Sunday, December 31, 2006

Frank's Place

One of the best things about living in New Orleans is the food. I've been an enthusiastic student of Creole culinary traditions ever since we moved here when I was six years younger and 40 pounds lighter. But there was always an important part of the culture of Big Easy cuisine that was absent from my repertoire like a roux sans flour. This was the 1987-1988 CBS series Frank's Place, something I have long desired to watch but didn't know how because it's not officially released on video and the reruns don't currently air. But then, thanks to rota fortuna spinning upward, I found them.

The premise of the show is that a Boston professor of Italian Renaissance Art, Frank Parish (played by Tim Reid, who previously played Venus Flytrap in WKRP) inherits a Creole restaurant in New Orleans, called Chez Louisiane, from his estranged father. Then because of voodoo, he reluctantly changes careers and runs the restaurant. All of the characters are great, but I think my favorite is Tiger the bartender. He plays a big role in two of my favorite episodes, "Frank Joins the Club" and "Where's Ed?" Every episode begins with Louis Armstrong singing "Do You Know What it Means, to Miss New Orleans?" It's a very well written show. Mark Christensen, a writer for Rolling Stone, commented "rarely has a prime-time show attempted to capture so accurately a particular American subculture--in this case that of blue-collar blacks in Louisiana." The show has aged well, and I highly recommend it, especially to those who are fond of the uniqueness of New Orleans. Chez Louisiane was based on the famous Creole restaurant Chez Helene, at which I never had the privilege to eat. The skipper-cap-wearing chef in the TV show is named Big Arthur, and he is based on the famous New Orleans chef Austin Leslie. Leslie later went on to cook at Jacques-Imo's and finally Pampy's Creole Kitchen. After Katrina he spent two days in his attic before being evacuated to Atlanta where he died a few days later. His recipe for fried chicken with persillade is still one of the favorites at Pampy's, and I highly recommend it. Better yet, get the fried chicken to go, and watch Frank's Place on DVD. You can either borrow them from me, or purchase them as I did, from Professor Video. He sells all of the episodes on 5 DVDs for $50.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

W for Vendetta

"After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad." --George W. Bush

I'm not very proud to be an American this morning. The whole trial was a farce, and life in prison will always be more ethical than execution, no matter the crimes. How surreal that today is Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Holy Day commemorating a willingness to sacrifice a human being. Some analyst on CNN just spoke about how Saddam's execution fits with the New Year's theme of "Out with the old, in with the new." And to think that some in the world actually accuse Americans of being culturally ignorant...
Later note: They just showed footage of Saddam's body. Imagine the outcry in this country if they showed the corpse of our former president following an execution by an occupying force.

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown Ruins My Xmas

We're in Omaha for Christmas. Santa Claus left a note for Gilgamesh and Kalypso that said their presents were too big to fit in our car. Unfortunately, there was no note for me, so it looks like I'm screwed again by the fat man. But even worse, I just read that Mr Dynamite passed away. In the words of Chuck D, "To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one's coming even close." Rest in peace James Brown.

Later note: Check out Breath of Life's erudite synopsis of James Brown's impact on music and culture.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A WiFi Catch 22 in New Orleans

New Orleans needs free WiFi to help it rebuild. I happily posted that New Orleans was going this route back in November of 2005. There were some setbacks with other companies fighting Earthlink, and then the driving force behind this, Greg Meffert, resigned. But things were moving forward. Then yesterday I heard from Earthling that Earthlink's WiFi system was up and running in much of New Orleans. Great. But it's not in my neighborhood. In a nutshell, if your neighborhood did not flood, then you have access to free WiFi, but if your neighborhood did flood, you're out of luck. The city says the service will be free as long as the city is rebuilding, but the service is only available in places that didn't flood, and hence don't need to rebuild. I would argue that the flooded neighborhoods need the WiFi access more than anywhere else in America. For example, I won't be able to get a phone line working in my house for years, and with information and building permits online, it would make much of the rebuilding process easier and safer. But for Earthlink, it's a business and not a charity. They are hoping that they will profit by selling higher-speed wireless service to those who want a faster connection on the network. Moreover, in the area now covered by Earthlink, there are many of the city's businesses. Earthlink is hoping that these businesses will purchase the faster service, and then this "will guarantee the financial viablity of the network as it moves forward."

I hope to be finished rebuilding my house in one year, 18 months at the most. It would be nice if my Mid-City neighborhood was covered by Earthlink's WiFinetwork before then.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Road Home Christmas Gift

I just received a "new" option letter from the Road Home. Overall I'm very satisfied with the $120,406.63 they're offering this time around.

On July 14th, 2006, we met with the Road Home people in Baton Rouge, as we were part of the pilot program. Then in Mid-October, we received our first option letter. It said that we were eligible for $64,116.87. There were two major mistakes: First they estimated our house to be worth $146,154. However, we purchased our home for $157,000 in 2002, and it was appraised for $193,000 in 2003. Our house was easily worth more than $200,000 prior to Katrina, but thank God we refinanced and had it appraised. Second, they claimed we received $12,495.67 from Allstate Homeowners. Instead, we have received much less than half that figure.

This new option letter reads as follows:
Estimated Pre-Storm Value: $193,000
Estimated Damage to Your Home: $289,363.80
Homeowner's Insurance Proceeds: $3,051.91
FEMA Assistance: $0
Flood Insurance Proceeds: $64,541
Penalty Assessed for No Insurance: $0

So now we'll sign it and fax it back. I think with the approximately $70,000 from Allstate, the $120,000 from the Road Home, and $118,000 from the SBA, we should be able to fix our house. But there has been talk about forcing people to pay off their SBA loan with their Road Home Funds, meaning people can't have both the Road Home money and the SBA Loan. If that happens, we're screwed.

Later Note: Well it happened, and we're screwed-The SBA took its loan offer back in mid-January. Read about it here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Some Good News & Some Great News

First, The Good News:
I just finished grading. I find it emotionally exhausting. I remember when I was a student, and how I felt that at times grades were unfair and subjective. Often times they were. A wise teacher here at Xavier, Dr. Rotondo-McCord, often tells students to not let grades get in the way of learning. Good advice. I also know that many students in my Theology 1120: Intro to Biblical Studies course work very very hard and wind up with a D. It is a difficult class. I ask my students to come up with a project that will improve the world, and then implement it, all the time writing about it in a blog. One of my students, Joseph Jones, wrote "I feel as though it (the blog&project) shouldn’t be graded because it will make someone feel like their hard work and time was useless." I wish I didn't have to grade their work as well.

Second, The Great News:
To quote Hammhawk: "Tenure. Got it. Most glad." I also got promoted to the rank of Associate Professor. Now those damned students will listen to what I say. Oh yeah, they'll listen now for sure...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Xmas Card 2006

It's a very FEMA-ie theme this year. The real thing is actually a scratch and sniff that smells like formaldehyde.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Reggie! Reggie!

Back in March when the Saints signed Drew Brees I purchased season tickets. I'm so happy that I did, as it has been a magical season--a distraction that we desperately needed here in New Orleans. I'll never forget seeing their return to the Superdome with my buddy Howie, or seeing with my daughter Reggie Bush's first touchdown on a punt return. I had the privilege of taking my son Gilgamesh to his first football game. Last Sunday Therese and I went, and Reggie had his NFL breakout game with four touchdowns. He was running hard. Several times everyone in the dome repeated the chant "Reggie! Reggie!" Afterwards Reggie Bush said the following:
Obviously it was great to hear the fans chanting my name. Our whole season is dedicated to the City of New Orleans. Everybody who lived in New Orleans or is from New Orleans that went through Hurricane Katrina last year, it's really at the end of the day about them. Because we know, obviously, if we win, that's going to give them something to be proud of.

They have four games left, and if they just win two of them, they'll be in the playoffs. Every Sunday I have more and more faith.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dead in the Water

I just learned that House GOP leaders pulled the Senate bill that would have allowed drilling off the Gulf shores. It would have meant millions of dollars for Louisiana that we could have used to restore the wetlands and improve levees. Once again it seems that Louisiana is exploited for the benefit of the United States. All we are asking for is our fair share of oil royalties, the same given to Texas, Florida, and even Wyoming.
Later note: the bill passed by a large margin Friday.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gators and Beers

I took this picture of a 5 foot alligator in the Bayou St John on Friday.
He had duct tape stuck to his torso. A neighbor explained that some wildlife management people had managed to get it on shore the day before. "The damned gator had a six pack of beer duct taped to its back" he explained. They freed the beer and much of the duct tape the day before, but then the gator got mad and escaped back in the bayou. What I'm longing to understand are the crucial moments that lead up to the gator having a six pack duct taped to it. What is the procession of thoughts that lead up to the conclusion: "I know what we need to do! Jimmy, get your dad's gator. Billy, get the duct tape. Hank, hand me that six pack in the FEMA trailer's fridge. We boys gonna have an old fashioned gator beer boogaloo!"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Day

Today we were willing participants in Turkey Genocide Day. Our meal was very typical: turkey, mashed potatos, green been casserole, gravy, yams, cranberry sauce, corn bread stuffing, and pumpkin pie. I heard that we were among the 100,000 people celebrating Thanksgiving in a FEMA trailer. Gilgamesh said he was thankful for his hamster and kindergarten teacher. Kalypso was thankful for her family and all her pets. She also said she was thankful that our house was fixable, as many homes here were completely destroyed. Therese said she was thankful that we were all together and healthy. Me, I'm thankful for many things. I'm thankful for having such a wonderful family and some dear friends. I'm also thankful that I teach for a living, and that since Katrina I've gotten to know my neighbors and neighborhood much better.


We just returned from Washington DC, where I spent three days going to papers and meetings at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting. Usually I go to these things alone, but this year Therese, Kalypso, and Gilgamesh went with me. They toured around town to the museums and monuments in a sort of civics lesson. Gilgamesh turned 6 on Tuesday, and we "celebrated" by driving back to New Orleans, 18 hours in the car. We did a better job celebrating yesterday. Of the many things that I love about him, my favorite thing is that he calls James Bond "James Bomb."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Endymion, My Children, and Mid-City New Orleans

It seems the biggest news lately in my neighborhood has been whether or not Endymion will be able to parade in Mid-City, or if they'll be forced to parade uptown for the second year in a row. Endymion is one of the biggest and best Mardi Gras krewes, and their return would help a great deal in Mid-City's recovery. Ask any business owner in the area, and they'll tell you that Endymion equals money. Plus it's great to meet and greet my Mid-City neighbors. At first the police said that Endymion would be able to parade in Mid-City, and they would be joined by the krewes of Iris and Tucks. Then Joy Oswald, a krewe captain from Iris, said
"We will do anything not to go out there. All my members are calling me very upset. They bring all their children up, and they don't want them in that area. Their families will not go into that area. The area is dilapidated. It hasn't come back at all."

Then the mayor said Iris would be uptown, and then the Police Superintendent Warren Riley said that Endymion would not be allowed to parade in Mid-City. He said it was a matter of safety, and that he was worried that some children might get "pulled into some abandoned building." These attitudes expressed by Joy Oswald and Warren Riley bother me quite a bit, especially as I have two kids living in Mid-City. I might not be wealthy, like Joy Oswald, nor ride in an alcohol-free parade notorious for lousy throws for all of its 90 years, nor even have had the good fortune to live in a neighborhood that didn't flood, but to have Endymion back in Mid-City is important. The city council has the final say, and they have this on their agenda for December 14th.

I realize that all of this seems trivial to people who are not here. But to have Endymion return to Mid-City would be a major step in our slow and painful return to any sense of normalcy. Seeing Endymion roll down the streets of my neighborhood was one of my favorite parts about living in Mid-City. I hope that they'll be able to return, and as soon as possible. And if Endymion is forced to roll again in uptown, then I'll be sure to make a special sign for Joy Oswald and her families that won't go into "that area," my Mid-City home.

Allstate: You're In Good Hand

The New Orleans Levee has two amusing stories about Allstate (1, 2).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Monday Nights in Mid-City New Orleans

A group of New Orleanians committed to having a voice in the rebuilding of our Mid-City neighborhood have been meeting every Monday night from 6:30-8 PM (often longer) at Grace Episcopal Church since the end of May. This started when my friend, colleague, and neighbor Bart decided that Mid-City needed a recovery plan. He came up with the first draft, a few of us collaborated on draft two, and then we met the larger neighborhood and formed committees. I was chair of the education committee. Each committee wrote their portion of our recovery plan, and we worked with Lambert and Associates, planners hired by the City Council. Recently they presented their final plan for our recovery, and we compiled an "Addendum" to be read in conjunction with the Lambert plan. Then last night we did something monumental. We agreed to stop meeting every Monday night. Not even a 12-step-program, just completely cold turkey. Each committee will now work to implement their plan. For the education committee, that means we will be working hard to get a public library in our neighborhood and more important, quality public schools. My neighbors and these committees will start meeting the first Monday of every month under the umbrella of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. That sounds like good news to me, and I would like to thank all of my neighbors for working so hard to rebuild our great and historic Mid-City neighborhood here in New Orleans.

Monday, November 13, 2006

$7,487.73 and Waivers from Allstate

Allstate owes me more than $100,000 for flood and wind damage to our house from Hurricane Katrina. They've owed me this for about 15 months now. In late September 2006 they informed me that they had a check for us for $7,487.73, but to get it I needed to sign two waivers. The first was a"Non-Waiver Agreement," and the second was "Proof of Loss Supplement." The fine print on the second one caught my attention, as if we signed it we would waive our rights to claim that Allstate has acted in bad faith, which they clearly have. So now we're in a dilemma. Allstate tells me on the phone that if I won't sign the forms, then it is the same as me refusing the $7,487.73 supplement and the case will be closed. I tell them, no, Allstate owes me the money, and there is nothing in our flood policy that states that I need to sign waivers prior to receipt of payments. The homeowner's portion of the claim we're handling in court. Our attorney said to absolutely not sign those forms, as Allstate would use them in the Homeowner's portion of the claim against us. Of course we still need an attorney to handle the flood portion of our claim, but I'm starting to think that we'd be better off with the Road Home than with an attorney. If we have an attorney for flood, and we get an extra $60,000, then the attorney's fees would be $20,000. So we would receive $40,000, but according to the Road Home it would be $60,000, and they would drop their grant by that much. While I would love to see Allstate lose in court, I can't afford to pay $20,000 to see that fine day. So for now, I can't sign the waivers, Allstate is acting as awful as ever, and we wait some more.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Paper of Record

Leslie Eaton has a story about the LA Road Home program in today's New York Times. As a neophyte media whore, I was of course pleased to see that the article mentioned me and my blog. It also included this photo:

Cheryl Gerber took this picture of Therese and I, with Greg Abry of Abry Bros looking under our house.

Note to self: 1. fix house, 2. lose weight.

Later note: There is an excellent local grass-roots organization called the Citizen's Road Home Action Team, or "CHAT," that is more knowledgeable than I about how the Road Home program works.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Katrina, Elections, and 30 Years

I keep hearing about how the U.S. administration's Iraq policy influenced the midterm elections--about how people were voting for a change of direction. I wonder how much the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath had an impact. Recently I heard Steve Villavaso, one of the most important planners in the rebuilding of New Orleans, say that it will take 30 years to rebuild this great city. I imagine that for more than 30 years, if I live that long, that I'll be fighting suppressed anger and horrible memories of death and suffering that stemmed from this unnatural catastrophe caused by incompetent humans.

Fixing Our House

Today, at long last, we met with Greg Abry from Abry Brothers. Their family has been raising and leveling houses for 160 years, and they have a great reputation. The bottom line: Greg thinks that in mid-January of 2007 he would be able to put support beams on our house so we could gut it. About a week later, once the house was gutted, they would level the foundation and then straighten the walls. He is working up an estimate and contract and should get back to us next week, he said. Since we're forced to do such extensive renovations, we think we might want to add on to the back of the house about 12-15 feet. So we need to find an architect who can help us do that. Anyway, things are looking up a bit, it just takes such a long time.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mid-Term Elections

I voted today. Mid-terms. It was nothing like two years ago, when I was so crushed that people in my country would vote for Bush and the Republicans. I was so upset that I vowed to stop driving my car to work, as I reasoned that this country's dependence on oil was a major factor in making the world a more horrible place. I've been walking and biking ever since. Of course, that was a bigger statement in some ways when I had a car parked on the street in front of my home. But alas, that car got Katrina'd, so now there's not much option. I could buy another car I guess... But back to the election. I don't feel so emotionally involved in this one. First, I have no confidence in the electronic voting machines, so why get emotionally involved? But more important, after Katrina none of this seems to matter much. If Democrats take the house, many of them are in the middle and things will continue as is. If by some chance they take both houses, then I am still not sure how that will effect me. I also think that if that happens there will still be US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next several years. But I guess deep down I would like to see a strong vote against incumbants to send the message that people are not happy with the way the country is going. I haven't been happy with the way the country has been going my entire adult life, and that is especially true for the past 6 years. At least I'm not scheduled to hunt with Cheney today, I have that going for me. I'm looking forward to watching the returns, and especially the Daily Show/Colbert Report analysis.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Road Home Update

I just got off the phone with Jamal, the supervisor for Cassandra, my Road Home caseworker. He said that he believed that my $146K pre-Katrina estimate for the Road Home came from a "BPO." At first I thought he said this stood for "Broke Price Onion," and I said "Huh?" and he explained slowly "Broker Price Opinion." He said he would check this out and get back to me, letting me know for certain how they calculated the value of my home to be $146,000, especially since we bought it 4 years before Katrina for $157,000. Someone suggested that the $146K assessment might have come from our property taxes. I checked that idea out on the Orleans Parish Assessor's Office website. That said in a 2007 certified assessment that our land was worth $13K and the building $103K, for a total of $116K. I thought maybe that it was assessed after the storm, as in it was worth more before Katrina, and now that it is damaged, it is worth only $116K. But I believe our house has always been undervalued for tax purposes. That might change, or at least I hope we have a more equitable system, after the elections next Tuesday when voters decide on consolidating the many tax assessors in New Orleans.

Jamal also said that they were going to use the appraisal of our house for $193,000 that we got when we refinanced in 2003. How lucky was that? Not only did our interest rate go down with the refinancing, but it might have gotten us $47,000 extra (193K-146K) from the Road Home. But then if I've learned anything in the aftermath of Katrina, it's that things move slowly, and I won't get excited until I see the actual check. They also wrote Allstate asking for clarification for the homeowner's numbers. Jamal said that they would not count ALE money (That's additional living expenses for my beer drinking friends).

I also found out that Allstate has given us an additional $1200 for wind damage. After our attorney fees and fees to hire adjusters and all this other stuff, that meant Therese and I will get a check for just over $100. This makes me very nervous. What if in our lawsuit against Allstate we are awarded $60,000 but no additional attorney fees. Then, we might get $40,000, with $20,000 going to our attorney, and then the Road Home would calculate that as $60,000 less they have to pay us. In short, we would be out $20,000, and would have been much better off not have sued Allstate, and to let the Road Home decide if they wanted to pursue that course of action. I'm pretty sure that I can survive rebuilding my life and city once, but the next time I think I might move far away to an isolated cave somewhere in the Mediterranean. Does anyone know contact info for Calypso or Polyphemous?

Finally, I spoke with Leslie Eaton from the New York Times about my experiences with the Road Home last Monday. I'm either a media-whore or someone who feels that my story will help others.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween in Mid-City New Orleans

It was quality and not quantity when it came to the houses playing the Trick-or-Treat game in our New Orleans neighborhood tonight. I took Kalypso and Gilgamesh out. Kalypso was a dead Geisha girl, and Gilgamesh was the Grim Reaper. It seemed there was about one house with candy every other block. But they were so excited to see kids in costume they were generous with the goods. Sometimes there were several blocks in a row with nobody home. A couple of times National Guards trucks drove by, as in this picture:
Therese stayed at home and had two groups come by all night, for a total of 4 kids. But we were glad to be pioneers, and everyone agreed that next year there will be both more trick-or-treaters and more houses with candy. Now that the kids are jacked up on sugar, it's time to watch a scary movie before they puke. Happy Halloween everyone!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Road Home Math

Cassandra called and answered several of my questions regarding the Road Home letter we received last week. She had to call Washington for clarification, but I'm happy to report that the math works, though there are still many other problems that we need to work out, mostly related to Allstate.

~The Road Home estimated that our house was worth $146,154 before Katrina. I still have no idea how they determined this. It might be what we owed on the mortgage in August of 2006. Someone else said maybe it was property tax. I have a call in to Cassandra to find out more about this important number.
~The Estimated Damage to our home according to the Road Home was $289,363.80. That seems very high, especially if it was worth around $175-200K before Katrina.
~Homeowner's Insurance Proceeds $12,495.67
~FEMA Assistance $0
~Flood Insurance Proceeds. They list $64,541 on the Road Home form, but National Flood has actually paid us $69,541.46.
~Penalty Assessed for No Insurance: $0.

So now at least the math works: $146,154 minus $12,495.67 and $69,541.46 equals $64,116.87, which is what the Road Home offered us in the initial letter, if we stay in Louisiana. I'm so happy that at least the math is accurate.

Now I need to do two things. First, I need to find documentation that our house was worth more than $146K before Katrina. I have the bill of sale for $157K in 2002. When we refinanced in 2004 it was valued at $175K. I was of the opinion that it wouldn't matter if it were 157 or 175, and anything over 150 we be treated the same. This doesn't seem to be the case. I'm now trying to contact my mortgage company/realitor to document the $175K. If I can't find that, then I will fax the Road Home the bill of sale for $157K. The second thing that I need to do is to convince the Road Home that Allstate has not paid us $12,495.67 for homeowners, instead they have actually paid us $3944.73. I'm thinking I might be able to get a letter from our mortgage company stating that and not have to deal with Allstate.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Huggabunny's Reality Check

My son Gilgamesh is in kindergarten. Every now and then he brings home this cute stuffed rabbit named "Huggabunny" to spend the night. Huggabunny has this big scrapbook that goes with him full of nice and happy pictures and words. The deal is that the lucky families take pictures of Huggabunny and document how much fun they've had with his happy hippity-hoppity self. But in looking through this scrapbook there was absolutely no reference to biggest elephant to ever hit the United States: Katrina. It dominates every hour of every day in New Orleans and somebody needed to let Huggabunny know about this tragedy. So I spent some time this weekend bringing Huggabunny up to date with the real New Orleans post-Katrina.
I took Huggabunny to the 17th street canal breach, where the Army Corps of Engineers poorly designed these levees. You can see the repairs over his right shoulder. I explained to Huggabunny how these design errors cost more than 1,000 lives and the destruction of many more homes and families. Huggabunny said "Poorly designed levees make Huggabunny sad." Me too Huggabunny.
I showed Huggabunny how our home flooded, and how it was leaning from the winds of Katrina. Huggabunny tried with all his might to push our house back into place. It didn't budge. Huggabunny said "Huggabunny happy because at least the Homans had flood and wind insurance." I told Huggabunny that I wanted to show him some files.
I showed Huggabunny the report we received from Allstate in April, saying they were denying the structural damage claim because of a report by Haag Engineering. Huggabunny couldn't understand why the report called the damaged home the "Wilson house," and why it had pictures that didn't belong to the Homan house. Huggabunny giggled when he read the part that said it wasn't windy enough during Hurricane Katrina to make a house lean. "Silly Allstate" he laughed. I showed Huggabunny more files, like the one that has our lawsuit against Allstate, and the Road Home file. Huggabunny said "Huggabunny tired." We're tired too Huggabunny.
And so Huggabunny, thanks for coming by this weekend. I hope you enjoyed your FEMA trailer experience. They're actually pretty spacious for someone your size. Be sure to let people know that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast still need a lot of attention. Come back and see us anytime Huggabunny.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Therese's Bad Day

Therese just called, she said that she was in a car accident. She said she is fine, just shaken up, and luckily the kids were not with her. She was on the way for a root canal when she crossed Veterans Blvd and ran into someone. She's now waiting for the police to show up to the accident. Now she has to call our Allstate agent to report the accident, the same one we're suing. I've got to try to find a way to get the kids from their schools. That's our only car, I've got my bicycyle outside my office, and it's raining. Fortuna's Wheel hasn't been to kind to us lately.
Late Note: people have been very generous, even offering us cars to borrow. Therese's car is running fine, and the damage is to the body. The trunk won't close all the way, but it is still locked. She drove it to Toyota's body shop Saturday, but it was closed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Macabre Tales From New Orleans

First this.
Now this.

Education in the "New" New Orleans

Like many of my neighbors, I've invested a huge amount of time and work over the past 10 months to try to rebuild a better New Orleans. I've focused my energies on the neighborhood in which I live, Mid-City. It's a great neighborhood, and pretty famous. It's where Louis Armstrong was born after all. But what I love most about it is that Mid-City represents a microcosm of what I love about New Orleans, or namely, it's what the locals would call "gumbo", but outsiders would refer to as "mixed". It's mixed income with million dollar houses next door to $500 per month rentals, at least that was the case before Katrina. I think it would be challenging to find a rental today for under $1000. Slightly more than 70% of the residents of Mid-City before Katrina were renters, and 1/3 of the population lived in poverty. I hope the "New" New Orleans has more homeowners, and I certainly would like to see less people living in poverty. Mid-City before Katrina was also mixed racially, being about 65% African American, 25% European/Caucassian, and 10% Hispanic. Those numbers have changed dramatically since Katrina, but I'm hopeful that more of my African American neighbors in the Diaspora will be able to return.

In our recovery, I believe that improving public education will be key. To meet this end, I've been working hard with the Education Committee of the Mid-City Recovery Plan. We're trying to improve the two public schools which have reopened in Mid-City: Warren Easton Charter High School and Dibert Elementary. I've also been working with the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization to charter Dibert Elementary. Currently it is being run by the state's Recovery School District, and I believe that we could do a much better job. I would like Dibert to be the sort of school that people want to move to Mid-City just so their kids can attend the great school. Dibert used to be that way, but it really declined in the 80's and 90's. I hope in the "New" New Orleans, we won't settle for poor performing schools. We need more community involvement. I'm also by-and-large against "charter" schools as I believe they are elitist. However, the school board for Orleans Parish public schools has been quite incompetant, and the state is nearly as bad, and so we're left with charters being the only chance of hope for the time being. I see it as a good first step to create more community involvement in the schools, and to increase the number of quality schools in the city.

I've also been working to get a new public library in Mid-City. We used to have one until 1958 when that branch closed. The city's chief librarian, Geraldine Harris, has been very supportive of our efforts. It looks like we're going to have success on that end, and put a temporary branch at 320 N. Carrollton for 3 years, and then hopefully we'll have the funds to create a permanent branch. My friend Bart and I have been working on a Mid-City library fundraiser called Boozocracy. We're meeting with some professional fundraisers tonight to talk about ways to do boozocracy and other fundraisers better to make this dream a reality. It is exhausting and an emotional rollercoaster, but in the end I hope that we can make a difference.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bump in Road Home

Today in the mail I received a letter from the Road Home. They said "Congratulations! We have determined that you are eligible for benefits under the Road Home homeowner compensation program." Cool. We were part of a pilot program and were anxious to receive this letter. It said we were eligible for a grant for $64,116.87 if we decide to stay in Louisiana. If we moved out of the state, we could get a grant for $5,655.27. But there are some major mistakes in their calculations. Here is what they determined:
Estimated Pre-Storm Value $146,154 (we think it was $175,000, and we paid $157,000 for it in 2002)
Estimated Damage to Your Home $289,363.80 (wow)
Homeowner's Insurance Proceeds $12,495.67 (we have only received $3944.73 from Allstate)
FEMA Assistance $0
Flood Insurance Proceed $64,541.00 (accurate)
Penalty Assessed for No Insurance $0

So now I'm trying to figure out who to contact to let them know about these errors.

Fathers and Sons

I had the privilege of taking my son Gilgamesh to his first Saints game yesterday. I hope it is the first of many. The Saints played great and beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24 on a last minute field goal. I was actually suprised that the Saints won against such a talented team. The 5-1 record for the Saints means quite a bit in post-Katrina New Orleans. It is somehow more than just a game.

Friday, October 13, 2006


This week, in an anonymous poll, I asked my students at Xavier University the following yes-or-no question: "God sent Katrina to punish the U.S. for its sins." The results suprised me: 33 out of 95 answered "Yes." I should also add that 94 out of 95 answered "Yes" to the following two questions: "God exists" and "God is omnipotent."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


To the friends and families of the 655,000 Iraqis who have died as a result of my country's greed, xenophobia, and imperialism, I am sorry.

Monday, October 09, 2006


There are severe generational and cultural gaps between me and my students, and these gaps grow wider every day. I just finished my Torah class where we were discussing Genesis 22 where God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to prove that Abraham fears God. At the beginning of class I played a clip from Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited:
Oh God said to Abraham "Kill me a son."
Abe said "Man you must be putting me on."
God said "No."
Abe say "What?"
God say "You can do what you want Abe but the next time you see me coming you better run."
Well Abe said "Where do you want this killing done?"
God said "Out on Highway 61."

I asked my students who is singing this song, and they couldn't answer. I said it was a person whom many consider to be the greatest American song writer ever. One student said "Is it that John Elton guy?" I told them it was Bob Dylan. Some of my students had heard of him they said. But only a few.

Then later we were talking about an article I had them read by Elie Wiesel. A few students had heard of him because, they said, he was on Oprah. I went on to my speech about why Oprah is evil, and when you attack Oprah at an African American school, let me tell you, it is on. A student asked me why Wiesel was so bitter about the Holocaust. He said the Jews had 400 years of slavery in Egypt and after that they still believed in God. I talked about the aspirations of the Enlightenment, and how Germany was the most educated and technologically advanced nation on earth and how they used these "gifts" for horrible purposes. I talked about how education brings greater responsibility, and how the earth is not a very happy place upon thorough examination--the "increased knowledge increases suffering" speech from Ecclesiastes. I said think about what happened here with Katrina, and event that was only a fraction of the catastrophe, and how it raised questions of theodicy and questions about the nature of humankind. Then after class the same student informed me that God sent Katrina because He was angry with the way people were acting on Bourbon Street.

God help me.

Why God Hates Hippies

Dangerblond had a 1960's birthday party last Saturday night. That's her on the right:
Being that I grew up in the 1970's, and got sick of hearing people from the 1960's say "We thought we could change the world man!" I became a punk rocker. So to rebel against all the free love hippie baloney, I dressed up as a sensible God-fearing Christian with no tolerance for today's youth. There was one other distinguished like-minded gentleman at the party. We talked at length about how the country is going to hell because of that crazy Rock N' Roll music, as well as why we both thought Pat Nixon was sexy in a retro kind of way.
Thanks to Adrastos for the second picture.
As part of my costume, I had a list called "Why God Hates Hippies!"
1. Pinko Commie Bastards.
2. They hate Jesus.
3. The 10 Commandments.
4. They hate America.
5. Free love sluts.
6. Smell like spoiled milk.
7. Loud rock n' roll Music.
8. Draft dodging cowards.
9. They smoke marijuana.
10. They take freedom for granted.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fathers and Daughters

I took Kalypso to her first Saints game today. It was a very close game, but in the end, the Saints won, and they are 4-1. Beyond the typical high-fives after scores and great plays, we hugged when Reggie Bush finally scored his first touchdown. I'm glad we got to share that moment. I used to go to many Nebraska football games with my dad. I wonder how dads would interact with their kids if there was no such thing as sports? But all things considered, it was another great day in the Big Easy. Go Saints!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Wheels of Justice Move Slowly

Our attorney said that our case against Allstate won't be argued in court until about May of 2007. As I understand the process, yesterday Allstate did not appear at court, but instead they filed a removal of the case from state to federal court. Now our attorney files a motion for remand to move the trial back to state court. Then Allstate answers, and then we request a trial date. I sent an email to our attorney asking him if there is anyway that we can start repairing the house before the trial. We're going crazy here waiting, waiting, and waiting. If he says leave the house as is until the trial, we won't be moving into the apartment next week. We simply can't afford the extra rent for all that time while the house stays as is. We'll have to rent a place when we start gutting our house and repairing it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

400 Days of Getting Screwed by Allstate

Our house in Mid-City New Orleans has still not been gutted since it flooded 400 days ago. While many families are now moving back into their renovated homes, we haven't even begun the long and arduous process of rebuilding. Once we are able to start, we are optimistic in thinking that it will take about 10 months to do all the necessary work. We cleaned out the mucky gunk left by the flood downstairs, and mostly we spend our time upstairs. If we gutted our house, we've been told, it would fall over, as it is severely leaning because of the winds of Katrina and needs to straightened. The plaster and lathe are helping to keep it standing. We have a FEMA trailer that arrived recently in front of our house, and we're still waiting on a few things such as a key before that will be operational. We also have decided to rent an apartment because there is no way that the four of us could survive in the tiny white box. The plan is that Therese and the kids will spend most of their time in the apartment with all of our "stuff", and I will sort of keep an eye on the dogs and the house using the FEMA trailer as a base of operation. It won't be easy. We plan on moving our stuff to the apartment in mid-October. The apartment is pretty small so we might need a storage facility. Therese was freaking out about this yesterday. She would love to move into a house that never flooded and severe all ties with the flooded house. That sounds tempting to me also. However, we can't afford houses that didn't flood, or even renovated houses, as the prices have skyrocketed. Also, from a financial perspective, we really need to fix our house. We owe about $150,000 on the mortgage, and in the present condition it is worth about $30,000. If our house was renovated it would be worth $300,000 I would estimate. So we're stuck. I think I'll keep a bed and a radio and a few other things for when I stay at the house/trailer. We decided to sue Allstate Insurance over the wind damage portion of our claim. We are supposed to get a trial date set October 5th, so tomorrow we'll know more about that. I'm confident that we will win that case. But we were handling the flood portion of our claim on our own. That wasn't by choice, it's just that our attorney refused to handle flood because it is a federal issue and very messy. Depending on whether the state or federal courts hear our case about wind, he will get us an attorney to handle flood. The original flood adjuster made many mistakes to save Allstate money. For example, he said our kitchen was 2 feet wide instead of 12. Actually, we've had about nine adjusters so far. It's a real shell game. They send forms to the wrong addresses, anything to delay the process. In any event, we submitted a proof of loss for flood, and Allstate opened a "supplemental" claim instead of addressing the proof of loss. We believe Allstate owes us an additional $80,000 to fix the structural damage, but even so, the house should be totaled out from flood alone. Allstate said that they still owed us an additional $7000 to cover the mistakes that were made in the first adjustor's claim. But they are saying they won't give us that money unless we sign two forms that basically get Allstate off the hook for any past and future mistakes. It's as if they dangle this money in front of you, and you sign for it unknowingly saying in legalise that Allstate has acted ethically and you are happy with the payments for flood and won't bother them again. Several attorneys told me not to sign it because my signature would waive my right to claim that Allstate has been acting fraudulently and they would use it against us in our homeowner's case. In Theology class today we were talking about hatred and forgiveness. My student asked me who I hated. I thought about it for a long time and I said "I hate Allstate. Not the individuals who work for that company, as some of them seem nice, but the company as a whole I believe is acting in bad faith, breaking the law, and making many people suffer so that the corporation can make more money. For them it is profit at any cost." People in America think they are insured, but they really have no way of knowing until something horrible happens. I wish them luck as they'll need it. Poorly built levees in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, Allstate Insurance, and Haag Engineering, all of these things together have created my own personal perfect storm.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Gold Digga'

My university just announced that they will be having tryouts next Monday for those interested in being the university's mascot, Gold Digga'. They are opening up the tryouts to include faculty, believe it or not. I'm thinking that maybe this is my chance to finally do something with my life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

After the Flood All the Colors Came Out

Yesterday was truly a beautiful day. It's Fall, and the weather was crisp and perfect. In class my students and I discussed my favorite story, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Then I biked to downtown where I heard Cowboy Mouth. There I met my friend Mark who had lost his job at Xavier after Katrina. He had just learned that Xavier is rehiring him to the faculty. So my favorite colleague is coming back, which alone would have made the day one of the best. Then the Superdome reopened, Mark and I went inside, stood in long lines for beer and andouille sausages, and watched Green Day and U2 perform. Then Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint sang the most beautiful rendition of the national anthem that I've ever heard. The Superdome was incredibly loud, filled with people who desperately needed something for which to cheer. Ninety seconds into the game, the Saints blocked a punt and recovered it in the endzone. At that moment, the Superdome was full of so much energy, it was like nothing that I've ever experienced. Then the Saints did something I have never seen them do: they played 4 quarters of mistake free football, and they beat the favored Falcons on Monday Night Football by a score of 23-3. Biking home at midnight smiling strangers I met wanted to talk about the game. Others just shouted "Three and O, Baby!" I'm so thankful to have experienced such a great day.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

It's Time to Start Rebuilding New Orleans

Dear Louisiana Recovery Authority,
I live in Mid-City New Orleans. It has been 391 days since my neighborhood flooded. My neighbors and I worked very hard to create a Mid-City recovery plan. We then worked with Cliff James and the Lambert-Danzey team, and yesterday I heard Mr. James present our plan at City Hall. It appears that it will cost just over $100 million to fix our neighborhood's streets, sidewalks, lights, and sewer. There are federal funds available for fixing things such as this in New Orleans, only your organization wouldn't release the funds until we had a plan. So I'm letting you know that my neighborhood, like many others, has a plan. We don't want to wait for another year until the Unified New Orleans Plan is finished. You've given $28.5 million to tourism recovery. Now please start the long process of fixing the infrastructure for the people who live here, those of us who don't frequent Bourbon Street.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Insurance Company + Disastor + Haag Engineering="Malicious Denials of Claims"

I've written quite a bit over the past year about how Allstate is denying the structural damage part of our claim based on a report from Haag Engineering.

A jury in Oklahoma ruled that State Farm, the nation's largest insurer, used Haag reports to "maliciously deny policyholder claims." Now State Farm is forced under court order to submit to questioning about how they handle claims practices with Haag. Chairman and CEO Edward Rust admitted that State Farm would not have used Haag to assess Hurricane Damage if they had to do it all over again. State Farm also has a moratorium on using Haag Engineering. "Based upon what I know now," Rust said, "I'm supportive of the moratorium and the review. And we, you know, did not have that knowledge prior to this."

Marr, the attorney representing the people in Oklahoma who had their homes destroyed and their claims denied, asked Rust: "Do you find it coincidental the Watkins verdict and the jury's findings regarding State Farm's use of biased engineers and the allegations being levied against State Farm in Mississippi are for the same thing?"

Rust: "I find it troublesome."

Marr: "Do you believe it is representative of a pattern?"

Rust: "No, I don't, but I do find it troublesome. If there is an issue with Haag Engineering, we need to get to the bottom of it."

Rust said he was unaware of any problems with Haag before the Oklahoma verdict. But when pressed, he admitted problems in Texas, Idaho, and several other places.

More of the testimony reveals that State Farm paid Haag much more than normal for engineer's reports. And more evidence is turning up that State Farm purposefully withholds and destroys documents. The house of cards is crumbling.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Blogging Katrina

Roy Bragg from Express News National writes about New Orleans bloggers, most of whom I know. He quotes me as saying about grass roots community activism blogging "The potential is incredible. We haven't even scratched the surface." Couldn't agree more with myself. Thanks Roy.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Today I received a certified letter from the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. It states that they found our '94 Toyota Tercel on a public right of way and towed it. It's being stored at an impound lot on Almonaster Ave. I have 10 days to claim the vehicle, or I can have them dispose of it for $15. Here's a picture of the car on the last day that I saw it:
The car was completely submerged by the flood waters, and it disappeared at some point between October-December 2005 when we were in Nebraska. We of course assumed that it was removed by one of the companies hired to pick up flooded cars. So it seems unfair to me that I should have to pay the $15. Instead, I'm sending the Department of Public Safety and Corrections a letter asking them to charge the $15 bill to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Saints Are Coming!

Back in March I went a bit crazy and bought season tickets for the Saints. Today I'm pretty proud of that decision. That's especially true because I'll get to see their first home game since 2004 on Monday night, one week from today. The reopening of the Superdome will be a real milestone in the history of this city. Furthermore, U2 and Greenday will be teaming up to cover one of my favorite punk bands, The Skids, for their classic song "The Saints Are Coming." The lyrics to the song are eerily appropriate:
I cried to my daddy on the telephone--How long now?
Until the clouds unroll and you come home"--the line went
But the shadows still remain since your descent--your descent

The saints are coming, the saints are coming
No matter how I try, I realise there's no reply
The saints are coming, the saints are coming

A drowning sorrow floods the deepest grief--How long now?
Until a weather change condemns belief--The stone says
This paternal guide once had his day--Once had his day

The saints are coming, the saints are coming
No matter how I try, I realise there's no reply
The saints are coming, the saints are coming

You can hear the song at Youtube.
I've always known that music can tap into our emotions like nothing else. Seeing Bruce Springsteen at Jazzfest is something that I'll never forget. I think hearing U2 and Green Day on Monday night has the potential to be just as powerful. I'm going with my best friend Howie, who understands the meaning of the lyrics "drowning sorrow floods the deepest grief" and "Until a weather change condemns belief." And one final thing that ties all of this together for me: my Skids LP with this song on it was one of the many that I lost to Katrina.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Decline of FEMA Trailer Sewage Pipes

The Saints are 2-0, and last night I saw perhaps the most inspiring of all sporting events: The Big Easy Rollergirls.
My favorite player was a buxom girl named Cheap Thr!ll, and her number was 40oz. I fortunately bought my tickets online before the bout, because many people, including Howie, were turned away at the door because it sold out. Also on Saturday, Gilgamesh had his first soccer game of the season, and Kalypso had her first cross country meet. It was a pretty good weekend, only slightly marred by rogue FEMA contractors errantly installing sewage pipes. The guy supervising the installation of our FEMA trailer (there seem to be about 10 people involved in this project) ordered that the sewage pipes be put on the north side of our house. However, I came home from work on Friday and the pipes were on the south side blocking the path to the back of our house. These guys work fast, and they're in and out before I can catch them. It's especially hard to oversee all of this when both Therese and I have day jobs. But through some massive investigative work, I was able to get someone to agree to come out to our house on Monday to see about moving the sewer pipes to the side of the house where they belong, as it's much closer and better suited for the necessary decline. Sewage pipes need a very slight decline. If it is too steep, the water rushes down leaving the toilet paper and other "stuff." That's just one of the millions of things that I've learned thanks to Katrina and the faulty levees.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Where We'll Be at Saturday Night

To celebrate our new mobile home, the Homan family will be heading out to see the debut of the Big Easy Roller Girls for some "All-Female Flat-Track Roller Derby Action." Me, I don't care so much about the flat-track, but the rest? Oh boy!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

We Trailer Trash Now Darlin'

Biking home from work this evening, I couldn't believe it. There in our front yard was our very own FEMA trailer.
It still needs to be "hooked up," which can take months, but it was exciting to see the trailer nonetheless. Now my kids can have the full Katrina experience. Gilgamesh wanted to eat dinner in the trailer, and we tried, but it smelled too much like formaldehyde and we got sick so we went back to our house. But someday soon, we'll be ready to go in our FEMA trailer. On that day, only Allstate will be to blame for us not moving forward in the long and arduous rebuilding process. Some of our neighbors are almost ready to move back into their houses, and some already have. We are planning on about two years once we are able to start, as our structural damage and all the other work will be pretty extensive, and contractors are hard to come by.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lights, Camera, Action

My daughter Kalypso's movie about the rebuilding of New Orleans one year after Katrina can be seen on YouTube and Think New Orleans (a higher quality video). Alan Gutierrez deserves our thanks for hosting the video. Six months ago Kalypso had a video about New Orleans after Katrina on YouTube, and to date more than 5500 people have seen it. We're very proud of her.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More Bad Press for Allstate, But Who Really Cares?

Allstate made record profits in 2005, and if I had no moral scruples, I'd invest in the company. It is a great investment if all you are interested in is profit. I should start an insurance company of my own, where I take payments, but don't live up to any contract. And my angst is toward the corporation, as the people who we have met who work Allstate are sympathetic and nice by and large. But it is one year after Katrina, and still they won't honor thousands of contracts here in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. And now they're trying to get out of 30,000 contracts in the region. Here in Louisiana, a 1992 law says an insurance company can only drop policy holders with a 3 year tenure if they 1. Don't pay their bills, 2. commit fraud, 3. have more than 2 claims in 3 years, 4. the insurance company would go bankrupt if it kept the customers. But now Allstate wants to pull out of Louisiana and have a state run agency take over, which would greatly increase the cost to the insured. It boils down to this bizarre fact: if you have car insurance through Allstate, they keep you, if you don't, you're history. Ironically, we have car insurance through our nemesis Allstate, and so we still have insurance for our severely damaged home. Insurance from what I'm not sure. What exactly would it take for Allstate to live up to their end of the contract? A hurricane and subsequent flood waters caused severe structural damage to our house, and they won't address these issues. Instead, they thought it was a good business practice to hire Haag Engineering to claim that Katrina and the flood didn't cause any damage to the structure of our house. We keep paying our premiums because we don't know what else to do. But let me tell you, if a meteor fell on our car tonight, and then the fire destroyed our home, I doubt very much whether Allstate would pay us. We're covered in our minds, but they'd find ways to get out of the contract.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

One Year Ago and Today

A year ago today I left my flooded house with my dogs by boat. Many hours later I was dropped off at the Causeway Concentration Camp. In the middle of the night I walked out of New Orleans with Robyn and Carlos. So much happened that day and subsequent night, and I saw so many wonderful and horrible things, it will continue to impact my life until the day that I die.

Today I saw my father. We watched the Nebraska football game on TV. His mind is slipping, but it was good to see him. He still had his hair, but the chemo was hard on him. He said he would come live with me if I lived north of the Mason Dixon line. I asked why? He said "the weather." "It's too hot down there," he said. I said maybe it would be a good time to come down and live with us after Christmas, as in he could drive back with us. He seemed to like that idea. It seems now like he has two options: us in New Orleans, or a veterans home in Grand Island, where he also has family as well as friends. But he is one tough old man, so we'll see. It seems we both like the option of him living with us so long as it is several months into the future. When the date approaches, we always move it back.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Swimming to Work

A year ago today I swam from my flooded house to Xavier University. It's not something I would recommend. I saw several dead bodies and the scenes still sort of haunt me. I wrote a note about my name, address, and contact info for my parents in Nebraska, and put it in a plastic bag and duct taped it around a string that I wore around my neck. Looking back on it I wish I had brought my camera. But I was afraid, and didn't want to carry anything that might attract attention. I did bring an inflatable pillow to help me swim. At Xavier I went to my office and looked for students to say hi to, but they were all gone. They had been evacuated a few hours earlier to a bridge nearby where they spent the night, and then got on buses. When I swam home it was dark. Sometimes people would shine a flashlight on me from their house, just to see if I was a troublemaker or whatever. It was pretty scary. Today I'm in Omaha, visiting my mother. Tomorrow I drive to Columbus NE to see my dad. He's got quite a few cancers, and is pretty ill. With everything so busy with school, this was the first chance I was able to see him in a few months.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Our Crooked House on CNN

Ali Velshi reports on our battle with Allstate in this CNN Video. Thus far Therese and I have done quite a bit of media about our struggles with the insurance industry after Hurricane Katrina. It's a lot of work on our part, and up to this point I would imagine, the bad press has cost Allstate about $0.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

One Difficult Year

I am feeling better today than I did yesterday. Life in New Orleans these days is certainly an emotional roller coaster. Thanks for all the nice things people have said to me directly, and the comments. At 7:30 AM today Bart and I did a radio interview for Boozocracy. Then at 9 AM Kalypso and I were off to hear W. Bush's speech at Warren Easton High School, but on the way out the door we met with two representatives from Allclaims, who are working with our attorney Greg DiLeo on our wind claim/lawsuit. It turns out they were meeting with a representative from Allstate to show her that clearly our house is leaning because of the winds of Katrina, and that the Haag engineers were corrupt idiots, and Allstate certainly did not want this to go to court. I probably should have stayed home for that important meeting, but the Allclaims guys were more than qualified to represent me, and I wanted to make sure my daughter got to see the spectacle of W's "historic" speech. We saw it, and the speech was OK, at least by the standards for this president. But talk is cheap, and we are lacking leadership from the city, state, and federal levels. It was very hard for me to watch all the politicians make small talk before the speech, as it seems despite even the best intentions, the nature of the job at some point makes a narcissistic turn. Thank God for term limits. Then Kalypso and I spent the rest of the day working on her Katrina + 1 year movie. It still needs quite a bit of work. I will be so glad when midnight gets here and the anniversary stuff is finished. It's exhausting to dig up those horrible memories. Speaking of memories, a year ago at this moment, the flood waters were about six inches below our porch. I slept briefly and woke at 3 AM. By then the waters were 3 feet inside our house. Nothing in Bush's speech today will change that.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Blowing Statefarm's Whistle

ABC and CBS report that two supervisors handing Katrina claims for Statefarm in Mississippi repeatedly changed and replaced damage reports to save the company money. They also confirm the story that Statefarm brought in a truck to shred documents. In a related story this Statefarm policy holder received by mistake 3 engineer's reports in the mail. The first two claimed the house was destroyed by wind, for which she was covered, the third said flood caused the damage. Of course Statefarm was happy with that one in the end.

Up or Down From New Orleans?

At 7 AM a man from FEMA knocked on our door and said that our lot wasn't big enough for a FEMA trailer. I told him we didn't need a trailer large enough for 4 people and 2 dogs. Just something small and simple so we could live in front of our damaged house while we rebuilt. Some of us could even sleep in a tent in the back, we just needed a place with electricity, and a hot shower and functioning toilet. He said that FEMA had new regulations and they recently "simplified the bureaucracy." Now they don't measure for individual trailers, just for the largest, which is 34 feet. He said our trailer would likely be 25 feet, but we wouldn't know that until we got it, and we can't get it because our lot is only 30 feet wide. I asked if he could put it diagonal, and he said no, because there are powerlines we would be under if we did that. He said he might think about giving us a trailer, but two things need to happen. We have to cut down the palm tree in front of our house, and he needed to talk to our neighbor to see if he would be OK with the trailer's tongue hanging over onto his property. And then maybe we could qualify. He said if we had gotten our trailer a month ago, it would have been easy, but the new regulations didn't work too well for our situation. I asked him what I could have done to get the trailer a month earlier, and he said "nothing." And so I sit here in front of my computer thinking about how maybe I'm crazy to stay here in New Orleans. There are places where I could live in which my family's well being would not rest so directly in the hands of government officials, where levees are strong, streets are paved and not patrolled by the National Guard, where schools are great, and where neighbors don't go to planning meetings and prioritize whether functioning gas lines or firefighters are more important. These negative and overwhelming thoughts on this Monday morning, on the eve of Katrina's anniversary, are crashing through my mind's levees. Not overtopped, but breached. It has me thinking about New Orleans, Jerusalem, and even Hebrew grammar.

New Orleans is on my mind because I have called it home for 5 years, and I love the city. It's old, storied, and original. One of the ways that New Orleans is unique has to do with direction. The traditional North, South, East, West don't work in the Big Easy, and never did. The city is too old to have well planned perpendicular streets orientated to compass points. Down here, for example, the sun rises from the West Bank. Instead, you travel towards the river or the lake, and then turn uptown, downtown, or even "turn right by the old A & P" which hasn't been there for 30 years. Most New Orleanians can't imagine anyone could have been born elsewhere. It's hard for newcomers to navigate, but that's part of the charm.

I'm also thinking about Hebrew grammar and Jerusalem, the city in which I lived before moving to New Orleans. There are two separate verbs used in the Hebrew language to describe coming and going from Jerusalem. One "goes up" to this holy city, and when one leaves, one "goes down" from Jerusalem. This is literally true, because Jerusalem is located on a series of hills. But it also has a great deal of symbolic truth. The gist of this idea is that your heart and spirit are lifted when you're in Jerusalem, and if you have to leave, your heart and spirit sink.

To leave New Orleans, you would no doubt literally ascend, unless you had scuba gear or a giant earth drilling machine like this one.
But why do I stay? It's not like my entire family is here. In fact, we don't have any family here, and most of our friends have left. Sunday we drove to Houston to see a family who we considered among our closest friends. Therese worked with the mom, their oldest daughter babysat our kids, and their youngest was a good friend of Kalypso's. The parents both grew up here, and had nearly all of their family here. They're staying in Houston for now because their children are benefiting from a superior school system. So why do I stay and fight so hard for a city in which I have shallow roots?

I will be glad to see the one year anniversary of Katrina come and go. It's a bit overwhelming right now.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Another Legal Victory Against Allstate

Texas has a four-year period in which people can file suit against their insurance company after damages, and our neighbors in the other direction, Mississippi and Florida have three-year periods. We in Louisiana have only one year. But there is a legal case trying to extend that period another year. It went to Federal court, got sent back down to the state, and Friday the Louisiana Supreme Court has upheld the 1-year extension as "constitutional." It now goes to a lower court in which the judge will hear arguments from both sides, and this case will likely be heard and decided Wednesday, the day after the 1-year anniversary of Katrina. We didn't want to wait for this legal decision, and already filed suit against Allstate. But what I really find interesting is the argument used by the attorney for Allstate. Philip Franco claims the decision will hinder the rebuilding of Louisiana because it sends a message to the business community that the state might change existing contracts. Hey Philip, do you think that maybe Allstate not living up to their side of contracts might be hindering the state's rebuilding? Just a thought.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rising Tide Conference

Kalypso and I will be attending the Rising Tide Conference this weekend. In their words: "The Rising Tide Conference will be a gathering for all who wish to learn more and do more to assist New Orleans' recovery from the aftermath of the natural disasters of both Hurricane Katrina and Rita, the manmade disaster of the levee and floodwall collapses, and the incompetence of government on all levels. We will come together to dispel myths, promote facts, share personal testimonies, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels. We aim to be a "real life" demonstration of internet activism as the nation prepares to mark the one year anniversary of a massive natural disaster followed by governmental failures on a similar scale."

Allstate Is On Notice


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Allstate Agent 007: Gene Harper

Gene Harper from Allstate just left our house. He came out to reassess our flood claim, and he's the 7th Allstate adjustor we've had in this mess. Allstate back in November 2005 paid us $70,000 for flood damage, and we feel that they owe us an additional $80K just for the flood damage. But none of this really matters until the structural damage is addressed, and we're handling that part of our claim in court. Gene and I went over the earlier flood estimate, and he agreed that there were some major mistakes. For example, our kitchen is not two feet wide as originally calculated by Allstate, but 12. He went around the house taking pictures and measuring rooms. He said that with flood they would only cover painting the part of the house that was under water, which didn't seem fair. We'll have to repaint our entire house, and that will come out of our pocket. And if you had cabinets that didn't flood, they're not covered, only the ones that did. But to match the cabinets you'd have to replace all of them. Like the other Allstate adjustors, Mr. Harper was a nice enough guy. He empathized with me about the house leaning, and how he sadly realized that we can't move a single step forward towards fixing out house until that is addressed. He kept repeating in his Georgian accent "Your house is seriously leaning" and I said, "I know it is." He had read the Haag Engineering report, and on our porch he said there were obvious signs of fresh separation in the front of the house, and he couldn't believe those were not addressed in the report. He also noticed the obvious fresh saw marks on the doors that I made to get them to open and shut after Katrina, and he just shook his head when I pointed out that these doors were used as evidence by Haag to claim that our house was leaning before Katrina. He said he'd write up his renewed estimate and get back to us in 10 days. I have no idea how this will play out, but in dealing with Allstate, I can even imagine a nightmarish scenario where they claim they paid us too much money with the $70,000. Oh how fair bankruptcy seems on many a day, where we could just walk away from this property and our mortgage. We'd have been so much better off if we were renters.

Boozocracy: 2 Educators, 2 Livers, & $1 Million for a New Orleans Library

In order to raise $1 million dollars for a New Orleans library in my Mid-City neighborhood, Bart and I just launched Boozocracy. The premise is simple enough for a drunk to figure out. People vote with their financial donation for one of two categories: Either Bart and I keep boozing it up for 2007, and they put us on the wagon (except of course for the Mardi Gras weekend, St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and our two birthdays). So please tell your friends about our brave enterprise in which we're willing to risk what we love most about living in New Orleans, namely--drinking alcohol, for a library in which people of all ages can learn.
*Later note: Bart's description of this project is much better than mine. Also, Howie Luvzus is asking all Baptists to stop us from sinning.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Our Very First Lawsuit

Yesterday in the mail we received a copy of our lawsuit against Allstate.
It's entitled in legalise a "petition for damages." Reading this was unexpectedly emotional for both Therese and I. We've never sued anyone before. The case is called "Michael M. Homan and Therese M. Fitzpatrick versus Toni Reboul and Allstate Insurance Company." Toni Reboul is our insurance agent. I like Toni, and think she is a good person. I remember sitting in her office and telling her about all the trouble we were having with getting Allstate to pay for damages from the hurricane and flood. Her facial expressions demonstrated that she felt sorry for us, and she kept apologizing for the way that her company was acting. She told us about how during the flood she laid awake at night worrying about her customers. Had she insured them for enough? Those sort of questions. In any case, our attorney, Greg DiLeo, and others I've spoken to have said that including agents in the suit is customary. And they say that she is insured against these sorts of things, and it won't cost her a thing. They also say that it was her job to make sure we were adequately insured. We were insured against flood for $172,000, and our homeowners was just $141,000. Anyway, after all that we've been through, it is strange that both Therese and I feel some guilt about suing Allstate and its representatives.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Shell Game of Allstate Adjusters

To give people some idea of the shell game that Allstate has been playing with us during the past year, here is a brief breakdown of our six wind adjusters and four flood adjusters since we filed our claim August 30th.

1. Steven Blethan (we're informed he is our agent Sept 8th, we call him daily 9-8 to 9-22 with no calls returned)
2. John Dye (we were informed he was our agent Sept 22nd, we were told he visited the house prior to 9-22, and we called him daily from 9-22 until 10-25, when he finally called. We agreed to meet at the house on Nov 11, but we had a new adjuster before that date)
3. Bob Mosher (earlier he was our flood adjuster, and visited the house Oct 6th. He noticed the house was racked, and he ordered an engineer to visit the property. Two representatives from Haag Engineering came on February 23rd, and we received their report May 4th saying the house was not racked because of the wind or flood waters of Katrina)
4-5. Mike Spano and Chuck Calvo (unannounced they visit house Jan 3rd and say they are now our wind adjusters, though we never heard from them again. They shot a lot of video inside and outside house)
6. Tommy Temple (we're informed he is wind adjuster Jan 24th, he visits house 5-12. Allstate denies our house is racked from wind, so we hire Attorney Greg DiLeo to file suit against Allstate for our wind damage)

1. Steven Blethan (we were informed he was our agent September 8th, we called him daily between 9-8 & 9-22 with none of our calls returned)
2. John Dye (we were informed he was our agent for both wind and flood September 22nd, we were told he visited the house prior to 9-22, and we called him daily from 9-22 until 10-25, when he finally called)
3. Bob Mosher (we were informed he was our flood adjuster October 1. We met Mosher at our house October 6th. His claim was way off, and we hired Allclaims to reassess flood damage. We filed a proof of loss for flood in early July).
4. Gene Harper (we're informed Aug 18th he is our new flood adjuster, and will be visiting the house Aug 22nd).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 15th

Today Therese turns 40. She left before I woke up, but she left a nice note saying that she loved her family (her mom, dad, and brother are STILL here), and that she especially loved me because I "chose" her. That was very nice of her, though I should point out that the Therese I "chose" was 23-years-old, and not this older model. But I do love her even though she is flawed, unlike me. Today is her first day teaching the 2nd grade at Lusher Elementary. Today also is the date that SB 620 becomes law, which means that if our suit against Allstate is successful, then they would have to pay 50% damages on top of our settlement, plus attorney's fees. Look over your shoulder Allstate, cause we're coming. Finally, today I just got a call from Rick from FEMA, and he's coming to assess our property to see if a FEMA trailer would fit. Soon we too will be trailer trash, at least we're hoping.

A Game of Inches

We had hoped that we would qualify for a $30,000 ICC Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) grant to raise our house. Our base flood elevation (BFE) is 0, and if the elevation of our first floor was anything below that, we would have received the $30K, which is money that we could really use, especially because Allstate is screwing us. We hired a firm to check our elevation, and unfortunately, our door sill is at .64 feet above the BFE. That means that our house is 7.68 inches too high. Damn. There is hope that the BFE will change now that the new FEMA flood maps are out, but for now, we lose again.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Insurance Problems on Radio

Brian Denzer's radio show, Community Gumbo, this week focused on insurance problems faced by those of us impacted by Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. The installment is titled "Sue Your Insurance Company Now," and he has a link to an mp3 audio file to hear the show. He interviewed Therese and I, as well as Lisa Palumbo and two attorneys. It summarizes very well the difficulties we are facing, and how the insurance industry has hindered the rebuilding process. Take that Allstate! And thanks to Brian for doing an excellent job with his show, and for letting people know the horrible way in which the insurance companies are acting.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Commencement 2006

Today Xavier celebrated commencement. It was especially nice for me, as Therese graduated with a Masters.
We had a surprise graduation/40th birthday party for her, and her parents, brother, and sister-in-law flew into town. Instead of looking shocked or even surprised, instead she just cried. It's been a very tough year. Barack Obama was the speaker, and I'm a big fan of Senator Obama. I learned today that he is currently the only African American senator, and he is only the third in history. Amazing. My favorite student and friend Roy DuBose also graduated. He's off to graduate school in Theology at Notre Dame, and I wish him well.

Building Our New Jerusalem

I wrote an opinion piece about the planning process and rebuilding in New Orleans, and it can be seen in today's Editorial section of the Times-Picayune.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Allstate Denies a Claim We Never Made

My stress level went up yesterday when Therese gave me a letter from Allstate. It automatically meant that at least three hours of the next day would be spent making copies and reading legalize and writing letters and making calls. All the stuff that goes along with being part of the good hands network. In any event, this letter stated they are denying our claim that the flood waters damaged our foundation. Fine. We never made that claim to begin with. If Allstate would like to deny paying us for giant Santa Clause dolls made out of gold on our chimnees they are free to do that as well. Allstate is confused because they never even read our proof of loss letter. So here it is as simple as I can make it. The winds of Katrina racked our house, and Allstate owes us about $80,000 to fix it. Or the floods after the levees broke damaged our house and Allstate owes us another $80,000 on top of what they have paid us, even without addressing the structural damage. They can either pay limits with wind or flood. I'm hoping this goes to court. Our attorney Greg DiLeo files our suit between August 15th and August 29th.

Food Insurance & Fema Trailers

Yesterday I received a letter from FEMA saying that they were denying the request that we made back in October '05 for a FEMA trailer. The letter stated that we were ineligible because "App needed to have insurance for food since 3/01/84." Heck, back in March of 84, I was getting ready to graduate from highschool, and at that carefree time I didn't even have any food insurance. I suppose it was irresponsible of me not to have it, and FEMA is probably thinking that I'm too fat now from eating uninsured food to fit into one of their trailers. Anyway, I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon on the phone with FEMA, and Deborah from Texas was very nice, as the FEMA phone people always are, and Deborah and some of her colleagues laughed at the letter, and she apologized and said the letter was clearly a mistake. Deborah said she would email the "trailer supervisor" and get us back on the list. I'd recommend to everyone that if you haven't lived in a hurricane ravaged area, you are missing out on some great fun.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Unbalanced Report of UNOP by T-P

Overall I believe that the local newspaper the Times-Picayune has done an outstanding job following Katrina. However, their recent presentation of the Unified New Orleans Plan is absurd in my opinion. Or at least it is blatantly one sided in its presentation of a very contentious issue.

The Unified New Orleans Plan was set up to get the federal funds flowing to start rebuilding our city. The state run Louisiana Recovery Authority won't release the funds until we have a comprehensive and unified plan. The history of all this is summarized very well by Becky Houtman. The first UNOP meeting on July 30th was a total disaster. Many people, including me, blogged about the poorly planned event produced to give the veneer of democracy. It was put together by Concordia, a design team run by Steven Bingler. To make a long story short, we knew more about the planning process for New Orleans than the facilitator for our district (4) hired by Concordia, you can't vote unless you have email, and the voting system they have set up is a fraud. As stated by People Get Ready, Res Ipsa Loquitur!

The day after this first meeting, I was shocked when I opened the T-P and read a glowing review of the meeting. I was upset, and like many others, I wrote a letter to the Times-Picayune, but none of these letters criticizing the UNOP were printed. Then today in the editorial section of the T-P, the first letter to the editor about the UNOP appears. Cynthia Scott's letter basically says that you'd have to be an idiot not to support the UNOP. Then, on the front page there is a long story about the greatness of Steven Bingler, his company Concordia, and the entire UNOP. I've heard from several people that the head honcho of the Times-Picayune, Ashton Phelps, has strong ties with both Concordia and the GNOF, the group which gave the contract to Concordia. I can't emphasize enough what a fight this is to make sure that the people who live in New Orleans have a say in how we rebuild. I wish the local "paper of record" would listen a bit more to those of us who don't happen to make six figure salaries.

And then: 2 hours after posting this, Annete Sisco from the T-P wrote me and asked me to write a broader op-ed piece about the planning process and the recovery of Mid-City. Of course I enthusiastically accepted and I'll write it tomorrow

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Haag Engineering: An Insurer's Best Friend

Following Hurricane Katrina, the third of our many Allstate adjusters finally made it to our house in October. He immediately noted the obvious structural damage to our house, and he put in an order for an engineer. Allstate hired Haag Engineering to examine our residence, which meant nothing to me at the time. When the two representatives from Haag finally showed up at our house on February 23rd, we were overjoyed. Finally, six months after the storm, we could get their assessment of whether it was wind or flood waters that racked our house. We knew that the severe winds from Katrina caused the structural damage, but everyone from Allstate who we dealt with indicated they would total it out from flood, because that wouldn't cost Allstate any money as flood is backed with federal funds. We were in the unusual position of having both wind and flood policies. "Lucky us" we naively thought. The representatives from Haag only stayed at our house a short time, just 15 minutes, and wanted no interaction from us. They were rude we thought, but maybe we had been living in the south too long and our expectations for kind small talk weren't realistic. Anyway, two months go by, and we're still waiting on their report to be filed. Mind you, people have long since gutted their houses and begun the long and tedious process of making the many necessary repairs. For those of us who had flooded houses, we basically need to gut them, treat the studs, redo all the plumbing and electricity, and then put in new walls, floors, and ceilings. But we also have structural problems, and we can't do any of the other things until we address this with our insurance company. Finally, in the mail on May 4th I received a letter from Allstate stating that they are denying our claim for any structural damage based on the Haag report, which was attached. That was one of the worst days of my life, but fortunately for us, the report from Haag was full of mistakes. For example, they refered to our house as "The Wilson house" and had pictures that weren't from our house. Also they claim things like it wasn't windy enough during Katrina to cause a house to lean, and that the many new cracks in our interior were caused from a lack of air conditioning for 3 weeks. They also ignored the most obvious evidence that our house was recently racked.

So we were heartbroken and furious, and we decided to fight back against Allstate.

Since those dark days following the claim denial, I've come to learn that Haag is infamous for being in the pockets of the insurance industry. Their spokesperson lately has been Timothy Marshall, who is Haag's damage and failure consultant. He wrote the "Hurricane Katrina Damage Survey" that insurance companies have routinely purchased as "expert testimony" and used to deny claims. By the way, Haag's online store now advertises that the book is 1/2 price at $75 "While supplies last!" Marshall's survey concludes that sustained winds were below Category 3 and that there was no tornado damage along the coast. Mind you, there is a mountain of more qualified "experts" who say that sustained winds were in the Category 4-5 range, and that there were plenty of tornados. So this one man's biased work is the primary tool used by insurance companies to deny people's wind claims, as the insurers say all of the damage was done by flood.

I'm not sure about quite a bit in this whole process. I don't know why the representatives from Haag didn't total our house out from flood damage. However, in their report they actually question whether our house flooded, though the debris line marking 3 feet of water inside is obvious on every house in the neighborhood. I don't know how people like Timothy Marshall or the two representatives of Haag who came to our house justify what they do for a living, or how they are able to sleep at night knowing that they are seriously harming thousands of people. I'm also not sure why we even had insurance. In many ways we would be better off at this point without it. FEMA would have paid for us to live elsewhere during this whole process, and we could have still received money from the Louisiana Road Home to repair our house. Right now we owe about $150,000 on a mortgage for a house that as-is would go for approximately $40,000. But we're confident, still, that in the end we'll find justice and Allstate will pay us. However, I think with great sadness about all of the people who for many reasons would just take the initial denial based on "expert" engineers from Haag and give up.

Several articles in a series about Haag Engineering from South Mississippi's Sun Herald Newspaper:
"Engineer Chases Storms" about Timothy Marshall from Haag (August 1, 2006 by Anita Lee)
"Experts Disagree on Winds" about Marshall's "Hurricane Katrina Damage Survey" and those who disagree (August 1, 2006, by Anita Lee)
"Engineers Called Into Question After Another Historic Catastrophe" about how Haag and even Timothy Marshall did the same thing after Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina in 1989 (July 31, 2006 by Anita Lee)
Damaging Opinions about how an Oklahoma attorney successfully battled State Farm on behalf of tornado victims. State Farm had previously denied their claims based on a report by, you guessed it, Haag Engineering (July 30, 2006 by Anita Lee)
"Saffir: 'Wind Damage Considerable'" about how Herbert Saffir (from the famous Saffir-Simpson scale) said that "wind certainly caused a considerable amount of damage on the Gulf Coast before any wave action or storm surge." (August 1, 2006, by Anita Lee)

NPR story about the "Slingshot Group" from Diamondhead MS who like David vs Goliath, are fighting the insurance industry. The residents say homes were damaged by winds, the companies say the damage was flood.

"Allstate Accused of Cheating Claiments" about the infamous "McKinsey Documents" used by Allstate to cheat clients. (by Brandon Ortiz from Lexington Herald)

"Nearly 700 File Suite Over Denied Katrina Claim" about Dickie Scrugg's lawsuit which claims State Farm “extorted” engineering firms by refusing to pay them if their conclusions conflicted the HAAG report. In addition, the action accuses the insurer of hiding or shredding engineering reports that blamed damage on wind. The lawsuit also claims “State Farm intentionally suborned and encouraged the corruption of scientific investigation and accepted physical realities ... to achieve the desired result of blanket denials of coverage.” (by AP, May 9th, 2006)