Dirty South Bureau

April 28, 2006


Filed under: Other — christian @ 12:22 am

Today the weather was simply exquisite. We rose in our hangovers to a mild breeze, sixty-something weather outside, just cool enough to be refreshing. The recent rains have cleaned the streets. And, admittedly a little late, I had my first crawfish of the season.

Crawfish. As a child I caught them in streams in Oregon, much larger ones than the Louisiana crawfish, but in our northwestern cultural primitiveness we did not know about Crawfish boil, the seasonings that are added to the water they are boiled in down here, and thus we had a fraction of the experience that natives of Louisiana have daily every spring.

I cannot tell you how good they tasted. We spread newspaper on the table and my housemate and I ate them with a greedy slowness. Break the tail off, extract the meat with your teeth and a little pinch of the fingers, and then suck the juice out of the back of the oversized head.

Yes, the world has fallen apart. But we have crawfish.

Crawfish says a lot about us. Other Americans get squeamish about eating from the heads of animals. We have no such reservations about this, just as we have fewer reservations about poverty and sex. When eating crawfish there is no way to stay clean, as ones fingers always get wet with the residue. We typically eat crawfish in large groups, in semi-public places. It is a shameless and entirely un-Protestant activity, like much of our lives.

This is how Louisiana survives. Things have always been a mess here. This hurricane was bad but not as bad as the plagues that hit in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where in one bout of yellow fever ten thousand died. And the city kept going. Who else could shake the world with music played out of abandoned confederate army brass instruments? Who else could make a delicacy out of red beans?

Yes, yes, I know- City council is trying to get rid of the poor people by mandating the demolition of their homes, there are still folks in OPP who have not been charged with a crime from before the storm, we won’t have adequate levees for hurricane season, I know all that.

But… Jazz Fest starts tomorrow.

I think I finally have figured out what I like about Ray Nagin. Lately he has developed the air of a man who has been through so much shit that he is simply no longer able to take things as seriously as others think that he should, including himself. His flippancy suggests either wisdom or insanity, both of which are respected here. In that way, he is one of us.

April 26, 2006

black out in the ninth ward

Filed under: Bywater — christian @ 12:58 am

There was a small rainstorm this evening, and the power went out in the eighth and ninth wards again. This is hardly surprising- it has done this every time that it rains since last fall. So I went and drank beer by candlelight at Mimi’s, a fancy little bar on Franklin in the Marigny. We joked about how much better everyone looked, as a number of my neighbors had chosen to do the same.

I grew up in a sub-rural part of California where power outages are nothing special. We had them every winter- the big rains would cause mud slides on the steep hills, and power lines would inevitably go down. I am used to generators and candles.

But here, it is different. The greater New Orleans urban area held more than a million before Katrina hit. It has been eight months now since the storm, and you would think that Entergy, the local power company, would have its shit together enough to keep the power on in areas like my neighborhood, the Bywater, that had no significant flooding. But with no federal bailout forthcoming, Entergy is crying poor despite the large profits made by its other branches, who are protected by a clever corporate structure from having their profits used to offset losses in other divisions, including Entergy-New Orleans.

So the power goes out. And none of us complain because at least we can turn on the faucet and get water to cook, clean and bathe with, something that our neighbors a mile away in the lower 9th ward are still without eight months later.

Daily I am staggered by the failure of the US government on every level, federal state and local. But herein lies the lesson: Entergy doesn’t have to fix the power. Entergy is a corporation, and their interests are making money. If there is no competitor, they are not obliged to provide good service. And if it is too inconvenient or expensive to fix the power grid, they won’t. Entergy is a corporation and follows the rules of corporate power, which is to never spend money where you don’t have to.

The blackout of April 25th, the second or third this month, is another small reminder of not only the failure of the government but the failure of privatization. As I sit in a barstool by lighted candles, I am reminded that New Orleans is thought of as expendable. In the new global economy, we are not needed, and are only beginning to understand what that means.

Regardless, the Bywater is beautiful by moonlight. I know it is an unpopular sentiment, but there is nothing like the cold blue light that shines down in the absence of electric lights.

April 25, 2006

the mayor’s ‘race’

Filed under: New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 6:49 pm

The permutations of race in this election remind me of those pear-shaped Russian dolls that fit one inside the other, except that in this case each layer of the doll would be a different ethnicity.

Ok, so let me see if I have this right: our light-skinned black mayor who campaigned as a businessman (business being a white power structure in New Orleans) in the last election and won via the white vote is now running against a white career politician (city government being a black power structure here) who has strong support of black voters. Layer two: This is a big deal because supposedly we haven’t had a white mayor since Mitch’s father, Moon Landrieu, but that’s counting Mayor Sidney Bartholemy who was supposed to be black but is whiter than I am.

A third layer: Ray Nagin has always sided with big business and developers against poor black people. He’s screwed over the lower 9th ward time and time again, yet they showed up in droves to vote for him. Mitch Landrieu has more progressive politics, but just got the endorsement of Foreman, the most right-leaning of the three major candidates (also a businessman and white). So rich white people Uptown are going to vote for Landrieu even though he embodies policies they dislike to beat the man who dared to call this a chocolate city, and poor black people are going to vote for the man who is giving away their neighborhoods to developers and letting them languish without services because they know that they are being electorally disenfranchised again.

A fourth layer: Nagin’s ‘Chocolate City’ speech was made at the official city-sanctioned MLK day parade, which was in the business district, because Ray Nagin had chosen to abandon the traditional route which started in the Lower 9th ward.  How’s that for a symbolic gesture?  However, the march that was held in the lower 9th was organized by local vanguardist white activists and largely attended by out-of-town white activists (mostly brought in by the Common Ground collective), which annoyed both locals of all colors on the parade route and the few dozen outnumbered black people who attended.  Incidentally, city council member Cynthia Willard-Lewis showed up to make a speech and drive off like the amateur thespian that she is but Charmaine Marchand and Oliver Thomas actually walked the route.

And then there is the whole matter of our construction of race. This city has a long history of racial intermixing, but ever since Jim Crow all those people who look even vaguely African-american are deemed black. So we have Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who self-identifies as Creole, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, Marlin Gusman, and a host of other light-skinned and mixed-blood “blacks” running city government, and I call them black in my newscast because that’s the correct usage of the word and I don’t have time to explain (which would make for a weird news story).

It would be a really radical thing if we elected a dark-skinned black, someone like Reverend Tom Watson, but he has arisen from a local black power structure, churches. And because of that he scares white liberals and some white radicals, myself included. Sorry- I know as a good radical I was supposed to support the most progressive black candidate, but religion in government scares me.

I recall an argument that I had with a gentrifier in my neighborhood in January who said she didn’t care about race, she just wanted good government. And I now find myself wishing that it was that easy, that we could put race aside and focus on policy. The problem is, we can’t, and living in New Orleans reminds me how impossibly far we are from that day.

April 23, 2006

Landrieu v. Nagin

Filed under: New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 3:26 pm

The New Orleans primary election got much more interesting last night. Just when I thought that Nagin was dead in the water, he pulls off a nine-point lead in the primary. What happened?

Landrieu is still likely to win, but the odds are much closer now. You aren’t going to get thirty-eight percent of the vote without some white people voting for you, so my earlier hypothesis about Landrieu winning because Nagin doesn’t have enough white support to equal Landrieu’s biracial base is much shakier…

The real question now is what will happen to the 27% of voters (mostly white) who voted for Audubon Institute CEO Ron Foreman and republican businessman Rob Couhig. Conventional wisdom is that Nagin’s chocolate city comment froze him out of much of the ‘pro-business’ uptown white vote, but such voters are unlikely to find Landrieu, the candidate of the democratic dynasty, very appealing either. How many will sit out the election altogether?

Landrieu has more money, but Nagin has incumbency and a new groundswell of support among pissed off black voters who know that people tried to keep them out of this election. Too bad he hasn’t actually done anything for them in the past.

But hell, even I have to like Nagin. My argument goes like this: sure, Landrieu has a better platform (in a very safe, compromised, Democratic party kind of way), but they aren’t that much better, and he’s boring and sleazy (never trust a man with hair implants). Whereas Nagin is a son of a bitch, but he’s funny and somewhat insane, which more than makes up for the small gap in policy improvement. Even his ‘victory’ speech was in a self-depricating and charming in a style that Nagin has developed since the storm.

My housemate Aimee says that she voted for Nagin. She says that she likes to see us elect someone who known to be nuts, and that cussed out Bush during Katrina. Like a middle finger to the rest of the nation, just to prove that we’re still crazy.

If my well-educated, politically savvy housmates and I are not immune to the sort of leader-worship that comes out of disasters, even when we know we are being played, what does that say for those who don’t realize what is happening? It’s a humbling thought. Or is it that Nagin has developed real charisma?

Why am I even talking this much about the man? He tried to sell out the whole planning process to developer Joe Canizarro, and shipping mogul Boise Bollinger. How could I support him?

I don’t, really. I just don’t support Landrieu, either. A mayor’s race is not going to change what is fucked up about New Orleans. So we mine as well go with the amusing asshole to lead the city. It will make for more colorful news. Because if Landrieu gets elected, my job is going to be a lot more boring for the next few years.

April 19, 2006

lower 9th homeowner’s meeting, April 15th

Filed under: Lower 9th Ward — christian @ 3:05 pm

Unfortunately, I missed most of this week’s lower 9th homeowner’s meeting, but managed to get audio of it thanks to Lacy and Percy who work for LA state representative Charmaine Marchand, who runs the meetings.

This week had the Army Corps of Engineers doing yet another big glossy presentation on why we won’t have adequate protection this hurricane season (audio parts 1 and 2).

let there be sound

Filed under: Uncategorized — christian @ 3:04 pm

Ok, I’ve worked out the bugs and will now be posting audio files to this blog. If you have Quicktime or a similar program, you can listen to audio clips by clicking on the links (or download them if you do not).


the pathology of elections, part II- the third Loyola debate

Filed under: New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 2:25 am

Tonight the gloves came off at Loyola University, Uptown. The occasion was the third and final mayoral debate in the series, but the top seven candidates (four are included either out of charity or to keep the charade going) have been dragged around the city to various forums and bizarre speaking engagements the point that they are starting to get weary, and snappy, and have started making crude jabs at each other. Perhaps it is because the illusion of real contest is wearing off and the process of election by inheritance is starting to show even to those blinded by the spotlight.

Mitch Landrieu was going to be our next mayor before the ink dried on his signature at the secretary of state’s office. It’s clear- Forman doesn’t have the numbers to push him out of the runoff, and when it comes down to Nagin v. Landrieu, the white voters who supported Foreman will switch to the latter candidate. Nagin doesn’t have enough of the honky vote to win, especially after the “chocolate city” comment, which brought out all the not-so-buried racist apprehension in the privileged classes, who are back home Uptown and Algiers and voting.

And if, by some weird stroke of luck, Foreman can outdistance Nagin, the former will lose because the black vote will go to the white candidate for black New Orleans, Landrieu again. The only really interesting possibility is if Landrieu somehow loses his lead to both Nagin and Foreman, which would only happen in some instance out of a Edwin Edwards speech, like being caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl, leading to Foreman and Nagin in the runoff and a direct contest along racial lines.

But Landrieu is both too smart and too boring for that, so he’ll be our next mayor.

It was, however, an amusing spectacle. The only other black candidate present, Reverend Tom Watson, tore into Nagin, accusing him of lying and “double-mindedness”. Foreman and Landrieu argued like schoolchildren (“I didn’t say that” “You did” “I didn’t”) and everyone made fun of Peggy Wilson, the republican former City Council member who keeps talking about “welfare queens”, pimps, and a tax-free city. Picking on poor Peggy was easy and cheap but still fun to watch- she makes the rest of us look so sane and progressive.

I have long ago accepted that elections are weird American rituals that have no basis in rational behavior, but why do people like Peggy Wilson run? Are their egos that grandiose? Are they that out of touch with reality to think that they have even a smattering of a chance of winning? What does she get from it? Or the other sixteen candidates who aren’t invited to the debates and won’t even get five percent? Is this Marie Galatas’ (the corrupt preacher who Pres Kabakoff bought off to support the St. Thomas redevelopment) way of denying her own mortality? Of trying to pretend that she matters?

On one hand, I’m glad- if Peggy is spending this much of her and her friend’s time and money running, that means they can’t use them for other purposes, and thus it keeps racist nut-jobs like her busy.

Soon the smoke will clear and the illusion of democracy will have been upheld for four more years, and we can all get back to full-time on our other distractions. And we’ll miss the humor in the social pageantry that is this mayoral race.

April 17, 2006


Filed under: Labor,Media — christian @ 10:09 pm

(don’t read this Monica- you’ve already heard it enough times)

I’ve done a lot of jobs in my life.

I’ve driven cabs, built houses, moved people, managed small offices, mixed mortar for masons, done friend’s taxes, worked in a hardware store… even a couple of coffeeshops and a dorm kitchen in college. The conditions in some of these jobs were so bad that they had a permanent radicalizing effect on me. But never have I seen a worse labor situation than freelance reporting.

Here’s how it works. You pitch stories. Maybe they get taken, maybe they don’t. If they get accepted, then you scramble to meet a deadline, find sources, interview them, and do research. You send a script (or a story). You wait. Revisions come back, you work with them, and then you file the story, upload the file, wipe the sweat from your brow, and try to relax.

And then you wait to get paid. And for some reason, you repeat the process.

When do you get paid? Generally, when they feel like it.

I’m not singling out any organization that I’ve worked for, in fact I will say that FSRN pays the most regularly of any of them that I’ve experienced. I’m more talking about the norms of the industry.

I have only once or twice, in any other job, had a boss fail to pay me on time. Sure, I’ve been cheated on overtime, and I won’t tell you what some of these places paid. But normally, in any blue collar job, be it a moving company or a construction outfit, you get paid once a week, in full, no delay. If there ever were to be a delay there would be hell to pay. Carpenters, masons, cab drivers and movers get mean when they don’t get their money. They break things. Threaten people. File mechanic’s leins. Things get ugly.

But in freelance reporting, there is no such gaurantee. My bosses are thousands of miles away, immune to anything threat that I have except small claims court or that I won’t work for them anymore.

And there are far more potential freelance reporters than there are jobs.

I am not writing this to bitch. This has results. What kind of normal person can tolerate not getting paid for weeks on end?

Or, better yet, who can afford to work in unpaid internships for years on end waiting for a paying gig?

Someone already affluent, from an affluent family who supports them.

So, the rest of us had better have a steady second job, or a large savings account. But how many working people in America do? And how many years do we have to work “day” jobs to pay for our reporting habits?

The worst thing is that this is true of the “alternative” media, the “left-media” more than anywhere else.

I used to wonder why it is that the media was so out of touch with ordinary working Americans. And I shouldn’t wonder, because in the re-emerging caste system in America, only those from the upper castes, beyond being the only ones likely to be able to get an education, and the only ones from backgrounds who think of doing this sort of work as an option, are some of the only ones who can afford to do this.

America needs more working-class intellectuals. But it isn’t likely to get them any time soon, and if it does, it isn’t likely to hear much from them. Not with the structure of the knowledge industries.

April 13, 2006

the pathology of elections

Filed under: New Orleans Politics — christian @ 10:33 pm

When a disaster strikes, everything is turned upside down.  Elected officials and “experts” stand there with their pants around their ankles, not knowing anything, and unimportant people suddenly become the stars of the day, saving lives and holding together society.  Suddenly, the mayor, the president, the governor, aren’t so big anymore- they are just people, just as human and fallible and helpless as the rest of us.  Suddenly it is the kid down the street, or the guy who owns the corner grocery, or the artist who lived on St. Claude who gets vans from an auto dealership in Texas to run rescue operations who matter.

Maybe that’s what is so depressing about the upcoming mayoral election in New Orleans. Otherwise intelligent people are beginning to put their faith into leaders again, in the very Caribbean, cult-of personality political culture of this city.  Suddenly everyone is looking for a personal Jesus, a savior for the city, whether it be an gullible devotion to a man who is now casting himself as the father-figure who led us through the storm (the billboards say: “Re-unite Our City, Re-elect Our Mayor”) or Mitch Landrieu with his hair implants, his polished, privileged demeanor, and his “plan”.

From the Bywater, it is easier to look askance at the foolishness and pomp of places like Uptown, where the serious candidates spend their time, but we are hardly immune.  I’ve been ripping down Palmer signs for weeks now (Palmer is Jackie Clarkson’s hand-picked successor for City Council District C) and they just keep putting the monstrosities up everywhere I look.  As much fun as it is to tear her two foot by four foot grinning image off a warehouse wall, nails and all, I am running out of places to put them.  The one that I tore off of a wall on Dauphine street I tried to hide on top of a portable storage container, but it came down the next day.  My back yard is filling up with yard signs, and I have no idea what I will do with them after this election is over.

Russell Henderson wants me to get excited about Virginia Boulet’s campaign.  I’m having a hard time.  Even a leader as intelligent as Boulet is no match for the sharks that really run this town.  If she ever did get elected (she’s fourth or fifth place), she would immediately have to start playing ball with Joseph Cannizaro, or worse- the Uptown ladies (Women of the Storm?).  No election is going to change the caste system that this city still labors under.

Don’t get me wrong- we need someone competent to get the money from Washington that they owe us.  But ultimately, we are going to get fooled again like every other time.

April 12, 2006

cop cars on Montegut street

Filed under: Bywater,Prison-Industrial Complex,Race — christian @ 2:19 am

Today was a break from reporting but not a break from reality. Night before last my next-door neighbor was robbed at gunpoint, and tonight the police arrived- five cop cars flashing blue and red in the night. They had a suspect in the back of one car and I didn’t want to get close enough to find out who it was. I much prefer to remain invisible. I was hoping it wasn’t my neighbor, Clarence, who just got back from Houston. Not that I think that he robbed my neighbor- this is New Orleans and it doesn’t matter if you are innocent or not. Clarence is a young black man living in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

I have mixed feelings about crime here. The truth of the matter is that I am much more afraid of older gay men with small dogs than young black men. Demographics like the aforementioned older gay men are much more likely to make it so that I cannot live in whatever neighborhood I am in and thus are much more a threat to me. But I have never been mugged, so I am in no position to talk.

But this is the crux that we are in- if the neighborhood did not have crime, it would be taken over by yuppies. And the fact that the yuppies feel safe in our neighborhood is an assault on our lifestyles and identities. However insane it may be there was and is a certain attachment to the toughness and seediness that the Bywater used to have. No-one wants to get robbed or shot, but on the other hand none of us want yoga studios and dog spas either. Why is it so hard to find some middle ground?

I am reminded of what Zinn says about staying neutral on a moving train. Capitalism needs new markets, and urban renewal needs ghettoes to gentrify. And young white people like me and my friends are caught in the middle, both perpetrators and victims of gentrification.

It wasn’t Clarence- I talked to his folks. They live in a little gray shotgun across the street, one of two black families on the block. Daniel (his father) is talking about getting a big dog. He says if they try to rob him he’ll shoot the motherfuckers. Anne, his mother, sees more how much Clarence is a potential victim of the police. She says she told him to work or to move out, so that he won’t be hanging around getting into trouble. So Clarence works at Doerr furniture making fifty bucks a day cash. Some future.

Instead, the cops pulled all the young black men out of the little brick double a block down on the other side of Burgundy street. I watched them pull all of them out onto the street and felt helpless. I’m not into copwatch- for all I know they really have a reason to go in there. But I doubt it. If they’re looking for the guy who robbed my neighbor, he doesn’t live a block away, I can tell you that.

Is the Bywater coming back?

When rich people uptown say they want to keep crime down, they are saying that they don’t want poor black people to move back into town. And as much as many white radicals and liberals are in denial of it, the truth is that when the poor black people move back they bring crime with them.

This just isn’t a simple world. I can’t help it- I feel a little relieved at the mugging. Somehow the rhythm of this sort of trauma is a return to normality.

The cop cars haul off the kids. Young black men who will be traumatized in OPP and come out hard. This is what Anne wants to keep Clarence from.

America has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state, nearly half again the number of prisoners per capita than its nearest competitor, Texas.

I do the only thing that makes sense- I go out and drink.

April 10, 2006

Hello, world

Filed under: Lower 9th Ward,Media,New Orleans Politics — christian @ 3:57 pm

This is the beginning of an experiment with blogging. I am a reporter (radio, mostly) who lives in the downtown part of New Orleans (not to be confused with the Central Business District- explanation later). I file stories mostly for Free Speech Radio News, Pacifica Network and also manage content for New Orleans Indymedia as well as recording public meetings for ThinkNOLA. A big thanks to Alan Gutierrez of ThinkNOLA for setting me up with this blog.

This weekend was nuts. Lower 9th homeowners meeting, as usual, except that this time the guest speakers from the Sewerage and Water Board didn’t show up. Gee, I wonder why? Eight months and the Lower 9th still does not have potable water and thus no FEMA trailers can be hooked up. The city says that it is doing everything that it can. Money is always an issue in this city, but give me a break- we are the wealthiest country on earth. If this had happened in Connecticut power would have been back on in two weeks. The big oil companies take the oil from this area, the whole nation uses the port, and the Feds screw us. Lack of money is as usual is shorthand for lack of political will.

I digress. Also, Democracy Now! came to town. Any of you reading this can thank Mike Burke of DN! and Eric Klein of FSRN for suggesting this.

Also, the Jeremiah Group held a mayoral forum. Well, it wasn’t what I knew as a forum. It was more like, seven candidates had to sit still and listen to the agenda of the Jeremiah Group/Industrial Area Foundation Network of Katrina Survivors, and then they got fifteen seconds to answer yes or no to a list of demands (agenda items). It was great watching big politicos like Landrieu and Nagin squirming in their chairs, having to say Yes Or No and then having their decision put up on a scorecard. Interesting inversion of roles, if only temporarily. When candidates said no the large african-american man sitting behind me heckled them- “That’s right- That’s a NO for you!”.

This stuff never makes it into the news reports.

That’s really why I am starting this blog- for all the stuff that doesn’t make it into the neat little three minutes that I usually get to cram the complexity of an issue into.

Great to see Brod Bagert of the IAF at the forum, too, looking dapper as usual in a new blue suit. I hadn’t seen Brod since we fought the St. Thomas redevelopment three and a half years ago.

Oh- and today the day laborer’s run for justice came to New Orleans. Got to watch several dozen day laborers in a circle at the foot of the statue of General Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle taking part in a native american ceremony.

This is why I don’t return phone calls on time, or sleep much. When it rains, it pours, and I honestly could not make this stuff up if I tried.