Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Redheaded Eskimo from Nebraska Responds to David Simon's Assertions about Standing

"I'm going to make an argument here that standing is the lamest way of reducing genuine debate, discussion, and argument in our political culture, in our culture in general, and in our society."
David Simon, Rising Tide 6, Xavier University of Louisiana

I very much enjoyed Rising Tide 6, a conference in New Orleans about social networking and blogs. David Simon was the keynote speaker. I am a huge fan of Simon's work on shows such as The Wire and The Treme, some of the best television ever in my opinion. David Simon said he hoped that his talk would be provacative, and it was. But in the end what he concluded about "standing" bothered me.

It seems David Simon is so very tired of people complaining that because he is not from New Orleans, and that because he didn't experience Katrina and its immediate aftermath, that he has no business telling our story. He claimed that these attacks on his work are ad hominem and instead they should focus on the actual stories he tells, not his background. He said that to take the idea of standing to its logical conclusion, you'd have to be a "redheaded Eskimo from Nebraska to write the story of a redheaded Eskimo from Nebraska."

Well, as someone who grew up as a redheaded Nebraskan, it's my unfortunate duty to inform Mr. Simon that the preferred term is Inuit and they neither live in Nebraska nor have red hair. Though if Mr. Simon reads this and wants to collaborate on a future project about redheads and Nebraska, I'd be game. Think Omar in overalls on a tractor stealing from corn silos.

But more seriously, I present as an argument that standing does matter... Sr. Monica Loughlin, who gave the introductory remarks welcoming attendees to Xavier. Certainly Sr. Monica's standing as a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament, the order founded by Saint Katharine Drexel, certainly that matters in her ability to tell the story of Xavier's unique mission. Doesn't it give her street cred? I could have said the same words and it would have mattered less. If a heathen like Mr. Macrochephalus would have told that story, it would have been worse than meaningless.

I very much agree with David Simon that people in the media need to be curious and honest. I also liked his anecdote about David Mills, an African American writer who complained when people told him that they loved the work he did with the African American actors on the TV show NYPD Blue. Mills would get upset and tell them he wrote the words of Sipowicz as well! Awesome. So keep telling your stories David Simon. I love watching them. But I do think that standing does matter, it matters a lot.

You can see David Simon's talk at Rising Tide 6 here, thanks to Jason Berry for the video:

Rising Tide 6 - David Simon, Keynote Speaker from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Today I began class by telling the students my experiences from six years ago. They were amazed that I swam to Xavier one day, and also that I naively thought that the world would change after those horrible events. I thought America would shift from policies that only benefitted the wealthy share holders to help some of the most disenfranchised. This afternoon I walked with my dogs to the Katrina memorial near our house. It's where they buried the remains of all of the unidentified victims who passed away during the flood. My dogs were a big part of my flood experience, and I was glad they were here. It's always depressing to remember what happened six years ago. My dogs in a way are lucky, as they don't know it's the six year anniversary of anything, and they certainly don't understand the concept of a Katrina memorial. Kochise even peed on one of the signs there. But luckily today is Monday. So I'd rather commemorate a Monday tradition instead of anything as horrible as a mass levee failures and suffering and death. Here is a Monday tradition in our house and throughout New Orleans: the classic red beans and rice with cornbread.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day Times 10 at Xavier

Today was the first day of the Fall Semester here at Xavier University of Louisiana. I have been here 10 years, having moved from Jerusalem to New Orleans in the summer of 2001. I would say that overall it's been a good fit. To be honest, there were frustrating times when I thought about leaving. I often believed that I would be better matched at a Division One research institution. It would also have been nice to be a bit closer to our families in Nebraska, as our children seldom see their relatives. But over the years I've been able to personalize Xavier's Mission, and there is plenty here that is worth fighting for. For me this especially became true for the people of New Orleans after the flood.

It is always wonderful on the first day of class when we get to meet our students. Most classes hand out a syllabus and dismiss. Instead, I try to hit the ground running and make the students come out of their security zones by telling them horrifying stories about Nebraska. I also explain to them that the key to staying out of trouble is to wear a sweater vest. I have never seen anyone in the news shot or arrested who is wearing a sweater vest. But I think my favorite part of being at Xavier is getting to know the students.

I am now 45-years-old, and that means I have about 20 years more of teaching before I could consider retirement. So I'm about a third of the way done. I wonder if I'll still enjoy meeting students in another 10 years?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

$15,033.79 Insurance Costs

I have insurance, but I don't have much faith in it. When New Orleans flooded, I figured that because we had insurance we'd be fine. We did come out fine, but it took several years of fighting with the insurance companies. We've also had several problems over the years of getting insurance companies to pay various healthcare and auto costs that were supposed to be covered.

But in order to drive, and to have a mortgage, and to be "responsible," our society deems it necessary to have insurance. However I think I'm paying way too much for it. In fact, insurance costs wind up being more than 25% of my salary. It costs much more than the national average to have homeowners and auto insurance in New Orleans, so I bet that I pay more than you. I pay $15,033.79 for various forms of insurance.

Here is a breakdown of what I pay for insurance annually:

$4,022 Homeowners Premium (Louisiana Citizens for $355,000 dwelling & $177,000 personal coverage)
$645 Flood Insurance (American National for $250,000 building and $100,000 content)
$173 Termite Insurance with Terminex

Then we have a rental property on South Hennessey:
$2422 Homeowners (Louisiana Citizens $200,000 dwelling)
$458 Flood Insurance (American National for $224,000 coverage)
$151 Termite Insurance with Terminex

Health Insurance
$2,213.76 for healthcare coverage for me, Kalypso and Gilgamesh with Humana.
$708.72 for dental insurance for me, Kalypso and Gilgamesh.
$1034.17 Therese's health Insurance
$53.77 Therese's Dental Insurance
$122.17 Vision Insurance

Auto & Scooter Insurance
$2,292.20 for 2001 Toyota Highlander and 1966 Pontiac Catalina for Therese, myself, and Kalypso with Geico.
$140 Vespa Scooter Insurance for Therese and me with Geico.

Life Insurance
$470 annual payment for me for a $500,000 policy with American General.
$128 for Therese for $200,000 policy with Genworth.

I know I can save money by shopping around for homeowners and car insurance. My goal is to have this bill be under $10K within one year.