Friday, August 08, 2003

Sportsman's Paradise

The phrase "it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there" was created for Louisiana. I'm an expert on this topic, having spent 46.7% of my time on this Earth living there (my native state, Georgia, has claimed 36.8% of my resident days, Alabama 13.7% and Tennessee 2.7%).

I actually love Louisiana. The culture is absolutely unique and fascinating, I've yet to find a sandwich in Atlanta that matches the poboys sold at gas stations in south Louisiana and I'd put the atmosphere, tradition and sheer fucking fun of LSU football up against any program in the country.

But being from (in the sense that my formative years were spent there) Louisiana is like having an otherwise cool uncle who's a raging alcoholic and pisses down the basement stairs every time he comes over for dinner. You like him, but would really rather not be around him for long stretches of time.

So part of my daily routine is to read the News section of The Advocate (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper) to see what kind of shit Uncle Louie has gotten himself into now.

Today's all-too-typical Louisiana headline was "La. leads Southeast in exodus". That's hardly shocking. If you're not a chemical engineer, lawyer, doctor, bartender or construction worker, there are basically no jobs for you in Louisiana.

Today's story was full of typical "smart young people are all leaving" quotes from demographers and depressing Census reports showing even Mississippi and Arkansas managed to grow from 1995 to 2000 while Louisiana lost 75,000 people.

I did like this demographer quote in particular: "It's a horrible, horrible, horrible kind of mix of basic demographic trends for any state." Not just "horrible, horrible," mind you. It's thrice horrible.

Anyhow, the thing that really grabbed my attention was a URL The Advocate placed at the bottom of the stories, as online papers like to do. This one was to a site created by the governor's office to convince people that Louisiana is not, in fact, a shithole. I'll provide the URL a bit later. You just keep reading ...

On the governor's site there's a feature called "Louisiana Positives" and the teaser for it reads:

"Louisiana is ranked in the top of class by national ranking agencies and publications in a wide variety of fields such as education, productivity, technology, accountability and generosity. Visit the Louisiana Positives site to read the extended list of good things about the state."

Never mind that the "site" it points to is actually a PDF file and the fact that interest groups who go out of their way to tell you how great they are (think "Proud to be Union!" or "Democrat and Proud!") are typically very much down-and-out.

The Louisiana Positives list is 10 PDF pages long and features all sorts of dubious claims to fame for the state, its cities and companies. Among the more amusing:

• The La. National Guard's high-school-dropout program is the best in the nation (a good thing considering about 40% of kids drop out of high school down there)

• Higher Education in Louisiana is among the most affordable in the country (and Sampos are among the most affordable TVs)

• New Orleans was ranked the 3rd best restaurant town in America (THIRD?? NOLA has the best food in the world, man. Must be the random tourist murders and puke-lined streets holding down the ranking.)

• Louisiana ranked 5th in the percentage of manufacturing establishments with Internet access. (I have no response to that)

• All 7 of Louisiana's metro areas made the Forbes list of Best Places for Business and Careers. Houma was 33, Lafayette 70, Baton Rouge 110, Shreveport 165 and New Orleans 168 in the large metro category. (What this does not say is that the list ranked all 200 big metros in the U.S. - i.e. No. 1 is the best, No. 200 is the worst - so anything below 100 would be considered the 100 worst cities).

• Louisiana moved from its "traditional 1st or 2nd" ranking in the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory down to 12th in 1999. (Slogan "Louisiana - now with fewer airborne toxins!")

I give the governor credit for trying, and I think Mr. Foster has done a lot for the state. But it's a long, long road to change the way things work in Louisiana and the perception outsiders have of the place. For every new business initiative, there's a new batch of smart kids leaving, and a new controversy like the "choose life" license plate the state created.

It's Louisiana, and it'll always be that way. Unless, of course, you come up with a catchy logo:

The Advocate story: La. leads Southeast in exodus

The governor's site:

Downloadable logos for your promotional use


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