Sunday, December 23, 2007

Car Ride From Hell

This will be our third and hopefully final Christmas outside of our home. So while next year we'll be in New Orleans, this year we again decided to drive to Omaha where both Therese's and my family live. The problem is that it is more than 1000 miles and usually takes about 17 hours. We knew there was a bad storm forecast for the midwest on Friday, and so I begged Therese to leave on Thursday. But she had a Christmas party as school that she "couldn't miss." So we left Friday at 10PM. The first problem came when we noticed that the rear passenger tire was slowly losing air. We had to stop about every 100 miles to fill it up. We finally found a service station open in Sweet Springs Missouri. We pulled in to Tony's Auto Repair. There a very nice 16-year-old named Quin who removed a New Orleans' debrisville nail, patched the tire and told me about sprint racing, which he is able to do if he keeps up a B+ average in school. He then balanced the tire, and Tony said that I only owed him $10. I paid him $20 and we were on our way, though the weather was turning nasty with sleet. As we approached Kansas City the roads suddenly got horrible. There was an ice layer with snow rapidly accumulating on top. Between KC and St. Joseph's the road just disappeared. We saw more than 100 cars in ditches, and also some very bad accidents, some involving fatalities. Just past St. Josephs there was a 40 car pile up, and news that they shut the interstate down. We drove through that stretch at about 15 mph. It was the worst winter driving conditions that I've ever seen. Along the way we noticed that the tire still leaked, and that I was unable to see because the window washer fluid froze. Plus then Gilgamesh notified us that Mosey's leash was half-way out of the car. I was nervous that it would catch in the back wheel and then choke her or something. Along the way, gripping the steering wheel, I asked Therese "So, tell me about all the fun you had at the Christmas party you couldn't miss." But anyway, after 21 hours, we pulled in to the driveway of Therese's parents.

In the words of one of my favorite songs off Trailer Trash Christmas, "O Christ, it's Christmas again."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Apathy Interview (1988)

Kerry Rice posted this old interview with my band Apathy. Thanks Kerry!

Today We're A Big Step Closer to Being Home

Abry Brothers will be finished with their work on our house later this afternoon. They straightened our racked house, raised it, built a new foundation, lowered our house onto the new foundation, and replaced all of our sills. They did great work everyone seems to agree. Soon we'll have a final walkthrough with our general contractor Douglas Marshall and our architect, Peter Waring, and then at that point, when they give the OK, the ball of responsibility will officially be handed off from Abry Brothers to Douglas Marshall from Webco and he'll have seven months maximum to finish the whole thing. Things are moving relatively fast, but I think I'm developing an ulcer and other health problems from all of the stress. Today also would have been the second day of our trial against Allstate Insurance had we not settled with them back in July of 2007. I'm glad we settled and I don't think I could have handled anything else in my life at this point.
Later Note: We were not very happy when Douglas Marshall of Gulf Coast Construction breached our contract when it got down to the punch list.
Our new sills.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Chicken in Every Pot

This morning at 8AM, I scootered over to the courthouse at Tulane and Broad. I went through a metal detector and then went to the office of Arthur Morrell, the Clerk of Criminal District Court, and filled out a form to qualify for the upcoming election February 9th. I'm running for one of the seats on the Democratic Party Executive Committee in Orleans Parish, Council District A. It was relatively painless and only cost $112.50. But think about how my CV will now be so much more impressive. Even if I lose I will now be known as Michael Homan, Defeated Candidate for the Orleans Parish Democratic Party Executive Committee for District A, or DCOPDPECDA for short.

They gave me this receipt and I was on my way:

Later Note: I'm pleased to report that my fellow bloggers Kim Marshall (Dangerblond), Karen Gadbois (Squandered Heritage) , and Mark Mosely (Your Right Hand Thief) are also running (Mark in District B). Check out the list of all the candidates. Vote for us or we'll blog about you and that thing you did in high school that you thought nobody knew about.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Barkus Poster

Barkus will be Sunday, January 27th. My whips came in the mail a few days ago.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Apathy & 1980's Omaha Punk Scene Reunion

Back in the 1980's I played bass for a punk band in Omaha named Apathy. We put out an LP called "Out the Window" in 1988 (Fat Bat Records). Apathy went on many regional tours, and one national one. It was the latter that proved to be the downfall, as there was a major falling out on the national tour between two members and we never played together again. The main lineup of Apathy included myself on bass, Seth Kirshman on vocals, Mark Blackman on drums, and my brother Jim Homan on guitar. In its earliest phases Tim Cox played drums and we had Doug Baldwin on rhythm guitar.

Here are a few of the songs off the "Out the Window" album:

My World
After You
Know I In Friend
Circus Circus
Out the Window
Six Feet Under

About a week ago I heard from some of the old legends of the Omaha punk scene that there was going to be an Omaha punk reunion concert on March 29th, 2008. After some soul searching I decided that I would be up for coming back to Omaha for this event. In many ways it's like I've lived two lives, one as a punk rocker in Omaha and another as a Theology professor in New Orleans. I put the bass away when I went to graduate school. But it's time to get it out of storage, and so I picked up the phone and called Mark, Jim, and Seth, and they all thought that an Apathy reunion would be pretty cool. So I emailed Tim Cox and now after 20 years, we'll be playing a set in Omaha in just over three months. Other bands playing include RAF, Cordial Spew, The Upsets, The Drunk Cambodian Landlords (A Dead Kennedys Cover Band), and maybe Double-You. The best part will be seeing some old friends that I haven't seen for so many years.

More information about the event can be seen on Tim's Omaha "My Generation" Reunion page or on this yahoo discussion group.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Introducing Gilgamesh Homan

He just turned seven, and lookout world, He Who Saw Everything now has a blog:
That surely puts the pressure on his more-famous-blogging 12-year-old sister, who posts at Kalypso The Odyssey. We hear their mom Therese Fitzpatrick also blogs, but we've yet to find it.

Public Housing Heats Up

The battle for low-income public housing has been heating up recently in the Big Easy. First, Duncan Plaza just outside City Hall has become a tent city for the homeless over the past several weeks. Plus the projects are set to be demolished. The city's Housing Conservation District Review Committee gave the OK to destroy 55 building at C.J. Peete in Central City and 88 buildings at B.W. Cooper, though they were split on the Lafitte Projects and that will go to City Council. The demolitions are set for this weekend and with the many strong willed activists against the demolitions, there will certainly be some theatrics. Raising the stakes is this flyer, distributed around town anonymously this week:
It has a picture of a large fire, and the text reads: "For Every Public Housing Unit Destroyed A Condo Will Be Destroyed: If there will be no homes for us, and relief from high rents, there will be no homes for the rich either!" It's signed by the Angry & Powerless. The FBI is investigating the flyer, and even more worrisome for the creator, Dangerblond is on the case.

I have no doubts that the powers that be are using Katrina to do away with the large public housing projects. Many of these units never flooded and they could have reopened in October of 2005. But how do I feel about large concentrations of poverty in the projects versus mixed-income neighborhoods with subsidized rents spread throughout? I don't really know. I do know that poor people need a place to live in New Orleans, and the increased rents have kept many from returning.

update: Laureen Lentz outlines the protest schedule and it looks like many are planning on doing some jail time for their protests.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Now I'll Be Famous"

Tragic news came from my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska yesterday, when a gunman killed 8 people, wounded 5 others, and then took his own life. The crime took place at the Westroads Mall, a place where I spent quite a bit of my life growing up. In fact, it was where I purchased Therese's wedding ring. The killer wrote in his suicide note "Now I'll be famous." We in the U.S. certainly live in a very violent and sick society. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and everyone in the Omaha community.

Monday, December 03, 2007

K-Ville Disrespects My Neighborhood

In tonight's episode of K-Ville, "Flood, Wind, and Fire," Boulet can't afford to stay in his lower 9th ward house due to increasing bills. His wife says they might be able to afford a one bedroom apartment, or a two bedroom apartment in "Mid-City." At this suggestion Boulet gets a pained look on his face and claims that his daughter would then have to go to a school which has "knife fights in the cafeteria." Despite the fact that K-Ville films quite a bit in Mid-City, that stupid comment doesn't help anyone. Aside from that, I thought it was one of the better episodes, as it documented the increased cost of living and people getting screwed by the insurance industry and its adjustors.

Later note: A neighbor lampooned Nagin, stating that even knife fights in the cafeteria were a two-edged sword, as it helps to keep the Mid-City brand out there.

Superdome Special-Ed

So it's second down and 10, and the Saints are beating their rival and division leading Bucs by 3, and they're one first down away from walking into the locker room with a key victory. Without Deuce and a running game, coach-of-last-year calls "The Superdome Special." Then the QB hands off to Reggie! Reggie! who throws the ball in the air sort of near but not really near Devery Henderson, and Tampa recovers and scores a touchdown to win the game. On a positive note, my kids' Christmas gifts just got better, as we'll be saving money on playoff tickets. I'll bet that LSU miraculously getting into the BCS championship game is taking some of the heat off of Sean Payton's bonehead play calling. And Reggie! Reggie!, get used to doing more A1 Appliance commercials, as Adidas and Pepsi, like me, aren't so impressed. Oh how things were different one year ago.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Things Could Be Worse, At Least We're Not...

Today in my class we were talking about Paul's Letter to the Romans and faith based salvation. I'm not very good at teaching Paul because I don't like him much. Paul dramatically changed Jesus' view of Christianity within Jewish Law, and I don't think Jesus would have appreciated it much. Every year at this time I try to read Paul and value him more, because people whom I respect think Paul is so great. But anyway, we were talking about Paul's idea in Romans 5 that we should rejoice in our sufferings. That got us to talking about post-Katrina New Orleans, and how so many people were suffering here, but at times we still rejoice in life with things like Mardi Gras. One of my favorite students, Jessica B., said that she finds happiness and meaning by realizing that no matter how bad she has it, someone has it worse. I brought up that these people who have it worse are getting harder and harder to find for those of us in New Orleans. People here used to complain about our education system and say "At least we're not Mississippi, ha ha ha." Now, because Mississippi reformed their education and we're even worse, we can't say that. We used to be able to say about our violence problem that at least we're not Washington DC, but we can't say that anymore. I think New Orleans has become an often used "at least we're not" sort of place. So my friends and family in Omaha NE who are freezing this winter and now don't even have a good football to follow, they will say proudly "At least we're not New Orleans." But this isn't a way to inact change for the better. I told my students that this idea of a faith based salvation is hurting the world on one level, because we put up with injustice here believing there is a heaven and hell where all matters will be settled for eternity. I prefer the message of Paul's adversary, James the Brother of Jesus, who prefered works over faith. So instead of rejoicing in the fact that at least I'm not some starving refugee in Darfur, I should work to help that person have a better life.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks America

Today is Thanksgiving, and I would like to join thousands of others in Louisiana in saying "Thank You" to America for two things that we needed for our recovery:

First, thanks to Congress for overriding Bush's veto, and thus authorizing $7 billion to restore our flood and hurricane infrastructure.

Second, thanks to Congress again for passing legislation which included $3 billion to close the gap in the Road Home program, so other families will get assistance like ours did.

Happy Thanksgiving. We are hopeful that next year we'll be celebrating back in our home on S. Alexander Street.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Drinking Goat's Blood At ASOR

Being back in New Orleans for a few days now, I've had a chance to think about and reflect on the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. It was great to see so many of my ASOR friends. These are people that my family and i lived with at the Albright in Jerusalem, ACOR in Amman, and people with whom I've excavated in the summers. We know each other pretty well. Mostly I went to meetings. I told the ASOR president Eric Meyers that I used to think that ASOR legends such as him were snobs, as I never saw them at the papers. Now I know it's because they have meetings all freakin' day long. I'm glad that my co-ASOR-VP is Morag, as we can joke and debrief after all the meetings with long talkers. There are many long talkers high up on the ASOR totem pole if you didn't know. I think the most interesting paper I saw was by Gillian Goslinga. She talked about sacrifice in Tamil Nadu India, and she showed an amazing film in which a deity inhabited this woman's body, then she sacrificed a goat after it's neck hairs stood up showing it's willingness, and then she drank the goat's blood from the carcass as the eyes and mouth on the decapitated goat's head twittered about. And pay attention deities: I do not want to have you inhabit my body, but if you must, then have me eat some cheesecake or drink a few beers. If it's goat's blood you crave, then find another damn prophet.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ghosts in San Diego

I'm back in San Diego, attending the American Schools of Oriental Research's (ASOR) annual meeting. Therese and I lived here in San Diego from 1993-2000, as I was working in my PhD in ancient Near Eastern history at the University of California, San Diego. Those years were, for me, the worst of times and the best of times. My daughter Kalypso was born in San Diego, and La Jolla, where we lived in graduate student housing, is one of the most beautiful locations I've ever seen. Dog beach was the coolest. We also used to go camping in the Baja in the Winter and watch the California gray whales breach the water. It was amazing. But I have some painful memories of San Diego. When I first arrived here I had to work extremely hard to get over a hurdle of perception. I rarely saw Therese as I had to work on my studies all day long. It all worked out eventually, and I got my degree, but I still harbor feelings of being cruelly mistreated. If they took the degree away from me at this point in my life, especially after Katrina, I would not enroll in a PhD program. Once was more than enough for this guy. Interestingly, I asked a colleague and a very dear friend of mine if he was happy with his life at this point, and he said he wished he would not have gone into academia. There are some depressed people in this group.

But being in San Diego is also surreal in that I am a much different person than I was in the year 2000. My life has certainly worked out different from the way I planned. I thought I would wind up at a major division one research institution. I'm overall happy with my job at Xavier, but it's not what I intended. But now the schmoozing at ASOR and the politicking, something I used to enjoy, doesn't seem fun. I know very well the people at this meeting. I've excavated with them, and my family and I lived with them at overseas research centers such as the Albright Institute in Jerusalem and the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman Jordan. There some of my best friends. But now my name has become associated with tragedy because of Katrina. I do appreciate all of my colleagues at ASOR thinking about me and my family. But I hope there is a day when Katrina is a distant memory. I think the first step will be getting back into our house. We're hoping it will be in June or July. Thankfully, Ron Tappy has decided not to excavate this summer at Zeitah, so I'll be in New Orleans anxiously waiting to get my hands on a moving truck. My theory is that I need to be there when we move in. Otherwise, I'll spend the rest of my life looking for things like can openers and scissors because Therese will put them in some illogical drawer. I wonder how crotchety I'll be when I'm 80.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Arsenic at My Neighborhood School

In March of 2007 the Natural Resources Defense Council found that six schools in New Orleans tested high for arsenic in the soil. The LA Department of Environmental Quality recommends that levels should be no higher than 12 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of soil. My neighborhood school, John Dibert Elementary, tested 22.8 mg/kg. I asked the Recovery School District about this, and received a report from July that said “Sample results indicate that arithmetic mean arsenic concentrations in soil at each school are below the state background level of 12 mg/kg for arsenic in soil and well below risk-based levels of concern for children." However, there is something alarming in the details. First the good news, the other schools tested low and their students seem to be out of danger. But at Dibert, 8 samples were taken. Sure enough, 6 tested low. But two samples at Dibert were above the safe range of 12 mg/kg. One was 16.6, and one (sample 8) actually tested 40 mg/kg. I've asked to find out where sample 8 is located, and we can at least tell students not to play in that area. But I'm amazed that the short answer is "everything is fine," even though one area had such a dangerously high level. Maybe I don't know enough about soil chemistry to have an informed opinion here.

I remember back in 2003 when Audubon Montessori had to close because the building tested positive for lead paint. I wonder why people aren't more alarmed about arsenic in the soil at Dibert, but I have some theories. Parents at Audubon represent a higher socio-economic class than those at Dibert. It's also post-Katrina New Orleans, and things that wouldn't have been acceptible before are not priorities now. But in the end I do hope that we can all work together to make Dibert a safe place for children to learn and grow.

Friday, November 09, 2007

My Dream Barkus Theme

This year's Barkus theme is (drum roll)... Adventures of Indiana Bones: Raiders of the Lost Bark. With all the stuff going on rebuilding our house, and with nearly all of our things in storage, I would have been happy with a crappy theme and just done the minimum dog and human costumes, even left the float in storage. But apparently God is telling me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get busy. We have a Barkus planning meeting tonight at Howie's.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Building Foundations on Ancestors and Children

One of the most interesting features of Levantine Neolithic society involved burying the skulls of ancestors beneath floors. These skulls were often plastered to resemble the facial features of the deceased, and they at times had shells for eyes. The most famous examples have been found at 'Ain Ghazal, Nahal Hemer, and Jericho, where the two skulls below were found.

Two Plastered Skulls from Jericho, Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Period, ca. 8000-6000 BCE.

The Bible also makes reference to building foundations on relatives, but in this case, it is by sacrificing children. For example, Joshua curses Jericho after its destruction, and he says future foundations of the city will be laid "at the cost of his firstborn son" (Joshua 6:26). In the 9th century BCE, this prophecy comes true according to the author of 1 Kings 16:34, as a man named Hiel of Bethel rebuilds Jericho: "He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram."

After two years of not being able to do anything with our Katrina damaged house, we have begun working on repairing it. First we raised it. Then we've been working on the new foundation. Workers dug the new trench and put down plastic and steel rods. The plastic was to make sure the cement dried slowly, and the steel rods to make the foundation stronger.


At this point, I took some of my family's most treasured pictures, along with a bit of my father's ashes, and put them at the base of the foundation. Here you can see some of the pictures:

Pictures I Put At The Base Of Our New Foundation

I wanted in some fashion to invoke the spirit of my ancestors in this milestone in our recovery. I also wanted to acknowledge that my father and the people in the pictures played a big role in building my foundation. I believe that this will be the house in which we'll finish raising our kids, where we'll one day play with our grandkids, and where eventually Therese and I will die. So the foundation became more to me than just steel and concrete. I made it personal.

Last Tuesday we had the concrete poured, 12 inches above the steel rods. Here you can see Greg Abry near the machine that pumped the concrete through a tube.


Here you can see Mario above the tube where the concrete comes out, and you can see Oscar in the background.

Then the concrete dried, and now they're placing cinder block piers on the foundation, tied to it with metal rods.


Someday soon they'll lower the house onto the piers, and then the major interior renovations will begin. We hope to be back in the house by June 1, 2008. That will be the 17th anniversary of another important foundation, our marriage.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Una, Dos, Trash

My district's representative on the New Orleans School Board, Una Anderson, is currently in a run-off for a state House seat. Her campaign is essentially based on a platform of doing away with the Orleans Parish School Board (increasing charters, more state control, etc.). I'm so tired of officials making their office incompetent and then arguing we should privatize government because it is "incompetent." Education leaders in my neighborhood and others have tried to meet with Una Anderson many times over the past year to talk about our schools, but we never got a response. I guess it's because we don't write $1000 campaign checks, like her "trashy" friends at Pampy's Creole Kitchen.

There's a story in the Times-Picayune that Una Anderson accepted not only campaign checks, but actual bribes to bring a lucrative trash school contract to Metro Disposal and Richard's Disposal. There are certainly questions about the reliability of the source, Stan Pampy Barre, who is on his way to jail for his own corruption. But Una, you played a key role in reducing the city's school board from a powerful government entity to a marginalized joke. When you started, the board oversaw more than 120 schools, and now you run 5. So whether or not you're guilty, I look forward to the day when you're out of government.

And to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who is heading these investigations bringing light to government corruption, please keep up the good work.

Later Note: Dangerblond covers this better than me. Link. Our own Editor B broke "garbagegate." Well done B and your anonymous source.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I Wanna Be Sedated

Typically after something like Hurricane Katrina, the number of people suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) jumps. Here in the Gulf Coast region, the number doubled after Katrina. Faculty at Xavier often joke that we're not suffering from PTSD, because we haven't yet entered the "post" stage. Turns out our observations were right. Typically after disasters, over time, the numbers go down. Not here in K-Ville. Those suffering from PTSD now two years later has significantly increased, and a whopping 8% of people are contemplating suicide, according to the latest findings released in a report by Harvard Medical School published in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry. Interestingly those suffering from depression are from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds. The researchers theorize that the increase in mental illness is due to the slow rate of recovery.

NPR covers this story here.

Thanks to Sue for the depressing lead.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

No More Water, The Fire Next Time

Sadly but predictably, many are claiming that San Diego handled their disastor better than New Orleans because our mayor and governor are democrats. There were balloon animals, yoga, and stilts at San Diego's Qualcomm stadium, and all of that could have been ours at the Superdome had we voted for Jindal (R) 4 years earlier according to these jerks. Even President Bush stated "It makes a significant difference when you have somebody in the statehouse willing to take the lead," to which Louisians Governor Blanco (D) replied ""I was the only game in town, leading for nearly a week without the president's help."

Steve Lopez counters these proposterous comparisons between the CA fires and our flood with this excellent opinion piece in yesterday's LA Times, entitled "Katrina comparisons are a different class of wrong." Amen Mr. Lopez.

Later note: Jeff Duncan with the Times-Picayune wrote this article that appeared on today's front page: No Comparison.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Battle for the Soul of America

Today in class I told my students that the battle for the soul of America was being waged in the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans. It seems meladramatic. But I honestly believe it. My students believe it. I spoke to some colleagues and friends in New Orleans, who all seem to believe it. So overextended or not, we need to keep pushing.

I recently attended a forum at Xavier entitled "New Media and Community Activism in Post-Katrina New Orleans." The panel consisted of some pretty famous local activists who blog: Brian Denzer, Karen Gadbois (who couldn't make it), Clifton Harris, Mark Moseley, and Maitri Venkat-Ramani. It was moderated by Bart Everson. During the discussion Maitri commented on the fact that it's great that the bloggers and activists are so organized, but where do we go from here? We continue to be kept out of the political and financial battles that shape the city, and the country.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Earlier tonight, as usual, and as seems to be the norm in post-Katrina New Orleans, I was at a meeting. This one was put on by the Neighborhoods Partnership Network, and it focused on community and parental involvement in public education. I was on the panel, representing the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, talking about our attempts to have great schools in our community. I was burnt out before the meeting started.

I'm busy. Of course, I have my job teaching Theology at Xavier, and that is time consuming, as are the many committees that go along with being a faculty member at a university. I have a big role also in the many professional organizations to which I belong, including the American Schools of Oriental Research, where I am co-VP of Program (along with Morag) and the regional secretary. I'm also working with Bobby Duke to implement a Service Learning section to the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Plus I have many publication deadlines on the horizon and overdue. I could also be a better teacher at Xavier if I had more time.

Most of today, as usual, was spent on issues of rebuilding our house. My contractor and insurance agent are feuding, and our new foundation is almost ready to be poured. We are taking out a construction to mortgage loan, and we close on Monday, and that has taken an incredible amount of work. There were big questions that needed answers about termites, plastic, concrete, and footings.

But in doing all of this other stuff to save the world and fix our house, I've neglected my family. My son Gilgamesh has been ill with bronchitis, something that I suffered with every time this year growing up. And Kalypso's grades have been slipping. There was a conference tonight that Therese attended while I was at the meeting. Therese is very busy as a teacher, and usually she gets home at 6:30 PM and is in bed by 8. This is the time that I spend at meetings, and though I wish she would stay up a bit later so we could chat, this doesn't seem too likely. So I feel like I'm spending more time with people interested in education in New Orleans than I do with my family, and that probably isn't a healthy thing.

Tonight I heard several of the pro-charter school lobby on the board talk about how charter schools are better than "traditional" schools in New Orleans. This bothered me on many levels, because there are no traditional schools left. Traditional schools to me means neighborhood schools, where teachers have been there for years, and the same students are enrolled where their older brothers and sisters attended. After Katrina, the New Orleans School Board fired all of the teachers, and no public school in New Orleans has even remotely the same student body as before the storm. Also I don't understand why students at public charters get anywhere from $1000 to $1500 more tax dollars per student than non-charter public schools. Well actually I do understand, as the powers that be want to make charters succeed to get government out of public education, but it's not fair. I'm not anti-charter schools, at least in my opinion, but when I hear so much about how charters are the answer to all of our educational problems, I feel the need to give a voice to the other side. I would honestly bring up the positive aspects of charters if I was surrounded by those adamantly against them. But it was the way that so many charters were forced upon New Orleans without community and parental consultation to which I object. I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, and I could make more of a contribution to the world by going back to what I'm an expert at, biblical studies, instead of trying to fix public education in New Orleans. With all my efforts over the past two years addressing public education in New Orleans, there really hasn't been any tangible improvements that you could say were directly due to my work. With Bobby Jindal as governor, and with the sentiment I sensed at this and other meetings, for-profit charters and school vouchers are in the cards for New Orleans for a very long time. I hope someone pays attention to the students who don't attend charters, that's all.

At times like right now, I miss my pre-Katrina life, in which I spent more time with my family, and I spent the rest in my office writing books and articles about ancient Israel and the ancient Near East.

I am overextended. I am doing many many things, but I am not doing any of them well at the moment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Losing Homes

The thoughts and prayers of many in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are with the thousands of people in California who have lost their homes in the recent fires. Whether it be from flood, wind, or fire, rebuilding your life after losing your home is a very difficult thing.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ashurbanipal's Haircut Makes Him Look Like a Mohenjo-Daren

We've been having quite a bit of fun watching this video by They Might Be Giants about the Mesopotamians, a cool band having a hard time adjusting to modern technology. They also sell these awesome shirts for the extra geeky ancient Near East fans like me and my son Gilgamesh. But my son Gilgamesh thinks that Hammurabi looks cooler than Gilgamesh on the video. I don't agree.

Biking on Flooded Streets

There was 100% chance of rain forecast for today in New Orleans. It really hasn't quit raining all day. Even with my rain poncho and biking fast, I was drenched by the time I arrived in my office at 7:30AM. Xavier cancelled all afternoon classes at around 11, and at 1 they shut down the university. The water is waist deep on some streets. That made getting home with my bike challenging, plus you can't see potholes when you're plowing through the water. I've been told that New Orleans with its pumps and levees can handle an inch of rain the first hour and 1/2 an inch after that. Any more rain than that and we flood. I'm sure tonight's episode of K-Ville will clear things up.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fodder for Racists

Mr. Double Helix Genome Nobel Prize Winner James Watson recently announced that white people are genetically smarter than people from Africa. He's made many controversial remarks in the past 20 years, but this? I can't wait to talk to my students about this one.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bringing Down the House to History

My family's lives for the past two years have taken ups and downs, and while the topic of this current post would have upset me quite a bit two years ago, now I sort of find it amusing. The question about our house's future literally involves ups and downs.

We tried hard, but did not qualify for $30,000 Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) funds to raise our house because our house was a few inches above the Base Flood Elevation. The Base Flood Elevation is set to change in New Orleans, but by the old model we were slightly above it. Too bad, we thought. We would repair our home and not elevate it.

Then we were so happy from the $30,000 we received from the Road Home to elevate our house. We could have raised it anywhere from 1 inch to 10 feet and not violate zoning laws. We thought long and hard about how high to raise it, and decided it was simple. Our house flooded 3 feet, so why not raise it 3 feet? We would save all sorts of money with flood insurance, and if Katrina happened again, our house would be safe. Plus when the new Base Flood Elevation maps are released, we would probably be just above the suggested level. So Abry Brothers raised our house 4 feet, and when they were finished with the new foundation they would lower it a foot. Here is what our house looks like now, raised 4 feet:
It is obviously higher than our neighbor's houses, but still just as historic, and perhaps even more inclined to be historic in the future as it is less inclined to flood.

Then we received word that we received a $45,000 grant from our Historic Grant application. However, they looked at our house and decided that we raised it too high to be eligible for the grant, because they said we are too high to be historic. Because we have not yet laid the new foundation, and could lower the house, I asked them at what height could our house still be considered historic. If we raised it 2 feet, and so if Katrina happened again, it would flood one foot, but could we still qualify for the $45,000 grant? It would have been a smart financial decision for us to demolish the house and rebuild new. But we felt that we owed it to New Orleans, our neighborhood, and our house, to do what we could to preserve it. It's nearly 100 years old and has so much history and character. So for now we've appealed their decision. But in typical post-Katrina New Orleans, we would have been rewarded if we didn't elevate our house to avoid future flooding.

This is where I shake my head, sigh, and go fill up my wine glass, and wonder at exactly what height is historic, and at what height is it non-historic? Nobody seems to know.

Update (Nov 3, 2007): we can get the grant if we raise the house two feet, and not three. So we'll flood one foot if we get the same type of flood as Katrina again, but we will gladly lower the house to get the grant.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What I've Got Against Bobby Jindal

There are many reasons why I can't support Bobby Jindal's candidacy for governor of Louisiana, though it seems very likely he'll win outright on October 20th and consider it a mandate. But here are my main three reasons:

In the mid-90s Bobby Jindal was a senior consultant for the McKinsey Company, an advising firm that helped Allstate raise their profits from $82 million to over $2 billion. They did this by simply telling Allstate to stop paying so many claims. This turned out to be great news for the profits of share holders, but for people like my family who thought we were really insured, it was a pretty immoral strategy. We're still about 10 months to a year from getting back into our home.

The second reason has to do with good-ol-boy racism. When asked about racial conflict in Louisiana on the day that thousands were marching for justice in Jena Louisiana, among them many of my Xavier students, Jindal commented in public: "We don't need anybody to divide us. We certainly don't need outside agitators to cause problems." When I first read rumors about Jindal calling the marchers "Outside agitators" I was admittedly skeptical as to the rumor's validity, as were many. But now we've heard from several sources in Shreveport that it's true. Now I'm even more amazed that the Times-Picayune and other media outlets are giving Jindal a free pass on that one. Isn't the "outside agitators" comment sort of a "Chocolate City" in reverse? I've learned there is a secret coded language of racists in Louisiana. The term "outside agitators" is something that might not sound so bad in South Dakota, but here, it carries much baggage. My African-American students say they know exactly what he meant by that.

Third, Jindal supports school vouchers. If this turns out helping all of the public school students of New Orleans, then I'll even campaign for Jindal in 4 years. But I think it is going to widen the achievement gap.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

People Who Have Lived At 215 S. Alexander Street, New Orleans, LA 70119

We're still many months away from moving back into our house, but we still get our mail sent there. We're terrified because of all the mail problems we have had since Katrina, so we haven't dared change it. But sometimes I get letters addressed to people who used to live there, and so I thought I would start a list of people who once lived there. Maybe someone will google their names and be able to tell me what happened to them. They might be happy to know that we didn't bulldoze the house, but we're rebuilding.

The house is at 215 South Alexander Street, New Orleans, LA 70119. Here are the people who have lived here before:

Cathy A. McGrath
Kazuo Fujishiro
Quanda Gibson
Mitch Hudson
S. Lewis Cocke (gets Millsaps College birthday cards in early May)
Trish Wilson and Rick Tippie apparently lived upstairs when it was a double. So did Erma Wright. The upstairs address was 213 S. Alexander. Vera Johnson lived there as well, and I think this might be the same Vera Evans who gets an occasional letter from Delta. Also we get mail from "Missing and Exploited Children" for Michelle Abram.

We bought the house in 2002 from Merlin Gele. He never lived there, but rented it out as a split level double. One person who rented was Denice Hudson. She rented the downstairs. I think Paul Ebanks rented upstairs. His son was named Arzoo I seem to remember. I can't remember his girlfriend's name, but I remember she painted beautiful paintings on windows. Skip Bolen apparently lived at 213 S. Alexander as well.

UPDATE: The 1940 census shows that the house was divided into a double already back then. At 215 were Mercedes Tricon (age 29), a secretary for a wholesale refrigeration company. She was apparently divorced and lived here with her aunt Olivia Stafford (age 45). They had been living here at least 5 years. At 215 1/2 were living Land and Ariene Evans. They were a young married couple who moved here from Mobile, and Alan was a tire and rubber salesman.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Education Without Representation

Voters in New Orleans have little voice in how our public schools are run, and it is about to get even worse.

In 2004 we elected seven officials to serve on the Orleans Parish School board. The parish is divided into seven districts, so I voted for one of the seven members that oversaw 117 schools, the largest school district in the state. While I did not vote for her, Una Anderson represents me on that board. In November of 2005, the governor and the Louisiana legislature turned over control of 102 of these schools to the Recovery School District, run by appointed persons, none of whom are elected. Now the Orleans Parish School Board governs five schools, and oversees 12 charters.

On the state level, schools are governed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). There are 11 members of BESE, 8 of whom are elected by district, and 3 of whom are appointed. All of New Orleans is represented by one representative from the state's district 2. So New Orleans has one vote on an 11 member panel for matters pertaining to most of our schools. Our representative is currently Louella Givens, who is up for reelection October 20th. She often is the one voice of opposition on the board. The vice-president of BESE is Leslie Jacobs, one of the strongest advocates of charter schools, and the primary advocate of the state takeover of New Orleans schools. Jacobs is supporting Ernest Marcelle, Givens' only opponent, because Givens has often voted against the charter school movement. Marcelle, like Jacobs, is in favor of school vouchers. For them, charter schools are the next best thing in this "education as business" model. Like me, Givens is against chartering schools without community support. If my entire Mid-City neighborhood was against chartering schools, or if every person in New Orleans was against charters, we would have a voting voice only for the few schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board.

But now my school board representative Una Anderson is running for a seat on the Louisiana House of Representatives (95th district). Anderson advocates charter schools, even though she is on the Orleans Parish School Board. Her primary platform is to "raise the statewide cap on charter schools and establish a new local governance structure for Orleans Parish schools." I've heard from many people, including the appointed State Superintendant of Public Schools, Paul Pastorek, that the Orleans Parish School Board as it now exists will be short lived. There is talk of a system with an appointed school board rather than an elected one. And our soon to be next governor, Bobby Jindal, also advocates for vouchers and charter schools.

So it might be a good time to invest in for-profit education companies, because New Orleans is open for business.

Monday, October 08, 2007

What's Wrong With Me?

After the Saints' fourth loss in a row to start the 2007 season, the radio color analyst asked and answered: "What's wrong with the Saints? -- Everything." Following a 10 minute drive in the third quarter, Mare kicked a 20 yard field goal about 6 feet off the ground, right into the helmets of the defensive line. In four games, Drew Brees has 9 interceptions and 1 touchdown pass. Our defensive secondary is terrible, Deuce is out for the season. It's ugly all around, on offense, defensive, special teams, and coaching. The biggest problem with all this is that I care so much. So more than the Saints players letting me down, I've let myself down for caring about this stupid game played by spoiled rich athletes. Will I watch the Saints fall apart next Sunday night in Seattle, and go to 0-5? Every single minute of it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Raising the Homan House in New Orleans

After our New Orleans house flooded because the levees broke in 2005, we decided to raise it three feet (that is raise our house, not the levees unfortunately). Thank God for the incredible strength of Gilgamesh and Kalypso. And for the record, Mosey has lost much weight, but sadly, like me, she is still a fatty.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


A student of mine was working at a restaurant last night, and in walked several Caucasian high school girls in blackface. My student was shocked, and she asked them about it, and they said they were "dressed up for a game." Turns out they go to school at Dominican, a Catholic all-girls school in town. Another student of mine, who went to Dominican, said that their school colors are black and white, and that on "blackout day" before games many students paint their faces black. I'm amazed by all of this. How could one live in New Orleans and not know about the history of minstrel shows? One of my favorite Mardi Gras parades, Zulu, has the riders also wear blackface. But that is done to lampoon blackface, whereas the Dominican girls seem to be just culturally ignorant.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Harry's Bridge

Harry Lee, the controversial yet politically popular sheriff of Jefferson Parish, just passed away. He had been sheriff for nearly 30 years. I wonder if racist police angels are firing guns to prevent his soul's passage on the bridge to eternal peace? Me, I wasn't a fan. But then I teach at a Historically Black college, and I am a big fan of political correctness, inclusiveness, and listening. Harry wasn't a fan of these things, and that's what made him popular I suppose. He spoke his mind, and in a state famous for colorful politicians, Lee was one-of-a-kind.

This message board is revealing of the divisions that plague the relationship between Orleans and Jefferson Parish. However, it's most interesting in real time, as editors seem to be removing the anti-Harry Lee comments, as well as some of the most inflammatory "Jefferson is better than New Orleans thugville" material. Much of it I find overtly racist.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Flat Tire

I'm depressed about many things at the moment: the state of Louisiana's recovery, the lack of political leadership, our public education system, and the Saints are 0-3 and we don't have Notre Dame on our schedule. But the biggest bummer at the moment is that my bicycle chained to a pole outside has a flat tire. I have several meetings all around town today from noon until 8PM, and I really needed the bike. Usually Therese bicycles on Tuesday and I use her car, but this morning Therese was unable to bike. So I'm going to try to run the bike home at 1:30, repair the tire, and then try to be on time for a 2 PM meeting near Bayou St. John, and then be at Notre Dame seminary for class by 3:30. On days like today I really hate meetings.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Katrina Car

There's a car often parked near our house that is pimped out with Katrina related religious art. For example, on the door panels there are two angels praying over a hurricane.
On the front hood there is a map of Louisiana, a hurricane, and the statement that "God Answers Prayers.
There are other statements like "Big Easy," "504," and of course "Katrina." I wonder if this car, a Mercury Grand Marquis, and its spiritual driver are single handedly saving New Orleans. Is it just a coincidence that Tropical Depression 10, forecasted by many to hit New Orleans perhaps as a hurricane, fizzled out and went ashore in Florida? Keep up the good work Katrina car. Our fate is in your hands.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Jena 6

Many of my students were not in class today, as they were marching in protest to what has happened to six African American students in Jena Louisiana. Three full buses left Xavier in the middle of the night to drive to Jena. Their protest is getting much deserved publicity, it's even being covered by the BBC. I'm proud of my students who made the effort to go to the protest, and I hope some good comes out of it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Some Swab Be Bike Stealing, Arrrrggghhhh!

It be Talk Like a Pirate Day, and shiver me timbers, Kalypso's bike was stolen from me porch last night. Arrrggghhh! But all hope is not lost matees, fer we be digging up treasure in the form of a $45K historic restoration grant.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What Would Make Me Happy

With my Saints and Huskers football teams being so awful this year, and with the depression that goes along with discovering that we really don't have $150,000 from the Road Home due to high upcoming taxes, what would it take to make me happy?

The answer: K-Ville Action Figures. Only 8 hours left until the big premiere that is going to play a HUGE role in the recovery of our city. We need an html sarcasm tag, by the way. We already saw the pilot, and agreed that it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. Look for our house, Kalypso washing at the end, and Gil playing football in the distance.

Road Home Funds Put Us in 33% Tax Bracket

Back in 2005 we claimed a casualty loss for our damaged home on our tax return. The IRS has decided that since we did that, the $150,000 we received from the Road Home will be taxable income. My wife and I are in education, and typically we earn salaries that put us in the 15-20% range. Now with the Road Home funds we'll be in the 33% bracket. If our insurance company would have paid us instead of the Road Home, this wouldn't be a problem. Also, in hindsight we should not have taken the casualty loss, as it is going to cost us dearly in the 2007 tax return. Senatory Landrieu and U.S. Representative Jindal introduced legislation to exempt the grants from taxes, but the chance of these bills passing is slim to none. I again feel that if Katrina hit New York or Idaho these so-called "duplication of fees", like the Stafford Act taking away my SBA loan, would be waived. So all of these funds that would have gone in to rebuilding New Orleans will now be used for improving streets in Oregon and paying Haliburton to feed troops in Iraq.

Read more in "IRS has bad news on Road Home" by David Hammer in today's Times-Picayune.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

College Bricks

Today I spent most of the day cleaning mortar off of bricks. We had our two chimneys taken down as part of the efforts to straighten our house. It was a very difficult decision, but we were advised that it would be hard to straighten our racked house without removing the chimneys. So Abry Brothers, as a first step, took out the bricks and put them in a pile in our backyard.
We're told these are St. Joe bricks, from a famous company in Slidell. I'm told they can't make the bricks like we have anymore, as the fires produce too much polution. But 100 years ago when these were made, the fires were a lower temperature and "dirtier," so it caused some very interesting colors in the bricks. We cleaned off the mortar of more than 1000 today and put them in a pile, we're hoping to use them later on our patio. There are many more left in the pile for tomorrow and the upcoming weekends. Then later today, speaking of bricks, I watched Notre Dame continue to look worse than my highschool team. They are 0-3, and haven't scored a touchdown all season. But my mind is really on Nebraska, who is playing the number one ranked USC Trojans in about a half hour. If the Huskers win, then their program is back on top as one of the premier college programs in the country. Plus as lagniappe, if the Huskers win than Lousiana State will be number one. Go Huskers!
I later went back and made the text of "if" bigger, because that turned out to be a mighty big if.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Abry Brothers

Today was a milestone in our rebuilding process. After months of waiting, Abry Brothers is finally working on our house. They began today by removing the chimney tops. In the next three months they will straighten our house, raise it three feet, and pour a new foundation. Then afterward, we'll have about 7 months of work for a general contractor. We hope to be in our house in a year.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Cleavered Window

At six PM as I sat in the kitchen reading the NOLA blogs, and Therese was in our room doing lesson plans, we heard the sound of broken glass. We looked around and noticed that the window in Kalypso's room was broken.
Then we noticed this cleaver blade on the ground:
We called the police and filed a report. The officer was friendly and came right away. He asked if we would be filing an insurance claim, we laughed. He thought maybe it was a weapon that someone was trying to get rid of, and he took it as evidence. I think it was just some neighborhood kid from one of the many backyards who just threw it. In any case, fixing the window is an unwelcomed addition of "things I have to do." Kalypso was gone when it happened, luckily. We're all cleaning up the glass now.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Saints: A Welcomed Distraction

The Saints open up the NFL regular season in just one hour against the Superbowl champion Indianapolis Colts. Should be plenty of offense. If we win, God help us, there will be plenty of people around here convinced that the season is just a formality for a certain Superbowl victory by the black and gold. I'm expecting a fantastic game by Reggie Bush.
Postgame note: It turned out to be a very ugly second half, with the Colts dominating all aspects of the game and winning 41-10. It was a clinic. Ugh.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Kids and Creeps in Red SUVs

Yesterday around 4 PM my 12-year-old-daughter Kalypso was walking from our damaged home on S. Alexander to our temporary home on S. Hennessey. There was a red SUV parked three doors down from us on S. Hennessey. A bald Caucassian man with a strong accent commented on how attractive Kalypso was, and he asked her age. Knowing that she was 12, he then asked her if she wanted to go with him to get something to eat, and offered her a beer and a good time. Kalypso refused and came home to tell me about it. I angrily went outside to confront this perverted man and to try to get the license plate number. However, he was gone. Anyway, Kalypso and I had some talks about why it is important to not talk to strangers, and what to do in these kinds of situations. We also told all of our neighbors to be on the lookout, as the fact that he was parked there might mean he is working on one of the houses and will be back. But Therese, Kalypso, and myself are pretty shaken up by this. There are certainly some creepy people in the world, and now in our neighborhood.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

No Free Wifi In My N.O.

Just a couple of months after Katrina I happily posted that New Orleans was going to be the first major U.S. city to have free wireless access throughout the city. Earthlink started the process in the CBD and the Frenchquarter, and then expanded uptown, all neighborhoods that did not flood. The mayor thought that by November of 2006 the entire city, including the flooded neighborhoods, would have free wifi. Then by December they had suffered some setbacks, mostly from hardball tactics from Bellsouth and Cox Cable who said this "free" service would steal their customers. I argued that the flooded neighborhoods needed wifi even more than the others, as at the time Bellsouth was estimating it would take more than a year to get phone service. There was also some controversy as the wifi transmitters would double as crime cameras. Earthlink hoped to finance the wifi by offering those who could access their signal two options: they could used the free speed (slightly faster than dialup), or pay to use a much faster speed. Today in the Times-Picayune in an article by Pam Radtke Russell I read that Earthlink has had some financial problems, and they've pulled the plug on New Orleans, and my dream of free wifi is gone for now. Earthlink has said that the business model proved to be "unworkable." Other cities, such as Chicago and San Francisco are also reportedly cancelling earlier plans to provide free wireless access. Radtke Russell reports that there might be a glimmer of hope, as Earthlink contacted the city's technology director Anthony Jones last week to discuss an expansion, but they would need the city or another "entity" to be the "anchor tenant" to pay for the system. Earthlink, my city is broke. I can't imagine a company like Shell would take this on either, as they'd more likely listen to Bellsouth than me.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

"The Charter School Flood" by Tisserand

Michael Tisserand authored this excellent article about charter schools in New Orleans in the current issue of The Nation. Unlike most writings on this controversial topic, I found Tisserand offers a snapshot of our situation without the usual bias. I have seen first-hand how charters have widened the achievement gap, but I've also seen how they can at times with vision and quality boards create really great schools. I found the following quotation of John Ayers to be intriguing:

The charter movement is dominated in the trenches by progressives, even when we've been represented on the national stage by conservatives.

I think that is accurate. I'm currently on a board trying to charter a school. We met today, and the entire board seemed liberal and progressive, as do most people working to improve our schools through charters. Are we being used? Maybe there is a middle ground where some businesses can profit with charter schools, some schools stay public, and ALL children can get a great public education.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two Years Later

Much of today in New Orleans of course has to do with Katrina's two year anniversary. Reporters and politicians are everywhere. The republicans blame our democratic governor for our troubles. The democrats blame the republican administration. My students and I today talked quite a bit about our sad and dire situation. In class we read as a group an Open Letter to President Bush written by City Councilmember Shelley Midura. It does a very good job of explaining how we've been largely neglected by the federal government, and how many people who live elsewhere are profiting from our tragedy. I'm glad she wrote it and I hope it gets some much needed publicity to counter the oft-quoted and errant $116 billion in aid claim. Bush is of course speaking at a charter school, as he always does. The message continues to be hammered: privatize schools on the business model. I'm sure Laura Bush's foundation will once again donate money to charter and private schools' libraries. I'm hoping that year three will be easier than the first two years. Things are starting off good. We're supposed to get our settlement check from Allstate tomorrow, and then on Friday, the shoring company is supposed to start straightening and lifting our house.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Katrina's Blessings

Like everyone in New Orleans, the second anniversary of the Federal Flood has got me reminiscing and taking stock. Of course I'm angry with the failure of government on all levels, and disappointed in the country's apathy, and so tired and frustrated as my neighbors and I strive to rebuild a historic city with a very uncertain future. Brian Schwaner's article for the AP, in which he calls the slow death of New Orleans "a national disgrace," captures my sentiment quite well.

I just finished reading Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time, an excellent book about people who survived the Dust Bowl and the Depression. It continuously reminded me that even though my life in post-Katrina New Orleans is difficult, just about anyone in history would happily change places with me. Moreover, most people in the third world today would probably move to New Orleans if given the chance. So I've been thinking quite a bit about the good things that have happened in my life due to the failure of the levees two years ago. That might seem insensitive to the thousands of people who lost their life in the Federal Flood. But this post is simply meant to be a reflection on a few good things that happened to me because of this tragedy.

The best thing that happened because of Katrina was that we got to spend four months with our family in Nebraska. This was especially nice as my father passed away last February. One Saturday my father and I were even able to attend a Nebraska football game, something we did together regularly when I was growing up. I know our time at that game and being able to visit throughout the four month period meant a lot to my dad. My children were able to spend quite a bit of quality time with their grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

After Katrina I also felt that my life was appreciated. After swimming in the flood waters, and escaping from the Causeway Concentration Camp, I posted "One of the Millions of Hurricane Katrina Stories."" I received hundreds of emails and phone calls after that, some from friends I hadn't heard from in more than 20 years. That was nice.

Since Katrina I have been more involved with the world. Much of the time I formerly spent researching the ancient world is now spent trying to improve the modern one. We're engaged in trying to rebuild one of the world's greatest cities. I know my neighbors very well. Before Katrina I didn't know many of their names. That changed in a hurry when you are helping them throw out refrigerators with rotting food, or teaching them how to get meals from Red Cross trucks. We get so excited when we see people moving back into our neighborhood, especially if they have kids.

We plan on being in our flooded house in one year. It's taken a very long time due mostly to problems with insurance. In the end our house will be much better than it was before Katrina, and Therese and I were able to design the remodeling so that it reflects our personalities. We think it will be the house in which we die, that is, if New Orleans doesn't flood again. Therese and I are willing to fight hard to rebuild this city once, but that if we lose our house to a flood again, we'll have to set up our lives elsewhere. But we're optimistic, and practical, as we are raising our house so that it rests above Katrina's high water mark. I would be angry if the politicians and press didn't come down to our city to cover the second anniversary, but I will sure be glad when they all leave. What we're striving for is a return to a sense of normalcy. It's probably still at least 8 years away.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Education's Black & White in New Orleans

Comedian Chris Rock jokingly observed "And every town's got two malls: they got the white mall, and the mall white people used to go to." There are many schools like this in New Orleans. I believe that every school in my Mid-City neighborhood used to be white-only, until desegregation in the 1960s. During the 1970s and 1980s, I've been told, there was a pretty even balance of races in the schools. It seems to me that the ideal would be to have the public schools' demographics match those in the neighborhood, being that diversity of race and socio-economics is one of the most attractive parts of both New Orleans and Mid-City. But now the public schools in my neighborhood have less than 3% Caucasian students I would estimate. There are far more Caucasian students at the private schools in my neighborhood. Basically the more tuition costs, the higher percentage of Caucasian students you'd be likely to find. How did this happen? And the question that is more disturbing to me personally, why won't I send my children to my neighborhood's public school?

Last night Therese and I went to a wonderful party near the Fairgrounds. It was hosted by a teacher who was probably the first friend we made when we moved to New Orleans, as we put our daughter in the all French program at Audubon Montessori and this lady tutored Kalypso to bring her French up to speed. Like Therese, this lady has taught at both Audubon and Lusher, both of which are now charter schools. So I spent the night listening to dedicated teachers about public education in New Orleans. Everyone I spoke to voiced their frustration about the current model, where charters are hyped as the answer to everything. The teachers described how at a school like Lusher Charter, where they have a principal with vision and a unified board that supports her, the system can work for the students. But at other schools the teachers described situations in which the principal lacked leadership or vision, or much more common, the charter was governed by a board who knew nothing about the school. The board might consist of a neighborhood attorney, a business woman, and a tax specialist who didn't spend much time at the school, and they made poor decisions. These schools are not doing well in New Orleans at the moment. But the veteran teachers also described the gradual process which led to the current racial makeup of the schools. There was a general perception that Caucasian parents were less likely to put up with sub-standard schools, though many admitted that socio-economic background probably played a larger role than race on this issue. That is to say, the more money one had, the more likely they would not tolerate a bad school, and African Americans were more likely to suffer from poverty in New Orleans. Many cited lackadaisical principals. It seems that even one year of bad leadership could doom a great school. Others talked about a misconceived fear held by white parents that their children would be shot at public schools. There was also the sinking ship syndrome, in which if one or two parents pulled their kids out of the neighborhood school and got them into Lusher, then many others would follow for fear that the school declining, thus creating the situation they feared. One veteran teacher desribed how a great high school like McMain Magnet tried to keep its racial diversity by holding to two standards: African American students needed to have a GPA of about 3.4 to get in, but whites only needed around a 2.8. This of course didn't go over well, and it's goal of keeping white students failed, as now McMain has less than 2% Caucasian students, he said.

I continue to believe that the best strategy to improve public education in New Orleans will be to get control of the school board when the elections are held in November of 2008. Currently the Recovery School District is growing larger and more powerful by the week, and they now can't all fit into their large office complex on Poland Ave. This is supposed to be a temporary governing body, not elected but appointed. Actually "hired" is the better term in the current education-is-a-business model. And if we're not careful, all of the schools in New Orleans will be governed by for-profit education companies with no elected officials to hold accountable. So we talked about strategy and vision for a new school board. Everyone felt it would be helpful if the candidates actually went to a public school, as many on the current board did not. It seems the school board in many ways has become a society club where wealthy patrons bestow their bounty on the peasants, much like the elite who ride on Rex and now and then generously throw the big beads. That of course isn't true for all the members of the school board. But back to the "black & white" topic of this post: the new school board, in order to be effective, will need to represent the racial makeup of the New Orleans students which it serves. An all white school board could not be effective, nor could an all African American. The same debate about racial balance is taking place with City Council, as soon for the first time in 30 years, there is a strong chance that both at-large seats will be occupied by Caucasians. So last night these educators gave me many names from the African American community of people I should talk to about coming up with a shared vision for a new school board, and ways to recruit African American candidates. But what if the most qualified candidates are all African-American, or all white, or 50% Hispanic? Isn't the attempt to create a new school board that is racially mixed in many ways analagous to McMain's two-tiered admissions policy? I need to think through all of this.

Friday, August 24, 2007

K-Ville Online

I just watched K-VIlle, even though it isn't set to premiere until September 17th. It's online. The pilot is 45 minutes long, though 35 minutes are for car chases. Our house shows up quite a bit. It's the pink one next to the main character's house. I'm not quite sure if our house is Kaja's or if it belonged to the Keller's who moved to Jackson. Kalypso has a cameo washing a wall at the 40:44 mark. K-Ville was better than I expected, and hope they make some more episodes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Retreating from the Rising Tide

This Saturday the second Rising Tide conference will take place. It's a forum where geeky bloggers get together and talk about how they have and can improve New Orleans and the world. Yet, I can't make it, as I'll be in Slidell all day. The Theology Department at Xavier is having a "retreat," where geeky theologians get together and talk about how they have and can improve Xavier, New Orleans, and the world. Kalypso and I went last year to Rising Tide, and I thought it was pretty interesting. You should definitely check it out if you are able. But you can't come to our Theology Department meeting unfortunately.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Privatizing Education & Medicine

I've been thinking quite a bit about blogging on the parallels between the efforts to privatize both public medicine at LSU and our public education system in New Orleans. I don't need to now. Ralph Adamo wrote this excellent article in The American Prospect about the chaos that exists from the current privatization efforts in our city. With the privatization of education, companies such as Alvarez & Marsal, Sodexho, and JRL Enterprises are making quick fortunes on the backs of our students, and there is little accountability.

Adamo's conclusions are right on the mark in my opinion:
The state has to do several things in order to legitimize its actions. The schools have to be returned to the community in a manner that re-establishes accountability, not run by consultants for the short term and the quick profit. If that means a return to being run by publicly elected officials, that is the price we pay for living in a democracy. Curriculum and services such as security and hot meals should derive from the local population and economy, not be imported via giant education and service corporations. The right of teachers and other school workers to organize and to bargain collectively cannot be denied indefinitely, nor those who attempt to organize such basic rights punished for their crimes. The market drives only to one location: profit. That is a legitimate destination in business. But education, like medicine, ought not operate under the rules and expectations of business.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Engaging Students

This morning I participated on a panel discussion for new faculty entitled "How to Engage Xavier Students." It was very helpful for me, as I desperately need to get my teach on as Editor B put it. It's sort of an attitude adjustment that happens at summer's end, and it's time for me to get back in to the frame of mind necessary to be an effective teacher. I absolutely love universities in the summer when there are no students, I'm sad to say. And I love not having to grade papers and explain to students why their hero Oprah is going to hell. But it's that time of year again, and I need to be reminded why what I do as an educator is important. It helped me to hear some of my talented colleagues talk about what successes and failures they've had in the classroom. Xavier is a pretty special place. This is my seventh year there, but the first for me with tenure and an Associate Professor rank. Xavier and I have had our share of problems and differences over the years. I was especially upset after they fired many of my tenured colleagues after Katrina. But all in all I'm proud to be part of Xavier.

There is something simple that I can do to better engage students. I need to learn their names. I typically have about 120 students a semester, and since Katrina, I have not forced myself to learn them as I did before. I start "engaging" students, at least in theory, next Thursday. But everyone's watching to see what Dean will do.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A NOLA Blogger for City Council

I think that many of the New Orleans bloggers would make a fine representative on the city council. You'll see their wisdom and wit on display at the Rising Tide 2 Conference. But having pondered this for a few days now, and being a narcissistic genius, I think that Karen "Gadfly" Gadbois from Squandered Heritage would make the best candidate. She's the only one I know of who has been stippled by the Wall Street Journal.

There, I blogged it, now make it happen.

Have You Seen Our Cow?

Special Agent James Bernazzani, FBI's New Orleans Field Office, said the following about political corruption in Louisiana:
It's not unique to Louisiana. It's just brazen down here. Machine politics in the north will skim the cream. Here in Louisiana, they skim the cream, they steal the milk, hijack the bottles and look for the cow. And it is brazen, the amount of activity down here where people think it's their right as soon as they assume office to steal from the people.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I learned late Saturday night that one of the most beloved politicians in New Orleans, Oliver Thomas, was pleading guilty to charges that he accepted bribes five years ago. That has really got me depressed and feeling betrayed. For those in America who would rather not fund the rebuilding of New Orleans because of alleged political corruption, another arrow is in your arsenal. And then there's this, where Katrina relief tax money is going to build luxury Alabama football condos. Things don't look too optimistic right now.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


My family and I attended our neighborhood's Night Out Against Crime block party last evening. We got to meet many of our new neighbors. Our crooked house is sort of famous around these parts (second only to our neighbor's K-Ville house), and everyone was glad to hear our contractors are about ready to start repairing it. There were many middle class families with young children, ourselves included. Moreover, everyone there was Caucasian. I've often heard and read that Katrina was harder on African American families for a variety of reasons. One of the things that attracted my family and I to Mid-City was the mixture of socio-economic classes, and the mixture of races and ethnicities.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


After nearly two months in Israel, a week in Nebraska, and a few days in Florida, our Toyota Highlander is finally parked in front of our house on S. Hennessey. The longer I live in New Orleans, the tougher it gets to leave here, despite its many problems. After being away so long, it seems many things remain unchanged. Only about 1/3 to 1/2 of the residents in my neighborhood are back, and the schools still need a major overhaul. We continue to suffer under the blunders, incompetance, and corruption of many of our public officials. I feel both rejuvinated and worn out at the same time if that is possible. I think we're about two weeks away from beginning to repair our house. Once we start, it will take about 10 months to a year to finish. I can't wait to get our stuff out of storage and finally move back into our house.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Charter School Lobby Touts LEAP Results

Back in 2006 the New York Times ran an article about how students at charter schools scored worse than students in regular public schools. The pro-charter lobby, who wants to privatize public education, needed their own experiment to illustrate how charter schools were superior to public schools. Katrina gave them the opportunity for which they were looking.

Today is the day I predicted back in March of 2007. In this blog and in an opinion piece for the Times-Picayune, I wrote that the pro-charter lobby would use the LEAP scores to claim charter schools are the answer to improve public education. It turns out that charter schools scored better than Recover School District schools in New Orleans. Big freaking deal. Being that many RSD schools had 40 children in a classroom whereas charter schools were able to cap enrollment at about 22 is a major factor. Being that charter schools had certified teachers whereas many RSD schools did not is a major factor. Also notice that the top performing schools, such as Lusher and Audubon, have a selective admissions policy. Another factor was the total incompetance of the RSD governing body. Two of the quotations made me cringe. Brian Riedlinger, the president of Algiers Charter Schools, said that "One of the things we know about successful schools is that they have successful principals." The best principal I have ever met, Keith Bartlett, works at Dibert Elementary, a school where 78% of 4th graders did not score "basic." Leslie Jacobs, the president of the state run BESE school board and who has been pushing for all of New Orleans schools to become charters, claims that students at charter schools feel ownership which empowers them. I went to a great government-run public school and all of the students there felt ownership. What New Orleans needs is a quality school board, something that has been lacking for many years. To compare charter schools to schools run by the RSD is not a fair comparison, and I hope that some journalists dig a bit deeper into this situation.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Father's Repose

My sister, brother, and I, along with our families, today spread the ashes of my father in two of his favorite places. We planned on doing this immediately after his funeral back in February but due to an ice storm we put it off until today. First we went to Clarks, Nebraska, where we had a cabin on the Platte River. We all shared some of our memories and then sprinkled my father's cremated ashes into the river. Next we went to Cedar Rapids to our family's farm, and spread the remainder of the ashes there. I think he would have enjoyed hearing our stories about him. I know he would have loved reminiscing about all the time we spent at the cabin. I did a lot of growing up there. The wilderness gave me the space I needed to get through some awkward and difficult years. I still miss you dad, and I appreciate all you did for me. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Well on a Farm

Today, like yesterday, I drove to Albion Nebraska to complete government paperwork related to a well. When my father passed away last February, my brother, sister, and I became joint owners of a 160 acre farm near Cedar Rapids Nebraska. My family has been farming in that area for well over 100 years, and it was my father’s wish that we keep the farm for at least five years. He wanted me and my siblings to know what it was like to own farmland, and to be part of a long family tradition. Luckily, we lease the land out to a very capable farmer, and so I don’t need to suddenly learn about farm chemistry or buy a combine. But we moved the well on the farm so that it is located close to the central pivot, and with all the water regulations and legislation due to the drying up of the Ogallala Aquifer, this has become a bureaucratic hurdle. We thought we had better move it now, before tighter regulations go into effect in 2008. We also drilled it very deep. We hit water at 60 foot, but drilled it 160 feet deep. Our tenant says it is the best well in the region. That would have made my dad proud I’m sure.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Brief Homecoming

I was so glad to arrive back in New Orleans early Friday morning. But then late Saturday night we all piled in the car and drove to Nebraska. Here in the Cornhusker state I hope to take care of some legal issues pertaining to my father's estate and farm, carry out the repose of my father's remains, and to provide some quality time between my children and their grandparents. We should be finally back in New Orleans on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Homeward Bound

Kalypso and I are getting packed, and our taxi to the airport leaves shortly. I'm so glad we're heading home. Today is Kalypso's 12th birthday, and being stuck on two very long flights sure sucks, but I keep telling her she will be the only one in the world who has a 32 hour long 12th birthday. First we fly from Tel Aviv to Newark, and then after customs, we fly Newark to New Orleans. Plus we get the added bonus of spending some quality time with Israeli airport security and U.S. customs. I can't wait to put today behind me and to get home.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I Wish I Were Protesting

I just got this photograph from Schroeder:
It's Gilgamesh, early in the morning on a rainy day, sitting in front of the Cabildo. He and Therese are there as part of a protest against Eddie Jordan, the DA for New Orleans who has done by all accounts a pretty horrible job prosecuting murderers. My representative on the city council, Shelley Midura, has written an open letter for Jordan to resign. Today many concerned residents of New Orleans are gathering in the French Quarter at the Cabildo to protest against Jordan's incompetance. I'm so proud Therese and Gilgamesh are there, and I wish I was too. Let them know, Gilgamesh, that the current situation is totally unacceptable.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Leaning on Insurers

There's an article by Rebecca Mowbray in the Business Section of Today's Times-Picayune about our leaning house, the Road Home, Allstate Insurance and Haag Engineering. It's called Leaning on Insurers. I also just heard yesterday from our attorney, Greg DiLeo, who said Allstate's attorney wants to settle with us and he has put forward what our attorney said was a very reasonable offer. Basically it is what they should have paid us back in 2005. But as part of the deal, there is a confidentiality provision. I wonder how the newspaper article will effect negotiations. Though being a blogger/media whore, I have to love the coverage, especially thousands of miles away. Meanwhile, Therese has been trying hard to get a permit to rebuild our house. She took our plans from Waring Architects to City Hall, and thinks she should hear back from the permit office soon. Therese has also been picking out things like sinks, toilets, and cabinets without me. I can't wait to get back home to New Orleans. Yesterday I told everyone about how Gilgamesh says "That's gross, Abu" when I'm chanel surfing and there are two people kissing. I sure do miss the Gilgamonster, Therese, and my Mid-City neighborhood.

Wrapping Up Zeitah

Today most of the volunteers got in the vans and headed for the airport. I'm in my room typing up the final report for the square that I supervise, O-19. We put plastic tarps and sandbags to preserve many of the features early this morning. It was an unusual season in many respects. First and foremost, we were old. The average age in my square was 48, and that was with Kalypso at age 11 and another girl at age 20. One conversation involved the old timers discussing the use of Sears and Robuck catalog as toilet paper. They were hard workers though. This was the season after the great inscription discovery, so it was bound to be sort of a letdown. We also had many more visitors this season. Plus our camera broke, so that was disappointing. I'm ready for it to be over, and to get back to New Orleans. I have a mountain of work facing me, relating to bills and legal forms. We leave this Thursday, which incidentally will be Kalypso's 12th birthday. I try to sell her on the idea by saying that her 12th birthday won't be 24 hours, but more like 32 hours due to traveling with the sun. Plus who wouldn't have a fun birthday with Israeli security at the airport?
Professor Barkai learning things he didn't know about the Tanak.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Digging Sick

I rarely get sick, but I caught a nasty cold virus on July 4th. At first I thought it was allergies, but it kept getting worse. I went to the field every day, but when the excavating was over at 1 PM I walked to my room and slept straight through until the next morning at 4 AM. In any event, I am beginning to feel better, and it is the weekend so I'm sure I'll be fit by next Monday. The excavating has for the most part ended, and we'll spend the next few days getting ready for our final photographs, scheduled for Wednesday at sunrise.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lessons From the Past

Thanks to Annette Sisco from the Times-Picayune, I had another stab at bridging the gap between the blogosphere and old-school newspaper opinion writing. My fourth editorial appeared in last Sunday's paper (July 1). It was a heavily revised piece for a New Orleans audience about the connections between hurricanes and archaeology that I made for my Society of Biblical Literature Forum article. The T-P piece is called "Lessons From the Past: An archaeologist finds clues to ancient destruction -- and kinship with a modern tragedy."
My previous opinion pieces are:
Nation Watching Our Education Lab (March 31, 2007).
Feeling Not So Welcome at the Welcome Home Center (January 25, 2007).
Building Our New Jerusalem (August 12, 2006).

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.