A story in the Times-Picayune tells the sad tale of the death of yet another benevolent giant live oak in Louisiana. This time, it was a revered tree in Old Mandeville, killed by the usual suspect–humans. Yet the writer and the so-called expert got it all wrong. This tree did not die a natural death, it was a slow-motion murder by pavement and development. It didn’t have to happen, and it doesn’t have to continue to happen, but it will.
We lack the common sense to be responsible stewards of our landscape. To some, this isn’t a big deal. But the fact is, we will die if we continue to fail to address our ignorance. That tree is just one of thousands of ancient oaks lost to development. In too many cases, “tree coffins,” those concrete boxes in the sidewalk or parking lot in which we expect trees to “live” are ultimately the cause of their deaths. You see it everywhere, from downtown streets to mall lots, older trees getting scraggly and dying in these small set-asides. It’s just plain stupid.
I’d love to do a documentary on this subject if anyone out there is interested in helping. It’s long overdue.
And here are the comments I posted:
It is clear that development under the canopy is what killed that tree. To have a concrete curb within mere feet of the trunk means that the root system was damaged, ripped up and smothered by paving. The number one cause of the death of urban trees is soil compaction. Older trees, that grew without interference for decades, are particularly sensitive to disturbance of their root zones. Think of a tree as a closed system where the roots recycle the fallen leaves and act like both lungs and intestines, processing nutrients, water and air in a metabolic system. Then imagine machines, shovels, people, digging, covering, and sealing this system. It often takes decades for these trees to die.
Look at the large trees in Old Metairie, surrounded by pavement. They are spindly, which means the tree is shutting down branch systems in its attempts to adjust. Trees are like submarines or ships with watertight doors that close to protect the rest of the vessel. When you see dead branches, those branches are shut down and will not become leafy again.
That tree in Old Mandeville was murdered by progress. It died a slow and public death. It did not die of old age. It died of ignorance, neglect, and by the assault of human development.
The good news is that we know better and can do better. But it is too late for many of these sentient giants in whose branches we can sense the touch of the divine. Older trees need and deserve protection and that means public policies that honor their roles in the health and wellbeing of the land that supports and nurtures us. We need to give older trees space. The top 18 inches of soil where most of the life-giving aspects of biology give rise to not only trees, but us. We need to understand that soil is alive and that trees–and humans–need healthy, loose, alive soil if we are to thrive.
Guidry is wrong. It was somebody’s fault, a very long time ago, when they failed to care about the space that tree needed, and put concrete and pavement over its roots, and began a process of starvation and strangulation that weakened it and caused it to die sooner than it should have. We killed this tree, probably generations ago, when we built the roads and sidewalks over its most sensitive space, its root systems.
But it’s not just about protection, if we are to have good public infrastructure and healthy communities to serve future generations, we need to understand that we must put the right tree, in the right place, planted at the right time. And that means a broader variety of native species, not more crape myrtles, and not live oaks planted in small spaces between sidewalks and roads and under power lines. This, too, is foolhardy.
Until we become better educated about tree biology and implement policies that protect older trees and guide future plantings, many more will die. And we lose something of ourselves every time.
And here’s a picture of a tree killed by development after Katrina, since this article needs a dead tree and I’m not going to use the T-P’s pic.
Santa made the rounds early this week, delivering the latest Bas Clas CD Love Food Sex Peace to audiences in New Orleans. The 7 song disc features five new songs and two tunes familiar to longtime fans. As with the band’s previous release Big Oak Tree, an Offbeat Magazine Top 50 CDs of 2012 and a nominee for their Best of the Beat awards as Best Rock Album, “LFSP” was recorded at the legendary Dockside Studio and engineered by Grammy-winner David Farrell. Produced by Bas Clas, David Farrell and Steve Nails, the new CD features guest musicians Eric Adcock on keyboards, Jonno Frishberg on fiddle, Roddie Romero on accordion, and Dickie Landry on sax. Backing vocalists include Leslie Smith, Mike Picou, and on the song “Goodnight,” harmony ninjas Susan Cowsill, Alexis Marceau, and Sam Craft. The CD cover art is derived from a stained glass piece by the bassist Geoff Thistlethwaite’s wife Michelle Fontenot.
The band will make the disc available to the public at a special year-end show at Chickie Wah Wah in New Orleans on Friday, December 27. We’re blessed to be able to wrap up an eventful 2013 by releasing this CD at our last live gig of the year. The CD will be available at the Louisiana Music Factory, CD Baby and on iTunes in the coming days.
My band, Bas Clas, takes the Dumaine Street stage at 6pm Saturday, May 18 at the Mid City Bayou Boogaloo for a 90 minute set. Guest musicians include Leslie Smith on vocals, and a brief but very special guest appearance by Jonno Frishberg and Kevin Aucoin. We’re warmed-up and ready to rock, so it’s going to be a good show. Louisiana Music Factory will be there selling our CD and there’s tons of food, arts, crafts and more. This is one of the city’s finest festivals, on the banks of Bayou St. John, and we hope to see lots of friends and make new ones.
The band also spent the past couple of days working with David Farrell, one of the best audio engineers in the world, on our latest batch of songs. We plan on releasing more music in October, so stay tuned!
The End of Daze are upon us. Saturday, October 27, 2012 is the official date chosen by the Enlightened Ones of the Krewe of MOMS to open to the world the chance to join them in costumed revelry as they dance in the face of doom to celebrate the End of Daze. Bas Clas is one of the triumvirate of musical mystics chosen by the priests of pleasure to sound the alarm and sing the songs that will shake the foundations of the Temples of the Prudes.
Taking the altar at the start of the night, Bas Clas will begin the sacrificial rituals with music and dance at the musical temple of The Howlin Wolf in New Orleans.
Asked whether the music can indeed turn the tide at this late hour, a not-to-be-named mystic said, “These are dark times. We shall prevail, and if this is not to be, we shall dance until the end.”
MOMS Halloween 2012, the End of Daze will soon be upon us.
It’s official. The first new recordings by Bas Clas in more than 20 years will be released on Earth Day, Sunday April 22. The 7 song CD is titled “Big Oak Tree” and features a mix of old and new songs all recorded at Dockside Studio in August 2011 with engineer David Farrell. Featuring an expanded lineup that includes Eric Adcock on keyboards, Dickie Landry on sax, and backing vocals from Leslie Smith and Mike Picou, the tunes range from crunchy rockers to a Cajun-flavored tale of life and loss (from which the title was gleaned) that features Roddie Romero on accordion, David Greely and Mitch Reed on fiddles, and Christine Balfa on triangle. The band will be performing at Festival International du Louisiane in Lafayette on Thursday, April 26 at 6pm and the following night (Fri, Apr 27) at The Wild Salmon, also in Lafayette.
When I started this blog, it was to vent my spleen about things that matter to me. Though music was the first subject, and my past work as a public servant trying to help Louisiana recognize the importance and economic impact of music spawned many posts here, I’ve almost never discussed my musical career. In fact, the only blurb about my band was back in 2008. But it’s time to change that.
I spent 15 years as a full time musician in a Lafayette, LA-based band called Bas Clas. The name is from a Cajun insult for people deemed “low class.” There’s a long story behind that and I recommend our Facebook page for the best version. This band was my full time profession from 1976-91. I lived, breathed, ate and slept that musical life. But in 1991 the stresses and struggles and the lack of money finally caught-up with us and we disbanded. I did not play my guitar for the next 9 years. My fingertips had no callouses and I cared not a bit about my “career” in the music business. And when I blundered into my job at the Louisiana Music Commission I knew I could do it without conflict.
For more than 20 years I’ve described myself as “a musician in remission,” and joked that I generally had it under control, though it flared-up now and then, and that music was no longer ruining my life. Well it’s time to sing a different song.
When I withdrew from my musical path, my eyes opened about the desperation and frustration that drives many artists to complain and be unhappy. While at the LMC, a standard line I dispensed to frustrated fellow musicians was, “Play music because you love it. If you are unhappy, quit. And don’t complain, because you’ll find little sympathy.” I still believe that. In fact, in this latest incarnation of my musical life, I live by this: “If it’s not fun I don’t want to do it.” This attitude has been occasionally met with mixed reviews by some of my friends. But I mean it.
So off I go with my band/family to explore our musical horizons. We’re going to spend 9 days playing music. And it’s going to be fun.
The Lens is reporting that the Office of the District Attorney has chosen not to press any criminal charges against the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office in the torture and killing of Cayne Miceli in January 2009. I’ve blogged extensively about this horrible crime. And I’m not surprised that professional courtesy appears to have won over justice in Orleans Parish.
There is no doubt in the minds of all who loved Cayne that she was murdered by a chain of incompetence, negligence, ignorance and insensitivity that coalesced that fateful night. She turned to the system and it failed her. Today, the totality of that failure was punctuated by the parish’s arbiter of law. It is no surprise to most of us.
Justice cannot repair this murder. Justice did not exist that night and it does not exist today for Cayne Miceli or her family. This is a bitter Christmas present from the District Attorney. But it does not absolve the staff and leadership of the institutions into which Cayne entrusted her body and which, via negligence and abusive treatment, released her soul. Those who participated in every step of this tragedy know what their roles were in this crime. Their consciences must deal with this while they live. For now, the lawsuit filed by the family is the only vehicle for extracting truth and some semblance of justice from this community.
We all share in the shame of today’s hand-washing of responsibility, for these are our elected officials. We put them in power and we pay their salaries. They betrayed our trust and our faith. But at least we are here to say that.
Cayne Miceli was murdered. And I will say that until I no longer breathe.
After 4 years of lifeless existence under the direction of Chairwoman Maggie Warwick, the Louisiana Music Commission (LMC) is finally being put out of its misery. As reported in newspapers a few weeks ago, after July 1 the LMC will disappear. The articles quoted Ms. Warwick as saying she “supports eliminating it.” That’s like quoting Nero during the burning of Rome.
I would like to congratulate Ms. Warwick for her vision and talent in destroying the state’s (and nation’s) first agency dedicated exclusively to music. And thanks also to Lynn Ourso, the ostensible “director” of the LMC for directing it right into oblivion.
Though there were 15+ people appointed to serve on the LMC over the past 4 years, evidently none of them had the ability or power to grasp the controls and pull the LMC out of the dive it entered when it was eviscerated by (convicted and jailed former film office director) Mark Smith, then relocated and de-funded during the Blanco years (with the assistance of former Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development Mike Olivier). To those members who tried, really tried to represent the best interests of musicians, I say thank you. To those who colluded with and bought-in to the tired and ineffective leadership of Ms. Warwick and Mr. Ourso–and you know who you are–I say that the proof is in the pudding. And yours turned out to be a runny, smelly failure.
Since 2006, when they finally wrested control of the remnants of the LMC that had been systematically weakened by their team, observing the Warwick-Ourso tenure was like watching an elderly nursing home patient slowly, painfully gasp for breath–for month after month after month. It was a pathetic and absurd situation. And now it’s finally over.
The coroner has declared the patient dead but did not cite the cause. I say it was starvation, deprivation, and neglect compounded by malpractice and out-of-touch stewardship. And there will be no investigations, no funeral, no accurate recapitulation or memorial. This will likely be my last blog on that subject. And for that, I’m sure some will be grateful.
I’m proud of the work Ellis Marsalis, Bernie Cyrus and I did, but we were far from alone. From 1992 to 2006 literally hundreds of people helped us achieve unprecedented levels of support for Louisiana music. Because of our work, thousands of Louisiana musicians appeared on radio and television; tens of thousands of elementary school students statewide experienced living jazz history lessons; sites were saved (though many were lost); and attention to the health and welfare of working musicians was raised to new levels not surpassed until the tragedies of the failed levees of Katrina. You can read about what we did here: LMC Summary Report 1992-2003.
The LMC is dead. And though I spent 25+ years in music, it was always with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, on reducing our impact and helping the needy. Today, that’s what I do full time. I love music. I hope to play again some day. But I have a great job and a mission to bring positive change to the way we live. I am blessed to be where I am today.
Music is vital to our quality of life in Louisiana. Perhaps one day it will benefit from dedicated resources and support equal to what we give other industries such as agriculture, petrochemicals and film. One day. But not today.
20 million barrels of oil. 20 million. That’s what the USA uses every day. And nearly 50% of that oil is being burned each day as motor fuel. As of Monday, June 7, the BP Macondo well has spewed in the vicinity of 2,000,000 barrels with no end in sight. That’s the equivalent of 10% of one day’s oil use in the US.
“That’s what we need to get through the day!” exclaimed John Hofmeister (German for “yard master” to you etymological folks) the former head of Shell on a recent Larry King Show. In prior media appearances Hofmeister promoted his oil skimming ideas, his experiences in keeping a culture of safety at Shell, and his book. On King’s show he reverted to the Company Man and showed his Chamber of Commerce side, indulging in a couple too many Gripes on Behalf of the Oil Companies. He evaded James Carville’s challenge to explain and justify the cozy relationships Big Oil cultivated with government, including regulatory agencies and personnel, which will prove to be a major factor in the chain of events.
Then came T. Boone Pickens. He was visibly stressed. But he was clear as a bell. His overriding message, “It’s not time to panic.” He emphasized that we need to focus on stopping the well and dealing with the humanitarian and environmental response. When we get ahead of these demanding issues, then we can focus on inquiries and blame. But he knows it’s bad. “This event is like a 100 Year Storm.” He emphasized a military-like focus.
Which brings us to that ugly and horrible act of humanity: War.
For nearly 10 years we, our families, friends and neighbors have been paying the ultimate cost for our military actions around the world. The United States has been at war longer than World War ll, and as of June 7, longer than in Viet Nam, our longest war. We are paying the price in lives, money, energy and resources. Yet we blithely go about our days worrying more about phony celebrities, useless trends and pop culture than we do about being at war in foreign countries. We are sacrificing so much–lives, resources, energy, money, time–and we are so spoiled by all the power we wield with our smart phones, fast cars, fast cards and fast food–that we are oblivious, like slowly cooking frogs, to our impending doom.
Whether is it our diet and diabetes, or our vapid, mobile lifestyles and growing environmental crises, we are in a massive state of denial that only a large-scale psychological and spiritual transformation effort can least-painfully change. But it appears we’re incapable of changing without very painful and tragic impetus.
Hell, if even the increasingly unnecessary maiming and death of our best and brightest in military service isn’t compelling us to act, then perhaps Nature will. Or will it?
The root cause of this situation is our demand for oil and our addiction to dirty fossil fuels. Though we built our consumer society on what appears to be “cheap” fossil fuels, the true cost has never been fully factored or equitably distributed.
For 150 years, modern civilization has depended upon exploitation, extraction, manufacturing and distribution of natural resources, usually directed from the less powerful to the more powerful.
And now this. The BP oil disaster is well on its way to being the worst singular petroleum catastrophe in world history, impacting far more than just Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
The site of the BP Deepwater Horizon and areas impacted by the catastrophe are the uterus and placenta of the Gulf Stream. And a breathtaking array of biology upon which humans on multiple continents depend is threatened. We cannot determine how long it will take to recover, even after the well is stopped. Years? Decades? In whose lifetime will these land and water ecosystems return to the diversity and volume of April 2010?
Some 30% of the USA’s seafood comes from these estuaries. But, that’s only measuring it in the USA. Many of the species most seriously affected by this spill migrate between continents. There could be shortages of fish products around the world.
But let us not lose sight of the biggest tragedy–us. This is a growing humanitarian crisis.
In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas, hundreds of thousands of jobs are threatened and tens of thousands of jobs are at a standstill or waiting to be told to stop. This means that thousands of families and households are not receiving income.
Second Harvest has been overwhelmed trying to bring food to families in Louisiana. With the assistance of Catholic Charities, the New Orleans Food & Farm Network and others, a growing number of volunteers are participating in distributing food to the hardworking, diverse patchwork of celebrated cultures of people who define the character of Louisiana to the world but who are not emotionally prepared to be dependent upon charities.
As efforts mount, words get stronger. Beth Galante calls us to action in the May 2010 Global Green newsletter, “The humanitarian crisis is the first priority – every single coastal resident has had their job destroyed or damaged for the foreseeable future, from the fishermen to the local restaurant staff to the hotel maids, and it is imperative that aggressive action ensures that they can keep food on their families’ tables, make mortgage and credit card payments, and get rapid access to comprehensive mental health care services.”
Why are these things happening? Why is this how we are going to spend the 5th Anniversary of the tragedy of the failed levees after Katrina? Fundamentally because a perfect storm of stupidity has swept this country for the past few decades. We’ve had all the information, all the warnings we needed to make changes. We are lost in consumerism. We are not saving energy. We are not taking the steps needed to reduce our impact. We are indeed living in The Age of Stupid. We are at war on two fronts, sacrificing our friends, families and economy to the mighty Oil God. And we won’t change our ways. We are ultimately at war with ourselves.
Will this event change us? There is no doubt that Louisiana is now forever changed, perhaps for generations. But will the USA change its ways and reduce our dependence upon dirty fossil fuels? 11 dead in the Gulf and 15 dead in the mines in 2010 don’t seem to matter much. More than 5000 of our finest sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to make no difference. We blithely drive, shop and waste and waste and waste. We gossip about pop “stars” ruining their lives while our own are ruined by ignorance, inactivity, bad food and the resulting obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The fact that the current generation is the first in modern times to be expected to live shorter lives than their parents doesn’t even seem to be changing people’s attitudes much. We are speeding pedal to the metal into a dead end.
So I have a request to the USA: pray. No, I’m not a religious person. But I am desperate. And in desperation, most folks suddenly find God. Besides, other than cutting your driving by at least 20% and pledging to do better, there’s not much you can do.
So, Dear America, pray. And pray hard and for a long, long time. It might not slow the oil. But at least it will slow you down.
OK, time to address a seriously Big Issue: Climate Change. I’ll try to keep this one simple.
For some reason, meteorologists have quite a few prominent deniers in their ranks. They purport to be experts because they are involved in reporting on weather. But, weather is not climate. And for TV weather “forecasters” to make claims that humans cannot and do not impact climate is a logical fallacy; because, they are not climate scientists. Meteorologists typically have a bachelors degree. Scientists, well, they not only are bound by rigid, peer-review methodologies; but, they have years of education above and beyond that of a typical TV weather personality. And research trumps opinion.
So here’s my take: Climate is to weather what the digestive system is to feces and urine. Climatologists are like medical doctors analyzing a system. Meteorologists are like commentators observing the process and predicting the arrival and general composition of an end product.
To put it crudely, when it comes to climate science, TV weather personalities barely know shit. And if it wasn’t for government investment in weather and climate resources—socialized science!—TV weather personalities wouldn’t be able to smile at us daily and make their predictions.
We live in a tiny bubble of life for which we can find no comparison in the known Universe. And on the scale of the Universe, our blue sphere is but an atom.
The biosphere is a relatively small part of Earth. The zone of life-giving atmosphere and land for humans is only a couple of miles thick. We undeniably have–and continue to–profoundly affect systems in the biosphere that normally span tens of thousands, even millions, of years. Whether it be the coastline of Louisiana; the expanding mats of plastic and petrochemical waste in the oceans; the prevalence of 20th century man-made chemical compounds in the tissues of humans, mammals and other species; or the ongoing and massive extinction of species at a rate 1000 times what should be normal–we ARE affecting Life on Earth.
Our short time in this realm of the living can be many things. The impact of one human’s brief life and work can linger for thousands of years. We see that in the wisdom and examples of religious figures, philosophers, scientists and inventors, and those who sacrificed themselves on the altar of basic human rights. If we can have such a positive impact, it is only logical to assume that we can have a long term negative impact.
We are messy and selfish creatures; but, we have the intelligence and imagination to reach the stars, and to live compassionate and productive lives. We know that many of the things we do are harmful to our future both individually and collectively. Climate scientists have clearly shown us that we must take bold steps now to reduce the chances of catastrophic harm to ourselves. This is not about saving the planet. This is about saving us.
The next time you see or hear a media weather personality dismissing the human realities of climate change, contact that media company and express your frustration. Tell them you’re tuning them out for another channel. Media companies understand that language. Vote with your voice and with the remote control.
We live in the most compassionate time in the history of the human race. We instantly communicate tragedies and elicit immediate response from an increasingly aware and generous international population. This is potentially the most transformative era in human history. But naysayers and deniers, many of whom are profiting handsomely from their contrariness, are undermining our response to this global emergency. And transformation can go either way, good or bad. We have no time to waste.
It’s the ultimate “lead, follow or get out of the way” moment. What are you going to do?
NOTE: The Age of Stupid is currently airing on Planet Green. Even if you don’t have cable, you can watch this powerful and compelling movie online. Do it today. If we don’t take immediate action to reduce our impact both individually and collectively, the next generations face catastrophic change.