"Michelangelo and da Vinci, all of them were float builders, so I'm in pretty good company," he says, with characteristic humility. Listening to the monologue is Barry Kern, Blaine's 52-year-old son, who does not share his dad's propensity for self-revelation. Asked about some outrageous antic of his father's, Barry usually shrugs and says, "That's just Blaine being Blaine." ... But Barry wasn't so sanguine in 2010, when he started slapping his father with lawsuits in a spat that nearly destroyed their venerable company and threatened to derail New Orleans's most beloved--and lucrative--tradition. ... The elder Kern built his first float in 1947 and has since helped make Mardi Gras in New Orleans a world-renowned event through his artistry, luck, and relentless self-promotion. Barry quietly turned what is now called Kern Studios into a more professional operation after he became its president in 1994, quadrupling revenue to $40 million and expanding the business with theme park attractions in Las Vegas, Europe, and Asia. ... Today's high-end floats sport dazzling visual effects and can cost $1 million.
How a rich entrepreneur persuaded the city to let him create his own high-tech police force. ... the French Quarter Task Force, which at all hours had three armed officers zigzagging the neighborhood in matte black Polaris Rangers that resemble militarized golf carts. When Torres, who is 39, had deployed the same vehicles in his garbage business, the decimated city became cleaner than ever. ‘‘Basically, I’m handling crime the same way I did trash,’’ said Torres ... In the United States, private police officers currently outnumber their publicly funded counterparts by a ratio of roughly three to one. Whereas in past decades the distinction was often clear — the rent-a-cop vs. the real cop — today the boundary between the two has become ‘‘messy and complex,’’ according to a study last year by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Torres’s task force is best understood in this context, one where the larger merging of private and public security has resulted in an extensive retooling of the nation’s policing as a whole. As municipal budgets have stagnated or plummeted, state and local governments have taken to outsourcing police work to the private sector, resulting in changes that have gone largely unnoticed by the public they’re tasked with protecting.