Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Good People Go to Hell: An interview with filmmaker Holly Hardman

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 11:32 PM


Holly Hardman's new documentary film Good People Go to Hell, Saved People Go to Heaven takes as its subject the everyday lives of Louisianans coping with the impending end of the world. Without commentary or an obvious agenda, Hardman gives us blue-collar, mostly white, mostly West- and North-Louisiana folks trying to rebuild their own lives between disasters (Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Isaac) while spreading the word of an impending, scripturally guaranteed mega-disaster that only the souls of the saved can survive.

The overall approach is impressionistic, a pastiche of moments and interactions. With the exception of a few glimpses of megachurch executives, the people in this movie don't have money or power. They're fighting to keep their families housed and their marriages from collapsing, struggling to overcome very familiar varieties of post-flood depression and chemical dependency.

Making someone the subject of a documentary inherently exoticizes him or her. Hardman's film is refreshingly free of classism or Yankee snobbery; her subjects come across on their own terms, and besides a few doctrinal quirks — believing almost every human ever born deserves eternal torture at the hands of a sadistically deranged demiurge — they seem sympathetic and likable.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Endangered crocs hatched at Audubon Zoo

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 3:43 PM

  • Courtesy Audubon Zoo

Two brown false gharials, endangered freshwater reptiles that look similar to crocodiles, have been born at the Audubon Zoo Reptile Encounter — marking the first time the species has been bred in captivity in America in five years. It’s the first false gharial births at Audubon Zoo, although the species has lived at the zoo since the 1980s.

The zoo’s staff says the gharials, part of the crocodilian group that also includes alligators, crocodiles and caimans, hatched several weeks ago and are only a few inches long. The zoo announced the births Wednesday. 

Gharials are native to southeast Asia and typically inhabit freshwater swamps with lots of vegetation, as well as lakes and rivers. They have a narrower snout than a crocodile and consume a varied diet, including fish, small animals, insects and crustaceans. Unlike crocodiles and alligators, gharials slide on their bellies on land instead of raising up their bodies to walk.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has placed false gharials on its Red List of Threatened Species (version 3.1) and attributes much of the population decline to habitat destruction. It estimates there are fewer than 2,500 mature adult gharials in the world, with most living along tributaries of the Ganges River.

Adult gharials average 350 to 400 pounds, with males growing from 13 to 19.7 feet long and weighing as much as 1,500 pounds, according to the San Diego Zoo website. Females tend to be shorter, averaging 11 to 13 feet long.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

UPDATE: Two oil companies and levee board settle for $50,000

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 9:06 PM

Shell Beach, as seen from the air. - CREATIVE COMMONS/RAY DEVLIN
  • Shell Beach, as seen from the air.

Two privately held Texas oil companies that were among nearly 90 defendants named in the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s (SLFPA-E) landmark environmental lawsuit have settled with the flood authority for a combined total of $50,000 in damages, according to documents filed in federal court and statements by the attorneys involved.

The terms of the settlement were announced a few hours after attorneys for SLFPA-E, White Oak Operating Co., L.L.C. and Chroma Operating, Inc. filed a “Joint Motion for Order of Dismissal With Prejudice” in federal court on Thursday. Parties typically file joint motions to dismiss when they have reached an out-of-court settlement. Because the SLFPA-E is a public entity, the terms of the settlement had to be made public.

While the dollar amount of the settlement seems small at first glance, the fact that two oil companies have agreed to pay damages for increased public exposure to hurricane-related flooding due to their operations in coastal wetlands is huge, even if they don't expressly admit responsibility. The settlement marks the first time an admission of this kind, along with payment of damages, has ever been made by energy companies.

White Oak and Chroma, a pair of related companies based in Houston, are among the smallest operators in the area that is the subject of the lawsuit. Their operations were limited to less than 100 linear feet of a single spoil bank, among nearly 700 miles of pipeline and access canals that are the subject of the litigation, and they operated there for only two years, according to documents attached to the original lawsuit. That makes them among the smallest players involved in the suit, not only financially but also in terms of actual damages caused by their activities.

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Two energy companies settle with levee board

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 2:15 PM

An egret flies through the Louisiana marsh at Cypremort Point State Park. - CREATIVE COMMONS/PAMELA SCHRECKENGOST
  • An egret flies through the Louisiana marsh at Cypremort Point State Park.

Two energy companies that were among 97 defendants named in the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s (SLFPA-E) landmark environmental lawsuit have settled with the flood authority, according to documents filed in federal court. Terms of the settlement were not immediately disclosed, but they will be disclosed soon, according to one attorney on the case. (This story previously stated, erroneously, that a confidentiality provision applied.)

Attorneys for the levee authority and for the two settling defendants filed a “Joint Motion for Order of Dismissal With Prejudice,” which parties typically file when they have reached an out-of-court settlement.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The tide has turned: time for Big Oil to settle

Posted By on Fri, Oct 10, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Only a few weeks ago, supporters of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s (SLFPA-E) environmental lawsuit against 97 energy companies were mired in despair. Gov. Bobby Jindal and SLFPA-E nominating committee chair Jay Lapeyre were poised to tip the balance on the authority’s board against the lawsuit and kill it.

Then, to the surprise of many — and over the objections of Jindal and Lapeyre — the nominating committee up and did the right thing by re-nominating coastal scientist Paul Kemp for another term on the board. Kemp supports the lawsuit, and his reappointment preserves a 5-4 majority on the board in favor of the suit. For now.

That was just the beginning of an amazing turn of events against Big Oil.

On Monday, Oct. 6, state District Court Judge Janice Clark of Baton Rouge ruled that Act 544 of 2014 (filed as Senate Bill 469) does not apply to the SLFPA-E lawsuit. SB 469 was specifically (though not very artfully) crafted to kill the lawsuit retroactively. The suit is currently pending in federal court in New Orleans.

SB 469 was literally thrown together overnight when the original anti-lawsuit bill was poised to die in a Senate committee. Through a ham-fisted bit of legislative legerdemain, lawsuit opponents hijacked a bill in a friendlier committee, completely gutted and rewrote it, and then passed it with relatively little opportunity for debate — and, Judge Clark ruled, other fatal defects.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

New York Times on "the most ambitious environmental lawsuit ever"

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 2:39 PM

  • John Barry.
In this week's New York Times Magazine, Nathaniel Rich explores Louisiana's march into the sea, and "the most ambitious environmental lawsuit ever" filed by "the most unlikely of antagonists," John Barry. Barry — Gambit's 2013 New Orleanian of the Year and the 2014 King of Krewe du Vieux — is an expert on flood control policy and formerly sat on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) board. He led the lawsuit in question against 97 oil and gas companies to hold them accountable for their role in the pipeline-scarred coastal land loss over the last century.

Rich pitches Louisiana's coastal land loss in a way the magazine's namesake might take notice.
Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. New Yorkers would notice this kind of land loss. The world would notice this kind of land loss. But the hemorrhaging of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has gone largely unremarked upon beyond state borders
Following the suit, Barry was not nominated for another term on the board, and Gov. Bobby Jindal led legislation to kill the lawsuit. Jindal declined comment on the New York Times story. Barry — as Clancy DuBos had predicted — spoke freely with Rich about the genesis of the lawsuit during his time on the board and Jindal's plan to ensure the lawsuit's (and Barry's) failure:
During [the 2014 Louisiana Legislative session], about 70 lobbyists from the oil and gas industry were in the legislative chambers. They worked in concert with the governor’s staff to secure support for a bill that would void the lawsuit. “They turned on the fire hose,” one veteran energy lobbyist said. “It was the best organized effort I have ever seen,” another said.
Rich also asked state Sen. Robert Adley, a longtime oil and gas employee who opposed the lawsuit, whether his position was a conflict of interest, and Adley put that on his voters: "They know what industry I’m in. They choose to send me there." He later added that the lawsuit and Barry's fight are merely for Barry's upcoming book.

Rich also wrote about Louisiana's disappearing self for The New Republic published earlier this week.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

(Park)ing Day offers New Orleans a glimpse into a responsible, urban future

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 at 1:47 PM

The design that RIDE, Bike Easy and RUBARB will actualize on (Park)ing Day NOLA, Oct. 4. - RIDE NEW ORLEANS
  • RIDE New Orleans
  • The design that RIDE, Bike Easy and RUBARB will actualize on (Park)ing Day NOLA, Oct. 4.

(Park)ing Day NOLA
is an entire day in New Orleans dedicated to squinting your eyes and seeing what the city's streets could be, with the help of local artists, designers and ordinary Joes. The city joins the international event Oct. 4 on Julia Street by transforming metered parking spots into temporary mini parks. 

(Park)ing day will coincide with Arts for Arts' Sake to activate public spaces and advocate for our shared, urban environment. With the help of the Downtown Development District, the Tulane City Center and the New Orleans Arts District, a selection committee chose designs for seven by 20 feet and seven by 40 feet parking spots and granted artists and community members $1,000 to actualize their proposed designs. 

RIDE New Orleans teamed up with Bike Easy and RUBARB, and over the next two weekends the trifecta is looking for volunteers to help with its design, the Swing and Saddle Shop, a creative resting spot for commuters of all kinds. The design also includes a "peep show" to reveal the future of New Orleans streets. If you're interested in lending your building, painting, welding and other artistic or heavy-lifting-type talents, click here to sign up to help build. They also need people to staff the site on (Park)ing Day itself, and to help facilitate an art lesson for young people.

Here are some images from past (Park)ing Day NOLA projects. 

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Friday, September 19, 2014

A messy process

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 11:56 AM

When Louisiana voters overwhelmingly supported a 2006 constitutional amendment intended to depoliticize area levee boards, they had in mind something very different than what’s been going on lately with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) nominating process.

Under the old regime, area state senators nominated their political pals for levee board seats, and board members did not have to meet any professional standards. The 2006 amendment regionalized levee boards in southeast Louisiana and required most board members to have specific professional qualifications.

Prospective board members also must be vetted now by a “blue ribbon” nominating committee of business, civic, academic and professional leaders. Nominating committee members are presumed to be above politics.

Apparently they were only kidding about that part.

Ever since SLFPA-E members voted unanimously in July 2013 to sue 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for destroying coastal wetlands and increasing the risk of flooding, the so-called “independent” nominating committee has been steeped in politics, conflicts of interest and official arrogance. Plus ça change.

The politicization started right after the suit was filed. Gov. Bobby Jindal vowed to kill the suit by any means necessary. He supported a half-baked state law designed to retroactively kill the lawsuit, but that law was so hastily written that it may not accomplish its stated purpose. The federal judge who is hearing the SLFPA-E lawsuit has been asked to rule on the law’s constitutionality and applicability.

Jindal also has pressured the nominating committee, which was created to remove politics from the nominating process, into sending him nominees who promise to withdraw the lawsuit as soon as possible. Until the committee's latest meeting on Sept. 18, the committee obliged Jindal at every turn.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

The Urban Farmstead hosts an evening of mushrooms

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 2:46 PM


Mushrooms have a lot of different uses, from salad topper to psychedelic, but one use that might benefit New Orleans is that of storm water filtration system. Fungi, it turns out, consume bacteria and secrete antibacterial metabolites that can help clean water and break down pollutants.

The folks over at the Urban Farmstead of New Orleans, a permaculture education center that aims to create more independently sustainable communities, will host a workshop on the many uses of mushrooms this Wednesday, Aug. 27 at the Beatnik (1638 Clio St.) at 5 p.m. The workshop lasts four hours and will delve into how to grow mushrooms and how to use them for water catchment, fermi-composting systems and for gardening (they can help other plants thrive in a garden). 

It's all part of a nationwide tour presented by the Radical Mycology Collective, a group that's trying to spread the word on the benefits of the fungal kingdom. The workshop comes with a suggested donation of $20-$50, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds. There are no tickets or RSVPs. Just show up, give what you can and learn something new. For more information, click here

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Y@ Speak: that's a wrap

Posted By on Mon, Jun 9, 2014 at 12:55 PM

This week's Y@ Speak reflects on the last breath of the 2014 legislative session in Baton Rouge, from climate change deniers to Gov. Bobby Jindal's signing of Senate Bill 469, and begins another year of Y@ Speak — catch up on last week's winners from our second-ever awards.

Also: Kurt Braunohler jet skis from Chicago to New Orleans and a cat gets stuck in a news crew truck.

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