Monday, December 26, 2005

Thanks for Everything Nebraska

About 3 AM we plan on leaving Nebraska and driving back to New Orleans. Inside our car will be four people, two dogs, 1 sugar glider, and tons of stuff. Most of the stuff includes Christmas presents, clothes, and things we collected in just four short months. Our families, friends, and pretty much everybody in Nebraska have been very helpful while we were misplaced. Thanks.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Oot the Sugar Glider's Last Leg?

We came home tonight after our 6th of 7 Christmases, and Oot the Sugar Glider is either very sick or hibernating. More later...
It's later now, and Oot seems fine. I guess Nebraska winters are too much for his tropical blood.

Update: Oot recovered and he's doing great now that he is back in Louisiana.

Christmas Day

I got coal, again. The kids made out better:

Friday, December 23, 2005

Detective Needed! One Bear, One Boat Motor, and Some Lingerie

I was on Xavier's campus December 11th helping students and their families get personal stuff out of their dorms. After this, on my walk home, I saw many amazing things brought about by the hurricane and flood waters that ravaged New Orleans. But one thing that I saw amazed and bedaffled me like I had never been bedaffled before. It was this amazing sight.
As you can see, it was a large teddy bear, wearing lingerie, and just to the right of this saucy stuffed animal was a small outboard boat engine. I have several theories about what happened prior to this moment, but I need you, the readers of this blog, to play detective and give me your theories about what happened just before that bizarre and fateful moment when this bear, wearing this lingerie, came to rest next to this boat motor. I should also add that the concrete you see on the top is the canal that runs by Xavier. This same canal further to the north is the infamous 17th street canal that breached. So have at it detectives.

Glasses and Wal-Mart

I woke up yesterday morning and to my horror my glasses were broken. Here in Omaha where we set up our refugee camp, I don't have a night stand and so I sleep with my glasses under my pillow. But that morning, they were snapped in two, broken right on the nose bridge.
So Therese and I went to get me new glasses. I also got contacts, but they are hard for me to wear because I don't like touching my eyes. There was some silver lining in all of this. My old glasses were purchased about four years ago following an episode that I like to call "Gilgamesh flushed Abu's glasses down the toilet while he was in the shower." Not only did I lose my glasses, but I got very cold water also. But I bought them from a Sam's Club in New Orleans. I didn't know at the time that Sam's Club and Walmart were essentially the same company. And everytime I would explain to friends like Mark Gstohl (or whatever he calls himself these days) why they should boycott Wal-Mart, he would point to my glasses in what he thought was a triumphal sign of hypocrisy. So now that I have new glasses, I am free of all former connections to Wal-Mart, and I can see more clearly and righteously. But honestly, right now my glasses are in the shop waiting for me to pick them up, and it is 6AM, and I don't have my contacts in yet, so I'm not seeing clearly at all.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


The Senate unanimously passed a 29 billion dollar bill for hurricane recovery today. It also included 1.6 billion for hurricane ravaged schools. Thank you.

Curfew A Go Go

This Friday, starting at 6 AM, it will be technically legal for me to be in my house, outside of my house, and even walking on my street 24 hours a day. This has not been the case for nearly four months. The curfew, which at first was all day, then was limited to nightime hours, then more recently 2AM-6AM, is now totally lifted for areas such as mine that are west of the Industrial Canal. But I won't be in New Orleans. Instead I'll be in Columbus NE hanging out with my brother Jim and his family, my sister Chris, and my dad. On a sad note, Crystal hot sauce, my favorite sauce with oysters, used to be right by my house, but now they are moving.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I Hate You Ted Stevens!

Today the Senate has a very hard decision to make. They have to vote on a $453.3 billion defense bill handed to them by the House of Representatives. Of this, $29 billion was for a hurricane recovery package. But Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) at the last minute attached a controversial provision to allow drilling for oil in the ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). Thus, it seems that the defense bill and hurricane relief, two things which would have easily passed, are now in jeopardy of failing. Also, just when it looked like it would pass Congress, the Baker Bill which would have helped avert thousands of mortgage foreclosures failed due to opposition from the White House and banking lobbies. Basically the plan put forth by Richard Baker (R-Baton Rouge) would have formed a corporation that would have bought hurricane/flood damaged property, and in the end people would have received about 60% of their lost equity. Without it many people, including us, are considering faulting on our mortgage as an option, leaving us with very bad credit. What looks like it will pass the Senate easily is a $39.7 billion budget cut, reducing student loans, cutting Medicare and Medicaid, and making pensions less secure. Merry Christmas America. I wonder if I would like this crowd better if I were rich?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What To Do With Our House?

The 140 mph winds of Hurricane Katrina severely racked our house. That means that the bottom story of our two story house leans to the side. I'm sure this awesome graphic will better explain what happened:
The wind blew our house so that the walls on the bottom floor lean much more than the walls on the top floor.
In the picture below Therese is holding a level to a board that is straight up and down. However, as you can see from the door jams in relationship to that straight board, our house is crooked.
It turns out that every 90 inches one goes up on our walls, it leans 4 1/8 inches over. That calculates to it leaning 2.62 degrees. We could live with that. Especially if I got some shoes where one was taller than the other. Well, actually I could live with a crooked house easier than Therese, but who could blame her for not wanting to live in a crooked house. It's like a Fun House that isn't so fun. But the biggest problem is that in time it will continue to lean more and more, and pretty soon it will be touching our neighbor Mike's house.

So we're not sure what to do with the house. Basically our decision comes down to raising or razing. We could fix the house. That would mean leveling the floor of the house, repairing the foundation, and then straightening the walls. Most people think that would cost in the neighborhood of $80,000. What I like about this option is that is saves a beautiful 100 year old house from destruction. I prefer old things over new things, as after all, I am an ancient Near Eastern historian. It was also the first home that Therese and I bought. Our children's heights are marked on the door jams of their rooms. Therese and I have also spent so much time and money renovating the house. I know every detail about it. So it is like a friend. But many people say that you need to make this decision financially and not emotionally.

If we fix the house we would also have to totally rewire the house, costing about $15,000. Some of our house still has the old knob and tube wiring.
We would also need another $5000 for plumbing. Then you would have to put in new insullation and sheet rock. In the end it would cost almost all of the $157,000 that we spent to purchase the house. So is it worth it?

If we tear it down, which costs about $25,000, then we could do several things. We could rebuild a new house on the lot, we could keep the lot for a few years and sell it when we need some cash. We could also sell the house and lot to someone else who will demolish it. We're still waiting, now more than 110 days after filing the claim, to hear from our insurance company. They tell us that an engineer may or may not have been to the place. Gee, thanks Allstate.

You can see more photos of our racked house in this Flickr set.

A Few Photosets from New Orleans

Urban House Camping


Plumbing 4 Hot Water

New Orleans, Dec 2005

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thank You Mr President

Although President Bush has callously refused my invitation to help me tear out walls and fix our house, he did pledge 3.1 billion yesterday to help fortify our levees. That is the first step to making this city great once again, and I would like to thank him for that. I know it won't be a popular proposal to many congressional leaders in this country, and so I hope it isn't just rhetoric that is stalled in legislation.

Death of An American City (NYT)

On December 11, 2005, this Editorial ran in the New York Times. It reflects many things that I've seen, believe, am ashamed of, and want to happen. Thank you Mr/Ms Editorial person.

We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans." But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.

There are many unanswered questions that will take years to work out, but one is make-or-break and needs to be dealt with immediately. It all boils down to the levee system. People will clear garbage, live in tents, work their fingers to the bone to reclaim homes and lives, but not if they don't believe they will be protected by more than patches to the same old system that failed during the deadly storm. Homeowners, businesses and insurance companies all need a commitment before they will stake their futures on the city.

At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship. There is no effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name the president's liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell? Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words "pending in Congress" are a death warrant requiring no signature.

The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities where they landed.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?

Losing a major American city.

"We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better," President Bush said that night in September. Our feeling, strongly, is that he was right and should keep to his word. We in New York remember well what it was like for the country to rally around our city in a desperate hour. New York survived and has flourished. New Orleans can too.

Of course, New Orleans's local and state officials must do their part as well, and demonstrate the political and practical will to rebuild the city efficiently and responsibly. They must, as quickly as possible, produce a comprehensive plan for putting New Orleans back together. Which schools will be rebuilt and which will be absorbed? Which neighborhoods will be shored up? Where will the roads go? What about electricity and water lines? So far, local and state officials have been derelict at producing anything that comes close to a coherent plan. That is unacceptable.

The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call people home and convince them that commitments will be met.

Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has turned into a permanent commitment.

If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.

Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies.


The streetcars are coming back to our neighborhood on Canal Street. They are supposed to return on Christmas Eve, and I can't wait to see them again. Unfortunately, the streetcar line on St Charles Ave was heavily damaged, and the RTA doesn't know when they will be back.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quick Update from New Orleans

Therese and I are in New Orleans. We've been here for about five days. It's been difficult and depressing. We learned we can't get electricity restored in our house and that most people think we'll have to bulldoze the property and build from scratch. Raise our house or raze it, that is the question. So we focused on plumbing. We thought if we could get hot water we could live there. The biggest problem was the vent for our new tankless hot water system. We're hoping to meet with the plumber today, check the pressure in the gas lines, and then meet with a city inspector sometime soon. If all that goes OK, then maybe in a few weeks an Entergy employee will come turn on our gas. It will have cost about $2500 in the end to get hot water. I've never had a $2,500 shower, but I'm looking forward to it. Finally, we have new cell phones. My number is 504 377-7284. Therese's number is 504 377-7272. She got the cooler number.

Blogged from Rue de la Course coffee shop, because the New Orleans wireless network sucks.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Packing for Reconnaissance

Tonight Therese has her final class of the semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She took two courses at UNO, which must have been hard for her given all this turmoil, and after tonight she will be just two courses away from finishing her Masters as a Reading Specialist. Then around midnight we'll head out down I-29 to Kansas City, cut across to St Louis, and then south on I-55 to New Orleans. The trip usually takes about 17 hours, but with heavy snow reported in Kansas and Missouri it might take longer. We plan on being in New Orleans about a week. Our goals are to take out walls and treat the foundation and studs for any mold, to try to meet with a plumber and city inspector and get gas hooked up again (for hot water, heat, and cooking), and to talk to a few electricians about the possibility of getting the electricity turned on upstairs, as the upstairs didn't flood and won't need to be totally rewired. We also plan on seeing some friends, eating some great food, hearing some jazz, and getting the house ready for the triumphal return of Gilgamesh and Kalypso shortly after Christmas. To reach that end I have a generator, some kerosine heaters and lamps, and a few solar lights and candles. Hot water will be the biggest obstace. I plan on placing a large black hose on the balcony, which I hope will heat up during the day, and then each evening there should be enough "warm" water for two short showers with a hose. Oh yeah, and we're putting the two dogs in our completely filled car. That should be fun. I hope the next time I can enter a post I'll be using the new free wireless in the French Quarter. Laissez les bon temps roulez.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Refugee or Concentration Camp at I-10 and Causeway?

On September 2nd-3rd, the night after I evacuated my house in New Orleans, I spent several hours inside this massive encampment of suffering people at the intersection of Causeway and Interstate 10. There I saw the most horrific scenes that I have ever witnessed. I estimated that I saw 20,000 people. A few were corpses, many were elderly, and in bad physical condition. I saw many people with Down syndrome, and casts, catheters, wheel chairs, all sorts of stuff. They were almost all people of color, except for the National Guard and police, who were almost all white. The National Guard and police were not letting people out of his area. Total disorder reigned on the ground inside the camp. I was glad I had my dogs with me, as that place was anything but safe. People inside the camp told me that they had been there three days. They were sitting outside without food and water in near 100 degree heat just waiting for buses. Every once in a while a bus will show up and there would be a mad rush of people to get a few seats out of that hell. I never saw this, as apparently only a few buses showed up in the daytime. I later learned that once you were on the bus, you couldn't get off, and they would later tell you where you were going. If you lived in Jackson but the bus was going to Utah, they wouldn't let you off the bus as it went through Jackson. You had to wait. And friend and family couldn't just come and get you out of this camp. There were barricades set up blocking the I-10 at LaPlace, about 20 miles away. I still get very angry at this country when I think about those suffering people in that camp. I think about what if my mother or children had to see such sights, and I get furious.

Five African American residents of New Orleans, Katrina survivors, testified before Congress today. Many members of Congress didn't believe what they heard. Four of the five citizens claimed race played a big role in the lack of recovery immediately after the flooding and even now. Some claimed that race played a role in the flooding to begin with. They said that if the stranded people were white that the government would have done more to help them. They said that National Guard troops pointed guns at their toddlers, and they were treated like criminals. Personally I believe that class had much to do with the situation as well, but I still believe that race played a major role. I saw it personally. These National Guard troops were scared to death because of race. They were mostly from rural areas and for them their knowledge of African Americans comes from TV shows like Cops. They pointed guns at many people, and there were plenty of racial slurs from both white groups and black that I heard driving around the city in a boat, as well as inside the camp. Another blogger who saw the same camp at Causeway and I-10 describes it as well.

I thought in the Congressional testimony today, the most interesting moments came when Leah Hodges claimed that "people were allowed to die" and likened what happened to the black residents of New Orleans to "genocide and ethnic cleansing." Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., asked Hodges to stop referring to the camp at I-10 and Causeway as the "Causeway Concentration Camp." He then asked Ms. Hodges is she knew just what happened in the Holocaust. Hodges retorted "I'm going to call it what it is, that is the only thing I could compare what we went through to." Miller kept asking her to stop with the analogy, and said that "Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed." Hodges then said that the people "died from abject neglect" and "We left body bags behind."

I of course admit that nothing that happened in New Orleans was as bad as the Holocaust. And comparing tragedies and arguing about which was worse helps nobody. But I feel that New Orleans is on its own. And I believe that none of this would have happened in Connecticut.

Monday, December 05, 2005

CIA's Black Highlighters

According to The Onion, it turns out the CIA has mistakenly been using black highlighters.

Hardball in New Orleans

Therese and I will be driving down to New Orleans December 9th. We'll stay about a week tearing out walls and trying to live without gas and electricity. We're taking the dogs, but the kids will stay in Omaha. There are some interesting developments pertaining to New Orleans. First, Zulu, one of the greatest Mardi Gras krewes, has refused to parade on the city's new limited Uptown route. Instead, they are insisting that they roll on their traditional route through the Treme neighborhood. I think that is great. Endymion, a giant krewe and also very popular, traditionally paraded in my Mid-City neighborhood. However, this year they will roll in Uptown instead. By the way, I can't wait for this year's Mardi Gras, if you couldn't tell already.
Then according to the Washington Post, on the day after Mayor Nagin's announcement that all of New Olreans will have free Wifi, the phone company Bellsouth angrily took back an offer to donate one of their buildings to the New Orleans Police Department. We used to get our phone and internet service through Bellsouth.
Times Picayune columnistChris Rose explains how New Orleans is depressed and gravely in need of hope. It can be overwhelming. The radio, TV, media, signs in the street, actual devestation, it is all about death and tragedy. I remember being exhausted much in the same way as I was after September 11th, 2001, listening to all the horrible stories about lives lost and ruined. I get the same way when I live in East Jerusalem.
Finally, the radio station WWL 870 AM has been fantastic. They were the only media that stayed on the air throughout the storm and the flood. They are also the radio home of my new hero, Garland Robinette. But just the other day they went back to their original format with Rush Limbaugh between 11-2. Of course, the first time he is back on the air, a caller from New Orleans tells him things are awful down here, and that none of the great things Bush promised in Jackson square have come to exist. Limbaugh informed the listeners that he has two friends in the New Orleans area and they tell him things are just fine. WWL is rightly embarassed, and they have invited him to broadcast from New Orleans, and to drive to Lakeside and Gentilly and the 9th ward and my neighborhood Mid City. Things are just about the opposite of fine in New Orleans.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Santa Picture

After driving on icy streets, fighting for a parking spot at the mall, freezing as we walked a mile, waiting in line for an hour, and paying $15 to a disinterested worker, we got this:

Letters to Santa Clause

Kalypso's (age 10) letter to Santa can be seen on her blog.

The following is Gilgamesh's (age 5) letter:
Dear Santa Clause,
I love you Santa Clause because you're my favorite person. I like you because you give toys, and I like your funny elves. You can bring toys, presents, and fun things for kids. I like presents. This year I was bad and good sometimes. Because my sister Kalypso sometimes beats me up and it hurts my feelings. At school I was good. I was especially good at field trips. On Christmas I like to play with blow up things like the Abominable snowman. I play with my friends, games in the world, and I'm nice. Sometimes I'm funny when I play with them. I make funny faces and make them laugh. When my mom tells me to brush my teeth I always brush my teeth. I come in and I listen to her. Sometimes I listen to my dad. I like to wrestle with him when his watch says it is fighting time. So Santa Clause, I want the Star Wars toys with the Darth Vader costume. I want the Batman gun thing because Batman is cool and he beats up bad guys. I want toys and maybe clothes if they are cool and a bicycle. I don't know why I said bicycle because it's gonna be real hard to do it. I'll let my sister ride it. When my sister dies I'll be a big person. I like Ninja Turtles toy things where they fight in the Ninja Turtle house. I want the game Mousetrap. I want the laser trip wire. And that's what I want for Christmas. That's all I want. OK Santa Clause? Santa Clause I love you, goodbye

Saturday, December 03, 2005

First Annual BibleDudes Awards

According to the latest entry in the BibleDudes blog, 2005 will be best remembered not for hurricanes, wars, or tsunamis, but for the inauguration of the BibleDudes awards. Send your nominees to

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Letters to My Congressional Leaders

Recently an editorial in the Times-Picayune urged all who love New Orleans to write to Congress to remind our leaders of promises made to New Orleans in the past, and why investing in the rebuilding of New Orleans matters. Even more recently, Norman Francis, the president of my university, encouraged those affiliated with Xavier to do the same. In my Theology 1120 course, as part of an exercise to get my students to be active and educated participants in government, I have them write letters to their elected officials arguing for some change to improve the world. So out of fear of being called a hypocrite by former students, and to possibly influence my government, and to be a cathartic exercise, I spent most of today writing letters to Congress. I wrote to a few people whom I don't much respect, such as the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. I wrote to a few people whom I admire, such as Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, and John McCain. I wrote to my representatives in New Orleans, including my two senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, and my representative in the House for Louisiana's Second District William Jefferson. I also wrote to Bobby Jindal, the congressman for Lousiana's second district. What I want to share here is the letter that I wrote to Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who has a pretty good chance at being elected president in 2008.

Dear Senator Chuck Hagel,

By way of introduction, my name is Dr. Michael M. Homan, and professionally, I am an Assistant Professor of Theology at Xavier University of Louisiana, situated right in the heart of New Orleans. Because the wall of the poorly constructed 17th Street Canal failed shortly after Hurricane Katrina, my university was severely flooded, as were my house and hundreds of thousands more like it. Unlike many other families, thankfully everyone in my family, and even our pets, are safe and healthy. My wife Therese Fitzpatrick, a teacher of gifted students in the New Orleans Public Schools, lost her job the day the city flooded, as did all of the other teachers in the New Orleans Public School System. When we evacuated a week after the storm, my family and I came straight to Nebraska, as it is where we have family, and it is where Therese and I both had the privilege to grow up. Nebraska is also where we were educated, as we both graduated from Nebraska high schools and UNO. Now my children are in Omaha attending Sunset Hills Elementary School, the same school that I attended more than 30 years ago. And while we would love to stay here in the great state of Nebraska, and it would certainly make our lives simpler, we believe that the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast is essential to the welfare of this country and the world. So Senator Hagel, I'm hoping that you will take a few minutes to read this letter, and my goal is to convey to you, a fellow proud Nebraskan, just how important it is for Congress to help in getting the great city of New Orleans, and Xavier University, back on their feet again.

My family and I moved to New Orleans just five years ago, but from the beginning we felt a special affinity for the place. It's history, cuisine, architecture, and especially the music all combined into a cultural gumbo that appealed deeply to me. In many ways being in New Orleans was like traveling backwards in time. New Orleans, unlike many cities, kept its historic neighborhoods intact, and resisted the trends towards cultural uniformity that currently plague this country. I'm not sure if you've ever had the privilege to visit New Orleans, but it is such a unique environment. The people there are genuine, honest, moral, and possess healthy appetites for good food and entertainment. They are very much like the people of Nebraska in those regards. New Orleans is also worth saving purely on an economic basis. I've read that 2/3 of the fuel in this country travels through our city in some form. I also feel that much of what happened to New Orleans wasn't purely due to inept local politicians. The damning of the Mississippi River played a key role in the flooding of New Orleans, as the river used to flood and leave silt deposits in wetlands and barrier islands that are now gone, making the city more vulnerable. We were promised by national engineers that our city could withstand a Category 3 hurricane. That wasn't true. I remember after the actual hurricane winds subsided being outside on my street talking with neighbors about how we dodged a bullet. But then the waters steadily rose over the next 24 hours until the brackish toxic water was 8 feet deep on my street, and it stayed there for nearly two weeks.

But more than just the city, the university where I work is vitally important to the world. Xavier is unique for many reasons, most notably that it is the only Historically Black University that is also Catholic, as we were founded by Saint Katherine Drexel. Xavier's mission is important to all of us who work there. The university's mission statement reads as follows:
Xavier University of Louisiana is Catholic and historically Black. The ultimate purpose of the University is the promotion of a more just and humane society. To this end, Xavier prepares its students to assume roles of leadership and service in society. This preparation takes place in a pluralistic teaching and learning environment that incorporates all relevant educational means, including research and community service.

In my opinion, this country needs places like Xavier, where the ultimate purpose isn't profit driven, but altruistic. At the end of October, 30% of the faculty were laid off. These were some of the most talented and committed teachers I'd ever seen, and many of them had tenure. We are trying to open again in January, but we desperately need Congress to help in at least two ways. We need to be sure that the city's levies can withstand at the very least another Category 3 storm, and we need financial assistance for the long road to recovery. I think it is very important.

Thank you so much for your time, Senator Hagel, and I hope that you will keep us, the residents of New Orleans, as well as the entire Gulf Region damaged by this year's hurricanes, in your thoughts, prayers, and also in your legislation. We very much need your help. Our future depends on you. And if you ever feel like coming south for Mardi Gras, Jazzfest, to visit Xavier, or for any other reason, please give me a call. I would love to show you some of my favorite places.

Michael M. Homan

**Later note: when you contact these representatives you have to fill out an online form. They force you to choose a topic for your message. Outside of Louisiana, and of the approximately 30 people I wrote today, only Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and John McCain of Arizona had Hurricane Katrina (or something similar) listed as a topic. For the others, I had to choose things like Homeland Security or Environment. I think this shows again that New Orleans can't expect help from the federal government. However, things like flu shots, capital punishment, gun control, and Court Appointees were categories on just about everyone's autoforms. Why won't our government help us?

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.

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.
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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.

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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?
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Friday, September 30, 2005

Good Hands?

We are having a hell of a time contacting our insurance adjustor for AllState. On September 8th we were told his name was Steven Blethan. When we called his phone number we were told by a recording that he was in the Gulf Coast area and would return calls September 2nd. We called every day and left a message asking that he contact us. Then on September 22nd we called the 1-800 Allstate number and were told that we had a new adjustor for both wind and flood, and his name was John Dye. They said that he had been to our house on the 20th of September to take pictures. We have called him every day since the 22nd and left messages, and still no word from him. We tried desperately to get in touch with him while I was in New Orleans from the 23rd-26th of September. The thing is that we don't want to clean out our house until he sees firsthand the damage that the flood waters did to the interior. So because he hasn't contacted us, the mold is growing and ruining more of our house every day. We don't expect the claim to be settled at this point, but is it too much to ask for a freaking phone call? So John Dye, if you are reading this, please please please call us back.

NY Times Article About Xavier

Back on September 25th, the NY Times had a great story about Dillard and Xavier. Bart actually read this article to me in New Orleans. He got a Blackberry and so even with all the destruction and chaos in the Big Easy, Bart was "connected," or he had "net," or something like that.

Xavier's President on NPR

I just heard Renee Montagne interview Dr. Norman Francis on NPR's morning edition. He talks about miracles, faith, and the future of Xavier.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Status of My Zip Code

According to a city report on my zip code (70119), this is what is up with my neighborhood:

70119, 70122
Sewer: East Bank sewer system is inoperative
Water: Water for fire protection only – not potable
Electricity: Assessment 75% complete
Gas: Assessment 100% complete
Debris: Phase 1 Completed
Medical: E. J, Ochsner and W. Jefferson Hospitals open; Touro E.R. in progress; Kindred open for immunizations and some emergency care.
Transportation: Roads passable; signals inoperative; no temp signage yet in place. No bus service; no gas stations open
Fire: No water pressure
911: fully operational Sept. 30
Housing & Building Inspection: In Progress
Food: State Health Department must evaluate before re-opening for food service (3-4 days). Two 10-person teams available next week.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My Neighbor Terry

While I was getting stuff at my house, I met a neighbor of mine named Terry. I had never noticed him before. He said around September 7th he was forced by the National Guard to evacuate his home. He was given five minutes and told he could bring one bag and no animals. By this time the flood waters had been pumped out of our neighborhood, and we was upset that he had to leave his house. After a few days, he found himself in Utah. He didn't want to leave Louisiana and certainly did not want to go so far away. He said they had freezing rain while he was there. According to Terry, "Leave it to the damn federal government to send Eskimos to Hawaii and Louisianians to Utah." He asked the Red Cross for a plane ticket back to Louisiana and they refused. So he worked in Utah, saved up some money, and bought a one way ticket back to Louisiana. He snuck past the check points and is back living at his house. He seemed hardcore resourceful, as he had been collecting rain water to drink. We gave him some of the water we had. I look forward to spending more time with my neighbors if and when this is all over.

Back in Omaha after Touring New Orleans

Today I made it back to Omaha after visiting a devastated New Orleans. It was quite an adventure. First and foremost, Bart and I were able to complete our primary objective, the rescue of Oot the sugar glider.
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We delivered a van load of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to Common Ground and a medical clinic in Algiers.
Thanks to all the people who donated items in Bloomington. My impression is that the supplies will go to immediate and good use. Also thanks to Jonathan and Lisa Rotondo-McCord & the Gstohl family, as we stayed at both of their houses. Bart and I were able to get past the checkpoints twice and visit our houses. We did some cleaning and gathered some stuff.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

From Bloomington to Jackson to New Orleans?

Friday morning Bart and I are heading south at least to Jackson Mississippi. There I have a friend named James Bowley who dug with me at Zeitah a couple years ago. In Bloomington Bart was able to get all sorts of supplies for the clinic, especially pharmaceuticals and a copier. Our van is totally full. We're trying to get a press pass so we can get around the city easier.

If I Forget You, O New Orleans

I wrote the following article for the SBL Forum. SBL stands for the Society of Biblical Literature. Thanks to my new friend Leonard Greenspoon who edits this online journal.

"If I Forget You, O New Orleans" . . . Hurricane Katrina And My Vocation As A Bible Teacher

Michael M. Homan

My family and I proudly called New Orleans home. I use the past tense because our future is anything but clear. We are not natives of the Crescent City, as we moved there five years ago when I accepted a position to teach Hebrew Bible at Xavier University of Louisiana. But in this time, New Orleans has become a big part of who I am. Some of this is literally true because I'm now 40 pounds heavier due partially to my weak resolve and mostly to tantalizing dishes such as alligator sausage cheesecake, fried oyster po' boys, crawfish étouffée, and muffalettas. In fact, our family immediately embraced the regional tradition of eating red beans and rice for dinner every Monday, which sounds healthy — until you learn about the presence of other ingredients such as andouille sausage and tasso.

But mostly my link to the Big Easy is spiritual. Time moved slower there, making the city's rich history all the more humbling. As a major port city in the Southern United States and as a center for the slave trade, New Orleans became a vibrant center of multiculturalism. The mixing of these diverse traditions created incredibly rich cultural gumbos and produced jazz, America's greatest artistic achievement. Throughout our city we had the privilege of hearing some of the world's finest musicians in intimate venues. Trust me, to have heard Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers at Vaughn's on a Thursday night would have dramatically changed your world. And as my daughter was so fond of saying, "New Orleans sure knows how to party." Mardi Gras was much more than the decadent picture painted by MTV and "Girls Gone Wild." The elaborate parades were actually fantastic fun for children. We as a family annually participated in the Krewe of Barkus, a Mardi Gras parade for costumed dogs. It was fun to live in New Orleans.

I recognize that New Orleans also had major drawbacks. The city was famous for corruption and extreme Bacchanalianism, though the latter didn't bother too much a fat man fond of beer, such as myself. However, the biggest problems in New Orleans stemmed from the extreme poverty and poor public education system, both of which I believe were ultimately tied to issues of race. I saw the repercussions of slavery and racism on a daily basis, and it was not a very flattering image for my country.

And today New Orleans lies in ruins. Following the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding caused in part by negligent politicians, both my university and my house sustained devastating damage. Toxic sludge has covered my neighborhood, leaving piles of detritus and the smell of death. I personally witnessed the storm, and I watched the water rise over the next two days from the second story in my home. Five days after Katrina, I escaped New Orleans with my dogs, met my family who had the means and sense to have earlier evacuated, and headed north to Omaha Nebraska where we have family. I wrote in my blog about my experiences related to Hurricane Katrina, and I was amazed by the insightful letters I received linking the experience of New Orleans to biblical passages such as Psalm 137. Another letter arrived from a scholar whom I much admire, and he commented: "All the great tragedies of history must be real for you in a way I hope I never know." Nobody in my family died because of Katrina; though honestly, I do better understand tragedy.

As a student and teacher of the Bible, I believe that this disaster has parallels to the destructions of Judah in 586 BCE and 70 CE. And the residents of New Orleans, and much of the surrounding area in the Gulf Coast, are now experiencing an exile of their own with unknown futures. My wife Therese was a public school teacher, and she lost her job the day of the hurricane. I am still officially employed by Xavier University, though I don't know how long this will last. My school is hoping to open in January, but some have said that is quite optimistic. I have heard from many of my students, which was quite a miraculous feat because all communications within the university used Xavier phone numbers and email addresses, none of which have worked since the storm. A few of my students, especially freshmen, are not planning on returning to Xavier, as they intend on finishing their degrees at other institutions. I'm terrified that student enrollment will drop so drastically that I will soon be without employment. My family and I are also fighting assimilation. We continue to try to keep our New Orleans dietary laws, and thus far we have been able to keep eating red beans and rice on Mondays. But it seems forced and unnatural. It also turns out that Nebraska is not a good place to find crawfish and gumbo crabs.

The year 2005 will be remembered as the year of the catastrophic tsunami and hurricane. And as a Bible scholar and theologian, I have been asked by others, and I've asked myself, how could God let such awful things happen? Unfortunately, several extreme religious groups have suggested that both the tsunami and hurricane were sent by God to punish sinners. This "cause and effect" approach to theodicy has parallels to the Deuternomistic Historian and Augustine, but it disgusts me. Instead, I believe that horrible things happen to good people and that the world is ultimately an unjust place. Moreover, I believe that if God continues to receive credit for miraculous medical cures and even winning lottery numbers, then God ought to be held accountable for catastrophes. There are plenty of biblical precedents for God's behaving in ways that appear to be unethical by human standards. After all, this is the God who ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and the God who called for genocide against the Amekites and Midianites. Christians believe that this God later offered the life of His Son to save the world. Thus I find a strange comfort in the Book of Job, where God explains that the rationale behind Job's horrible tragedy could be comprehended only by those present on the day of creation (38:4). I suppose that evil is necessary if we are to witness goodness. During the past few weeks, I have seen plenty of both.

To deal with my depression, and perhaps to increase my melancholia, I made a CD of some of my favorite songs from New Orleans. There's Louis Armstrong singing "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?" and the great Professor Longhair with "Mardi Gras in New Orleans." It makes me quite homesick to listen to these songs. And to paraphrase and misquote one of my favorite authors, "For it is difficult to sing the songs of New Orleans in a foreign land. If I forget you, O New Orleans, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set New Orleans above my highest joy. Remember, O LORD, against the Hasterts the day of New Orleans' fall, how they said, 'Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!' O daughters Katrina and politicians, you devastators! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!" (Ps 137:4-8, well sort of ...). That last part seems spiteful, and honestly I have no goals of revenge. I've now been in a sort of exile for two weeks, and I am heading back to New Orleans as soon as possible to try to retrieve some documents and to see what I can do to help. I've read about neighborhood clinics set up to help the people who never evacuated; that sounds like noble work, so I'm doing my best to round up the supplies that they've requested.

I do hope that this country will do a better job dealing with issues of class, race, and poverty. And I am convinced that my experiences in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will make me a better teacher of the Bible, though when and where I'll be teaching are still up in the air. I hope and pray that Xavier will open in January. That would be something to behold. The emotions would be overwhelming, and I imagine many tears will be shed, not unlike the exiles from Babylon who returned to Jerusalem and cried when they saw the rebuilt temple. I would imagine that at Xavier in January, never before would students be so appreciated. I think I'll hug each of my students and tell them how thankful I am for the chance to teach them. At least for now, that is how I foresee my part in rebuilding the great city of New Orleans.

Michael M. Homan, Xavier University of Louisiana,