The Evacuation That Wasn’t

So remember how I said we were heading out — buggin’ — evacuating?

That didn’t happen.

We were planning to go, but the hurricane parties here were just too good to resist.

Ride the Storm Out

Actually the real reason is that our anticipated path was looking worse and worse for a return drive. Of course we could have gone west, or east, but straight north was where we wanted to go, and that wasn’t looking very smart. Personally I was inclined to stay here anyhow. Xy was vacillating, changing her mind every twenty minutes or so. Realizing we’d need to drive back through the storm to return home sealed the decision.

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Isaac Calculus

Isaac: Hurricane Force Wind Speed Probabilities - 120 Hours

Isaac cometh. Looks like he’s headed our way for sure. Forecasters say he won’t be superstrong, “only” a Category 1 hurricane when he makes landfall on the anniversary of Katrina. But then forecasters aren’t so adept at predicting hurricane strength. And it’s looking more like we’ll be on the wet side of this storm.

To bug out or hunker down, that’s the question. It’s not always easy to calculate the best course of action. A host of factors come into play, and for each person the calculus is slightly different. When I stated that there were actually many good reasons to stay in place, a friend of mine challenged me to name twenty. An intriguing challenge, but I won’t have time for that now, because our decision has been made.

We’re buggin’. I think we could have ridden this one out. Ultimately, though, our decision was made because of private external factors which I’m not at liberty to divulge. Not trying to be all mysterious, but there are certain things I just can’t put out there for public consumption.

This will be our third evacuation in the thirteen years we’ve lived here. Once for Katrina. Once for Gustav. And now for Isaac.

Sooo…. Catch you on the flip side. Good luck, New Orleans.

Happy (Belated) Lammas

We had a wonderful Lammas. It has emerged as probably my favorite holiday, which is kind of funny considering I never heard of it until two years ago.

Lammas Embers

It’s taken a few weeks but I finally got some photos up. And as an unexpected bonus, we even have a short movie, which contains the very first video ever shot by Persephone.

It’s just a series of raw clips but it captures the spirit of our holiday. On Lammas Eve, we had a small bonfire to which we committed the Brigid’s Crosses we made at Candlemas. Normally I wouldn’t approve of burning crosses in the front lawn, but I don’t think the neighbors were too alarmed.

I took the day itself off work. We baked bread figures, as shown in the video. It was last Lammas that I started baking bread, which has become a weekly habit and devotional ritual for over a year now. (I’ve told my boss she can’t say I’m “on a kick” anymore.) The bread figures themselves were far from beautiful, and they were hard and tough, kind of like a bagel. But they tasted pretty good, chock full of jumbo raisins and dates.

We also made dollies.

Tropical Dollies

Like with the Brigid’s Crosses, we used the tropical ferns growing in our back yard for the raw material. It’s always more interesting to use locally grown stuff. The dollies are now hanging around the kitchen. In half a year’s time they will be dry and ready for burning next Candlemas. So the wheel turns.

Speaking of fire, we also learned a valuable lesson: Do not put fire pit on lawn, even for a little fire that doesn’t burn very long. We now have a nice dead patch right in the middle.


Rising Tide 7

For the last several months I’ve been embedded, ensnared, and otherwise entrapped in the planning process for Rising Tide 7. I haven’t actually done any work, but I’ve observed other people doing lots of work, and I’m happy to take credit for their efforts.

Rising Tide 7

The poster for Rising Tide 7 riffs on the demise of New Orleans’ daily paper. You can bet there will be a very interesting panel on this topic, and many others, including the subject I’ve been writing about over the past week: The Education Experiment: Petri Dish Reform in New Orleans and Louisiana.

I may even be moderating a panel on parenting, Mardi Gras Moms and Who Dat Dads, unless we can sucker someone else into doing it for me.

Register now and save a few bucks. The ticket price will go up soon.

Poster credit: Line drawing by Melissa Moore, graphic work by Lance Vargas.

How We Chose Our School

In the recovery planning efforts that followed the flooding of New Orleans, we often heard the mantra that we need to have “the community involved in the schools and the schools involved in the community.” I first heard this from Clifton James. I’m sure he was repeating an aphorism, but it made an impression on me, and I think it needs repeating some more.

At the same time we were working on recovery plans, the craze for chartering schools was gaining momentum. Leaving aside the significant controversy over charters for now, let me just observe that charter applications can be more or less community-driven. Typically an educational management company will partner with a local community group, or vice versa. The question of who’s driving is huge. I was on the periphery of an effort to charter Dibert Elementary that was definitely community-driven. That effort failed (twice) and left a lot of people frustrated.

But it was not the only game in town. For years now, I’ve had my eye on another community-driven charter effort. I knew some of the people involved. I knew they were people of integrity with values that I respect and share. I knew that if they were involved in chartering the school, then the community really would be involved in the school, and the school really would be involved in the community.

And, crucially, this would not just be a covert way to serve the “NPR crowd,” i.e. white middle-class liberals. A school that serves only one segment of the community, or even primarily that segment of the community, will not reflect the community as a whole. I’ve got nothing against NPR listeners. I used to be one myself. In fact, the involvement of the NPR crowd is essential. But it can’t be just about them. It has to be about the whole community.

Community, community, community. All this talk about community sounds nice, but what if the community is divided and dysfunctional? That’s the case here in New Orleans, in Orleans Parish. We are a diverse city, but most of us are African American. (It seems odd to type that, so I should probably note that I am not, in fact, African American.) While there are a lot of middle-class Black families here, most of the poverty is also found in Black families. There are really not many poor white people in Orleans Parish. In fact, an analysis of recent census data for Orleans Parish indicates that 65% of Black children under age five are living in poverty. The poverty rate for white kids? Less than 1%.

What’s more, let’s remember what poverty means. While it’s possible to be poor and educated and healthy, for most people poverty is associated with lower educational attainment, lower life expectancy, and a host of other things we generally regard as bad.

I mention these unpleasant realities to underscore what true diversity really means. It’s not just racial-ethnic but also economic. If a school is to truly serve the community, its population must reflect the community.

Let me be blunt. The question that emerges is this: Will middle-class white folks send their kids to school with poor Black kids? Too often, the answer has been a resounding “No.” I’m not casting aspersions on other people’s choices which may be a result of many complex factors. I acknowledge there’s more at work here than old-fashioned racism. (Still plenty of that, though.) Unfortunately, the end result is just the same, and our schools still suffer a de facto segregation. This is true not only here in the Deep South but across the nation. Don’t believe me? Read Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge, which provides evidence that “the U.S. continues to move backward toward increasing minority segregation in highly unequal schools.” If you missed this in the corporate media, well, that’s no surprise. It made #2 on Project Censored’s list: US Schools are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s.

And this hurts us all. When our community is divided, we all suffer. Can a school provide the ground for uniting a community? We seem to be asking a lot of our schools these days. Nevertheless, this seems to be part of what our daughter’s new school aims to do. And this is why we want to be there. I don’t know the demographic numbers, but everything I’ve seen and heard seems to bear out these values of inclusion and community. I’m only just getting to know the extended family of children and teachers and parents. So far, I’ve been impressed and inspired by the passion and determination I’ve seen. I’ve saw that same light come alive in other parents’ eyes, as recently as yesterday evening. They are impressed and inspired as well. Together, we can do this.

Four and a Half


Dear Persephone,

You are four and half years old today. We have continued our tradition, now well-established, of giving away stuff for your half-birthday. This year you didn’t need any explanation; you’ve absorbed the concept from years past. Over the last few weeks you’ve been selecting from amongst your possessions. You filled up a bag, and this morning we dropped it off at Goodwill on the way to school.

Ah yes, school. That’s probably the biggest news in your life over the past month. You’ve started at a new school, a public school much closer to home than your old school. It’s my hope that this school works for you and us. If so you will be there for the next ten years. Wow an entire decade, that just dawned on me. I hope they are happy years.

Also of note, you were fascinated with the Olympics, and watched gymnastics, swimming, volleyball and sprints. I gather there were more women in these games than ever before. You certainly got into the spirit of competition. After watching the American gymnasts, you exclaimed, “When I grow up I want to do that, but I will be from New Lorlens.” (You still say it that way. You also say “lellow” instead on “yellow.”) After the first week of Olympics all week, you started saying things like:

  • “I may look small, but I’m very strong! My hands are very powerful!”
  • “Dada if you tickle me I will kick you in the face. Because I don’t like tickling.”
  • “I can see through walls. I can see through walls a hundred miles away. And you can’t.”
  • “I’m almost so powerful I can pull my hand off. I’m almost that strong.”

You’ve also asserted, more than once, that you grow more powerful each time you win a race. Far be it from me to point out that you’ve never really won a race. You talked about how you wanted to race your two best friends, Lala and Lily. You were certain of victory. “I’ll just get ahead of them.” They are both quite a bit bigger than you; getting ahead would be a challenge. I didn’t point this out either. Your confidence in your own abilities is inspiring.

One night before bed, you told me your stuffed tiger was going to race some Russian tigers after breakfast the next morning. “They’re very fast and mean,” but you were sure you’d win the gold. “I’ve got hundreds of gold medals, and twenty more. If the Russians don’t win I’m going to give them mine.”

At least once a day you amaze me with a bizarre or unusual idea. For example, one evening around dinnertime you asked me: “Dada, what if someone put on a mask that looked like their own face?”

Also, you’ve started to get into zombies lately. I’m not sure where you even learned about zombies. Anyhow, it’s quite amusing to see you lurching around the house, arms outstretched, moaning “Braaaaains…” One night all your stuffed animals became zombie animals. “They can help us look for brains.”

Why We Pulled Our Daughter Out of a Private Suburban School and Enrolled Her in Public School in New Orleans

Why We Pulled Our Daughter Out of a Private Suburban School and Enrolled Her in Public School in New Orleans — a headline intended to provoke. New Orleans public schools have such a bad reputation. How on earth could we send our daughter there?

It’s an act of hope.

Also trust. And determination. And a lot of other things, I suppose, but let’s come back to hope.

Hope for our daughter. Of course we hope our daughter gets an excellent education. We all want what’s best for our children. This is trite but true. We would not send our daughter to a school which was not up to our standards. As we are educators ourselves, with some graduate education under our belts, our standards are pretty high.

Hope for our pocketbook. We are not so poor that money is the determining factor, but we’re not so rich that I can avoid considering it. We are stuck in the middle. We can afford private school tuition. We’ve paid it for the past year. But it would not be easy. Money is an object. The least of all objects, but still an object. We are already paying taxes after all. If we pay tuition we pay twice, and that offends my sense of economy.

Hope for our community. Ah, here’s the rub. In my lifetime I feel that local communities everywhere have been undermined and weakened, to the point that many of us don’t even know what a community is any more. Our sense of the public sphere is diminished. The common life and the common good have all but evaporated. And that is a shame.

It seems our national political discourse has framed the relevant issues in terms of a conflict between individualism and government control. Libertarian types refer to public schools as “government schools.” I’m somewhat sympathetic to this critique, in all honesty. But what is lost in this debate? There has to be a way to think about and talk about our commonalities without resorting to the authoritarian structures of the state or the private model. Recently, the Occupy movement returned some attention to the idea of public space. I found that heartening, even though I’m skeptical that any real progress has been made.

Schools are among the most important public institutions we have. While private values such as religion may get reproduced at home and in the church or temple, whatever shared public culture we have gets reproduced in the public schools.

But make no mistake. Sending our daughter to public school is not some sort of altruistic act. We are not sacrificing our child on some altar of ideology. That would be perverted and wrong.

Rather, as I see it, we are thinking ahead. We are thinking not just of our daughter’s education but her overall quality of life. What kind of city will the next generation inherit? We need more quality public schools here. Everybody says so. The health of this city depends on the health of its public schools, both of which have languished far too long.

By investing in the school, putting our lives into it, we are investing in our future, and our daughter’s future.

A school is not a clockwork toy that one can wind up and let go. It requires constant effort and constant renewal. Every year there is a new crop of kids, a new crop of families to bring into the mix. This year we are part of that new crop. We plan to do our part. I’m not sure exactly what form this will take, as we are still getting the lay of the land, so to speak. But we hope to find our roles and make meaningful contributions.

This is how a community uplifts and sustains itself. This is what we believe in. I hope this hope is not misplaced.

First Day of School

Monday morning we got up bright and early. After breakfast I dressed my daughter in her new uniform. Then we got on the bike and rode on down to her new school.

Last year Persephone went to Pre-K3 at a Catholic school in Jefferson Parish on the West Bank. It was a good experience, I think, but not exactly the best fit: I’m not Catholic, and we live in Orleans Parish on the East Bank. We sent her there because that’s where Mama works. They were able to commute together, and that was a good experience for both of them, I think.

I like having her a little closer to home, enrolled in a school where I might see friends and neighbors, but there are many other factors at work with regard to our school choice. It’s complicated. I’d like to articulate those factors, so I’m working on a longer essay, which I’m finding surprisingly difficult.

Anyhow, Monday was her first day at her new school, her first day at a public school, and it felt like a pretty big deal to me. But it did not seem to be such a big deal to Persephone. She took it all in stride. She was neither excited nor anxious. She didn’t even say goodbye or notice when I left the room.

Which was great. Some kids had a much tougher time with the transition. The son of one friend of ours had never been away from home before, and he was still howling Wednesday morning when his mother left. I felt for both of them.

So far, so good.

OK, wanna see something freaky? Compare what I just wrote above to what I wrote last year.

The girl took it all in stride. She was neither anxious nor particularly excited. I thought it might be rough adjusting to a new and earlier morning routine, but it was all very smooth.

So far, so good.

The similarity is almost spooky. And here I was attributing the girl’s equanimity to her past experience. But perhaps it’s a character trait. Maybe she gets it from me.

The Old Testament in Five Minutes

Genesis Creation

Watching The Theologians this weekend reminded me: I finished work on another movie earlier this summer and never wrote about it. It’s a five minute animated version of the Old Testament.

Believe it or not, this took me five years to complete. If I’d cleared my desk and worked on nothing else it probably would have taken a month but of course I have other responsibilities. In fact this lay untouched for years at a time. So it felt really good to get this one done.

The script and voiceover are by that notorious maverick bible scholar, Dr. Michael Homan, author of The Bible for Dummies and chief dude over at He also does more traditional scholarly work, primarily debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

In that vein, I’m sure Dr. Homan would shudder at my terminology. I refer to the “Old Testament” so Christians like my aunt will key in immediately. However that term is not really accurate. After all, the text is also sacred to the Jews, and I imagine they don’t appreciate calling it the Old Testament. But you have to admit the Old/New distinction was some brilliant marketing on the part of the early Christians — to say nothing of changing the order of the books.

Anyhow, the correct title of this movie is The Bible Dudes’ Like Way Cool Tanak Summary Movie Thingie.

If you want to know more about the word Tanak, the BibleDudes can explain it all for you. Or check out Lewis Black’s amusing comments on the whole Old/New Testament subject.

The Theologians

Michael Homan has concocted another short movie of inscrutable strangeness. This one is called The Theologians.

This one’s got a lot of academic in-jokes that are over my untutored head, but if you watch carefully you’ll see me in one brief scene, along with Xy and Persephone who are particularly adorable.


I also provided vocals for the theme song. Please don’t hold that against me.

Michael said he values this movie mostly as a sort of elaborate snapshot, a time capsule if you will, capturing the essence of a circle of friends at a particular moment. A number of Bloomingtonians have described the first season of ROX same way.

It’s great to have creative friends.

Let Me Call You Sister

Funny thing happened last night as I was finishing up my dinner. Xy was fiddling with something in the back yard, Persephone was having an ice pop on the deck, and I was alone at the dinner table with a second plate of tacos and my second glass of Malbec and I was overwhelmed by a feeling which I can only describe as universal love. Mild intoxication, yes, but something more.

Do you know the feeling I mean? A feeling of uncritical, undifferentiated good will toward all. I suspect everybody feels this from time to time. At least I hope so. That would make it universal in two ways: a love for all and from all.

I did what any 21st century global villager would do. I grabbed my phone and posted up a tweet:

Not to get all sappy, but sometimes there’s so much love I’m afraid my heart will burst. I love my family, my city, my life.

We live in an age of universal connectivity, or so we sometimes pretend. In reality, access is stratified just like our social structures. And I wonder how sustainable this high-tech culture really is. But leaving aside these misgivings — I had to share the love. I had to throw that sentiment out into the mix. It was immediately re-tweeted on Twitter and liked by a bunch of folks on Facebook and one person even thanked me for posting it.

And that made me realize just how rare such expressions are. At least in my circles. And that seems like a shame, because there’s something profound and important at the heart of this that we need to reflect upon. I mean, does anyone really think we have too much love in our world?

And where does this feeling arise from, anyhow? And how did I get here, of all people? I, compared to a robot in my youth, unemotional, Spock-like. I, the misanthrope, so often sickened and disgusted by the folly of humanity. One evening not long ago, I remarked that as much as I decried our radical individualism, I also participate in it; that although some part of me years to be a part of a tradition one basic problem I have with any organized religion is that, in a nutshell, “People suck.” How have I come to this?

Sometimes, on our recent trip for example, I have felt uncomfortable — scratch that, I’ve felt downright bad — because I don’t seem to love my family as I ought. My sister is effusive; my parents, reserved; I take after my parents. But maybe I’ve got the problem backwards. It’s not that I love my sister less than everyone else.

At least for a while last night, I wanted to honor the whole human race as part of my extended family. Let me call you sister. Let me take the world in a love embrace. I don’t understand this mystery but I can feel it flowing through me.

If you’re still with me, here’s a blast from the past. Sorry, no Steppenwolf.

A sick and hateful man killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. My heart goes out to the families of those who have been killed. A community has been wounded, and in some way we are all hurt by such violence. As Maitri notes, we are all in the gutter.

But I didn’t think I’d have anything to say about it myself, until I saw this photo.
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I was headed to Bloomington anyhow. I’d been planning an extended Indiana vacation to visit family this summer. I like having an 800-mile buffer zone, but even I have guilt feelings which must be assuaged at least once a year. Aside from family, the first person I planned to look up in Bloomington was my friend and collaborator Lee. He’d been working for years on a multi-volume DVD set of the first season of ROX. He was very close to getting this monstrous effort wrapped up, and I wanted to give him every bit of encouragement and support I could muster. And maybe, just maybe, I wanted to give him that little nudge that’s so often needed to wrap up a long-term endeavor. I know the value of deadlines. Not that Lee needs nudged.

And so then on March 8, I sent Lee an innocuous little e-mail message.
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