Monday, March 31, 2008

Omaha Punk Rock Reunion Recap

We arrived back in New Orleans early Monday morning after the long drive from Omaha. Saturday night at the punk rock reunion I thought everything went great. The show sold out, with more than 400 people in attendance I believe. All of the bands did a fantastic job. Bands that played included: The Upsets, The Deformaties, the Pornhuskers, Cordial Spew, Double-You, RAF, and J.J. Pearson. Many people commented that the bands sounded tighter today, 20 years later, than they did back in the day. Here are a couple of shots of my band Apathy's reunion:
That's me on bass, Mark Blackman on drums, Seth Kirshman on vocals, and Jim Homan on guitar.
Gilgamesh and Kalypso both got to go to the show to see their "Abu" rock out. It was great seeing everyone there. Thanks to Tim, DeeAnna, and Megan for organizing it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Punk Rock Bass Guitar

I'm in Omaha for the punk rock reunion, and having a great time, though it's certainly strange to see all of these people more than 20 years later. It seems all of us skipped our high school reunions, and I'm amazed at how many people, like me, traveled long distances to be here. Last night after Apathy practice we all went to Brother's Lounge, and it freaked me out to see all of these legends of the Omaha punk scene. Sociologically it was fascinating. Nobody is famous, and while we're all saying we're just there to have fun, there was still bickering between members of bands about the order in which they'll appear. I also noticed that many of us are still trying to change the world. That's what led us to punk rock in the first place. I think if we would have been Van Halen fans we would have been happier. We could have just held our lighters up and thought about hot looking teachers, spandex, and cameros, instead we were trying to fight for social justice by slam dancing and stage diving. Sure everyone at Brother's last night was a sociopath, but like Superman we were fighting for truth and justice, but not the American way so much.

So the show is Saturday night at the Waiting Room, and tonight after all the bands will practice at Warehouse Studios where my brother Jim works (and where C.W. McCall recorded Omaha's most famous song, "Convoy"), we'll all head over again to Brother's, where the 1980's flashback will surely just get weirder.

This was my first bass guitar, and as you can clearly see, it was a punk rock bass.
The Circle Jerks signed the bass at a Kansas City show back in 1983. Keith Morris wrote "Eat fruit," Greg Hetson wrote "Your bass is ruined," Earl Liberty wrote his name, and Chuck Biscuits just drew a design with his initials. I think Chuck was illiterate, even though his design does resemble the Sumerian pictogram for God, or what they called DINGER.

Practice has been going good. I'm thinking I might even do a few jumps to go along with the standard cool wide stance and moving my head up and down. My hair is also just long enough to cover my eyes when necessary. It's getting close to kickin' out the jams time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bullets & Redfish

New Orleans' favorite chef Paul Prudhomme was shot today by a stray bullet while he was cooking at the Zurich Classic gold tournament. The bullet bounced off of him, and he continued cooking his fish. God I love this place. Not because of the murders and excessive bullets flying around, but because of characters like Prudhomme. I don't trust skinny chefs by the way.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What I'll Be Watching

Frontline's two-part series "Bush's War" begins tonight on PBS.

Part one was fantastic, just ask Dangerblond. As she points out, it can be viewed online.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Some Sad News This Easter

Too bad for the kiddies, the Easter Bunny it seems just wasn't hippity hoppity fast enough this year.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More Road Home Tax Headaches

I've spent the past two days trying to learn more about taxes and Road Home grants, and the results are not pretty, and the IRS's policy certainly isn't fair.

In 2005 I took a casualty loss of $95,000 for our Katrina damaged home. This was calculated as follows: Cost of property $157,000, minus insurance reimbursements of $62,000=$95,000. We recorded the house as totaled because it would and has cost more than $157,000 to fix it. That year the adjusted gross income for Therese and I was $72,135. We paid nothing in taxes. If we didn't take the casualty loss, we would have paid about $5,000 in taxes for 2005. If only we would have paid those taxes!

In January of 2007 we received $120,000 in a Road Home grant. Many sources claim that we need to list $95,000 as "other income" on our 2007 tax return (Form 1040 line 21). However, according to this IRS document, that is not true. We only need to claim $72,135 because we weren't taxed on that in 2005.

Without the Road Home grant, Turbotax calculates that we'd receive a rebate of just over $3,000. When we add the $72,135 to income, we now owe the IRS $20,795 in taxes. This is because instead of our regular income of about $80,000, we now have to add $72,135 to this, putting us in a much higher tax bracket. I called the IRS hotline several times, and eventually found their casualty loss expert, but at this point I knew much more about this topic than the expert on the phone, so that didn't help. Right now we're praying that the Louisiana delegates in Congress can get a bill passed making this system more equitable. What would be fair would to reinstate the option to amend our 2005 taxes and take out the casualty loss. I'd be happy to pay interest on the original $5,000 I saved in 2005 taxes. Anyway, this has to be boring as heck for all of you not affected by the Road Home mess. What's the weather like in the Congo by the way?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Angry White American for Obama

I was impressed with Barack Obama's speech today on race. You can see and read it here. Honestly, I'm not offended by Jeremiah Wright's most fiery sermons. We live in a country that tortures, wiretaps, and kills innocent Iraqis and Afghans so that a few people can profit. And I see the impact of racism every day in my life. I doubt I'll ever fly an American flag on my house after what I witnessed at the Causeway Concentration Camp in the days after the federal levees broke, flooding New Orleans and killing more than 1,000 people. But Obama's gift is one of hope, whereas I spend too much time being angry about what has already happened.

Many Caucasians were shocked to see Wright use such harsh language when condemning America. They wonder why African Americans such as Wright are so angry. Obama states in his speech concerning the anger felt by many African Americans: "But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races." America is not very good at reality checks. It's not easy to admit that racism is still a problem that disenfranchises so many of our citizens.

My favorite paragraph in Obama's speech is as follows: "Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding." This mirrors John Edward's message about the 2 Americas.

Much of this Jeremiah Wright material is meant to be a distraction and it has been remarkably well orchestrated. I hope that soon Obama can get back to his message of hope instead of being asked to apologize for his friendship and associations with Jeremiah Wright. It will be interesting to watch the news tonight to see the reaction.

Best Songs About Louisiana & New Orleans

I was recently reminded of the song Polk Salad Annie, and it got me thinking about the best songs about Louisiana and New Orleans. Please help me add to the list in the comments section.

Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White
Louisiana 1927 performed by John Boutte
Louisiana Saturday Night by Benjy Davis Project
Louisiana Saturday Night (completely different song than above) by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Born on the Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Jambalaya by Hank Williams
Fire On the Bayou by the Neville Brothers
Bluesiama Mama by Marva Wright
Back to Bayou Teche by Sonny Landreth

I Wish I Was in New Orleans by Tom Waits
City Beneath the Sea by Harry Connick Jr.
Saint James Infirmary by Louis Armstrong
When the Saints Go Marching In by Louis Armstrong
New Orleans by Cowboy Mouth
The Avenue by Cowboy Mouth
Go to the Mardi Gras by Professor Longhair
French Quarter by Delta Spirit
Goin' Back to New Orleans by Dr. John
Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans by Louis Armstrong
Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans by John Boutte
House of the Rising Sun by Leadbelly
Walking to New Orleans by Fats Domino
Marie LaVeau by Oscar Celestin
The Saints Are Coming by the Skids
New Orleans by Ingrid Lucia
New Orleans by Gary U.S. Bonds
They All Ask'd For You by The Meters

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day 2008

Harp and Guinness chilling in the fridge, corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots ready to be boiled, and even though it might mean death by cannibalism for many pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, here's a short video from before I was born:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Road Home Tax Confusion

Note: See this related more recent post from March 19th, 2008, entitled More Road Home Tax Headaches

Four weeks away from tax day, I'm still confused about what to do with Road Home money on my tax return. In 2005 I claimed a $90,000 casualty loss and didn't have to pay federal taxes that year. My taxes that year without the casualty loss would have been about $5,000. In January of 2007 I received $150,000 from the Road Home. Now as best as I can tell I'm required to claim an extra $90,000 in income this year, which will put me in a higher tax bracket, and cost me about $20,000. I read that I'm supposed to claim this Road Home money as income using Schedule 525.

This is very unfair, but if I've learned anything during and after Katrina, it's that government often isn't concerned with fair. Here's what would be more fair: Let me revise my 2005 taxes and not take the casualty loss. I'll pay the government the $5,000 I saved and add interest. Or go back in time and have Allstate pay to fix my house instead of Road Home, then I wouldn't owe the government any of that money. Or being that I've had to pay my mortgage on top of paying for rent while they fix my house for 2 1/2 years, have the government apologize for their sucky levees and forget the 2005 taxes altogether.

Mary Landrieu has consistently tried to get congress to pass legislation that would make Road Home money tax free. I of course am hopeful she succeeds.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Xavier's Email Policy Puts Us All in Danger from Adrastos

I just sent an email to Adrastos in which I told him to "f-ck off," not literally or in a mean spirited way, just the sort of friendly blogger way. It's the sort of email that Adrastos gets hundreds of times a day, and frankly, if you've ever read his blog, it's certainly advice he needs to hear. There have been many documented cases where this same advice has saved lives, as Adrastos is often in need of being put back on the straight and narrow path. But now Adrastos can't get that advice from me at the moment he needs it most. My attempted email assistance was returned to me with the following message:
"The attached message contains content which violates Xavier's email policy. The message was not delivered to the intended recipients."
So now Adrastos will have to get this valuable advice from my blog, which might mean that many crucial hours will pass before he'll know to take a step back and reflect. God help us all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thanks Corps!

On today's front page of the Times-Picayune is some great news. The Army Corps of Engineers says that by 2011 the new levees and pumps will mean that New Orleans would stay dry even with a major hurricane. Thanks Corps! I've been giving everyone high-fives, and Howie said this means we can all expect refund checks for our insurance companies with notes of apology for the high rates. Too bad we wasted all that money raising our house. And perhaps it's time to quit focusing on the past, as I've sure been critical of the Corps over the past 927 days. Now it is clear that they have got their act together and let's all move forward together. "OH HAPPY DAY..."
In the above picture you see that our city in 2011 is dry after a major hurricane. That is if the Corps levees hold and the pumps all work at 100% capacity. Wheeww! What a relief! And to think that I was worried.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Party of Asses

Q: How could an awful candidate who closely links his platform to one of the least popular presidents in history have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the 2008 presidential election?
A: He's running against the Democratic Party.

I sometimes wish the Democratic Party was my nemesis. I would be happy more often no doubt. My backing Democratic candidates is a lot like my sister's love of the Chicago Cubs. We're ruining the world's balance because we're supporting such inferior products who continually find ways to lose. But what am I going to do? My belief in equality, social justice, and compassion makes it impossible to support the modern Republican Party, and though my beliefs fit more in line with organizations such as the Green Party and even the Peace and Freedom Party, I feel like voting for them would be throwing my vote away with our current two party system. Anyway, over the next few weeks I'll watch the Obama-Clinton train wreck and then be upset with America in November of 2008 when they elect McCain. Good fun.

Monday, March 03, 2008

New Readers from Congo: Stop Eating Magical Pygmies!

I've been thinking quite a bit about cannibalism lately. This first came about as I've been watching many prehistoric movies lately in preparation for seeing the movie 10,000 BC. Movies like Clan of the Cavebear and Quest for Fire portray the most primitive humans as cannibals, whereas the more advanced groups, the ones that are less hairy, find that eating people is repulsive. I guess I'm sort of on the fence about eating people. As a kid I was infatuated about the story "Alive", where the rugby team had to eat people to survive after plane crash. And what kid doesn't love to reenact the story of the Donner Party? I'm sure I would have done the same, as you can tell just by looking at me and my full-figured belly that I like to eat.

Well, it turns out now that some of this blogs newest readers, my friends from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, have been eating their pygmy neighbors claiming that the little pygmies have magical powers that can be obtained through ingestion. Chasing short people for food reminds me of those pesky kids chasing the Lucky Charms leprechaun trying to eat his marshmallow clovers.
Lucky Charms
And this all makes me wonder if somewhere out there, right now, there is a pygmy running away from a cannibal and shouting "They're always after me lucky ARMS."

Sometimes I'm ashamed of myself.

Cutting the Core of a Catholic Liberal Arts Education

There's currently a major debate going on at Xavier University about our core curriculum. A committee has recommended that we reduce the required courses in Theology, Philosophy, History, and Foreign Languages in order to free up more electives for our students. Our experienced and erudite department chair in Theology is on sabbatical, so I'm currently serving as "interim" chair. I'm afraid that my legacy will be that as Theology chair, I will be the first in the U.S. to see the required Theology courses at a Catholic University fall below 6 credit hours. So I've been spending most of my time examining the core curriculums at other Catholic Liberal Arts institutions to try to find a way to effectively communicate to my colleagues why a Liberal Arts education is important, and why Theology and Philosophy at a Catholic school matters. But when I argue that we teach critical thinking skills, faculty in other departments counter that they do too. So some dismiss the resistance to change as territorial, and that Theology and Philosophy are just upset because we're being cut. Not totally cut, just cut in that now students need to take 2 Theology courses and 2 Philosophy courses for a total of 4 courses, and with the revised core they would have to take one Theology, one Philosophy, and one from either discipline, for a total of 3 courses.

This reduction of the core would no doubt be popular with students. They are often disappointed that they have to take such a wide range of courses, and faculty and students alike sadly look at the core as courses they need to get out of the way so they can take the important courses, meaning courses in their major. It's also influenced by this dominant business model, where the students are clients, and we need to give the customer what they want, which is choice. There are other institutions that do a much better job of embracing their core Liberal Arts, but there seems to be a movement away from this towards a more professional school model, much like in Europe.

Anyway, this debate is currently dominating my time. And to all my new readers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbors from the Republic of Congo, I'm sorry that you have to live with 50 foot long Congo Snakes. They look dangerous.