Dirty South Bureau

March 2, 2011

Busting open-air costume sales is not fixing the city’s problems: an open-air letter to Mayor Landrieu and Police Chief Serpas

Filed under: culture,New Orleans Economy,New Orleans Politics — christian @ 12:52 am

Dear Mayor Landrieu, Police Chief Serpas,

I was very disappointed to read that police and/or agents from the City’s Department of Revenue have shut down an open-air costume sale in a Frenchman Street nightclub. New Orleans has many extremely serious problems. Unlicensed costume vending is not generally considered to be among them.

This occurrence is particularly distressing given the wave of extreme violent crimes which have occurred less than a mile from the club where Ms. McCree was selling costumes. The NOPD faces a serious crisis of legitimacy from its inability to keep our citizens safe. Such actions reinforce the cynical view, which many of our citizens hold, that the NOPD does little more than revenue collection.

It feels odd to remind both of you that our city is known for its laissez-faire lifestyle and culture. The use of commercial spaces for multiple uses is important for our rich cultural life. It is also clear that “special event” permit fees are too high for many independent businesspersons like Ms. McCree to afford, and represent repression of small businesses. Small entrepreneurs are not likely to obtain expensive, obscure licenses for simple events, and killing cultural events like costume sales does not build the cultural economy upon which our city depends economically.

It is also odd that the City of New Orleans is hassling Ms. McCree, whose fashion innovations via “Righteous Fur” have earned the city rare good press in New York City and other locations, instead of the usual stories of, among other things, being the murder capital of the nation. You would think that the City of New Orleans would recognize that Ms. McCree is a cultural ambassador of the creativity of our citizens, and a treasure.

I encourage both of you to get your priorities straight, to deal with the real criminals and to leave artists and impromptu events on Frenchman Street alone.


Christian Roselund

May 13, 2010

Notes on a Disaster, part 2

Filed under: culture,environment,New Orleans Economy,Southern Louisiana,The Feds — christian @ 1:11 pm

Readers will pardon the delay in delivering part 2 of Notes on a Disaster. Ten days is a long time in many disasters; however in this one it isn’t. Not only does oil continue to gush, unchecked, from the ocean floor, but we are going to be living with this spill for a long, long time.

Before I get into the meat of this post, what have we learned in the last few weeks?

1.BP could find out better estimates of how much oil is leaking, but either won’t or won’t share what they do know – courtesy of NPR.

2.The air quality in Plaquemines Parish is f***ed – courtesy of chemist Wilma Subra and Louisiana Environmental Action Network. The amounts of hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds are hundreds of times the levels for physical reactions.

3.While offshore drilling carries significant inherent risks, BP fucked up really bad on this one, and the lack of regulation is finally being noticed by the media. Which goes to my point in part 1 about thirty years of dismantling health, environmental and safety regulations, led by the Republican Party, unchecked by weak institutions of organized labor. Failures of batteries, blowout preventer, Ongoing failures of regulation.

4.Containment will be harder than we hoped.

5.No one wants to tell us what the oil dispersants will do to our health (courtesy of LEAN).


Louisiana, Oil and the Spectacle

Oil is far from the only industry in South Louisiana. Very significantly, we have an enormous tourist industry; when conventions are included this is estimated to be about $5 billion in the city of New Orleans alone. And while much of the tourism hinges around the reputation of the City of New Orleans as a place of wildness and decadence, the culture of the region – largely the music and the food – are perhaps more important. In the rural areas, food and music absolutely are the draws.

However, as Gulf Restoration Network often points out with their No Coast No Music festival and advertisements, the music is a product of the land of South Louisiana. If this is true of music, it is moreso true of food.

The oil industry burrows itself into the cultural economy, to assure that when these contradictions do emerge, they are insulated. The largest example is Shell Oil’s sponsorship of Jazz Fest, New Orleans’ second largest tourist draw (after Mardi Gras) and a PR extravaganza for Shell. Shell has used their sponsorship of this festival in the past to try and muzzle musicians like Dr. John, who has been outspoken about the way that the oil industry has ruined the coast. Gulf Restoration Network has also used the festival as a public education opportunity, flying planes with banners over the festival asking Shell to “Hear the music – fix the coast you broke”.

There is also the function of keeping the spectacle going as a way to prop up the city’s economy and a distraction from the very serious realities of life in South Louisiana. Everybody likes music and food, and we are masterful down here at living Le Bon Temps while the world sinks around us.

Jazz Fest is not the only place the Oil Industry inserts itself into the cultural landscape. Every September, the city of Morgan City, in the heart of Bayou Country near the mouth of the Atchafalaya River holds the (yes, this is real) Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. It will be interesting to see how well attended that festival is this year.

But perhaps the most cynical move by the oil industry is creation of the America’s Wetlands organization; a faux-grassroots effort by big oil to pressure the federal government to put money into fixing South Louisiana’s wetlands so that they won’t have to. Tragically, since locals have organized few other mechanisms to address these needs and America’s Wetlands is so well funded, many locals in South Louisiana will half-heartedly support the effort – even though they know it is a sham.


Our addiction to fossil fuels: policy

When faced with a disaster of this scale, people want quick answers. But America didn’t get into this addiction easily and even under the best case scenarios we won’t get out of it easily. We can’t just stop offshore oil drilling – we have to reduce our use of petroleum, otherwise that oil will have to come from somewhere. The best moves we can make to change this dependence will take decades.

It was a series of policy moves over decades at the national level that created this monster. Where shall we start? Autmobilies were emerging on their own as a popular product in the early 20th century, but there were a few steps along the way where they got a little help in taking over our landscape.

How about the Great American Streetcar Scandal where Standard Oil, Mac Truck, Firestone Tires and other companies got together to buy up the mass transit in 45 cities, so they could destroy them?1

Better yet, the building of the interstate highway system in the 1950′s and 1960′s – the creation of the world’s most aggressive automobile and truck infrastructure paid for with our tax money.

Let’s not forget the building of the roads system in our national forests, which subsidized big timber and left us with more miles of publicly constructed roadways than the insterstate highway system.

It is ironic that the “free-market” right supports the oil and nuclear industries, pretending that they came to dominance by the rule of the market, when in fact they were greatly assisted by specific policy decisions. Big government intervened heavily to create a dependence upon the automobile and fossil fuels. In making these arguments “free-market” ideologues are denying the historical reality that got us here.


Policy, Energy and Infrastructure

The policy decisions that we are making today are likewise crucial, and it is here that the Left has an important role.

Marxist-Leninist regimes are not known for progressive environmental policies (with the significant exception of post-1991 Cuba); however the Social-Democratic Left has been a world leader. When looking at the rise of the solar industry, many are quick to forget the policy that started in Denmark and Germany and has been replicated across Europe, the feed-in tariff, was passed in both countries by coalitions of Greens and Socialists. Because of the feed-in tariff not only has Europe installed 80% of solar panels used globally (not to mention dozens of offshore wind parks and other renewable development), but they have essentially created a booming global industry.

Likewise, the battles in the United States over policies that move us away from fossil fuel dependencies have been in recent years a battle between the left and the right of the extremely narrow American political spectrum. Spurred on by a large if problematic environmental movement, the Democrats in congress under Obama’s leadership have passed policies that are extremely important first steps for moving away from this dependency.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “stimulus package”) in particular has supplied funding for both passenger rail and renewable energy development. And while much more is needed for the kind of wholesale changes in our mode of life, these moves have been groundbreaking. Let’s not forget that in doing so, Obama was influenced strongly by a former self-described communist – Van Jones. Again the left has led, but this time, it has found institutional support in Obama’s administration.

Likewsie, the Republican Party and the “Blue Dog” Democrats – like Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu – have blocked significant progress on policies that would move us away from this dependency. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal even rejected stimulus money intended for passenger rail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Republican and “moderate” Democratic politicians, elected by voters nationwide including in Louisiana, are keeping this addiction going.

However, it is a national addiction and most of the oil that is coming out of Louisiana is not going to Baton Rouge or Lafayette – it is going all over the nation, including to cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts, Madison, Wisconsin, Boulder, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, full of smug progressives and liberals, who, even if they don’t drive, live the rest of their lives on our petroleum infrastructure. Louisiana has a tragic relationship to the oil industry that in many ways is like an abused spouse. But it is extremely important not to blame the victims here.

The world is already moving in this direction. But we won’t get there by alienating poor and working people, or by blaming the victims. Some of the solutions, like a move to biomass from agriculture and forestry wastes for a portion of electricity production, will upset environmental fundamentalists but will be extremely important for the Deep South.

Van Jones has set an excellent example in his call for Green Jobs. There is a way to move away from fossil fuels and create a more broadly prosperous society. It is time for Louisiana to become a leader again, like we were in the 1930′s.

March 7, 2010

Nutriapalooza II

Filed under: culture,environment,Southern Louisiana,We Are Not OK — christian @ 3:57 pm

There are those nights when you say to yourself – this is why I live in the greatest city on earth, New Orleans. For the record, I felt this sentiment in fully sobriety, as has been my less-than-ideal state for all two weeks and five days of Lent.

Nutriapalooza is one of those events that could only happen in this city. Billed as a fashion show, it was actually simultaneously a fashion show, an environmental education event and a cultural celebration of South Louisiana and our city of beautiful freaks. Saturday night was Nutriapalooza II (I missed the first one, which I have heard was also great).

Where to begin? The tattooed models on the runway in Audrey Hepburn-esque fur outfits made from our favourite invasive species? The outrageous rock and roll auction of nutria fur? The beautiful work that went into turning rodents into fashion?

Again, only here. Before I go further, let me explain for those of you unfamiliar with what they called on Broad Street “nutria rats” that the nutria is a member of the muskrat family that was imported into Louisiana in the early 20th century to be raised for its fur. Nutria got loose, bred like, well, rodents, and have been helping the oil industry sink out wetlands into the Gulf of Mexico for over 50 years. So we have to get rid of them, one way or another. Which means killing them off. It’s them or us.

Also, they happen to have really fine fur.

The show was sold out, and my friend and I got the last two tickets for standing room only. It started fairly slowly, with a presentation by the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) and its charismatic “invasive species” guy, Michael, who was frequently interrupted by questions from a rowdy audience that wanted to know, among other things, why nutrias had such poor dental hygiene. (They don’t. Their teeth are naturally yellow-orange.)

There was also a discussion of nutria as cuisine, an idea that State of Louisiana officials have, in the past, devoted millions to. This was not particularly successful. And while I strongly believe not wasting the flesh of dead animals, my own experience with nutria, as have been documented on this blog, were not pleasant. I think it could work out roasted with a honey glaze, but for God’s sake, DO NOT STEW. It is not a good idea to stew any particularly gamy meat, and especially NOT NUTRIA. Maybe I hadn’t cleaned it properly, but I ended up with a broth that was really only suitable for chemical warfare. Also, I will note that the hindquarters were much gamier than the rest.

There was also a presentation by Mr. Pitre, the last nutria furrier in Louisiana and the man who supplied the rodent furs for the fashion show. This was a rare moment – in a freak venue on St. Claude, to have a second-generation furrier from rural South Louisiana explaining his family business and the fluctuations in the price of nutria pelts to a fascinated audience.

Finally, after a few more shows including the inadequately-miked but charming Jurassic Parish Folk Ensemble and their song about five dollars a pelt, the models came on.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I’ve never really been able to understand why scantily clad tattooed women in fur bikinis do it for me. Maybe it was growing up reading too many Savage Sword of Conan comics, but this was hot.

The designs were not only beautiful but daring and broad in scope. We saw and entire gamut from Red Sonjaesque and Native American-inspired designs (where did the gutterpunks get the idea to all dress like late-19th century Native American train robbers, anyway?) all the way to 1940′s and 1860′s styles, and a hauntingly beautiful homage at the end of the show to recently deceased fashion designer Alexander McQueen. There were even nutria designs for men, but unfortunately few of these items were on sale at the auction later.

John C. Calhoun was one kick-ass auctioneer, regularly performing multiple kicks in the air and stage dives, backed by the newly-formed Invasive Species, which is actually they guy who works as a notary public on Prytania on guitar, and Helen the cellist on drums.

But what’s amazing about all of this is that this was an environmental awareness event, and worked as such. It was also a tiny bridge between the urban-rural divide in South Louisiana, where rural residents often show contempt, financial jealousy (“they get all the federal money and we have to make do on our own”) and fear of our city, and people in New Orleans forget that rural Louisiana even exists. Which is not in our best interests, if for no other reason than we need the wetlands for this city to survive. More and more people here are getting it, which can be the basis for a political movement which will be necessary (and which may not be enough) for South Louisiana to survive this century.

Every student of environmental communications should study the Righteous Fur movement. This truly was making environmental issues sexy. In our own weird and beautiful way.

Thanks to Cree McCree and Righteous Fur, Micheal and BTNEP, John Calhoun, Helen Gillet, Notary Guitarist/MC Guy, Mr. Pitre the furrier, all the designers and models (especially the Rat King) and everyone else for a superb event.

Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program

Righteous Fur

February 2, 2010

Who ***?

Filed under: culture,Media,Other — christian @ 8:49 am

As many of you know, I do not usually write about professional sports.

I like a good football game as much as anybody. I have a little more difficulty getting attached to any particular pro football team, because of a disconnect between where the team is based and where the players are from. They seem a little like mercenaries to me. Now give me an LSU game, and that to me is more interesting.

But this whole issue with NFL claiming to own the phrase “Who dat?” is another matter. Obviously I believe in intellectual property rights – I’m a writer. We need IPR to make our money. I’m a big fan of the copyright office, because it means if a publisher screws me on a major work, I can sue.

But I think we should all use this is a time to step back and take a look at our society when the NFL claims to own a fan phrase that is almost the city slogan.

This may not mean much in practical terms for most of us on the street. I mean, I can yell “Who dat?” all night long (and likely will on Feb. 6), and the NOPD ain’t going to lock me up.

Obviously it means something for t-shirt makers and maybe even radio professionals. But just a god-damned minute here? Who the hell do the swine behind the NFL think they are? Are they not making enough money off of our obsession here?

No, clearly not. Not enough for them, anyway.

I look at this instance in light of the recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited campaign finance contributions by corporations. No, they are not happy with what they have. They want more. And that means they want it from you and me, because we, as working people, are what makes profit possible.

The details may be very complicated, but that is the bottom line. The people running the corporations, whether it is Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart, or the NFL, want more.

Well, f*** them. WHO DAT?

December 20, 2009

What is wild?

Filed under: Class,culture,environment,Southern Louisiana,We Are Not OK — christian @ 10:13 pm

Exciting news for Dirty South Bureau: tomorrow I am going to an interview on a short film that flimmaker Ed Holub and I produced on the impacts of hurricanes and loss of wetlands on communities in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes. It’s thrilling to know that our short, the Human Cost, will be shown along with the other winners of Gulf Restoration Network’s Defend Our Wetlands, Defend Ourselves film contest on local television courtesy of Timecode NOLA. When Ed and I shot the footage and the interviews we knew we were on to a big story, but didn’t figure that we would make local TV.

For those of you who weren’t aware of this, Southern Louisiana is experiencing an environmental catastrophe unparalleled in our nation. We are literally losing the land in our coastal parishes, as the wetlands and marsh slip away into the Gulf of Mexico. Why this isn’t a bigger national story says a lot about the warped priorities of our media, but also about our own ideas about what the “environment”, “nature” and “wild” mean.

Part of the film focuses on the struggle of the Point-aux-Chenes people, a native people living in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes, to survive. The Point-Aux-Chenes and other native groups in South Louisiana are not recognized by the federal government. Like the native Americans in Southeast Alaska, natives in South Louisiana waged no wars against the United States and were never put on reservations. The old folks speak French and they live next door to Cajun and other bayou communities, with a history of intermixing that appears to predate the purchase of the land by President Jefferson in 1803. With their French language, their diesel powered shrimping boats, and their assimilated way of life – not much different than their neighbors – they are about as far from the American cigar store, feather headdress image of Native Americans as you could get.

But is it European culture that assimilated these indigenous people, or the other way around? In many practical respects, if you forget about the diesel fuel and modern wooden houses, the way of life for those living off the bounty of the sea and the land is not fundamentally different.

The natives of South Louisiana challenge our post-Rousseau Western notions of what is “wild”. In the “untamed” West of the United States, we set aside huge areas of land as “natural” preserves, to protect some pristine notion of wilderness from our own impacts. After, of course, we removed the people who lived there. In this dichotomy of “wild” vs. “civilized”, the space for contemporary indigenous people is in a museum or on a reservation.

By these notions the land of South Louisiana is hardly “pristine”; but does that make it any less worth saving? What about the people who live there: Native American, Cajun and just folks who live down the bayou?

Much of the failure of modern environmentalism has been rooted in false dichotomies – nature vs. people, trees vs. jobs – which the large corporations who perpetrate environmental crimes, be they Shell or International Paper – are more than happy to perpetuate. But environmentalists are part of the problem. When environmentalist and their organizations – and the big national ones have been among the worst – speak the language of yuppie environmentalism, where the environment is something on the outside, separate from us, that needs to be “saved” (at times by removing people), the seeds of these conflicts are sown.

The truth is that we are dependent upon our environment, and the most pressing reason to be concerned about environmental issues is that they affect us, our health, and our ability to survive. We are the ones that need saving. Nowhere is this as clear as South Louisiana, which is ground zero for environmental issues.

A big thank you to Chuck Verdin, Nathalie Bergeron, Robert Bergeron, Marylee Orr, Paul Orr, Aaron Viles and everyone who made this possible. The Human Cost can be seen on YouTube.

October 25, 2009

Disorganized rant about the 6t’9 parade, culture, etc.

Filed under: culture,sexuality — christian @ 11:24 am

It is hard not to be in love with everything here when the weather is so damned pleasant. Mornings in the 60′s, even the crusties look good smoking cigarettes in front of Rue De La Course. It’s been miserable here for so long I can’t even count. The last few weeks are the first respite from 90′s weather for something like five god-awful months, where the only break is lying in bed with the AC on, wondering how bad Entergy is going to screw you for your little oases of comfort.

Last night the season of the Good Times officially began again with the march of the 6t’9 Social Aid and Pleasure Club Hola-ween Parade, which I was honored to join. It was a Latino-themed parade, even Krewe De Jieux had Mariaschewitz going on. The club had the only mariachi band in town; rumor has it that 6t’9 paid a fortune for the honor. Is this an unofficial welcoming of the expanded Latino presence in New Orleans? An admittance that now Hondurans are the second largest ethnic minority after white Americans?

6t’9 is stepping it up in terms of artistry, and I’m not just saying that because I am a new member. The giant Day of the Dead-style skull was visually impressive, and I personally liked the figures of loteria (simple, good idea well executed). Krewe De Zoo had excellent costumes. Top float had to go to Miss Claudia for her as the Virgin of Guadalupe, but the gutter punk with a bicycle coffin that he drove from inside (This is where the engineering talent goes in this city, and clearly the Army Corps of Engineers needs to step up its recruitment) topped everyone by bringing his pet rooster as a prop.

Pardon me for devolving here into another rant on the superiority of New Orleans culture, but why oh why must the rest of America be so boring? When will we get over being Protestants? If we can’t be a humane nation, at least we should be able to enjoy being still the wealthiest nation on earth, and to do this with a little more style than American Idol and Project Runway.

Of course, many of us have a weakness for the ponies. Hardly a new idea; but I remain fascinated that 6t’9 is able to pull off a kid-friendly Halloween parade with this level of sexuality, including a distinctly S & M themed sub-krewe. The sight of six buxom women in black leather and corsets with bridles and tails pulling a cart down the middle of a major intersection just isn’t something I get to see in other American cities. Frankly, it’s hot. And the kids (at least the small ones) appear none the wiser.

Don’t get me wrong – San Francisco has the Folsom Street Fair, a leather street parade, as well as various festivities around the Castro, but these are different in that first they really are for only a part of the community (why do the fags get to have more fun than the rest of us?) and second that the level of subtlety just isn’t there. I could speculate about the legacy of legal prostitution from the Victorian era or the still-vibrant strip club business, but I honestly don’t know how New Orleans seems to find ways to mix sexy with cute so well, to so successfully doll it up in a way that is less blatant and more about the allure than anything.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank LJ, Renee, Rebecca and the other Orleanian Ashkenaz for allowing me, a goy, to march with Krewe de Jieux. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Jieuxs, I mean, getting to throw a gold painted bagel is the ultimate one-up on Zulu (whose practice of throwing painted coconuts has become its own cult). Of course, they did need a gentile to push the float, as it was Shabbas. Or so they say. Shalom, y’all.