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Uncomfortably Numb June 4, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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For years after the levees broke and my city flooded I raged and wept at Wet Bank Guide, naked as an Old Testament prophet in our ruined temple and praying as best I knew how for New Orleans. At some point, I felt that part of my life had reached an end. I stopped posting there, and collected some of what I thought worthwhile as Carry Me Home — A Journey Back to New Orleans. I learned to live (through my writing) not in grief or anger but in the pure joy of New Orleans.

Now I stare for hours at the oil flooding into the sea and rolling onto the coast, scroll past picture after picture of things dead and dying, a pelican black wings half-raised and bill open as if to scream, read endlessly about the simmering anger and the broken blankness of the people of our coast and the flailing of incompetent government, powerless to protect it’s people. I cannot live in anger for ever. Someone I know, a fellow blogger, died in part from anger. Now I try instead for a calm something like numbness but it’s not working; the slow drill grinds against the rotten tooth and I’m yelling Stop! Stop! It’s not enough. It’s not working.

Black Anger May 31, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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An accidental silhouette of the speaker's platform at the BP Gulf Oil Protest at Jackson Square in New Orleans Sunday, May 30.

An accidental silhouette of the speakers at the BP Gulf Oil Spill protest rally at Jackson Square Sunday, May 30 in New Orleans.

Now, go read this un-bylined summary of just how dire our situation is. I wish this story had a byline so I could find the writer and thank them for this. Instead I am left to lament that a story that should have moved in time to run in every Sunday paper in America will be lost among the Monday holiday shopping ads.

If you think the timing of this story–led by the timing of the announcement that top kill had failed–is an accident, I have some Gulf-front property in Louisiana I want to talk to you about.

UPDATE: Credit for the story, from someone at the T-P who reminds me they pull the bylines and credits off of wire stores. The linked piecewas written by Mary Foster, the AP person in La., and Ted Anthony, who wrote from New York. Included contributions from Ben Nuckols, Seth Borenstein, Matthew Brown and Melissa Nelson. Matt Brown used to work for the TP, but left for AP in Montana a couple years ago

We Are Not OK May 29, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Louisiana, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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I keep watching this over and over again. Sometimes, instead, I go look at this. And I don’t know what to say or how to say it. I will be at the demonstration.

They have moved it to the amphitheater steps across Decatur from the Square, and I know there is no way it will hold everyone. I would not recommend driving into the Quarter (for more reasons than just traffic. Try to ride your bike or take public transit), but I am fairly certain the crowd will spill into Decatur.

I have been home four years this weekend and will crib a link because I’m not in the mood to write about the holiday I now think of as Homecoming. BP is drilling in 5,000 feet because the rest of America refuses to drill in 50′ or 500′ and because we are expendable. Excuse me if I’m not feeling especially patriotic today.

I don’t know what else to say today.I am too busy worrying about the dying to bother about the dead.

Trading blood for oil May 9, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Acadian, Cajun, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“We’re all of us, all of us, stained with this blood. These wetlands were once holy, full of the bounty of God.”
— Sebastian Couteau

In Raymond “Moose” Jackson’s powerful play Loup Garou, Sebastian Couteau’s transformation into the loup garou, the Cajun version of a werewolf, is a powerful metaphor for the deal all of coastal Louisiana made with devil oil, welcoming the work and money even as it destroyed the land beneath their feet–compressing 5,000 years of geologic subsidence into a century of erosion as the marshes were slashed by exploration canals.

The offshore rigs were often seen as a bountiful addition, unnatural reefs favored by sports fishermen, and the explosion of employment allowed a people who had long lived on the margin to have some of the things they saw on their new TVs, to participate in the America scheme.

Today’s Times-Picayune offers a glimpse into the relationship of the coastal communities to the oil industry. It seems a fair enough story, given what I know of the history. Too many people have prospered by trading their time between oil work and their traditional fisheries. The anger in the coast so far has been limited to the inept and bureaucratic response of BP and their contractors, their slowness to hire the people who once led them to the in-shore oil because they didn’t have the proper HazMat training required by the government and the insurance companies (familiar villains to everyone on the Hurricane Coast).

I have to wonder how long that comity will last. Here is another story from today’s paper, the consequence of the oil’s steady drift to the west. If it will truly take two, three, maybe four months to put a relief well in place and the entire coast is poisoned with oil, when the oyster beds and shrimping and wild crawfish seasons are closed for years, then BP follows the Exxon model and fights any compensation for 20 years, will they still feel the same?

Another story from today. I think I need to take a break and go read the funnies:

“Two decades after the Exxon Valdez spilled almost 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the herring still have not come back.
Without that cornerstone species, the commercial fishing season now starts two months later, in May instead of March. Oil still wells up in the little pits dug by sea otters as they forage for clams. “

“Oil accident Gulf” brings up 6,770 Google News hits but what happened here was not an accident. It was inevitable. Just look at this map and imagine the odds. Throw in our blind devotion to corporate capitalism, where every decision must be weighed carefully against the bottom line, trusting the lawyers to protect the stockholders from their agent’s bad decisions for production over safety, and it was going to happen. When, not if.

Perhaps BP will finally get one of their emergency fixes to work, but no one has tried any of what’s being done at 5,000 feet before. We may have to wait months for the relief well while the oil slowly migrates on shore and fouls the fishing grounds that feed not just Louisiana but a quarter of the nation’s appetite for seafood. Still, this will not be the whole story, not even an act but just one small event–something Shakespeare would have left off-stage for the characters to discuss like the great battles of his histories–because it is not the main story. This is just one more nail in the coffin the United States has been building for coastal Louisiana for years.

To quote myself once again in the piece from 2006 I just reposted here last week: I recommend you take the time to read Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell or Christopher Hallowell’s Holding Back the Sea. Within this generation it will all be gone, not through an inexorable process of natural erosion–that would take another thousand years or two–but by a combination of choice greed and willful ignorance of the costs of what man has wrought.

And when the fisherman begin to realize that we are drilling in 5,000 feet because the world’s oil is playing out, that their grandchildren will have neither fishing nor oil to rely on and that the land they grew up on and around will be open water, will they still bite their tongues and hope for clean-up work? Maybe not. Man is a voracious and ambitious predator, the one species that managed to colonize every niche of the world save Antarctica. When the game and forage is gone, we pack up and move on to the next valley.

Perhaps all we will leave behind of what was once Louisiana will be the equivalent of Cherokee gift shops and the penned bison at stops along the highway in North Dakota, along with some dusty books in the library no one checks out any more. In the next Acadian diaspora will the children will have no more clear recollection of their ancestor’s lives than I have of the plantation lifestyle of a few of my own long-gone elders? I think of the two pictures that hang in my house of men who came to Louisiana from Haiti from after the slave uprising. I know their names, and at least a tiny bit of their story. My children look at their frock coats and one’s wig and call them Louis and Clark.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Beyond The Pale May 2, 2010

Posted by The Typist in NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“BP’s print and TV ad campaign, which is winding down this month, represents one of the most dazzlingly high-profile corporate P.R. efforts in recent years. Created by Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, it aspires to a conversational, almost confidential voice that suggests, You know what oil companies do to the environment, and we do, too, but honestly, we’re not like that at all. ”
The New York Times Magazine

Dead sea turtle at Waveland, MS Sunday May 2, 2010. Photo by Jenny Lindsay Bell

The Black Plague May 2, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Federal Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“We will armor the levees with their skulls”.

I wrote that once on this blog, but someone else said it first. I won’t remind you who that is, as there are people in the government who might find that statement provocative in ways that I’d rather not contemplate. It’s not like I’m some tea-bagger firing my AK-47 at Obama targets or some other acceptable American sub-culture. I am a citizen of New Orleans and a descendant of our neighbors in Acadiana, and I have learned by experience that I don’t count as a first class citizen of the country of my birth. Three-fifths, perhaps. If you think I’m exaggerating, wait until you see the response when the pristine tourist beaches are black with oil (sand much more easily replaced than an entire mash ecosystem).

I am too angry to write fresh words at length about the massive river of oil British Petroleum has let loose. Please don’t call it a “spill”. A spill is what you do to your shirt with red sauce. This is another flood–like 1927, like the one that followed the storm when the Federal levees failed below their specified load–this one of oil. They have no idea how to stop it, short of a relief well, and that will take more than a month, an oil field engineer acquaintance tells us.

We are urged to be calm. “This is not the apocalypse” say two Mississippi congressman after their helicopter overflight and briefing, one eye on the oil slick and another on the lucrative casinos that line their waterfront. Mary Landrieu, the Distinguished Senator from Big Oil takes to the floor and delivers for those campaign dollars, reminding us that we should not panic, endorsed President Obama’s view: “…when he said we want the industry to move forward [with offshore drilling]. We do not want them to retreat.”

It’s Jazz Fest but maybe I should stay in today. If I see a Hummer or an F-350 Crew Cab that has clearly carried nothing but groceries, I will be hard pressed not to run them off the road into a tree.

“We will armor the levee with their skulls.” There are probably not enough BP executives to go around. We will have to widen the pool to get enough skulls. As satisfying as that sounds, that will not save St. Bernard and east Plaquemine fisherman from a second disaster of biblical proportion in five years, or if the winds spread it west of the river.

Until then, from a time when anger seemed as natural a state as sleep and consumed almost as much time, from my retired Katrina blog Wet Bank Guide:

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Drowning in Plenty June 18, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Among the many ways we are dying here at the edge of America is the slow poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico by the farmers and lawn jockeys to the North and the subsequent loss of the seafood crop. Scientists once again gather to discuss what might be done about the flood of runoff nutrients from farms and lawns, runoff that results in massive algae blooms that kill off all the marine life in The Dead Zone.

While the result sounds like a Stephen King novel, it is not a fantasy. This year we expect 10,000 square miles to be empty of oxygen. What fish do not flee will die. According to the coastal advocacy group America’s Wetlands, Louisiana produces one-third of the nation’s seafood by dollar value, and is ranked second behind Alaska in by weight of seafood landed. In 1981, the value of those commerical fisheries was about $680 million. Sport fishing and constitute over $10 billion a year in economic activity. All of this is being taken away from us without compensation.

The simple fact is the Invisible Hand (and the men manipulating it from Washington) are perfectly happy to see prices for commodities like corn, wheat and soybeans triple over the last year or two. Much of this growth is inflated by corn-based ethanol, a blatant hoax to boost farm prices with no net reduction in energy consumption. It takes a lot of energy to grow corn and more to make it into ethanol. The end product is more expensive than gasoline and contains fewer BTUs (you burn more to go fewer miles). Then there is the problem of market speculators, deprived of their real estate gains, looking for some other way to make free money.

The end result is farmers who are flush with cash planting more acres in crops, rather than converting land into buffer zones to reduce runoff. There are no legal or economic consequences to this action, so the grain states of the mid-west grow wealthy off of the crop price boom, and our seafood industry dies from the resulting algae bloom.

If Congress doesn’t take some action, I have a simple solution. I proposed it before to force the federal government to compensate New Orleans for the damage caused by the Federal Flood. The state has the well established right to set pilotage fees. Set the fee for crop exports so high that they are no longer economically feasible. If any one suggests they would just take their crops to other ports, ask them where they plan to get the extra railroad cars necessary to move the crops that currently travel down the Mississippi by barge? Something I learned in North Dakota is there is a significant shortage of railway stock. A significant percentage of every year’s crop spoils on the ground when the grain elevators fill up because there aren’t enough cars to move the grain out.

If you would like a more reasonable suggestion: identify 10,000 square miles of potential buffer land currently in crops, and force them to take it out of production and plant and/or build buffer zones. (They can actually get paid for this when they plant marginal land in native plants because of the wildlife benefit).

When they rein in the farmers and give us our full share off shore revenue (and full compensation for the losses from the federal flood), we will let them have full use of the river again.