Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Blue Roofs in Model Distasteful?

The officials at Lakeside Mall in New Orleans forced the artist of a Christmas train/town display featuring model homes in the area with blue FEMA roofs and trash in front of their houses to change the LakesideMallBlueRoofs scenes and make them all nice regular roofed homes, saying that some shoppers found the hurricane imagery distasteful. I couldn't disagree more with the mall officials. Without a sense of humor about all of this you'd go completely insane.

Mondays Stink, Xavier Students Don't

Monday, November 28th was one of the worst days of my life. Actually the day itself went pretty well, only it really got bad about 7:45 PM. Prior to this, I was in a bad mood already. Xavier registration began at 6 AM that day and there were only a few students in my classes at that point. For me that meant two things. First, if the students didn't return, I was in serious jeopardy of losing my job. Part of this fear of loss was psychological. I NEED so much to be able to teach New Orleans students in January, and to try to sort out just what happened with the failure of the levies and these asshole politicians who say "If you rebuild New Orleans...". Plus part of my depression was economic. Being in academia, I am the opposite of rich. Actually, and I am embarassed to say it, but we are the beneficiaries of foodstamps right now. So losing my job would make me even more depressed. I'm sort of stuck in this mindset of dad=provider, and the idea of foodstamps or any sort of aid like that threatens my sense of being a caretaker for my family. Second, low enrollments mean that Xavier might not be able to rehire two of my favorite people in the world. They are my colleagues, and two of the best theologians and teachers I've ever met. They have both accused me of being sappy in the past, but I sincerely love them both, and pray so hard that we can be together in the future.

Then at 7:45 PM I wanted to talk to Therese about our plans for New Orleans in January. She told me that she wasn't sure yet if she and the children would live in New Orleans. She said she would decide that when we two went down to do some work in New Orleans on December 10th. That really upset me. I wish she could have said "I understand that you have to be in New Orleans in January, and we'll find a way to all be in New Orleans together." I felt like my children were being taken away from me, and that my opinion didn't matter. It will no doubt be difficult to live in New Orleans, especially if it means living in our house with no electricity and gas for a month or two (or possibly longer), but I felt like the convenience of a functioning washing machine trumped the importance of my role as a father to my children. Of course Therese's argument and mine were much more complicated than this, but in the end I was furious and I actually left the house. Usually I don't get upset, as I'm like Spock. But I really need my family right now, and I think it is important that all of us be in New Orleans in January. Therese and I were still feuding this morning, but things are slightly better now. I think New Orleans would benefit so much by having my kids and Therese there in January. I also think they would benefit as well. That city is so important, and it really needs quality people.

Then late today I was checking out my class enrollment for January. Three out of four of my classes were full. I also read that nearly 2/3 of Xavier students have signed up to return. I've chatted with several of them online and while they are frustrated for a variety of reasons, I think that January of 2006 at Xavier will be the most important semester this country has seen in the past 100 years.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wireless New Orleans

The city is going wireless, and even better it is free. Parts of the city, such as the French Quarter and the CBD are already operational. That makes New Orleans the first wireless city in the nation. Philadelphia I know hopes to have their city connected wirelessly by next year. The mayor of New Orleans estimated it would take a year to allow the whole city wireless internet. I think this is a great idea and hope it inspires both businesses and conventions to return to the Big Easy.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Hurricane Ruined Our Christmas

A Hurricane Ruined Our Christmas
by Michael M. Homan

Dearest Santa soon
you'll be riding in your sleigh,
but when you come to blue-tarped-roofs
you’d ought to stay away.

Fair New Orleans is not safe
and we’re afraid you must restrain,
for there’s asbestos dust and toxic mold
where sounds of jazz once reigned.

Our roof it leaks, our house is racked
our chimney has decayed,
and wafting smells of putrid fridges
scare even birds away.

Breathing masks won’t fit you Santa
for your beard is much too full,
so you’d better use the mail
for filling stockings up with coal.

A “heck of job” did Brownie
a fashion god while thousands weeped,
and some corrupt engineers
claimed pylons were plenty deep.

And don’t look to busses for salvation
if your reindeer wind up shot,
and then some Cajun in the bayou
puts the carcass in a gumbo pot.

The boys and girls of the Gulf Coast
are scattered throughout the land,
and FEMA checks don’t buy good gifts
so you need to change your plan.

Because a hurricane ruined our Christmas
and we’ll miss you Santa Clause,
and though the Big Easy’s hard for now
please come back for the Mardi Gras.

Our 2005 Christmas Card


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why I Don't Blame God for My New Orleans Tragedy

I've come to the sad conclusion that the New Orleans that I came to love so dearly is now dead forever. The New New Orleans will certainly have better schools, but it will also have more Wal-Marts. They will build more condos instead of shotgun houses, because condos will be more profitable. The New New Orleans will by and large resemble any other American city, except we'll have a Bourbon Street/French Quarter that resembles Disneyland, only with stripping, booze, and gambling. Who killed it? Who destroyed New Orleans? Well, it wasn't God, or Mother Nature, or even Pat Robertson. Some asshole engineers, incompetent city workers for the Sewage and Water Board, and some local and federal politicians who didn't do their jobs, they are to blame in my opinion. I don't know how they can sleep at night, but I'm sure they find a way to justify all of their actions like some sick sociopath.

Most people I've spoken to about New Orleans think that the hurricane is solely to blame. That there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the city from flooding. That is more accurate for describing the areas East of New Orleans, though they still could have built higher and better levees. But for the majority of New Orleans, including my home and university, the tragedy that happened was caused by humans, and I'm very angry. You see the brackish waters from Lake Ponchartrain that flooded my neighborhood and caused the most damage did not come over the top of the levee. Instead they came under the walls of a canal's walls and eventually the water's force just pushed the canal walls some 40 feet back allowing the lake to waters to flood until the water level inside New Orleans was the same as Lake Ponchartrain. I should also point out that Lake Ponchartrain is not a lake, but brackish water connected to the Gulf of Mexico.

About a week ago I read this amazing story about how people who lived directly across from the canal breach said they complained last fall that their yards were flooding. Workers for the Sewage and Water Board came out to inspect the standing water several times, and some of the workers informed the residents that the water in their yards was not from faulty plumbing or sewage, but actually it was from the canal. But nothing was down about it. And the pylons that were supposed to keep the canal walls in place were only driven into peat. They were supposed to be at least 17 feet deep, but they were only 10. You can read more about it at NPR, and see a picture of where the canal broke below.

Later note: These journalists at the Times Picayune seem to agree with me, 100 days after the storm.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Tel Zayit Inscription: My Account of the Discovery

The Tel Zayit inscription has of course been big news here at the ASOR and SBL meetings in Philadelphia. Tonight at the Society of Biblical Literature there was a special session devoted to it. Ron Tappy, the Zeitah director, did a great job presenting the archaeological context I thought. It was also great to see so many people from the Zeitah team, including Connie, Madeline, Dale, Dave, Andrea, Dan, Eric, Erin, Kiirsten, and Ben. In any case, several people have asked that I blog my account of what transpired on the day of the discovery, so here it is.

The square that I supervised was O-19, right on the shoulder of the tel. Dale Swindel, an excellent excavator and quite a character, was the assistant supervisor. On July 13th and 14th the volunteers, Dale, and I brushed and swept and cleaned the square again and again to make sure it was clean enough for the pictures. Final photographs of the squares are extremely important, and it always works out that with such meticulous sweeping and cleaning you notice amazing things. In years past, I've discovered pits, taboons, and all sorts of features that weren't visible without that extra cleaning. This year sweeping so carefully REALLY paid off. By the end of the dig day on July 14th we received Ron's approval that the square was ready for the picture. That's no small thing, as Ron Tappy isn't the type to settle for less than perfection. The next morning, on July 15th, we got to the site even earlier than usual. It was still very dark outside. The point is that you want the final photos to be taken before the sun gets too high because it will bleach out many of the features and create shadows that look distracting in the photographs. We were extra early because we wanted to do some final touches with sweeping, and get rid of the traces of our footprints. Also, there is some local guy with a contraption known as a "cherry picker" that Ron always uses for final photos. It is like a tractor with a giant arm that can put a metal basket pretty high up in the air. That way Ron, when he is taking pictures, can get the entire square in the frame. Ron started with these pictures in the Trench down below O-19, because when the sun broke the horizon at dawn the shadows in the Trench would have been pretty bad--worse than up on top in my square. While we were waiting up on top for Ron to finish photographs of the Trench, a volunteer named Dan Rypma from Colorado State approached me. Dan was a real pleasure to work with. He had a great attitude, was very interested in learning methodologies, held a strong work ethic, everything was great about him except that he smoked. But anyway, Dan said he had seen some scratches on a rock while he had been sweeping the stones in a wall the day before. He said he wasn't sure what these scratches were, but he had thought quite a bit about them the night before and he wanted to make sure that we didn't leave the sight without at least pointing them out to me. We carefully went into the square into this Iron Age room that had cobble stones and well preserved walls. Just over a meter up, sitting in the wall, was the stone Dan wanted to show me. I could see, sure enough, the scratches Dan mentioned. But looking carefully at the stone for quite some time, I could recognize what appeared to be the letters mem and a nun in an ancient West Semitic script. Let me be clear in stating that these letters and the others that we saw shortly thereafter were HARD to see, as other scholars who saw the stone in more favorable conditions have attested. The light had to be coming from the side just right. It reminded me of Indiana Jones and the staff of Ra. So here I was, the first person in nearly 3000 years to read letters carved on the stone. I was extremely overcome with excitement. I'm not the type of person who jumps up and down though. I just kept telling Dan and Dale how amazing all of this was. But we had worked so incredibly hard getting the square ready for final photos, I didn't want to tell anyone else until after the photos of my square were completed. So when Ron was high up in the air taking pictures, I told Gabi Barkai that I thought we had an inscription in a stone in the wall. He was of course very excited, as the wall provided a great archaeological context, and the thought of a 10th century BCE inscription in Judah is rare. Impossible some would have argued. When Ron was lowered back to the ground, I told him about Dan's amazing find, and we led he and Gabi over the rock. Then we celebrated, and then the entire Zeitah team celebrated, and then we took a bajillion pictures of the rock in situ. We excavated the top of the wall down to the stone, and when we were set to remove it, my hand felt that the bottom was carved out. That was even more exciting, as the inscription was on some sort of a stone bowl, or mortar, or something. The point is that this inscription clearly raises so many intriguing questions. But it also solves others. But more of the analysis later... Dale and I had the privilege of carrying the soon-to-be-famous stone down the tel. I remember asking Dale "Are you ready for one of the most important walks of your life?" It was a few days later, after the stone was photographed and drawn by an expert, that Ron was able to discover that it was in fact an abecedary (the entire alphabet from aleph to taw). This discovery is such a great link between the archaeological and historical/written record. Congratulations to Ron Tappy and his family, and thanks to Dale, Dan, and all of the other wonderful people who have worked with the Zeitah excavation team.

Friday, November 18, 2005

That Anti-Santa at ASOR/SBL

I'm in Philadelphia attending two meetings. Right now I'm thick in the middle of the American Schools of Oriental Research, and I give a paper in an hour with my friend Jennie Ebeling. It is a pretty good paper, and very funny, and beer, women, and archaeology. Starting tomorrow I'll be at the Society of Biblical Literature. Here at ASOR I've seen hundreds of friends that I met usually through archaeological digs that I've been on, or people I met while living in Jerusalem at the Albright Institute or in Jordan at ACOR. But the same thing keeps happening. People are very happy, and then they see me and their expression changes to sorrow and compassion. Often the subject goes something like this:
Them: "Woooowwwwwww! I couldn't believe what happened to you with the hurricane, and it is great to see you. (insert joke like "you're not wearing a mask and snorkel" or "your socks dry yet?"). At least your house is OK, right?"
Me: "Well actually our house is pretty much destroyed. We're waiting on an engineer to tell us what we already know, that it is racked and most likely unsalvageable. We're living in Omaha right now with relatives."
Them: "Oooooh. Well at least your school was OK, right?"
Me: "Well actually not. It suffered huge damage and we are hoping to have classes in January."
Them: "Ooooooh. Well at least all of you in your family and your dogs are alive."
Me: "Yes, we are all alive."

So I think I'm sort of the opposite of Santa Clause, bringing harsh gloomy reality of the tragedy that was New Orleans right into the lives of these people. It is nice to have people thinking about me and my family. It is also great to hear academic papers and not read about insurance adjustors for a change. The biggest news of the conference is the inscription we found at Tel Zeitah, and honestly it is great to have my colleagues hear about how the thing was found in the area that I supervised, and that I was the first to read letters on the stone. I'd better get ready for my paper now, as I have to be there in about 20 minutes.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Friday Therese and I met a colleage of mine at Xavier for lunch in Omaha. His name is David Lanou, and we also met his girlfriend Kathleen, who teaches at Tulane. David said he felt like a ghost. He visited some friends of his at other universities and they were swamped with the usual things pertaining to teaching, such as grading papers, preparing lectures, committee meetings, etc. David however, did not feel stressed by any of these things. He, like me, is killing time. We have not been able to enter our offices since August, so doing any sort of research is nearly impossible. And so we are in exile observing others go on with their normal lives. He said it sort of felt like an out of body experience, like he was a ghost traveling around the country. I feel that way as well, and wish I was busy with grading papers, preparing lectures, and serving on committees, all the things I usually complain about.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Blog's Worth

According to Business Opportunities Weblog, this michaelhoman blog is worth just over $45,000. But I'd be willing to let it go for $9.99 and some soup if anyone is interested. A student of mine let me know about this. His blog is only worth $1,600.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Amazing Abecedary Announced

Way back in July, after we completed the 2005 season of excavation at Tel Zeitah, Israel, I announced
"The season at Zeitah was fantastic. We found something really great in my square, O-19, in fact it was by far the coolest thing I've ever seen discovered on a dig in which I participated. But, I am sworn to secrecy as to what it is, so give me a few months and I'll let you know.

Now I can tell you, as the cat is out of the bag. In the 10th century BCE strata where we excavated we discovered what some scholars are calling the earliest Hebrew alphabet ever discovered. You can read about it in the Nov 9th New York Times. Ron Tappy, the project's director, will be presenting this great news in more detail in Philadelphia at the annual meeting for the American Schools of Oriental Research and the Society of Biblical Literature. You can also read more about it on Tel Zeitah's webpage.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Defend New Orleans!

Way back in February 2005 my friend Bart was talking about this thing called "Defend New Orleans." I just bought a shirt because it seems quite relevant nowadays.

Mike Brown's Last Hurrah

Just before I left my flooded house in New Orleans, along with my two dogs by airboat, escaped from a hurricane refugee camp, and walked all night to get past the Federal Govt checkpoints, the head of FEMA Mike Brown emailed his buddy Betty Guhman and informed her that he might not be able to meet her for a "hurrah" in DC. In his words, "Last hurrah was supposed to have been Labor Day. I'm trapped now, please rescue me." Elsewhere he complains about having to eat fast food in Florida, and an aid tells him to roll up his sleaves for photos like the president so he can appear to be working hard. He seems to care quite a bit about his clothes. You can read these and other emails released on website. Heck of a job, Brownie!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005



What Could Have Been

At Xavier University of Louisiana, way back on August 22-26, we had five days of classes for the Fall Semester 2005 before the hurricane. I had a feeling that it was going to be my best semester ever as a teacher. First, I had great students. Teachers sort of get a vibe about the dynamics of a section from the very beginning. I desire a mixture of brainiacs and goofballs. The goofballs help with discussions because they say stupid funny things, and these stupid funny things upset the brainiacs and force them to come out of their silent shyness. I had a great mixture of both in all of my sections. One student, Jene', I had planned on stealing from the history department. She was a Freshman who was fascinated with ancient Near Eastern history. I couldn’t wait to teach her. I also had some students, Richard and Kirsten, who were in the play Purlie with me. It is sort of fun in my opinion to know students out of the classroom context. One of my students, Kory, was a techno wiz and I wanted very much to discuss with him ways that I could use technology to make me a better teacher.

Second, I had a great schedule. At Xavier we have a 4/4 teaching load, which is ridiculous in my opinion, because Xavier was trying to become a serious research center. The 4/4 load fit in years past when Xavier was strictly a teaching college. I did plenty of research and publishing, but their expectations with research necessitated a 3/3 load, which I felt was only a few years away. All that has changed now, but back to my schedule. I taught 3 sections of Theology 1120: Intro to Biblical Studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with back-to-back-to-back sections. I started at 8 AM and finished just after noon, teaching the same stuff three times. That was challenging but I loved it. For my fourth class I was teaching Methods of Biblical Studies, it was an upper division course that met Wednesday nights, and I had only 12 students. Plus, these were students that I had previously taught. They were my best and brightest, all of them doing very well in previous courses. Two of them, Whitney and Roy, were future Bible scholars. So my great schedule meant I had five days to do serious research (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun). I was going to finish the Atlas and had two articles lined up for publication in peer reviewed journals. Plus I was going to apply for early promotion to the rank of Assistant Professor, and do all sorts of extra stuff. One of the things that I was doing was a study by Barbara Walvoord about how good teachers actually teach introductory Theology/Religion courses. It was a chance for me to do a great deal of reflection on how I teach and how students learn.

Now instead of all that I’m sitting in a freezing basement in Omaha spending most of my time working on an insurance claim. Once in a while I get an email from a Xavier student updating me on their status or just reminiscing. So Xavier students, feel free to email me at mmhoman at

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Happy Halloween!

Kalypso went as a vampire, Gilgamesh was a Ninja, Therese a pirate, and me, well I went as Jesus' #1 fan.

Xavier Cuts Jobs

Recently I learned that Xavier cut 58% of staff and 36% of faculty. Many of the faculty had tenure, and even in my department contracts were only offered to 4 of the 7 people. I was offered a contract, which doesn't make sense to me at this point, because 2 of the 3 people who lost their jobs had more experience at Xavier than I did. All 3 are great teachers, and great colleagues, and I will miss them so much. The Times Picayune has an article about it here. It is all so depressing. When I speak to Xavier people on the phone, and it turns out they have been offered a contract, it isn't like you can say "congratulations." And if they weren't offered a contract, that is so awful. I feel horrible for them and their families. And I sort of become the elephant in the room, because I am a junior faculty without tenure who has been offered a contract while many senior faculty with tenure were let go. I feel very guilty about all of this.