Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Funerals In Worlds Other Than Your Own

For my Freshman Seminar course this semester, I chose to focus on how Xavier's mission to promote a more just and humane society relates to death and burials in New Orleans. I'm interested in how the dead can speak to us, and I frame the discussion around Ezekiel 37, where the dry bones come back to life to symbolize hope for Judah. Later in the semester we'll be working with Save Our Cemeteries to map/record graves at St. Louis Cemetery # 2.

For the first blog entry, I asked students to write about memorable funerals they've attended. Reading these posts reinforced to me that many of my students come from worlds that are very foreign to me.

The students I have from New Orleans all seemed to have had classmates die in Junior High and High School from gun violence. They all had funeral shirts in their closets, many of which depict the slain teenager as a soldier holding a gun. My students talked about how people put guns and other weapons into the coffins for burial, and then the people at the funeral talk about how all this violence needs to stop.

One funeral in particular amazed me. It was for the New Orleans rapper Soulja Slim. He was shot to death the day before Thanksgiving in 2003. They said that at the funeral his family dressed his corpse in camouflage and large bling jewelry and then put the body behind the wheel of his Escalade like he was driving in style. Then people at the funeral would have their pictures taken while sitting next to his corpse. My student said you could hear his bones cracking and in the words of my student: "it was not too good of a smell to me." It is clear that I will never have any idea what it is like to grow up with so much violence and senseless death.

While Soulja Slim's funeral sort of freaks me out, something probably more unusual strikes me as normal for New Orleans. One of the most famous interred individuals at St. Louis Cemetery #2 is Ernie K-Doe, and his widow has a waxed replica of the man that she drives around town in a hearse and gives him baths in flowers. That all seems pretty natural for this unconventional city. But then again, Soulja Slim's funeral celebrated his life more than mourned his death. That's what we do here, we celebrate.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I turned 43 today. I know it's my birthday because stupid facebook keeps telling me people are writing on my wall. You can read about my life (and see my brother Jim in his underwear) here.

For another perspective, one that is more Macrocephalic, look to my blogging nemesis ADrasticallyBigHeados. He turned 43 many, many years ago. Now he peddles tiles with cat pictures to tourists.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Where I Live Nooses are "Humorous"

Terrence Lee, an African American employee of Jefferson Parish Sewerage, complained that items in his boss's office such as a noose and whipping post had "racial overtones." Parish supervisors suspended his supervisors 4-6 weeks, but the personnel officer reduced it to 5-20 days. They let Terrence know about the reduction on MLK day, of course. The Parish official said it was a "joke" and the rope device was not a noose, but a lariat. The Hearing Officer wrote "I find as a matter of fact that these items were intended to be humorous in nature, that they were not intended to harm or harass anyone."

Yeah right, nothing says funny like a noose. Like this timeless classic: A white racist, a noose, and a confederate flag walk into a bar. And it turns out its 2009. Snap.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cautiously Optimistic for America

My family and I are in Atlanta where I am giving a lecture entitled "Beer, the Bible and Archaeology" at the Carlos Museum at Emory University.

We drove up here on Saturday. It was amazing driving through Dixie, seeing so many confederate flags, and listening on the radio to all the discussion about Barak Obama becoming the 44th U.S. president. This moment in history was especially poignant while driving through epicenters for the Civil Rights movement like Montgomery and Birmingham. I of course tried to play Clark Griswald and teach the kids about the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, the Montgomery bus boycott 1955-56, the Selma to Montgomery marches, and the struggles culminating with the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. I even played songs like Neil Young's Alabama and Lynard Skynard's response Sweet Home Alabama.

Then on MLK day, along with viewing the King Tut exhibit and visiting the Jimmy Carter library, we drove to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, where the most famous civil rights leader was born and where he lies buried.

I'm afraid that all of the unity and good will and hope that Obama brings to this country and the world will gradually dissolve through the next two years. But for now, I'm thrilled to be watching the incredible jubilation on so many faces on this great day. And if Obama asks me to make sacrifices for the good of the world, and if he asks me to do even more service than I currently perform, I'm willing to be sure. While I am clearly capable of dissent, I am even better at following a true leader. So now, with the help of millions, and standing on the shoulders of so many people who have struggled, Obama sets out to fix the world.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Barkus 2009 Poster

Barkus finally released their poster for 2009, and we registered Kochise and Mosey today. The theme is Batmutt: The Bark Knight. We're rolling Sunday February 15th.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beyond Jena Forum

The 2007 demonstrations in Jena Louisiana were the first civil rights protest organized through blogs according to Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune. My colleagues at Xavier Kimberly Chandler and Bart Everson put together this fascinating program called "Beyond Jena: A Forum on Bloggers of Color, Education and Social Justice in New Orleans." The first panel is: The Rise of Blogging and Grassroots Media as Tools for Social Justice in New Orleans and Beyond. The second panel is: Using Blogging and Grassroots Media as an Educational Tool to Realize the Xavier Mission: A Discussion of Best Practices and Student Reflections.

I encourage you to make it if you can. It takes place on January 31st and you can register here (it's free).

No Heroes

Back in the early 80's I was in a punk rock band in Omaha called No Heroes. Mr. Fink, aka Jason Willis, writes about No Heroes here in his ongoing effort to archive "the scene" on the Great Plains back in the early 1980's. Most people just threw out their old cassettes. Jason however, felt the need to share. I'd say he was a hero, but that would fly in the face of all that our band stood for.

Please Please Please Let the Beer be OK

The Abita Brewery exploded this morning. No one was hurt, and more importantly, the tank that exploded was empty at the time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Federal Response Wasn't Slow After Katrina???

I can't wait for George W. Bush to disappear to his mansion in Dallas, and I hope I don't have to witness any more garbage like today when during a rare press conference, he spoke about regrets. He regretted the Mission Accomplished sign, and not finding WMDs. When asked about Katrina he said "Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs."


Senator Mary Landrieu responded: "The president’s assertion that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee breaks was anything but slow and disgracefully dysfunctional reveals that the administration’s tunnel vision has unfortunately remained constant since August 29, 2005. Clearly there were mistakes made at every level of government, and I and other Louisiana leaders have accepted responsibility for our own. But no state is equipped to respond to a catastrophe of this magnitude, and for this reason, federal law specifically tasks the federal government to step up. It did not, and the president's failure to account for that responsibility more than three years later is terribly disappointing."

Even Republicans Jindal and Vitter were critical of the initial response, and even more so about how little has been done the past 3 1/2 years to help us recover. Jindal stated more could be done to cut through the federal red tape. Of course it could.

So thanks Coast Guard. You guys and girls were real heroes after the federal levees failed and you saved many lives. I was here to see it. When the levees broke G.W. Bush was eating birthday cake with his friend John "that one" McCain a thousand miles away from here.
8 more days, just 8 more days.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Landlords Lament

In April of 2007 we purchased a double at 224-226 S. Hennessey for $214,000. We had to move out of our FEMA trailer so work could begin on our house, and we knew we would have to live somewhere else for at least a year. Instead of renting, we decided to invest in the neighborhood, and we would live downstairs, rent out the upstairs, and when we moved back home, we'd rent out both up and down. I think Therese and I would gladly sell the place at this point for the same price, and perhaps we would have been better off renting. Clearly our money was better invested in the house when compared to the real estate market these days.

We had great tenants upstairs, who just moved out. In fact, they moved in when one of their moms found the apartment was available from this blog. I've noticed Craig's List is flooded with properties so that isn't as effective as it used to be. Maybe we'll put ads in the local neighborhood coffee shops. Anyway, if you know anyone looking for a 2 Bed/1 Bath apartment in Mid-City, we'd sure like to be their landlords.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Homan's Amazing Parrot Freaked Out by Adrastos' Giant Head

Yesterday Adrastos, my blogging nemesis who has a very big head (size 9 3/4) thought he found my parrot in Greece. He was mistaken. This is my parrot:

The Old Man and the Storm

I recently watched "The Old Man and the Storm" on Frontline. I think it did a fantastic job capturing the frustration people in New Orleans feel now 3 1/2 years after the levees failed. It's a hard story to cover, we hear about it quite infrequently in the news these days, and trust me when I say that people who live here suffer from Katrina fatigue more than anyone. Not a day goes by without thinking about those days, and the documentary tells the incredible story of Herbert Gettridge and his family. Rebuilding was tough for me, but I had money for contractors and was in my 40's. Gettridge is in his 80's, and moreover he lives in the 9th ward, perhaps the hardest hit neighborhood. He was trying to get the house ready for his wife to return, so they could live there for their "golden years." Thanks to June Cross for making this amazing documentary. If you would like to see how difficult it is to rebuild, mostly because of an inept federal, state, and local government, you should see it. You can watch it online here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Take That, Lead Belly Foundation!

All right, so the Lead Belly foundation blocked our video on YouTube because it had Lead Belly audio, so we redid the audio to our "Raising the Homan House video on YouTube. This time, it's me on guitar, Kalypso on violin, and Gilgamesh tapping, and we all sing "House of the Rising Sun" with a brand spanking new lyrics. Now poor Lead Belly can rest in peace, knowing that our measly video about raising our Katrina Damaged home was used without the permission of some descendant Mr. Lead Belly never met. But now, instead of 3453 views, we have 0.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Leadbelly's Legacy Blocks My Youtube Video

I just received an email from the YouTube "Content Identification Team" that the audio I used in a video of my kids lifting our house was unlawful and they are blocking the video. This was the main part of their email:

A copyright owner has claimed it owns some or all of the audio content in your video Raising the Homan House in New Orleans. The audio content identified in your video is New Orleans by Lead Belly. We regret to inform you that your video has been blocked from playback due to a music rights issue.

But I can't figure out who to contact to ask for permission. I just emailed, and asked if they were the ones who blocked it. The main point is that the song is about a house in New Orleans, and the rising part fit well with the idea of raising our house. It seems pretty heavy handed to me. I'm a big fan of Leadbelly, and knowing what I know about the man, I would imagine he would want his songs played.

UPDATE: On January 30, 2013, I received an email from a gentleman who coauthored a book with a descendant of Lead Belly. I also received the comment below from Lead_Belly_Music. Glad to hear Lead Belly's family is so supportive. I noticed the original video with the Lead Belly song is back on youtube with a button where people can purchase the original song. That is a great solution and I'm glad it all worked out so well. I love the Lead Belly song.

Glad for Gadbois

My friend Karen Gadbois was just named New Olreanian of the Year by the Gambit Weekly. I first met Karen during her struggles to hold her neighborhood Walgreens accountable for their properties. Since then she's been a real leader in our rebuilding efforts, and more than anyone, she personifies how it is the citizens of New Orleans leading our recovery, with little to no help from the government.

Karen has been stippled by the Wall Street Journal and now she has been gambitted(?)


Sharing the award with Karen are Liz McCartney and Zack Rosenburg, founders of the St. Bernard Project. Congratulations to all three, and thanks to the Gambit for recognizing these heroes.

Joan of Arc Parade for Epiphany

Today, January 6th, marks the Epiphany, the day the Magi brought gifts to the newborn Jesus. For those of us in New Orleans, it marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season. We've waited so long for King Cakes, parades, and Mardi Gras parties. Tonight we're going to go down to the French Quarter to participate in the first annual Joan of Arc parade. We never had a good time with the Phorty Phunny Phellows and their street car, so we're hoping this is a better fit. I need a costume though and quick.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Gaza & Bush

I have always supported an independent and autonomous Palestinian state. It has been well documented that the Bush administration feels differently, and they have been cohorts with the most militant wings of the Israeli government. This idea that that you will stop rocket attacks by invading Gaza and killing hundreds is about as ridiculous as bringing democracy to Iraq with tanks. I remember how great Israel and Palestine were back in the late 1990's, how much hope there was, right before Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in 2000. I fear that Israel will bomb Iran in the next few days before Bush leaves office. And in case you were wondering just how ignorant Americans are regarding the Israel vs. Palestine problem, read the comments in this article in a recent Times-Picayune article. I am hoping that Obama has a statement soon about policy with this issue.

Tree House Accident

A neighborhood friend of Gilgamesh's fell out of our tree house yesterday and got a pretty good gash on his forehead. It required a couple of stitches. I think he also hurt his wrist, so he can't write for a while until it heals. We're hoping for the speedy recovery of our friend Miguel.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Christmas Gifts from Uncle Mike

I'm the proud uncle of three children in Omaha. I have two nephews: Zane and Cedric, and one niece named Lena. For Christmas this year I got Zane his first girlie magazine. Cedric got a bottle of Crown Royal, and little Lena got a pack of cigarettes.