Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Teaching

When I finish teaching today just after noon, I'll walk back to the Administration building and down the hallway to my office. On the way I'll walk past Dr Jones teaching calculus, Dr Rotundo-McCord teaching history, and Dr Serban teaching Political Science. It is so great to be back at Xavier, and to be teaching with so many talented colleagues. So thank you to all of those who made reopening Xavier possible, especially the students. I just wanted to write down something positive before tonight's State of the Union Address, as I have no doubt that I'll be depressed for days to come.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Disengaged

"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."
George W. Bush on Good Morning America, September 1, 2005 (3 days after Katrina hit New Orleans)

"could greatly overtop levees and protective systems" and "incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus)."
Computer presentation by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) early in the morning of August 27th, 2005 (2 days before the hurricane hit New Orleans)

"likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching."
41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC) emailed to White House August 29th (hours before the storm hit).

Moreover, way back on July 23rd, 2004 (13 months before Katrina), FEMA received a report on the effects of a fictitious Category 3 Hurricane named Pam. They predicted the liklihood of levees breaking, thousands dead, even more stranded, and the lack of communication among first responders and leaders. The federal government paid half a million dollars for this report, so I hope they listened.

There's more information in this Washington Post article and a bunch more in this timeline.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mid-Life Crisis

Lordy, Lordy, Today I'm 40.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bush Administration Opposed to Baker Bill

Congressman Richard Baker (R-Baton Rouge, LA) has been trying for months to get a bill passed that would form a government entity which would draw on federal financing to pay at least 60 percent equity of the more than 200,000 homes that were damaged by flood. It would have also have paid off the mortgages. After some time, the original owners would have first dibs to buy back the property from the government, but if they didn't, the government would own the property. It could sell it, or convert it into green space, whatever. It was a plan that many of us in Louisiana needed. Therese and I had flood insurance, as we needed it when we bought our house. But we're still not sure what our insurance company is going to offer us in a settlement. There is a good chance that at the end of the day Therese and I will be making mortgage payments on a structure that we bought for $157,000, had appreciated to about $215,000 before the hurricane, and now will require about $150,000 to repair it. So in the end it might not be worth sinking in so much money into a damaged house, and we then would have to declare bankruptcy, and the bank would then own the damaged house. There are thousands more in a similar situation. Pretty much all recovery plans for this region were counting on the Baker Bill. Moreover, it wouldn't have cost tax payers a thing, so it seemed like a no brainer to pass. However, today I read that Donald Powell, appointed by Bush to oversee recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said he is not in favor of the Baker Bill. This news came as a real suprise to politicians and citizens down here in New Orleans. Powell said that the 6 billion Congress approved for a grant will be plenty for Louisiana, and that the money should only help those who flooded who didn't live in a flood prone area. So again, it would seem, the government fails to understand the level of devestation, and we in Louisiana are on our own. Todays Times-Picayune has more on this sad story.

Biblical Studies Carnival

A couple of days ago I received an email from Tyler Williams asking for submissions for "the second Biblical Studies Carnival, a monthly carnival showcasing the best of weblog posts in the area of academic biblical studies." I think that's a great idea, and you can read more about this Carnival here. It also got me thinking about my blog. I started it to write about teaching biblical studies. In fact my description, as you see above, is "A personal journal about teaching the Bible and ancient Near Eastern history/theology/religion/archaeology to university students, and whatever else happens to be on my mind." But lately very little has been about teaching Bible, and instead it has been about my life dealing in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans (part of which is teaching). But I'm not yet ready to change the description, and I very much am looking forward to the day, whenever it might be, that my postings are almost all related to teaching biblical studies. For now I want to be part of the Reality Show that is New Orleans.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Touring Tragedy

This weekend I decided to tour the areas most devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I had mixed feelings about doing this. Several people feel that their tragedy should be personal and they resent the many cars that drive through their decimated neighborhoods. But I felt it was important. I think the biggest problem we face down here in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is that other people in this country, and especially our government, just don't understand the level of destruction that happened down here. I don't understand it myself, but in an effort to be better informed, we drove through the Lakeview neighborhood on Saturday. Then on Sunday we drove over the Industrial Canal through the Lower 9th Ward, and then went all the way to Waveland Missississippi where the eye of Katrina hit. That's about 65 miles. That's what impacted me the most. From my neighborhood in New Orleans, which represents the western most flooded areas, we drove 65 miles and we never left a neighborhood that didn't flood and/or have severe wind damage. Plus I could have driven all the way to Alabama and seen the effects of this storm. It made me realize that it will take decades to recover from this catastrophe. While pictures can't begin to accurately capture what we saw this weekend, here are a couple:
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This picture shows stairs leading to nowhere in the Lower 9th Ward. It is in a neighborhood that was once densely populated with houses. Now all that is left are the foundations. This damage was caused by the breach in the Industrial Canal, and the current must have been intense.About two miles from the breach you can see thousands of houses like this one:
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The water apparently lifted the house up and in the end it came to rest on top of this car.
It's now nearly five months after this tragedy. We saw several people living in nearly collapsed buildings, or in tents where their houses once stood. Until our government leaders realize this wasn't an ordinary hurricane, and they realize that despite years of treating people down here in Lousiana like a third world country or ignoring us, we are actually citizens of the U.S. and we need some serious help.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Students

At 8 AM this morning, I taught for the first time since August 25th. The elevator wasn't working, so all the students had to walk up five flights of stairs, and not one complained. I asked them what the hell they were doing here, in the midst of such devestation. They had great answers.
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I have a feeling that this semester will be the jewel in my teaching career. The students and I have so much to talk about.
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MLK, God, and Chocolate

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was nice to have a three day weekend and reflect on peace and justice. At a New Orleans MLK event, Mayor Nagin delivered a controversial speech that led me to question if he is getting enough sleep. Among other things, he said that "Surely God is mad at America, he's sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane and it's destroying and putting stress on this country. Surely he's not approving of us being in Iraq under false pretense. " He later added "This city will be chocolate at the end of the day ... This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be." I personally don't know if God sent the hurricane, or if he did why he did it. I'm against the war in Iraq, but I don't see any connection to weather. I liked living in New Orleans, a city that was 68% African American before the hurricane. But I am not a big fan of chocolate, and and there we so many fat people in New Orleans, that perhaps we had too much chocolate. Carob is a good healthy subsistute for chocolate. Maybe God wants us to be a carob city.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Gil's Hurricane

I went to pick up my son Gilgamesh, who is 5, from his school the other day. The teacher gave me all of his drawings, one of which was a picture of a hurricane. Therese and I talk to the kids about what happened to New Orleans, they seem fine, but it obviously impacted them quite a bit. I know that Gilgamesh was deeply concerned when I was still in New Orleans and he saw some horrendous images on the news when he was evacuated in Mississippi. I'm sorry he had to experience all of this.
HurricaneByGilgamesh

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sorry God on Friday the 13th

This morning I was walking to work. I used to do this by choice because I believe that our country's dependency on oil has thrown the world into turmoil. But now I no longer even have a choice, because my car was destroyed in the flood. But this morning it was raining very hard, and on the way a lightning bolt struck about 25 feet in front of me. Then the wind picked up making my umbrella useless. So now I'm soaked, and shaken up from the lightning, and I'm convinced that God is trying to kill me. So God, I'm sorry, and I ask that we can put all of that bad sinning stuff I did behind us and move on. OK?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Xavier's Faculty Meet

Today the faculty of Xavier University got together for what we call a Faculty Institute. What I had thought was going to be one of the happiest days of my life was actually quite depressing. It was sort of like a big soggy blanket. There were great things about today, like seeing my colleague and friend Phil Linden for the first time since the hurricane. He doesn't have a place to live, as his home was destroyed and he is waiting like so many people on a FEMA trailer. Here he is sitting next to Jerry Farmer:
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It was a miracle that we were able to get together and that Xavier will be opening its doors to students this weekend. But at this meeting things didn't seem right. When we had the Faculty Institute back in August, there were absolutely no chairs to be had. We as faculty had outgrown the auditorium. In fact, back in August there were more students than ever before registered at Xavier. Today there were plenty of open chairs. And the room had been gutted and rewired. There had been permanent chairs in the room, now we were all sitting in portable desks, and wires were dangling from the ceiling. People would look around the room to try to assess who was still at Xavier and who had been "let go." Some of the best teachers I ever met had been "let go." Our department got hit hard, losing three positions, and keeping four. Later those of us left in the department met. I started off the meeting by saying that I believed that in a more just world Gerald Boodoo, who had tenure, and who had been my mentor and chair when I arrived at Xavier, would be sitting where I was. We tried to figure out the criteria the administration used for deciding who to keep and who to let go. But in the end I have to realize we will never know. I am glad I didn't have to make those difficult decisions. But I especially missed my friend Mark Gstohl. I hope and pray that we can find a way to hire him back in the next academic year when his Howard Hughes grant expires. The president of our university, Norman Francis, said that letting faculty go was the most difficult decision he had ever had to make in his many years as president. He said the faculty found out they were terminated so late (end of October) because he had hoped that in the end the government or someone would have given him the money to keep the faculty. He said that as of today Xavier had not received even a single dollar from FEMA or the government. He said something that I strongly agree with, that this country has not fully appreciated the totality of the destruction down here. And the destruction is not just to physical buildings, but to the prospect of the future. Education, especially K-12 is in a real crisis and we need help.
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Dr Francis said that Jesse Jackson had nothing to do with the evacuation of students from Xavier. The buses camed from Grambling and were organized by Ed Phillips. Jesse Jackson showed up in a limo and shook hands and took pictures, but Xavier staff made sure the students were never in danger. I will be very happy to see students. They are supposed to be here Sunday for orientation and classes begin Tuesday, the day after Martin Luther King Junior day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

My Neighborhood has 4 Months

Every day is important these days in New Orleans, but today is especially important. Mayor Ray Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission revealed their highly anticipated plans for the city's future. They published the following map:
planmap
Both my house (represented by a red arrow that I added) and Xavier University (represented by the yellow arrow that I added) are in sections of the city labled "building moratorium until neighborhoods prove viability." And we have four months to prove to them we're viable. Apparently no building permits will be issued, but we have to prove that most of the residents in our neighborhood are returning. Mind you, all of this depends on Mayor Nagin, as he can endorse these recommendations, ignore them, or modify them. Of course Xavier will be allowed to rebuild, but the surrounding neighborhood of Gertown is in question. I am sure that my neighborhood in Mid City (or at least my block) in the end will be allowed to be rebuilt. Most of the neighbors on my block have already gutted their homes and are either back or plan to be back. I haven't gutted my house yet, as if I did I believe it would fall over even more, maybe even fall on my neighbor Mike's house. The lathes and plaster are helping to keep it from leaning more, or at least that is what a few people who know about structural engineering have commented.

But this question of the size of the New New Orleans is very contentious. It seems also that race plays a role. In Orleans Parish, if you were Black you were statistically more likely to have lost your home to the flood than if you were white. And many plans to rebuild New Orleans use terms like "smaller footprint" for the new city, meaning many predominantly African American neighborhoods won't be allowed to rebuild. The plan is to try to come up with 100% compenstation for the homes that won't be allowed to be rebuilt, though this depends on the passage of the Baker Bill. However, even if I received full equity for my home, which cost $157,000 when I purchased it three years ago, and before the flood was worth about $215,000, with that money I could only buy half the home in New Orleans these days. Prices have nearly doubled in some neighborhoods. It is fairly complicated, but you can read more about the Bring New Orleans Back Commission's report in today's lead story in the Times Picayune.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Back in the Saddle, Sort of

Monday, January 9th marked the first day that faculty at Xavier could come back to their offices. I did that with my daughter Kalypso and it was a pretty huge occasion. I saw many old friends and colleagues, and was able to clean my office and make sure some important external harddrives that I need for an Atlas that I'm working on were still there and functioning. All is well with my books and computer equipment it seems. There was mold on a few things but it will all work out. There is no internet access in my building yet. I hope they get that fixed very soon. For now, I have to go to the fifth floor of the library to use the Center for the Advancement of Teaching's internet. It wasn't working yesterday but today it seems to be fine.
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I hadn't been in my office since I was there when the flood waters were all around New Orleans, on September 1st. Classes begin here one week from today, and I've got an awful lot to accomplish before then.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Update (Broken Ulna)

It is REALLY HARD to get internet in New Orleans, and even more difficult to get email. Tomorrow there are rumors that we faculty can get onto the Xavier campus, and maybe I can do internet stuff there. The big news is that Kalypso broke her arm again, in the same place as last time. The good news is they gave her a Mardi Gras cast, and they took out the metal rod in her arm. Life is pretty difficult but we're managing.
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Sunday, January 01, 2006

2006

Last night we went to a party at Bart and Xy's house, and then attended a crazy bonfire on Orleans Ave. to say farewell to 2005. Getting internet access is pretty difficult for the time being, so while there is much happening, I won't be posting for a while. We're doing OK, and it is great to be back home.