Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween: Did Some Kid Dream This Up?

Dear George,

Halloween is in the air. The pumpkins are on the stoop, and gravestones, witches, and spider webs have mysteriously appeared in people’s front yards. There were thousands of children in costumes at the zoo the other day. Haunted houses are open for business around town. The stores, of course, are crammed with masks and candy galore. It makes me think back to what a big event this was in our childhood. Except for Christmas and Santa, Halloween was the most thrilling time of the year. Everybody at our grade school dressed up in costumes. The greatest hilarity was reserved for boys who opted to dress up as girls, a transformation met with fascination, anxiety, and giggles by children who were otherwise busy acquiring rigidly defined gender roles. With a sense of safety deriving from almost non-existent crime rate, parents would stay at home in the evening handing out treats, while groups of kids went out and wandered around on their own. Because we lived in the country, we’d come to town to the O’Hara’s house and try to cover their entire Stephenson Avenue neighborhood. At night’s end we’d spread out large piles of goodies on the floor and eat sweets till we were feeling wobbly. A kid’s dream come true.

Halloween is special in part because of its supernatural origins. Historians trace the holiday back to the Celtic festival of Samhain in the British Isles over 2000 years ago. According to the Druid religion of the Celts, the spirits of those who died in the past year would rise and walk the earth on Halloween night. Lord Samhain, the Lord of Darkness, would arrive and take the spirits to the Underworld. In medieval times people wore masks and costumes so they wouldn’t be recognized as human beings by the ghosts and spirits who roamed the countryside. Trick-or-treating originated with poor people going door to door on Halloween eve, receiving food in return for their praying for the dead on All Souls’ Day. The people carved jack-o’-lanterns out of turnips in order to protect themselves from the evil spirits. Immigrants to America switched to pumpkins because they were more plentiful and easier to carve.

There are undoubtedly many reasons why Halloween holds so much appeal. Some that strike me are:

Community. Halloween is more of a community celebration than any other holiday. While most holidays are celebrated inside the walls of a house, major Halloween activities occur outdoors, with kids going door-to-door throughout the neighborhood, enjoying interchanges with dozens of strangers and acquaintances, and the entire community becoming a dispensary of sweets and goodies.

Costumes and altered selves. Halloween offers all the wonders of identity transformations – shedding one’s everyday self and temporarily becoming a pirate, cowboy or cowgirl, princess, even Batman or Superman. (One of our friends’ children has decided to be a red blood cell this year.) Kids don masks and become anonymous, enjoying all the feelings of liberation that come with being unidentifiable.

Group behavior. One doesn’t do Halloween alone, but rather in groups of peers, preferably in the absence of parents. Kids play off of one another, escalating their excitement and boisterousness.

Scary. Halloween maintains its ties to the evil and the undead. Thanks to the media, Halloween is peopled with ghosts and ghouls, witches, vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Despite kids’ recognition that this is fantasy, they do work at frightening one another, and going around in the dark adds a certain tension to the festivities.

Impulse gratification. One can accumulate almost endless sweets and goodies in the course of Halloween evening. And the “trick” component of trick-or-treating allows for mischievous behavior as well, a legitimized license for acting out in deviant but rewarding ways.

Most holidays – e.g., Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter – are centered around families. Halloween is too, but it’s the most kid-centered of all. You’d think that kids had dreamed the whole thing up. That’s probably why the excitement sticks with you for a long time afterwards.



G-mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (10-31): Dave, I especially loved the postcards and the tidbit about carving turnips first. Fascinating stuff. Phyllis

-Jennifer M (10-31): Funny to learn the origins of this holiday. And funny to see your analysis of it today. :-)

-Gayle C-L (10-31): David, A great story as usual. Your blogs are so interesting and fun that I am going to publish them once in awhile in my soon to be e newsletters My e newsletters will be Real Estate related and other cool topics. I ll send my newsletters to you as well. Ok keep up the good work . Give my love to all. Take care. X. O. G

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Half a Ten Dollar Bill

Dear George,

Things have been pretty quiet since our family returned to New Orleans after their early summer visit. I worry about the days slipping by without much fanfare or hoopla. At the same time, there are lots of interesting little mini-dramas in daily life if you stop to pay attention to them. This past Sunday would be a good example. My day actually started out with a sort of paranormal experience. I woke up in the midst of one of my chronic academic nightmares, this time having stayed up all night to edit a grad student’s disastrous dissertation draft. Walking down a university corridor at 6 a.m. I noticed that my colleague Rebecca’s office light was on. It turned out she’d been up all night too working on graduate student stuff. I woke up in the midst of my anxiety-ridden dream and decided to take the dogs out for an early morning walk. I hadn’t gone fifty feet before I heard a car honk and pull up behind me. It was Rebecca. She had so much work to do that she was on her way to the office before 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. I laughed and told her I’d already visited with her at the office this very morning in my dream. I thought back to my brother Peter’s conviction that dreams portend the future. Very strange.

The sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, and I proceeded on our walk, down Ludlow Ave., through Burnet Woods, around the lake, and back through the park again. Ten days ago on that very stretch I’d found the torn half of a ten dollar bill in the grass along Clifton Ave. That was unusual and exciting, though not as good as finding a full ten dollars. I’ve walked along that stretch five or six times since, and each time I’ve looked around in the grass and the shrubs for the other half of the ten dollar bill. I know my chances aren’t great, but I’m sure that the second half exists out there somewhere. I wish I’d find it. It does add some new zest to my walk with the dogs.

We crossed Clifton Avenue at the Skyline Chili corner. The Sunday newspaper vendor was peddling his wares in front of Adrian Durban Florist. I nodded hello. The newspaper guy gave a smile, waved to the dogs, then turned to hawk a paper to a passing car. I realized that the dogs and I had been saying hello to him since they were puppies. The ritual encounter gave me a comforting sense that the world was stable and predictable. That was short-lived. The very next day I read that Sunday had been the newspaper guy’s final day on his job after being on that corner for sixteen years. He was quoted in the news story as saying that he would miss the neighborhood doggies. I’ll bet Duffy and Mike were among his favorites. We’ll never go past that guy again. I’m glad we sort of said goodbye, even though I wasn’t aware of it.

Katja was having toast and coffee in the solarium and reading the New York Times. The phone rang, and she handed it to me. It was an area code from some other state, and the caller I.D. read “Private Caller.” I told Katja that it was some sort of marketing call, probably a charity. I pressed “Talk”, listened for less than half a second, then hung up. Katja suggested that I should listen a little longer to find out who it is. I explained that these firms use an automated system to call numbers at random. When nobody’s there on the line, you should just hang up. Katja reiterated that it would be better to wait a little longer to see who it is. I said, if they’re calling us at random, why would I want to talk to them. Just as we were debating this, the phone rang again. “Private Caller” had dialed us back. Annoyed, I pressed “Talk”, ready to hang up again, but a cheerful voice greeted me by name. It was my brother-in-law David calling from California -- not a telemarketer after all. I apologized for hanging up on him. He said he had heard my grumpy voice, and, before he could even say hello, he’d been cut off. I promised that next time I’ll wait longer. Katja listened and could have said “I told you so,” but she didn’t bother.

Later in the afternoon we had tickets for the Linton Chamber Music series. The lead performer was world class pianist Menahem Pressler, a refugee in his youth from Nazi Germany. Katja had seen him perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra when she was a teenager, maybe 55 or 60 years ago. Pressler is now 87, and he’s still carrying out a full performance and teaching schedule. I was a little nervous about such an elderly performer lapsing into errors, but I needn’t have been. He was brilliant and impeccable. In addition to concertos by Mozart, Turina, and Dvorak, Pressler did two encores, one of them a solo Chopin piano piece. The entire concert was intense, powerful, melodic, and, for the intricate Chopin sonata, he didn’t even look at a score. I found it inspiring that this man was capable of performng at such a superb level in his late 80’s. He seemed very gentle and humble as a person as well. I’m sure the whole audience, with lots of gray hair in the group, was impressed by this remarkable model of elderhood.

After supper Katja and I watched an episode of Boardwalk Empire on HBO. Suddenly we heard an immense crash from the bedroom next door. A split second later our sheepdog Duffy ran out of the bedroom. I’d gotten up just in time to see him race to the stairway, dive off the top step, crash down the carpeted stairs on all fours, and land on his side on the foyer floor. I ran down the stairs after him. Duffy, by that time, had struggled back onto his feet, and, though he looked dazed, all his limbs seemed to be intact. I’m sure his fall would have incapacitated a human being. When I came back up to the bedroom, our large TV had been turned around on its pedestal, and the cable box and the cassette recorder, which normally sit on top of the television set, were lying askew on the floor. I speculated that Duffy had been playing with his kong, gotten tangled up in the TV cords, and pulled the entire thing down on the floor. Skittish by nature, the crash had scared the wits out of him. We were amazed and relieved that he was o.k. When we took him in for a flu shot two days later, the vet said that a lot of older dogs would have died from such a fall.

So my Sunday started with an imaginary nightmare, ended with an actual nightmare, and had a bunch of quirky odds and ends in between. A pretty good day, though not the best of all times. It’s sort of like finding half of a ten dollar bill. It’s novel and surprising, there’s a mysterious story, and it gives you some hope for the future. On the other hand, when I find the second half of the ten dollar bill, that will be even better.



G-mail Comments

-Jennifer M (10-26): :-)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Googling Stuff: Amazing But True Facts About My Home Town

Dear George,

When I went off to college, my new classmates were from New York/New Jersey, Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and other metropolitan centers. Most didn’t even know there was an Upper Peninsula in Michigan, much less ever hearing of Menominee. One of my roommates joked that I seemed to have come from Menominee, Mishigas, substituting the Yiddish word for “craziness”. To my knowledge, I was the first and only kid to come from the U.P. to Antioch College, one of the country’s most innovative liberal arts colleges. I decided that my background was different from everybody else’s and that being from Menominee was a mark of distinction.

All this came back to me the other day when I was fiddling around on the Internet. There are, of course, hundreds of millions of web-sites one can go to. If you do a Google search of my home town “Menominee, MI”, you turn up with 980,000 hits. That’s quite a bit of information to digest. I decided to search as much of this as possible, so I started combining “Menominee” with a lot of other search terms, e.g, “Menominee & automobiles,” “Menominee & giraffes,” “Menominee & shipwrecks,” etc. As it turns out, there’s an endless amount to be learned about Menominee, most of which I didn’t even know. I haven’t gotten to all 980,000 websites yet, but here are a few of the things that I’ve uncovered so far. Some of them might seem a little astonishing, e.g., Vampires, but they are on the Internet and consequently are probably true.



Automobiles: The “Menominee” was an electric automobile built by the Menominee Electric Manufacturing Company in Menominee in 1915. It sold for $1,250. (

Banana Belt: Menominee, Escanaba, and Manistique are said to be in the “banana belt” of the U.P. because their winter temperatures are warmer than the region as a whole. (

Bats: The biggest bat in Menominee County is the hoary bat, which has a wing span of 15”. Hoary bats live in trees and are usually found by themselves. (

Bears: While chopping corn, a custom harvester mowed down a huge, 660-lb. bear in mid-Menominee County on Sept. 10, 2010. (www.michigan-sportsman,com, 9-11-10)

Bigfoot: A couple in Bark River in Menominee County were watching deer out of their living room window when a 7-foot tall, dark brown, hairy creature, walking upright, passed slowly through their field, pausing to stoop and pick up things to eat. It was the homeowners’ second Bigfoot sighting in their front yard in five years. (, 2008)

Blizzards: In Menominee’s ‘Worst Storm,’ the Washington Day Blizzard of 1922, two feet of snow fell on the Twin Cities in a single day, blown into 10 foot drifts by northeasterly winds as high as 50 miles per hour. (, 4-08)

Cougars: The Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources confirms that hair samples retrieved from a car bumper, after a motorist reported hitting a “large cat” in Menominee County, came from a cougar. (www.michigan-sportsman, 2-18-05)

Crop Circles: Two 125 feet diameter crop circles were found in a cornfield in Menominee County in October, 2011. (, 10-17-11)

Deer Hunting: Menominee County has the largest deer population in the U.P. , with a herd of about 45,000. Approximately 8-9000 deer licenses are sold in Menominee County each fall, and an average of about 5900 deer are killed in the county each year. (, 2010)

Fish: The lower Menominee River near the mouth of Green Bay is one of the best walleye pike fisheries in the U.S., as well as offering northern pike, sturgeon, muskellunge, jumbo perch, trout, salmon, and World Class smallmouth bass. (

Ghosts: A Menominee informant reports: “Riverside Cemetery is very haunted. Every time I’ve gone there be it day or afternoon I have heard and seen strange things. Lots of paranormal activity, and one time I heard a bagpiper playing the song, “Abide with me,” when no one was around in the early a.m. … It’s too creepy for words.” (

Halfway: A small plaque on the north side of Menominee near 48th Ave. indicates that Menominee is exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole (which is probably why it sometimes seems very hot and sometimes very cold). (

Ice Boating: The first regatta in history of the Northwest Ice Yacht Association was held in Menominee in the winter of 1913. (, 2-19-07)

Lynching: Michigan’s last lynching occurred in Menominee in 1881 when townsfolk hanged Canadian lumberjacks Jack and Frank McDonald who had been involved in a fatal street brawl. (, 3-28-08)

Maroons: The Menominee H.S. Maroons won the state championships in their division for basketball in 1967 and football in 1998, 2006 and 2007. In the 2006 season the football team scored 513 points but only allowed 38 points scored against them. (

Miracles: Menominee native Diana J. reports visiting the Miracle of Life Tent at the U.P. State Fair in Escanaba, where she saw three sows farrowing, 15 piglets already born, four lambs arriving, 11 calves born to Holstein cows, and 34 chickens hatching. (www.michiganfarmbureau,com, 10-15-11)

Monsters: According to his journal (May, 1673), Father Jacques Marquette was told by the Menominee Indians that the great river was very dangerous, full of horrible monsters which devour men and canoes and even a demon who swallows up all who ventured to approach him. (www.wisconsinhistory,org)

Moose Testicles: In the play Escanaba in da Moonlight, Menominee native Jimmy “the Jimmer” Negamanee becomes possessed by spirits and is treated with a drink made of moose testicles and porcupine urine. (

Mysteries: The sudden appearance of a 150-foot, 4-foot-deep crevice in Menominee Township, heard after a loud boom and shaking ground, remains a mystery and is causing a great deal of speculation. (, net, 10-7-10)

Packers: The Green Bay Packers played their first game in history against the Menominee North End A.C. in September 1919. Green Bay won 53-0 and went on to outscore their opponents 565-6 during the 10-game season. (

Psychic Investigations: When Duncan McGregor of Peshtigo disappeared without a trace in July 1905, his distraught wife turned to psychic detective Doc Roberts for help. Roberts went into a trance-like state and told Mrs. McGregor exactly where her husband’s body was trapped under sunken logs in the Menominee River. (

Pumpkins: The first annual Giant Pumpkin Festival was held at Marina Park in downtown Menominee on Oct. 21, 2011. (, Oct. 2011)

Rabbis: Abraham I. Shinedling was born in Menominee, MI, on Sept. 8, 1897, to Moses and Dora Shinedling; received an A.B. Degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1919; and was ordained rabbi by the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1920. (

Stagecoaches: On Mar. 17, 1892, stagecoach driver Henry Spencer lost his way coming across Green Bay from Sturgeon Bay to Menominee, and the stage and its horses, with five men, one woman, and one girl on board, began to sink through the ice. Luckily, the party found a fishing shanty and huddled together through the night until Spencer rode one of the horses two miles to the Menominee shore to get help. (, 4/08)

Surprise: The Surprise Party was created in 1940 when comedian Gracie Allen, the wife of George Burns, ran for President as a media stunt. Allen went on a whistle-stop around the country appearing with a live kangaroo named Laura. Her campaign came to a head when she was unexpectedly elected mayor of Menominee (although she didn’t accept the position). (

Swedish: Menominee County has Swedish cemeteries at Carney, Daggett, and Nadeau. (

UFOs: On July 6, 2000 a man and his wife on Chambers Island in Green Bay watched a bright, wingless, cylinder-shaped object descend at sunset at the mouth of the Menominee River, eventually disappearing north of the city of Menominee 30 minutes later. (

Vacations: “This summer my family again vacationed on the N.W. shores of the Lake…Up through Wisconsin, over the State line and through one of the loveliest streets in all of America – First Street in Menominee, Michigan.” (, 8-14-11)

Vampires: According to the Ghosts of America website, a vampire apparition has been spotted several times on the corner of Dunlap Street and Madison Avenue in Marinette, Menominee’s twin city across the river. (

Walleye Pike Cakes: From Stacy and Adam’s wedding: “I ordered a walleye cake for my husband for his groom’s cake and it turned out amazing!! No one could believe it was a cake because it looked so real!” (, 5/10)

War Casualties: Sixty-one Army and Air Force men from Menominee County were killed in World War II. (

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How is New Orleans Coming Along?

New houses in the Lower Ninth Ward

Dear George,

Hurricane Katrina struck S.E. Louisiana on the morning of Monday, Aug. 29, 2005. With winds up to 145 m.p.h., it was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf coast was torn apart, much of the destruction due to a 29-foot storm surge. We breathed a great sigh of relief when TV news indicated that the storm had veered slightly away from New Orleans proper. However, that was short-lived -- the city’s federally built system of levees and floodwalls failed hours after the storm had moved inland. Our son J and daughter-in-law K’s new Midtown house was right at the center of the incoming waters and would wind up needing to be completely gutted. Soon 80% of the city was under water, with water depths reaching as high as fifteen feet. Mayor Ray Nagin had ordered the city’s first evacuation in history, and approximately 80% of New Orleans’ residents had left. About 10,000 people, mostly poor, African-American, and elderly, took refuge at the Louisiana Superdome near downtown. Our daughter-in-law K remained on duty at Charity Hospital where the staff struggled to maintain subsistence services in the absence of electricity and sufficient food and water for nearly a week. Over 1500 people died in Louisiana from the hurricane and its effects. The total property damage from Hurricane Katrina was estimated at $81 billion. Over 200,000 homes in New Orleans were destroyed or severely damaged, and over 800,000 citizens in the metro area were displaced. Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security Secretary, described Katrina and its aftermath as “probably the worst catastrophe” in U.S. history. Katja and I flew into New Orleans to visit J and K about six months after the storm. We arrived at night, and, looking down from the plane windows, vast portions of the metro area were totally dark, attesting to the destruction of much of the city. While the French Quarter and the Garden District, on higher ground, remained relatively intact, many of the neighborhoods J took us through were demolished, and the Lower Ninth Ward looked like an atomic bomb had struck. In January 2006 the city’s population was down to 200,000, less than half of what it had been before Katrina.

We’ve tried to keep track of the city’s recovery efforts in the six years since, and the reports have been mixed, both heartening and frustrating. Though there has been severe criticism of federal, state, and local responses, recovery efforts began soon after the catastrophe. Crews began restoring power to the central business district by Monday, Sept. 5, and the Port of New Orleans began receiving commercial shipments by late September. 18,000 members of the American Library Association held their annual convention in New Orleans in June 2006, and other large conventions soon followed. A big boost to community morale occurred when the New Orleans Saints held their NFL home opener at the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006. Mardi Gras, of course, was never called off.

People’s return to the city has been steady over the past six years, though it has not proceeded as rapidly or fully as some had predicted. By July 2007 the city’s population approached 300,000, down from about 455,000 before Katrina. In April 2010 city residents had reached slightly over 356,000, about 29% below the pre-Katrina level. Compared to the 2000 census, by 2010 the city had lost over 118,500 African Americans and 24,000 whites, while gaining 3,225 Hispanics. Overall, the African American population dropped from 67 to 60%; whites grew from 28 to 33%, and Hispanics increased slightly from 3% to 5.2%. Some of the displaced people had moved to nearby parishes (e.g., St. Tammany’s), several of which have actually seen a population growth, but, overall, the metropolitan area has still suffered a loss of 150,000 people.

Reconstruction has proceeded most fully in areas of the city least damaged by the storm. These are areas built on higher ground and developed before 1900, e.g., the French Quarter, Old Marigny, Uptown, the Old Warehouse District, as well as areas built along natural ridges, e.g., Esplanade Ridge, Bayou St. John. A 2008 survey found that 62% of homes in flooded areas of New Orleans had been rebuilt or were under renovation, a substantial increase from figures of 15% and 35% in 2006 and 2007 surveys. According to a 2011 report, about 25% of the city's housing stock is currently vacant and abandoned, roughly the double the number from a decade ago. Whereas vacant homes used to be concentrated in older neighborhoods west of the Industrial Canal, now they're spread across the city and suburbs. The loss of population makes further progress difficult. The Lower 9th Ward, one of the most heavily damaged sections of the city, has been one of the slowest to recover.

After six years of intensive work and $8 billion spent, the Army Corps of Engineers has largely met its 2011 deadline to provide a standard of 100-year hurricane protection for New Orleans. The hurricane protection system is designed to meet three goals: (a) block storm surge from canals into residential and commercial areas; (b) make existing levees and floodwalls resilient enough to withstand overtopping; (and (c) to storm-proof pump stations. John Barry, V.P of the S.E. Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, has stated, "I think the protection system does look like it will do what it's designed to do, and the city is therefore safer than it's been in decades." At the same time he notes that "100-year protection is an extraordinarily low standard," and despite this major progress, failure of the levee-system from a Katrina-level hurricane is still a possibility. Barry comments, "I think what it indicates, really, is the need for us to do a lot more."

The federal government has provided around $33 billion in recovery money, and, though much of it is still unspent, the funding has helped to support the region’s economy during the nation’s recession. Thus, while median household incomes fell 7 percent in the country at large over the last decade, household income gained nearly 2% in New Orleans. The rate of individuals starting up new business was about 28% higher in metro New Orleans than in the country at large. Sales tax collections are nearly as high in 2011 as they were in 2005 before Katrina, despite a loss of over a quarter of the population. Unemployment in the U.S. increased from 5.0% to 9.1% from 2005 to 2011, but only from 5.3% to 7.8% in New Orleans. The official report of the sixth anniversary of Katrina notes a reawakening of civic leadership, adoption of a city-wide master plan, implementation of some political reforms, less waste in public spending, and new investments in health care, public education, and public housing. Construction will begin this year on a $995 million replacement for the Veterans Administration Medical Center (where K works), followed by a $1.2 billion University Medical Center next door which will replace Charity Hospital. 68% of children in New Orleans now attend academically satisfactory schools in 2010, up from 28% before the hurricane. Before Katrina less than a quarter of children scored at or above the “basic” level on state tests; now nearly half do.

New Orleans was a poor city before the storm, and conditions today are worse for minorities and the poor than before Katrina. More white residents returned to their home than did black residents. This has been attributed to the unwillingness of planners to rebuild low-income housing. Most low-cost housing in New Orleans was wiped out and not replaced. A long-time Louisiana congressman reportedly told lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Income inequality, already very high, has increased slightly since Hurricane Katrina, with African-American households earning 50% less than whites; Hispanic households, 30% less. Affordable housing is scarce. Before Katrina about 40% of renters were paying over a third of their pre-tax income for rent and utility; now that figure is up to 55%. Because of the inability of many impoverished former residents to return, the percent of New Orleans adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 26% to 33% from 2000 to 2010, while adults without a high school degree dropped from 25% to 16%, The poverty rate declined from 27% in 1999 to 21% in 2007, though, because of the recession, it returned to 27% by 2010. Suburban poor now outnumber those in New Orleans. Homicide rates were exceedingly high before Katrina, and, while they dipped during the year following Katrina, they remain about ten times higher than the national average today.

Citing the city’s redesign of its health care and criminal justice systems, Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently stated that “our story is one of redemption and resurrection. We are…creating the city we want to become, brick by brick and block by block.” On the six-year anniversary of Katrina, the editorial staff of the Times-Picayune offered its assessment that "metro New Orleans is deep into its recovery from the catastrophe." The editorial writers noted the massive effort to repair public infrastructure that's in progress, the reduced risk of flooding from future storms, and a revolution in New Orleans' public schools. At the same time, they called for federal priorities to address unfulfilled commitments for coastal restoration and to upgrade a flood protection system to protect the region from the strongest storms. The Louisiana wetlands serve as the city’s buffer from storm surges, but they have been substantially depleted over the last century, and meaningful effort to restore the wetlands has yet to begin. President Obama included $35 million for coastal restoration in his budget proposal, but Congress eliminated all but a million dollars of that money. The Times-Picayune concluded, "we need the president and the Congress to understand that our region's long-term safety is just as important as helping us recover from Katrina." We’re scheduled to visit J, K, and our grandkids in a month or two. We’re thrilled to be getting together with our family again and eager to see firsthand how the city’s doing too.



Sources: (“The New Orleans Index,” 8-29-11) (“What Census 2010 reveals about population and housing in New Orleans and the Metro area,” 4-15-11; “Who lives in New Orleans and the Metro area now?”, 9-26-11) (“New Orleans five years after the storm,” Aug. 2010) (“2,000 days later: How are we doing?,” April 2011) (“6 years later, Hurricane Katrina’s scars linger alongside robust recovery,” 8-28-11; “Completion of New Orleans’ "The agenda100-year flood protection system is a significant recovery milestone: An editorial”, 5-29-11; “New Orleans’ official 2010 census population is 343,829, agency reports,” 2-3-11; “The agenda pending for our recovery from Hurricane Katrina: An editorial," 8-28-11; "Residents, officials gather in Lower 9th Ward on 6th anniversary of Hurrican Katrina," 8-29-11) (“Crime in New Orleans: Analyzing crime trends and New Orleans’ responses to crime,” 8-15-11) (“Hurricane Katrina”, updated 8-25-10; “Lessons from New Orleans,” 10-15-11; “The State of New Orleans,” 8-28-10) (“Hurricane Katrina”; “Effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans”; “Reconstruction of New Orleans”)

G-mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (10-24): Dave, How interesting. What a lot of research you did. Phyllis

Friday, October 14, 2011


The Seventh Seal, by Ingmar Bergman

Dear George,

I’ve been working on this blog for over two years, and this is my 249th post. Sometimes I get nervous that I will run out of topics. Just about the only things left are Sex and Death. I’ve scheduled Sex for my 500th post, so, as disturbing as it is, Death will have to be it for today. The Internet, of course, helps a lot. In this case, I Googled my “life expectancy.” That was a revelation. It turns out that I have exactly 10.81 years remaining in my life. These actuarial tables are based on millions and millions of cases. So, while they may be off by a day or two, it looks pretty certain (e.g., within a 99% probability) that I will die on June 22, 2022. That’s not so bad. It’s not as good as, say, 38.4 years, but it’s definitely better than 1.71 or 3.59. It means I have about the same amount of time left as from my birth till close to my eleventh birthday. A lot of exciting things happened to me from birth to age eleven. Of course, this time I will be progressing in the opposite direction, but it still promises to be interesting.

Many famous people have died on June 22nd. In my view, the most noteworthy are: George Carlin, Dody Goodman, Ann Landers, Jessica Mitford, Pat Nixon, Moose (the dog actor on Frasier), Fred Astaire, Dennis Day (from the Jack Benny Show), Judy Garland, David O. Selznick, and Niccolo Machiavelli. Assuming that I will join all these people in Heaven, this is like a perfect peer group. We have many connections -- writing (Mitford), humor (Carlin, Goodman), dogs (Moose), ballroom dancing (Astaire), movies (Selznick, Garland), nostalgia (Dennis Day), and professional interests in social behavior (Ann Landers), and social theory (Machiavelli). In fact, if I were to pick a perfect Heavenly cohort in terms of shared interests, I would probably come up with exactly this group. The only one who doesn’t obviously fit is Pat Nixon. Even with Pat, though, her husband is the figure that I hate most in all of human history, so I would have a certain emotional bond with her.

10.81 years is about 13% of my total life span. To put that into perspective, if my entire life were to be compressed into twelve months, today would be Nov. 16. So, metaphorically speaking, I have quite a bit of Autumn and Winter left. There’s Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a lot of time to be in the forest with the sheepdogs, who love the cool weather; good photographs to be taken with the season’s first snowfall; and watching a lot of Bengals and Packers games on TV. Or, on the other hand, if my whole life were condensed into a 24-hour day, right now it would be about 8:56 p.m. Most of the day’s noxious tasks would be completed, it’s time to take the dogs out, the more adult shows are cropping up on TV, and I’d wind up the day by taking an Ambien and enjoying Stephen Colbert. I watch the Colbert Report at the end of every day anyway, then conk out, so that works out perfectly.

So, those are my Death thoughts for today. I’m excited that I looked up the life expectancy tables. It helps to know exactly what’s going to happen. Next I am going to plot out the details of my life plan for 10.81 years. I will probably do it in 108 tenths of a year. First I will schedule camping trips. Then line dancing plans. Possibly sheepdog grooming appointments. What else I’ll include is yet to be determined. I’m open to suggestions.



G-mail Comments

-Gayle C-L (10-17): David....Sorry for the delay.... somehow I missed this e mail,, Matter of fact you cannot stop blogging because I look so forward to reading them.. I was going to e mail you a hello and to see what is going on... So... This is an interesting subject... You are really something else.. Ok.. glad to see that you are still kicking and you will be kicking for a long time.. :) keep in touch... Lots of love :)) G

-JML (10-17): Great blog dad. I like your quantifying approach. For myself i just think of the tall rollercoaster metaphor, going up up up until age 40 or so and then quickly going down down down.

-Vicki L 10-15): Hi David, 10.81 was hilarious and, as always, somehow profound (how can hilarity and

profundity co-exist?)….it's one of many examples of why I'm so fond of you. Love, Sis

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sheepdog Tails

Dear George,

For some time I’ve had a weekly category on this blog called “Everyday Foibles.” Each entry has described some mishap or silly event in our daily lives. Not surprisingly, there’ve been a number of anecdotes about Mike and Duffy, our Old English Sheepdogs. Here are a few of the stories which document the lives of the doggies and their owners.




Now that our nine year olds are approaching senior citizenhood, I’ve decided to be more serious about exercise. Most mornings I take Mike and Duffy for a 1.6 mile walk around Burnet Woods lake and back. Unfortunately, the dogs are less than committed than I. In his younger years, Duffy used to race to the back door every time I’d even whisper the word “walk”. Now, he sits at the top of the stairs on the second floor, watching me warily. When I come up and nudge him, he growls, as if to say, “Leave me alone, if you please.” Mike meanwhile curls up on one of the living room chairs, and there are no verbal entreaties which will get him moving. When I try to push him out of his chair, he snarls angrily in protest, sometimes even snapping at me. Once on the street Duffy turns around as soon as he’s done his business and starts pulling me back to the house. Mike, meanwhile, feigns great interest in sniffing the base of each telephone pole and I have to tug him to get him moving. After we’ve managed to go a block or two, the dogs do start moving more voluntarily, and, after three blocks, we’re moving along reasonably fluidly. By the time of our next walk, though, Mike and Duffy have completely forgotten how thrilling walks are, and we have to begin all over again from scratch.


Mike, Duffy, and I were on a hike at a county park ten miles outside the city. A middle-aged lady came up and oohed and aahed. She said she frequently sees two similar dogs on Ludlow Avenue in Cincinnati when she’s driving to work, and she totally loves them. These dogs reminded her so much of the Ludlow Ave. dogs. So I said, “Well, these are the very same dogs. We live on Ludlow Avenue. This is Mike, and this is Duffy.” The woman was unbelievably excited to actually meet the sheepdogs in person and said she couldn’t wait to tell her friends at work. Her response made me happy. I walk the dogs every morning during rush hour, and it’s amazing how often strangers come up to say they enjoy seeing the dogs as they’re driving to work. The dogs bring smiles to hundreds of people every day, and they don’t even realize it.


I was walking the sheepdogs on Whitfield Ave. when Duffy hunched up to do his business on a neighbor’s lawn. I discovered to my dismay that I’d forgotten to bring along a poop bag. I looked around but nobody seemed to be watching. Nonetheless I bent over as if I were holding an invisible poop bag and pretended to scoop up the offending nugget from the grass. Then I carefully tied an imaginary knot in my imaginary bag and stuffed the whole imaginary thing into my jacket pocket. I still didn’t see anybody in the vicinity, but I felt relieved nonetheless since I was certain that my make-believe performance had been entirely convincing to any unseen onlookers.


I took the dogs to the groomer after our overnight camping trip. When I picked them up, she reported that Mikey had had 30 ticks and Duffy had had five. I was surprised, but glad that she’d taken care of the problem. At bedtime that night Katja started finding more ticks on Mike. One, two, three – maybe ten or twelve, plus a couple more on Duffy. Then Katja felt something moving on her own scalp and discovered that a tick had burrowed into her head. She screamed and jumped up and down until I gripped it between my fingernails and pulled it out. This was beginning to feel like a horror movie. I tried to go to sleep, but Katja found another tick on her neck. I got up and disposed of it. Then, nodding off again, I felt something moving on my arm, and I flushed another intruder down the toilet. I’d finally drifted off when Katja woke me to say she’d found another tick on Mikey. And so it went. We had failed to administer anti-tick medication to the dogs before my camping trip, but we quickly corrected that mistake in the morning. I’m not sure how long it will take us to feel relaxed again about sharing sleeping quarters with dog campers (and their little brown passengers).


I took Duffy out for his morning walk, and he started rolling around, pressing his ear against something on my neighbor’s lawn. Whenever he does this, it involves something that smells foul, so I quickly pulled him away. A little later I took Mikey out, and he started rolling around on his ear on exactly the same spot on the lawn. This time I spotted the yucky pile of dog poop that was so enticing. I was surprised by the uniformity of the two dogs’ behaviors and thought to myself that neither one of these dogs has a brain. Then it dawned on me that I’d allowed Mike to do exactly the same disgusting thing that Duffy had done five minutes earlier. Perhaps I was the one with no brain. What’s the obvious conclusion?: None of us have a brain!


I often have a Stouffers Lean Cuisine frozen entrĂ©e for lunch – low calories, lots of variety, very tasty, $2.29, and it makes me feel like a gourmet cook. The other day I decided to prepare Fettucine Alfredo and put the box in the microwave. When I took it out, the plastic container slipped from my hand, flipped upside down, and fell smack on the kitchen floor. The floor looked clean enough so I took a large spatula from the counter-top and managed to scoop at least half of it back into the box. Duffy came to investigate, sniffed around, and decided that Fettucine Alfredo was to his liking too. I sat down on the floor and watched Duffy while I ate the half that I managed to salvage. Mike, in turn, sat and watched both of us from several feet away, not having the courage to challenge Duffy for the scraps. When I finished, I gave Mikey my plastic Lean Cuisine container to lick off. So everybody got some Fettucine for lunch. Probably Duffy wound up the best.


When I checked in at the campground desk, I noticed a one-page memo labeled “10 Helpful Hints for Family Camping.” Family Tip No. 7 was “Learn to identify poison ivy and keep the kids away from it.” That was sound advice, and I felt smug that I had acquired that skill in early childhood. Later I took the dogs on a hike on the Kingfisher Trail. I stopped to photograph some wildflowers. As I stepped off the trail, I had a fleeting thought that the three-leaved plants at my bare ankles looked vaguely like poison ivy. I took a couple more steps, then looked again. This time I was certain. Then I saw that Duffy had lain down right in the middle of the poison ivy patch and was rolling about. Too late to remedy the situation, I photographed the flowers and stepped gingerly back onto the trail, tugging the dogs behind me. I didn’t mention my minor mistake to Katja when I got home. The next morning, though, she said she’d had an awful night because she was itching all over. She’d put Benadryl on, and her itching was slowly improving. I didn’t offer any interpretations about her condition. Instead, I vowed that next time I will pay more attention to Helpful Family Camping Tips.


I worried about Brett Favre all last football season. At age 40 and after twenty years in the National Football League he was getting too old to go through the physical demands on his body – knee, shoulder, elbow injuries, and then a concussion. I could empathize because trying to manage large sheepdogs on the winter ice presents comparable hazards for us older athletes. I was reminded of this last February when walking Mike, Duffy, and their visiting sister Sophie on a rocky, snow-covered path in Burnet Woods. It wasn’t the dogs’ fault, but I slipped on a patch of ice and came smashing straight down on my right shoulder. Fortunately I was o.k. -- the dogs simply watched with interest as I moaned and pulled myself up. Then, the next day, I took the three dogs out the patio gate, Duffy spotted a Labrador across the street, and all three dogs went racing down the icy driveway, pulling me behind them as if I were skiing. I tried to keep my balance, but fell smack on my left shoulder, with the dogs dragging me another six feet on the ice. When Duffy couldn’t break free to get at the Labrador, he attacked Mike instead. I got up to separate them and turned out to be o.k. this time too. However, I thought that perhaps I should send a tweet to Brett Favre and get some tips about how to stay in the game.


Donna and I took the three sheepdogs for a winter walk at Eden Park. A couple of guys were playing hockey on the ice on the other side of Mirror Lake, so I decided to take Mike and Duffy out on the ice too. We got about forty feet out, and suddenly the ice started making loud cracking noises all around us. The hockey guys started yelling to us. I couldn’t hear them, but they were probably telling us that the ice was unsafe where we were. I started pulling the dogs back toward the shore, but the ice kept cracking ominously with every step. We did finally make it back to the wall at the lake’s edge, and I breathed a sigh of relief. If I’d fallen through with two large, heavy sheepdogs, that could have been the end of us all. (However, since the water was only two or three feet deep, there was a chance we might have survived.)


When Donna brought Sophie over to go for a walk in Burnet Woods, Mike and Duffy got totally excited, leaping on me, barking at the top of their voices, running in circles, etc. Sophie just watched with curiosity. Donna told Mike and Duffy to be quiet, but they only got more hyper. She asked me to make them stop. I said that the dogs were so excited about the walk and were having a wonderful time. I said that the dogs should do whatever they want – that dogs and humans are part a single species, but that dogs are like the master race. Half seriously, I claimed that people’s mission on earth is to take care of and maximize the well-being of their dogs. Donna thought that was too silly to even reply to. After our walk, the dogs came into the house, Donna and Sophie went home, and I watched some football. After supper, I asked Katja if she could help me pick out clothes for the theater. She said she would be glad to, but the dogs were hungry, so she was going to feed them first. I said of course and sat down at the computer. It dawned on me this was another example of our giving top priority to the dogs. I asked Katja if she thought dogs were the master species. She said she didn’t know what that meant, but she reminded me of the old saying that dogs have masters and cats have servants. I disagreed and said that our dogs are the ones who have servants – namely, us. Katja didn’t say one way or the other, but I think she probably agreed with me.


As she was leaving last week, our cleaning lady Maizy said she had a present for us. To our surprise, she unveiled a big ceramic statue of an Old English Sheepdog, looking up with its tongue hanging out. It was cute, and we are always pleased to get sheepdog items. Maizy said she had found it at the thrift store. The $4 price tag was still on the bottom. It seemed a little exorbitant to me. We put the dog statue on the coffee table, and that was that. Yesterday, though, I was fishing around on ebay, looking at sheepdog items, and just by chance I happened upon a photo of our new statue. It was labeled a “Beswick Fireside Old English Sheepdog.” The starting price on ebay was $133.20. That was a shock. We felt a little guilty, but I don’t think we’ll tell Maizy about the market price. We’ve put our statue in a much more prominent location, and we’ll definitely spend more time admiring it.