Monday, October 31, 2005

Florida & Texas vs. Louisiana

According to the Times Picayune, Governor Jeb Bush gloated right after Hurricane Wilma that regarding State and Federal government working together: "It's working the way it's supposed to." Then he said that unlike his Florida, Louisiana had left the federal government to "fill the voids," and "The consequences are there for the rest of the world to see." The same thing happened when Rita was heading towards Texas. But it turns out, neither Texas with the lack of petrol and traffic jams, nor Florida with the giant lines for emergency supplies that never arrived or ran out, did so great. I find that much of these criticisms toward Louisiana are both racist and partisan, as unlike Florida and Texas, Louisiana has a democratic governor and New Orleans has a democratic mayor, both of whom criticised the federal response.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I Need a New Drug

There have been some HUGE developments at Xavier over the past 24 hours. It seems that some quality faculty, and some great friends of mine, will be laid off. I don't feel that I should post the details in my blog yet, as I have more questions than answers at this point. Feel free to email me at if you would like to discuss this further. One thing I do know, is that I should take the advice of my friend Fast Eddy and get my hands on the following drug:

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

School Pictures

We just got the school pictures for Kalypso (5th grade) and Gilgamesh (pre-K). Have at it grandparents!
KalypsoSchool2005 GilgameshSchool2005

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Homeowners Insurance Adjustor

So 55 days after leaving a message every single day on his answering machine, our Homeowners adjustor actually called us back. I set up an appointment to meet him at our house November 11th.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Anne Rice and Losing New Orleans

One of my favorite Xavier students sent me the link to this this article by the famous New Orleans (former) resident Anne Rice. She is now living in La Jolla, my former stomping grounds.

Barn Building and Swollen Thumbs

I was very impressed by the following email from a man named Mark with a swollen thumb. He worked in an archaeological area that I supervised in Feinan Jordan back in the late 90s, and he wrote and said the following:
I have been reading your blog and then looked at Bart's blog. He says now that he has a electrician, he needs all the other trades people to come by. That got me thinking, if you decide to rebuild your house and wish to do it yourself, I would try to come down and help you rebuild. Classic barn raising is my definition of a community and of friends. Unfortunately, this does not work well when everyone needs a new barn, unless you have a community that lives on the weather free west coast. I have installed a couple of tile counter tops, laid tile floors at a couple of houses (>1500 sq ft of tile), hung sheetrock (not textured but I would be willing to learn on your walls if you wanted), installed insulation, and done some electrical wiring and roofed houses. I don't claim to be an expert in any of the tasks but willing to try to come down and help you out if you need it. I don't know if any of the supplies would be available in NO or the surrounding area as I am sure many will be rebuilding. If you want help let me know your timeframes and I will looking getting time off and getting down there. As payment, I would require to be taught interesting things about the tents in biblical times. I will try not to get a swollen thumb.

Wow! That was one of the nicest offers that I have received in my life, and thanks to Mark with the swollen thumb. However, things are way too up in the air right now. I'm first waiting to find out if they plan on demolishing my house. If they don't then I plan on rebuilding, though it is hard to say if we can stay in New Orleans. We want to, but it is extremely complicated. Actually, if Mark could track down our insurance adjustor and bring him to our house that would be more than great. Classic capturing of the insurance agents and bringing them to the insured's house is also a definition of a community and friends. I promise we won't kill them, we just want them to write down a few things about our house and then move along.

Omaha to New Orleans to La Jolla to Israel

I talked to the Judaic Studies program at UCSD today, and thank God, they still have an available teaching position for me. Richard Friedman is backing the financial end of the deal, and his generosity means a great deal to me. It won't work out the Winter Quarter, as they originally offered, because it is too late. But I've committed to teaching there in the Spring Quarter which begins March 30th. So now my schedule seems to be as follows: I will stay in Omaha, though gladly travel to New Orleans at any time when John Dye our Allstate insurance adjustor calls us back. But in early January I will be in New Orleans, and I am very much looking forward to seeing our president Norman Francis address the faculty, and also to talking to students. Several students who have contacted me have said that they are very much looking forward to theology courses, as they want to try to better understand, and talk about, exactly what happened with Katrina and New Orleans. I can't wait to talk to those students. I think it will be cathartic for both the students and myself. I am scheduled to teach maybe a class or two, who knows. It is all up in the air. Also it isn't yet clear if Therese and the kids will be with me in New Orleans or stay in Omaha. Then after teaching at Xavier, on March 30th I am scheduled to travel to La Jolla where I will be teaching at my alma mater UCSD. It will be great as Ami Mazar will be there that quarter to join the fantastic regular faculty and there will be plenty of discussion about archaeology. Then after June 9th, when the quarter at UCSD ends, I'll be off to Israel to excavate at Tel Zeitah.

I am very much looking forward to being busy. Filling out insurance forms and trying to find a work habit with no library is awfully difficult and personally depressing. Tomorrow I will bicycle to UN Omaha to work on the paper I am co-presenting with Jennie Ebeling at ASOR. It is about beer, women and archaeology.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I left my family again for a few hours this Sunday to see the Saints lose a game. Chris Rose, a columnist from New Orleans, has some great advice about letting go.

Blow Your House Down

Nearly 1/3 of New Orleans' 180,000 homes are set to be demolished.

50% = New Orleans I Bid You Adieu For Now

For the past month or so Xavier officials have predicted that about 50% of the students would return to campus in January. However, I just received word that they are trying to find ways so that the university will only offer 50% of the scheduled classes listed for the original Fall 2005 semester. That makes sense. The Theology Department listed 27 courses that were taught by 7 faculty members. So now the administration wants to find a way to only offer about 13 or 14 classes. And in my department, there are two of us without tenure, as we were both up for it in 2007. Sorry for all the math. Simply put, it seems pretty likely that I won't be at Xavier in the Spring Semester as I had hoped for and planned. I understand that these were not easy decisions, and there are some very difficult decisions still to be made. I do wish that the administration had been more clear about the possibility of faculty lay offs from the beginning, as I would have accepted one of the teaching positions that have been offered to me. This has sure been an emotional roller coaster. So what now? It looks now like I won't be at Xavier in the Spring, and that I'll probably be in Nebraska. I applied for some Hebrew Bible jobs at a few other schools, and I sure hope I get some interviews at the SBL/AAR/ASOR meetings in Philadelphia in November. Starting Monday I had better hit the phones begging if there is any chance that earlier offers to teach in the Spring could be put back on the table.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


I just read that Allstate is largely leaving the area of New Orleans, just like Tom Benson and his football team. Great, but before Allstate goes, I'm hoping that someone from their homeowners branch will assign an adjustor who will contact us. Therese and I have called and left a message on our Allstate adjustor's voice mail for 51 days straight. I used to date girls like this. Well, actually not really. After 45 days of phone messages with no returns I started to get the message.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Renaissance Man

A lady named Joan wrote me and asked me to make some comments on what I thought about being a Renaissance human and connections to other people, life, writing, etc. She wanted this for a University of Nebraska at Omaha alumni letter. I sure hope she is a great editor, because I just emailed her some gibberish. I have been spending the past few days filling out excel spread sheets documenting each item we lost. I'm up to item 2011. That is a lot of stuff. But after writing all this excel spread sheet itemizing baloney, to think profound coherent thoughts about abstract ideas is awfully difficult. In the end, I sent Joan the following:

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the beermaid Siduri wisely advises the traveling king:

"As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full. Dance and be merry by day and night, by night and day make a feast of rejoicing, day and night dance and play. Let your garments be white, your head washed, bathe in water. Cherish the little child that holds your hand. Let your spouse delight in your embrace. For this too is the lot of humankind."

That is great advice, and something I need to be reminded of frequently. Nevertheless, we in higher education still have incredible goals. We have a unique and sacred responsibility to exercise minds to ultimately make the world a better place. We need to know what is going on in the world, and care about what happens to others. I find that travel, more than anything else, helps me to connect to humans (past and present) and makes me whole. I've found reassurance in that people all over the world share my concerns and goals. Additionally, the study of ancient history and my experience in field archaeology have helped me to connect to my ancestors. Education enhances and fine tunes an intrinsic curiosity to explore, and education provides the tools to effectively communicate. Writing is cathartic and can change the world. I don't think life is about being happy. I tell my students on the first day of class that a university education is not designed to make them happier. I also reinforce that the biblical authors were not writing for them. Rather, they were trying to record and make changes in their own lives. That is something that we should use as a model.

At UNO I was able to pursue a desire to become a polymath. I could take courses in astronomy, Greek language, French history, Child Psychology and Renaissance art, all in one semester. Then, I was no longer a kid from Omaha in the late 20th century. Instead, I was a human being, doing my best to connect to other people, appreciating their accomplishments while trying to understand its meaning for the future. Through studying the past, and writing about it for modern students, I am able to fight off a cultural amnesia.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rebuilding New Orleans Sans Saints

I hate myself for being a fan of professional sports, especially now.

Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints, has agreed to negotiate with San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger about permanently moving the franchise to San Antonio. In the words of John DeShazier,
San Antonio wants to make the Saints' temporary relocation a permanent move, and Saints owner Tom Benson reportedly is willing to listen. And if there's a primal urge to grab each principal and scrub it with a Brillo Pad to scrape off a layer of the grime, join the crowd.
There's slimy, and there's this.
There's callous, and there's this.
There's kicking a city in its ribs when it's already down on its knees, and there's this.
But, apparently, "this" happens. Or will, as soon as the last second elapses on the 2005 season.

I remember Benson telling fans to be patient as the Saints rebuild. They've been rebuilding for more than 30 years in New Orleans. Now that New Orleans needs to rebuild, Benson's wallet seems to be pretty impatient itself.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Good Call Blanco

Norman C. Francis, the president of Xavier University, has been named chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority appointed by Gov. Blanco. They're trying to get businesses to move back to the state. It is a difficult job that they face, but I think Blanco chose wisely.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Better To Give Than To Receive

Since Hurricane Katrina, Therese and I have heard from so many of our friends and family. Some I have not corresponded with for 20 years, so it was great to hear from these voices from the past. My family especially has been very generous with helping us out mentally, financially and materially (food, clothes, furniture). I guess that is what families are supposed to do, sort of be a support net in case bad things happen. We are quite thankful to have such great families. But then more recently it seems friends have really gone to amazing lengths to help out. Yesterday I received an extremely generous check from Ron Tappy, director of the Zeitah Excavations, who had contacted donations from our friends through The Albright Institute of Archaeological Research and The American Schools of Oriental Research. The list of contributers was pretty remarkable, and I wanted to say thank you. Some of these people are starting out new families, they are the academically unemployed, and many I know are far from rich. Taking money from these people makes me very uneasy. I find it simple to accept money from the Red Cross and Fema. This is more complicated. So let me say thank you so much, and I sure hope that I never again find myself at this end of the donation continuum. I would rather write the check myself. I hope that doesn't sound ungrateful or smug, it's just that all of this is so emotionally difficult. Thank you.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Dry Bones Were Easier Than Soggy Walls and Soggier Moods

"Son of man, can these dry bones live?" Well sure they can, because they weren't soaking in toxic water for two weeks followed by the explosion of several types of mold and supervised by government inspectors. I got pretty depressed hanging around New Orleans for a week so I'm back in Omaha, where I'm still depressed and moreover, it is cold.

Everything about New Orleans centers on the destruction. New Orleans is full of signs about construction work, but my favorite was a class action law suit for Katrina victims against the city of New Orleans. Like New Orleans has any money. The radio is full of ads about being careful around the mold, what to do if you fall off the roof, how to find missing relatives and how to get a blue tarp roof on your house. I heard there were 52 million pounds of formerly frozen chickens rotting on Cold Storage Drive. Ick. My problems aren't so big as that. With Therese's help we got the contents cleaned out pretty good. But what got me so depressed was that I thought they would just turn on the electricity in my house and I'd be fine. I have to live there in the Spring to teach at Xavier, or so the plan goes. Turns out to get electricity turned on in my neighborhood, I need to pay an electrician about $10,000 to rewire my house. He won't do it until I gut the walls. Another contractor told me not to gut the walls, because the feds might wind up bulldozing the neighborhood and it would be a waste of time if I spent a few days ripping out plaster and paneling. Also, to get the gas turned on I need a plumber to come out to the 100 year old house and bring it all up to code, which would cost I estimate $400 and then I would need to pay the gas company $200 for showing up and agreeing with the plumber, and then two months later I might have gas coming to the house. Plus our house leans considerably, as you can see from the photos of our living room below, so it might not be worth saving. Oh yeah, and Therese is unemployed and I'm far from sure I'll get paid next month. So I'm going to try to focus on some academic work here in Omaha, and head back south if and when we hear from our homeowners insurance adjustor and an engineer who will look at the structural damage.


Monday, October 10, 2005

So Long "Stuff"

Therese and I had quite a bit of stuff in our house. I am frankly glad to be rid of most of it. We had a pretty large house in New Orleans and we just kept filling it up. Much of the stuff we had to get rid of was sentimental. There were things we collected from all over the world as we traveled, and even some bad taxidermy we collected. Here are some photos of our stuff all piled up in front of our house.
PA080082.JPG PA080073.JPG PA090136.JPG PA090143.JPG

But the saddest part of the entire clean up for me was realizing that my childhood photo album was destroyed. Before Therese evacuated from Katrina I asked her about the photo albums, and she said they were upstairs. Only this one was buried behind some of Therese's textbooks. Here are some pictures, or what is left of them, from when I was growing up.

PA080125.JPG PA080124.JPG PA080123.JPG PA080122.JPG PA080121.JPG PA080127.JPG PA090148.JPG

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Where We Are Going

Tuesday night after Therese's class in Omaha we got into our rental car loaded with cleaning supplies. Therese said "We don't know where we are going." I said "Sure we do, I get on I-29 South, cut across to I-55 from KC to St Louis, and then I-55 South and in 18 hours we'll be in New Orleans." Therese said, "No, I meant where we're going with our whole lives." I said "Oh" and drove for 18 hours straight. Today with much help from my father-in-law we got much done. Our flood insurance adjustor Bob came by and took a couple photos and measured stuff. Then we cleaned out all kinds of things. It was Fung Shwe on crack. Tomorrow we're taking on the kitchen. Sunday we hope to take a break from all of this hard and disgusting work and go to a prison rodeo in Angola. Yee Haw. I heard the water in New Orleans is no longer contaminated, and you can bathe in it and even drink it. I think tomorrow night we'll stay at our house. We spend last night and will spend tonight at our friends the Gstohls. I pray electricity will be on in a week. That would be great. Unfortunately, it looks like because the mold is so bad I'll need to strip each wall down to the studs and spray them with a bleach solution. I had hoped it wouldn't have come to that. There are frogs living in our house, and some other nasty things that are probably not yet recorded. So any biologists looking to be famous are invited to 215 South Alexander Street. I'll be there at 6 AM tomorrow.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Allstate Called

On Sunday we received a call from Robert Mosher, who says that he will be our adjustor for Allstate. I don't know what happened to the other two, but we're overjoyed that we can start this process and begin cleaning our house. I'm going to meet him at our house on Thursday. That means today I need to finish an application for the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research regarding a 2006/2007 fellowship and figure out what car I can drive down south.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

No Training Wheels 4 Spidey

Gilgamesh rode a bike sans training wheels the other day for the first time. He did pretty well. Notice the Spider Man costume. How cool is that?
P9300010.JPG P9300007.JPG P9300006.JPG