Monday, June 30, 2008

Voucher Veto

So now that Jindal vetoed the legislature's pay raise, breaking his promise that he wouldn't interfere so long as they passed his school voucher program, isn't there any way for the legislature to kill the school vouchers? Sadly, it seems not. And already the local media is trying to spin this "won't veto and then public outcry and still won't but OK will veto" fiasco into Jindal being a hero for the common folk.

New Orleans: More than a Banana Republic?

When we first moved to New Orleans, we had a very difficult time getting our driver licenses. In fact, it took us more than one day. Previously we lived in California, where we made an appointment with the DMV online and this simple task took only took 15 minutes. Here of course the DMV had no website, they don't answer their phones, and we had to wait all day for our number to be called only to learn we didn't have the correct documents. Later, people were shocked to learn that we went to the New Orleans DMV, and they said that they always go to Metairie or Slidell even though it costs more. A friend of Therese stated: "Darlin, you're no longer in the United States, you're in a Banana Republic."

That stuck with us. I always thought that living in Falafel Republics, small and impoverished areas in the Middle East, helped us acclimate to living here. In Amman and East Jerusalem we were used to waiting in line all day for visa extensions, and we always expected the worst and we were rarely disappointed. Whenever dealings with the local government transpired without a glitch, we'd light a candle in a church and tell everyone about it. But recently during a conversation a wise woman told me that New Orleans is not in fact a banana republic. She said to look at buildings like the courthouse, which you see here:
She claimed that New Orleans was more like cities in Eastern Block countries such as Hungary or Poland, which had amazing infrastructure and architecture in the past but now the cities were crumbling and decaying because of inept government. I've thought a lot about this, and about how Big Oil left New Orleans in the 80's, and wonder if New Orleans has what it would take to wipe out corruption, fix public schools, and attract businesses again. I'm not very confident. It certainly won't happen under the reigns of Ray "Fishy Crime Cameras" Nagin or Bobby "School Vouchers for Not Vetoing Pay Raises" Jindal.

But wait... Who's that Yankee on the horizon sniffing out corruption as the first ever inspector general of New Orleans? I heard that after one year, he finally has telephones in his office. In another year he might even have the computers and the staff he's been promised. Look out world, New Orleans is coming back! But then again, we don't live here for the DMV, we live here for the bananas foster at Brennan's and the falafel at Mona's.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dobson's Confused Theology

James Dobson, the conservative Christian leader of Focus on the Family, accused Barack Obama of "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology."

I am an expert in Bible and Theology, so I feel compelled to tell the world the following:

James Dobson deliberately distorts the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin's 10 Commandments

George Carlin was brilliant and brave, and I'm so sorry he's gone. I'd like to thank him for his critique of society, especially how he spoke about what is wrong with America, and hypocrisy. Like me, he was brought up Catholic, but he had some serious questions about organized religion. I also loved how he played around with language.

Here's George Carlin, later in life, performing his amazing skit "The Ten Commandments"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sazerac: Official Cocktail of New Orleans

The Louisiana House twice voted down making the Sazerac the official cocktail of New Orleans, afraid it would encourage drinking. But then today, despite all odds, the House approved the bill, and now it goes to Jindal's desk. Many point to this as government officials wasting our tax dollars by wasting time. But me, I'm all for recognizing the sazerac. It was reputedly the first cocktail, and has a long and amazing history, and it is intimately tied to the city. In fact, I think I'll go make one right now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ramblin' Man

I just finished reading Born Standing Up, an autobiography by Steve Martin about the difficult years leading up to his success as a comic. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've always been a huge Martin fan. His albums "Let's Get Small" and "Wild and Crazy Guy" were the first comedy albums I owned, and I remember playing them over and over in my basement room. I was about 11 years old in those days. I very much enjoyed that his comedy wasn't mean, but rather it cleverly made fun of himself. Though I'm not a professional comic, I would say that Steve Martin's early comedy influenced my lecture style. That is why when I talk about the Battle of Jericho, I wear bunny ears.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Brilliant Son On Road To Pulitzer

While my 7-year-old son Gilgamesh has only been blogging for three months, yesterday he posted something far more fascinating and useful than all of my publications combined.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

To My Neighbors Upstream

The upper Mississippi River and many of its tributaries are flooding, having already overtopped six levees in Iowa and Missouri. There is also flooding in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois. Now the feds report that as many as 27 levees might fail in the next few days. I have many fond memories of summers spent in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City, and I am sorry the people there are about to share my experience with the difficult task of rebuilding your life after a flood. And like Xavier three years ago, the University of Iowa has flooded and has now suspended all university operations. Five people are dead, and there is no drinking water in many areas. On the news last night I saw people yelling at government officials and police because of road blocks preventing people from seeing their homes. That brought back many bad memories, times when I snuck back into New Orleans and the time I first saw my house after the flood waters had rescinded. Rebuilding your life after a major flood is an all consuming task. It is taking us three years. I pray that the people involved in this most recent flood are treated fair by their insurers, and that those without insurance can be given a helping hand by the government to begin their lives again.

I'd encourage you to join me in contributing to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
House Flooded Iowa
Flooded Home in Cedar Rapids, (Frank Polich/Reuters)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there. I got a cigar as a gift from my family, but they won't let me smoke it inside.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tim Russert's Death

I was very sad to learn yesterday that Tim Russert passed away. I've been a longtime fan of Meet the Press and always enjoyed hearing Russert's political analysis. His interviews were unique. He would always be very prepared, and worked hard for his reputation as being thorough but fair. It was "old school" journalism, something that is sadly being replaced with partisan pugilists and infomercials. What I liked most about Russert were his obvious love of his job, his geeky blue-collar dress and facial expressions, and he had a compassion and enthusiasm for politics that were impossible to hide. Personally, I also liked his piety, and how he represented his Catholic faith so well.
I'm sad that we'll have to go through this incredibly exciting presidential race without his expertise.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Five Justices Bring Constitution Back to Life

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the President and Congress can't turn on and off the Constitution at will, and that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay deserve the right of habeas corpus. More than 200 people have been held six years and have never been told why they're in prison. Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian who immigrated to Bosnia where he became a legal resident, was taken from his Bosnian home in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. He gave name to this case, Boumediene v. Bush, which is one of the most important judicial decisions in my generation, and it was a sweeping ruling so it is unlikely the Bush administration will be able to set up a military prison camp elsewhere. We should learn quite a bit about the prisoners at Gitmo. I'm not saying any of them are innocent, but they might be, and all people certainly deserve a fair trial, or more importantly, this country and the victims of 9-11 deserve that these prisoners have a fair trial.

Justice Scalia went pretty far in his dissent. He wrote that the ruling “will almost certainly cause more Americans to get killed" and “The nation will live to regret what the court has done today." Well God knows how many thousands of Americans have been killed and how many millions of people in the world have lived to regret what Scalia and other justices did back in December of 2000 with Gore v. Bush.

Today, because of this decision, the world is a better place, and I believe that America just might be able to one day return to the moral high ground that lifted us to be the envy of most of the world.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Viability of the Midwest

As someone who knows personally how difficult it is to rebuild one's life after a flood, my heart goes out to the people in the Midwest who are dealing with catastrophe brought on by flood waters. I'm thankful that these unfortunate people, in the wake of tragedy, don't have to hear politicians and people like we in New Orleans did who argued that our homes and city should not be rebuilt, or that disaster came as divine retribution for sin.

Update: Schroeder at People Get Ready spells this out better and more thoroughly than me.

DNA Samples

Senator Vitter yesterday introduced a bill that would force all states to collect DNA samples from collected felons. Vitter stated "We could do the standard cheek scrape, but I've always preferred to collect used condoms."

Just so were clear, I made that last sentence up.

Gas Price's Silver Lining

My mom just sent me this picture.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Day Karl Rove Dies...

I will smoke a very expensive cigar and drink my best scotch and think about how the world is a better place without him. All are welcome to free drinks at the Homan house that day. I would never celebrate death lightly, and for me, this is very personal, as if he had raped my best friend to death and then denied it forever. And I should add, if you read any New Orleans blogs, you've already seen the article I'm about to reference, but I feel obliged to put it here, mostly because it disturbs me so damn much. As Greg Peters at Suspect Device said, "This really is the most vile thing you will read this year." recently published an excerpt from Paul Alexander's new book Machiavelli's Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove. The chapter published on Salon is about the Bush administration's abysmal response to Katrina and specifically about Rove's intense partisan spin in handling the flooded New Orleans. Alexander writes about how upon Rove's instruction Blanco was lied to and crucified in the media by talking heads staying on the admin's point, about how if you say things enough they become reality, about the former Republican mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin was manipulated with the big show (how hard is that?), how dump trucks and cranes at the 17th street canal were just props for a Bush photo-op, and when Senator Landrieu flew over the next day, they were gone.

I didn't see any of the talking heads or partisan politics until about 10 days after the levees failed, because I was here during the flood. I can tell you nobody here and suffering was thinking about republican or democrat, they just needed some help and government attention. But I did see many of the people who died because of people like Rove, and I certainly have seen the struggles of thousands in the aftermath. Of course Rove wasn't solely to blame, nor were the feds, and Blanco and certainly Nagin could have done a better job. But the thought of Bush giving speeches the day AFTER Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans about his Iraq policy show just how detached he was. And Rove calling Nagin?!?

Now Republicans like Bobby Jindal says let's move forward and not play the blame game. So do many democrats, not from here, but nationally. How could anyone from Louisiana not be calling for people like Karl Rove to be in prison?

Josephus, Joseph, Jesus, and JESUS!!!

One of my students just wrote that Josephus was the historian who gave his tomb to Jesus, and another wrote that Josephus was the mystical fusion of Jesus with his father Joseph. Confusing the matter further, I think one of the guys laying my floors is named Jesus, or he says it often when the hammer misses its intended target.

I Know Some Things about Some Things


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Impeding Recovery with Presidential Presence

Scott McClellan's memoire has renewed quite a ruckus about this "presidential" pic:
Two days after Katrina, as New Orleans drowned following failed federal levees, the president flew above the Big Easy and looked out his window, and he said "It must be twice as bad on the ground." Well, as someone who was on the ground, it was actually much worse Mr President. The picture, according to McClellan, came to symbolize Bush's detached response to this disaster. Bush supporters claim that if Bush would have personally visited New Orleans it would have impeded rescue efforts. They say that with a straight face. Only 229 days left of this administration.

But given the fact that McCain is the Republican nominee for president, could someone tell me why does the White House still have this picture on its website?
Here John McCain celebrates his 69th birthday in Phoenix by presenting a cake to George W. Bush. The Whitehouse website then states that "The President later spoke about Medicare to 400 guests at the Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort and Country Club in nearby El Mirage." Well, all this took place on Monday, August 29th, 2005. At that same moment, I was happy to have survived Katrina's winds, but was curious why the water kept rising. I'm sure that McCain and W wanted to come to New Orleans but realized that the presence of their persons and birthday cake would have impeded rescue efforts.

McCain has been using New Orleans a lot lately. Last night when the primaries closed McCain said he was speaking from New Orleans, but in reality it was from Kenner. He also recently came to my university and used us as a prop. However McCain's voting record has been anything but friendly to New Orleans and our efforts to recover after Katrina. I'm tired of being used, and prefer detachment and apathy, even if it means some of us wade through water to limit drownings while our political leaders eat birthday cake 1500 miles away to cope with "disaster fatigue."

How Amos Affects Presidential Politics

This summer I'm teaching one of my favorite courses, Prophets and Prophecy. We're currently studying the 8th century BCE prophets in the Bible: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. While there are earlier prophets in the Bible such as Moses and Elijah, these four prophets in the eighth century were the first to have biblical books named after them, and they set the standard for later biblical prophets. They define the genre. At their most basic level, they all share a two part theme, one I don't care for, the other I love.

The first theme is theodicy, literally "judging God," but it basically tries to explain the problem of evil and general badness. To clarify, I love the study of theodicy, especially after Katrina and the suffering I've witnessed, but what I don't care for is Amos et al's solution. The 8th century prophets and/or their later editors all need to explain how Yahweh would allow the destruction of Israel in 722 BCE by the Assyrian Empire. The prophets are not about to accuse Yahweh of being unjust, so they blame Israel's religious infidelity, likening God to a faithful husband and the people of Israel to an adulterous wife. Then, God being just, He just has to destroy the Israelite kingdom, and he uses the Assyrians as a tool to accomplish this. I personally disagree with this explanation, and believe that bad things do happen to good people, and vice versa. I'm not alone in this view. The author of Job would agree with me, as would the prophet Habakkuk, who profoundly asks why God is silent when the wicked prevail over the righteous (1:13). And besides, if God gets so jealous because some people in Israel had an "affair" with Baal that He decides to kill the nation, well then, God probably wasn't such a great husband to begin with. There are laws today that protect spouses from such violent behavior, and rightly so.

The second theme I enthusiastically embrace, as it pertains to social justice. Israel not only sinned because of religious infidelity, the 8th century prophets argue, but they sinned by exploiting the population without resources. Amos claims that God is angry with the people of Israel "because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and turn aside the way of the afflicted" (2:6-7). Amos further argues that this sin of social injustice is multiplied because of divine election. It seems everyone was running around Israel believing that because they were Yahweh's chosen people, they would be safe from harm. Amos argues that no, in fact, because of God choosing Israel, they would be judged with greater severity, because divine election increases responsibility. I tell my students that their university education similarly increases their responsibility.

Today I was trying to get my students to understand how 8th century BCE prophets such as Amos impact our lives today. Sure many Americans believe that God is implementing His will through the U.S. government and military. But I don't, so I avoided that. Instead I wanted to focus more on social justice, and how societies in antiquity were judged on how they took care of "widows and orphans," the disenfranchised. I asked the students about presidential candidates and their platforms. They knew that Barack Obama wanted to increase health care coverage to those who currently can't afford it. They understood that was social justice and was impacted from Amos. They also knew that there are real differences between McCain and Obama pertaining to the Iraq war, with Obama favoring a more immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. But both McCain and Obama are impacted by prophets such as Amos, even though their policies differ. Obama argues for troop withdrawal because of social justice, the war was unjust to begin with, and it is unjust to create so many widows and orphans when U.S. troops die in Iraq. McCain argues the troops should stay because of social justice, because many poor and disenfranchised Iraqis would die violent and unjust deaths if we pulled out too soon. McCain argues Obama should visit Iraq to see how the surge is promoting social justice, and Obama invited McCain in last night's speech to visit urban areas to see the lack of social justice.

But in the end maybe it is all talk. If modern America is about anything, it is about making a profit at any cost, or in Amos's words, "selling the righteous for silver."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Summer School

Alternatively, this post could be entitled "I'm a Whore!" Turns out I'll do pretty much anything for money, though I still blame Katrina. Because of the flood we need to rebuild our house and it has cost much more than we first planned. We'll be able to finish, but the thought of having some extra money was enticing, so here I am teaching summer school. Usually I'd be excavating in Israel or Jordan, so the fact that we're taking this year off from the archaeology gave me the opportunity to teach summer school. It's the first time I'm doing it ever, and I'm looking forward to July when it will be over. I'm teaching Prophets and Prophecy, and my first section is 7:30 -8:55 AM, followed by my second section, 9:05-10:30. It's a whole semester crammed into five weeks, every day for an hour and a half. But in addition to having to get up at 6:30 AM, there have been many other hurdles. First the bookstore forgot to order my book, and so now, halfway through the second week, the textbook has finally arrived. I use Blenkinsopp's History of Prophecy in Israel. It isn't perfect, but it does the job. The delay screwed the scheduling up, and now the midterm has been pushed back. Second, just before graduation the air conditioner in the Theology Department started leaking large amounts of water. The carpet was soaked for two weeks, and mold grew everywhere. Finally we got the carpet dried out, but there is no air conditioning. New Orleans in the summer with no AC and the inability to open windows. It's not very easy to work in these conditions. But I do enjoy teaching. Today we acted like political prophets and examined the signs that Clinton would be ending her campaign tonight. It was clear from all of our oracular devices that God supports Obama.