Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Knock, knock, knockin

Last night's excellent "Big Love" episode ("Kingdom Come") ended with two characters knockin' on heaven's door to Bob Dylan's song. Polygamist prophet Roman Grant, who had been shot by followers of a rival polygamist sect, was lying on the sidewalk, full of blood. Meanwhile, teenager Ben Henrickson was receiving his family's version of the Aaronic Priesthood from his father. The backstories to those little Dylanesque dramas constituted the main plotlines of the episode.

Ben's mother, Barb, who grew up in the regular LDS Church, was manipulated into accepting polygamy by her husband Bill; would in her own heart want to drop polygamy and return to the LDS Church; but remains loyal to her family, including her sister-wives, both of whom make their own side arrangements with Bill. Ben, meanwhile, has been having sex with his secular temptress girlfriend on a regular basis. After the parents get him to 'fess up, he proposes marriage to his girlfriend so he can "make it moral" in his parents' eyes. Back at home, Bill asks whether this girlfriend is "the one." Ben looks at Barb and coldly replies that he doesn't know; she's the one for now, and if that changes, he can always marry a second wife. Writer Lance Black explains that this conversation is really a conversation between Bill and Barb, about Barb's own choices and about whether the kids should be encouraged to be polygamists. Barb, aghast at the words that have come out of her son's mouth, cleverly convinces the girlfriend to break up. Evidently without Barb's knowledge, Bill ordains Ben to the priesthood and suggests that the son's life as a plyg will be easier than his has been. I'm guessing Barb is going to find out.

Meanwhile, Bill plays Roman Grant against a rival plyg group, evidently without realizing that the other group has turned to murder, or, as they call it, blood atonement. Bill wants to buy a video poker company out from under both groups and walk away unscathed. Bill's mother reveals that some of the money her brother invested in Bill's project was stolen. Bill griped at his mother and brother, but I noticed that he did nothing about giving up that money. Oh, and Roman got shot. I'm guessing someone is going to find out that Bill is indirectly responsible.

So Bill continues along the road to hell that is paved with good intentions, a road that may lead to him becoming the next incarnation of Roman, the man he has vowed to crush.

One thing that strikes me as mildly interesting is that these polygamist groups are organized, for the most part, as relatively small groups following a strong and/or charismatic, dictatorial figure, who may or may not be benevolent. In one of these groups, they actually refer to a principle of "one-man rule." The LDS Church, from which these groups split, has evolved into an organization with a bureaucratic structure and, essentially, a collective leadership at the top. The understood rules of decisionmaking are such that the organization is institutionally conservative; the structure, collective leadership, and decisionmaking rules--and, contrasted with these other groups, a very large membership base--are such that it seems highly unlikely that the main church will march off the proverbial cliff at the behest of one individual.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Orleans Murder Muddle

The murder rate in New Orleans is high, and the conviction rate low, as Newsweek points out. One particular part of town is known locally as the "Murder Triangle," as drug dealers from other, less populated parts of town shoot each other dead in turf struggles. BTW, then-U.S. Attorney Jordan (mentioned in the article) once saw your humble correspondent in his birthday suit, but only because the bathroom door in the courthouse gym had a malfunctioning lock. I said nothing, but I thought, "I have nothing to hide from the Government, as you can see."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Puddle of Subversion?

Damn! I have been banned in China. Recently, however, this blog has had visitors from Vietnam and Pakistan, searching for information of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Perhaps we should make J.K. Rowling Secretary General of the U.N. and let her use her powers to bring about world peace.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Happy Utah Holiday

The 24th of July marks Brigham Young's entry into the Salt Lake Valley, and the day is a quasi-holiday for Wasatch Front members of the LDS Church. They have a parade and everything, though it's not a real parade because nobody throws beads and public nudity isn't as popular in Salt Lake as it is here. Now it's true that most of the people who show flesh at Mardi Gras aren't ones I want to see naked. However, if new N.O. residents Brad and Angelina want to show for throw, it might help them fit in around here. I'm just saying. Not that I would look or anything. No way, not me. Oh, yeah, Pioneer Day. The date isn't all that significant to Mormons outside Utah, though gentle reader Ann says that the local congregation in our town had a Pioneer Day commemmoration on Sunday.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Triangles, Squares, and Elevators

I spent several hours joyriding in elevators in Metairie, Louisiana, on Saturday.

Friday night, my oldest son emphatically said "triangle!" as we drove around our little town, Slidell. I thought he meant the Sonic drive-in down the road, which has interlocking triangles on its logo, but, alas he didn't mean that at all. "Green cart!" he said, which led me to the A&P Sav-A-Center. Well, he didn't want to go there either. Instead, he pointed to the left, so I turned down the main street of town. He shouted "triangle!" and pointed to the local hospital when we got in front of that building. It was around 10 p.m., and he was clearly very tired. "WTF?" I thought. "I'm not taking you to the hospital," I said, and I drove him home kicking and screaming. I was on the verge of tears, thinking that he was so hyped up that he actually wanted me to take him to the hospital so he could go to sleep.

Saturday morning, I took him to the railyard in the city, then along the track on Florida Avenue, neither of which particularly interested him. I let him direct me back on to I-10, but, strangely, he wanted to drive into the city. I thought, "hmmm. Maybe he wants to go to the airport." However, as we entered Metairie, where we lived until he was two, he shouted "right! up!" both of which mean "exit." So I got off. "Inside!" he said as we passed a 9-story medical building. "Well, that's a little odd," I thought.

I got back onto the highway and drove towards the airport. "Swing?" I asked, thinking he might want to visit a park we used to frequent. "Swing!" he responded. So I got off on an exit that happens to be next to a two-story Best Buy. "Right! Triangle!" he shouted, so I drove into the parking lot. There is an elevator inside the store that is visible from the street. As with most elevators, the up/down directional signal is a triangle, and the button is a square. After an hour and a half of riding the elevators at Best Buy, I took him down the road to the two-story Target, where we spent another chunk of time riding around. My son was furious after we left Target--he evidently believed that we were destined for the airport or back to Best Buy to ride that elevator again. He gave me a bit of a beating from the back seat, and, in that traffic, there was nothing I could do but shout at the top of my lungs for him to sit back. It amazed me that I could be that loud, but it did the trick. His demand to go to the hospital on Friday night was quite practical--it's one of very few buildings in Slidell that has elevators inside. I felt stupid for getting emotional about the whole thing.

My youngest son at his local. Local Wal-Mart, that is.

He's saying "cheese!" but he really means "stop annoying me!"

Finally, a longtime gentle reader of this weblog is going off to study at University College, London. I wish him well.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Patron Saint of the Saints

I saw this portrait hanging above the sports memorabilia case at my kids' school, and it reminded me of the local superstition about the New Orleans Saints' first winning season. John Paul II held a youth rally in the Superdome in 1987 that fans like to say gave his imprimatur to the stadium and the team.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Letter from Austin

I got a letter from the Texas Department of State Health Services a couple of days ago, letting me know that I've been put into their adoption registry database and that no matches have been found there. That's no surprise--these registries match people maybe 10% of the time. Thus, a few weeks ago I petitioned the court for the unsealing of my adoption records. It's ridiculous to think that the basic information about my birth is some kind of state secret, and, as I previously wrote, I have some interest in knowing about my genetic makeup. Anyhow, the letter discusses possible reasons for people deciding not to search or put their names into the voluntary registry. The final sentence was a little harsh--"Last, to quell any probing questions from older siblings, the birth parents may have told them that their brother or sister died at birth." Ouch! Apart from the paragraph containing the quoted sentence, my interactions with that agency have been pleasant.

Off-putting language aside, Texas has made a fair amount of information available to the public, and much of it is available online. Unfortunately, I am listed under my adopted name in both the annual birth book and the abstract of births, so I'll either need to have records unsealed or see about paying a private detective service. After I struck out in the available records with my own information, I ran my former sister's information through, and, within an hour, I had a pretty full family tree for her. If I really wanted to mess with her, I'd draw it up all nice and send it to her. She was convinced, based on nothing, that she had met her birth mom 10-15 years ago--a woman who was as nutty as she is. Actually, it was a different gal entirely.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Harry Potter, Part 5

DW and I saw the partly 3-D version of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" last night at the local IMAX theater. It and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban" are, IMHO, the best films of the lot thus far. Imelda Staunton was frighteningly good as Delores Umbridge, the Church Lady-like torturer of Hogwarts students. At one point, as her wall of cats meowed, I leaned over to DW and said, "she's catshit insane." Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) and Emma Watson (Hermione) are coming into their own as actors, Radcliffe in particular. Harry's nightmare scenes, and his reactions to them, were convincing, and the actor was rather dashing in his attire throughout the film. When Harry discussed his dreams with Dumbledore and how he worried about going bonkers, I said, "well, I think Harry and I should have a conversation about our dreams." Alas, it was a very quiet moment, and other people in the theater could hear me. Big deal. The 20 minutes of 3-D worked very well in this film, particularly on the huge IMAX screen. It's well worth the extra few bucks to see it on IMAX, if possible.

Speaking of dreams, mine have been so intense and personal lately that I haven't wanted to post them here. I get the feeling my subconscious is shouting at me about a number of things; I just need to figure out what they are and whether I can do something about them or just let things play out in the dreams themselves.

Yesterday was a crazy day. It was my telework day, and I had a shitload to get done. Our power cut out around 9:30 a.m., so I drove to the nearest P.J.'s coffeehouse to get myself reconnected. When the power came back on (around 1:00), I went back home, and . . . the phone line was dead! This meant that I couldn't connect to my VPN, so I had to work in my c-drive the rest of the day and risk being asked why I wasn't logged-in. I didn't get any calls from the office, so I suppose I was okay. In any event, I managed to get a full days' work in; alas, the case I thought would be easy to write up turned out to be rather messed-up.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A busy couple of weeks

My new screensaver.

"You interrupted 'Blues Clues' to take a damn picture?!"

My little family has had a hectic couple of weeks. The day after I attended the retreat referenced below, we drove up to Alexandria to a) visit with our kids, and b) help out with the parents' group's staff appreciation day. Shortly before we left home, we received a call telling us that our oldest son's headcold and sore throat had reached the point where the doc wanted to see him at the hospital, which is where we went as soon as we got up there. T was pumped full of antibiotics and he improved rapidly, but he was still a little weak a couple of days later. DW and I managed to juggle T's situation with seeing A and helping out with the parents' group event. We then took T out on the town for a day.

I returned to work for a couple of days, then we headed back up to Alexandria to fetch A for a visit home. He had a great time, and we saw some emerging play skills, one of which involved T's Blue's Clues karaoke machine. A picked the thing up and started pushing buttons that play various well-known songs from that show. I know them all by heart after years of viewing, so I sang along. At first, A looked perplexed and surprised that I, of all people, would know songs from Blue's Clues. It took only a few minutes for him to realize that he could push those buttons and make me sing. For example, He would start the Mail Time tune, then push the button again a few seconds later, just to see me have to start over. We also did the We Just Figured Out Blue's Clues song and--my personal favorite--the Planets song.
DW and I returned A to Alexandria yesterday and brought T over to the hotel for a swimming pool visit.

We recently got some very good news about our boys. This coming school year, they will be among the 14 students at St. Mary's to receive all of their daily instruction from the Autism Center. They will receive six hours/day of training using applied behavior analysis (ABA), up from the one hour/day that they have been receiving. A, especially, has done well with ABA at St. Mary's. The boys also will move to new living quarters, with two other boys, into what amounts to a mini-group home that will use ABA to teach daily living skills. This is exactly the kind of program we wanted for our boys before we placed them at St. Mary's, but were unable to put into place. ABA, executed properly, is intense and difficult for the adults involved. To pull it off, you need a properly trained school and in-home staff, especially during the initial phase of "extinction burst" behaviors. Unfortunately, we didn't have the resources at our disposal to get this going at home with both of our boys. Fortunately, St. Mary's now has those kinds of resources.

Retreat and advance

I attended a retreat at the local Zen dojo weekend before last. I dig the dojo for several reasons, one of which is that the focus is entirely on practice and not at all on doctrine or philosophy. That's not to say that I don't read books on Buddhism, but only that the local Zen group doesn't perform its didactic function in the same way to which we Westerners have become accustomed in settings like church and temple. The high point of this particular retreat was a bodhisattva ordination, during which a practitioner vows to comply with the precepts of Zen Buddhism. The ceremony was very nice and quite Japanese.

After I got home, I started thinking, "okay, now, what did I get out of this?" but realized immediately that such a line of inquiry kind of defeats the purpose of the Zen "no gain" frame of mind. So I stopped analyzing the whole thing and got on with what has turned out to be a very hectic couple of weeks. I can say that I took away from the retreat a sense of calmness that helped in addressing a family health issue that arose shortly thereafter.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Summertime Fun

My youngest son enjoys playing in the water play area at a local park.

An offering of sand to Katrina, Goddess of the Water. (Randy turns tail and runs for cover).