Thursday, December 29, 2005

Da big cleanup

The NRDC is finding high levels of toxic mold in New Orleans' homes and air, and is finding high levels of arsenic in the sediment, particularly in N.O. East, where most of the floodwater came from the Gulf via the Miss. River Gulf Outlet, a/k/a "Mr. Go." I'm quite allergic to mold, so it's a good thing I live on the Northshore, where I'm at least several miles removed from houses with mold damage.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas, 2005

We took four long car rides on Christmas day, and each child had a ride-related obsession that was frustrated. Toby wanted to see a train, and Adam wanted to get food at Burger King. It was Christmas, which meant no trains, no Burger King open. I noticed a little collaboration in the house--on a couple of occasions, the kids were fighting like cats, but Toby still managed to hand Adam his shoes. In our house, shoes are an object for "I want to go for a ride--now!

Adam has had fun selecting my t-shirts and footwear the last few times he has been home. This time, I had to wear Doc Martens sandals, and, on Christmas Day, he insisted that I wear the BYU t-shirt that brother-in-law Bill sent as a joke a few years ago. There you go, B--proof that Adam is indeed "Little Bill." Not only is the physical resemblance striking, but he seems to be a Cougar fan too. Posted by Picasa

Adam loves vacuum cleaners. He tore up bits of paper and tried to use his new toy to clean them up. I love it when the toy says, "this place is a pig sty!" Imagine little kids going to the neighbors' house and repeating that phrase. Posted by Picasa

The family tree. Your humble host scored home runs with the toy vacuum for Adam and the battery-operated Caterpillar lifter for Toby. Your humble host inexplicably forgot to put said toys in the car yesterday when taking the boys back to school. Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 26, 2005

Randy's Big Birthday Dream

I went to bed around 10:45 last night. My oldest son woke me up at 12:00, rarin' and ready to go. I put on Blue's Clues for him in the living room, but he demanded companionship, so I stayed out there with him. I also gave him an extra dose of his prescription sedative, so he conked out at 2:00 a.m., and he's still asleep. I also fell asleep, and had the following dream. I woke up around 4:00 a.m., and I haven't been able to get back to sleep, due to thinking about "what the hell was that?" So, here goes:

DW and I are riding in a car with her parents, in Southern California. We are following the PGA tour, apparently watching live feeds on a TV monitor in the car. This is odd mostly because I find golfing about as interesting as watching paint dry. The actor James Cromwell, who played a depressed character in "Six Feet Under," has gone stark raving mad, and is playing "depression golf," in which his golf strokes literally set the earth on fire and cut large swaths from the planet as his golf balls cut through. As we try to figure out why we can't get the video of a particular golfer, we realize it's because they've moved to another golf course, one that is obscured by hotels and casinos. We come upon Anaheim Stadium. It is festooned with faux-Confederate flags, identical to the rejected Mississippi state flags that represent the Confederacy at the Slidell historical marker, so as not to offend anybody. The occasion is a commemmoration of the team's previous move to Houston or New Orleans or some other supposedly benighted city, from which the team had returned. I was critical of the faux flags and of the diesel engines that were pulling trains around one side of the stadium. I thought the engines were of later vintage than the 1979 move, but my father-in-law thought that one of the engines might be a 1979 model. We keep on driving. At some point in the dream, we are in Hollywood, and we witness Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore perform a dangerous stunt, from the director's POV. Not the couple I'd want to see in a dream, I assure you.

DW and I are living in an apartment owned by her employers. These people are fanatical about neatness, and they apparently don't like alcohol. I have empty Mexican beer bottles all over the place. Our downstairs neighbor suddenly leaves for Ireland after a notorious murder is committed. The cops are having major difficulty, as murder victims are exposed in their graves, and they undergo a reverse process of dying, mooting murder convictions. Somehow, DW misses the importance of something or other that is related to the investigation (probably the fact that James Cromwell is digging up the planet), and I make a snotty remark implying that she is stupid. Also, I seem to recall a revived victim dying again, and a debate among the authorities as to whether they could charge the person who originally killed the victim with murder. DW retaliates for my crass remark by telling on me for the beer bottles, to no avail. I load the bottles into the car, and we drive through the parking area of our apartment complex. The lot is owned by Louisiana State University, and is used for athletic functions. No consumption of alcohol is allowed in the lot, so DW again tells on me for having beer. LSU being LSU, nobody gives a shit. Ha ha! We do see someone arrested for something, and we walk briefly down the hallway where he is being held. However, we are redirected, and we end up with the guy's male companion.

My father-in-law reveals that he is working on a project to simulate the destruction of Houston by chemical attack. I have to work, so FIL invites DW instead. We pull up to the home of the asshole ex-boyfriend of one of my sisters-in-law. FIL is concerned about the guy--heaven only knows why; like I said, he is an asshole. Somehow, and I can't remember the details, we find this guy as an outgrowth of what was going on re. LSU. Anyhow, while FIL is in the house, DW and I discuss whether she should go play destroy Houston. "I think it would be fun," I said. DW didn't quite agree; she was reluctant to participate in such a game. At this point, my oldest son got so restless that he woke me up.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Katrina Christmas

New Orleans manger scene. This picture and the following two are taken from and the N.O. Times-Picayune newspaper. Posted by Picasa

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Them's some harsh words

From the New York Times:

December 11, 2005
Death of an American City

We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans." But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.

There are many unanswered questions that will take years to work out, but one is make-or-break and needs to be dealt with immediately. It all boils down to the levee system. People will clear garbage, live in tents, work their fingers to the bone to reclaim homes and lives, but not if they don't believe they will be protected by more than patches to the same old system that failed during the deadly storm. Homeowners, businesses and insurance companies all need a commitment before they will stake their futures on the city.

At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship. There is no effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name the president's liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell? Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words "pending in Congress" are a death warrant requiring no signature.

The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities where they landed.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?

Losing a major American city.

"We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better," President Bush said that night in September. Our feeling, strongly, is that he was right and should keep to his word. We in New York remember well what it was like for the country to rally around our city in a desperate hour. New York survived and has flourished. New Orleans can too.

Of course, New Orleans's local and state officials must do their part as well, and demonstrate the political and practical will to rebuild the city efficiently and responsibly. They must, as quickly as possible, produce a comprehensive plan for putting New Orleans back together. Which schools will be rebuilt and which will be absorbed? Which neighborhoods will be shored up? Where will the roads go? What about electricity and water lines? So far, local and state officials have been derelict at producing anything that comes close to a coherent plan. That is unacceptable.

The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call people home and convince them that commitments will be met.

Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has turned into a permanent commitment.

If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.

Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

terrorist dreamin'

Last night, I dreamed that DW, our kids, my mother, and a few other relatives were being held hostage in my mother's house, by the lead character in the Showtime series "Sleeper Cell." I highly recommend that show, BTW. However, the character, Farik, had brought his own wife and small children to help hold us hostage. After a couple of days, I hatched an escape plot. I would explain that I needed to go into the office to pick up some materials for a case I was working on from home, go to the office, then go to the FBI office across the street and report the hostage-taking. Of course there are a couple of holes here. Why would they take hostages and not tell anybody? Why did I think there was an FBI office across the street, when I know IRL that the FBI moved to another part of town a few years ago? But I digress. My escape plan got hung up when I couldn't find my laptop or the part of the case file I had at home. For some strange reason, I thought I needed those to be able to go in and get the rest of the file. Strange. Anyhow, the plan worked, and I returned with some agents, who freed everybody. Farik even surrendered, so as to save his family.

The end.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

G.I. Randy

Last night, I dreamed that I was 19 and had enlisted in the Army with a group of friends. For some reason, we were sent to New York State for basic training. Also, we were given a list of all of the clothing we were allowed to bring, and were told that we must purchase that clothing from a particular store. That store was very small, and it had no walls. There were aisles and racks, just no walls or ceiling. There were only about 4 colors of polo shirts, and they were made of cheap fabric, but we all had to purchase 4 of them. The pants were from LLBean, and much nicer than the shirts. I realized that I had some LLBean pants at home, so I figured I would cheat and bring some from home, and therefore use my pants money to buy a fancy official NBA jersey. Now, IRL, I can count on my two hands how many NBA games I've watched, and I've never been to an NBA game. Nevertheless, I picked up what I thought was a New Orleans Hornets jersey. It turned out to be a Navy jersey. I decided it would get me beaten and harassed in the Army, so I didn't buy it.

My memory is a little hazy about what happens next, but, at some point, I'm in a darkened building with hallways going in several directions--much like some older LDS chapels. I crawled through a hole in the wall and into an area that was under construction. There, I saw one of my Army buddies, and we engaged in some one-on-one that would result in us being discharged were they to be discovered. It was like we wanted an insurance policy in case we wanted out. We snuck back into the main part of the building and followed our officers out as if nothing had happened.

Later on, I dreamed that DW and I were staying at the Clarion Hotel on Canal Street, and that we saw someone steal our car, which was a convertible Chevy Vega. Apparently, we had very bad taste. We hailed a cab and drove around looking for the car, but couldn't find it. Eventually, I saw it while I was on foot. I chased away the thieves and drove off in the car. At an interchange, a young African-American man jumped into the car and told me to drive towards the river on Canal. I realized that he wanted to kill me, and I recognized him as someone who had been acquitted of beating someone to death with a large beer bottle. He had a large beer bottle in his hand, so I asked him if he was going to kill me. We struggled momentarily over the bottle, and I grabbed it away from him. I started clubbing him over the head with the bottle, but he wouldn't get out of the car and make a run for it. I made it all the way back to the hotel, hitting him over the head the whole way. The kid was staggering in the street as I met DW at the hotel door, but he insisted that he was going to rob us. DW and I wandered around the hotel for a while, then went upstairs. I don't remember whether I called the police or not.

I seem to recall having a third dream, in which I took DW to East Germany for some reason, except E. Germany was the size of a small urban park. Very weird.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Excellent news from my boys' school. The school now has an agreement with the Tulane Center for Clinical Effectiveness and Prevention that will put Tulane Med. School interns inside the school's clinic and the psychological department. Tulane interns have been at the school since shortly after Hurricane Katrina dislocated them from N.O., and now the arrangement is official. Tulane gets an opportunity for practical research in caring for MR/DD kids in a residential setting and an oppotunity to participate in developing the new St. Mary's Autism Center, and St. Mary's gets extra clinical and psychological staffing. One of the few good things to come from the hurricane. Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 05, 2005

It was a glorious time . . .

I can't get enough of this thing of ours. I just finished reading "Five Families," by NY Times reporter Selwyn Raab, an excellent account of the rise and fall of the American Mafia. Raab briefly chronicles the founding of the Cosa Nostra in New Orleans, then moves to the rise of organized crime in NYC up through the Castellamarlese Wars of the late 1920s & early 1930s. The Mob as we know it began in 1931 when Lucky Luciano established five different New York families, imposed a hierarchical structure on the families, and created a commission to mediate intrafamily disputes. Raab writes extensively about the rise and fall of each family--Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, Bonanno, and Colombo.

Raab also provides a parallel narrative of the efforts of the FBI, the Justice Dep't, and the State of NY regarding each gang. The Senate passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in 1970, but it was only at the end of the 1970s that anybody in the FBI or Justice Dep't gave a hoot about using the law to go after the Mafia. J. Edgar Hoover and his cronies were more interested in churning up numbers, and lengthy RICO investigations didn't appeal to them at all. Law professor Robert Blakey, who oversaw the writing of RICO when he was a Senate staffer, is portrayed as a lone prophet, walking the land in search of a prosecutor who would use the law against LCN. Rudolph Giuliani won the first Mob RICO prosecution in 1985, and the Government since then has used RICO to decimate all five of the NY families. The prospect of serving lengthy RICO sentences has led to a flood of wiseguys flipping on higher-ups and even flipping on lower-downs.

Some of the mobsters portrayed in the book are/were exceptionally gifted at their craft (union corruption, theft, gambling, murder), at running large organizations, and at evading arrest. Gambino Boss John Gotti comes off as a clownish thug who stupidly embraced the spotlight, when light is the last thing a serious mobster wants to have shined on his activities. Much more effective than Gotti was Bonanno Boss Joe Massino, who quietly built a Mafia colossus from the remnants of a family the FBI thought it had effectively destroyed in the early/mid 1980s. Massino reorganized his family in the late 80s/early 90s and took steps to minimize opportunities for surveillance, thus flying under the radar screen of law enforcement. Massino was finally put away in 2004, and he became the first mob boss to flip and cooperate with the Government, evidently in order so his wife could keep the house and some money to live on. And what cynic could not be amused by the story of Vincent Gigante, the "oddfather," who pretended to be insane for 30 years, much of which was spent effectively running the Genovese crime family? Gigante wandered the streets of Lower Manhattan in pajamas and a bathrobe, and even peed in the street on occasion. Gigante had some prominent psychiatrists fooled, and even some FBI people believed his ruse. Gigante was convicted in 1997, and he finally admitted in 2003 that he had been play-acting all along. The smartest of the Mob leaders in the 20th Century--Luciano, Frank Costello, Carlo Gambino, Ducks Corallo, Massino, and Gigante--probably could have made it in any walk of life with the right education and right connections. Fortunately, there were smart prosecutors and FBI agents to bring down their criminal empires.

The Cosa Nostra may only be a shell of what it once was, but it will survive in some form or other. For anybody interested in the Mob and the Government's efforts to destroy it, this is the book to read. Speaking of organized crime, last night I stared reading "The Smartest Guys in the Room," all about the Enron scandal.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Manger display, St. Mary's Training School. The school is done-up nicely for Christmas, and today, a motorcycle group was on campus bearing gifts. Posted by Picasa

Adam pours finely cut pine chips and dirt on his head. He loves to watch fine, granular substances go through the air. Posted by Picasa

Adam chose my Saturday attire. This is a T-shirt from the Mayan Restaurant in Salt Lake City. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 02, 2005

Egad-am, it's Adam

We had Toby's state reevaluation conference/IEP meeting this morning in Alexandria, and we brought Adam home for a solo weekend. Toby and Adam both are progressing well in their classroom, and the teacher has some ambitious goals for the upcoming IEP year. It will be great if he masters all of his objectives like he did this past year.

We got here about 1.5 hours ago, and I've already got a nasty bite mark on my wrist. I wouldn't give him the bottle of water he wanted to pour on his Blue's Clues cards so they would soften enough to be torn into little bits and taken into the tub. So I got chomped on. Of course, I ultimately gave in. He also had me run the vacuum cleaner, which he both loves and fears. This should be an interesting weekend.