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.