Friday, September 27, 2013

"In To Wonder"

Check out this short and interesting animated film by Katherine Hogan. See if you can recognize Kalypso as a drawing.
In To Wonder from Katherine Hogan on Vimeo.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pope Francis

I'm quickly becoming a very big fan of Pope Francis. His emphasis on mercy and inclusion rather than dogmatic enforcement is very refreshing and more in line with my views about Catholicism.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Card from Marj Rabba

I received a very creative card from three of the people who worked with me in Area AA at Marj Rabba: Madeline, Phoebe, and Tova. It's full of inside jokes so I'll do my best to translate. The card is made out of a brown paper finds bag, hence the stamp with locus and basket numbers. So why is there a fat hat-wearing turkey with a beer on the cover with the words "Happy Thanksgiving"?
The turkey is meant to be me. At some point early on one of the volunteers said she liked to cook, and her favorite dish to make was green bean casserole. I think that's cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans, some worcester sauce, and then fried onions. I then went on and on about how much Thanksgiving sucked. I think it's also in reference to me wanting to find more in the area, and not being too thankful for the finds that we had. By the way, notice the "y" is filled in with "The Dude." I reminded some of them of the Dude in the Big Lebowski.
Then it's the inside of the card that is the most interesting.
On the left is the infamous insect deity. It was a small clump of mud that looks very much like the picture. We theorized that the insects worshipped it, because with their simple insect minds, they didn't know any better, --it was a god to them. Notice the ant who lost a head in sacrifice. We had many pits of all types in Area AA, hence the "pit emporium" reference. Walls without corners, we had many. Then there is stick figure me complaining that due to age differences (me late 40's, them early 20's), that we had so little that we could talk about. The best part is that there isn't a pop-up, but a pop-down feature. A student named Chas dug a one meter by 3 meter trench looking for bedrock. Instead, we just kept going down to more and more dirt. We started calling it her grave. Finally in the right, there is Gilgamesh displaying good troweling technique while in a nearby tree house. The "Big Sleep" is in reference to Gilgamesh falling asleep one day at fruit break. Funny card, thanks Madeline, Phoebe and Tova, and everyone else in Area AA and elsewhere at Marj Rabba for a memorable excavation.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marj Rabba Updates on Galilee Prehistory Project Blog

If you are interested in learning more about what's going on at Marj Rabba, where my two Xavier students Alexis Parker and Melissa Nguyen are excavating along with Gilgamesh and me, check out these resources for updates:

Marj Rabba is part of the Galilee Prehistory Project. They're blog is here:

Also follow Marj Rabba on facebook.

Rujm el-Hiri

We just finished week two at Marj Rabba. Interesting site, great people. I've been enjoying learning more about the many mysteries of the Chalcolithic period. We work Sunday through Friday with Saturdays off, though we seem to tour something on either Friday or Saturday. Last weekend we toured the excavation at Akko. Today we took a trip to the  Golan Heights to visit Rujm el-Hiri. I had never been here before, and I have to admit that even with a map, it would have been very challenging to locate. Thanks to Chad Hill for navigating us there.


Rujm el-Hiri is an amazing site where giant basalt boulders are placed in circles, all around a central rock quern burial. Some people call it the Stonehenge of the Chalcolithic because the sunrise on the solstices seems to match the orientation of the structure. Here is a picture of the circles from an elevated position from Wikimedia:

A whole lot of people moved a whole lot of rock to make these designs. It very much reminds me of Poverty Point in Louisiana. Lots of questions are raised about the purpose of both Poverty Point and Rujm el-Hiri. There seems to be a debate about whether this was built in the Chalcolithic period or later. There do seem to be several Chalcolithic settlements in the area. It's always hard to date structures such as these. There were burials in the giant central rock quern, but they were robbed long ago. In any event, it's an amazing site.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How Gilgamesh Tried to Kill Me at Ein Gedi

I learned some valuable lessons yesterday. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi. As we'll be working at Marj Rabba soon, I wanted my students to learn more about the Chalcolithic period. So our goal was to hike to the famous Chalcolithic temple above Ein Gedi, and talk about Ghassulian material culture, objects such as cornets and the ritual objects from Nahal Mishmar. So we walked in the Nahal David, and then started climbing. The first lesson I learned was that I am older and far more out of shape then I was the last time I did this. The second lesson I learned was that my Birkenstock sandals were not the best choice of shoes for this trek. But the most important lesson came about 30 minutes into the walk. Gilgamesh, carrying our shared backpack, decided without asking that he'd race ahead. Ein Gedi is on the shores of the Dead Sea, which is the lowest place on earth. Because the water evaporates, the place is always very humid, and it's very hot in the summer. It was 41 degrees celcius yesterday, or about 105 fahrenheit. Every time I thought we'd reach the apex, the trail would turn and there would be 100 more steps. I was getting exhausted, but more dangerous, I was getting seriously dehydrated. Also, my students didn't pack enough water for themselves and one student, Alexis, was starting to get a headache, a bad sign of dehydration. Gilgamesh had our large water bottle in the backpack, and that would have been enough for all of us to stay adequately hydrated. I quit sweating, was getting a bad headache, but slowly with much resting we marched up and onward. Finally we came to the Chalcolithic temple. Then suddenly, there was Gilgamesh. He said he had gotten lost. I said to him, with a very dry mouth and breathing heavily, "Gilgamesh, can you think of anything in that bag that I would need to survive out here?" He gave me the water bottle, but it was empty, as he had drunk all of the water. So Gilgamesh agreed to go back down to the visitors center, get the water bottle filled, and then meet us as we were descending. We took some photographs of the temple. But we were too tired to walk up a bit higher to get a better perspective. Here's the temple in a panorama shot:
Eventually we made it back down, found Gilgamesh, and then sat for an hour in the shade drinking liter after liter of water. It all turned out OK in the end, thankfully.

Monday, July 01, 2013

$1.50 Merit Raises for Teachers

The company that profits from red light cameras in Baton Rouge released a study claiming that yes, the red light cameras saved many lives over the past five years. In other shocking news, advocates for Charter Schools claim massive success in education reform for the New Orleans area.

When I travel I get this a lot. People from all over the world have heard that charter schools saved New Orleans' once dismal public education system. I found out yesterday that my wife, a teacher in a charter school in New Orleans, received a merit raise of $1.50 for next year. That's because she reached her school's goal of 80% student achievement on a certain standardized test, or something else, I didn't fully understand. We were re-watching Game of Thrones episodes and that was more interesting than taking the time to comprehend what goal she reached to get the $1.50. But the point is, as far as I am able to speculate, that the governor of Louisiana and all of the other "treat education like a business" people will now be able to accurately claim that they paid high performing teachers more as an incentive for their good work.

We haven't decided yet how Therese will spend that $1.50. Maybe she'll splurge on an ice cream cone, but those likely cost twice her raise. She spends quite a bit, as do all of the teachers I know, on classroom supplies. Maybe she'll get a few pencils and an extra eraser.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The End of Department Chairs at Xavier

Today I am the Chair of the Theology Department at Xavier University of Louisiana. But as the first Summer Session ends on Monday, there will no longer be a Chair of Theology. Instead, all of the Humanities (Theology, History, English, Languages, Art, Music, Philosophy = "THE LAMP") will be grouped into one Division. They will be led by the Division Chair, and each department will be led by a "Departmental Head." For Theology, that will be my friend Mark Gstohl starting in the Fall semester. He will have less release time and benefits, as well as less prestige with the position, than previous Departmental chairpersons.

Why are we doing this? I am not clear. The answers have varied over the past year. At times it was about budget, other times it was about synergy, sometimes it was about the future of education and Lumina as well as SACS, our accrediting agency. We were told that Berea would be our model, but it seems clear that faculty at Berea are pretty upset about their restructuring. But at Berea, faculty voted for the change and they got to vote to decide who would be the Division Chairs. Faculty at Xavier were not allowed to vote for either of these important decisions. We are told that once we see how this works next year, and experience governance from this business model of efficiency with true leaders, that we will embrace the change. I am skeptical but will try to keep an open mind as this moves forward. Several employees in academic support positions lost their jobs earlier this year. So far no tenured faculty have been let go, but many speculate that vacated positions won't be renewed. Times are rough from here in the trenches of higher education. Universities are getting less and less support from federal and state levels. Tuition has gone way up, enrollments have gone down. I very much love my job, my school, my students and the mission of my university. I just need to survive these turbulent times in hope that things get better, or at the very least, that things don't get worse.

Friday, June 07, 2013


This is the summer of the mighty Marj Rabba

I am heading there in early July with Gilgamesh and two of my brightest Xavier students: Melissa Nguyen and Alexis Parker. Leading the excavation are my two friends Dr. Yorke Rowan (Oriental Institute) and Dr. Morag Kersal (DePaul University). 

Marj Rabba is a Chalcolithic site in the hills of Galilee located near Karmiel, halfway between the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee. 

As most of my professional field work has focused on the Bronze and Iron Ages, I've been reading quite a bit about the Chalcolithic period to get prepared. It's a fascinating time, dating to around 4500-3500 BCE, and it's arguably the beginning of the modern industrial world given the amount of craft specialization that develops. It's a transitional time period marking the end of prehistory, and with writing developing in the subsequent Early Bronze Age, the Chalcolithic period is literally the dawn of history. The name Chalcolithic was coined by William Albright, with chalco referring to copper and lithic meaning stone. So it's the Copper/Stone age. I've worked quite a bit with copper production sites in the Feinan region of southern Jordan. I don't plan on seeing any copper though this summer. Marj Rabba is sort of like Nebraska. As Drs. Rowan and Morag wrote in their field report, "the lack of exotic materials or evocative iconography, suggest a relatively self-sufficient village of agro-pastoralists with a mixed farming economy and only limited exchange beyond the immediate hills of Galilee."

Elsewhere, the Chalcolithic period in the Southern Levant is famous for exotic materials and evocative iconography. Some of my favorite ancient figures are big nosed faces carved into basalt. They're common in the Golan region. Here's one:

Chalcolithic Basalt Pillar From Golan

This reminds me of a few of my wife Therese's uncles, as they have giant noses. Another famous image is this clay seated woman, naked of course, with a butter churn on her head. It's from a religious pilgrimage site at Gilat. 

Notice the red stripes. I'm thinking this would make a great Mardi Gras costume. These artistic designs both highlight the nose but don't incorporate the mouth. My theory is that before writing, people didn't have much to say. I'm curious if they even bothered to give each other names. They probably just called everyone "Uggghhh."

The major debate concerning the Chalcolithic period is the level of social complexity. People argue about a shrine at En Gedi near the Dead Sea. Was it ministered by a priest or a shaman? Those who claim that the social complexity was deep and that major cultures such as the one found at Teleilat Ghassul were widespread argue it was a priest. Those who don't see the social complexity as deep and the Ghassulian culture so widespread instead claim it was a shaman. I really don't think I care too much about that. But I am looking forward to working with this project at Marj Rabba. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

He Stopped Loving Beer Today

When I die, I'll need someone to sing this at my funeral:

He said I'll love you 'til I die
Beer told him you'll forget in time
I watched the years pass slowly by
Beer still preyed upon his mind

He kept a cold one by his wall
Got half drunk now and then
But he still loved beer through it all
Hoping he'd never run out again

They found some Dixies by his bed
Dated 1992
He had written out in red
Damnit beer I love you

I went to drink beer with my friend today
Oh but I didn't see no tears
He was all dressed up to go away
First time I'd seen him without a beer

He stopped loving beer today
Friends poured 40 ouncers on the ground
Soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving beer today

You know beer came to see him one last time
Oh, we all wondered if beer would
And it kept running through my mind
Well, this time he's over beer for good

He stopped loving beer today
They placed some beers inside his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving beer today

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Decision Day on May Day

Today is May 1, which is not only May Day, but it is also "Decision Day" as high school seniors across the country finalize their university choice. My daughter Kalypso in the end decided to go to the school hated most by people in Louisiana: the University of Alabama. As Kalypso is a National Merit Scholar, they recruited her heavily to be in their Honors College. She believes she wants to study Mechanical Engineering. To me what she majors in is of no concern. I'm just happy she's got such a great opportunity in front of her. Me, I was not mature enough at 18 to succeed in something like an Honors College. We wish her luck. The first year will be especially challenging. I'm thankful that it's not too far away, and there is an Amtrak train that runs daily between Tuscaloosa and New Orleans.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Enkidu the Flying Bulldog

We have three awesome dogs, the newest one is Enkidu. When we bought him we thought he would traverse in two dimensions. Turns out he can fly.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Higher Education in Louisiana

According to U.S. census data,  just 21.1% of adults over the age of 25 in this state have acquired a college education, the 5th lowest rate in the nation. Louisiana's flagship university, LSU, is sinking under the leadership of Governor Bobby Jindal. U.S. News and Word Report ranks the school 134th, down 10 points from just last year. Since Jindal first term in 2008, the state budget to LSU has been cut by more than $625 million, or 44%. Faculty salaries have been frozen for four years, and tuition has increased from $5000 for residents in 2008 to the current rate of $19,500, and it's expected to rise dramatically next year. My daughter, a high school senior with high grades and test scores, could attend LSU for free, but she is wisely looking at other schools, most of them out of state. Louisiana is poor, and more than 40% of our students receive need based Pell Grants. But these have been cut dramatically over the past decade. I've seen it first hand with declining student numbers at Xavier. Congress cut summer Pell Grants as well as the number of eligible semesters. This hit the South and minorities especially hard. When I went to school, Pell Grants covered nearly all of the costs associated with my education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. That's sadly not the case anymore. The American Dream, where even the poorest could make a better financial life for themselves through education, is now statistically a myth.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Would You Teach This Student?

Here is a picture of my 17-year-old daughter Kalypso.
For wearing this outfit, she was pulled out of all of her classes at Lusher Charter High School and she spent the day in the dean's office doing nothing but sitting in a chair and contemplating her poor behavior. She was also prevented from attending her college credit French class at Tulane University. She was supposed to go to detention this afternoon and again miss her French class. I told her to skip the detention and go to her class. I'm fully aware that there is value in learning to navigate through situations where difficult people throw up hurdles. So there are three months left in her senior year, and she has learned a valuable lesson in that someone at Lusher prefers jeans. This all reminds me of why I hated high school. I loved college though. Hope she does too. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Black History Month Convocation

Every February my university gets together to celebrate Black History Month. Here is the cover of the program:
Malcolm X, MLK, Rosa Parks, the Obamas, Louis Armstrong, Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglass, all great choices. Even the speaker, Congressman Cedric Richmond, good choice, though I was confused with his speech about the difference between thermometers and thermoses.

But Oprah (TM)? Really? For putting her face on her own magazine? For unprecedented narcissism? For her forgettable role as Sofia in The Color Purple? For crying when authors she blessed with sales lie to her? For killing her dogs? For her bizarre relationship with Stedman? My school must be hoping that they can cash in on some of that sweet Oprah (TM) money like Spelman. Anyway, nothing against Oprah (TM) as a human. I don't view her as a person, but as a corporate entity that will by nature do anything it can to promote itself and gain more money and fame.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Muses Shoes and Life

We had a great time at the Muses parade last night. It reminded me of how much I love living in New Orleans. Thanks to archnemesis Adrastos and his lovely wife Dr. A for hosting the annual shindig. After much screaming and general shoe whoring, I was the fortunate recipient of these three beauties:
Muses Shoes

This one in particular is my favorite. 


It shows a demonic Ozzy Osbourne dark lording over the fiery pits of shoe hell. So you're thinking it was my general good looks that scored this prize? Nope. It's a strange story actually. I went to high school in Omaha with someone named Greta Olson, now Greta Olson-Landis. I last saw her 30 years ago. Through facebook she mentioned that she had an artist friend in New Orleans named Erika Goldring, and that Erika was riding in Muses. Greta said that Erika makes awesome shoes that are musician themed. So I set it up where I am going to scream "GRETA!" a la Stanley Kowalski at float seven, sidewalk side, to the last rider. And it all paid off. Sure, through this networking I have sunk further then imaginable into the bowels of shoe whoredom, but I think in the end the incredible awesomeness of said Muses shoe outweighs all of the moral issues.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Little Free Library

We are excited to announce that we have a Little Free Library in front of our house. People are free to take a book or leave a book. Neighbors have been great about keeping it stocked. Many thanks to Mark Gstohl for building and installing it. Therese now is looking for an alligator to adorn it, as the library sort of looks like a Cajun Cabin.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

47 Pilsner

Today I am 47-years-old. To take advantage of spousal birthday guilt I bought a freezer. Therese hates it because we have no good place to put it, but it's my birthday. I also bought an analog refrigerator thermostat. Why? Well for the first time in my life I am going to brew a Bohemian Pilsner beer. To do that I need to be able to ferment the beer at a constant 50 degrees. Brewing in a controlled colder temperature was one of my two brewmeister goals this year. My second is to switch from bottles to kegs, but I'll do that later.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Super Bowl and Super Sucky 2012

The Super Bowl will be played in New Orleans in a couple of weeks. Nobody I know is that excited. Quite the opposite, as never before has a Superbowl been held in a city that has so much hatred and anger towards the National Football League. It's not because of the construction and sign police and all of the other nonsense, but it's because of Roger Goodell and "bounty gate." His unprecedented suspension of coaches and players crushed this city. I think there is a good chance that Roger Goodell will get punched, and I'm hopeful that he gets booed loudly during the game. But at least the Atlanta Falcons lost in the NFC Championship game. It was a nightmare to think about Goodell handing the Falcons the Lombardi Trophy inside the Superdome. I believe that Goodell's suspensions cost the Saints several games, and that they would have been in the playoffs again without that draconian punishment. This also hurt the value of my season tickets. But today Sean Payton was reinstated as coach, and the Saints should be pretty good next year, if they can fix their defense.

This past football year overall was the worst one I can remember. My favorite college team, Nebraska, did what they always do under coach Bo Pelini. They have at least 9 wins and four losses each of the five years he's been coach. They lose big games. They haven't played in a BCS game since 2001. While it wasn't nearly as bad as the 2007 Bill Callahan season, it was painful. Hopefully a playmaker will emerge on defense, and QB Taylor Martinez will continue to improve for his senior year.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I Can't Hardly Wait

The Replacements' song "I Can't Hardly Wait" has a special meaning to me. It was the closing track to one of my favorite albums:  Pleased to Meet Me. But my connection to the song was solidified back in the summer of 1999, when I said goodbye to my wife and daughter who were soon to be living more than 7,000 miles away from me. The song spoke sadly about being apart, and states "I'll be home when I'm sleeping, I can't hardly wait." That simultaneously made me feel both pain and hope.

Therese, Kalypso and I had been living in Amman Jordan at the American Center for Oriental Research. It was an amazing year. For the first and only time in my life I was able to visit the remarkable countries of Syria and Lebanon. I traveled to Egypt with Kalypso and my birth mom. In Jordan we attended the funeral of King Hussein. I remember Kalypso saying in a crowd "I am so sad that King Hussein died." Many people nearby were touched and came up to see her, and as often happened then, to touch her hair. The nostalgic mood ended when Kalypso said "I get boogers." The magic died. At the close of the my fellowship in June of 1999, Therese and Kalypso were heading back to UCSD in San Diego, and I was heading to south Jordan to excavate Jebel Hamrat Fidan. It was very hard to say goodbye, knowing I would miss Kalypso's 4th birthday and so many other things. I played the song "I Can't Hardly Wait" repeatedly. I cried quite a bit when their taxi drove away. 

I've always been a sucker for sad songs about being apart. Songs such as "How I Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd, "A Few Hours After This" by The Cure, "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by John Denver, and "Homeward Bound" by Simon and Garfunkel come to mind as some of my favorites. 

Today I was surprised and interested to learn that originally the song "I Can't Hardly Wait" was about suicide. The character in the song was going to climb a water tower and jump. So instead of "Can't Hardly Wait" to dream and be with someone he loves, he "Can't Hardly Wait" to be dead. This grim version of the song was left off the album Tim. The change in the lyrics appears to be because the following album Pleased to Meet Me already had a controversial song about jumping off of a building called "The Ledge."

Here's the original version of the song about suicide, it was an outtake from the album Tim. Notice Bob Stinson rocking out on guitar, the song is far less poppy than the later more famous recording:

Finally, here's the homesick version from Pleased to Meet Me. I also learned today that Alex Chilton played guitar on this version. That's cool: