Friday, April 30, 2010

John Besh, chef and restaurateur, on the effects of the river of oil in the Gulf on the fishing industry:
But for years these fishermen have been discounted by the government. Allowing the rampant importation of sub-quality shrimp into our country was a huge slap in the face. And this disaster is another: we're acting so slowly when this has been brewing for 10 days. It took the press to tell the story that has politicians up in arms. But it's been 10 days!

I understand that it takes the government time to mobilize. But I was in the Marine Corps, and I know that if we need to we can strike heavily anywhere in the world in 24 hours. Why aren't we using that kind of enthusiasm and drive to protect our coastland? I don't think half the people in Washington have a clue of what's at stake. This is a fragile ecosystem that has had to survive so much already. We've had the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nearly destroy nearly a third of it by dredging various canals, and there have been the aftereffects of hurricane after hurricane.

Then there's the effect of the very powerful petroleum industry, which no one has wanted to comment on. I'm not against the oil companies—they're our biggest customers (even though I'm a little tired of hearing "BP," since last I heard it was British Petroleum). But we could very well lose this entire ecosystem down here, and it would be catastrophic for the country.

These are federal waters. It's not a natural disaster, whatever I hear people say on television. It's so frustrating. The Federal government has known about this for 10 days. It should have said, "We're going to act now," and not wait for BP to take action. This is unprecedented—not a little spill from a ship. We do want to hold these companies responsible. But first and foremost, we need to protect citizens. This is much more than about birds. It's about a culture, an economy, the livelihood of thousands and thousands of people—and wetlands that have been the most concentrated source of seafood production for our entire country.
It's no wonder the fishermen are lawyering up, and it will be even less of a surprise when seafood prices double. I look forward to seeing the film Dambala comes back with from the environmental killing fields...if I'm not still sick from just thinking about all of these goings-on.

Track the updates on Horizon Platform catastrophe through the NPR-created Twitter list.

Check Humid City for a call for 500 paid workers to help clean up the mess.

The very idea that we're taking any of this lightly is repulsive to me.

Deepwater Horizon Response site is here. Brace yourself for the Flickr slideshow.

Any other links & stuff? Leave 'em in the comments and I'll update as I get 'em.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

so which... has the better record, rig or mine? Honest question.

Honestly, I can't answer that, and I wish I was up on more of offshore oil rigs versus coal mines so that I could answer our family friend.

I agree with Clay that we don't know much at all about even the locations of our offshore wells in the Gulf, and we should. Much more emphasis is put on learning about how we obtain oil these days than on the details of keeping that first strike producing that precious black gold...wait...I say "these days"? It's always been that way. Most beginnings of something as monumental as our chief source of energy take on the gravity of your basic origin myth. If we could combine the story of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden with the first discovery of crude oil in this country, then the divinity of this enterprise would be firmly established - to the orgasmic delight of many right-wing pols - and drilling away to our government's and our energy corporations' hearts' content would be happening apace, with no regard for the effects on the environment. Bottom line, you know. We must have our gasoline. Just. Drill.

So we're drilling anyway, believe me. The Gulf of Mexico is teeming with oil platforms and rigs just like the one that blew up and capsized not far from Venice, Louisiana, injuring nearly a couple hundred people and causing eleven deaths. It's amazing that more blowouts aren't happening, that more people aren't hurt, but the industry is pretty well regulated on the production end of things (Update, 4/29: Oyster asks in the comments:
"You mean the oil industry's voluntary safety/environmental regulations?" Well, crapola. Another reason why we need to be better educated about this.) . So the oil companies have accelerated the transformation of the Louisiana coastal wetlands into Swiss cheese-y dead zones with their pipelines to the refineries from the offshore wells. Bottom line, you know. We must have our gasoline. Just. Drill.

So now, it turns out, things have gotten worse than ever as far as BP's now-kaput Horizon Platform goes. The oil hasn't been fully contained and the resulting slick is slated to reach our coast by the end of this week. The best thing anybody can come up with in terms of recovery right now is to set the slick aflame.

It's a serious problem...and the very prospect of it wasn't taken too seriously in the first place. It's one thing to have leaky foreign tankers causing this, another entirely to have a homegrown potential source out of control. More than just the lives lost and the lawyering-up survivors' futures are at stake - an already fragile coastline, its undersea life, and its wildlife are going to be oily, dying masses at our doorstep. An effort to keep our dependency on crude oil going is now going to be dealing a serious blow to the source of nearly a quarter of this country's seafood. If/when the prices of oysters, shrimp, and fish go to the moon throughout this country, blame BP.

But I worry the most about the fact that no one's come up with anything better than burning the stuff to get rid of it. Bleak jokes about it all are flying fast, to be sure, but what isn't funny at all are the many amputations the oil industry keeps performing on this state - and how they are getting away with it all. This state is too dependent on it, to the point where I hope that they'll be able to absorb the oystermen, the shrimpers, and the fishermen into their workings, or that they'll at least pay them some major reparations for their lost livelihoods.

Yes, that's how bad things are here.

WWLTV The Coast Guard is reporting that there is a new leak from the spot where the platform exploded and sank in gulf. BP says no oil leaking

And the denials go on.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I never thought I'd get anywhere near a "dayenu" moment at my synagogue's JazzFest Shabbat, a moment when there was such an embarrassment of musical and spiritual riches that I reflect back on it now and say...

If we'd had just the adult and kids' choirs singing the jazz melodies to the liturgy, it would have been great.

Adding the Panorama Jazz Band - even better.

An appearance by Sophie B. Wright School's band - raising the roof.

Having Allen Toussaint there...stratospheric.

But Toussaint's bringing up a special guest, getting some heart-in-my-throat dueling piano action on "St James Infirmary" going, then bringing him back for a grand finale of Adon Olam to the the tune of "When The Saints Go Marching In"?

Mind. Completely. Blown.

Reportedly, Paul Shaffer said it was the hippest service he'd even been to in a synagogue.

Toussaint and Shaffer can come on back anytime.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

There are a couple of toys we've fallen for in the course of my son's childhood, the first being a small duck that quacked conversationally when you squeezed its belly, but then the quacking mechanism started to die, giving way to some prolonged BLEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHs emanating from the poor thing, which we thought was hilarious. The only one still in our house that we regularly replace the batteries on is the goofy giggly hippo flashlight. Believe me, we'll squeeze the handle on that thing and giggle along with it if you ask us nicely...but Lord knows when we'll stop. You've been warned.

Today I found another one - a genus of toy that I've always thought was annoying as all hell and really did a disservice to books in general. I give you...

That green thing on the lower right corner? Push those buttons and you get some great zombie language sounds to accompany the pictures of zombies in traffic, zombies at the dog park, zombies at the coffee shop... you get the idea. Nothing like seeing a zombified version of the idiotic Thomas the Tank Engine books that have you push buttons for sounds at least three to four times in the middle of every sentence. I can make my own sounds, thanks, but it's even funnier to hear a zombie calling for its undead dog.

Sometimes, you just need the stupid.

I laughed my head off at this yesterday.

I giggled even harder at the city of New Orleans' website going kaput on the same day that the Walking Id's official portrait was revealed.

I would have had a great guffaw at this if it weren't at our expense.

Through Michael Lewis' latest, I learned that Steve Eisman, the man who was one of the few to blow a whistle on the subprime mortgage lenders' Ponzi-like accounting structure, studied the Talmud to find the mistakes in it. Ooo-kay, starting to sober up now.

I read this round-up of Maitri's and started to get bone tired. The earth is getting damn exhausted on this Earth Day, and all fundamentalists want to talk about is how immodestly dressed women might be contributing? Oh, please. Makes me want to give to this organization that Eisman contributes to, 'cause this is where the stupid burns like hell.

Consider me all giggled out. For the time being, anyhow.


My sincerest condolences at this time also to Troy Gilbert of GulfSails and to his family on the loss of his uncle in the recent explosion of an offshore drilling rig near Venice, Louisiana. May your uncle's memory be for a blessing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Of all the things for a TV show about New Orleans to get me back into, I never thought it'd be the music from an album I have some love-hate issues with...

Part of it was the side effects of being a sixteen-year-old who went out and got it 'cause she'd heard the musician's reputation was good. New Wave had passed me by, though I would hear bits of it on the radio from time to time and like it. As a kid in my early teens, I'd go digging in the spare change tin Dad kept on the kitchen counter and bike up West Bellfort to Chimney Rock and a record store that was selling bargain tapes, where I'd pick up whatever was cheap and, hopefully, all good. I'd splurged for this one, though, 'cause I'd heard a song or two from it and really enjoyed what I'd heard, but for me personally, at that time, the rest of the songs beyond those favored few were challenging and haunting all at once. To this day, bits and pieces of the songs still cling to me and pass through my brain...pads, paws, and're nobody in this town...I saw a newspaper picture...string 'im up!!!!

Would that I still had Spike in my album collection to this day, but I'm now going to have to run out and get it again, as somewhere along the way from teen years split between Houston and Pennsylvania to here in New Orleans, "the beloved entertainer" has gone AWOL. This time, however, I have some different perspectives under my belt, some rubber left on the roads I've traveled, and some other things to think about when I'm listening to what I now feel is Elvis Costello's most remarkable album.

It was the first time he'd worked with Allen Toussaint. It was the first time I'd ever heard of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who backed Costello on some of the songs and even took an instrumental turn of their own with a tune called "Stalin Malone". And it includes beautiful songs like this one:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's sitting in my front passenger seat, even now. I do my best, when I'm putting my purse and other assorted bags next to me, to try to arrange things so that the thing doesn't get ripped or crushed. It is ever-ready to go, and I know I'll have to move it someplace else if I have to get more people in the car...but for the time being, it's comforting to have this giant plastic lorakeet beside me, its wingspan stretching from the car floor to the head restraint of the passenger seat.

Yesterday, my son took it out and ran around the park for a bit with the kite trailing behind him before heading off to dig in his favorite sand pit next to the new playground equipment. It never caught a wind that made it soar behind him, and, as it was getting warm in the field, with the sun burning down over it all, he went for the shady, sandy refuge, and I decided to give it a try.

There are moments in trying to make a kite soar when you're not sure if it's really going to work. If you can't defy gravity, how can this plastic parrot do it? It doesn't even have a streaming kite tail on it. Up until the moment I decided to go at it in earnest, the lorakeet hadn't been much higher in the air than some of the youngest, skinniest trees that had just been planted in the park.

However, luck was with me as well as some solid gusts of wind way up high, well above the tallest trees in the small park in the middle of the sliver by the river. Later on, when I had to untangle the mess of string I'd made, I couldn't believe I'd gotten the parrot to go that far up in the air, but there it was. I called my son over to see and to get a handle on it if he wanted to, but he stayed in the sand, looking up in the air for a few moments at the kite that was keeping company with the other birds that hovered above the park, then digging his hands back into the dirt. There were moments when the air seemed to drop the kite as though it were throwing away some scrap of paper and it looked like the parrot would be grounded for good in a tree or near the power lines, but I stuck with it, weaving the string carefully around outstretched branches and maneuvering the kite away from the voltage up on the poles. For a half hour, I was feeling golden.

But all good things must come to an inevitable end. The wind dropped out from under the lorakeet for good, and I sat on a nearby bench and patiently followed the string out of its tangled mass to get it all perfectly rolled back up on its spindle. The whole time, the little guy's attention was on his hands finding the wetter sand beneath the dry grains on the surface and making instant rocks he could pulverize after showing me what he'd made just by clenching his fist. When we left for the car, he wanted to run again with the kite just after him, close by where he could hear its wings flapping a little in the wind he created through his own power.

It drove home to me how different our personal interests were...not to mention the proximity of our pleasures. The kite had to be fairly close by my son for him to get a thrill from the sensory experience of it, while I gloried in it from afar. But then, there we both had been, side by side, he obsessed with bits of dirt, and I with a piece of string.

And I was so glad we'd had the time for it all.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

When you start your morning off with some Naomi Klein on the radio as you're driving the kiddo to school, you know it's going to be a different sort of day.

I listened to her discussing how much the current California officials and the federal government's bailout of AIG and the banks had a hand in the situation in which Berkeley students find themselves paying even more money for the education they get and there are still layoffs of the school faculty and personnel. She kicked it off with how an emergency situation created by man-made levee failures in New Orleans helped kick off the Friedman-esque privatization of the public school system. Though it was only the first part of the lecture that was broadcast, Klein detailed how current officials, think tanks, and the decisions they all make in reaction to the emergencies they are at least partially responsible for get us all paying more just to live. What can we do in the face of all this? Tune in for part two next week, the radio said. Just my luck...

Yesterday, I checked out the open thread here and found the observation that, thus far, in David Simon's latest show, "all most of the men (characters) want to do is party and the women are the serious ones". I couldn't resist jumping into that fray, as it's been my experience that even in damn-near-everything-goes New Orleans, women have to at least have a veneer of responsibility about them. God forbid you should let your kids get sunburned at an outdoor festival here. If you don't at least have more control over your household than your man does, you ain't worth much. And, as a woman, if you are the one who goes completely insane from all the crap involved in rebuilding your life here - even though trying to rebuild around here would drive a multicolored many-eyed-and-eared alien from another galaxy insane - you're already of the "weaker sex" and your reaction simply confirms this. Hell, even Naomi Klein isn't immune - DJ Pop Tart made it a point just after the radio broadcast of complimenting Klein on her mad research skillz, and I couldn't help but think that the author and lecturer had to be extraordinary in some part because she was female.

So, atop disaster capitalism and sexism comes the NIMBY-ism: my husband was told recently that feeding the city's homeless was somehow unseemly because of the large numbers of people that were lining up to receive what was probably the only good meal most of them had all day and how the line was snaking outside of the building in which they were receiving the food. No real mention of why there were growing numbers of "those people" lined up in the first place. Complete and total ignorance of the causes of poverty and of the funding cuts to social services were the hallmarks of this call to cease and desist. You homeless people get off my lawn and out of my city!

Some days, the -isms will kill you if you let them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This past Sunday was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and nothing drove that home for me more than to see Agnieszka Holland's name in the opening credits of Treme as the director of the series' pilot episode.

You see, Holland became well-known around the world for her work as director and writer of the film Europa Europa, based on the story of Solomon Perel, who escaped the horrors of deportation and the death camps by becoming, through a series of improbable events, a member of the Hitler Youth. Although the following clip is in German with subtitles in Spanish, the basic idea behind the scene in the classroom is there: the fear that the young Solomon, hiding in plain sight, expresses throughout the lesson in the "scientifically proven" physical superiority of the Aryan race, and his sheer discomfort turning to relief in being singled out, measured, and finally declared an example of the superior Nordic ideal, "diluted" by some Baltic ancestry. Holland is masterful at showing the absurdity of this class in bigotry, making us giggle a little at how the boy's very appearance turns the pseudo-science into a big lie and enables him to live another day:

Europa Europa, as films about the Shoah go, is one of the best; it seems as though, at every turn, Perel is finding people around him who have things to hide at a terrible time in world history when, if one couldn't physically escape the war-torn countries of Europe and the Pacific, you had to fight the hells they presented in any way you could, just to survive, even if it meant becoming someone else....and I think, as far as the film's critical reception went, it helped that, although it was controversial and seemed crazy at times, it was based on a true story. Comparing Europa's reception to that of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful showed what a fine line creative people walk when making art about the awful times when, through willfulness or even the sheer banality of neglect, large numbers of the human race did (and still do) unspeakable things to each other. How dare a non-Jewish actor and director make the Shoah a backdrop for comedy?

Even after many decades, the memory of the six million executed for being Jewish and the mass killings of other peoples deemed "lesser" by the Nazis looms painfully large...just as the suffering incurred by those who survived the levee breaches here with little more than their own lives is still ever-present, a sore spot that must be treated with care on a creative level still, even though nearly five years has passed.

If anyone can bring that out in moving pictures and make it live even for the people who weren't here, it's Agnieszka Holland, and I think she took a good stab at it this past Sunday night.

I don't know if she'll be directing any more episodes of Treme. If she does, I know they'll be well worth watching.

Update, 4/15: Found this Shai Oster article concerning humor and the Shoah as seen through the eyes of the children of survivors thanks to the Utne Reader's online site:
"Fun!" Moshe Waldoks spits, imitating the accented fury of a survivor. "You're making fun of our suffering?! What do you know about vat vee vent through!" Into the silence ripped by Waldoks' scripted fury, Lisa Lipkin drops an answer: "We're not making fun of what you went through. We're making fun of what we're going through now."

...But humor does more: In every joke is the hint of the hidden horror. This is not laughter through tears, it is laughter despite tears. Humor also punctures, wounds, shocks, and reveals. If they're doing the job right, the prophet and the jester have similar roles, Waldoks says: "Both are making the comfortable uncomfortable."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yes, you're gonna see many more kids out on the streets than you'd normally see in mid-week.

No, it's not an extended spring break...It's LEAP week for a select number of students.

This is when the teachers of all public school grades tear their hair out, however, because there are those that must teach to these tests and administer them, sure, but the rest of the grades must bow to the testing situation, so arrangements must be made on the school campuses to keep the children as quiet as possible so as not to disturb the kids taking the tests. My son is leaving the school grounds - under chaperoned supervision - no less than three days this week. The school building is apparently supposed to be as silent as a graveyard. Wouldn't surprise me at this point if the schools opted to bus the kids being tested out to some of our cemeteries, except for the fact that the weather is kind of unpredictable this time of year...and the fact that the kids probably wouldn't be able to concentrate much in a city of the dead anyhow.

Having gone to private school until ninth grade, I didn't much get how important state testing was until the junior year kids in my Houston high school ran the halls after their state tests, elated that all of them had passed once again, making my high school the highest rated one in the state by the results of that test alone. I couldn't believe that anyone could get overjoyed about the results of any test, forget high school students, but these kids were in the spirit of it.

Little did I know what a harbinger of future events that was.

I've seen people het up over getting their kids on the wait list for the right schools from practically the moment their children were conceived. I've seen five-year-olds expected to do dioramas of their rooms at home for kindergarten class assignments (that's still the age when one wonders how grading is determined on such a thing - the creativity of the parents? How much the child has participated in the making of the project? I mean...). I've seen remedial summer work required for kids who made the grade during the school year but fell just short of it on the state tests.

And now there is this tyranny of quiet in which the kids not in testing sessions can't even go directly out on the school grounds to play lest the ones being tested get disturbed. If a school is lucky enough to have a park off the grounds and within walking distance, then this isn't much of a problem, but other schools must treat it like Field Trip Week - with the school year's curriculum requirements still needing to be taught.

How high are the stakes? Last year, the testing revealed that, in my son's school, the number of passing students in some of the lower grades was slightly down. This was cause for parental hysteria. Are the standards slipping? Whose teachers' heads need to roll? Are the testing conditions less than ideal? What have we gotten ourselves into???? One would have thought the sky was about to cave because a few kids didn't test well. Which happens. Much more than most people would think.

So all good public schools must endure this proving of themselves all over again, every year, because it isn't just the plotzing of the kids' moms and dads that must be taken into consideration - it's how well the school is doing overall in the state.

Note to my local library branch: brace yourselves, as you're about to be overrun by a couple of classes of 1st-3rd grade children. The rest of this city must also be on alert.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Because I really grooved on a few things watching last night's Treme over at Folse's gumbo party last night - Agnieszka Holland directing, for one - I wrote about a couple of 'em over at Back of Town.... and now I can't resist putting up John Boutte doing "Dark Water" on Galactic's new Ya-Ka-May album:

When we came home from my grandparents' after Passover this year, who at the arrivals pickup was getting all their gear in a couple of SUVs but the members of Galactic, returning from an out-of-town gig. Just one of the many ways in which we know we've come home from a trip.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Well, folks, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference is in town, and the response to its presence is also in full swing. I blogged about it a little at Humid City, skeptical that anyone would really show for the second line for health care and education on Friday evening because the French Quarter Festival was also kicking into high gear.

Turns out there were 250-300 souls who came out against Jindal's budget cuts.

I applaud these folks, and I have to give a shout out to New Orleans Indymedia reporter Matt Olson for capturing what is my favorite picture of the event:

More pictures can be seen here and here.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Pardon my lack of posting in this humble corner of the interwebs, folks. Things have snowballed some this week, and I'm in the middle of the snowball, just rolling with it. Still doing some posting at Humid City, and I'm currently blocked while conjuring up something for Back of Town. I'll muddle through.

Part of the stuff that has me spinning right 'round? I had to make a salmon chowder for my son's Native American Feast earlier today at school. Because we OD'd on loads of cable TV last week, I now have the song at the tail end of this cartoon in my head whenever I think of chowder.

Yes, I know my mind is incredibly sick and warped. Pray for me, y'all.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Every time we go to visit my relatives, we get sucked into the Cable TV Zone.

You think I'm kidding.

Sure, my son isn't going to be immune to this phenomenon. He's a kid, for goodness' sake, and he's as incapable of turning down the opportunity to watch lots of SpongeBob as the next seven-year-old...but my husband and I are grown people, capable of refraining from eating bread and any other foods with leavening in them (our personal favorite being the mustard that has no mustard seed in it) during the seven-eight days of Passover. Surely we can stay the hell away from my grandparents' hundred-plus channel boob tube.

Umm, no, we can't.

We must take in some MythBusters, first off. Even the little guy'll refrain from watching a sea sponge that lives in a pineapple for that one.

We saw a commercial that described our recent ordeal with Entergy to a tee...a little girl asks her father for a treat and he whips out a doll that looks just like him and pulls a string, after which the doll explains in Daddy's voice that he can't do anything about her request, which must be made between 9:30 AM and 4 PM Monday thru Thursday. So nice of our electric company to turn off our electricity on Good Friday and then have the gall to be closed on Saturday and Sunday. My grandpa was jumping up and down over a list of the richest people in the world that appeared in the tabloid paper he reads regularly, and we figured the CEO of Entergy was on there somewhere, skimping on customer service to fill the company's coffers.

And then, after we witnessed Bobby Flay winning a biscuit throwdown, we beheld our new favorite show on FoodTV. Nowhere else can one behold as many cooking disasters, listen to so many chefs kvetch about each other, about the curveballs thrown to them by the ingredients supplied to them with each course (one eventual winner complained about how much she hated the black-eyed peas she had to cook; another chef had never cooked crab before and had no idea what to do with it), and about the paltry amount of time allotted to cook or the tools that they brought to the show, and nowhere else - not even Iron Chef America - has as many brutally honest critics of the food served, of the people cooking it and serving it, and the cooking techniques employed (or the lack thereof). A sampling of what a chef has to go through to win $10 grand on the show:

Iron Chef seems positively too easy after all that, in a way. They only have to deal with one secret ingredient. Besides, we felt that the Iron Chef Battle Basil we saw shortly after the Chopped episodes was fixed in favor of Michael Symon anyhow. The Italian challenger wuz robbed.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Back of Town Supplemental

(...or "Oops, I did it again." Yes, I'm spreading myself not just at Humid City, but also at the blog of all things Treme. There's a passage in the Passover Haggadah discussing the possibility that the ten plagues' character may have been even nastier due to the strength in each finger of God's hand multiplying their, for those who are keeping score, I've extended four fingers thus far. Suffer, people, suffer)

On the cusp of Treme, I give you Ashley's What do you tell Americans, parts One and Two

There's a comment on part two by frequent NOLA blog and First Draft commenter joejoejoe asking why the RNC chair has never been to New Orleans...well, we are about to be inundated by Pachyderms on the Pontchartrain even without Sarah Palin's presence as a possible fundraising draw (though she will still be speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here).

Oh, how I wish this were a true April Fool's joke.

Anybody got a truckload of "I Can See Russia From The French Quarter" t-shirts ready for this weekend?