Friday, December 26, 2008

Birthday


Today is my 46th birthday. I'm just saying.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008

Last Christmas was one of the worst days of my entire life, for reasons I don't care to revisit. DW and I decided to try something different this year.

We took a hotel room in Alexandria, Louisiana, where we put up a small Christmas tree and laid out the kids' presents underneath it. We brought them over individually on Christmas Eve to open presents and play. That way, T could make his WalMart rounds and A could eat at Subway.

A, as usual, ignored the Christmas tree and the presents underneath.

T got the added bonus of watching DW have a Zen experience with the beanie cranes at WalMart. She became one with the machines and was lifting plush toys left and right--and doing it with her non-dominant hand, to boot. T was jumping up and down with joy.

After we returned T to school, DW and I motored up to Natchitoches, Louisiana (50 miles NW), to view that town's fabulous Christmas lights. When I was a kid, we drove through Natchitoches every year shortly before XMAS on the way to Baton Rouge from our home in Oklahoma, and I could see the lights all set up and ready to go. But it was too far from our grandparents' house for my parents to be bothered with driving us back up to see the lights at night. So I finally got to see them, something I highly recommend.


We went by our kids' mini-group home Christmas morning after they attended mass and opened their Santa Claus presents, which appeared mysteriously while the kids were at church. We had a nice visit, then drove back home. The kids' school provided them with a tasty looking Christmas lunch, but DW and I had our own arrangements fall through. DW made a Christmas dinner of truck stop nachos, and I had a can of Spaghetti-Os with sliced weenies. So much better than a repeat of the same meal we had a month ago.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

On the Night's Plutonian Shore

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I dreamt last night that a collaborator--someone I didn't recognize--and I had written a law review article exposing corruption at the highest levels of government. Yeah, yeah, I know, a law review is a most inappropriate venue to break the news of a scandal. But what can I say? It's a dream. Anyway, my coauthor and I were rather proud of ourselves. We must have been members of the law review, as we were showing a small group of professors a completed copy of the article.

Instead of being shocked, dazzled, or impressed, one of the professors completely ignored the text and started looking at footnotes. "Your font is all wrong," she said, and she also helpuflly pointed out numerous perceived Bluebook citation and style errors. I know that book reasonably well, but I don't remember whether or not the professor was correct. I was e little hurt by the criticism, particularly as nobody gave a hoot about the scandal we had uncovered.

Dreaming about the Bluebook. Yikes. I suppose next week I'll have a dream where I tiptoe through the entire Oxford English Dictionary.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Now he's reduced to telling lightbulb jokes?


Your humble correspondent heard an awesome lightbulb joke on Numbers a few weeks ago. Turns out the joke has been around for a while.

Q. How many existentialists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. Two. One to screw it in and one to observe how the lightbulb itself symbolizes a single incandescent beacon of subjective reality in a netherworld or endless absurdity reaching out toward a maudlin cosmos of nothingness
.

I came across a list of excellent lightbulb jokes online last night, to wit:
Q. How many Christians does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Three, but they're really one.

Q. How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Two, one to hold the giraffe, and the other to fill the bathtub with brightly colored machine tools
.

Your working boy has never originated a lightbulb joke he can recall, but it's never too late to try:
Q. How many Mormons does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Nine. One bishop to seek inspiration as to which worthy priesthood holder should be extended the lightbulb calling; two counselors with whom the bishop discusses his lightbulb selection, and who confirm the bishop's inspiration; one quorum leader who must be consulted to determine whether the member in question can be freed up to change the lightbulb at the appropriate time; one ward executive secretary to phone the ward member selected for the lightbulb calling, asking him to meet with the bishop and giving no reason why; one gossipy spouse to speculate with her visiting teaching companion over a lunch of green jello about her husband's qualifications for that open lightbulb installer position, but possibly for that crinkly Victoria's Secret catalogue she found under his side of the bed; one scary, heavily armed ward member who insists to anyone who will listen that he has received direct inspiration that he will be called to change the lightbulb; the newly called and set-apart lightbulb changer who was so nervous on Saturday night about his mysterious Sunday morning meeting with the bishop that he OD'd on Nyquil, causing him to drop the bulb on the floor of the cultural hall, shattering it to bits; and, finally, another church member with vast experience in the construction trades, who mysteriously appears at the base of the ladder, coaxes down the failed and emotionally devastated would-be lightbulb installer, climbs the ladder, and inserts a lightbulb he found in the supply closet
.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Boys and Our Toys

I've been viewing photos of my new nephew, Manhattan Sam, on his gentle parents' blog. I see that gentle reader Bill is introducing his son to the computer at a very early age, albeit to watch television. Good job! I was reminded of one of my favorite baby pictures of Toby. Anyhow, will this:

lead to this:
(yes, I really was that slim)
and to this?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Holy Corruption, Batman!

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested for, among other things, attempting to sell Barack Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate. Wow, they're as bad as we are! ETA--"we" is Louisiana. Come to think of it, even we're not that bad anymore.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Good Books

The TLS books-of-the-year edition is out. Alas, mine usually makes it here a couple of weeks late. I suspect that the print edition will have recommendations from many more reviewers than the online edition offers. I used the best books list to pick up a couple of excellent books last year; perhaps I'll do the same this year.

Or maybe I'll just wait for the next Stephanie Meyer vampire novel to come out. Confession--I've actually not read any of Meyer's books, though DW has, and three of them are in the bookcase on my side of the bed. We saw Twilight and Quantum of Solace on successive days last weekend. Surprisingly, I thought Twilight the better of the two. Love Daniel Craig as James Bond, but, man, Quantum is just plain dull.

Hell Freezes Over, Much Like the $90K in Bill Jefferson's Icebox

I was surprised by this story in this morning's Times-Picayune:

Indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson suffered what may be the final blow of his storied political career in the most improbable way Saturday, when an untested Republican opponent took advantage of Louisiana's new federal voting rules -- and an election delay caused by Hurricane Gustav -- to unseat the nine-term Democrat.

With the upset victory, Anh "Joseph" Cao, a eastern New Orleans attorney who fled war-ravaged Saigon as a child, becomes the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. He will represent a district that was specifically drawn to give African-Americans an electoral advantage and one in which two of every three voters are registered Democrats.

Jefferson, the first African-American to represent Louisiana in Congress since Reconstruction and a force on the local political stage for three decades, finished a close second among four general election candidates after beating back stiff challenges from within his own party during earlier rounds of voting.

His defeat came on a day of abysmally low turnout, which political pundits had predicted could be Jefferson's undoing despite his demographic and political advantages.

Ironically, had Gustav not postponed the voting schedule one month, the general election would have been held the same ballot as last month's presidential election, when high turnout among African-American voters likely would have carried Jefferson to a 10th term.

Meanwhile, in Louisiana's 4th Congressional District, Republican John Fleming, a physician from Minden, won the seat being vacated by retiring Congressman Jim McCrery, a Republican from Shreveport.

The two races, both delayed because of Gustav, were this season's last contests for the U.S. House of Representatives. Saturday's results mean Louisiana bucked the national trend and wound up with a congressional delegation of six Republicans and a single Democrat. Three Democrats represent Louisiana in the current Congress.

Speaking to supporters Saturday night at Palace Cafe on Canal Street, Cao, 41, made reference to Jefferson's earlier victories this season -- and to the legal problems that undoubtedly contributed to his downfall.

"I know he went through two previous primaries, and that must have been hard," Cao said. "But tonight, the people of the 2nd District have spoken. We want a new direction. We want accountability, and have it."

Cao made direct reference to his improbable political ascent, seeming as astonished as anyone else.

"Never in my life did I think I could be a future congressman," he said. "The American dream is well and alive."

Though he was a relative unknown before this race, Cao was flanked Saturday night by a number of local political power brokers.

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican from Metairie, introduced him to screaming supporters. City Councilwomen Jackie Clarkson and Stacy Head, both Democrats, were in attendance, along with former TV news anchor Helena Moreno, who was defeated by Jefferson in the Democratic Party runoff. Several GOP party leaders, including former City Councilmen Jay Batt and Bryan Wagner, also joined the crowd.

At Cao's side was his wheelchair-bound father, who spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison camp during that country's civil war. In his closing, Cao offered thanks to the local immigrant community, and he made a special plea for peace in the country of his birth.

"I'd like to thank my Vietnamese community," he said, "and I'd like to encourage young Vietnamese in this country to work peacefully for a free and democratic Vietnam."

Meanwhile, at an Uptown art gallery, Jefferson, 61, a Harvard-educated attorney and former state Senator who was raised amid dire poverty in Lake Providence, La., said he thought voter fatigue contributed to his loss.

"Over three elections, I think people kind of ran out a little bit at the end of, I guess, the juice it takes to keep on going," he said. "There were three very difficult elections and on Nov. 4, a lot of folks thought we already won.

"I'm sure that if we poll, somewhere out there in the 2nd District is a vast majority of people who support our campaign and who, had they voted today, would have expressed it," he said.

Speaking to about 50 supporters who gave Jefferson a standing ovation when he entered the room, Jefferson thanked his family, labor leaders, local ministers and African-American voters, whom he praised as the "bedrock" of his political base.

"I'm so very grateful to each and every one of you, folks who are here and folks who are out there, for the warm embrace that you have given me over the years," he said.

Jefferson's demise resulted in part from Louisiana's return after 30 years to a closed primary system. As the only Republican to qualify for the general election, Cao spent September and October meeting voters, honing his message and raising money.

Meanwhile, Jefferson had to fight off six well-known challengers who together raised almost $2 million in an effort to unseat him in the Democratic Party primary and runoff, which were open only to registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

With his name appearing for the first time on Saturday's ballot, Cao was able to reach out to voters who supported the Democratic also-rans, as well as about 50,000 voters, most of them registered Republicans, who were forced to stay on the sidelines during the Democratic Party races.

As predicted, there was a dramatic drop-off in turnout Saturday compared with the Nov. 4 election that featured Barack Obama, now president-elect.

Last month, nearly 164,000 Democrats and independents in the 2nd District cast ballots. Even with the universe of voters expanded Saturday to include all registered voters, only 66,846 showed up to the polls.

In a rare radio interview in advance of the general election, Jefferson had expressed concerns that his base of African-American supporters might assume that he had won re-election last month and stay home Saturday.

Cao, who came to the United States when he was 8, holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Baylor University and a master's degree in philosophy from Fordham University. After a stint as a Catholic seminarian, he earned a law degree from Loyola University in 2000.

Married with two daughters, he now runs a law practice in Venetian Isles specializing in immigration.

Cao took an interest in local politics after his home and office were swamped during Hurricane Katrina.

His first bid for public office last year, when he sought the open 103rd House District, was inauspicious. Running then as an independent, he finished fifth in a six-candidate field.

Cao said he began eyeing a run for the 2nd District seat shortly after a Virginia grand jury indicted Jefferson last year on charges of bribery and public corruption following revelations in 2005 that FBI agents found $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer and linked him and several relatives to a wide-ranging bribery scheme.

Counting among his backers Gov. Bobby Jindal and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, Cao attracted solid support from local, state and national Republican organizations. He raised almost $90,000 from a slate of party operatives, local executives and members of the Vietnamese community. He also pumped $70,000 of his money into the campaign.

Hoping to pad his war chest further, Cao joined the Republican National Committee and the state GOP last month in filing a lawsuit challenging a decades-old cap on the amount of money the groups can spend on coordinated advertising efforts. As of late last week, the suit had gone nowhere.

Cao maintained a generally cordial tone during the campaign, limiting his criticism of Jefferson to questions about the congressman's effectiveness and ethics and rarely mentioning the criminal charges.

However, as election day neared, the National Republican Congressional Committee stepped in with a series of harsh mail pieces and an automated telephone call to voters that highlighted the allegations of money laundering, racketeering and bribery and labeled Jefferson as "crooked."

Organizers of Cao's campaign denied having a hand in the attack.

On election day, the Cao campaign launched a surprise, last-minute offensive with a pair of automated phone calls urging voters to pull the lever for Cao. The messages were recorded by Moreno and former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick. It was both supporters' first foray into the general election campaign.

Though Jefferson will pack up his Capitol Hill office, he will remain in the news: Originally scheduled to begin last week, his trial is likely to start in early 2009.

Also in the cross-hairs of federal prosecutors are Jefferson siblings Betty Jefferson, the Orleans Parish 4th District Assessor, and political consultant Mose Jefferson, who were indicted last year on charges that they conspired to loot more than $600,000 in taxpayer money from three charities.

In a separate case, Mose Jefferson was indicted on charges that he bribed the former president of the Orleans Parish School Board.

Those trials are set for early next year.

Jefferson's defeat also marks the latest and most severe blow to the Progressive Democrats, the Central City-based political organization that he founded.

Among Jefferson allies who have been forced from public office since news of the FBI probe into Jefferson's dealings broke are: Renee Gill Pratt, the congressman's former legislative aide who lost her seat on the City Council; close ally Eddie Jordan, who was forced to resign as Orleans Parish district attorney; and Jefferson's daughter, then-state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, who lost a bid last year for the state Senate.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Yip yip yahoo! Nephew Sam is a-born in New York City


A big puddle of congratulations to Gentle Readers Bill and Karen, whose first child was born last night. They named him Samuel, and Manhattan Sam no doubt will be the root-toot-tootin'est hombre east of the Pecos and the Hudson.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Carousel of Nostalgia

My kids love to view, and print, photographs whenever they are at home. We went through hundreds of pictures with T the past few days, dating all the way back to when he was a baby. His favorites this go-around were photos of him at the Alexandria, Louisiana, Zoo. A caught on to T's fascination with photographs when T began returning to St. Mary's with dozens of prints every time he came home. A now has me printing photos, and A has had me drive past his old school and a few other places he used to love but hasn't cared about more recently.



This clip expresses my kids' nostalgia for photographs and drives past the old places better than I ever could. As I've already written, I just finished the first season of this show on DVD this past week. This is one of the final moments of the season, and it was on my mind when T and I were looking at photos. The kids' nostalgia habits were also on my mind when I was watching the scene, and I almost got a little weepy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mad on TV


I finished watching the first season of Mad Men the other day. I love everything about this show. It is extra-stylish and fabulously written, acted, and produced. On its face, it's a drama about the freewheeling advertising industry on Madison Avenue (hence, "Mad Men") in the early 1960s, with career-obsessed, promiscuous, unfaithful husbands, and emotionally repressed, deliberately ignorant (as the law defines that term), long-suffering, passive-aggressive, pre-feminist wives. Who said the sexual revolution started with the hippies? Thanks to the show being on AMC, the sexual aspects of the storyline are not shown explicitly, though there is one hilarious shadowboxing scene in one episode, where a janitor sees the shadows of two characters going at it through a frosted office window. Also, as DW pointed out, there is very little strong language used in the show. IOW, any gentle readers who are concerned about such things can actually watch this show without waiting for it to be sanitized a la The Sopranos on A&E.

Underneath its glittering surface, Mad Men about how we restless Americans are to a certain extent able to invent and reinvent ourselves however we choose and present ourselves to different people in different ways, sometimes genuine and honest; sometimes cynical and dishonest; sometimes all of those things at once. Don Draper, the main character, has actually invented Don Draper from someone else of very humble origins, and has become very accomplished in the cynical advertising industry. He's an astonishingly complicated and comparmentalized character with massive flaws and hidden insecurities, arguably the most fully realized character in television history. As a viewer, you can't help but love him, even when he's catting around while his terrific wife is depressed, lonely, and isolated at home. There is also a strong theme of longing for approval and validation in the show--particularly men seeking approval from other men--and that theme is played with great subtlety by several of the main characters. I can't wait to get to Season Two to see how these characters develop. I may have to download it from iTunes to tide myself over until the DVD set comes out next July.

You know your show has arrived when it is parodied on The Simpsons.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shame


Article 1
1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.
Article 2
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

--United Nations Convention Against Torture
Each component of the definition emphasizes that torture is not the mere infliction of pain or suffering on another, but is instead a step well removed. The victim must experience intense pain or suffering of the kind that is equivalent to the pain that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result. If that pain or suffering is psychological, that suffering must result from one of the acts set forth in the statute. In addition, these acts must cause long·term mental harm.

--Office of Legal Counsel, United States Department of Justice, John Yoo, author

Jane Mayer, a reporter for the New Yorker, chronicles the Bush Administration's weird obsession with physical forms of interrogation (colloqually known as "torture") in The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Became a War on American Ideals. The story is scary, not only from a humanitarian standpoint but also from the standpoint of an attorney who gives a hoot about the constitutional structure of the U.S. government.

Vice President Cheney initiated the process that resulted in a network of secret prisons and secret torture on September 11, 2001, when he held a videoconference with some of the lawyers who established the dubious legal framework for the Bush Administration's torture program. Cheney's general counsel, David Addington, was the ringleader of the lawyers. He was assisted by John Yoo at DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel and William Haynes, general counsel at the Department of Defense. Yoo in particular was important as the advisory opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel are binding on the Executive Branch. These three lawyers frequently met with then-White House general counsel Alberto Gonzales, who is portrayed as weak-willed and pliable in Mayer's book. Although Cheney was the mastermind of the torture program, he had the enthusiatic support of President Bush, then-CIA Director George Tenet, and then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. Attorney General John Ashcroft was appalled, and he was deliberately kept "out of the loop," even though John Yoo was his employee. Secretary of State Powell was equally appalled. However, neither man resigned over the matter.

Cheney, Addington, Yoo, and Haynes operated from an underlying theory that the President has near-absolute power in his tole as commander in chief, with no oversight by, or interference of, the Legislative or Judicial Branches of government--one memorandum went so fas as to claim that the President may initiate military attacks against terrorists inside the United States, regardless whether innocent third parties may be killed or injured. They also operated from the belief that traditional interrogation tactics were insufficient to extract accurate information from terrorists, and that torture was required to obtain this objective. Everything I've ever read about police techniques suggests that torture results in information that is almost never accurate, and the FBI opposed torture largely for that reason. On the advice of Cheney's group of lawyers, Presidnet Bush nullified the Geneva Conventions as to suspected members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban and redefined torture to exclude most forms of torture. They also worked at coming up with a location where the U.S. could house terror suspects outside the legal jurisdiction of the U.S.

The results were a wide-randing "rendition" program in which the CIA used a fleet of corporate jets to fly suspected terrorists to countries less squeamish about torture than Western democracies are; an in-house CIA torture training program; a network of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe; the Guantanamo Bay detention facility; and the supsension of the writ of habeas corpus for terror-suspect detainees. That the United Staes would engage in such a thoroughly reprehensible program is shocking; that members of the bar eagerly provided rationale for this program by subverting the structure, spirit, and letter of the Constitution they are sworn to support and uphold shames the legal profession. Mayer emphasizes just how far outside the mainstream Cheney's group really was by discussing how some CIA officers and conservative Republican DOJ attorneys who opposed the use of torture attempted to reverse some of the extremist policies. Almost as shocking as the program is the complete impotence of the coequal Legislative branch of the U.S. Government; it's as if the Democratic House and Senate were content to let the clock run out on the Bush Administration instead of raising holy hell. The coequal Judicial Branch, however, took a stand and issued three Supreme Court opinions regarding the procedural rights of Guantanamo detainees.

Mayer's book details the treatment of detainees, some of whom were actual terrorists, some of whom were not. The CIA was not trained in torture, so it hired a pscyhologist who, strangely, reverse engineered a North Korean program designed to elicit false confessions and employed it in hopes of obtaining true ones. Mayer references reports from the Red Cross and a retired CIA officer commisioned by the U.S. Government, both of which concluded that the interrogation techniques being used indeed constituted torture--and that this torture constituted war crimes. She also references reports indicating that the majority of Guantanamo detainees had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or terrorism; rather, they were extremist Muslims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless whether detainees were terrorists or not, IMHO, the United States should never, ever employ torture. It doesn't work, and it puts us on a slippery slope that slides down into the same moral muck and mire where Al Qaeda dwells.

The Obama Administration is likely to end the torture program; whether the new administration also ditches the Bush Administration's aggressive view of Executive Branch power remains to be seen. I seriously doubt that Bush or Cheney are likely to be prosecuted for war crimes--the U.S. is far too powerful for any other countries to risk that, and this country certainly doesn't need the distraction during a recession--but wouldn't it be hilarious for Obama to pardon them on his first day in office, with no further explanation?

Oh, the humanity!


Tina Fey couldn't have thought this up. Gov. Palin pardons a turkey, then, well, you have to see it to believe it. Tip of the hat to The Cajun Boy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sam Walton's Utopia


T has become obsessive about getting Incredible Hulk plush toys from the crane machines in Wal-Mart foyers. He generally has an adult manipulate the crane for him, but he has of late insisted on having a go or two at it himself, which is good for his hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills. The quest became personal for DW and I this past Saturday. We became obsessed as we tried to pull an Incredible Hulk away from the glass on the back of the machine, grab ahold of it, move it, and drop it down the chute. T stood beside the machine, jumping up and down and shouting “green! green! green!” and yelling in agony whenever DW had to go into the store to get change for another go-around. A couple of people looked around the corner into the machine nook to make sure I wasn’t abusing my kid. We moved the Incredible Hulk so that his head was lying on the edge of the chute, and T became increasingly excited and agitated. DW finally got the toy on the hook and over the chute--and then it didn’t drop! She had to insert another quarter and push the button immediately, and the Incredible Hulk was T’s. He opened up the baby seat on the Wal-Mart cart and placed the toy there, for a ride through the store. Victory!

A celebrated his 10th birthday on Monday, and he had a very happy time at home. We decided to put up our Christmas tree early this year and create a season for the kids, to compensate for the fact that Christmas Day sucks out loud for them because nothing is open.

Alas, I didn’t get the star up on the tree by the time A got home on Sunday, so I took him to look at the one true star in most North American households this time of year.

A also has a thing for the machines in the Wal-Mart foyer, but he likes to have me read individual letters from the logos. I mimic a mechanical voice as I say “c-o-k-e” and so on. I’m hoping that A may develop enough of an understanding that letters form words and words are powerful that he may learn to read, even if he remains without speech.

We had an odd mens’ room experience on the way back to Alexandria yesterday. I took A into the bathroom at a Wal-Mart, where he generally uses a toilet stall. Both of the stalls in this mens’ room were in use, so I made A stand next to me and wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, I had to take him over to use a urinal, and I changed his pull-up while he stood there (he has a bowel control issue, and it can injure his dignity to be seen wearing pull-ups, which we only use while traveling, so I wasn't happy about changing him in the middle of the mens' room). I wanted to tell the guys in the stall that they should do like everybody else and go log on the Internet if they wanted to spank the monkey, but that this was a most inappropriate venue for that activity. I mean, who takes that long to go, you know?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Where were you when you heard the news?

A CNN commentator (I can't remember which one) said that Barack Obama's election was one of those moments that people will remember where they were when they heard the news. I've always thought "I remember where I was when I heard that . . ." is hokey, but I was in my living room when Jon Stewart reported the news on Comedy Central. Notice Stephen Colbert's frantic attempt to keep from bursting into tears on the set. At the time, I thought it was part of his act, but, on second viewing, it appears that he was genuinely overcome by the news.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And now for something completely different


President Obama. Wow! He managed to weave elements of MLK's Mountaintop Speech and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address into a victory speech that showed a sober, serious President-Elect to the American people. I've thought highly of Barack Obama since I heard his 2004 DNC speech casting aside the notion of a polarized, red state/blue state America, then later read The Audacity of Hope.

Obama's race had nothing to do with why I pressed the box next to his name yesterday, and it didn't really dawn on me until I saw enormous lines at African-American precincts and watched the spontaneous reactions to his speech last night that his election is an Historic Event in capital letters. I really don't care how it makes the United States look to the rest of the world, but, as a white Southerner who grew up in a virulently racist family, it sure is nice to know that a candidate with an African-American heritage could be elected President of the United States a relatively brief 40 years after Dr. King saw the proverbial mountaintop.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Judgment Day


Your humble correspondent arrived at his polling place at 5:30 a.m. The doors opened at 6:00 a.m., and your working boy was done by 6:20. The photo is the line for his precinct, which is one of three that votes at the mall. The line was much longer, and the people at the back probably had about a two hour wait.

Anybody want to play the prediction game? Here's mine:

Obama--52% (338 electoral votes)
McCain--46% (200 electoral votes)
Other--2%

I played with an interactive map this morning, and there is a plausible way to get to a 269-269 Electoral College tie. It looks rather unlikely, but it's something that would be very fun to see.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Dexter, Si se puede!


I couldn't help but laugh last night when the twisted serial-killer drama Dexter used a presidential campaign slogan as the title of an episode that aired two nights before a presidential election:
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Anyhow, in last night's ep., assistant DA Miguel Prado enthusiastically assists Dex in a kill, giving our hero access to a prisoner he has wanted to gut for a very long time. Miguel continually referred to himself and Dexter as "we," making the campaign slogan title appropriate.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The id of the American Male--drill baby drill


Your humble correspondent gave into temptation last night and picked up American Movie Classics' dramatic series Mad Men on DVD. I'd not seen any of the show, as the first season aired opposite Burn Notice, and we don't have tivo. I suspected that Mad Men would appeal to me, as several members of the production team of The Sopranos are involved in the show. Still, holy crap, this show is great!

Mad Men is all about the Freudian id and ego of the well-off American male, during the early 1960s--a period when the uninhibited desires of men pretty much had free reign--and the fallout that the male id had on the more inhibited women of the same period. The show is set in a glamorous Madison Avenue ad agency, in a time when the advertising industry was viewed as sexy and hip (except maybe when Darren Stevens worked there). The ad industry in Mad Men cynically sold an illusion of happiness, even if the product was toxic (cigarettes in the first episode, which made me think of the movie Thank You For Smoking). There is a ton of overt sexist aggression and a fabulously politically incorrect amount of cigarette smoking. There are glimpses in Season One of some of the social changes that were to come about later in the '60s (the Pill, for one, and a few strong female character), but only glimpses thus far.

One thing that hit home was the deluded version of happiness that the agency was selling. How many of us have looked around at our relative prosperity, good educations, decent careers, and otherwise pretty good circumstances, yet felt somehow empty and unfulfilled? It's like our inner, subconscious selves are out of alignment with what our conscious minds tell us we are, and even more out of alignment with what we show of ourselves to the rest of the world. Classic Jungian neurosis, I suppose.

The central character is advertising artist Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who has a lovely wife and family and a house in the suburbs. Yet, as an artist, he has a bohemian side, so he has an artiste girlfriend in Greenwich Village. He also puts the make on a female department store, to whom he is attracted by her strength and her understanding of his detached, nihilistic worldview.

In terms of intelligence and production values, this show is on the level of The Sopranos and Dexter. DW agrees, and she noticed that the sexual content of the show is PG-13 at worst, even though there is a ton of skirt-chasing going on. I noticed that Season Two of Mad Men will be ending this week. I look forward to picking that up on DVD also.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Hanging by a thread?

Gov. Sarah Palin offers a singularly unorthodox interpretation of the First Amendment. I don't think Harvard Law School will be calling her in to substitute teach for Laurence Tribe anytime soon. That said, I'll confess to having a degree of sympathy for Gov. Palin, who appears to be in way over her head and doesn't know it. I'm not saying she's stupid (though her First Amendment analysis certainly is); she just isn't ready for the role she's been cynically put into.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fed up in this country with being sick and tired


I'm a huge political junkie, but even I'm ready to get this election over with.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Barack the Piemaker?


The Obama campaign has bought a half-hour of television time tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Central time on CBS, NBC, and Fox--but not on ABC. That network offered to sell half an hour to the ridiculously well-funded campaign, but the campaign declined. I can only conclude that Barack Obama would rather watch
Pushing Daisies than his own informercial. I hope so, as Daisies is in danger of being cancelled.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Japanese Sunday


Our local Zen group took part in the annual Japan Fest at the New Orleans Museum of Art this past Sunday. It went well, and there were plenty of curious onlookers outside the dojo we had set up in one of the galleries.

This gallery was adjacent to the dojo gallery, and I had this lovely statue to view when I was assigned to keep the curious onlookers from disturbing the dojo during introductory zazen instruction.

The Joker


I liked The Dark Knight, and A. likes hats. It fits him rather well.

T. obsessed on the crane/hook machines in the WalMart foyer last week. I was in big trouble when I couldn't get the plush-toy Incredible Hulk he just had to have, even if I had pulled one out of the machine the night before (and it was in the car). It wasn't pretty when I had to take him inside the store to get change for a $10 so I could try some more. After that $10 expired, I took him to Target and bought him a Hulk action figure. He was over the Hulk thing by then, but he accepted the toy, I suppose just to be nice to me.

Doesn't this prove he isn't a Muslim? Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Spotted in San Francisco:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Daisies and Dexter


The sweet, whimsical Pushing Daisies is the Arrested Development of the past couple of television seasons, the best show that nobody watches. The show is a bit darker this season, to the extent that something so sweet and visually bright can be labeled "dark." Ned the Piemaker and Charlotte "The Lonely Tourist" Charles explore their emotionally formative backstories, which are balanced with the absurd homicide investigations and Olive Snook's hilarious spoof of The Sound of Music. This show might be just plain silly but for brilliant casting. Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Kristen Chenoweth, Chi McBride, Swoozie Kurtz, and Ellen Greene move effortlessly amongst the absudity, sadness, and hilarity of the show.

Season One of Pushing Daisies is out on DVD. Check it out.


Dexter has let go of "the only God [he] ever worshipped," his foster father Harry, and the Code of Harry by which he had lived every moment of his life. Ironically, though, he finds himself needing to follow Harry's code more than ever, thanks to an accidental killing. Jimmy Smits guest stars as a politically ambitions assistant D.A. who befriends Dexter in a most unusual circumstance. Smits's character, Miguel Prado, is becoming increasingly stalker-like as to Dex, and we saw with Doakes what happens to Dexter-stalkers. However, Miguel is a friendly stalker, and one wonders whether he may have dumped a few bags of bodies into the ocean himself.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Tyler Durden's Wall Street?


The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 576 points thus far today, and it has lost 3,800 points in the past year. I'm afraid to even look at my thrift savings plan, most of which is invested in a S&P 500 fund. The international finance capital meltdown reminds me of Tyler Durden's scheme in Fight Club to force mankind into a primitive state of nature by blowing up the buildings housing major financial institutions simultaneously. Wall Street and its counterparts in London, Paris, Frankfurt, etc. seem to be destroying themselves just fine without the assistance of Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and their merry band of followers. President-in-waiting Obama and his economic team have their work cut out for them.

I've no idea how far down the food chain this meltdown will go. I heard this morning that my mortgage company has settled a lawsuit by allowing some subprime borrowers to renegotiate. Hopefully they'll let the rest of us do the same thing. One proposal from Academe to stabilize the real estate market would allow all U.S. homeowners to adjust our mortgages to a flat 5.25% for 30 years. That's not such a bad idea; it strikes me as much better than allowing subprime borrowers to have bankruptcy courts adjust their mortgages, which would clog those courts and might adversely affect the credit ratings of those borrowers during a time when credit is scarce. However, the international nature of this collapse makes me wonder whether anything the U.S. Government comes up with will do much good at all.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Cinematic Justice


I just ordered the newly restored BluRay version of The Godfather trilogy. The previous DVD version was a total piece of junk, so I'm looking forward to seeing the two masterpiece films of that series in all their glory. The studio powers-that-be hired the restorationist who fixed Lawrence of Arabia, and the restored version of that film is stunning. It should be a fun little film festival at my house when the package arrives.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Holy Bailout, Bat-man!


Well, the Wall Street bailout is dead for now, a massive wreck with mangled, charred bodies dangling from the shattered car windows. Or maybe not. I've been trying to wrap my brain around the disaster for the past few weeks, reading about collateralized debt obligations, stanches (ratings), subprime mortgages, and the like. I know very little about how Wall Street works, but it seems to me that too much faith was placed in the U.S. housing market as a way of making infinite profits, and too little attention was paid to the risk that housing prices might drop. It's like we're a banana republic, only our bananas are our houses. Whatever financial and regulatory structure emerges, there probably should be some checks and balances on overreliance on any particular form of wealth to support exotic securities that are beyond my comprehension.

I'm on the fence as to whether the Government should fix the problem to begin with--I wonder how much a large-ish drop in the stock market would really affect the rest of the economy--but I tend to lean towards whatever will preserve my Thrift Savings Plan and other peoples' 401(k) plans, and whatever might preclude a severe credit crunch that could result in banks owning businesses that rely on short-term credit as a matter of course.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Proud Hypocrite

Last night, I was put on the spot in a way that resulted in my commission of an act that some might view as hypocritical. I was quite annoyed, but I managed to get through it without incident.

I am a firm believer in socially acceptable hypocrisy, the kind that greases gears that would otherwise shoot off sparks or come to a complete halt due to friction and physics. Not everybody understands the importance of socially acceptable hypocrisy in a culture that has veered dangerously towards brutal honesty in personal matters (brutal honesty does not appear to be the norm in the financial services industry, as we are shocked, shocked to discover). For example, a few years ago, I saw some teenagers smoking pot across the fence from the park where my kids were playing. The teenagers posed no danger to anybody, so I said nothing until we left. It was 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon, with a packed swimming pool to one side across the street and a deputy sheriff's house to the other side across the street. I felt like lecturing them with something like, "look, I don't care what you do, as long as I don't see you smoking it. When I was your age, kids smoked their stinkweed at midnight behind the dumpster at the bowling alley and had sex in their cars at the back of the unfinished subdivision. Everybody knew but didn't know, and their parents were able to be blissfully and deliberately ignorant. That kind of hypocrisy is implicitly understood as part and parcel of the Social Contract, and it helps the world function. So get with it and stop behaving like you're drinking your bong water."

In sum, I'm proud to be a hypocrite.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Memphian Exile

Well, we survived Hurricane Gustav yesterday, though we remain in Memphis, as our town is officially closed and our house is without power. We kind of saw a couple of the big spots here in Memphis, but really didn't.

seventy bucks
for Elvis' jumpsuits?
went somplace else.

Lorraine Motel
American shrine
copyrights enforced


We went to Graceland yesterday and cut our losses at the $8.00 parking fee. It cost $28 just to see the house, and over $70 to see the fun Elvis stuff like those tacky jumpsuits. Also, DW didn't much like the notion of the Elvis security going through her bag.


Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
--Dr. Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968
Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

U2, Pride
After leaving Graceland in a huff, we went to the Lorraine Motel, which is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. I took several pictures of the exterior of the site of Martin Luther King's martyrdom, but we chose not to go inside when we were asked to deposit any cell phones or cameras at the door. Evidently, someone has copyrighted some of the material inside the museum in order to make a little money. Isn't this a place where cameras and camcorders should be encouraged so that American children can be reminded of both our country's original sin (racism) and of the better angels of our nature?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Panic City

Damn, this area is jittery today, the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Gustav is forecast to make landfall Tuesday morning down on The Bayou (Bayou Lafourche), in Cajun Boy's territory, yet I had difficulty buying gas this morning in Slidell, which is far removed from there. I don't know why, but that really cheesed me. I think it was just icing on the cake of overkill broadcasting, premature evacuations, and and a general sense of panic. Anyway, I was yelling, slamming my fist on the horn, and punching the steering wheel whenever I encountered the usual rush-hour frustration on the way into work this morning. I rarely get worked up like that.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Here we go again


Well, this certainly sucks out loud. Fortunately, I reserved a room in Memphis just in case we feel compelled to evacuate. Maybe we'll go to Graceland or something.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Moviegoers

DW and I had an opportunity to play Politeness Man yesterday at the local cineplex, during a viewing of the movie about another superhero, Bat Man. Perhaps 30 minutes into the film, the ball cap-wearing philistine two seats over received, and responded to, a text message, shining his cell screen and making clicky noises. I said nothing, assuming that a theater employee would catch him next time around. After all, this theater previously had been a tad militant about its no-cell policy.

Sadly, the theater appears to have accepted the cellular decline of Western civilization, and such militant enforcement is no longer the case. With about 15 or 20 minutes left in the film, the cap-wearing philistine Cellular Man received a telephone call and began to engage in a conversation, no doubt concerning the purchase of whatever controlled substance he planned to use after the movie. "Get off the phone!" I shouted at him, to no avail. DW went to the lobby to summon help from theater employees, who were milling about, no doubt daydreaming about what they would do with that oily gunk to which the motion picture industry refers as "butter." I can only imagine the depraved horrors that go on in that den of celluloid atrocities. John Waters might learn a thing or two from the gunky daydreams I imagine these folks were having. I'm just saying.

Oh yes, back to our story. DW returned with a theater employee, who sat next to the cell phone scofflaw, spoke with him for a few seconds, then got up and left. Cellular Man and his wife placed their feet on their knees and refused to allow DW to pass through to her seat (one gets the feeling that these vile people have done this before). I looked underneath DW's seat and could not ascertain whether she had taken her purse with her, or I would have gathered her up and left the premises. I also worked through the mental calculations of whether it would be worth it to engage in a brawl inside the cineplex. Just then, DW summoned a theater employee, who returned with her, told the Cellular People to allow DW through, then disappeared instantaneously. Cellular Woman let her through, but Cellular Man attempted to trip her before letting her pass. A negligence action against the theater might have been an interesting prospect had DW fallen, but I'm glad she made it back to her seat. As the credits rolled, I shouted, "leave your damn phone home, next time, [expletive deleted]!" This all happened in a half-full theater, and nobody else had a thing to say about it. The Cellular People verbally accosted us in the lobby. DW made a point of loudly telling Cellular Woman not to try and intimidate her, which had the effect of shooing them of. The management provided us with movie passes, and I fired off an irate e-mail to corporate headquarters when we arrived home.

I think that if the cell-phone prohibition is dropped, then I should be allowed to blurt out snarky remarks and spoilers during movies. That is how some people used to watch movies in New Orleans, after all, which could make bad movies very fun.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

On the Rollercoaster


Fortuna's wheel spun low this week for your humble correspondent. Mixing metaphors, I took a steep dive on my emotional rollercoaster, into a significant depressive episode that lasted pretty much all week. Mixing metaphors again, I'm mired in a swampy personal situation in which there is no good outcome, and that was on my mind much of the week. Also, my boys are having a hard time with the beginning of the school year, and that also was on my mind. Yesterday, I had a scorching headache all day long that only got worse whenever I had to read or focus on my computer screen. Pretty much all I do on my job is read and focus on my computer screen, and my head was hurting so bad at one point that my eyes starting watering. Once I got home and watched television for a while, the headache pretty much went away.

On a more positive note, I'm taking this weekend completely off. I haven't done this since early June, as I've either been working, running around town with the kids, or addressing issues raised by my mother's death. None of that this weekend. I may go see Tropic Thunder today, I haven't decided. If the weather were nicer, I'd think about putting my kayak into the water.

A puddle of congratulations to Gentle Readers and parents-to-be Bill and Karen, who moved to New York City this past week for a taxation LLM program at NYU. Living in New York is among the many things I wished I had done way back when. I had thought of referring those two to Gentle Reader The Cajun Boy for tips on living in New York as an outsider and getting invited to A-list parties with other witty, urbane hipsters, but living there as an expatriate Utahn has got to be very different from living there as an expatriate Louisianian.

Oh yeah, the rollercoaster in the photograph is the late, great Texas Cyclone from Astroworld. That was a very fast coaster, and it was made even more fun when you walked underneath it while standing in line and could see loose slats of wood hanging in the breeze. DW smacked me with an umbrella when the guard-bar on our car wouldn't open and I said we would just have to go again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

There's No Place Like Home Depot

T likes his tool belt. A likes the new piano.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

You can do it. We can help.


Home Depot Honors Fallen Soldiers With Great Prices On Tools
Hats off to The Onion. This is the tackiest thing I've seen in a long time.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A dilemma, wrapped in an enigma, shrouded in something or other

It's been a little over two weeks since my mother died, and it's difficult to articulate exactly how I feel about it. I've had some moments of leaden sadness, but, for the most part, I quite honestly don't feel much at all. The ability to deny appropriate emotions, or at least to suppress them deeply, is something I inherited from my mom, so perhaps it's appropriate that I'm having a hard time feeling as though I'm having a hard time. We were estranged--first partially, then entirely--during the last few years of her life, but the lack of emotional response strikes me as a bit odd.

I have had significant interaction with my sister in the past couple of weeks. She contracted a nasty sinus infection that quickly turned into pneumonia, landing her in the hospital. That was pretty crappy, coming right on the heels of the funeral. She is astonishingly better and more in-control than she was a couple of years ago; I hope she is able to maintain her current frame of mind and keep body and soul together on the scant financial resources she will have. I'm going to do what I can to help her set things up. Beyond that, I'll take things very slowly--much slower than she would like, I'm afraid.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wow!


The China Central Television building in Beijing. I saw a story about this the other day on the home page on DW's laptop. This is way cool in my book. The building will be completed in December 2009, and Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren are the architects.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yes, let's beat up disabled children, shall we?

Who is this Michael Savage idiot, anyway? Other than someone I'd like to smack upside the head, I mean. What a douche!

Monday, July 21, 2008

My, but that panda is crunchy!


Gosh, look at what they're making cereal out of these days! How barbaric!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Holy Psycho Anarcho-Nihilist, Batman!


We saw The Dark Knight this afternoon. We had been looking forward to viewing the film at the local IMAX, but that crummy theater closed its IMAX permanently just in the nick of time. Christopher Nolan actually filmed parts of the film with IMAX cameras, so this film must be particularly sweet on the right screen. I thought about driving to Houston, but the IMAX there is sold out for all features this weekend. Oh well.

All the hoo-haw about Heath Ledger's performance in this movie is justified. His Joker isn't just a gangster in a goofy get-up, but a cynical anarchist and a nihilist who engages in antisocial behavior because he likes to watch the chaos he creates. Ledger looks and sounds wonderfully creepy, though a funny, brainy kind of creepy. The Joker also comes close to seducing Batman out of his job, and the wanted superhero is susceptible to that kind of seduction. Their cat-and-mouse game is wonderfully played by Ledger and Christian Bale. Heath Ledger's performance might land him the Oscar he should have won for Brokeback Mountain.

Greatest legal citation since "The Case of the Man who was Shot in the Buttocks"

Here, respondents are authorized to bring suit on behalf of the payphone operators, but they have no claim to the recovery. Indeed, their take is not tied to the recovery in any way. Respondents receive their compensation based on the number of payphones and telephone lines operated by their clients, see App. 198, not based on the measure of damages ultimately awarded by a court or paid by petitioners as part of a settlement. Respondents received the assignments only as a result of their willingness to assume the obligation of remitting any recovery to the assignors, the payphone operators. That is, after all, the entire point of the arrangement. The payphone operators assigned their claims to respondents “for purposes of collection,” App. to Pet. for Cert. 114a; respondents never had any share in the amount collected. The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing. “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965).

Sprint Comm. Co. L.P. v. APCC Servs, Inc., 128 S. Ct. 2531, 2550 (2008) (Roberts, C.J., dissenting).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Daily Zen, woo-hoo!

Shall I tell you what it is to know?
To say you know when you know,
And to say you do not, when you do not,
That is knowledge.

- Confucius

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Death in the Family

My mother died early yesterday. I've been estranged from the family for quite some time, but I will be attending the funeral tomorrow. It might be a bit more difficult than most funerals; we'll see.

ETA: I'm in shock. The funeral was very nice, and not at all confrontational.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Don't mess with a missionary man


In one of the more curious episodes in recent Mormon cultural history, the creator of the Mormons Exposed calendar of bare-chested, recently returned missionaries has been excommunicated from the LDS Church, and some of the models on the calendar also are facing ecclesiastical discipline. I thought this calendar was nothing more or less than just plain silly when I first heard of it. However, I suppose the church would rather not encourage people to imagine what might be underneath those black suits, white shirts, name plaques, and conservative ties--though some LDS teenagers have been known to have active imaginations on that issue. I took a look at the calendar website this morning, and I noticed a couple of T-shirts for sale making light of Utah's polygamist past. Especaially in light of the recent FLDS/Texas fiasco, I would think those T-shirts would be as likely to offend current Mormon sensitivities as would the hardbodies on the calendar. And what's this guy doing standing in front of Buddhist statues, anyway?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blinding me with science

Researchers at Harvard have discovered six genes they believe are related to autism causation. However, they noted that pretty much each family with autistic genes has its own unique etiology. Evidently, these genes are responsible for the activation of synapses in the brain in the first few years of life; in autistic kids the activation switches never turn on. The good news is that the medical profession is getting better at formulating medications that flip genetic switches. Also, the result appears to validate applied behavior analysis programs and their intense, repetitive training, which may help develop synapses. My sons' ABA training is hard work for them, but they enjoy learning, and the ABA appears to have improved their intellectual capabilities as well as their overall behavior.

Faux-Bama


The Obama-leaning New Yorker, to which your humble correspondent subscribes, is in politically incorrect hot water for satirizing some of the nutty rumors that have been spread about the candidate. The first thing I do with that magazine when it arrives is to read through the cartoons.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Magic Bus, Death Edition


Wilderness . . . not only offered an escape from society but also was an ideal stage for the Romantic individual to exercise the cult that he made of his own soul.

--Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (quoted by Jon Krakauer)

Christopher McCandless died alone inside an abandoned bus on an Alaskan trail in August 1992, and, if youtube is any indication, the bus has become a shrine--to what, exactly, I don't know. Nothing against McCandless; I've always had a fondness for people who march to the beat of a different drummer, and certainly there are a fair number of people who yearn for what they perceive as a simpler, more primitive life, a life that will provide them with a spiritual epiphany. I say "what they perceive as" based on McCandles's diary entries and what litle I've read about the amount of time and energy hunter/gatherer types spend hunting for game, gathering edible vegetation, warding off disease, and staying warm. Certainly that kind of life is more primitive, but simpler? I'll give my eight hours a day to the U.S. Courts, thank you.

Into the Wild is Jon Krakauer's meticulously researched and brilliantly written account of the last two years of McCandless's life. McCandless graduated from Emory University in 1990, then went on the road. He changed his name to "Alexander Supertramp" and cut off contact with his family. He frequently went days without eating, and lived on rice and whatever he could hunt or gather. Finally, in 1992, he took off for his great Alaskan adventure, a trip he thought would bring about an inner spiritual transformation as he lived off the land. By July 1992, McCandless's diary entries indicated that he was ready to leave the wilderness and return to society. The problem was, McCandless was untrained and unprepared to live in Alaska. The river he had walked across to get to his bus had swollen and become impassible by the time he was ready to leave, and he hadn't bothered to obtain a detailed map that would have directed him to an easy way across the river a few hours from where he was. So he went back to the bus to wait things out. Something went terribly wrong at the end of July--McCandless belived he had eaten toxic potato seeds--and he starved to death by the middle of August. Krakauer opines that a toxic mold or fungus that had grown on the seeds imparied McCandless's ability to metabolize food. Whatever caused him to starve, Christopher McCandless weighed 67 pounds when his corpse was found.

McCandless's death made national news, and Outside magazine assigned Krakauer to write an article. The article led Krakauer to people who had known McCandless in the final two years of his life. His interviews with those people and McCandless's diaries allowed him to piece together a gripping narrative of an adventurous but tortured soul in search of himself. McCandless was obsessed with Tolstoy, Thoreau, and Jack London, and his extensive wilderness adventures somewhat emulated his favorite authors.

McCandless detested his materialistic (by his standards) parents, and he rejected their offers of a new car and a mommy/daddy scholarship to law school (he did what?) Krakauer himself is a wilderness adventurer, having disappointed his own father by rejecting the family's one true path to success, also known as Harvard Medical School. He drew upon his own experience climbing a glacial mountain in Alaska in an attempt to understand McCandless. Krakauer felt vibrant and was intensely focused throughout his climb, as he was in all his adventures. Danger brought him alive. McCandless evidently had the same kind of feelings throughout his adventures. The most obvious difference is that, although Krakauer took huge risks, he was a trained, experienced climber who made appropriate preparations. A less obvious difference is that Krakauer didn't come off as all that interested in using his adventures to gain a complete spiritual transformation.

The most dangerous thing I've ever done in the great outdoors is some mild-mannered open water diving. Diving provided me not with the thrill of danger, but rather a feeling of tranquility, something that was badly needed. I haven't been in a few years, but I'm planning to go down again one of these days. I did go hiking once in the Bear River Range in Utah with no compass and a small supply of water, and I felt terribly stupid when I got lost. However, I was able to see the parking lot from the highest peak and maintain my sense of direction until I got back to the car. One of my fond fantasies is to hike, camp, and run the Rio Grande rapids in the Big Bend region of Texas. If I go, I'll attempt to be properly prepared and provisioned.

Into the Wild brought the movie and novel Fight Club to mind. Chris McCandless and Tyler Durden shared a desire for a return to a primitive lifestyle, and both had inter-generational issues. McCandless tested his body by living in an extreme manner on the edge of society, while Tyler and his followers tested their bodies by having the crap beaten out of themselves. McCandless, however, became an anarchist and withdrew from civilization, while Tyler became a fascist and attempted to create anarchy by destroying civilization. I suppose sons have always had issues with their fathers--Oedipus Rex is rather an old play--and father/son issues have persisted even after Freud has gone out of style.

The book also raised one issue of which I was vaguely aware but had not articulated--the responsibility of an individual to conduct himself or herself in a particular manner to spare the feelings of his or her friends and family members. I have thought some about living my life in comformity with the expectations of others (I agin' it as a general proposition, but I suppose I admire nonconformists far more than I emulate them), but not so much about regulating my actions to spare their feelings. Chris McCandless's relatives wondered aloud how he could bring them so much grief. It's a fair question. However, apart from acting on an actual death wish--something Krakauer didn't see in McCandless--I don't know that one should be responsible for the feelings of anybody beyond his or her spouses and children. Beyond that, one's life is one's own, I suppose.

As for transformative spiritual experiences, I'm dubious about reliance on external stimuli, without something more, though I suppose that some experiences and phenomena are more helpful than others. In the end, however, the actual transformation occurs inside the individual, and can't be borrowed from nature or any person or institution. On second thought, I suppose that intense physical activities requiring complete concentration and perfect coordination of mind and body tend to eradicate the distinction in Western thought between mind and body. Nondualist Eastern thought rejects such a distinction in the first place. Perhaps one can gain a kind of existential, experiential transformative spirituality through adventures like McCandless's.

I can see why people see seomthing admirable in McCandless; I can also see why others see him as a reckless idiot. What I don't get is why people still make pilgrimages to what McCandless called his Magic Bus. Now I've got to see Sean Penn's movie version, which features the bus and other Chris McCandless locales.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why, it's an article about me.

The Glen Rose Reporter ran an article this week about my search for my biological parents. The article came about after I asked the newspaper for archival materials, and I'm grateful to the newspaper for publishing it. Hopefully, someone will come forward with some useful information.

Rotten Apples

I'm stuck in the iPocalypse this morning. I already have an iPhone, and I stupidly clicked "yes" when iTunes asked me if I wanted to upgrade to the 2.0 software. Now my phone is stuck in emergency mode and it won't connect to the iTunes store to do whatever it is needs to be done to complete the update. I can't imagine why Apple and AT&T weren't prepared for this meltdown. It reminds me of the day AOL went to unlimited access pricing and everybody tried to get on simultaneously.

ETA: iPocalypse over, 2:52 p.m.

MacBama? McLear? WTMcF?

An Internet bulletin board discussion of Barack Obama's brazen reversal on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act made me think of a certain ruthlessly ambitious character, though the character had to undergo a sudden sex change operation to suit my purposes:

Doctor:
What is it he does now? Look how he rubs his hands.

Gentlewoman:
It is an accustom'd action with him, to seem thus
washing his hands. I have known him continue in this a quarter of
an hour.

President Obama (holding up FISA legislation that's too damn long for me to read all the way through and get my work done today):
Yet here's a spot.

Doctor:
Hark, he speaks. I will set down what comes from him, to
satisfy my remembrance the more strongly.

President Obama:
Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!—
One; two: why, then 'tis time to do't.
—Hell is murky.—
Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and
afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our pow'r to accompt?
—Yet who would have thought the old constitution to
have had so much blood in it?

John McCain, too, has his Shakepearian antecedent:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and Osama-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving "activist judges,"
Singe my white head! And thou, all shock-and-awe,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' Iraq!
Crack nature's molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Child's Nostalgia


T meets up with Ronald McDonald, the magic maker of McNuggets.

A advertises his mother's alma mater. Surprisingly, the WalMart in Logan, Utah, carries no Utah State hats or t-shirts, and DW and I had to go to a sporting goods store and look around to find one of the few items of USU memorabilia available in the town where that university is located. Around here, you can't avoid LSU stuff in any mercantile establishment.

A had a rough weekend at home. He was having allergy issues and obviously felt under the weather. His TV/VCR went haywire and I had to hide it from him, and he hasn't learned how to push all those fun buttons on the Playstation 3 that we use as a DVD player. He also became nostalgic, something that is unusual for him. He directed me around town by pointing in the direction he wanted me to drive, and we drove past his old school and on some old joyrides that we hadn't done since gas was maybe $1.50 a gallon.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Louisiana High School Biology Class Caught on Video!


Our Legislature and Governor are so concerned about the state of science education that they have given us this law:

AN ACT

To enact R.S. 17:285.1, relative to curriculum and instruction; to provide relative to the teaching of scientific subjects in public elementary and secondary schools; to promote students' critical thinking skills and open discussion of scientific theories; to provide relative to support and guidance for teachers; to provide relative to textbooks and instructional materials; to provide for rules and regulations; to provide for effectiveness; and to provide for related matters.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of Louisiana:

Section 1. R.S. 17:285.1 is hereby enacted to read as follows:

§285.1. Science education; development of critical thinking skills
A. This Section shall be known and may be cited as the "Louisiana Science Education Act."

B.(1) The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon request of a city, parish, or other local public school board, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

(2) Such assistance shall include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied, including those enumerated in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection.

C. A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

D. This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

E. The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and each city, parish, or other local public school board shall adopt and promulgate the rules and regulations necessary to implement the provisions of this Section prior to the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.

Section 2. This Act shall become effective upon signature by the governor or, if not signed by the governor, upon expiration of the time for bills to become law without signature by the governor, as provided by Article III, Section 18 of the Constitution of Louisiana. If vetoed by the governor and subsequently approved by the legislature, this Act shall become effective on the day following such approval.