Welcome to the September 7, 2005 edition of the Satya Center newsletter. Warm greetings from your Editor, Curtis Lang.
We are pleased to resume publication of our newsletters today with a special three-part edition, devoted to the spiritual, environmental, political, social and practical consequences of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the city of New Orleans.
May you and your loved ones be happy, healthy, free from fear, and safe from all harm, and may you attain your highest spiritual goals during the last weeks of this summer season. Please open your hearts to the survivors and refugees of Hurricane Katrina. Donate generously to aid organizations. Meditate and send healing energy to the area.
I will publish a regular edition of our newsletter within a few days. In the meantime, visit our website to see several new articles on a variety of topics displayed on our homepage.
The ancient mystery school traditions of the East and the West instruct us that we are each linked to people, places, ideas, and things with whom we have shared intense emotional experiences.
We all have powerful memories of key moments in our lives that create powerful bonds, for good or ill, not so easily broken in this life or the next.
A subtle web of energies connects us to family, lovers, friends, enemies, compatriots, business associates, neighbors, the town where we were born, the place we met the love of our lives, the place our children were born, all the places where we share our heart’s desire, where we fight and bleed and work and give of ourselves and our energies in a myriad of ways.
These connections constitute the karmic attachments through which flow the emotions, thoughts, desires, hopes and fears that fuel the scripts that we act out in our relationships in the theater of our lives. These relationships and these connections shape all the activities we avidly pursue from birth to death – and beyond.
We are attuned to the beings and places with whom we have these connections, our emotions flow out to them, and we are often aware of subtle changes in their life passages, even when we are far removed in space and time, just as a young mother remains attuned to the hopes and fears, needs and wants of a newborn infant in another room – even during sleep or when immersed in unrelated activities.
On Sunday night, August 30, I was meditating in my bedroom in Claverack, New York, located in the farming foothills nestled between the Hudson River and New England’s Berkshire Mountains.
I had not been watching the news, or reading newspapers for the last month or so, because my wife Jane and I had recently moved from the suburbs just north of New York city to a promising fixer-upper just a short walk down the road from a family of farmer friends we’ve known for more than a decade.
I had underestimated the time and money required to fix up the house we bought by about 100%, and we were falling behind our commitments to our healing practice and our Satya Center website. I had paid no more than a moment’s attention to reports about Hurricane Katrina, which had passed over the Florida Panhandle a few days earlier.
Suddenly, during my meditation, images began to appear unbidden of New Orleans under water. I was shocked. A huge rush of emotions overwhelmed me from head to toe. I began to see an internal montage of images, each one a container for intense emotions connected to the Big Easy.
I was born in New Orleans, but have not been there for many years, a native son now gone Yankee like so many others for generation after generation who have become self-selecting refugees looking for broader vistas, greater career opportunities, a more liberal political landscape and more tolerant racial relations.
My first memory is of aristocratic St. Charles Avenue, where my parents lived when I was born. I am jumping up and down on the street corner, dressed in a bunny suit, with long, soft fuzzy ears, and my hand is raised in supplication to a man dressed in golden robes, wearing a large crown. The man, whose face is so caked with sweat-stained make-up you can’t tell if he’s white or black, is tossing blue and gold necklaces to the crowd. He sees me! Our eyes lock, and I can recall zeroing in on the incoming necklace like a heat-seeking missile during an aerial firefight. I’m too young to yell, but all around me people are screaming, “T’row me sump’n, Mistuh!” I am in total bliss as I snatch the necklace from the sidewalk a few feet in front of the black iron fence that protects our house from the sea of humanity flowing up and down the Avenue.
I moved to Texas with my folks when I was only four, and grew up in Houston and Dallas, but compared to Texas, New Orleans seemed so sophisticated, so cosmopolitan, so rich in history. The siren song of world-famous N’Awlins culture -- Creole music, cuisine and architecture -- drew me back as a young man, with my first wife, to attend the University of New Orleans, an open admission school located right on Lake Ponchartrain, where I taught English to classrooms full of African American students looking for an escalator into the middle class, partied all night long five days a week, got the best grades in my cohort, and received a Master’s in English the same summer my marriage disintegrated. Can you say “intense emotional experiences”? Can you say “karmic attachments?”
I heard in meditation that night that New Orleans was about to be destroyed. I saw lines of people waiting for food and water, streets and parks submerged, dead bodies floating next to streetlights, and lines of gravestones. I heard that I should turn on the TV as soon as I finished meditating and tune in to CNN.
I did. I saw a picture on the screen of Hurricane Katrina on a path to New Orleans. I told Jane, “This is the big one. I heard in meditation that this is the end of the city – as I know it, anyway. When I lived in New Orleans, we all used to talk about how one day a hurricane would flood the city and everybody would die. When a hurricane hit, my friends all gathered for a big party, but the people who had lived there all their lives were serious about ‘the big one’.”
My heart sank and I felt nauseated. Jane said, “No, the storm won’t destroy the whole city. It’s going to veer off. There’s still hours to go before it hits.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just know what I heard.”
This story you are reading is my homage to the city of my birth, the city Esoteric astrologers call the muladhara chakra of America, the city that represents the primal instincts coiled at the base of the American spine, the city that care forgot, a Triple Scorpio city where the party never stops, where decadence reaches a level of refinement unthinkable in the rest of this Puritanical culture. A drowned city now being completely evacuated, a city in an area where one million American refugees have fled, a city inhabited by perhaps 10,000 remaining live residents and 25,000 new hungry ghosts, unburied, separated from their loved ones, where now, ten thousand uniformed soldiers are just beginning to get around to counting the dead.
It’s been a week since Katrina swept inland, flooding New Orleans, and devastating much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Because New Orleans is a sinking city, born below sea level, because New Orleans has been abandoned by generations of policymakers in Washington, and because this disaster is the industrialized world’s first taste of the ecological disasters set to shape civilization in the 21st century, it is vital to understand what has happened in the Crescent City. To do that, it’s necessary to scope out the Big Picture, to embrace a historical perspective, to think globally.
So far, engulfed in the flood of media imagery emanating from the drowned city, onlookers have been watching an epic movie through a soda straw. It’s hard to grasp the enormity of the present situation.
The latest buzz in the media would leave one wondering whether Americans have the will and the wallet and technical expertise to restore New Orleans as a habitable city at all.
The other day, the Deputy Sheriff of New Orleans said the city has been “completely destroyed”. On Thursday September 1, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, from the 14th District of Illinois said, “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.” . . .Asked whether he supported allocating billions in federal aid and insurance to rebuild a city that lies below sea level, he replied, "I don't know. That doesn't make sense to me." 
Why would local officials or Washington leadership act as though New Orleans was a disposable city? What do they know that we don’t know?
Consider the following: The French Quarter appears to have been spared from destruction. That’s the good news. As of now, it looks like we will leave 10 feet of water polluted by sewage and industrial run-off from flooded petrochemical facilities in many neighborhoods in the city for two or three months. That’s the bad news. To say that many of the buildings in New Orleans are not designed for such an event, and that many are not structurally sound to begin with, is a vast understatement. Old, yes, questionable, yes. And possibly ready to collapse anyway.
The French Quarter, and much of New Orleans, is overrun with Formosan termites. The city spends $300 million a year to combat the damage the bugs cause to priceless architectural gems downtown by the Quarter and to modern McMansions uptown by the Lake.  The termites eat through plaster, plastic and asphalt to get at tasty wood tidbits. Environments such as French Quarter row houses, composed of dried timbers and moisture-retaining clays are heaven on Earth to Formosan termites. Ninety-nine percent of French Quarter buildings have suffered from the bugs’ relentless attacks. Thirty percent of the city’s live oaks and cypress trees are infested. Scientists say that eradication is not an option.  But the bugs do not limit themselves to older dwellings, they enjoy feeding in suburban Metairie as well as in the Quarter.
Nor should we be overly sanguine about the structural soundness of most homes built in the Twentieth Century. I have lived in several ranch houses, and visited numerous McMansions, and I would not bet heavily on their structural integrity after several water-logged months, steeped in human waste, the stench of death, and assorted toxic chemicals released from industrial sites surrounding the hapless metropolis.
According to an electrical engineer blogger in New Orleans, many of the city’s 30-40 foot skyscrapers “float” on pilings in deep mud that are held in place by sheer friction.  What will happen when that mud sits underwater for a couple months? Will the foundations of the buildings begin to erode? Will they lean? And if they lean, what then?
Meanwhile, roads are buckling, copper in the ground will erode, and apparently, there is a lot of copper in the ground in New Orleans, so the communication infrastructure will not fare well during this fall season. And of course, there’s the water system. Which is in a state of catastrophic failure. So given the problems that have already surfaced and the grave prognosis for the city’s recovery, it is appropriate to ask the question – Will New Orleans survive? In what form? And who will pay for rebuilding?
These are the questions the callous Mr. Hastert harbors top of mind, and soon they will be asked more openly and with more urgency by the nation’s imperious elites, who will clamor to see a cost-benefit analysis for the Big Easy’s resuscitation that emphasizes short-term benefits and minimizes cash outlay and long-term planning of any kind.
To begin to answer these questions, we must now turn to the history of New Orleans, and seek our answers to the political, social, environmental, economic, geo-strategic, and spiritual questions this disaster raises for us as individuals, as Americans, and as global citizens.
It’s a tough job, but it’s our duty, and perhaps a more important contribution to the relief effort and to the salvaging of our common cultural heritage than writing a check to the Red Cross. Because consciousness creates culture. Because without vision, the people perish. Now, above all, we need vision. A vision of how we arrived where we are today, and a vision for a sustainable future.
1--“Hastert Questions Rebuilding New Orleans”, AP, 9/1/05 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/01/AR2005090101482.html)
2--“New Orleans’ Earth-Friendly Termite Solutions,” MetropolisMag.com, 3/1/2004. (http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/story.php?artid=143)
3-- “Super-Termites Are Munching Across the US”, ABC News, March 6, 2005 (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97695&page=1)
4-- “New Orleans: I Don’t Think We Even Understand the Half of it Yet”, Wizbang, 9/1/05 (http://wizbangblog.com/archives/006945.php)
(All Photos are Clip Art except the portrait of the author)
Spanish explorers Alvarez de Pindéa and Hernando de Soto explored the mouth of the Mississippi River in the years between 1519 and 1542, but created no permanent settlements. They may have been put off by soggy weeks of wet-season explorations in the Mississippi delta region, where the flood plain is over 100 miles wide, and it would have been difficult to find enough solid ground to pitch camp. Later French explorers were not discouraged by their trek through the massive swamp. Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, traveled down the Mississippi from the Great Lakes in 1682 and claimed the territory for Louis XIV of France, giving it the name Louisiana. [i]
Within a dozen years conflicts broke out between white settlers and indigenous Native American tribes of hunter-gatherer fishermen, who had lived there as long as 2,000 years ago. The Caddo, Natchez, and Chitimachan Indian tribes and their brothers, who numbered around 15,000 at that time, had built a highly developed culture that existed throughout the Mississippi Basin. They resisted the marauding white colonists, who had been wiping out Indian hunting parties.[ii]
Soon, war was declared by both sides, French troops were called in, and after eight bloody years, most of the Indians retreated inland. By 1711, Native Americans were being taken as slaves, to clear the area needed for a port in Mobile.
Meanwhile, back in France, powerful interests perceived the Louisiana territories as a potential source of vast riches to be obtained by real estate development.
The Duke of Orléans, a notorious rake, amateur chemist, necromancer, painter, composer, and world-class art collector, had become the Regent for the new 5 year old French king, after the death of Louis XIV, and had partnered with one of the century’s most ambitious and unscrupulous financiers, the Scottish entrepreneur John Law.
Law and Orléans founded the first national bank of France and issued paper money on such a scale that after the bank failed, France refused to try paper currency again for eighty years.[iii]
In 1717, the French monarch had entrusted the Louisiana territories to the Company of the West (or Mississippi Company) for development as a populated colony.
As head of the Mississippi Company, John Law authorized Bienville to find a suitable location for a settlement on the river that could be used as a port and also a military stronghold to protect French interests in the New World from potential British invasion.[iv]
Indian slaves joined the merchants, soldiers, convicts, and beggars that helped Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville build the city of La Nouvelle-Orléans along the flood-prone banks of the lower Mississippi. Bayou St. John provided portage between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain, and the crescent shaped city enjoyed relatively easy access to the Gulf on its Southern flank, 100 miles away.
Bienville planned the city from the beginning to be a port that could connect cities and settlers up and down the Mississippi River with European commercial routes that would terminate in New Orleans. Bienville ignored the obvious threat of flooding that overshadowed the low-lying city, virtually surrounded by water, from its inception, because of the commercial advantages the location enjoyed.
In addition, the St. John portage provided a strategic military advantage – a ready escape route should one be needed in case of attack from the sea by rival European powers. Yet the new city, founded to serve as a tool of aristocratic real estate promoters to be used to separate gullible investors from their savings, was always really just a giant swamp, and would be beset by floods, pestilence, and plague throughout its history.
Bienville named the city New Orleans in honor of Law’s partner, the Royal Regent, the duc d’Orléans, and in 1718 construction began on the city following the plan of a late French medieval town – a central square with a grid of streets surrounding it. A few months later, the foundations of the city flooded when the river overflowed its banks.[v] A tiny wooden levee was constructed to protect the newborn city from the rising river, which continued to flood periodically and turned the streets to mud. Today, that central square is known as Jackson Square, and the original settlement is called the Vieux Carré, or French Quarter.
John Law’s company began to market the new city as a paradise on Earth, printing posters displaying a land of tropical palm trees, cool mountain tops, and subservient Indians. Shares in the Mississippi Company opened at 150 livres and sold at 10,000 within months.[vi]
In 1724, with New Orleans recently having replaced Biloxi as capitol of the Mississippi territory, Bienville approved the Code Noir, a legal framework which codified slavery of Africans, banished Jews, and established Roman Catholicism as the official religion of the territory.
Of course, the bubble had to burst, leaving half a million investors bankrupt in the event. In 1731, Law’s company relinquished governance of Louisiana and the King of France took direct control of the troubled territory. In 1735, the environmental miscalculations of the city’s founders became all too apparent when the Mississippi again flooded New Orleans, submerging the city.[vii]
Trade was minimal in the ensuing years, in part due to French laws restricting trade to the mother country. Louis XV thought so little of the area, fallen from royal grace and anathema to investors, that he gave all of Louisiana west of the Mississippi to his cousin, Charles III of Spain. Following another major flood in 1785 and devastating fires in 1788 and 1794, the Spanish rebuilt the French Quarter in the traditional Spanish style of brick-and-plaster, replete with arches, courtyards, balconies, and the ubiquitous slave quarters.
France regained control of the territory in 1800, but Napoleon quickly sold the entire area to the Americans for $15 million, proving that military genius does not generally co-exist with financial savvy.
When the Americans arrived they were relegated by the existing upper class aristocrats to the area across Canal Street, beyond the border of the French Quarter. The more affluent spread out along St. Charles Avenue, Greek Revival mansions rose in the Garden District, and a city firmly divided by hierarchical and very rigid racial, ethnic and class distinctions began to take permanent shape. The Garden District, known as uptown by the locals, sat on the highest ground, and poor neighborhoods occupied the low-lying areas.
The port of New Orleans provided the growing American economy with its most crucial nexus of commercial activity. As American settlers fanned out from the East, committing genocide against Native American tribes from Canada to Mexico as they built homes on vast farmlands from the Alleghenies to the Rockies, they used the system of rivers that flowed from the Midwest into the Mississippi as their transportation system, using barges to connect with the global economy.
The British always understood the geo-strategic importance of New Orleans, which is why they fought so hard to take the city. Andrew Jackson repelled the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, and continued his protective stance toward the crown jewel of American ports when he became President, establishing Texas as a buffer zone between marauding Mexicans and his beloved Crescent City.
By 1812, levees had been erected along the entire length of the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, primarily to protect plantations owned by slave-owning artistocrats.[viii] From 1814 until the Civil War, New Orleans was a boom town. The era of the steam-driven riverboat had begun, and the volume of Mississippi river commerce skyrocketed, putting New Orleans’ port on a par with New York’s in the 1840s.
During this period, King Cotton ruled. By mid-century, cotton-related commercial activities comprised nearly half of New Orleans’ economy. This labor-intensive crop, which required slave labor to keep costs down, was favored by the English industrialists who relied upon cheap American slave cotton to fuel their newly industrializing economic engine, epitomized by the dirty, dreary, dangerous steam-powered mills that spun cloth and manufactured clothes – high-value-added, high-profit-margin products for the global market.
New Orleans’ large and ruthless slave market, housed in the Cabildo, next to the venerable St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, underwrote King Cotton’s rule with blood, sweat and tears.
Slaves arrived in Portuguese, French, Spanish and Dutch slave ships throughout the century, swelling New Orleans African American population. New Orleans also had one of the largest and most culturally advanced populations of “free men and women of color” in the American South.
By 1860, the population of New Orleans topped 100,000, and a system of plantation farming based upon slave labor had created a new aristocracy. The aristocracy of the slave plantations created a cuisine based upon a mixture of Creole and French roots. The Creole language is a mixture of African American rhythms, Portuguese syntax and French and English vocabulary that is characteristic of the Caribbean cultures created by European slave-trading. New Orleans cooking on the nineteenth century plantations was similarly complex, arguably required more chopping and other prep work than any cuisine in the world. No problem with slave chefs on duty 24/7 to create dishes that outshone traditional French cooking by sheer lavish opulence.
Why serve a fish with Béarnaise sauce, when you can serve a fish with béchamel sauce and then top it with soft shell crabs slathered in glazed Béarnaise sauce? Why not take the time to wring every drop of moisture out of pounds of spinach and watercress, then add mounds of butter soaked in Pernod to replace the lost water, freeze the resulting moosh, cover oysters in the paste and cook on rock salt at high heat? Voilá! Oysters Rockefeller. A dish which, when I lived in New Orleans in the Seventies, was served according to the original recipes in no commercial kitchens because of the expense and prep work involved, and served properly nowhere in New Orleans outside of Antoine’s and Galatoire’s where the true tradition of Creole cooking still lives.
New Orleans Creole cooking was America’s first major contribution to global cuisine. Today, New Orleans is a major oasis of fine dining in the culinary wasteland that extends from our major East Coast cities with their multi-cultural restaurants to the California-style West Coast eateries, a crown jewel of indigenous food wizardry in fast-food America. In New Orleans, people know what good food is like, and rich or poor, they want their red beans and rice and their haute cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients by chefs who know their chops.
During the boom years, carefully constructed hierarchies of race, ethnicity and bloodline began to break down. People had to trace their lineage back to two or even three continents. Waves of Irish and German settlers arrived to provide new sources of cheap, skilled labor.
The swamps around the city were drained, yet New Orleans’ environmental deficiencies continued to precipitate catastrophic consequences as the city grew. In October, 1832, 4,340 people died in a cholera epidemic. In 1847 yellow fever raged throughout the city. In 1850 and 1851 an epidemic of dengue fever appeared. In the summer of 1852, yellow fever killed 8,000 and in 1853 yellow fever killed 7,790 more. [ix]
During the civil war, the Union targeted the city because of its strategic importance as the port of choice for delivery of cotton to the English. Deprived of American slave cotton, the British Empire turned to India, and transformed millions of subsistence farmers into landless serfs so that India could produce the cotton that British industrialists required.
By 1860, the United States government created the Mississippi River Commission to oversee Southern Louisiana’s ongoing war against nature, and protect the strategically invaluable port of New Orleans, nearby riverfront plantations, newly industrializing Baton Rouge, and the growing array of businesses in the area from flooding.
Mark Twain, combining a historian’s vision with the well-honed humor of a riverboat gambler, commented on these ever-increasing efforts to tame the river in his book “Life on the Mississippi”.
“One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver—not aloud but to himself—tha