Ahem. Good evening. Could we have everyone’s attention for a moment? Webster’s dictionary defines “year” as containing 365 days, but anyone who made it through 2020 knows that to be a lie. Join us tonight (with this extended internet-only version) in looking back on a year we’d all like to drive a stake through the heart of and then decapitate just to be sure. Let’s grit our teeth, raise our glasses, and send this year to hell where it belongs.
Many have picked up Ayn Rand’s doorstop novels, but the more discerning among us quickly put them down after realizing they’re two-dimensional stories glorifying men of industry as they rape and pillage their way across America. However, there’s a certain breed of pseudointellectual who continues to glorify Ayn Rand, sometimes with an entire file cabinet of inscrutable corporations and LLCs named after their favorite Rand novels and characters. Cheat sheet: The Fountainhead is about an angry architect named Howard Roark who won’t do what his clients want, and Atlas Shrugged is about a man named John Galt who invents a perpetual motion machine and won’t let anyone use it.
We curated this list in honor of 2020 City hire Peter Bowen, who graduated from his lucrative career gutting affordable housing at major STR operator Sonder to enjoy expanded powers as the City’s new deputy chief administrative officer of land use (the department that oversees, among many other things, short term rental permitting). His corporate profile at Sonder was emblazoned with the quintessential Ayn Rand (mis)quotation, also beloved by Ivanka Trump: “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”
• Todd Villarrubia: Most likely to succeed at protecting his income from deadbeats, freeriders, and the tax man.
Fountainhead Global, LLC; Fountainhead Systems, LLC; Fountainhead Global Investment Management, LLC; Fountainhead Global Business Propulsion Systems, LLC; John Galt Capital Holdings, LLC; John Galt Properties, LLC
Extracurriculars: “Todd enjoys spending time with his daughters, the Saints and Dolphins, Montana, sailing, photography and traveling.”
• Luke V. Guarisco: Most likely to name a professorship after himself.
John Galt Investments, LLC; John Galt Asset Management, LLC; John Galt Real Estate Partners, LLC; John Galt Energy Partners, LLC.
Extracurriculars: Having a name that sounds like a court case.
• Saun Sullivan: Most likely to claim he went to the School of Hard Knocks.
Fountainhead Inc. (formerly known as Jihad Corp.; renamed 10/2/2001, presumably in light of contemporaneous events).
Extracurriculars: Sloshing through in-progress job sites, discharging pollutants.1Sullivan pleaded guilty in 2005 to a federal charge of “illegal discharge of pollutants.”
PROBLEM: Police teargassing protestors at protest against police brutality.
SOLUTION: Pass ordinance prohibiting police from using tear gas unless they really, really want to. Congratulate police force for their response when the fog of war has dissipated. Complain about NOPD being under a consent decree.
PROBLEM: Musicians impoverished by pandemic-struck tourist industry.
SOLUTION: Institute outrageous fees before they’re even allowed to play on a porch, then promise to waive fees as long as they’re playing at home.
PROBLEM: New Orleanians wanting to defund the police, as evidenced by the 1,405 comments a Criminal Justice Committee meeting yielded with just three days’ notice. Fewer than 10 comments were in support of the police.2You can request comments by e-mailing your councilmember—they are the public record and you’re entitled to them!
SOLUTION: Expand the jail, defund the library. Tell Vanity Fair that you don’t care if people in jail get sick and die from the novel coronavirus.
PROBLEM: The partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel where at least three workers died continuing to be a safety hazard and a traumatizing, humiliating eyesore while also blocking a major intersection and disrupting public transit lines.
SOLUTION: Hold press conference tearfully congratulating yourself on taking nearly a year to remove three people’s bodies.
As radical ideas enter the mainstream, forces act upon them, pushing, pulling, and plundering their meaning. There are benign reasons: people are mistaken or grasping for language that does not yet exist. But more nefarious actors are at work too—people who benefit from the dilution of radical ideas aim to manipulate by deploying buzzwords or appropriate terms to use as social capital for carefully curated identities. Language is a living thing that ought to move with the needs of those who seek it, and not be gatekept by the elite. But some terms are so important, so hard-won that to see them lost to concept creep is tragic.
DEFUND: Deceptively simple. At the end of a year of uprisings during which people literally died in the streets protesting the police state, we have arrived at a point where “defund” the police is being used to mean the precise opposite—expanding the police state by adding “alternatives” to policing that fall under the purview of police.
GASLIGHTING: From the 1944 movie Gaslight, this term refers to the intentional manipulation of a person to the end that they doubt their own sanity. This term entered popular use because there was no other concise way to describe that particular form of interpersonal abuse. Thanks to pop psych bullshit like uncredentialed Instagram “resource” slides, many people now believe “gaslighting” to include any behavior they don’t like. There exists a vast range of abusive behaviors, some of which ought to be named so that they may be more visible; but making “gaslighting” an enormous tent is not the answer—its value is in its precision. Applying the concept to broader dynamics, people bemoan that they feel gaslit by the president. Specific mistreatments of a population by those with more power do mirror interpersonal abuse tactics, and it’s important to draw the parallels. The most abhorrent misuses of this word are when people use it to accuse the party at the shit-end of a power differential of gaslighting the other.
REPARATIONS: To be clear, this observation and rebuke is directed at our fellow crackers, particularly those who earnestly aspire to be race traitors. In an American context, the demand for reparations originates with indigenous and Black activists, referencing immense harms like centuries of genocide and land theft.3Not all indigenous people consider land claims to be central to reparations, as no one population is a monolith and “indigenous” itself reduces the vast diversity of peoples and cultures.
It describes the reality of a country whose wealth was built on the backs (or rather, the labor, the skills, the suffering, the torture) of kidnapped and enslaved Black people, and how white people continue to profit from that today, while Black people (regardless of their familial origin) continue to be shut out from accessing that wealth (see Saidiya Hartman’s work on “the afterlife of slavery”). Legally, “reparations” have meant “financial restitution” for populations like formerly interred Japanese Americans and people who were forcibly sterilized. Sometimes those cash settlements are accompanied by an official apology.
But you can’t put a price on or quantify harm at these scales. This year we saw “reparations” whittled down by presidential candidates and shrunk to the individual, often by white people virtue-signaling by telling their white friends to “pay reparations” by making donations to organizations or individuals. White people should definitely do this as often as possible, duh. But the issue with that use, setting aside intention, lies in scale and accountability. This year many people’s interactions were largely mediated by technology. It’s been a banner year for grifters: people who abuse the desire to donate by misrepresenting themselves, their causes, or creating fake projects. Locally, an unhoused woman in the Bywater said that significant funds raised for her via social media resulted in the receipt of two Walgreens gift cards and a phone; which is paternalistic as fuck, wrong, and certainly not what donors intended. Setting aside liars, what’s the issue with using reparations in an individual context? Let’s make it clear, we’re not in the business of telling Black people what to say or when to say it. But when we see white people extracting value from the diminished use of “reparations” the term is divorced from its historical roots, and most concerning of all: we see the concept dwindle to a mere drop compared to the massive debt owed.
INTERSECTIONALITY: Coined by Black scholar Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the unique conditions of oppression designated for Black women, “intersectionality” explains that identity is not additive. People whose identities are at the intersection of multiple marginalizations experience a reality that constitutes its own separate category. Armed with this term and what it illuminates, we can more clearly see the structural harms faced by people made the most vulnerable by our institutions. When a word is created to point at a social status relegated to unnamed abjection, shouldn’t we honor that? Yes! Instead people now use this word to adorn their social media profiles. “Intersectional” is not an adjective that is coherent when applied to “feminist” or “feminism.” A person cannot be “intersectional.” If what you’re trying to say is “anti-racist feminist,” say that. “Intersectional” is also used by non-profit organizations to indicate, often for fundraising purposes, that they are aware that more than one type of oppression exists (and are therefore virtuous). We’re sure that many people misusing this word have no idea of its origins, but isn’t that part of the problem? Isn’t that seeing something exotic and taking it without regard for or interest in its ownership?
MUTUAL AID: Perhaps the most abused of all terms this year, “mutual aid” has come to describe everything from social clubs, Facebook pages, charities, non-profits, and straight-up businesses. “Mutual aid” in the anarchist tradition is associated with the book of that same name by Russian anarchist Piotr Kropotkin. It ties in to what anthropologists would call the “potlatch,” or what you or I might recognize intuitively as helping each other the fuck out and having each others’ backs (especially around here). Hint—it’s probably not mutual aid if: anyone is getting paid to do it, or if you are doing mutual aid “for” people and not “with” them, or if it manifests as the recirculation of resources within a single privileged and closed class (class of course being inextricably tied with race, racial capitalism). If you’re offering a discount on your product so that a percent can be donated somewhere, you might be doing advertising. If it feels more like a club than a tactic… probably not mutual aid.
Why should we defend this term from concept creep? The answer lies within a helpful criteria for evaluating whether something is mutual aid or just charity, which reinforces inequity while making people feel good about themselves. Lawyer, scholar, and activist Dean Spade offers four questions to evaluate tactics: “Does it provide material relief? Does it leave out an especially marginalized part of the affected group (e.g., people with criminal records, people without immigration status)? Does it legitimize or expand a system we are trying to dismantle? Does it mobilize people, especially those most directly impacted, for ongoing struggle?”
And it’s that last question that leads to our conclusion that y’all should stop calling just anything you want “mutual aid”—it’s not just a tactic to help us survive an economy built on the disposable lives of a perpetual underclass, it catalyzes material and spiritual change. It opens the door for alliances and solidarity. And it has the potential to transform us, our communities, and (with a lot of work, trial, and error) the world we live in beyond the limits of our imagination.
- Cracking down on unemployment fraud.
- Trying to cut taxes for the oil industry and creating a one-time November sales tax holiday.
- Complaining that more people aren’t allowed at high school football games.
- Saluting medical workers with staged B-52 bomber flyovers wherein a part of the plane fell off.
- Declaring 2020 “The Year of the Nurse.”
- Should bars be closed?
- How can Mayor LaToya Cantrell call it respectful when protesters get into conflicts with police, wander the city streets at will, climb up on interstate ramps and block traffic over the Crescent City Connection?
- Should President Trump be added to Mount Rushmore?
- When do you think things will be normal?
- What’s for dinner?
- Social Distancing and Mental Health Oasis: “Pool can be heated in the Winter to 90+ degrees upon request for a small additional cost of $25 to $40 per day, depending on how cold it is” ($280/night).
- Mid-Century Tiki Den: “Our family, with young children, live directly above the tiki den” ($70/night).
- Stylish Design Hostel: 1 Bed in 4 Bed Shared Dorm, “We are a bunch of misfits and lovable trouble makers” ($32/night).
- Granny’s Holistic House: “The common area has two six-foot water fountains” ($65/night).
- The Epicenter: “This is it!” ($100/night).
TOP FIVE WAYS BUSINESS OWNERS DRESSED UP THE FACT THAT THEY ARE PROFITING OFF OF OWNING FORMER SLAVE PLANTATIONS
- “Haunted or not, this place deserves to be the center of any vacation tour of the South.”
- “Experience the charm and ambiance of a time that’s past.”
- “YOU CAN ACTUALLY PICK COTTON (JULY-APRIL).”
- “[O]utstanding examples of what unlimited time, wealth, labor and horticultural knowledge, combined with rich soil and a happy climate could produce in antebellum culture.”
- “The home is fittingly located in the town of White Castle.”
In August, Mayor Cantrell announced that the City had found $1.5 million scattered across various obscure, sometimes “forgotten” trusts and decades-old donations amid coronavirus-related budget debacles. The trusts were under an obscure agency called the Board of City Trusts which hadn’t met since 1984. We obtained the previously unpublished list of funds—here are five.
- Money to buy National Geographic, misfiled under music: $1,000 in donations (now valued at more than $2,300) given by philanthropist and early 1900s women’s suffragist Dora Wise Joachim in 1950 for the library’s purchase of National Geographic. Due to Joachim’s husband, New Orleans physician Otto Joachim, sharing his name with a German-Canadian composer, this money was mistakenly believed to be set aside “to promote the study of orchestra music and violinists.”
- A nearly empty libertarian-style pothole fund: $283 from an abandoned adopt-a-pothole program “allowing citizens to pay the Department of Streets to patch specific potholes,” though it was controversial because “those areas of the city most neglected by street maintenance might also be those least likely to be able to afford paying for their own pothole patching.” Despite the excess funds, sources report the city still contains potholes.
- A $4,125 donation from 1979 for “producing a masonry maintenance guideline manual”: The city aims to finally use the now roughly $8,500 for its intended purpose.
- A War on Drugs Fund: Just under $8,000 from the “New Orleans War on Drugs Fund,” created in 1989 to help “eradicate illegal substance abuse in the city.” Despite the excess funds, sources report the city still contains illegal drugs.
- A trust for the care of a family tomb: Including “placing flowers thereon on All Saints’ Day, Easter and Anniversaries.” It was set up in 1928 at a bank that failed in 1933 and, after a “dramatically slow process” thanks to the number of bank failures during the Great Depression, was transferred to the city in 1952. Who will tend to the tomb now? Unclear.
- Garey Forster: LaToya Cantrell should be furious about murderers, not Christians.
- Garey Forster: On race, white people are convicted by accusation.
- Dan Fagan: I question the shutdown. Does that make me a “pink potato” without a soul?
- Dan Fagan: Brutal cops are targeting African Americans. So are abortionists.
- Will Sutton: Calm the fuck down about the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, peasants.
TOP FIVE TIMES JOHN BEL EDWARDS FASTED AND PRAYED THE RONA AWAY4Numbers refer to cases within Louisiana. Source: The COVID Tracking Project.
- March 24. Total Dead: 46. Total Positive Cases: 1,388.
- April 5. Total Dead: 477. Total Positive Cases: 13,010.
- April 12. Total Dead: 840. Total Positive Cases: 20,595.
- May 12. Total Dead: 2,347. Total Positive Cases: 32,050.
- July 20-22. Total Dead: 3,670. Total Positive Cases: 99,354.
Note: Since his ambitious three day prayathon in July, Governor Edwards has extended his abstinence to include tweeting about praying and fasting. If he has addressed the rapidly accelerating pandemic using those techniques since, he is doing so covertly.
TOP FIVE MISDEEDS YOU MISSED: ANTIGRAVITY EYE ON CRIME
- Hackers attacked the company that runs the Superdome and leaked “old contracts for Bryan Adams and ZZ Top concerts.”
- An attempted carjacking was foiled when Saints owner Gayle Benson yelled at the would-be thief.
- The City Inspector General Office staff issued a “stinging report” about… the Inspector General, alleging the $200,000-per-year City employee was neglecting his duties.
- While defense attorney Gary Wainwright campaigned for judge, someone stole his car.
- City Hall sternly reminded residents during the pandemic that placing “bandit signs” in public places is strictly illegal and that littering “negatively affects our property values and contributes to factors related to crime.”
- March 12. A new threat. City warns “we may need to modify, postpone, or cancel large events.”
- March 20. Full stay-at-home order. “Stay home,” said Mayor Cantrell. “If there are any gray areas, err on the side of caution. Stay home.”
- July 24. Waxing self-righteous and highlighting individual behavior. “What happens next depends on what we do right now,” Cantrell said, banning to-go drink sales in a blow to neighborhood bars and restaurants around the city after tourists flocked to Bourbon Street. Indoor dining remained permitted and tourists brought their own bottles to Bourbon, while many locals and bar owners drowned their tears at home. Stimulus checks are, by now, a distant memory.
- September 25. Waning consistency. Restaurants and bars could resume to-go booze sales but only if they also sold food. High school football players were allowed to tackle one another for practice, while many other residents continued to go without hugs.
- November 9. Neon moon, broken dreams. Bars and breweries could once again have customers inside, delighting tourists with masks below their chins while frightening even some of the city’s formerly most avid bargoers and seasoned servers.
all images public domain