Monday, August 31, 2009

Dry House Preferable, But Not Too Dry

Four years ago today, this is what our house looked like.
Our house is much better today, though the past four years have been difficult for so many of us.

I'm sorry to hear about the fires in California. Hope not too many lose their homes, and those that do, I wish them the best as they rebuild their lives.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Evil or not, the mayor gave a pretty good speech today on the 4th anniversary of the levee failure. I'll always remember his radio interview with Garland Robinette while the city was underwater. I remain grateful that the mayor was angry and emotional that day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Making Beer on Katrina's 4th Anniversary

I spent quite a bit of time researching planned commemorations around New Orleans to mark the 4th anniversary of Katrina this Saturday. I'll bike with the kids to the annual event at the Katrina memorial on Canal Street, it's not too far from our house. Bells ring from 9-10:30 AM to symbolically memorialize the moment when the various levees broke. After that, I thought about going to the Hands Around the Dome or the Second Line in the Lower Ninth Ward. I though about making a sign and standing in front of the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. Instead, I think I'll stay at home and make some beer.

I used to be an avid home brewer. I made a wicked IPA, a great nut brown ale, a solid ESB and some fun seasonal beers like pumpkin stout and Cubbies Curse (only my sister Chris knows about this). I also made batches of beers based on recipes from the ancient Near East. I published a few articles on the topic of ancient Near Eastern beer, the best two of which were "Beer and Its Drinkers: An Ancient Near Eastern Love Story in Near Eastern Archaeology and "Baking and Brewing Beer in the Israelite Household: A Study
of Women's Cooking Technology" co-authored with my friend Jennie Ebeling in the book The World of Women in the Ancient and Classical Near East.

But all of that was before the flood. I haven't made any beer since. Come to think of it, while New Orleans was flooded and I lived upstairs during the chaotic weeks of late August/early September 2005, the most dominant part of my diet consisted of warm beers that I had previously brewed. I even thought about living for a month with ancient homebrew as my only food source in order to prove that beer was a super-food, which it is and was, of course. I thought I could use the tragedy to benefit my academic field. My mind was a bit scattered back then. It wasn't too much home brew. It had much more to do with listening to the radio and hearing people panic because they were trapped in their house and soon to die. It had much more to do with seeing drowned people whom I had known and seeing families pulling elderly relatives in flotation devices to higher ground. It had much more to do with the complete breakdown of civilization, to seeing the Causeway Concentration Camp. That place could have used some home brew, to be sure.

So today I learned that there is a homebrew shop called Brewstock that has opened on Oak Street. I used to frequent Brew Ha Ha on Magazine Street but they haven't been open since the flood. My home brewing equipment was on our second floor 4 years ago, and it survived, but has been packed away and stored under our house. Here is a picture of it taken minutes ago:
So Saturday I plan on going to Brewstock and making a beer to commemorate a tragedy. Of course there is a long history of alcohol used to acknowledge death and disaster, from "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isaiah 22:13) to gang bangers pouring out a 40 oz beer for dead homies. I think it will be healthy to commemorate the levee breach by doing something that will return my life to the way it was before the flood, to what people here call a "return to normal." I'll make beer and in about a month drink it, but still, not an hour of my life since August 29th, 2005 has transpired without thinking about Katrina and its tragedy. I remember so vividly after a windy night standing outside my house on August 29th at about 9 AM and speaking with my neighbors on a dry street about how we had "dodged the bullet." I'll make sure to give those neighbors one of my Katrina memorial beers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Health Care Commercials in Louisiana

As an avid viewer of the national evening news, tonight I noticed a substantial increase in advertisements relating to the health care debate. I deduce that this is due to the announcement that "moderate" Democrat Mary Landrieu will play a large part in the final decision. The most disturbing angles in the commercials advertised that with the proposed health care reform, so many new people will need health care that there won't be enough doctors, so everyone will have to wait longer and old people will die. Then they advise people to contact Mary Landrieu and tell her to vote against health care reform. The other angle is to tell people that the country is going through hard financial times and we should wait to reform until we are more stable.

I often am angry with this country, but sometimes I really detest it. The same people who brag about how this is the best country on earth vote against giving health care to all children. Most people are stupid, all people are greedy, insurance companies are evil, and many physicians and pharmacists chose their vocations due to economics and not empathy. But still, perhaps foolishly, I hope to live in a country where families don't have to declare bankruptcy due to illness, and where children born into poor families can still have preventative health care.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Running Out of Time

Classes start tomorrow for the Fall semester, and emotionally I am not yet ready to teach. I am not excited about this semester, I am not looking forward to seeing hundreds of 18 year olds who don't want to be in my class but have to because it is part of the core curriculum. I am dreading an 11:00 class where after 11:30 I'm sure I'll have plenty of student enter wearing headphones and sit in the back and then text for 15 minutes and then line up at 11:50 when the class is over so that they can ask me to count them as present and then they'll be angry because I'll tell them I only take roll at the beginning of class.

But somehow between now and tomorrow I believe I'll find a better attitude and actually be enthusiastic about teaching. I continue to believe, perhaps naively, that teaching students at Xavier University of Louisiana about biblical studies and ancient Near Eastern religions is pretty important stuff.

Rising Tide IV Highlights

I had a very good time at the Rising Tide IV Conference on Saturday. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make it a success. There were two highlights for me. The first was during a discussion about food and culture, and how food impacts us more here than it would in other cities. The panelist Susan Tucker was talking about obituaries, and how they often mention food here in New Orleans. One obituary in particular spoke about a resident's Muslim devotion and it went on to say that he never ate pork, unless it was in a Muffuletta sandwich. I thought that made quite a bit of sense and it made me proud to live here.

Second, Harry Shearer spoke eloquently about how we in New Orleans lost the media battle about what happened here in August 2005. Four years after the city flooded, the rest of the nation and world believes that 80% of the city flooded because of a giant storm named Katrina, and not because of crappy levees built by the army corps of engineers. Shearer talked about how the modern news focused on emotion and not information. His talk was insightful but also depressing in that it doesn't seem New Orleans will ever have a quality levee system, one where we learn to live with water much like the system the Dutch have developed.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Therese's Birthday Jackalope

On this day, August 15th, some 43 years ago, Therese was born. To celebrate this anniversary the kids and I cleaned the house, got her some jewelry from Aqaba, and most important, we got her this birthday Jackalope. I have never owned a Jackalope, but as a fan of all things kitschy, I felt we needed to have at least one in the house. Happy birthday deer, I mean dear.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Uncle Owen's Memorial Service & The Battle of Kadesh

I just returned from San Jose, where I attended the memorial service for my uncle, Owen Hawkins. He led a remarkable life, and like my dad, he passed away after a long battle with cancer. Owen was always very supportive of my mom and our family, and I'm sad too him go. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and children. It was nice seeing so many of my relatives in California. The highlight for me was meeting my cousin Kim's new spouse, Mike Loades who is a historical weapons expert. He knows more about chariots than anyone I've ever met. At the reception, when I found out he shared my geeky love of ancient military history, we reenacted the Battle of Kadesh with chop sticks as the Orontes River, a cookie as Tell Kadesh, 4 salt shakers representing the Egytpian army divisions, and a couple of hidden pepper shakers representing the Hittites. Some of my relatives were impressed. Most were horrified.

Checks for "Public" Charter Schools

We just had to write a check for more than $700 to Lusher Charter School in order to cover Kalypso's "fees" for her first year of high school. These include test taking fees for advances classes, fees for being in an arts program at a school that is allegedly focussed on the arts, and various other expenses. This is of course on top of having to buy hundreds of dollars worth of supplies for the classroom, and having to write a check for Gilgamesh's "fees" as well. While we thankfully can afford these charges, many families can't, and I'm sad to see access to quality free public education slip away. Moreover, Lusher has a famous crawfish boil every spring, and I believe it is one of the largest fundraising events in the city. I wish Lusher was more transparent about how much money they raised and how they will spend the funds. But with the charter school model, salaries for administrators increase dramatically, while parents and teachers are asked to do considerably more work to keep the quality school running. Some parents such as ourselves fought pretty hard to get our kids into a quality "public" school like Lusher, and I've noticed with many Lusher parents a tendency to avoid complaining out of fear and other reasons. The feeling is that while our kids are there, we need to fully support the school. I need to do some research to find out if families at RSD schools need to write checks as well, and what happens if the parents are not able to provide the funds. Anyway, I sure wish K-12 education was a quality product entirely funded by taxes, but that is apparently crazy socialism talk.