Monday, December 24, 2012

My First Attempt at Scottish Ale

Lately, my curiosity about Scottish Ales has increased. They are less hoppy, more malty, and I'm told they are great to use in cooking. I just brewed the following recipe in an attempt to create a 70 shilling ale similar in color, taste and strength to Belhaven:

4 lb. Warminster Maris Otter Pale Base Balt
.5 lb Cargill Munich Malt
.125 lb Muntons Roasted Barley
I steeped the above grains at 150 degrees for 3 hours

Then after sparing, I used a 3.3 lb can of Muntons Maris Otter Light Malt and .5 oz of Fuggle Pellet Hops (4.3%) for a 120 minute boil. For the last half hour I added .35 oz Kent Golding Hop Pellets.

In a couple of weeks I'll use Edinburgh Scottish Ale Liquid Yeast.


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Some Superstorm Sandy Advice from New Orleans

My heart goes out to all of the people on the east coast who are about to be learn that their insurance won't cover their wind and water damage. My advice, after three hard years of rebuilding following the failed levees in New Orleans, is to keep a detailed journal. You will likely have many different insurance adjustors, countless meetings, phone calls, and emails. This will include government agencies as well as your insurance company. Keep a detailed record of the time, topic, and people involved. Insurance companies often times will wait until just prior to the court date and then settle. They are more likely to settle in your favor if you keep arduous records. 

My other advice is that rebuilding takes much longer than you would expect. I very much wish that my father, who passed away in 2007, could have lived another couple of years. He worried about our situation, and couldn't believe what the insurance industry was doing. I really wish I could talk to him and let him know that we made out OK, and we and his grand kids are doing great.

But I'd estimate and hope that most people will be treated fairly by their insurance companies. It's just about 20% of cases that have problems. But that is still way too many of course.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Advocating Squirrel Hunting

Today for the first time in my life I read The Advocate. It's a Baton Rouge newspaper that is attempting to break in to New Orleans now that the Times-Picayune isn't publishing daily. The Advocate has a New Orleans edition, so there were many good stories that pertain to New Orleans. However on the back page of the sports section was a long article entitled "Squirrels plentiful this season."

There's a picture of some guy in camouflage holding the tails of approximately 8 dead squirrels. In the article I learned that 2012 will be a great year for squirrel hunters. That's because last year was a bumper crop for nuts, and with the rains we've had lately the acorns stay on the trees and get plump, so those gluttonous squirrels have plenty to eat. Hunters usually go after the fox squirrels, as they have the most meat. Then there's this club called EASL: East Ascension Sportsman's Club, and every year they have a "squirrel rodeo." Unlike the more common rodeo with cowboys riding broncos and bulls, at a squirrel rodeo you get a large gun and hunt squirrels. I don't know the rules but I imagine you could rope the squirrels to make it seem more in line with the traditional rodeo. You get a prize if your bag of dead squirrels weighs more than other people's bags. I wonder if the bags are camouflaged also? The article doesn't say, but I don't really see a need for camouflage. Here in the city squirrels seem bright enough to see me coming no matter what I'm wearing. And they get pretty close to me, probably because we don't shoot them and put their carcasses in bags. The squirrel rodeo is this Saturday but you can't participate unless you pay the $10 to become an EASL member. Other big news: it used to be illegal to hunt squirrels with air rifles, and now it is legal. I'll bet that was a huge victory for the NRA. My favorite paragraph follows:
"The only other squirrel species seen in Louisiana's woods is the black squirrel, a species that isn't all that common and is highly prized by hunters. More often than not, taking a black squirrel means taking a trip to the taxidermist."
Truer words were never written. I don't think I've seen a black squirrel in New Orleans, but they are plentiful in Nebraska. I'm thinking about trapping a few and letting them loose at the 2013 squirrel rodeo. Oh to see the never-been-to-the-dentist smiles on those camouflage wearing squirrel eaters hootin' and a hollerin' and shootin' their guns in the air. Ayyyyyeeeeeeeee!

So, The Advocate, thanks for sharing with us city folk in New Orleans what life is like in Baton Rouge.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Growing Up

Gilgamesh's latest class picture shows that he has mastered the art of looking apathetic. He's in the sixth grade and despite his haircut he is not a fan of Justin Bieber as far as I know.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Freedom Hating Terrorists or Reaction to Foreign Policy or an Imbecile's Movie?

Two days ago the U.S. Embassies in Cairo Egypt and Sanaa Yemen were attacked. Protestors scaled the walls and burned U.S. flags. It was far worse in Benghazi Libya, where four people including the U.S. diplomat were killed in a lengthy nocturnal gun battle. Today there are reports of protests occurring all over the Muslim world, including Bangladesh, Sudan, Iran, and Tunisia. Tomorrow is the Holy Day of Friday, and it would seem that after the noon prayer there will be violence directed towards the U.S. in many parts of the world. Why?

According to the U.S. media, these are small pockets of terrorists who hate our freedom. The vast majority of the people of Libya and Egypt love the U.S., and they are our friends. They condemn these extremists for dampening our cozy relationship, especially on the anniversary of 9-11. 

The Arab media, and the whole Muslim world, instead focusses on a disgusting digital movie trailer called "Innocence of Muslims"  that depicts Muhammad as a bisexual idiotic pedophile who converts a talking donkey to Islam. Now that the video is viral, the people involved with it are scrambling out of a legitimate fear for their lives. The main person responsible, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, seems to be the "Sam Bacile" who directed and produced. It would seem that he probably won't be alive a year from now without some serious government intervention. Several actors and actresses are claiming they were duped by the imbecile Sam Bacile. They filmed scenes, they claim, for a movie called "Desert Warriors" that wasn't about religion at all. This is all very reminiscent of the Danish Muhammad cartoons, as well as Theo van Gogh.

But could a tasteless video trailer spark a cultural war? I'm thinking that perhaps this is "the perfect storm." With tensions between Iran and Israel growing daily it wouldn't surprise me to see Netanyahu order a bombing of the nuclear facilities in Iran. Then there's the presidential election in the U.S., with the consensus being war would benefit Romney. It would seem that once again we are at a precipice where an individual can create global tragedy. I'm reminded of Amir's assassination of Rabin that ended the push for Israel/Palestinian peace, or the criminals who flew the planes on September 11th. 

What no media is pushing is a much more complicated story about U.S. foreign policy since World War I, but especially since the end of WWII. I have educated Muslim friends in the Middle East, and they would claim that while the "Innocence of Muslims" is a spark, this fire is fueled by the past 50 years of foreign policy in which we supported ruthless dictators and fought unjust wars to fulfill our oil interests. Now I am going to say a prayer for the world tomorrow, but before that, check out the Wikipedia page for "Innocence of Muslims." Perhaps the battle for the soul of the earth is being fought out there.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Hurricane Isaac & The Price to Live in "Paradise"

Hurricane Isaac sure sucked. We lost power Tuesday (Aug 28th) night and didn't get it restored until Saturday (Sep 1) night. We lost internet/cable as well until Monday when I climbed the utility pole and fixed it myself with a crimp cable connector. So everything is back to normal except there is a giant tree that fell from our neighbor's yard and took out our back railings. Now it's hanging like the Sword of Damocles making our backyard a very dangerous place to be.
With the rogue restoration of the internet I'm now becoming aware of the devastation that hit places like Plaquemines, Braithwaite, and LaPlace. It's hard to rebuild and I wish these people good luck and fortitude as they try. One nice thing about the 100 hours without power was that we spent some extra time with our neighbors Bart, Xy and Persephone. One night we hooked our generator up to the TV and DVD player and watched The Wizard of Oz. It was fun to watch Persephone (age 4 1/2)'s facial expressions. Without power it was hard to sleep due to the heat. Our bulldog Enkidu had a very difficult time breathing. One early morning I was listening to fishing specialist Don Dubuc on WWL radio. Caller after caller from the swampy coast said they lost everything, and this was followed by the phrase "That's the price we pay to live in paradise." What? I'm guessing these callers haven't travelled much. Psychologically this has been a difficult week with the 7th anniversary of Katrina. Bart commented that it seems to smell like Katrina with all of the dead oak leaves. Also with garbage pick up delayed and electricity-less freezers, the trash cans smell like rotting flesh. But you know, that's the price we pay live in "paradise."
Today I met for the first time with my Prophets and Prophecy students. It's like we lost a week here at Xavier. I had my first class Monday, August 27th, and my second class Tuesday, September 4th. Thankfully none of my students thus far had their homes flood. Some still don't have electricity though.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I cut off my moustache. I grew it for well over a year so it would look great for the movie The Theologians. Now the movie is done, and the moustache is gone. Wearing a moustache is not easy, especially when eating. It does give you lift when you jump over cars though.

Letter About Kalypso

Kalypso's teacher for AP European History and Anthropology, Mr. Steven Pape, asked parents to write a brief letter introducing their children to him. Here is what I wrote.

Dear Mr. Steven Pape,
As you asked for a brief letter introducing you to my daughter Kalypso Homan as an individual and as a learner, here is my response:
Kalypso has always been exceptionally bright. I remember when she was five-years-old, and she heard the story of Icarus’s flight that ultimately failed due to his hubris and the sun’s heat melting the wax that attached the feathers to his wings. Kalypso wisely pointed out that Icarus should have flown at night.
Kalypso as a child was very outgoing and she fought to make the world a better place. This was especially true after the levee failure and the devastation of our house and most of New Orleans. After attending a school in Nebraska for several months, many people were surprised to hear that we were moving back to New Orleans to rebuild. The “Bourbon Street” inspired stereotype of New Orleans led many to believe that New Orleans was an ill-suited environment for children. In response, Kalypso made a short video entitled “Kalypso’s New Orleans”. The video is charming, and it represents New Orleans well, and it currently has 65,000 views on Youtube.
As a teenager, Kalypso’s personality dramatically changed, as she entered a phase in which she decided she was “introverted,” to use her apt description. The film character Margot Tenenbaum became her behavioral model. Kalypso presented herself as an apathetic emotionless wall. It was hard for me to get a handle on how she was doing and I worried about her.  But now, slowly, I am seeing signs that her confidence and her ability to communicate are returning. I hear from friends of mine associated with Lusher that Kalypso is excelling. I was very proud of her leadership role on the robotics team. I know that she worked very hard on her grades in order to become a National Merit Scholar. More recently, she conducted field research at Tulane to study the effects of the BP oil spill, and she successfully completed three Tulane courses (Painting, Hebrew Bible, and The Trojan War). My biggest concern for her at the moment is that, at times, Kalypso seems to be fearful of greatness.
This senior year will be challenging for Kalypso. In addition to her many difficult courses at Lusher, she is currently enrolled at Tulane in GenChem and GenChem Lab, of which a Tulane official advised her: “Chem is a graveyard for many students. She really needs to consider if this course is for her.” Also, this academic year Kalypso will choose a college to attend.
I am very proud of Kalypso, and though I fear that I put undue pressure on her by saying so, I honestly expect great things from her. I hope and expect that you will enjoy getting to know her in your AP European History and Anthropology course.
Signed Michael Homan

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

RIP Oot the Sugar Glider

I found Oot the Sugar Glider lying dead in his food tray this morning. Kalypso got Oot as a pet in August of 2004. She wrote about that in her blog. She named him "Oot" because it rhymed with "cute." When I left our New Orleans house due to the 2005 flood, Bart and I returned two weeks later in September with my primary objective of rescuing Oot. Bart captures the recapturing of Oot in his Episode 93 of his Rox show. I wrote about it here. Kalypso was very happy to see him when I brought Oot to Omaha where we lived for several months after the flood. At one point Oot seemed dead in Omaha, but it turned out he was hibernating or having some sort of reaction to the cold weather. Oot, like me, preferred to live in New Orleans. There were times when Gil, Kalypso, and Therese advocating selling Oot because nobody played with him. But I could never agree to that. I have a profound and perhaps inexplicable attachment to pets that experienced Hurricane Katrina with me, such as Oot, as well as my dogs Mosey and Kochise. So rest in peace Oot. You perhaps bit people a bit too often, and peed in their hair on occasion, but all of that is to be expected. You were a good sugar glider. I will miss you.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Theologians

The Theologians, Drs. Michael Homan (Alpha) and Mark Gstohl (Omega), drive around New Orleans in a white Catalina verifying miracles. In this premiere episode (entitled Gumbo Madonna), the Cherub sells out some Babylonian Tiamat-worshipping Satanists for a trinity of indulgences. The Theologians then discover that something extraordinary has happened to Chef Who Dat's gumbo. Is it an apparition of the Virgin Mary herself, or perhaps it's just Rita Benson-LeBlanc on a bad day? The brave but pragmatic Theologians must decipher God's latest culinary message for nothing less than the spiritual well-being of all of humanity.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Disturbance in the Force

Things are out of whack in my life for two major reasons. First, I boycotted the Times Picayune because they aren't going to publish daily. So when I woke up today, instead of reading a daily paper as I've done for the past 25 years, I just got my computer and went to work. I feel like I don't know what's going on in the world. That's a bit ironic, as with the internet I should feel more connected. But I enjoy starting the day with the paper. I read just about all of it in order. I think that the newspaper helps me be  a better teacher, as I can model to my students what an informed conscientious person looks like. Second, my employer Xavier University is thinking about switching from a departmental model to one of divisions. That's pretty scary to me, as I imagine faculty would have much less of a say in the governance of this institution. Thinking about a Catholic University without a Theology Department is unsettling to me. Instead, I would be in the division of the Humanities or something like that.

So to fix this imbalance I am going to end my boycott of the Times Picayune and resubscribe to the paper, even though I wish Ricky Mathews would go home and sell the paper to someone who would keep it a daily publication. As for my second stressful change, well, that's ongoing and I'll know more in the next six months. I keep trying to tell myself that the change will be OK but I can't convince myself. Maybe in the end it is the paper and keeping abreast of all of the news that makes me such a cynical pessimist?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Independence Pecan Brown Ale

To celebrate independence and to anger the queen, today I am making a pecan brown ale.
Pecan Beer

Here is my recipe:
12 oz of roasted pecans (I think I will include these from the very beginning. Some advise to add most during the final 15 minute boil but I am not listening).
6 lbs Briess dry malt (amber)
.5 lb Briess Victory malt
.5 Cara-Munich
.5 lb Crystal 120L
.25 lb Muntons chocolate malt
.25 lb Muntons roasted barley

Hops: Full boil: Fuggle pellet hoops 4.2% 1oz
Last 10 minutes same hops, same amount
Nottingham English Ale yeast (11gm), damn, I used metric on the 4th of July.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Online Teaching

I'm teaching a summer course on Prophets and Prophecy. I love the material, and I have taught this course several times. But what is atypical is that for the first time I'm teaching the course entirely online. Through "Blackboard" course management software and by placing my lectures on vimeo, I'm hoping that the course will be a success for the 40 students taking it. I will definitely miss the student interaction. Often times I can gauge the level of student learning by listening to students try to verbally make sense of the material. Now though I'll be limited to answering email and by giving feedback on their papers and study guide answers. But for self motivated students who are good with time management, I think the course format could be fabulous.

I've finished the Introductory lecture, as well as lectures about the four 8th century BCE prophets: Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah. The lectures can be seen in this Vimeo Album. I thought quite a bit about making them public. There are dogma police who will seek to cause trouble for me and my university for the things that I say in these videos. It's happened a few times in the past with things that I've published here in this blog and in other more academic publications. I'm also very aware of the escalating dogma battle between the U.S. bishops and Catholic Sisters in academia. But in the spirit of spreading knowledge about these amazing ancient prophets and the texts that bear their names, I decided to keep with my policies of transparency. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ricky Mathews and the Nazi Toht

My nemesis Ricky Mathews writes today that the reason the Times-Picayune fired half the employees and will reduce this great weekly publication to 3x per week is because of the 21st century and they had to do this "before we faced economic doomsday." For once in my life, I enjoyed reading the comments for this article on My favorite was by Louis Hernandez, who noticed that Mr. Mathews looks like the Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He's right. So here's a visual quiz involving two of my favorite topics: New Orleans and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and two of my least favorite villains: Ricky Mathews and Major Arnold Ernst Toht. But which one is Ricky, and which one is the Nazi? See how well you do:


Note: Today James Gill has a very entertaining piece carefully comparing the reaction by New Orleanians to both Mathews and Spoons Butler. His point was that people in New Orleans hold grudges. Not surprisingly, I can't find Gill's piece on

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Hymn to Shamash for the Times-Picayune

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

New Orleans will soon become the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper. The Times-Picayune, one of the best newspapers in the country, and one that helped New Orleans immeasurably after the flood, will soon be delivered only three days per week.  One third of the Times-Picayune employees were fired yesterday. One half of the people in the newsroom were let go. Kevin from the Gambit did a good job covering the devastationThe villain in all of this is Advance Publications, and especially publisher Ricky Mathews, who is my new nemesis (I'll deal with you later Adrastos!). The paper is profitable, and it has the highest saturation rate of any newspaper in the country. Despite calls to sell the newspaper or keep it daily, Advance Publications is determined to move forward. It's a good day to be one of the many corrupt people in New Orleans, as your chances of escaping justice improved dramatically thanks to Mr. Mathews and company.

What we need is for the Mesopotamian sun deity Shamash to open up a big can of solar whoop-ass. Here's a picture of Shamash traveling round the sky in his solar tent:
Shamash from a tablet in the British Museum

Shamash, like most sun deities, is responsible for justice. He shines light on dark situations, and he's in charge of law and order, as well as prophecy. He gave Hammurabi his famous law code. He allows us to see clearly what is transpiring. Ultimately, in my opinion, he solved every mystery on Scooby Doo. Below is a portion of the Assyrian text known as the Hymn to Shamash. It's about 2,900 years old. In my mind, it's what journalism is meant to do. Most important though, notice that Shamash brought his solar disinfectant DAILY, not three times per week with an enhanced web presence.

Hymn to Shamash 
Translation B. Foster 
Illuminator of all, the whole of heaven,
Who makes light the d[arkness for mankind]
            above and below,
Shamash, illuminator of all, the whole of heaven,
            and below,
Your radiance [spre]ads out like a net [over the
You brighten the g[loo]m of the distant mountains.

Your beams are ever mastering secrets,
            At the brightness of your light, humakind’s
            Footprints become vis[ible].
            You blunt the horns of a scheming villain,
The perpetrator of a cunning deal is undermined.
You show the roguish judge the (inside of) a jail,
He who takes the fee but does not carry through,
            You make him bear the punishment.
The one who receives no fee but takes up the case
            of the weak,
            Is pleasing to Shamash, he will make long his
The careful judge who gives just verdicts,
Controls the government, lives like a prince.
What return is there for the investor in dishonest
 The feeble one calls you as much as his speech
            allows him,
The meek, the weak, the oppressed, the submit-
Daily, ever, and always come before you.
            He whose family is far off, whose city is dis-
The shepherd [in] the afflictions of the wilderness,
The herdsman in trouble, the keeper of sheep
            among the enemy, come before you.
O Shamash, there comes before you the
            fishermen with his net,
The hunter, the archer, the driver of the game,
The fowler among his snares comes before you,
The skulking thief comes before Shamash,
The bandit on the wilderness paths comes before
            The wandering dead, the vagrant spirit come
            before you,
O Shamash, you have listened to them all.
You did not hold back (?) those who came before
            you, you heeded them,
For my sake, O Shamash, do not despise them!
You grant wisdom, O Shamash, to humankind,
            You grant those seeking you your raging,
            fierce light.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Transits of Venus

I'm looking forward to watching the Transit of Venus tomorrow. We're heading over to Bart and Xy's house, and we've got our cocktail picked out: The Blond Venus. This is my last shot to see the Transit of Venus, as it won't occur again until 2117.

All of this has me thinking quite a bit about the planet, partly because I've been reading Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder. It's a book about "science" during the Romantic Age at the end of the 18th century. The first chapter is about Captain Cook's voyage to Tahiti in 1769 to measure the Transit of Venus. England also sent out expeditions to North Cape Norway and Hudson Bay Canada, with the idea that through triangulation they could then measure the distance to the sun. This concept of solar parallax is credited to James Gregory who published Optica Promota more than a century prior to Cook's Tahitian voyage. Cook's team measured 4 "phases" of this transit: when Venus first appeared to touch the outer solar sphere, when Venus was entirely within the solar sphere but still touching the outer rim, when Venus had crossed the solar sphere and first touched the outer sphere, and finally, when Venus had exited the solar sphere but still touched the solar rim. Using the data collected from this 1769 transit, 2 years later Thomas Hornsby published that "the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun (is) 93,726,900 English miles." That's pretty accurate, given that today it is believed that the distance is 1/8 of one percent shorter: 92,955,000.

The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa, British Museum

Observing the planet Venus is also key to understanding chronology in the ancient Near East. This is mostly because of a cuneiform tablet known as the Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa which was part of the library unearthed at Nineveh. While copies of this text tend to date to the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, the text is believed to have been composed much earlier during the reign of Ammisaduqa, who ruled Babylon about a century after Hammurabi. The tablet records the exact date of the heliacal rising and setting of the planet Venus for 21 years. Modern astronomers use these dates to reconstruct when the referenced 21 year period occurred. The problem is that there are questions about the accuracy of the recordings, and that the events recorded accurately fit into three different time periods. Thus scholars must choose between the so-called High Chronology, Middle Chronology, and Low Chronology. Thus Hammurabi's reign begins in 1848 BCE, 1792 BCE, or 1736 BCE. I'm personally a Middle Chronology kind of guy. So Hammurabi was reigning in 1769 BCE, and James Cook recorded the Transit of Venus in 1769 CE, and in another 1769 years, I'll be dead.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Magic House

While I do not suffer from Alzheimer's disease, I spend many hours per week looking for things. Things like keys, remotes, and tools disappear for good, or more frequently, they wind up in places very different from the spot in which I originally placed them. Nobody I live with claims responsibility, so the only logical conclusion is that the house must be magic. I wish there were a way to reverse the spell though, so that instead of things disappearing, new stuff would magically appear. Cash would be nice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Grendel Gander the Sinister Goose

I wrote a story about a self-centered goose named Grendel. As Grendel himself puts it,
"I'm mean & I'm nasty, I'm full of abuse. I'm evil incarnate, a most sinister goose! If you think I am kind then your idea's absurd, I am a low-down stinking fowl-feathered bird!"
So if you were asking, will there be rhyming? The answer is yes. Grendel Gander is inspired by the many adventures I had on the Platte River while growing up in Nebraska, as well as the epic poems I love teaching, including the Iliad, the Aeneid, and Beowulf. What makes the book special is the amazing artwork done my talented cousin-in-law Peat Duggins. From the cover you can just tell that Grendel is a fowl bird:
 Duggins has a great eye for detail in his images. Here is the part where the goose hero/villain destroys Buck Tooth Billy's dam
 Those of you who are goose experts I'm sure are curious if there will be swimsuit grabbing. The answer is yes, there is some grabbing of swimsuits:
 It's available from Amazon for $14.95. The same deal can be had (and it's far better for me) by going straight to the publisher: Writelife. Many thanks to Cindy Grady and Writelife for publishing the book.
Finally, the book is dedicated to my children Kalypso and Gilgamesh and maybe, one day, their sinister offspring.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Three Dog Night (and Day)

We added a third dog to our pack. Gilgamesh had been wanting an English bulldog, and yesterday we decided to add a new puppy to our family. Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to introduce to you, Colonel Enkidu:

Colonel Enkidu
and a video:

Friday, March 23, 2012

John Kennedy Toole: The Omega Point

I spent the afternoon watching a fantastic documentary about the author of one of my favorite books: A Confederacy of Dunces. The film is entitled John Kennedy Toole: The Omega Point. Through interviews with Toole's friends and colleagues, as well as footage from interviews/performances from Toole's mother, it paints a background for Toole's creative yet disappointing life. I learned many interesting things, such as the book was written in Puerto Rico, and that only a couple of people attended Toole's funeral because of the shame his suicide brought his family. He's buried close to my house. The film also has some philosophical aspects, as you can see from the "Omega Point" in the title. One of the best has to do with a mysterious third manuscript that was found in Toole's car when he died. It was in the Biloxi police headquarters but got washed out into the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Betsy.

Thankfully, film maker Joe Sanford has the film online for free:

Finally, Sanford ends with the following quotation, one of the best I've heard about New Orleans:

"The older I get, the more I realize, that living here isn't a conscious choice anyway. It's the first joyful step on an elegantly worn staircase to oblivion."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rewarding Quality Teachers in Louisiana

“Shouldn’t we reward the truly excellent teachers and incentivize others to achieve excellence?”
Bobby Jindal speaking about his education reforms.

I'm married to a public school teacher. Or as Editor B noted, I am married to a public school widow. I won't see her much until June. While Therese hasn't taught me anything during 21 years of marriage, people who know about these things say she is excellent at the craft. This includes former students, parents, fellow teachers and school administrators. She has a Masters degree and more than 10 years of classroom experience, and more important these days, her students score well on standardized tests. So by any standard she would be considered one of these "excellent teachers" of which Governor Jindal speaks. Last year she earned $43,000 in one of Louisiana's highest performing charter schools. Governor Jindal wants to use her charter school as a model, and thereby get school boards and government out of "public" education, and turn over control of charter schools to private companies. This is where he always brings up that excellent teachers are rewarded in these types of systems.

Schools that are not chartered in New Orleans are often governed by the Recovery School District. There the average salary for someone with her education and years of experience is $49,000. It's slightly higher for non-chartered schools in Baton Rouge. So in my wife's case, the "reward" of which the governor speaks does not have to do with salaries. Perhaps Therese's "reward" pertains to longer school years and more work, both of which are par for the course with charter schools.

I should add charters are definitely rewarding for some people. Private education companies are making a fortune from taxpayer money. Also, the person at Therese's school whom they used to call the principal is now the school's C.E.O. with a salary jump from $60,000 (before charter) to more than $200,000. That's what I would call a reward.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Doubloon Death Clock

During Mardi Gras, various parading krewes throw plastic coins called "doubloons." They often have images on them, typically the year of the parade and its theme. I've been collecting them since we moved to New Orleans. We store them in a large glass container. I have a theory that when the container is full of doubloons, that's the year that I will die. It's like sand in an hourglass but with a New Orleans twist. Here's the container after this Mardi Gras:

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Goat Kicking To Improve College GPA & Retention


My university, like many, struggles to retain Freshmen students. It's a major problem, and with Congress looking to tie government funding for education to graduation rates, it's more serious every year. Many students don't continue to their second year due to a variety of reasons, with academic and financial issues being the top two. The powers that be have convinced themselves that Saturday life-skills lessons are the answer. Our own collected data in fact shows that students who show up to these Saturday meetings outperform the students who skip these sessions. But I'm cynical, and think that there's something else going on here. So here's my alternative plan, and it's not good news for goats and their human advocates.

I would email all Freshmen students and tell them to meet me the first Saturday of every month at 7AM. We'll then kick a goat for two hours. I can guarantee you the Freshmen students who read their emails and made the effort to show up will have a much higher GPA than the the students who missed the goat kicking, and more of the goat kickers will thankfully be around at graduation. In fact, I'd bet that the goat kickers will earn 10 times the incomes of the students who missed this valuable pedagogical tool.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I just turned 46. That's the atomic number of palladium. The "discoverer" named it after the asteroid Pallas. That asteroid was named after the Greek god Pallas. According to myth, Athena killed Pallas who was the husband of Styx. Styx is a band that Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force thinks "rocks". Carl is my hero. And to be honest I don't believe that my 46-47 epoch will bring me any more happiness than my 45-46 epoch. I'll fight to keep my kids and students focussed on their education, fight to teach them to reject materialism, and try to install a investigative curiosity. I'll win some of these battles and lose some. My two main goals are to 1. finish a major book I've been working on with Eerdmans called Over, Under and Through the Bible, and to film the pilot episode of the soon to be famous TV reality show The Theologians Starring Mark Gstohl. So obviously if I have a blog post entitled "47" I'll be famous and I'll not have to type it, I'll just dictate it or outsource it or whatever Ashton Kutcher does. Happy birthday to moi.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Attacking New Orleans Teachers: A Math Problem for Bobby Jindal and the Media

So Governor Bobby Jindal has decided to make education reform the flagship of his second term. It's a smart political move. It plays well nationally. It's very pro-business for the companies making fortunes off of the charter school movement. It gives the impression that Jindal cares about youth and the intellectual future of this country. It perpetuates the myth that anyone can escape poverty through education and hard work. And if the grades don't improve, he has the teachers' union as a scapegoat.

What bothers me though about Jindal is his not-at-all-subtle attack on teachers. Consider his rhetoric. In rolling out his plan he made the following two statements about teachers:

1. "Short of selling drugs in the workplace or beating up one of the business's clients, they can never be fired."

2. "We are going to create a system that pays teachers for doing a good job instead of for the length of time they have been breathing."

Ugh. First teachers are easily fired. In fact, every teacher in New Orleans was fired after the flood. And my principal friends tell me all one needs to do is document the poor performance in yearly evaluation forms and the contract will be terminated. And notice in his business model he calls students "clients." Second, my wife is a public school teacher and I find this idea about her pay being based on simply living to be very offensive. My outrage is influenced by that fact that my kids and I all suffer due to the incredible work load placed on her shoulders. Ask anyone married to a public school teacher. Some of us call ourselves "teacher widows" and "teacher widowers." It's a major sacrifice. I look forward to June when I can have a wife again.

Besides the rhetoric, there is this myth being perpetuated in Louisiana education circles that we can all "vote with our feet." If we don't like the school in which our child is enrolled, we can switch schools. But entry into the best schools is extremely difficult if not impossible. For starters, you would need to have a parent with access to resources such as time, networking, and diligence. Louisiana Association of Educators Executive Director Michael Walker-Jones stated that many parents don't have these and other resources to make informed decisions about navigating these systems. This statement offended Jindal who argues that all parents want what's best for their kids and will be working on a level playing field in school choice.

So who is correct? I have a simple solution that a journalist could solve in about an hour. Let's take the two best performing charter schools in New Orleans, Ben Franklin and Lusher, and look at the average income for the parents of their students. Let's look at the demographics. Do these students come from houses where they have two parents? Perhaps one of these parents has time to volunteer at the school? Do they have a computer and an internet connection in their home?

Then lets compare these numbers to two of the lowest performing public schools in the city. I don't want to name names here, so choose any two RSD schools, or some of the lower performing BESE run charters. I think it's a reasonable hypothesis here that you will see a drastically lower income, far more single parents, no time to volunteer and fewer computers with internet in the home. I'm pretty sure that you will see a direct correlation between school quality and parental income.

But if the results are similar between these two sets then Jindal is correct and we all should be offended. I'm offended too, but for reasons that differ from Jindal's.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


One week ago I, like many, thought that LSU would win the BCS Championship game and that the New Orleans Saints would win their first ever road playoff game. Neither happened. Time to pack up my Saints shrine and put it in the attic until next August.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Can You Teach Teaching? A Letter to John White & Bobby Jindal Fans

Can you teach teaching?

Yes you can. Ask my wife. She earned Bachelors degrees in Studio Art and Art History. Neither of these focussed on how to be an effective teacher. Therese decided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of many in her family and become an elementary school teacher. In California they decided that there was value in learning how to teach. So Therese enrolled in an intensive year long program set up for people who had already earned their Bachelor's degrees. She worked very hard to become a qualified teacher. To this day she relies on the pedagogical theories and resources she obtained in those classes. Since then, Therese went on to get her Masters degree, and Therese will tell you, those classes made her a much better teacher. So in fact there is value in teacher education programs.

Today the Louisiana state education board will fulfill the wishes of Governor Bobby Jindal and elect John White as the new superintendent of Louisiana schools. He will be the boss of 50,000 teachers. Thing is though, John White never took the time to learn how to teach, nor do his policies suggest that he sees a need for a formal education in how to teach. White joined Teach for America after getting a bachelor's degree in English, and subsequently taught English in New Jersey schools for three years. He then took various jobs leading Teach for America offices, and wound up implementing Michael Bloomberg's controversial education reforms for five years in New York. As that "reform" was imploding, White got out of town and came to New Orleans where he has been running the Recovery School District for the past few months.

So why is this young man doing so well in the upper echelons of Louisiana education circles? It's because Bobby Jindal and the pro-charter school movement share the same ideals as Bloomberg and other Republican education reform folks. Their idea is this:

Public education is broken and can't be fixed by throwing money at it. The main problem is principals can't fire lazy teachers because of an outdated tenure/union system. So you close failing schools (their term for schools with low standardized test scores) and let private companies start opening charter schools. You call principals CEOs and quadruple their salaries. You get rid of more expensive experienced teachers who are burned out anyway and hire younger enthusiastic teach for America workers because youth and enthusiasm trump experience and higher salaries. You get school workers to do more work for less money so profits go up. The parents win because now they can vote with their feet: if you don't like the school your child is at, put them in a school that you like. Through competition and open capitalism we all win. Hooray!

Instead, I value teachers with experience and in-depth training in the legitimate academic discipline of teacher education. I also think the teachers I know are some of the hardest working people you'll ever meet. I believe the current charter system in New Orleans works well for parents with resources but those who suffer the most are those with learning disabilities and parents without resources because all of the assets go to high performing schools and they won't take students who might hurt their test scores. I also value collective bargaining, and think the education problem can in fact be solved by throwing money at it. But I live in "charter everything" Louisiana, so I'm certainly a minority. But ask an experienced teacher, and I'll wager they support my observations.