Thursday, July 28, 2005

Dive Texas

I spent the better part of today at the Athens Scuba Park, about 80 miles from my hotel. I teamed up with a father and son who go there frequently, and into the water we went. The visibility was awful--maybe 10 feet or so--and the dad led us around in circles for a while. He kept cursing his performance. On the second dive, I was in charge, because I had a compass. Alas, my compass skills are a bit rusty, and I started out trusting my sense of direction over my instruments. However, it didn't take long for me to get us headed in the general direction of the sunken airplane we wanted to look at. We swam and swam and swam, but couldn't find the airplane. I intuitively swam in the deepest parts of the lake, and I couldn't help but tell myself, "it's a freaking airplane! How can I not see it?" I surfaced, and the father and son were about 50 yards away, in about 20 feet of water. "I'm standing on the airplane," said the father. Anyhow, it was fun overall. Technically speaking, I even did some wreck diving when I swam through the airplane and an old Dallas city bus. I was surprised that there were no fish there, but evidently the natural chemical composition of the water discourages most forms of aquatic life.

Edited to add: On the way to Athens yesterday, I drove through Seagoville, Texas. At the top of one of the exit ramps is a large sign saying "Welcome to Seagoville: City of Opportunity." Across the field behind the sign is a federal prison. Apparently the local Chamber of Commerce has a cynical sense of humor.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Chaos in America

Yesterday's keynote address at the Conference of Appellate Staff Attorneys was most excellent. The speaker began by setting out two rules of chaos theory, which he argues are universally applicable. First, every successful individual, organization, or society must develop a mechanism to mediate between order and regularity on the one hand and chaos and creativity on the other. Second, the success of the individual, organization, or society can be measured by the success of that mechanism, particularly in the areas of commerce, government, and ideas. Fortunately for Americans, the United States collectively has been more successful than most societies in all three areas.

I suppose that those of us who have experienced/are experiencing midlife crisis issues are seeing a swing from order to chaos, and perhaps need to tweak the mediating mechanism a bit. I also thought a bit about American corporate structures, and how they have moved from the top-down military-based model of post-war America to the flatter, more dynamic organizations that are internationally competitive. But to me, the more interesting question was how this chaos model might apply to religion in America. Could some established religious organizations be in trouble because they have effectively eliminated chaos and creativity, or might they flourish because they offer people order and structure in times of social chaos and creativity? Could the disaffection of some formerly religious people be, at its most basic, an expression of a preference for creativity and chaos, combined with a recognition that such cannot be mediated with the order and structure of the organization in question? I'm just saying.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Randy in Exile

I'm reporting from Irving, Texas, this evening, where I am attending a professional conference. I discovered at the N.O. International Airport this morning that guys carrying hard hats and wearing steel-toes boots get the third degree from the screeners, while guys wearing Birkenstocks, cargo shorts, t-shirts, and Mexican cowboy hats are allowed to breeze right past the security checkpoint. Thus attired, I encountered three of my coworkers at the gate, all of whom were somewhat more respectably dressed. I came dressed for Texas in July, cowboy hat and all.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Angels in Alexandria

DW and I returned from Alexandria, Louisiana, this morning, after a nice visit with Toby and Adam. Adam has decided that he is going to learn how to swim, and he had DW pulling him around the motel pool, then dropping him in the water so he could locomote by himself. He needs to learn how to breathe in the water, and needs to keep his body more stiff, but I'll be darned if he isn't getting the stroking and kicking down. This is a child whose estmated functional age equivalency is around 15-18 months, and a child who is entirely nonverbal. DW and I were thrilled to see him focused and working towards a goal that is a pretty common one for kids his age. Toby, meanwhile, had me running between the pool and the elevator. In the water, he would shout "Toh-BEE!" or "Ah-MAN!" (Adam) when he wanted to be thrown into the air. He got a little too curious about the interior of the elevator, and he found himself shoved into it. I really thought he wanted to ride in it. I was wrong. Anyway, we all had fun.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Joseph, where art thou?

So I'm at a church barbeque in someone's back yard. We're seated at picnic tables, and the yard is surrounded by a cedar fence. However, we are all 1840s Mormons, and Joseph Smith is in attendance.

A carload of 1840s rednecks pulls up, shouting about how they're "gonna git" Joseph Smith. We Real Men in the back yard, including Smith, decide on our strategy for fighting off the attacker, and we all line up, ready to rumble. Suddenly, Smith says something about needing to look behind the gate for other attackers. He opens the gate, goes through, closes it behind him, and disappears.

The rednecks enter from the other side of the yard, and the fight begins. I have the teenage son of Papa Redneck in a headlock, and he won't stop biting and thrashing, no matter what I do. I conk his head into the fence repeatedly, and he still won't stop. I advise him that he probably has a psychiatric disorder, and that I know a doctor who can help him. Next thing I know, I'm out front looking for Joseph Smith as if he's a lost puppy or something. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Afterlife, anybody?

Mama, take this badge off of me,
I can't use it anymore.
It's gettin' dark, too dark to see,
I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

--Eric Clapton & Bob Dylan, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"

Last night, DW asked me out of the clear blue whether I believe in life after death. I responded that I honestly haven't thought much about it; that I like to believe that there is some kind of afterlife, but that I don't really know; and that I have no idea what it's like. Honestly, this isn't a topic I gave any thought to when I was an active church-goer. I took a pragmatic view of the issue--if I had faith and lived a good life as a good person, then things would take care of themselves.

The various Christian traditions have differing ideas about the nature of the afterlife and heaven, but at least they offer a great degree of certainty. Mormonism, with which I am the most familiar, claims that there are three degrees of heaven, and that we are assigned to one level or another based on faith and, especially, works during mortality. My favorite things about Mormon heaven are that families are kept together there (unless, of course, they're on different levels, then I have no idea how that would work) and that my kids will be at the top of the ladder, so to speak, because they cannot be held accountable for their actions in the same way that most of us can be. Also--and I don't know how doctrinal this is--my kids will no longer be disabled. I like that.

Zen, as I understand it, allows for differing beliefs on the afterlife, but purists probably would argue that the body dies and the life-force within the body remains as part of the great life-force that animates everything in the universe. Tibetan Buddhists generally believe in reincarnation, with one's form in the next life being based on actions in this life.

Once again, I feel embarassed to say that I don't know enough about Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or other traditions to say anything about their views of the afterlife.

Do any of you, my gentle readers, have any thoughts on this topic?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Supreme Court

President Bush will be introducing his nominee for the Supreme Court in about two hours. It's been interesting to watch the speculation going all over the place today, particularly as a couple of the people being discussed happen to be among my employers.

More parental doting

My son Toby will be a celebrity in Central Louisiana later this year. A local firm is underwriting Christmas cards that will feature one of Toby's drawings on the front and his photo on the back. The firm will send cards out to its customers, and the school will have beaucoup boxes to sell. Once I know more, I'll post an e-mail address so I can arrange to send cards to all my cyberpeeps.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Killing Pablo

This weekend, I'm reading Mark Bowden's "Killing Pablo," which I picked up for $1.99 yesterday while DW was purchasing the new Harry Potter book. We tend to focus on the Middle East when we think of terrorism, but Pablo Escobar used terrorism to hold a modern state of nearly 30,000,000 people hostage, and he nearly destroyed the legal system and government of Colombia in his heyday. Bowden focuses on the hunt for Escobar by Colombian and U.S. elite forces, who hunted the narco-terrorist down while vigilantes--likely acting on intelligence supplied by the Colombian forces, and quite possibly in cahoots with the Cali cartel--methodically killed off and/or terrorized Escobar's top-level subordinates, effectively destroying the Medellin cartel. The book ends with the reflections of a DEA agent who was involved in the hunt for Pablo. The agent expressed mixed feelings, and hoped that the message of the manhunt was not "the ends justify the means."

Bowden places Pablo Escobar in the context of Colombia's long history of political violence (the 1950s, for example, are called simply "la violencia"), and also in the context of the insatiable hunger of Americans for cocaine. It was the first Bush Administration's decision to go against the source of that cocaine and the Colombian government's eventual realization that the country could not have peace while Escobar was alive that led to the manhunt that everybody involved knew would end in Pablo's death. To the Americans, the hunt for Escobar was part of the futile "War on Drugs"; to the Colombians, it was part of a struggle for control of the country. A great read for anybody interested in Latin America and/or organized crime.  Posted by Picasa

Numerologically certified

This site is certified 66% GOOD by the Gematriculator

This site is certified 34% EVIL by the Gematriculator

Saturday, July 16, 2005


I spent a couple of hours this afternoon at Harry's Dive Shop. They have their own pool there, and I needed to make sure that my gear doesn't need to be serviced so I can attempt to dive in Texas in a couple of weeks. Everything worked just fine, despite having sat in my closet for a couple of years. I took my Poseidon regulator into the water for the first time and loved it. Next stop, Palancar Reef. Someday, I hope.

Sexual neurosis

This week's "Times Literary Supplement" reviews a work labeled "American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports," by Miriam G. Reumann. As an American who rather likes sex, this was the first piece I read.

The reviewer opens:

One of the oddest contradictions, in a country riven by contradictions, is how the United States--the world's most powerful and confident nation--is at the same time the most insecure, the most anxious, the most terrified of national collapse. One manifestation of this is an obsession with that slippery and quite possibly non-existent thing, national character.

Reumann examines the shocked reactions in 1950s America to Kinsey's reports about male and female sexuality. Evidently, the report on womens' sex lives, and Kinsey's sections regarding homosexuality, scandalized the cultural and political powers that be in our country. According to the reviewer, Reumann believes that she can get a grip on Americans' perceptions of our national character by examining those reactions:

"[I]t is axiomatic then (as it is now) that American sexual character was national character. Americans could be defined by what they did sexually. From this it followed that private sexual acts were in fact political acts.

There is a suggestion in the review that we as a collective have been concerned about declining masculinity (at least in the past), and the reviewer specualtes that we are anxious about sexual issues because we are a nation of immigrants and not a homogeneous people; therefore, we have deep-rooted insecurities about cohering as a nation. The reviewer goes on to say (correctly) that the 1950s were a period of intense anxiety due to the Cold War, changes being brought about in society due to our sudden wealth, and early feminism. Also, the reviewer notes, sex-related issues remain as political issues here. However, the reviewer concludes that:

The fact is there doesn't seem to be any real connection between sex and politics, or "national character" or the strength of a nation, or any of the other issues raised by the voluminous material gathered here. Certainly no cogent argument for this is provided.

All very interesting. I've not read the book, and I probably won't, but it seems a stretch to argue that American national character is defined by sexual character. How is "national character" defined, and who defines it? I think we Americans have much more flexibility on these questions than the citizens of, say, Japan or the U.K., where the relative homomgeneity of the populations and the much longer national histories deeply influence the answers. One of the neat things about being an American, in my opinion, is that each of us can see something slightly different when we view the stars and stripes. On the one hand, people like James Dobson and Boyd K. Packer might agree with the hypothesis of the book, as they argue that gay marriage is an offense to God that will destroy the institution of marriage and that society will crumble as a result. In that respect, our national character is tied up with our personal sexual behavior from a largely religious perspective. On the other hand, people of a more liberal bent could view America's history as one of gradual inclusion and generosity--as an imperfect society that adapts to changing circumstances and cultural norms. In that view, our national character really isn't tied to sexual behavior at all.

The United States of America. Energetic, contradictory, neurotic, powerful, and the place I call home. Gotta love it.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Latter-day dreaming

Last night I dreamed that DW and I took the kids to a social event at our local LDS chapel. We saw quite a few people we've known from the local LDS community over the years. However, I was wary of these people, most of whom I haven't seen in years. They were just a bit too friendly to us--and too bright, shiny, and happy--and it totally creeped me out. I put DW and the kids into the car. A crowd of Mormons surrounded the car and wouldn't let us out of the parking lot. I seem to recall the leader of the group saying that they wanted our kids.

Next thing I know, I'm very agitated because the LDS group has trashed a house DW and I are renting. Somehow, the group is having a social function at the house, and nobody gives a hoot about cleaning up after themselves (sadly, this is all-too-common, and not just among Mormons). I'm annoyed because the house will need to be cleaned before we can leave and get away from these people.

Finally, I load the family into the car, which happens to be a mid-90s Chevrolet Corsica with bad brakes. We used to own a 1995 Chevy Corsica with bad brakes, so that's probably no coincidence. I had just purchased the car without test-driving it or anything, just so we could drive off. The brakes wouldn't stop the car, and not even the emergency brake was of much use. I recall being able to coast to a stop a couple of times.

This dream must have been pretty intense, because DW shook me and told me that I was screaming. It was like we were being kidnapped by a cult or something, and, truth be told, I can't think of any Mormons around here--or very many at all--who behave like wacko cult fanatics (I'm sure there are some; I just don't know any). In any event, the dream probably says more about me than it does about them. Just what, I don't know. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pottermania once again

I'm looking forward to reading "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" after DW gets done with it, which should be about two days after the book goes on sale. I'm a complete muggle, but I do like reading about how the magic half lives. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Supreme Court Campaign

Does anybody have any ideas how we can get Craig the Filosopher nominated to sit on the Supreme Court? The Senate Democrats gave the President a list of names today--a list including one of my employers--and I didn't see Craig's name on it. Anyhow, we need to start a Craig for Court campaign. I need some ideas, so please speak up.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mens Rea

My current state of mind. I'll write a little more about it on Monday morning.

Okay, I'm back. Anyway, I'm in a state in which I can't seem to get on-balance. I continue to be thrown out of whack by unusual dreams, and I don't sleep well in the first place. Adam's sadness at returning to school last week still haunts me, and makes me wonder whether I really did enough to make that placement unnecessary. I didn't exercise at all last week, and I haven't had any remotely poetic inspiration in months. Finally, our weather the past couple of weeks has created some uncertainty for everybody in the area. It's probably just a spell of the blues, with a little uncertainty thrown in. I hate uncertainty--I tend to like order and predictability. Kind of odd for someone who practices Zen, but not the least bit odd for a middle-aged husband and father of my socio-economic background.  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Tropical weather

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, and germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

--King Lear

Tropical Storm Cindy passed through our area early this morning, and we're fortunate that it did very little damage. Hurricane Dennis may or may not come here in a few days, but until then, I'll enjoy the blue skies I see from my window right now.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

But who will be his Marilyn Monroe?

Edited to remove presidential photograph. Sorry, having it here just doesn't work for me at the moment. Perhaps some other time.

Tomorrow is President Bush's birthday. I am totally confident that all of the gentle readers of Complicated Shadows will be so overcome with joy as they share in the celebration of our President's special day that they will burst spontaneously into song and dance. I'm ducking for cover now.

Fourth of July weekend at my house.

Toby sprays a fire ant mound I didn't know was there as Adam fishes Thomas cars from the bottom of the pool.

I experienced quite a few highs and lows in a short period this past weekend. I had big fun playing with my boys, working with Toby on hand-over-hand drawing and writing, and putting the kids to sleep at night. The look of pure, innocent bliss on their faces as they fall asleep is something to treasure. On the other hand, I had a bloody lip from being hit with a die-cast Thomas engine after I took a turn in the car that Toby didn't want to take. Also, I had a hilariously catastrophic trip to Target on Saturday night. The boys and I got to the cash register (Adam in the cart; Toby on foot) when I noticed that my debit card wasn't in my wallet and that I didn't have sufficient cash. Toby and Adam both attacked me as I dragged them from the store as I heard murmuring about us from the people behind us in line. I remembered that the store has an ATM, so I dragged my tantruming boys back inside, but the ATM didn't work! By this point, Toby was tantruming so wildly that Adam was laughing at him, and I was laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.

The low point for me came yesterday, when I had to hand Adam to his trainer at St. Mary's. I felt as low as I've felt about anything in my entire life, and I still feel about one inch tall. My logical side realizes that my family needs this arrangement right now, but my less rational side still asks, "what kind of shitty parent lets his kids be raised by other people?" I wouldn't wish that feeling on my worst enemy, even if I had a worst enemy. Posted by Picasa

Adam and I were on one end of the teeter-totter and Toby was on the other end. The boys enjoy the rough version, where I slam my butt onto the ground and fling them into the air. Posted by Picasa

Adam has an idea how to get his brother off of the coveted first swing. A few seconds later, Toby caught a face full of pine bark and dirt. Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 01, 2005

Dream dictatorship

Man, oh, man! I had a hilarious dream last night. It starts with a televised expose of North Korea's secret production of minivans for the automotive industry. I see Dodges, Fords, and Toyotas trucking out of a North Korean factory, destined for sale in the U.S.A. Next thing I know, I'm an undercover agent in North Korea, evidently to get the lowdown on Kim's Caravan-craving cadre of card-carrying Communist comrades. Why the U.S. government would send an ivory-skinned, blue-eyed Caucasian undercover among Koreans is a question for another day, I suppose. Anyway, I'm living in a dingy, concrete-floored hovel with another agent--who, fortunately for me, is Korean. Unfortunately, he also happens to be a North Korean intelligence officer. Next thing I know, my entire ring of acquaintances is sitting in an opulent, tastefully furnished room in what must be a government building. We are interrogated politely by my roommate/mole, who it turns out has developed quite a taste for decadent, bourgeois, American culture. At some point, I'm left alone in a room, and I make my escape via the window. I quickely pull myself up on a roof overhang (this is ridiculous for anybody who has seen my gut IRL), and start running along, and climbing on, the various roofs of an enormous, Asian-style building that I shall call the Kim Il Sung Memorial Axis of Evil Pagoda. So I'm hopping along over KISMAEP with North Korean agents chasing me. Suddenly, I'm among a large throng of people pouring out of what seemed like a stadium attached to KISMAEP, into safety (were they going across the DMZ? I dunno). I realize that DW is back in the KISMAEP, which is kind of strange, as she was not present in the dream at all until that point. I head back into KISMAEP, knowing that I'm very likely to be taken prisoner by that Caravan-craving cadre of card-carrying Communist comrades. End of dream.  Posted by Picasa