Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Chopper

One of the most important tools used in archaeology is the trowel, and this one is mine:
It's a WHS trowel made in Sheffield, and I got it from my friend Fiona in London many years ago. I named it "Chopper" and it has served me well. Back in San Diego, and while digging in Jordan, my friends used to call me "The Chopper." The name comes from the terrible movie C.C. and Company starring Joe Namath and Ann-Margret. I'm thinking of bringing the name out of retirement.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hurricanes & Archaeology

I wrote an article entitled "How A Hurricane Made Me A Better Archaeologist" that now appears on the Society of Biblical Literature Forum. Thanks to Billie Jean Collins and Leonard Greenspoon for publishing it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pagan Rituals

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice, and I have big plans. I'm organizing it so that a girl name Amy, who I've heard has a great singing voice, will belt out "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess at the top of our square next to the infamous monolith. But Amy is a bit crazy, and it is not easy to get Prima Donnas to do things. But I have faith in my ability to manipulate. The show begins at 7AM. When I was younger, I used to set it up so that two people on the dig would have a hard-boiled egg eating contest. But I tired of seeing egg vommit.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

One Less Call to Make

Today is Father's Day. In time's past I would have called 402 563-2808 and talked to my dad about what I'm doing here in Israel, politics, my children, and how high the corn was getting in Nebraska. I probably would have sent him some books about history, Catholicism, or weather forecasting, or perhaps Omaha Steaks, and he would have thanked me for that. His birthday was June 21, so I would have said the gift was for both his birthday and for Father's Day. I'm cheap like that. He passed away last February and I sure do miss him. Happy Father's Day dad.
Gilgamesh, my father William Homan, and Kalypso in Columbus, NE, November 2005.

Eye of Satan Took Top Plans

Today Kalypso and I, along with several other staff people, were at the tel taking elevations and checking our top plans to make sure everything was accurate. Top plans record all of the rocks, walls, and surfaces in the square which you are excavating. As mine has been dug three previous seasons, I'd estimate there are more than 1,000 rocks on each plan. A massive dirt devil, which in Arabic is called the "eye of Satan," came along and whisked my top plans up into the air. They kept climbing higher and higher as I and others ran down the tel. Dave Badger got into the van and drove off after them. He drove for some time and said he could see them occasionally, miles up in the air. So today, instead of relaxing and getting ready for the onset of the work week on Monday, I'm tracing top plans and trying to remember where to put old loci.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Week one at the 2007 excavation of Tel Zeitah is in the bank. Overall it went very well. Typically the first week is rough, and this was no exception. We had to cut down the overgrowth that had accumulated over the past two years. Then we had to clean the squares, and the worst part of all of this for me involves replacing the sandbags that protect the baulks. Baulks are unexcavated areas left on purpose so we can see the various layers that have accumulated in the life of the tel. They are fragile, and the sandbags help keep them from collapsing.
This is an old sandbag that we used in 2005. We have to carefully pick up all of these, and there are thousands. Oftentimes there are snakes and scorpions underneath them. Then after filling the sandbags, we have to lay down new ones along the top of the baulks.
Ron Tappy, the director, always wants to make sure the bags are straight, tightly packed so there are no loose ends, and that no writing on the bags is showing. Once the sandbags are in place and the squares are cleaned, we're ready to excavate. We opened our first real loci on Friday, and we'll have more on Monday. We don't excavate on Saturday and Sunday, though tomorrow I'll be heading to the sight to do some work. I want to teach Kalypso how to do elevations. Today I was able to ichat with Therese and Gilgamesh, and here is Gilgamesh showing me his new hole where two teeth used to be.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Nothing Fishy Here, Just More Red Dots for Bingler

Steven Bingler's company, Concordia, will be receiving $3.8 million to plan for the rebuilding of public schools. Hopefully they'll bring in the same type of community involvement they did with the Unified New Orleans Plan, and we'll get to stick red dots on a map to show where we live, and then go home. If we as a community can put more red dots in Mid-City, we just might get a better school. Thanks for listening. I would only have charged $2.8 million for that type of community involvement, but of course the bids will never be released to the public. I wonder just what it would take for Concordia to read the recovery plan crafted by the people who live in Mid-City?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Assessment Released on State of New Orleans Schools

I read today that the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation, Scott Cowen's Institute for Public Education Initiatives, and the New Orleans City Council Education Committee released their report on the state of public education in New Orleans. The report brags about "extensive community engagement." I went to several of these meetings, and the recommendations that I heard from the community, teachers, parents, and education leaders didn't quite make it into the report in my opinion. The report lists six primary recommendations:

1. Ensure adequate capacity for the 2007-2008 year.

I agree, of course, but I hope there will be community input in these decisions. I doubt there will be from past experience and the nearness of the new school year.

2. Equip and empower all families to choose the best public schools for their children from a range of high-quality options.

This sounds like it was written by Leslie Jacobs and the pro-charter lobby.There is nothing about neighborhood schools. This is plain and simple forcing public education in New Orleans into a business model, and this will continue to widen the achievement gap and break down communities. Companies such as Edison will certainly benefit.

3. Strenghten the Recovery School District. I would not have chosen the word "strenghten." Perhaps improve, or try something outrageous like prepare hot food and get books. But the last sentence of this recommendation I applaud with skepticism. It states "Last, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the RSD’s governing board, should create a process and timetable for returning public schools in New Orleans to local control." Amen. Currently the people in New Orleans have one elected official on the BESE board. That is not right.

4. Attract, develop, and retain high-quality school principals, teachers, and staff for all public schools.


5. Support school- and system-level excellence for all public schools.


6. Create and endorse a short-term action plan and a long-term strategic plan for public education.

We have been lacking vision in our leadership. They even say a plan that builds on previous planning processes, and "communicated." Let's hope.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Clapping on Planes

Kalypso and I are back in Israel as we begin our excavating season at Tel Zeitah. We seem to have a good group of volunteers this year. Many are older, which is OK with me, as it makes me feel and look young. Archaeology is sort of like meditation for me. I don't have to deal with insurance agents or the political bureacrats, I just have to carry rocks, fill out locus tags, measure, and record. It's like a giant puzzle. I have to admit that I'm finding being away from New Orleans quite healthy, even though being in Israel, not too far from Gaza, brings along with it another type of stressful baggage. But for the first time in a long time, nobody clapped when the plane landed at Ben Gurion airport. I was happy about that. I was never very patriotic, and the whole idea of "school pride" made me ill. It's tough to be away though, especially from Therese and Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh lost his first tooth last Friday. He was very impressed with the whole tooth fairy setup, getting money for a tooth and all. I told him that he could get much more money by selling a kidney.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hard to Leave this Mess

Tomorrow Kalypso and I fly to New York, and then two days later we're off to Israel for 6 weeks to excavate at Tel Zeitah once again. But being a New Orleans news addict, leaving is especially difficult with all this stuff going down:

Dollar Bill Jefferson was indicted, nearly two years after the freezer incident, and it was probably caused by a blogger named Schroeder who confronted the Congressman at Whole Foods.

The insurance industry is fighting back hard about allegations that it underpaid wind claims. Former governor of Montana and now an insurance industry lobbyist, Marc Racicot, claims in todays T-P Letters to the Editor that the LRA is unjustly making the insurance industry a scapegoat. He says the idea that people like me were routinely underpaid on wind claims is "grossly untrue." My favorite is the following quotation: "Forcing insurers to pick up the slack for the federal government is irresponsible." Rock on Mr. Racicot! I met this guy when I testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee. We of course had very different points of view about the insurance industry relating to Katrina. He is paid handsomely to like the industry, and the industry owes me money, so that's about it.

And though many, including our mayor, argue this tragedy away as a "Blip" or worse, "black on black crime," New Orleans is the murder capital of the U.S. for 2006 and likely 2007.

Yesterday I spent several hours in an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve a certified letter. We found the form in our flowergarden, but the post office said they can't find the letter, and they can't read the numbers to know who it is from. How is it that I'll miss this place?

Friday, June 01, 2007

June 1

I got married 16 years ago today, and as I'm so smart, funny, good-looking, and easy to get along with, I would like to publicly say to Therese and her family that you're welcome. My pleasure, really. Usually we have a large party on this day to celebrate our marriage and to think about the start of hurricane season, but this year with our house racked, braced and partially gutted, we've decided to wait. Here's to hoping that next year everyone can come celebrate at our rebuilt house.

Today was the last day that I'll be tutoring at Dibert this academic year. I've gotten pretty attached to the students. Sadly, about half of them said they were probably going to a different school next year. There's also talk about how students would go to schools in their planning districts. Problem is, Dibert is right on the border of planning district 4 and 5. Kids could live across the street from Dibert and not be able to go to school there because it's in a different district.

Give Us Back Our Schools

There were 117 Public Schools in New Orleans prior to Katrina, and they were governed by the Orleans Parish School Board. As the 2006/2007 academic year comes to an end, there are now 53 schools, run by 21 entities, and 19% of these "public" schools have a selective admissions policy. The Orleans Parish School Board now runs only 5 schools. Most of the schools in New Orleans are governed by the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). The state legislature voted in November of 2005 to take 107 schools that were functioning at or below state average away from the Orleans Parish School Board, and give them to the newly formed Recover School District, which is theoretically governed by BESE. BESE is an 11 member board, partly elected, partly appointed. But only one of the 11-member board, Louella Givens, was elected by the citizens of New Orleans. The Orleans Parish School Board let much of this happen. We, the people who live here and are trying to rebuild the city, are working hard to redevelop a sense of community, and to do so we need quality neighborhood schools. I'm hoping that in the Fall of 2008 we can elect a new school board that will take back our schools and work to reduce the achievement gap, ensuring an excellent education for all of our children. This current system where charter school children receive more government funding than others, and where schools compete for the same limited resources, is crippling our community. I recommend an excellent brochure put out by the Center for Community Change entitled "Dismantling a Community."