patronage seemed to be perfectly legal when the politicians behind it were white.
"If the situation had been reversed, that case would have never made it to court," said Mitchell, the pastor. "Any black person in town will tell you that."

But many whites saw the case as clear discrimination and were taken aback when blacks criticized the jury's decision.

"I was surprised by how differently whites and blacks perceived it," Batt said. "Discrimination on any level, no matter who is doing it, is wrong."

Your feedback, comments, and suggestions will be most welcome.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Levon Jones Incident ...

This continues our consideration of a recent article from the Los Angeles Times entitled "Big Easy Is Uneasy After Death of Black Clubgoer."

"We have the illusion of assimilation," Lee said. "The reality is that we have a strong undercurrent of social and racial tension in this community. It's always on the verge of erupting, and any incident could set it off. Levon Jones was one."

Early on the morning of Dec. 31, Jones, a senior at Georgia Southern University visiting New Orleans for an annual flag football tournament, tried to enter Razzoo Bar & Patio with a friend and teammate, Anthony Williams.

There was a crowd outside guarded by half a dozen bouncers — large, strong men, black and white, known in the French Quarter for their confrontational style. Williams was denied entry — why is unclear — and an argument broke out. When Jones tried to intervene, three bouncers pinned him to the ground.

A passerby captured the altercation on video and gave the tape to local television stations, which aired it repeatedly this spring. The tape, and an ensuing investigation, show that as New Orleans police officers stood nearby, one bouncer held Jones' legs, another sat on his back and a third held him in a headlock. The coroner said Jones, who was legally drunk with a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, suffocated.

Jones' family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the club, seeking unspecified damages and claiming that race was a factor in the incident. The bouncers have been charged with negligent homicide and freed on bond. They have not entered pleas.

The club said its employees acted appropriately and said Jones and Williams assaulted the bouncers.

"Uninformed accusers who do not know us, and who are blindly crying racism against Razzoo and its staff, do not serve the cause of racial justice, because their emotion-driven accusations are based on a foundation of sand and not on fact," said Razzoo lawyer Steve Witman.

Next time we will conclude.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Diversity and Economics ...

This continues our consideration of a recent article from the Los Angeles Times entitled "Big Easy Is Uneasy After Death of Black Clubgoer."

With a tourism industry that generates about $5 billion a year in revenue, New Orleans bills itself as the quintessential melting pot, a city of uncommon diversity, where food, architecture and ethos trace their lineages to a bright spectrum of influences — Spain, France, Africa, the West Indies.

By some measures, African Americans comprise a larger proportion of the population here than in any other metropolitan region in the nation, and New Orleans seems to perpetually celebrate jazz, a largely African American art.

But the city seems to have stumbled upon the awkward realization that there is a difference between cultural diversity, which the city has in abundance, and economic diversity, which it does not.

Hammered by white flight and a decaying manufacturing base, post-World War II New Orleans grew progressively poorer as the decades wore on.

By 1970, the city had 600,000 people and was 45% black. By 2000, the population had dropped to 484,000 and was 67% black.

Today, Lee said, blacks in New Orleans are more than three times as likely as whites to live below the poverty level and one-third as likely to be college graduates.

According to a recent study, blacks own 14% of New Orleans' businesses.

The city has periodic, lucrative "black weekends" aimed at black tourists, featuring, for example, the Essence Music Festival and the Bayou Classic, an annual football game between two historically black Louisiana colleges.

The rest of the year, many in New Orleans contend, the city — particularly the famous French Quarter — has become a white playground surrounded by poor, black neighborhoods.

In a recent report examining economic disparity in New Orleans, Lee called the Big Easy image a mask for a troubled city.

Next time we'll recap the incident that helped to energize the current discussion on race.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Perfect Storm ...

This continues our consideration of a recent article from the Los Angeles Times entitled "Big Easy Is Uneasy After Death of Black Clubgoer."

"There has been a perfect storm that has ripped the cover off of race relations in New Orleans," said the Rev. Anthony Mitchell, a Baptist pastor who is African American. "The people who control public discourse here don't like to talk about it. It's not good for business. But this is really two cities."

New Orleans City Councilman John A. Batt Jr., who is white, said Jones' death had forced the city to acknowledge racial divisions and address the economic gap between blacks and whites.

"We're in the 21st century," Batt said. "This is not the time nor place to mess with discrimination on any level. Hopefully this will be just a hiccup and we will get back to being one of the great cities of the United States."

A series of battles in coming months will determine whether it will.

Some African American leaders, for example, are marshaling to fight the state's threatened takeover of the local school district, which serves 64,000 children — 94% of them black. The district is in such disarray that teachers nearly didn't get paid last month.

Black leaders also want tourism-oriented businesses to include more African Americans in management and programs to give blacks greater access to homeownership in the city.

"There will never come a day when the last of racism dies," said Silas Lee, an African American who owns a local polling and research company and teaches sociology at Xavier University of Louisiana, specializing in issues related to race and ethnicity. "But we have to address the issue of social, economic and education equity. People need access. They need to be treated fairly. That's all they want."

Next time we will look at the economic side of the issue.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Friday, June 03, 2005

Razzoo Bouncers Indicted ...

We interrupt our series on the Big Easy is Uneasy article to bring you late breaking news on the "Razzoo incident" highlighted in yesterday's installment. Our series will resume tomorrow. The following excerpt is from, via Yahoo News:

Razzoo Bouncers Indicted On Manslaughter Charges

A grand jury on Thursday indicted four club employees in the New Year's Eve death of a college student on Bourbon Street.

Arthur Irons, 40, Clay Montz, 32, and Matthew Tayor, 21, were arrested Jan. 6 and charged by police with negligent homicide. However, prosecutors said the facts of the case as well as the evidence support a manslaughter charge instead.

A fourth person, Brandon Vicknair, who held Levon Jones' legs down while the other defendants pinned his body to the ground, was also charged with manslaughter.

A legal expert described it as a possible strategy to improve the chance for indictment.

"It may be the district attorney wants to give the jury some alternatives," said former prosecutor Julian Murray. "Negligent homicide is a responsive verdict to manslaughter. So if the jury felt it wasn't manslaughter, it could still find them guilty of negligent homicide, so it may be a strategic reason why he would go with that."

Levon Jones, 25, of Georgia, was killed during an altercation with the suspects at Razzoo Patio and Bar. The bouncers said Jones became combative after a male friend was denied admission to the club. Jones' family said Jones was not a fighter and would only have become hostile if he or a friend was being threatened.

Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard ruled that Jones, who was 6 feet 1 inch tall and 205 pounds, was face-down in a chokehold with a bouncer's knee pressing on his upper back when he died. Minyard said Jones' carotid artery was compressed and his lungs collapsed, resulting in "cardiac death from suffocation."

Minyard said Jones' blood-alcohol level was almost 0.14 -- the equivalent of about four or five beers for a man Jones' size. He said the alcohol may have contributed to Jones' mood, but not his death.

Shortly after the incident, Razzoo released the following statement: "We stand by our staff. We stand by our original assertion that our staff was assaulted, and responded reasonably to that assault," the statement said in part. "As the investigation of this tragic incident proceeds and the full story can be told within the framework of our legal system, we are confident that justice will be served."

The grand jury is expected to view a 30-minute security video of the entire confrontation captured by cameras at Razzoo. In the video, Jones is alleged to be shown throwing the first punch, but Murray said that may not help the bouncers.

"Even if the victim were originally the aggressor, once they have him under control, any further punitive action they take against him -- for example, strangling him, sitting on him, doing anything more than necessary to control him -- would constitute a battery, and if he dies, then the result of that battery, of course, is manslaughter," Murray said.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Big Easy Is Uneasy ...

For the next few days, we will run portions of a recent article from the Los Angeles Times entitled "Big Easy Is Uneasy After Death of Black Clubgoer." The story was reported by Scott Gold, an L.A. Times Staff Writer, who "connected the dots" better than I have seen done by any local reporters.

NEW ORLEANS — The videotape seems to show just another night at Razzoo, a popular French Quarter nightclub known for three-for-one drink specials and raucous dance parties. But then, as the crowd parts, the tape shows three white bouncers pinning a black man to the ground.

When they rise, the man does not move. Later that night, Levon Jones Jr., 25, was pronounced dead.

The college student's death five months ago has become a flashpoint for New Orleans, plunging a city famous for its easygoing vibe into a painful period of introspection and antagonism.

The NAACP has called for a federal civil rights investigation into the death, the city has scrambled to write "use of force" guidelines for bouncers, and some African Americans have threatened to boycott the city. The death, meanwhile, has been followed by a series of racially charged controversies.

In March, a jury found the city's first black district attorney guilty of discrimination for firing 42 white employees and replacing them with blacks.

In April, Mayor C. Ray Nagin, an African American, said the ouster of schools Supt. Anthony Amato, a Latino, was a "lynching," while offering, at least at first, a response to Jones' death that many blacks called tepid.

Now, it seems that every piece of legislation that lands in City Hall becomes mired in race. When one city councilman recently proposed scrapping a rule requiring police officers to live in the city, the measure was seen by supporters as a way to make recruitment easier. But many blacks have condemned the plan, fearing that new recruits would be suburban whites.

Enmity and distrust have grown so deep that some white community activists trying to participate in a recent antiracism demonstration were ordered to leave by black activists.

Tomorrow we will hear from local political figures and begin to project where this situation is headed.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Back to Real Life ...

We are just back from a tour of southern Europe. Would you believe me if I told you it's good to be home? There's always a kernel of truth in that even though the trip was wonderful.

First, let us inspect the damages. Our house is fine, despite having boarded our 21 year old son and an assortment of friends for the last 2+ weeks. I would say without adult supervision, but I can't any more now that he is (legally, anyway) an adult. Our cars started first try, landscaping looks good, and generally New Orleans is still the way we left it.

The major damage was to my waistline. I gained 10 pounds in about 16 days, and before we started I was almost 10 pounds over my "fighting weight." The culprit was the cruise ship, or, more accurately, my inability to eat in my normally healthy way with an unlimited amount and variety of food available almost 24 hours a day. Susan was her usual moderate self, and held her pre-cruise weight.

We began the trip with three days in Barcelona. The main attraction there is, believe it or not, architecture. The work of Antonio Gaudi is on display on the streets of the city, and his La Sagrada Famiglia is world class.

This was followed by a 12-day cruise on the Mediterranean, with stops in Villefranch (FR), Livorno (IT), Rome, Naples, Greek islands Mykonos and Santorini, Athens, Dubrovnik (Croatia) and Venice.

The highlights were as we expected in planning the trip. In Rome we visited the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel on a day when the Pope was holding audience. At the Naples stop we toured Pompeii. In Athens we toured the Acropolis.

Unexpected pleasures included the liveliness and charm of the islands. Dubrovnik was an interesting medieval walled city, still largely unspoiled. We had been to Venice before, but this stop was still a highlight.

I hope I have made you sufficiently jealous. Your comments, feedback, and suggestions are, as always, most welcome.


jbv's Competitive Edge