Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Strangers in their Own Land: Book Review

In Louisiana, the pollution from the industrial plants that line the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans has created “Cancer Alley.” Yet in election after election, Louisiana voters elect politicians who promise to protect the oil and chemical companies. As these companies ravage Louisiana’s environment, politicians decry the EPA and the Federal government. They espouse their love of the free market and small government while relying on the Federal government to supply over 40% of the state’s budget. As the state has given millions in tax breaks to industrial conglomerates, its residents suffer from staggering poverty, high obesity rates, underfunded educational systems, and low life expectancies. Arlie Russell Hochschild has termed this phenomenon “The Great Paradox.” From 2011-2016, Hochschild embedded herself among members of Louisiana’s Tea Party to better understand “The Great Paradox.” Her explanation brilliantly describes the feelings of alienation and cultural decline amongst those on the American right. 

During her research, Hochschild, a UC-Berkely sociologist, interviewed dozens of people, attended church services and Tea Party meetings. She divided her interviewees into different groups. There’s Janice the Team Loyalist—she attached herself to the values of the Republican party and credits them with all her successes in life. If the Republican Party supports oil and chemical companies, then she does too—even as she builds her new house as far away from the chemical factories as she can. There’s Jackie the Worshipper—she thinks that “Pollution is the sacrifice we make for capitalism” (179). She believes this because in her own life she’s subordinated her personal ambitions to God and her husband. Like her wish for a new and better house, we cannot have anything we want. There’s Donny the Cowboy—the daring, individualist. He stoically endures all of life’s challenges including pollution. In the words of Tony Soprano, Donny’s “Gary Cooper, the strong silent type.” 

Hochschild describes the anxieties, fears, and emotions expressed by those on the American right as their “Deep Story.” Her interviewees see themselves in the middle of a line heading up a hill. On the other side of the hill is the American dream. They’re waiting patiently alongside people who look like them—white, Christian, some with college degrees. There are many people in line behind them. They’re poor, black, Mexican, women, immigrants, or not-Christian. As Hochschild explains, “It’s scary to look back; there are so many behind you, and in principle you wish them well. Still, you’ve waited a long time, worked hard, and the line is barely moving. You deserve to move forward a little faster. You’re patient but weary. You focus ahead, especially on those at the very top of the hill” (136). Then the line stops moving at all and even starts moving backwards. 

Worst of all, the same people from the back of the line—the women, immigrants, people of color—begin cutting the line. That’s not fair, Hochschild’s interviewees think. How are they cutting the line ahead of us? It’s the government helping them with affirmative action. How did President Obama cut ahead? He was poor and black, so he must’ve gotten help or worse, he cheated. Now he’s helping others do the same. Those on the American right see themselves as compassionate and caring, but that doesn’t extend to line-cutters. They’ve faced their own problems, but they’re not complaining about it. There’s no government program helping them get ahead. So those on the right feel betrayed. They look at the president and wonder why does he dress that way? Why does he always talk about America’s problems? Can’t he see what a great nation America is? Why is it wrong to be proud of America? Why do I feel like a stranger in my own land? 

The believers of the “Deep Story” practice some deeply un-American beliefs. As Hochschild explains, her interviewees spoke often about Mexicans and Muslims, statistically small percentages of Louisiana’s population. They rarely spoke of African-Americans in their midst. Mostly they felt that they lashed out at Northerners for accusing them of racism. They believed that racism meant using the N-word or hating African-Americans. Yet they only saw African-Americans as the lenses of celebrity, athletics, criminals, or welfare queens. As Hochschild wrote, “Missing from the image of blacks in most of the minds of those I came to know was a man or woman standing patiently in line next to them waiting for a well-deserved reward” (147). This view of African-Americans reveals the systemic racism at the heart of this “Deep Story.” 

Some of Hochschild’s interviewees deeply believe in inequality. Janice the Team Loyalist wants to put people to work on highway construction projects with shovels and wheelbarrows. That way: “When people got home at night, they’d be tired and wouldn’t be out drinking or doing drugs” (159). Americans should repatriate the graves of American soldiers in France back to the United States. Then we could employ American boys to mow the graveyards. She supposes that war isn’t such a bad thing, especially since it would put people to work making missiles and uniforms. Handing out guns and ammunition to everyone in the Middle East is the best way to spread democracy. If poor women want to receive government support, she contends, then the government should sterilize them. The rest of America’s problems, she contends, could be solved by better “churching.” As Hochschild explains, “Underlying Janice’s reasoning is her idea about inequality. Some people may just be destined to remain at the end of the line for the American Dream” (160) and it’s not the job of the government or anyone else to help them to the front of the line. 

Hochschild's illumination of the American Right's Deep Story is a necessary first step in understanding and even attempting to bridge the political and social gap in the United States. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Revisiting the Independence Day Movies

In honor of July 4 (coming up this Saturday), it's a good time to revisit one the great blockbuster disaster movies of the 1990s and it's largely unnecessary sequel that tried to launch another Hollywood franchise.

The original Independence Day was a smashing financial success in the summer of 1996. It starred Will Smith (at the height of his popularity) as a brash fighter pilot out to save the world. Bill Pullman played a beleaguered American president who spawned the film's iconic moment--a speech delivered to a rag-tag group of Americans before their final stand against the aliens. Then there was Jeff Goldblum as a satellite repair technician/genius inventor who using a MacBook uploaded a computer virus into the alien mothership ensuring humanity's survival. The movie is both silly and a ridiculous spectacle, as outlined in the Honest Trailer below.

Then there was the 2016 sequel, Independence Day Resurgence. We reviewed the movie here shortly after it came out and there's some of it that's worth revisiting.

Resurgence starts out promisingly enough. Twenty years later, there's moon bases, a scarred African warlord who led an insurgency against the remaining aliens on Earth. Bill Pullman is battling psychological demons. Jeff Goldblum is there doing Jeff Goldblum things. When the movie focuses on Earth and the aftermath of the alien invasion, it hums along nicely. When the aliens show up, it goes off the rails.

There's a surfeit of characters who have precious little to do. There's a predictable veneration of China to appeal to Chinese government censors. There's a bus full of children driving around the Bonneville Salt Flats. And by the end, there's a second alien species who arrive with super-amazing technology to ally with humanity and take the fight to the aliens across the Galaxy. The only winner here is Will Smith, who wins because he refused to be in the movie in the first place.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Star Wars Film Rankings UPDATED: Part Two

Last week we started our updated look at the Star Wars movies now that the sequel trilogy is complete.

Return of the Jedi: Jedi loses some points for the middle portion of the movie, which is slowly paced and spends way too much time on the Ewoks. The opening and closing acts (freeing Han from Jabba’s palace and the Battle of Endor), however, are quintessential Star Wars. At the beginning, we see Luke putting his Jedi skills into action. (The film also suffers from sexually objectifying Carrie Fisher in her slave outfit.) The end effectively balances the space battle above Endor, the fighting on the surface, and Luke’s confrontation with Vader and the emperor. It is a fitting emotional end to Luke’s journey and his father’s redemption. 

Revenge of the Sith: Revenge of the Sith may be the best of the prequels, but that’s like saying Sbarro is the best airport pizza option. In the end, it still sucks. The film’s opening space battle is enjoyable enough, but it still suffers from plodding dialogue and incredibly poor pacing. The sequel trilogy reduced Natalie Portman’s Padme from gun wielding intergalactic badass to weeping pregnant woman in three short movies. Her delivery of the line, “Anakin, you’re breaking my heart” is still painful to listen to The film’s emotion comes solely from Ewan McGregor’s ability to convey his distress at his friend's betrayal of the entire Galaxy.

Phantom Menace: This isn’t an argument that Phantom Menace is a good movie, just that it’s better than Attack of the ClonesPhantom Menace has a fun podracing scene—ripped off from Ben-Hur, but still fun. There’s also Liam Neeson doing his best with some truly clunky George Lucas dialogue (also another Lucas weakness). Yes, Jar-Jar Binks is terrible and a racist stereotype (one of several in the film). And if you watch the film in the Machete Order (4, 5, 2, 3, 6) you can skip Phantom Menace entirely and not miss a beat. The film’s climatic duel with Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul is far and above anything in Attack of the Clones.  

Rise of Skywalker: Rise of Skywalker is bad. It's a jumbled mess of fan-service moments from a filmmaker disinterested in anything but reminding you of other better moments in other better films. It also goes out of its way to trash The Last Jedi. Rise of Skywalker packs so much fan-service into a nonsensical plot that it's downright insulting. Look a cell-block escape! Chewie gets a medal! The emperor is alive (?)! Luke lifts an X-wing out of the water! C-3PO and Chewie sort of die but not really! Let's give Poe a love interest and a super-duper extra evil villain armed with a fleet of planet destroying star destroyers! 

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Like the far-superior Rogue One, Solo tries to answer questions about the original trilogy that didn't need answering. Who cares where Han Solo got his name? Or how he got the Millennium Falcon? And why did we need a movie to show us that everything awesome that happened in his life came on one action-packed weekend? By the time--chronologically speaking--we get to Han Solo in a New Hope, he's less a galactic rogue and more a guy desperately trying to recreate his high school glory days. 

Attack of the Clones:  Clones drags on interminably (sensing a theme? George Lucas has pacing problems in his movies). The middle sections where Padme and Anakin escape back to her home planet are some of the worst written romance sequences ever put to film. Throw in a murderous side trip to Anakin’s home planet where he rescues his mom and murders an entire village of sand-people and you’ve got a disaster on your hands. Then there’s the inclusion of Jango Fett—because Boba Fett, the galaxy’s lamest bounty hunter, needed a tragic backstory?—who promptly gets his ass handed to him by a bunch of Jedi. The film’s battle scenes are simply a collection of CGI mumbo-jumbo as one giant CGI army fights another one. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Star Wars Film Rankings UPDATED: Part One

A few years ago, we offered a ranking of the best Star Wars movies. Now that the sequel trilogy is complete--along with two standalone movies. It's time to update those rankings. Here we go.

1. The Empire Strikes Back: Embracing a darker tone, Empire pushes deeper into the emotional core of its characters. There’s more Han-Leia banter as the two grow to realize that they can’t stand one another but also love each other. Luke starts training to be a Jedi and risks turning to the dark side to save his imperiled friends. Darth Vader is back and more determined than ever to crush the rebellion. The Battle of Hoth rivals the destruction of both Death Stars for its scale and staging. Then there’s the famous, “No, I am your father” scene. And Han’s “I know” response to Leia’s declaration of love as he’s about to be frozen in carbonite. Sci-fi doesn’t get much better than this. 

2. The Last Jedi: Rian Johnson's revisionist take on the Star Wars universe dared viewers to leave the past behind and kill it if they had to. Toxic fanboy objections aside, Johnson created a visually daring film that is so stuffed with ideas that it is both too long and too short at the same time. The brave and foolhardy actions of reckless and selfish men find themselves under examination as a gallery's worth of prominent women show their male counterparts just what leadership really looks like. And it's not sulking in exile for 20 years or jumping in the seat of an X-Wing and getting half your fleet killed. It's a story of sacrifice and passing down hard-earned lessons to a new generation of heroes. 

3. A New Hope: All these years later, A New Hope remains an enjoyable viewing experience with Luke Skywalker’s heroes’ journey from farm boy to galactic savior. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher shine as Han and Leia. Alec Guinness lends his considerable gravitas to his role of Obi-Wan giving the film an air of seriousness and depth. As was shown in the prequel trilogy, George Lucas’s clumsy dialogue sounds a lot worse in the hands of lesser talented actors. The climactic attack on the Death Star remains one of Lucas’s best directed set pieces of the entire series. There are a lot worse ways to spent two hours than revisiting this classic movie.

4. Rogue One: Director Gareth Edwards has an impressive grasp of scale. He frames a Star Destroyer in the foreground with the installation of the Death Star’s super-weapon in the background. Rebel fighters crash into the front of a Star Destroyer exiting hyperspace. The film’s climatic hour succeeds where Force Awakens failed, by creating clear stakes for each part of the battle to retrieve the Death Star plans. Unfortunately, the film’s first half suffers from underdeveloped characters and a grueling slog from anonymous planet to anonymous planet that reeks of reshoots and a desire to make a film where everyone dies at the end into a family friendly adventure.

5. Force Awakens: The Force Awakens benefits from strong casting and character work as well as being competently entertaining following the under-baked prequel trilogy. Tasked with introducing a new cast to go alongside the old veterans, director J.J Abrams more or less made a carbon copy of a A New Hope, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but limits the film’s upside. The plot of the last hour or so takes a backseat to character work as there’s another bigger, badder Death Star but without any of the tension or stakes that came from blowing up the first two Death Stars. Abrams, however, moved the franchise in a positive direction by creating likeable and relatable main characters like Rey, Finn, and Poe. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Quiet: Book Review


Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking offers a sophisticated examination of “the single most important aspect of personality”—where a person falls on the introvert-extrovert spectrum (2). Being an introvert or extrovert shapes the choices we make about friends, life partners, hobbies, careers, social interactions, critical thinking skills, and pretty much everything else. In the United States, Cain points out, we have embraced an “Extravert Ideal.” She explains that “We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts—which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are” (3). In reality, however, we are a nation of extroverts and introverts. Somewhere between one third and one half of all Americans are introverts. Through an examination of the relevant scientific research, Cain critiques modern society and its emphasis on extroversion and seeks to recognize and foster the contributions of introverts. 

Borrowing an idea from the cultural historian Warren Susman, Cain outlines how the “Extrovert Ideal” arose out of a fundamental shift in the early 20th century away from a culture of character to a culture of personality. "In the Culture of Character," the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private” (21). With the culture of personality, “Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining” (21). 

As the “Extrovert Ideal” came to dominate American culture, it reshaped institutions like workplaces and schools. The best workers in the office were those who were bold, aggressive, and charismatic. The best students were those who spoke up, asserted themselves, and eagerly shared their ideas. Such workers and students got better grades, earned more promotions, and were generally held in higher regard by their superiors than their introverted colleagues. 

The problem with valorizing these behaviors, as Cain points out, is that they don’t lead to better results. The loudest, most assertive, or most confident speakers aren’t better leaders nor do they have better ideas or make better decisions. Building on the work of other researchers, Cain suggests that this extrovert ideal contributed to the 2008 financial crisis and other recent business scandals. Vincent Kaminski, a former research director at Enron, tried to warn the company of its dangerous business practices, but was ignored and demoted by his more aggressive and risk-taking bosses—the same men who drove the company into bankruptcy. 

Similarly, the student who talks first, loudest, or most assertively doesn’t have better ideas than anyone else. In fact, they’re most often the student who has thought the least about the question being asked. Yet as research has shown, we rate people, individually and in groups, who are talkative as more intelligent and attractive. Cain stresses that recognizing the contributions of introverts means we must confront and acknowledge our own biases.

Cain interrogates the stereotypical understanding of introverts as anti-social by examining the scientific literature on the subject. She highlights the influential research of psychologist Jerome Kagan who identified the importance of the amygdala, the brain’s emotional switchboard, in understanding introversion and extroversion. Among its many responsibilities, the amygdala detects new or threatening environments and reacts to them. Kagan theorized that people who had high reactivity to new situations were more likely to be introverts. When placed in new situations, introverts had higher levels of activity in their amygdale, while extroverts were less reactive.

Kagan’s research redefines what we think of as the primary differences between introverts and extroverts. Instead of defining extroverts as social and introverts as unsocial, we should think of them as differently social. Because introverted brains are more activated by novelty, introverts tend to react more deeply—intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise—than extroverts whose brains don’t engage on this deeper level.  

Researchers have also identified how introverts can act like extroverts through a trait known as “self-monitoring.” High self-monitors are highly skilled at adapting their behavior to match the demands of a given social situation. They look for clues on how to act based on the environment, the context, and the behavior of others. Low self-monitors are less sensitive to social cues and allow their own personalities to guide their interactions.

But, as Cain points out, introverts can only play the role of extroverts for a certain amount of time before they need to withdraw and recharge. Getting better at playing the extrovert comes with practice and determination. Cain also stresses that acting like an extrovert is a good thing, especially if it’s in service of something good/useful like your career, fulfilling a passion, promoting some good cause etc. 

Ultimately, Cain's Quiet is an outspoken call to reevaluate and rebalance the societal relationship between introversion and extroversion. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Best Season from a Louisiana Baseball Player

While Philadelphia Phillies starter Aaron Nola is a native Louisianan, he is somehow not from New Orleans. He was born in Baton Rouge and attended LSU before being drafted in the 1st round of the 2014 MLB draft.

In 2018, Nola put up a pitching season for the ages. Nola’s 2018 was the highest wins above replacement by any player born in Louisiana. So let’s revisit what made Nola so good in 2018. 

Nola started 33 games and threw 212 and one-third innings. He allowed only 149 hits and struck out an astonishing 224 opposing hitters, eighth in the majors. Opposing hitters only mustered a measly .197/.259/.311 batting line against Nola. In an offensive friendly era, Nola held hitters to only 17 home runs and was sixth in majors in home runs allowed per nine innings. 

Nola thrived against high-level competition, holding Nationals superstar (and future teammate) Bryce Harter to just two hits in 17 plate appearances. All told, Harper hit only .125/.176/.313 against Nola. Nationals rookie phenom Juan Soto didn’t fare much better, hitting just .091/.333/.182 in 15 plate appearances. The Braves' rookie sensation Ozzie Albies similarly struggled, garnering only a .231/.231/.308 batting line in 13 plate appearances. At the end of 2018, Nola finished third in Cy Young voting behind winner Jacob deGrom and runner-up Max Scherzer and made the NL All-Star team. 

Nola’s best game of the season game was against the New York Mets on July 9, 2018 at Citi Field. Nola threw seven innings and held the Mets to only one hit—a Wilmer Flores single to left field in the bottom of the first inning—and only one walk (to Mets outfielder Michael Conforto in the bottom of the seventh inning). He struck out 10 Mets, including center fielder Brandon Nimmo three times. 

Even more impressively, Nola was his own run support. In the top of the fifth inning, Nola came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. He drove the first pitch he saw down the right-field line for a bases clearing double. Nola’s 3 runs batted in were the only runs the Phillies scored all game. According to win probability added (a statistic that measures how much a player helped his team win the game), Nola’s performance at the plate (.307 WPA) was nearly equal to his performance on the mound (.347 WPA).

Since arriving in the majors for good in 2016, Nola is seventh in wins above replacement among pitchers, nestled between future Hall of Famers Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw. Nola recently signed a four year, $45 million contract to buy out his arbitration seasons and first few seasons of free agency to remain in Philadelphia. 

Nola already ranks 17th in WAR amongst pitchers from Louisiana and will be in the top 10 within two healthy seasons. If things go his way, he may even challenge Andy Pettitte and Ted Lyons as the best pitcher to come from Louisiana. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Everyone here at DGA has a dog. Some of us have more than one. Only Benson has cats (but also two dogs). Dogs are, quite simply, the best. They comfort us, make us laugh, and are fantastic companions.

Our dogs have been especially important in the midst of the pandemic, providing a reason to go for walks and a welcome distraction from the world. And while they have surely noticed that there's something up with their human companions, they remain committed to their day-to-day lives--chewing bones, eating yard detritus, and being especially bothersome and ill-behaved at the worst possible moments. They are the best.

A few weeks ago, we began passing around a series of dog videos made by UK golf announcer Andrew Cotter. While they are relatively short, they brilliantly sum up the joys and absurdities of life with dogs. In Cotter's case, he has two Labrador retrievers--Olive and Mabel. Mixing the seriousness of his announcing voice and the mundanity of watching a dog eat or play with a bone is the perfect distraction for a world in the midst of a pandemic.

For those of you who haven't seen them, the first two videos are imbedded below. Enjoy and if you're anything like us, you'll watch them half a dozen times or more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Recreating Leah Chase's Gumbo

The Bon Appetit Test Kitchen crew

Over the past two years or so, Bon Appetit magazine has developed a very successful YouTube channel. By bringing cameras into the magazine's test kitchen, the recipe testers have become video stars in their own right.

There's Brad Leone's ADD energy and off-the-cuff remarks. There's Claire Saffitz and her love of crafting and endless perfectionism in making gourmet versions of junk food--think Bagel Bites, Doritos, or Starburst. Sohla El-Wayliy is the queen of tempering chocolate.

Armed with a couple of dozen tasting spoons, test kitchen director Chris Morocco has his own show as well. On his show, Morocco must recreate dishes from famous chefs by taste. He can touch, smell, and taste the dishes, but he cannot look at them. In previous episodes, Morocco has recreated Guy Fieri's Trash-Can Nachos and Snoop Dog's Lobster Thermidor.

Last week, Morocco took on a new challenge--Leah Chase's famed gumbo. How'd it go? Watch below for yourself.

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Quiet New Orleans

With New Orleans currently under a shelter-at-home order, the streets of the Crescent City are quiet. Gone are the cars, the tourists jam-packed on Bourbon Street, and the lines at Cafe du Monde. Jackson Square sits empty and the army of musicians and street-performers who entertain guests and locals alike remain in their homes.

New Orleans has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. An ill-timed Mardi Gras and the poverty of the city's residents combined to deal the city a brutal blow. Orleans Parish (New Orleans) has seen over 6,500 cases and nearly 450 deaths from COVID-19.

With residents staying in their homes, the streets have taken on an eerie quality to them. Once bustling boulevards, are now void of people, vendors, and most significantly--music. Yet there is also a beauty in the quiet. A chance to observe and reflect on the city we love dearly and how it will and won't be the same.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

2020 Saints Draft Recap

Mickey and Sean--making all the trades. 

To the surprise of absolutely no one who has followed the Saints in recent years, New Orleans made the fewest picks of any team in the draft and traded a 2021 draft pick to move up in this year’s draft. 

If the Saints were a young child, they would fail the marshmallow test every single time. 

Since New Orleans only made four picks in the draft, that should make this recap relatively easily. 

Round 1, Pick 24—C Cesar Ruiz (Michigan) 

We wrote last week that the Saints might look to grab an interior offensive lineman with right guard Larry Warford in the last year of his contract. Either Ruiz or Erik McCoy, last year’s starting center, will have to compete with Warford for the right guard spot. The Saints liked Ruiz’s size (6-3, 307 lbs), intelligence (he was in charge of protection calls for the Michigan offensive line), and experience (31 starts over 3 seasons). 

While the Saints may have been tempted to go for a wide receiver to help out Drew Brees, this pick is reminiscent of 2017, when New Orleans took right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk 32nd overall. The Saints had already invested significant capital in the offensive line, but Sean Payton believes that you can never have too many good offensive lineman. The Saints might try to trade Warford, but they might just hold onto him and have him compete with Ruiz or McCoy for the guard spot. 

Round 3, Pick 74—LB Zach Baun (Wisconsin) 

New Orleans just can’t help themselves with trading up. This time they traded the 88th pick in the draft and their 3rdrounder for next year to move up 14 spots. At least, they used the pick on a well-regarded player in a position of need. Currently, two of the Saints starting linebackers—Alex Anzalone and Kiko Alonso have missed significant time with injuries. All-Pro starter Demario Davis is 31 and he, along with backup Craig Robertson, Anzalone, and Alonso, are all in the last year of their contracts. So the Saints needed another playmaker on a long-term contract and they got themselves one. 

As an outside linebacker, Baun has been successful as an edge rusher with 12.5 sacks last season. He also has the ability to drop back into coverage and guard tight ends and running backs. 

Round 3, Pick 105—TE Adam Trautman (Dayton) 

The Saints paid a heavy price for Trautman, giving up their 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th round picks to move up 25 spots to draft Trautman. According to Chase Stuart’s approximate value based draft chart, the Saints gave up the equivalent of the 83rd pick in the draft to move up. 

And it’s not immediately clear where Trautman fits into the Saints offense as New Orleans already has Jared Cook and Josh Hill as starters. Trautman played well at Dayton—catching 70 passes for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns—but against FCS division talent. The Saints have been touting Trautman’s blocking skills as making him an impact player immediately. He better be, because the Saints gave up a lot to get him. 

Round 7, Pick 240—QB Tommy Stephens (Mississippi State) 

New Orleans currently has a versatile quarterback on the roster who can play wide receiver, tight end, and running back in Taysom Hill. What’s the harm in having another? Stephens has experience running the ball, practiced route running before the draft, and even prepared to work out at tight end to help his draft prospects. His versatility came about because he was “bored” while serving as a backup at Penn State. The Saints traded a 6th rounder next year to get him, but 6th and 7th rounders are easy to replace. Another versatile weapon for Sean Payton to scheme around isn’t. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

2020 Saints Draft Preview

The NFL draft begins this Thursday night. Because of the coronavirus things will look a little different. Teams will be drafting from home, the possibility to technical screwups is high, especially when you’re dealing with a bunch of grumpy football coaches who are skeptical of things like email and YouTube. 

As is typical of the New Orleans Saints, they have given their fans little reason to tune in. They only have 5 picks in the draft, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for fewest in the league. In the Sean Payton-Mickey Loomis era, New Orleans has always been aggressive trading away picks for players and in order to move up in the draft for specific players. 

This strategy flies against rigorous draft analysis suggesting that no team is better than any other at the draft and the best way to accumulate good young players is just to draft a lot of them. 

So let’s take a look at the picks the Saints do have and what they might do to fill them. 

 Round 1, Pick 24—Surprise! The Saints have a first round pick, but fear not, they’re down a 2nd rounder after trading it away last year to move up to grab center Erik McCoy. Last year, the Saints gave up their first rounder in a trade two years ago to select defensive lineman Marcus Davenport. 

If one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the draft, like Utah State’s Jordan Love, falls past the first 12 or so picks, don’t be surprised for the Saints to offer a package of their current first-rounder plus next year’s to try and snag Drew Brees’ successor. With Teddy Bridgewater off to greener pastures and Carolina and Taysom “only 6 career passing attempts” Hill the only other QB on the roster, the Saints will need to invest in a young QB soon to replace the aging Brees. 

If one of the top QBs isn’t available look for the Saints to grab a wide receiver to bolster their receiving corps or a linebacker to shore up the middle of the defense. 

Round 3, Pick 88—Hey a third rounder! Don’t look now because they Saints haven’t had one of those in a while either. They traded the previous one for a season of Teddy Bridgewater. Only it wasn’t for last season, where he replaced Brees and played well. It was for the season before that where he barely played. 

Look for the Saints to target some defense help here. Wide receiver, linebacker, and edge rusher are all positions of need of the Saints to shore up their team depth as the team readies for another (and perhaps final?) Super Bowl run with Brees under center. 

Round 4, 130—With guard Larry Warford heading into the last season of his contract, the Saints might draft an interior offensive lineman. This would be a developmental pick with a young guard or center learning the Saints pass and run blocking schemes behind Warford, McCoy, the recently resigned Andrus Peat, and backup Nick Easton. You can never have too many good offensive linemen. 

The Saints also have picks in the 5th and 6th rounds, but those generally are back of the roster players who sometimes don’t make it out of training camp. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Toups Meatery Family Meal Giveaway

We at DGA are big fans of chef Isaac Toups and his restaurant, Toups Meatery. We've recommended it to our out-of-town guests for the Crawfish Boil for the past few years.

Toups is a standout amongst New Orleans' Cajun restaurants. The meat-centric menu includes duck, lamb, quail, and venison. The Meatery Board, featuring head cheese, chicken liver mousse, cracklings, boudin balls, and homemade sausage, is a must-order.

However, the Coronavirus pandemic has forced New Orleans restaurants to close their dining rooms lest their customers get sick. Some restaurants have closed entirely, while others have shifted to take-out and delivery only. The New Orleans area has been hit hard by coronavirus and many New Orleanians who rely on the restaurant industry for their livelihood are out of work.

In true New Orleans fashion, many chefs and civic organizations have stepped up to help feed displaced workers, Toups Meatery included.

Starting at 3 PM every day, Toups has started offering free meals for people in need especially those in the service industries. All people have to do is call ahead so the restaurant can prepare an appropriate sized meal.

The restaurant is also accepting donations to help pay for these meals for those in need. The donation methods are listed below:

Venmo @toupsmeatery
PayPal: Isaac@toupsmeatery.com
Phone: 504-252-4999

So far the community reaction to the Toups Family Meal program has been overwhelming. Last week, Toups gave away over 3,000 meals to people in need. It's programs like these that show the heart and soul of New Orleans and our ability to come together in times of crisis.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Leah Chase's Gumbo

Last June, Leah Chase, the Queen of Creole Cuisine, passed away. At the Crawfish Boil last month, Doug spoke about the importance of Chase's legacy as a chef and humanitarian.

Chase was famous for many of her dishes, still served today at her restaurant Dooky Chase, but none moreso than her gumbo. The video below details Chase's inspirational life story and just how she makes her famous gumbo.

Enjoy! Stay safe and wash your hands.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Saints Free Agency 2020: Part Two

Last week, we began our look at the New Orleans Saints offseason by focusing on re-signings of Drew Brees, Andrus Peat, and several other players. This week, let’s turn our attention to the two big players—one on defense and one on offense—that the Saints brought in from outside the organization to bolster the roster in the waning years of Brees’ career. 

WR Emmanuel Sanders, 2 years, $16 million 

The Saints wide receiver depth outside of Michael Thomas was nonexistent. Thomas led the team with 149 receptions. Ted Ginn, the ostensible number 2 wide receiver, had 30. Tre’Quan Smith was third with 18. Sanders fits the bill as a viable receiving option behind Thomas. 

Last season, Sanders split time between Denver and San Francisco. In 17 games, he had 66 receptions for 869 yards, including a memorable game against the Saints where he torched the defense for 7 receptions, 157 yards and a touchdown. Throughout his career, Sanders has ably served as a second wideout for receivers like Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, Demaryious Thomas in Denver, and now for Michael Thomas in New Orleans. 

Now that Sanders is in his early 30s, health and age-related decline are a concern. He missed four games in each of 2017 and 2018 and was only ever a full-time starter for three seasons, from 2014-2016. The Saints investment in Sanders, however, is modest (two years and $16 million) and he fills a much needed hole on their roster.  Grade: B+ 

FS Malcolm Jenkins, 4 years, $32 million 

A familiar face returns to the Crescent City. The Saints selected Jenkins with the 14th overall pick in the 2009 draft. He spent the first five seasons of his career in New Orleans. Over time, however, Jenkins fell from favor amidst the ever-changing array of defensive coordinators in the early 2010s—in his career with the Saints, Jenkins played for Gregg Williams, Steve Spagnuolo, and Rob Ryan—before departing as a free agent after the 2013 season. The Saints did not even offer him a contract. 

Jenkins signed with the Philadelphia Eagles where he became a standout defender and played in their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. He also was bitter towards the Saints for the way they had treated him, once flipping off Sean Payton during a game between Philadelphia and New Orleans. 

Payton later admitted that letting Jenkins leave was one of the biggest mistakes of his coaching career and he and Jenkins mended fences. The reconciliation paved the way for Jenkins return this offseason. 

While the Saints would like to rectify their mistake in letting Jenkins go, they paid too high a price to facilitate this reunion. If Jenkins were still the 27 year old safety with a lot of upside, this deal would make a lot of sense. Unfortunately he’s not. Jenkins will be entering his age-33 season making top-flight safety money. There’s very little room for excess value here. If Jenkins underperforms, he’ll be an expensive overpay. If he plays well, then the Saints derive little benefit since they’re paying him at the top of the market. Grade: C 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Saints Free Agency 2020: Part One

Even with everything going on in the world, the NFL officially began its free agency period last Wednesday. News of signings, however, began to leak on Monday as the league’s legal tampering began and free agents could officially contact and visit other teams. As usual the Saints, despite being close to the league’s salary cap were once again busy on the free agent market—both in terms of re-signing their old players and bringing in free agents from elsewhere. 

So this week, let’s take a look at the Saints’ most important re-signings of their offseason so far and next week, we’ll take a look at their biggest free agents. 

QB Drew Brees, 2 years, $50 million

The Brees re-signing was merely a formality. Over the past few years, Brees has made it clear that he would only re-sign with New Orleans or retire. In reality, this is a one year deal worth $25 million with a voidable year tacked on for the purposes of spreading Brees’ cap hit across multiple seasons and giving the Saints more flexibility to bring in other free agents. If Brees wants to play in 2021, he’ll sign a contract that looks exactly like this one. 

There was little reason to think Brees would retire. Even at age 40 when quarterbacks generally decline, Brees was better than ever. He led the NFL in completion percentage at 74.3%, just 0.1% short of his career mark of 74.4% set in 2018. Age has cost Brees the ability to throw the ball down the field, but he has compensated by becoming an ultra-accurate short and intermediate range passer. In only 11 games last year, he threw for 2,979 yards with 27 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Grade: A 

G Andrus Peat, 5 years, $57.5 million 

This signing is a little more puzzling. The Saints seemed all-set to move on from their former first round pick. New Orleans already has Larry Warford, who was signed a few years ago for big money, and Nick Easton, a former starting center, who filled in at guard last year when Peat was hurt. He’s missed games over the past two seasons due to injuries and with the Saints tight against the salary cap, it seemed like Peat’s time in the Big Easy was over. Maybe they’re getting ready to move on from Warford instead? Additionally, there did not seem to be a big market for Peat, who now has the fifth largest annual salary ever given out to a guard. Grade: C 

 DT David Onyemata, 3 years, $27 million 

Onyemata’s Cinderella story continues. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Onyemata never played football until he emigrated to Winnipeg for college. After four years in college, the Saints selected him in the fourth round out of the University of Manitoba. Early in his career, Onyemata was a backup defensive lineup who generated a few sacks per season and mostly was used in run-stopping situations. In 2019, however, he filled in for the injured Sheldon Rankins, starting all 16 games. He had 3 sacks, 11 quarterback knockdowns, and continued to play well against the run, helping New Orleans finish with the 5th ranked run defense according to DVOA. Grade: B 

LS Zach Wood, 4 years, $4.78 million

The Saints re-signed their long-snapper, maintain continuity with punter Thomas Morstead and kicker Wil Lutz. Good for him.  Grade: B 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Virtual NOMA

The New Orleans Museum of Art was created by sugar baron Isaac Delgado in 1911. Delgado felt New Orleans needed an art museum so it could join the ranks of America's great cities. Currently the museum houses over 40,000 objects from the Renaissance to the present. Their collections are especially strong in the areas of 18thand 19thcentury American and French furniture. It also includes a wide range of European and American art with pieces by Degas, who lived in the city from 1871-1872, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Gaugin, Jackson Pollack, and Georgia O’Keeffe. 

As of today, however, the museum is closed because of coronavirus. The museum, however, has teamed up with Google Arts to provide virtual tours of its collections. Follow the link here.

It may not be the same as going to the museum, but it's the best way to view the collections safely.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Crawfish Boil 2020: How To Peel Crawfish

        Just a reminder: the 12th Annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil is THIS SATURDAY! That’s right, this Saturday, March 7, 2020 from 12-5 at Maison Lafitte, 402 Lafitte St. Mandeville, LA.

        Now to get you properly prepared, here’s Benson to teach you all had to peel and eat crawfish. 

        The process is relatively simple, and a well-coooked crawfish should give even inexperienced folks little trouble. Before you start peeling, remember that crawfish boiled live typically have curled tails, such as the one in the image above.  Those that were dead when they went in the boil (there’s always a few) have flat tails and mushy meat.  You can toss those suckers into your pile of shells if you like.

Y        ou might have heard of the twist, pinch, and suck method of peeling crawfish.  This refers to twisting off the head, pinching the tail, and sucking the head.  This is the basic method we’re going to learn, although sucking the head is entirely optional.  Most crotchety Cajuns suck the heads to put newcomers off their crawfish, but there’s also a culinary reason to do it and I’ll explain that at the end.

        Although these colloquial terms are wildly inaccurate in terms of a crawfish’s anatomy, the two basic parts you need to know about are the “head,” the main body of the crawfish, and the “tail,” the segmented abdomen of the crawfish. 

To start peeling, grasp the head in one hand and the tail in the other. 

Next, twist the head and pull it away from the tail. 

        At this point, you can pinch the tail and pull out the meat with your teeth, but that takes some crawfish experience.  Being new to peeling crawfish, you will have more success if you peel the first segment of the shell off of the tail. 

        You can then flip the tail over, use your thumb to pinch the tail at the base, and then pull out the meat.

        Last, but not least, you can suck the head.  The reason to do this is that most of the fat is in this part of the crawfish and it doesn’t always come out with the tail meat.  Like crabs, crawfish fat is extremely tasty and it holds a remarkable amount of flavor. You also get a good taste of the spicy boil from sucking the head.

        See you Saturday! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Crawfish Boil 2020: What are crawfish exactly?

        The DGA Friends and Family Crawfish Boil is about many things. It's about bringing friends and family together. It's about listening to some awesome local music. And it's also about eating crawfish. But just what are crawfish and why do they taste so good? Let's take a look at the history of these delicious crustaceans and how they've become a culinary staple of south Louisiana.  

          Crawfish season runs from late February through early June. Crawfish live in the wetlands that surround the Mississippi River and its estuaries. In the centuries before European settlement in Louisiana, the crustaceans thrived in the creeks, lakes, and bayous of south Louisiana. Local native Americans collected crawfish by the bushel by baiting wooden reeds with venison and dipping them into the water. The crawfish would latch onto the meat and dangle off the reeds, providing locals with their dinner.

All the crawfish!

         When the Acadians arrived in Louisiana in the 1750s, they quickly learned the value and deliciousness of this local delicacy. These French settlers, who had been expelled from Canada by the English during the Seven Years War, began incorporating crawfish into the cuisine. Over the ensuing decades, crawfish became a staple of Cajun cuisine. The Cajuns even created their own legends about the origin of crawfish, demonstrating just how important they had become in Cajun culture. According to the legend, after the explosion of the Cajuns from Canada, local lobsters followed the Acadians from the ice cold waters of the Atlantic to the Mississippi basin. When the lobsters entered the warm waters of the gulf, they shrank to their present size. 

          The commercial sale of crawfish began only in the late 1800s with the first recorded harvest in 1880. The crawfish, raised in the Atchafalaya Basin, resulted in a  harvest of 23,400 pounds, worth about $2,140 (about $51,000 in today’s money). In 1908, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded that Louisiana produced about 88,000 pounds of crawfish per year, worth about $3,600 (about $93,000 today). The Great Depression of the 1930s drove the price of crawfish down to as low as 4 cents per pound. Technological advancements, including trucking, railroads, and refrigeration, fueled the movement of live crawfish from the rural bayou to urban centers like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The introduction of traps and nets allowed for the collection of greater numbers of crawfish. 

There are entire memes devoted to crawfish. 

          In the 1930s, Louisiana began to cultivate the production of crawfish on farms. Rice had long been a staple of bayou farmers. In order to gain more income, rice farmers began re-flooding their fields in order to produce harvests of crawfish in the winter and early spring. This practice soon spread across Louisiana wherever low-lying ponds and marshland could be found.

          The process of farming stabilized crawfish production. Before farming, the harvest in any given year depended on the water levels in the Atchafalaya Basin. Thus the market fluctuated wildly from year to year. Now with consistent water levels, farmers could control the size of the harvest and stabilize their incomes. By the mid-1960s, over 10,000 acres of crawfish farms had spread across Louisiana. In the decades since, crawfish farms have increased by a factor of twelve to approximately 120,000 acres. Louisiana accounts for 85%-95% of total U.S. crawfish production. 

Hmm... crawfish 
          In 1960, the community of Breaux Bridge was named the crawfish capitol of the world and every year since has held yearly crawfish festival.  This growth in production caused Louisiana restaurants to begin featuring crawfish on their menus. Long a staple of Cajun cuisine, crawfish étouffée became a restaurant staple. With its increasing visibility as a product unique to south Louisiana, crawfish boils became a way to celebrate the culinary traditions that make Louisiana unique. Today, the crawfish industry accounts for seven thousand jobs and 300 million dollars in revenue for the state. 

The process for cooking crawfish has stayed the same over the years (and this may attest to the longevity of crawfish consumption); get a pot of water boiling (seasoned with salt and spices), add the live crawfish, let cook for several minutes. Then eat the crawfish on newspaper covered tables until you can’t eat them anymore. It’s a tradition that we look forward to upholding on Saturday March 7! 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Crawfish Boil 2020: Band Bios

          So the Crawfish Boil is obviously about the crawfish. But it's also about the music. And if you know anything about us, it's that we take our music very seriously. So for this year's Boil we're proud to welcome an old friend, Benny Turner, a returning band, Flow Tribe, and a new band the Dapper Dandies! 

            We're proud to welcome back Benny Turner and the Real Blues with Sam Joyner to the 12th Annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil.   

Benny in action

Benny Turner is a veteran of the New Orleans, Chicago, and Texas blues scenes. His connections to the history of the blues in America run deep. His brother was legendary blues artist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Freddie King. Born in Gilmer, Texas, Benny and Freddie learned guitar from their mother and uncles. Freddie gravitated towards the guitar and performing while Benny enjoyed music and spending time with the brother he admired. The family moved to Chicago in the early 1950s and as Freddie’s fame and prowess with the guitar grew, his brother soon joined his band as a bass player. By the late 1950s, Benny had toured across the United States with R&B singer Dee Clark at venues like the Apollo Theater in New York City, the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, the Howard Theater in Washington D.C., and the Regal Theater in Chicago. Benny also enjoyed a stint in the Soul Stirrers, a touring gospel music band, and introduced the bass to gospel music, laying the groundwork for modern gospel music which is heavily reliant on the bass. 

By the late 1960s, Benny returned to Chicago, playing in local bands and recording songs for the Leaner Brothers’ One-Derful and M-Pac! labels. He soon rejoined his brother, Freddie King, on the touring circuit. Alongside his brother, Benny performed with artists like Dionne Warwick, Memphis Slim, BB King, Solomon Burke, Eric Clapton, and Grand Funk Railroad. In December 1976, Freddie King passed away at the age of 42. Having lost his best friend, brother, and band mate all at the same time left Benny unable to perform. After two years away from music, famed Chicago blues artist Mighty Joe Young convinced Benny to join him on stage. Over the next few years, the two men travelled and performed together as Benny rejoined the blues scene.  

By the 1980s, Mighty Joe Young had retired from touring and Benny took another big step: moving to New Orleans and becoming the bass player and band leader for blues singer Marva Wright. Wright, known locally as the “Blues Queen of New Orleans,” toured all over the world and was a staple of the French Quarter music scene. After Wright died, Benny struck out on his own. In 2011, he released, “A Tribute to my Brother Freddie King” a collection of some of his brother’s most famous songs. In 2014, he released “Journey” playing homage to his history with the blues. His latest album, “When She’s Gone” mixes some of Benny’s original songs with old blues classics. He dedicated the album to his mother, Ella, the woman responsible for his and Freddie’s love of music.

            So come see this great blues artist perform at the crawfish boil. In the meantime, go to Benny’s website, read about his life, listen to some of his music, and buy an album or two in support of this legendary blues artist.

Flow Tribe 

            The band formed in 2004 from a group of friends from Brother Martin High School. Penot's back porch served as their primary rehearsal and hangout space. Like most high school musical ventures, the band broke up once all the members went off to college. In 2006, Hurricane Katrina brought all six men back home. They devoted themselves to rebuilding efforts, but also sought to contribute to the city's rebuilding in their own way – through their shared love of music. Early recalled that "We thought about our love of the city's music, the history, the culture. We were just a bunch of 18 and 19-year old kids, rebuilding our parents' houses during the summer... and we knew the only way we could contribute on a bigger level was with music."
            The band soon reformed and hit the road. They played shows for music lovers and displaced Katrina survivors across the South. Their musical style, a blend of different New Orleans musical genres, found a wide audience amongst exiled New Orleanians and people from different parts of the country.

            Since 2006, Flow Tribe have been a fixture in the New Orleans music scene while also touring across the country. They've appeared on The Real World: New Orleans in 2010. They've played at the Voodoo Music Experience, appeared on the main stage at Jazz Fest, and at just about every other major festival in New Orleans. They describe their music as "backbone crackin’ music”—a "gumbo" of funk, rhythm-and-blues, rock, bounce, hip-hop and zydeco. Flow Tribe cite Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima and Kermit Ruffins, R&B and funk classics of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and hip-hop hits released by Cash Money Records in the 1990s and 2000s, as some of their influences. 
            They've recorded four albums: Pain Killer (2012), At Capacity Live: Live at Tipitina’s (2013), Alligator White (2014), and Boss (2017). If you want more information or examples of the Flow Tribe's music check out their website here. And make sure you come see them at this year's Crawfish boil! 

Dapper Dandies 

            Signed to Total Riot Records, the Dapper Dandies are part of a new generation of musicians bringing back the sounds of traditional New Orleans jazz. One review of their album Between St. Roch & the Channel describes the Dapper Dandies sound as "slow and boozy, yet lighthearted and romantic." The reviewer also writes, "The bass sax by Adrian Seward sounds nearly human; it’s throaty and soulfully wailing its sentiments. Jason Cash’s clarinet has a major place in the opening of “I’ve Found a New Baby” as he plays a winding tune before Aaron Lind on the guitar plays a jaunty backing to Fourmy’s melody. During the bridge, Sean Dawnson’s trumpet growls above everything else. Dawson’s horn has just a bit of a tinny echo throughout the album, which adds a nostalgic layer, as though you heard this on an original record."