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Archive for May, 2012

LouisianaVoice does not normally offer book reviews but we would like to make an exception with Dirty Rice: A Season in the Evangeline League, a novel by Gerald Duff.

If you are a fan of the grand old game and you are into baseball lore, this book is for you.

Published by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, Dirty Rice (306 pages) http://www.ulpress.org/ tells us the story of Gemar Batiste, who is recruited from the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation in Texas to pitch and play outfield for the Rayne Rice Birds in 1935.

Gemar, we learn soon enough, is a spiritual player who clings to his cultural lore but who also possesses all the odd superstitions that are peculiar to baseball players (step over the line, never on it; do not cross the bats, lay them side by side; at all costs, avoid speaking to or making eye contact with a pitcher who is pitching a no-hitter).

All but one of the characters is fictional. The lone exception is Roderick “Hookey” Irwin, a right-handed pitcher who in 1934 led the Evangeline League with a record of 21-4. Irwin just happens to be the uncle of author Duff.

Duff, a native of the Texas Gulf Coast, has taught literature and writing at Vanderbilt University, Kenyon College, Johns Hopkins University, and St. John’s College in Oxford. He also served as Academic Dean at Rhodes College, Goucher College and McKendree University.

The Class D Evangeline League, Duff tells us, was also known as the Hot Sauce League. Cajun humorist Justin Wilson referred to it in his stories as the Hot Pepper League. Its teams were spread out all over Louisiana, from Morgan City to Monroe, from Lake Charles to Hammond during its history from 1934 (when Rayne was the Red Sox) to 1951. Depending on the year, foreign teams from Port Arthur, Texas, and Natchez, Mississippi slipped in and out of the league. Rayne’s last year of competition in the league was 1941.

Batiste and another rookie, Mike Gomez, share a room in a local residence owned by a “Miz Doucette.” Gomez, an African-American from Mobile, Alabama, is officially listed as Cuban but to the locals he is considered a redbone, a racial mixture indigenous to South Louisiana. That was the only way he could qualify to play on an otherwise all-white team during the pre-Jackie Robinson years. And of course, his situation leads to problems near the end of the 1935 season, a season in which Rayne chases Opelousas for the league championship.

The real Evangeline League was hit by a betting scandal in 1946 and four members of the Houma Indians and one from Abbeville Athletics were suspended though the allegations of throwing games was never proven.

A professional gambler with ties to Sen. Huey Long (the Kingfish) moves in and out of the fictional Rice Birds’ locker room with apparent ease and Gomez is soon entangled in his web and predictably, makes key throwing errors that cost his team games in order to supplement his $50 per month salary.

Gomez knows his career is fated to never advance beyond the Evangeline League because of his color so he determines to take advantage of any financial opportunity presented him. We will leave it to you to discover whether or not Gomez is suspended, allowed to play, or if he ultimately costs his team the championship.

Duff is obviously a student of baseball; he simply knows too many of the nuances for him not to possess a deep understanding of the game within the game that is baseball. He approaches the game with the same mentality of a seasoned player—even down to anticipating what the pitcher will throw in a given situation and how to play a batter based on his batting stance and what the pitcher is throwing.

His dialogue between characters tends to drag to the point of becoming a distraction but we can attribute that to the differences in the culture of South Louisiana Cajuns, African-Americans and Native Americans.

Throw in the doomed would-be romance between Gemar Batiste and Teeny, Miz Doucette’s daughter, and you have the complete novel.

Duff has done a masterful job of capturing the unbridled enthusiasm that minor league baseball enjoyed in Louisiana during the heyday of the Evangeline League. Regrettably, all he can give us is the memory of that wonderful bygone era of Louisiana professional baseball.

But at least we have that.

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“We cannot protect people from making bad decisions in their lives.”

–Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas), commenting on the possibility that retirees may spend all of their lump-sum pension benefits being proposed as part of Gov. Piyush Jindal’s retirement reform package. He went on to say that retirees may have to apply for food stamps, welfare and other government programs. Still, he somehow managed to insist that the retirement reforms would save the state money.

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For sheer audacity, it’s hard to top the performance of State Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) last week.

Guillory, the poster boy for ALEC and Piyush Jindal lapdogs, was the lead author of the gaggle of state retirement bills, including Senate Bill 740 which assures state retirees they will not be getting a cost of living adjustment for 10-15 years.

Despite Guillory’s efforts to put the best spin on the retirements which wound up being a general hodgepodge, he was trumped by Jindal Deputy Chief of Staff Kristy Nichols who insisted the administration “got what we wanted.” It was a classic example of mutual one-upsmanship in an effort by both to save face.

The only part of the retirement package to be approved in its original form was a provision to base retirement incomes on employees’ best five years income instead of three years as is presently done.

Jindal’s effort—through Guillory—to force state civil service employees to work to age 67 before qualifying for retirement—was amended drastically. Only employees with zero to five years experience would be required to work to 67 while those with six to ten years will be required to work to age 62. All others will remain the same.

Guillory in a particularly self-serving email to Capitol News Service, said, “Now that you have had an opportunity to review the Senate Retirement Committee’s work, I’m sure you appreciate the hard work and responsible outcomes produced by those seven men. No “fix,” no “buyout” by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). No underhanded tactics. Just hard work addressing a serious fiscal problem in careful responsible manner.”

Perhaps. But it would have been nice if the legislator had been working that hard the past 25 years to live up to its self-imposed requirement to pay down the unfunded accrued liability (UAL) of the state’s four retirement systems. Because of typically bad political policy, the legislature, in its infinite stupidity, decided to use those funds for other things, in the process allowing the UAL to grow unabated.

Now, though, state employees are being called on to make good on the legislature’s promise a quarter-century later. What’s more, the onus of the entire amount has been placed on the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS) and higher education members of TRSL even though the LASERS share of the UAL is only about $6.3 billion. The balance of the UAL belongs to the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL), the Louisiana School Employees Retirement System (LSERS) and the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS).

Guillory was asked why the pension reform changes are only being applied to LASERS and higher education employees in TRSL, he said state police and hazardous duty workers, who are exempted (fo far), “put their lives on the line. They face bullets every day. They have special disability issues. They have special survivorship issues, so they are in a special category. Their situation is more special. The same is true with K through 12 teachers. I’m not sure I want to see a teacher at age 67 still trying to handle the young students of today. There are just some special circumstances for teachers.

Two things are somewhat revealing in those comments. First of all, what he said about “young students of today” would seem to refute Jindal’s blanket condemnation of teachers while ignoring discipline problems and uninvolved parents as the root of most of public education’s current problems.

Second, as a reader recently wrote, if we are to believe Sen. Guillory, rank and file employees are not “special” or any particular value or importance. “We are also to believe that rank and file jobs do not involve any hazardous duties.

“Try telling that to employees of state psychiatric hospitals who are injured in the line of duty on a regular basis. Or tell that to Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) employees who are struck by vehicles while repairing our highways. Or worse yet, try telling that to the families of the two Department of Insurance employees who were murdered recently while doing nothing more than gather routine regulatory information from an insurance broker.

“The simple lesson here is that Gov. Jindal has employed a very old and frequently successful ploy of divide and conquer with his so-called pension reform,” the reader said.

But Guillory’s most unabashed display of arrogance came during Senate debate over House Bill 61, which would create a new “cash balance” retirement plan for new hires, beginning July 1, 2013. Guillory said the plan would reduce state costs while containing the growth in long-term liabilities of the pension systems involved.

Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville) said she was concerned over the provision for retirees to take a lump-sum pension benefit. She asked what would happen if a retiree spends the pension income to which Guillory incredulously replied, “We cannot protect people from making bad decisions in their lives.”

Guillory went on to say that a retiree might then have to apply for food stamps, welfare and other government programs.

Right. That’s going to save the state a boatload of money, right Senator?

That prompted one person to refer to Guillory’s plan as the “Cat Food Retirement Plan.”

National pension law expert Robert Klausner, representing LASERS and TRSL attempted to warn legislators against the bill’s passage, saying the proposed bill breaks employee contracts. “There’s no reason to pass an unconstitutional law,” he said. “All it does is create a field day for lawyers.”

Several weeks ago, with the Legislative Auditor hired a Dallas law firm to analyze the proposed retirement bills, the law firm came up with much the same response as Klausner.

To counter the auditor’s expert, the Division of Administration hired Buck Consultants of Boston at a cost of $400,000.

A LouisianaVoice public records request for a copy of the Buck report resulted in the release of a six-page document—about $66,667 per page. That report had just a three-paragraph narrative at the end. The rest consisted only of actuarial notes which projected a reduction of annual state contributions (the portion the state contributes to employee retirement funds) to LASERS and TRSL if enacted.

Jindal’s proposal—through Guillory’s bills—to move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution pension plan was a virtual clone of the “Defined-Contribution Retirement Act” model bill as drafted by ALEC at its New Orleans national convention last August, Guillory’s claims in his email to LouisianaVoice notwithstanding.

But that was just one of the bills proposed by ALEC.

A copy of ALEC’s complete proposed retirement reform legislation was obtained by Common Cause of Washington, D.C., which filed Freedom of Information Act requests for ALEC records.

The ALEC proposals and those of Guillory in the Senate and Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell) in the House are nearly identical in most aspects.

So, all things considered, it’s a little difficult to buy into Guillory’s braggadocio about his committee’s “hard work, no buyout by ALEC.” Nor do we agree that a “serious fiscal problem” was addressed in a “careful, responsible manner.”

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“Samples of successful bidder will be retained at the purchasing office or the using agency…Any other samples received, if not destroyed in testing, may be returned at the bidder’s expense.”

–from bid specifications contained in Louisiana Division of Administration’s invitation for bids on the purchase of condoms by the state.

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BATON ROUGE (CNS)—A cursory review of requests for proposals (RFP) and bid advertisements by the State of Louisiana occasionally turns up some interesting reading for those who are prone to such mundane literature. But it is rare that an advertisement or RFP is as curious as a recent posting for bids that were opened on May 9.

It seems that the Division of Administration recently solicited bids for the purchase of condoms. In retrospect, the word “solicited” in the previous sentence could understandably be misconstrued, considering the fact that there was no clear-cut explanation as to how the condoms would be distributed and to whom.

Normally, it might be said there was no explanation as to the proposed use of the merchandise, but that might elicit unnecessary snickers and giggles, if not chortles and guffaws.

Nor is the quantity exactly clear. The invitation to bid asked for “52MM” of lubricated latex, reservoir end, smooth surface, assorted colors and “52MM” of non-lubricated latex, reservoir end, smooth surface, transparent color condoms.

The term 52MM is normally considered to mean 52 thousand-thousand, or 52 million. Using that standard definition, that would mean the state solicited (there’s that word again) bids on 52 million condoms of assorted colors and another 52 million of transparent color. That’s 104 million condoms.

If the MM had been in lower case, that would have been a completely different definition. If the bid had been for 52mm, that would have meant 52 millimeters. At approximately 25.4 millimeters per inch, 52 millimeters would convert to a little more than two inches. But again, that prompts the question of length, diameter, or circumference.

A more likely definition would be 520,000 because of a paragraph in the bid specifications that said, “Condoms are to be shipped to various sites throughout Louisiana [approximately 250 (sites)]. Minimum order shipped to any single location shall be two cases of 1,000 condoms per site. That would be 2,000 condoms shipped to each of 250 sites, or 500,000 condoms total.

The contract for the purchase of the condoms is for one year but at the option of the state, “may be extended” [stop laughing] for two additional twelve month periods at the same price.

The unintended humor doesn’t end there, however.

“The bidder must submit samples of each of the products to be supplied under the contract along with product literature for each of the types of products bid,” the bid specs said. “Samples of successful bidder will be retained at the purchasing office of the using agency. Any part of merchandise received that does not meet the quality standards and construction of the sample will be rejected and returned at vendor’s expense.”

Finally, the crowning punch line: “Any other samples received, if not destroyed in testing, may be returned at the bidder’s expense.”

Destroyed in testing?

Who wants to open that package?

No word, by the way, on the identity of the winning bidder.

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