Where Memories are Made
New Orleans. “The Big Easy.” A place where the slow and relaxed tempo of Southern living combined with a unique French and multi-cultural flair.
The City’s motto was “Laissez les bons temps rouler”, let the good times roll. The annual Mardi Gras, which reflected the motto, was known worldwide for its immoral excess and constant revelry. It attracted upwards of a million people each and every year.
The French Quarter of New Orleans held particular reverence for Joe Barristar. Although he had been born in the Northeastern part of the United States, he loved the freewheeling and bawdy behavior of the population. From the alcohol hazed strip joints on Bourbon Street to the hung over crazies who practiced walking on their hands on the edge of a two hundred year old stone bridge, this heart of New Orleans had its own unique beat.
Unfortunately, this weirdly happy but “sinking” City always seemed to be the bull’s eye for some type of disaster. Although New Orleans was protected by levees, Hurricane Katrina quickly breached them and turned many areas of the City into swampy death traps. People who were foolish enough to ignore the warnings of disaster were stranded for weeks surrounded by filthy water and constantly under assault by vermin of all kinds.
When the Gulf oil spill happened, it was no surprise that New Orleans would be among the first to experience its impact. Within a few days, oily ooze crept ever closer to the City and the coast of Louisiana. New Orleans fishermen immediately experienced the mess that would shut down their livelihoods and devastate many places on the Gulf coast.
Cajuns and some Creoles
The history of the Cajun is a bit unique. In 1765, the British exiled the French-speaking ancestors of these folks from Acadia, known today as Nova Scotia. In the greatest mass migration in colonial American history, thousands of survivors of the French and Indian War trekked to Louisiana and areas in and around New Orleans.
Cajuns and their Creole cousins shared a similar French foundation. However, the Creoles considered themselves to be civilized city dwellers, the la crème de la crème of New Orleans society. To the bitter end, which came about the time of the Civil War, they stubbornly held on to their French connections. The Cajuns, on the other hand, considered themselves to be rugged self-sufficient country folk. They settled along the bayous and swamps, and avoided city society. These distinctions did blur overtime, but the best of both French cultures were preserved.
Early in his early engineering career, Joe did some work around the levees and learned the meaning of “everybody is everybody’s cousin”. It was a phrase reverently and fondly used when referring to the clannish behavior of Cajuns.
His work involved a couple of good ole Cajun boys who fell out of their home built flat-bottom fishing boat, and then drowned. Folks standing on the nearby levees saw the accident and provided great detail:
Apparently, the first good ole boy was steering the boat’s small outboard motor when he made a sudden and unexpected turn. Speculation was he saw some fish and wanted to get into position. After all, catching fish was key – but you had to watch out for those huge self-propelled barges that magically appeared going back and forth in and around New Orleans.
The second good ole boy, with fishing pole in hand and nothing to hang onto, fell into the water. The first good ole boy then jumped in to save him. One problem, in his haste to rescue his buddy, he forgot to turn off the outboard motor.
What happened next was predictable. Without an operator, the outboard motor did what outboard motors do, – and the boat locked into a hard turn to the right. Both fishermen were now trapped inside what boating experts call the “circle of death” created where water is being churned up with air from the spinning propeller. Since people can’t swim in an air water mixture, both good ole boys sank below the surface to be seen later by the local coroner.
In one respect, the Cajun culture wasn’t a whole lot different from the rest of the country. Lawsuits for just about everything were the norm, and a double death case promised big money for the families of the deceased, the community “cousins”, and the local lawyers.
Cousins do come in handy. The attorney for the families of the deceased fishermen was somewhat of a distant relative. However, what was important was that the sheriff was related by marriage to one of the deceased and was the brother of the “other”. The judge, generally oriented to reaching into the deep pockets of industry anyway, was also related to the “other” deceased. Simply put, whenever the plaintiff attorney wanted or needed something he got it without question.
The first major plaintiff request was for a test to see if it was possible to replicate the accident. The original boat and original motor were available, but it was hard to get an accident perspective because of the location. No problem, the sheriff loaned out the department helicopter under the guise that it was training for his deputies and useful in promoting boating safety.
During the test, Joe was in a helicopter looking straight down at the circling accident boat. The test was going well. The instruments were working. Then the unexpected happened. The helicopter slowly spun around and comfortably settled in an open field.
The operator of the “copter” was cussing and Joe heard some new French versions of well known English curse words. However, the words that had the most impact were “this is the 7th time I’ve crashed in one of these “bubble” copters, and I ain’t flying ‘em again”. That was when Joe knew that being only 100 feet up in the air was much preferred to being 1000 feet up.
A meadow along side the levees was the crash site. The pilot had succeeded in putting the damage bird down about 50 feet from a major highway and less than 100 feet from the crowd of folks watching the test. He had also avoided a water landing which almost certainly would have resulted in injury or death, – particularly if a barge just happened to pass by.
Joe started to get out of the copter because there was some concern about the extent of the damage and maybe fire, but the pilot told him the field likely contained poisonous snakes and to best tread carefully. The phrase “Damned if you do or damned if you don’t” perfectly described the situation.
Normally, an aviation accident makes headline news. However, this accident was so rapidly hushed up that it never even made the back pages of the local newspaper or a broadcast on the local radio or television. Joe’s suspicion was that the editor of the local newspaper, who just happened to be the owner of the lone radio and television station, was related to someone on the plaintiff side.
For all intents and purposes, the crash was turned into a Cajun legend probably to be told to children to impress upon them that “flying isn’t safe – and maybe you should hang on when you’re fishing and the boat is moving.”
The entire incident was an impressive demonstration of how family ties affect politics and life in and around New Orleans.
With everybody being everybody’s cousin, Louisiana had some of the most diverse and wildly interesting history in the United States.
Louisiana and the immediate surrounding region was originally an American Indian tribal area. Then in 1528, the Spaniards “discovered” it. In 1543, Hernando de Soto explored the area and used the Mississippi River as a waterway to the Gulf of Mexico. However, after these initial forays, the Spanish more or less abandoned further investigation and concentrated their efforts on Florida.
In the 17th century, the French, under the leadership of Robert de La Salle, arrived and laid claim to the entire region as well as massive amounts of the American continent up to and including Canada. La Salle named all of the claimed territory “Louisiana” in honor of King Louis XIV. In 1722, France made New Orleans the capitol of this enormous Louisiana territory to protect its military and economic interests.
After the French and Indian War, the 1763 Treaty of Paris curtailed French sovereignty in North America. Only New Orleans and the immediate surrounding region remained in French hands. The rest of Louisiana feel under Spanish control. Great Britain, France and Spain now held overlapping and confusing claims to various parts of the Louisiana territories.
In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte reacquired all of Louisiana for France. In 1803, he sold the Louisiana Territory with its jewel, New Orleans, to the United States. Shortly thereafter, what is now Louisiana became the 18th state of the American Union.
Throughout much of the 18th and early 19th century, piracy, smuggling, illegal importation of slaves and other nefarious activities were staples of Louisiana’s culture and economic well being. Infamous pirates such as Jean and Pierre Laffite were given privateer status by the United States, thus allowing them to capture enemy ships and property.
The last major battle of the War of 1812 was fought in New Orleans. Andrew Jackson, later a United States President, collected a rag-tag band of pirates, gamblers, woodsmen, slaves and town militia to fight a numerically superior force of British regulars. Jackson and his misfits beat them badly.
When the American Civil War broke out, Louisiana seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America. In a little over a year, the state was captured by Union forces. Interestingly, even though Louisiana had seceded, it was quickly turned back into a Union state. While the secession had been popular at the time it happened, a large segment of the population had opposed it. Most Louisianans, and particularly the citizens of New Orleans, were happy that trade and economic relations could resume unaffected by strife.
In the 1870s, Louisiana experienced its own version of the Civil War when Democrats used violence and assassination to remove Republicans from office and to suppress the black population. This violent reaction to the Confederacy’s defeat led to the segregation and disenfranchisement of the one of the largest black populations in the United States.
Joe was well acquainted with the fact that political violence never really left Louisiana. A couple of young political acquaintances were attacked under the cover of darkness and seriously injured by a gang of leftist agitators who were screaming such colorful and imaginative phrases as “Kill the Republican bitch”. The local police were called in after the attack, but, as one might expect, they utterly or deliberately bungled the matter by treating it as an “accident”. By the time the State Police investigators were called in, evidence had been lost. The crime was never solved.
Interestingly, the description of the lead attacker perfectly fit a photo that was widely circulated. After all, how many scruffy red haired guys about 6 foot 6 inches in height, wearing an orange tee shirt with the words “Anarchy Rules” would you expect to find in a small town? Apparently thousands.
The Great Depression ushered in the colorful and dictatorial reign of Governor Huey Long. His public works initiatives were popular because they provided jobs. However, his plans for wealth redistribution combined with the autocratic and corrupt nature of his rule were not. Turmoil led to the end of his governorship, and his life, when the relative of a political rival shot him.
Because of its segregationist policies and history, Louisiana was one of the focal points of the 1960s civil rights crusade. Civil rights legislation was passed in 1964 and 1965 ending the sordid era of legal Jim Crow segregation in the South. In subsequent decades, New Orleans elected a number of black mayors and an Indian Governor.
Sister Savannah Taggart
Savannah Taggart was born in Louisiana, and grew up in and around New Orleans. Her childhood involved great wealth passed down from her Creole ancestors, but also a severely alcoholic father who while not physically abusing his children left them with terrible emotional scars.
Joe had dated Savannah for about a year, but the tension in her family and changes in his life caused them to split up. Joe was initially quite surprised to hear that she had become a Catholic nun. His memory of her was of a pretty blond with a lusty and outgoing personality.
Her spiritual conversion became much clearer when Joe read a news story about a hunting accident. It seems that Savannah’s fiancée had died when a loaded shotgun he was holding between his legs was jolted into firing a blast of pellets into his face. Apparently the off road vehicle he was riding in hit a large enough pothole to actuate the sensitive trigger.
The great and final love of Savannah Taggart’s personal life had been suddenly and irrevocably removed from the Earth, – and a Sister of the Church was born.
The Church and Environmentalism
“What would Jesus Do?” was a phrase often used within the Christian community to remind the clergy and congregants of their spiritual principles. However, this phrase could be interpreted as a religious duty imposed upon the individual or upon the group.
To Sister Savannah, the duty to the environment was an individual responsibility. The planet was God’s gift to the human race – and every man, woman and child was expected to be a caring custodian of its resources. She also believed that each individual in the Christian faith was connected one on one with God, and that Jesus had inspired ancient crowds with the ideals of love and caring for all of God’s creations. For his revolutionary, largely pacifist ideas, Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified by the Roman government in power at the time.
To her alter ego Sister Taggart, the duty to the environment entailed collective salvation. Essentially, the government was needed to protect the Earth regardless of individual needs, wants and responsibilities. Unfortunately, to follow this approach, a Christian would have to believe that Jesus, rather than appealing to the masses as unique individuals, would have appealed directly to the Roman government for additional crowd control laws. Had this been the case, Jesus would have more than likely ended up as a rabbinical leader in the local Jewish hierarchy rather than a counter-cultural thorn in the side of Rome.
Joe knew that these fundamental differences in religious outlook would cause considerable conflict within the Sister’s mind. The Catholic teachings were clearly individualistic in nature, but Catholicism had, over the centuries, adopted positions that blended local customs and Catholic teachings. As a result, a small but substantial percentage of Catholic churches had reinterpreted Christian doctrine to be consistent with the collectivist thinking of the environmental movement. In these churches, Christian fundamentals weren’t just subject to adaptation but to changes that stood Catholic fundamentals on their head.
Sister Savannah Taggart’s cognitive and spiritual dissonance was a source of discontent to those environmentalists who were zealously committed to doing whatever was necessary to preserve the Earth. When her Sister Savannah personality resisted the population control arguments associated with abortion and euthanasia, she was considered out of touch. When she noted that many businessmen and women had acted as God’s good stewards, she was criticized as being a religious shill for the corporations that raped the planet of its resources. When she expressed uncertainty about global warming, and that politics had invaded climate science, she was shunned and not invited to key meetings of the environmental faithful.
Kor, however, liked the fact that someone of faith had enough courage to ask the tough questions and demand well supported scientific arguments. The global warming scandal had set the environmental movement back a decade because nobody had had the audacity to challenge conventional wisdom and whether data had been fudged to make a point. Had Sister Savannah been fully involved rather than treated as a sometime pariah, a lot of political problems might have been avoided.
Over time, Kor and the Sister became very good friends and fellow travelers. Her mix of Christian principles focused on the needs of mankind complemented Kor’s environmental agenda. Both could give good and compelling speeches. Both almost always led an audience to appreciate the complexities associated with environmental issues.
Oil: The Spiritual Bogeyman?
The Sister shared Kor’s dislike of oil drilling, and was particularly angered by the Gulf oil spill. Her church related activities had received substantial charitable donations from wealthy oil magnates, and she was grateful for the help. However, as a good steward of the planet, she had always demanded assurances that the money was not “blood” money earned by risking God’s planet. When disaster struck, she strongly chastised the oil industry and became a crusader against further drilling. This action, of course, came at a cost to her ministry to the poor.
One of the problems with any religious activity is that it can involve the pursuit of perfection. The flaws of mankind can be buried, hidden by the search for the Holy Grail of the cause. Joe understood the human conflicts. He knew that many people searched an entire lifetime for but one moment of miraculous revelation. And he knew that “To Err is Human; To Forgive, Devine”.
Unlike Kor and the Sister, Joe’s perspective was that oil was no different than fire in the “good-bad” duality of its nature. Before oil, civilization was a slow and uneven thing. With oil, the advance of civilization quickened and generations of humans were profited by a much better and longer life.
If there was a substitute for oil that proved to be less polluting and as effective, then any good Christian would support its development under the assumption that this new energy source would give greater glory to God. However, as with oil, every advance has built within it a dual nature – and this was the case with solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal power sources.
Oh God our Help in Ages Past
With the passage of time, the Sister’s commitment to the environmental movement matured and strengthened. Her view was that the Earth and its people were inextricably intertwined, and that leaving the planet any time soon to explore for other habitable planets was the stuff of science fiction. She put her faith in God, and her prayers were often focused by one of the church’s great hymns:
“Oh God Our Help In Ages Past. Our Hope For Years To Come. Our Shelter From The Stormy Blast. And Our Eternal Home.” As it was in the beginning.
“Under The Shadow Of Thy Throne. Still May We Dwell Secure. Sufficient Is Thine Arm Alone. And Our Defense Is Sure.” Is now.
“Before The Hills In Order Stood. Or Earth Received Her Frame. From Everlasting, Thou Art God. To Endless Years The Same.” And ever shall be.
“A Thousand Ages, In Thy Sight. Are Like An Evening Gone. Short As The Watch That Ends The Night. Before The Rising Sun.” World without End.
“O God, Our Help In Ages Past. Our Hope For Years To Come. Be Thou Our Guide While Life Shall Last. And Our Eternal Home.” Amen.
Psalm 90, the biblical basis for the hymn, was known as the prayer of Moses, – the man of God who brought down the plagues on Egypt, led the ancient Hebrews to freedom, brought forth the Ten Commandments, and was the founder of the nation of Israel.
The Spill and Religion
For all intents and purposes, the preachers of America had been silent on drilling in the Gulf. By accepting the status quo, they ignored the risks to their congregations and to the environment as a whole. After the oil spill, most were content to pick up the pieces of disaster by providing whatever aid and comfort could be afforded.
Joe knew from his readings of the founding documents that religion was to provide the moral foundation for the American Democratic Republic and its citizenry. By refusing to condemn the pride of the environmental movement, the lust for power of the politician and the greed of the oil companies, preachers had failed in their duty to sacred America.
In fairness, religion had been marginalized, driven from the public square in direct contravention of the Bill of Rights. Once the leaders of their community, preachers had been cowed into silence and even forced into accepting immorality. Rare was the religious figure who stood in defense of Almighty truth, and in defiance of government abuse and cultural destruction.
Clearly, the America’s Judeo-Christian religious principles had been sacrificed on the altar of political convenience and correctness. Unfortunately, secular progressive humanism, which dominated so much of American political thinking, undermined basic civility and had to be propped up by an increasing plethora of flawed and convoluted laws. Joe wondered what continuing damage would be caused by the absence of a religious and moral foundation.