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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hangover

Gonna be a fun special session
Louisiana's current budget hole that must be filled by June 30 is $870 million -- even worse than Gov. John Bel Edwards has been saying for the past several weeks.

"For all practical purposes, Louisiana is in its own recession," said Greg Albrecht, the Louisiana Legislature's economist that predicts the state's tax collections.

The even-larger-than-expected problem means the budget cuts and tax increases being considered to solve Louisiana's budget crisis may have to be more aggressive than originally proposed.
In other words, we are "bucking the trend" but in a very bad way.  We've been talking about this for a while but, just for review purposes, here are some links from the past month or so.

December 22 
A year of tumbling oil prices has caused thousands of job losses throughout Louisiana, slowed energy production, delayed new investment, and sent state and local officials scrambling to plug budget holes created by the industry’s latest boom-or-bust cycle.

As prices sank below $35 per barrel last week to hit six-year lows, the latest federal jobs numbers had a grim look: Louisiana’s sector that includes oil and gas jobs lost more than 10,000 workers — nearly 19 percent — in the 12 months ending in November.

That’s the lowest point since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began using its current tracking system in 1990.

“Every day, I hope we hit bottom, until we get up the next day and realize the bottom is (lower) than we thought,” said Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph, whose sales tax revenue fell nearly 14 percent in the first 10 months of the year.

Talk around holiday dinner tables throughout Louisiana is certain to include questions about whether the state is headed toward another devastating recession along the lines of the 1980s oil bust.

January 19


National Oilwell Varco, a manufacturer and parts supplier to the oil and gas industry, is shutting down its Houma facility and laying off the 80 employees that work there.

Layoffs at the facility started Monday, the Louisiana Workforce Commission said, and will continue in phases until NOV shuts down sometime between March 7 and March 21.

Officials with the LWC said they will provide re-employment services to the affected employees, including information on unemployment benefits, résumé help and job-searching tools. Houston-based NOV said it will provide workers with additional pay and benefits because they were unable to provide sufficient notice of the closure “due to economic reasons.”
January 21 
And on Wednesday, oil prices resumed their slide; the price of a barrel of crude oil reached the lowest level since May 2003. Crude oil was down 6.7 percent, to settle at $26.55 a barrel in trading for February futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Royal Dutch Shell warned on Wednesday that it expected its profit for the fourth quarter of 2015 to be about half of what it was in the comparable period a year earlier.

In addition, traders see no signs of the oil glut easing, as Iran has permission to sell into the world markets now that sanctions have been lifted as part of a nuclear deal.
January 28
Nucor Corp. has written off $84.1 million worth of engineering and equipment for a proposed $1 billion blast furnace in St. James Parish, but the company may still build one.

The blast furnace was part of a massive, multiphase $3.4 billion steel complex Nucor hoped to build in St. James. The state had promised the company $160 million in incentives if all the phases were built.

Nucor already has built the first phase of the project: a $750 million, direct reduced iron plant in St. James that employs 170 people.

But the uncertain commodities market hampered those plans, and Nucor missed a year-end deadline to give the state its final investment decision on the complex.
 February 8
Noranda Aluminum Holding Corp., parent company of Noranda Aluminum in Gramercy, filed Monday (Feb. 8) for voluntary bankruptcy protection in federal court. It filed under Chapter 11 rules that would let it restructure its business operations.

The company said it will continue to operate its Gramercy refinery but will would no longer be shipping the Gramercy refinery's product to the company's New Madrid, Mo., aluminum smelter. The change will require the company to find another buyer for its alumina, "along with achieving additional cost reductions and maintaining the company's bauxite business as a secure source of supply."
Get ready for an ugly fight in Baton Rouge this year... and every year for a while, to be honest. 

Purge

Tucks Bourbon Street Float

It's been both a slow and busy Ash Wednesday if that makes any sense. A lot of stuff to catch up on. Not a lot of physical and mental fortitude with which to do all of the catching up just yet. We'll get there.

In the meantime, here is an Ash Wednesday appropriate article by Andru Okun from this week's Gambit. It's about one of the most unsung but most fascinating Carnival entities sometimes known as the Krewe of Municipal Vehicles.
This year's 10-day Carnival season cleanup force is made up of 600 men and women and 114 pieces of equipment, including seven front-end loaders and 30 garbage and dump trucks. On any given night, these often overlooked and underappreciated laborers can expect to pick up anywhere between 50 to 100 tons of trash, working late into the evening to erase nearly all signs that a parade had ever passed anywhere along the miles-long route.

Trailing behind the last Uptown parade of the evening is a fleet of sanitation vehicles and a large crew of workers. A mighty vehicle called a flusher leads the way, carrying around 3,000 gallons of water and spraying the streets at high pressure from jets attached to the truck's front bumper (the water helps weigh down the garbage). Behind it is a band of rakers, dozens of men and women on foot using plastic rakes to push trash into the center of the street. Then comes a front-end loader, a tractor more commonly seen on large construction sites, that plows down the line of garbage, consolidates it, scoops it up and drops it into a dump truck that drives behind.

  Mechanical street sweepers follow, three-wheeled compact vehicles with powerful brooms on their undersides. Past the sweepers is another set of laborers on foot, a precision crew carrying rakes, shovels and wheeled garbage cans, picking up anything that was missed by the workers in front of them. Penultimate is a line of garbage trucks, edging along the route and absorbing stray bags of trash and the contents of garbage cans. Finally, several flatbed stake trucks fortify the rear, collecting rakes, shovels and garbage cans.
As that description suggests, the experience of watching the KMV come by is almost like seeing another parade. The mechanical plowing and scooping of the trash can even sound like a drum line. We often try to get at least a few pictures of the procession as it rumbles by.  These are from last year.

Here are the lead units approaching in a cloud of dust

KOMV approaches

Here comes the spray truck

Spray truck

And here are the sweeper trucks

Sweeper truck

Rake carriers

KOMV lead sweepers

The dumptrucks

Dumptruck

They also do day parades, obviously.

Trash compact

Sweeping

People in New Orleans, particularly those in the upper middle classes, love to complain about how dang inefficient and "Third World" everything is around here. But the Krewe of Municipal Vehicles is one of the most impressive #FixMyStreets operations, you're likely to encounter the whole world over. Just seeing one is enough to disrupt the popular bourgeois narrative about our supposed endemic incompetence. Maybe that's why they you hardly ever hear about them. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Happy Mardi Gras

If there is a day in the Carnival schedule best suited to rest and recuperation it is Lundi Gras.  The long Thoth/Bacchus Sunday is typically the height of the second weekend's mania. Fat Tuesday itself has its share of abandon. But it's an early day and requires a lot of planning and rest to pull off properly.   The best way to deal with Monday is to make sure you don't do too much.

We spent our day indoors prepping tomorrow's food and making sure we had enough party supplies at the ready.  In the evening we walked out and took a quiet casual look at Proteus.

Proteus CXXXV

The 135 year old Shepherd Of The Sea's procession is put on by an "old line krewe" but the parade is larger and more varied than those unfamiliar with it may expect.  Its floats ride on the old wooden chasis seen here below the signature "Dawn of Proteus" float so they have that distinctive wobble as the move down the street.

1881 The Dawn of Proteus

The design of these floats is nothing short of stunning. Proteus's theme this year depicted a selection of Hindu Gods. Below are Agni and Kali.

Agni

Kali

Between the floats, Proteus places more flambeaux than any parade I watched this year and as many marching bands as any of them.  Here is Roots of Music.

Roots of Music

The Ninth Ward Marching Band has been a fixture in Proteus since that band's creation.

Ninth Ward Marching Band

Other elements like this brass band

Brass band and flambeaux

Or these stiltwalkers

Proteus Stiltwalkers

As well as this drumming group from Switzerland, who I'd seen in several other parades, called Guggen Kamikaze Monthrey give Proteus a more diverse feel and sense of fun than what the club's genteel status might lead us to expect.

Guggen Kamikaze Monthey

The parade is almost a deliberate review of every type of thing we might have seen in any parade during the season. That and the almost minimalist staging of the thing make it a great moment for (not quite) quiet reflection on the night before the big Tuesday finish.

But then Proteus doesn't close the evening on Lundi Gras. Orpheus does.  Maybe it's time to change that.

Trojan Horse

Orpheus, the most unnecessary "Superkrewe" of Carnival is an amazing parade. It has all the elements of a marquee event.

It has Celebrities. Here are Harry Shearer and Nathan Fillion.

Harry Shearer

Nathan Fillion

It incorporates dance groups like the Pussyfooters and 610 Stompers. It has great marching bands. Talladega College led Monday night's parade. Mississippi Valley State was sort of a co-headliner. It also includes some of Carnival's most iconic signature floats such as the Smokey Mary and Leviathan.

Smokey Mary

Smokey Mary

Leviathan

Leviathan

At the same time, there's also something about Orpheus that feels less BIG than the other superkrewes.  Despite its impressive glitz, it isn't as insanely garish as Endymion or as loud as Bacchus. Orpheus is big but accessible. Orpheus is just right. 

But maybe it isn't just right for Monday. Orpheus is still a big elaborate event. And a big elaborate event is probably wasted on what is naturally the season's most chill evening.  A parade like Orpheus deserves to be seen by a crowd ready to let loose more than the fairly small group assembled but barely even drinking more than a beer or two on Monday night.

Tonight as we went through this lukewarm experience yet again we started asking whether or not it's time to move Orpheus to Fat Tuesday. The evening slot on Mardi Gras has been empty long enough.  Orpheus came into being at roughly the same time that slot was vacated by Comus. Over the intervening two decades, the parade has more than earned the right to fill it.

Besides even if Comus decided to parade again, the stuffy dismissive dash those blue bloods made in their haste to get to their Very Important Private Event was already a relic in the New Orleans of the 1980s and it certainly would not provide a fitting end to the Mardi Gras of the 21st Century.  What Tuesday night needs is an opportunity for residents and visitors to see one more impressive.. but not too overwhelming... event before the lights go out. Tuesday night needs something like Orpheus. Luckily we have one of those.  All we have to do is ask it to wait one day.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Welcome Carnival visitors

Certified amoeba free

Please enjoy this authentic New Orleans experience.

A water main break in the Bayou St. John area is affecting water pressure throughout the east bank of New Orleans.

Officials said the areas most affected include Mid-City, the Central Business District and the French Quarter.

The issue started this morning when a pipe broke under the ground at the intersection of Grand Route Saint John and North White Street, according to officials on the scene.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

All ur internets are belong to them

Broken Internet

People are drawn to the web because it's a public square where they can share opinions and ideas.  They can meet and organize with people they would never have encountered living in their pre-internet bubble.  It has changed our civic life, revolutionized our media, and revived what's left of our democracy in all sorts of ways we take for granted.

The tech giants, telecoms, entertainment companies and speculative investors who run the internet infrastructure, though, have very different priorities. Such entities want it to work as a data collection tool where they absorb information about people and control the #content they see based on what will be most likely to help them know what they should buy. The consumer content bubbles they are building for us now will isolate us from each other in ways we are only beginning to understand.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Everybody dance now

A brief look back at some of the bands and dance teams we've happened to shoot video of so far this Carnival season.

These bagpipes were in either King Arthur or Carrollton. I've already forgotten which



We did see them also in Sparta where they were giving free lessons to children.

Bagpipe lesson

From the same day, here is the St. Paul's High School band doing.. some kind of thing.



Here's a snip of the Marine band playing "When the Saints go Marching In" during Druids.



They were also giving music lessons.

Saxophone lesson

Finally here is a marching club from last night's Muses parade. They're called the "Ameila EarHawts" because... Get IT? It's funny!


Time to bust some heads

Stephanie Grace has some good advice for Governor Edwards ahead of the special session
Louisiana’s governorship comes with some major built-in powers, and the savviest governors know how to use them.

Most immediately, he can narrowly tailor the call for the special session that’s just over a week away. As Alford reports, Republican lawmakers are asking Edwards to give them a broader array of options, including some ambitious ideas to restructure government.

“We urge you to open the special session call to include reforms to Medicaid, the state pension systems, employee health care, sentencing and corrections, institutional reorganization, board and agency consolidations, and other areas that require strategic reform to deliver high-quality services at the most effective cost to the taxpayer,” Alford quotes from a draft letter to the governor.

All those conversations should happen, but having them in a session that will likely run less than a month, one that should necessarily be devoted to addressing immediate funding shortfalls of $750 million for this year and $1.9 billion for next, sounds more like an effort to head off the tax increases that Edwards is reluctantly seeking than to really solve problems.

Edwards has the power to set the terms of this debate, and he should take it.
Either  you're driving the purple party bus or that thing will drive you.

Purple Party Bus

It's been fun


Aspiring Seahawk Brandon Browner is now free to pursue his dreams of becoming a Seahawk again. 
The New Orleans Saints appear to have parted ways with veteran cornerback Brandon Browner, who strugged through his one and only season with the team.

Browner posted a series of messages on social media Friday morning thanking New Orleans and referring to his tenure in the past tense.

Can confrim




And... just for old times' sake

It's been fun

Thursday, February 04, 2016

This Is.....

Sparta!

Sparta helmet

The Knights of Sparta open up the evening of the first Saturday with what is probably the prettiest of the small parades.  The mule-drawn helmet gives it a nice traditional look as does the season's first appearance of flambeaux carriers.

Sparta flambeaux

Their theme had something to do with musicals. Here is their Pirates of Penzance float.

Pirates of Penzance

Bagpipes, meanwhile, may not appear often in musical theater. But these kids got a short lesson in how they work anyway.

Bagpipe lesson

In our last Carnival post, we mentioned the rising popularity of downtown events like Chewbacchus and 'tit Rex and the beneficial effect this has had on the uptown parade route.  The draw of Chewbacchus keeps the crowd manageable uptown. Even on a Saturday night. Despite the modest attendance, though, Pygmalion goes full Hollywood. Look at this huge garish LED-spangled Jester float.  

Pygmalion Jester float

 They're also very proud of their signature "Pygmammoth"

Pygmammoth

Pygmalion appears to think of itself as a little Endymion ('tit Endymion?) deliberately styling itself after "The Biggest Parade In The World" but in miniature. After the signature floats, we see a procession of Endymion-esque duke and maid floats featuring elaborate headdress designs.  Even Pygmalion's theme, "Gods of Carnival" which celebrated the mythological namesakes of other parading krewes seemed like a very Endymion thing to do.

The Gods of Carnival

The floats themselves look pretty good too. This one depicts the goddess Nyx.

Nyx

Here is Iris.

Brilliance of Iris

Of course Pygmalion doesn't come anywhere near to presenting an event of the bewildering scale and variety of Endymion.  But it also does not claim to be a "Superkrewe." For what it is, though, the 'tit Endymion parade is pretty good. If you happened be uptown-bound during Chewbacchus Saturday, you certainly could have done worse.

I'm still a little behind on parade blogging.  There's a lot of stuff to get through from Sunday (Femme Fatale was my favorite parade all season so far.) And I've got some photos from Nyx and Druids to upload before tonight's parades get started in a few hours. It's possible I'll get caught back up on Friday morning. It's also possible I'll be flat out dead by then. Stay tuned.

Do not go to jail during Carnival

Who knows when you'll ever come out.
When you enter the lobby of the Orleans Public Defender's Office, expect a bit of a wait, because receptionist Chastity Tillman will likely be busy on the phone.

"The jail calls. We get them every second," Tillman says.

Jailed suspects call to get their court dates and to see a lawyer. But for those accused of the most serious of crimes, there will be no visit from an attorney; no help in negotiating a bond; no investigation into their alleged offense. Public defenders say they don't have the resources to handle the city's indigent caseload after a million-dollar budget shortfall.

So they are turning away some suspects who can't afford to pay for their own legal representation.
Or, you know, if you'll ever come out
“The staff are not in control of the facility,” Susan McCampbell, who is overseeing a federally supervised jail reform effort, told U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.

“We had been very hopeful that when the new jail opened there would a decrease in the level of inmate-inmate violence and uses of force (by deputies) in the facility,” McCampbell said. “I’m here to tell you that has not happened.”

On tinterhooks

The fate of a nation could be swayed
The Republican presidential race is tightening, but former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal apparently isn’t ready to endorse a candidate yet.

A source close to Jindal told The Advocate that Jindal definitely won’t endorse before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, and it’s unclear when or if he will beyond that.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

How to win at Carnival

Maybe Mardi Gras is a marathon. Maybe it's a sprint. Or maybe it's a triple jump or a sack race or a game of horseshoes where no horseshoes are actually thrown because that would be too expensive to insure. During the last two episodes of our fake radio show we've examined the possibility that it might even be a metaphorical football season. If that's the case, then our team is doing pretty well after the first weekend.

First, a quick note about what we didn't see.  We're based Uptown very near the parade route which makes getting across town to see 'tit Rex or Chewbacchus a tall order logistically speaking.  In past years we've gotten to see a few Barkuses but the Sunday schedule has become so overloaded on St. Charles, that even that doesn't happen anymore.

But, as much as I'd like to see the downtown parades, I think the full schedule is actually a good thing.  Chewbacchus Saturday, in particular, proves the city can, despite official protestations, handle simultaneous parades following different routes. This, in turn, takes some of the pressure off of either route from overcrowding or #KreweOfChad encroachment. I'm sure one of these years, we'll ditch on our neighborhood stuff and make a plan to be down there.  But, in the meantime, we're still catching all the uptown parades.  Here's how that went.

Shango

In some ways, it's easy to be Oshun.  Oshun is the opening act. It doesn't have to blow anyone's mind. It just has to show up and get things started.

Oshun children

People know what to expect from Oshun.  Its floats are very simple. It has only a few bands and marching clubs. Nothing fancy. For the most part, the crowd is just happy to see the parades have begun.  On the other hand, it's not so easy to be Oshun.  This is a parade, now in its 20th year, known mostly for its own modesty.  So, even though there are less impressive parades than Oshun on the schedule, Oshun is the parade people are most likely to attend expecting to be unimpressed. So what we have is either a case of managed expectations that are easily overcome, or a bad reputation that pre-ordains the response.

Ilya

2016 Oshun, as it turns out, was a perfectly nice parade. The modest floats looked good. The riders seemed to be having a good time. I don't even remember what the theme of this parade was but it doesn't seem like that should matter very much.  What mattered was that it started to feel and look like Carnival season again.

Oshun motion

Oshun was followed by Cleopatra.

Cleopatra

This was also appropriate for a Friday night. Cleopatra is one of the displace West Bank parades that we've only seen a few of uptown now and we aren't entirely sure how to feel about them.  It's almost like what happens when a new sports team moves to your city.  You feel a little like you've stolen something from someone. Do you even want to enjoy that? Shouldn't they be "rocking" the neighborhood they came from?

Cleopatra Rocks The Big Easy

Cleopatra float

Well we managed to make do under the circumstances. Remember if you bring a young child with you as well as at least one serviceable set of shoulders you can come away from even the opening night parades with a pretty impressive haul. 

Jaylen's haul

Like so many other annoying people on social media this weekend, I tried to Periscope a little bit from the parade route.  The result was a 10 second grainy video of a band walking way with a pan over to a child yelling at the camera that a float was coming and she would need lifting. We won't try that again.  By the end of the night we were feeling our age.

That is, by the way, the same age as Captain Sam here.

Captain Sam

I can't believe I was almost too hungover and tired to run out and photograph this fish Saturday morning for only the ka-jillionth time in history.   But that's fine. It's worth seeing an old friend. Besides, who ever wants to miss the Krewe of Pontchartrain's ridiculously easy fill in the blank puzzle floats?

These were all based on state nicknames. Such as...

The Pelican State

Here is "The _ _ P _ R _ State"

Ladies liberty

The Treasure State

Treasure State

And, of course, The Prostitution State

Constitution State

Menckles wasn't even out of bed yet so I was out by myself with the camera during Pontchartrain. I took a walk up and down the route just to check stuff out. Here's a quick little report on that.

The #KreweOfChad infrastructure really starts to get heavy as you move uptown above Washington Avenue.  All this was up around Sixth and Seventh streets, I think.

Tents and ladders and such

This guy was selling Icees from what looked like a pretty innovative little rig.  He said they are non-alcoholic, unfortunately.

Icee machine

I ran into another guy selling beers out of a big aluminum tub he had set out on a portable table in a driveway.  On the ground in front of the table was a pool cue as well as a "whole set" of billiard balls in a plastic grocery bag I could have had for $60.  For $150, I could have had a framed sepia toned photo of what looked to be some nuns sitting in a room.  "It's an antique," was all the guy said when asked to explain  it.

Even more ridiculous, though, nine dollar sandwiches.

The Grocery

The retrograde social commentary just down the street from there was free.

Save All Monuments

Speaking of retrograde...

Grand Marshall Billy Nungesser

Billy Nungesser

Seemed like the appropriate guy to ride with Choctaw (another West Bank transplant krewe) and its increasingly uncomfortable redface theme-ing.

Choctaw float

Still, in all, the award for worst parade of the weekend has to go to Freret, enthusiasm of its King-For-Life City Councilman Jason Williams notwithstanding.

Jason Williams

Freret looks like it may be having trouble filling out its membership. Several of its floats were half-empty to mostly empty.

Freret's half empty floats

According to the Arthur Hardy guide, Freret has 250 members. That makes them about the same size as Oshun. But Oshun fits its riders on smaller floats whereas Freret rents a set from Blaine Kern. You can read on the sides of the floats a list of which parades each is designated to appear in this year.

Itinerary

And there's nothing wrong with that. As you can see, several krewes do it like this.  Unfortunately, this particular set of floats are too big for Freret's membership.  For viewers, the experience is kind of like opening this "Party Size" bag of Zapp's  and finding out the "Party" only fills about a third of the package.

"Party Size"

The party is disappointing

Anyway, if you're looking to join a parading organization next year. Consider Freret. They could use the help.

That's probably enough for one post.  We'll look at the Saturday night and Sunday parades in a subsequent entry.