Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Walkin' the Line

I saw "Walk the Line" on DVD today. I had meant to see this during my Houston exile, but it opened the day before we moved back here, and the local theater situation in Slidell remains bleak, with both of the tiny moviehouses still closed, and who wants to drive 20 miles just to see a movie? Okay, so I've driven farther than that many times to see a film in a theater where my feet won't stick to the floor. I just haven't wanted to lately. We are finally getting that multiplex we've been promised for years, I suspect thanks to that theater chain getting an insurance check for its property in New Orleans.

Oh yeah, the movie. The lead acting performances alone make "Walk the Line" worth seeing. I don't know whether the songs were recorded in the order they appeared in the movie, but Joaquin Phoenix's singing sounded more confident as the film went on, and, by the end, he was pretty much channeling Johnny Cash, complete with Cash's mannerisms and stage presence. He also managed to play Cash well, acting like a total jerk much of the time without losing sight of Cash's considerable natural charm or becoming entirely unsympathetic.

The relationship between Johnny and June Carter is the main plot element of the movie, and Reese Witherspoon doesn't disappoint as June. One question I had, however, was what kept her attracted to him. I got the impression that the movie version of June Carter Cash was more disgusted by him, and felt sorry for him, than she was attracted to him. Perhaps a little more exploration of her emotions might have been helpful there. Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 27, 2006

More suffering in the Big Easy

I just came from the food court in the Place St. Charles office building, where I had hoped to munch on my favorite media noche sandwich and fried plantains. Evidently, the sandwich press there is broken, so I had to order something else. Yet one more annoyance caused by Hurricane Katrina. Oh, the humanity! Sniff. On second thought, I hope I don't end up sniffing. I seem to develop a very nasty cough every time I come to the city; it had me sick yesterday and Saturday. Today has been so far, so good.

Judging from the trash on the streets, Carnival is going well. It'll be interesting to see if the powers-that-be use the tonnage of trash to estimate attendance--there are still tons of debris and garbage left over from the storm that haven't been collected, and I wonder whether the city has the manpower or the funds to collect the Carnival garbage.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

It's all about farming

I am finishing up my reading of "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies" (1997), by UCLA Professor Jared Diamond. This is a brilliant book, and one I recommend to anybody interested in understanding why socities developed differently, and at different paces, in different parts of the world. Diamond takes a very broad view of his subject, and his thesis is that the development of food production is ultimately the reason why Eurasian socieites developed the technologies, centralized governments, writing systems, and, as an unfortunate byproduct, the germs and epidemic diseases that allowed them to conquer and dominate the socieites of the Americas, Africa, Australia, and Oceania. The Eurasian development of food production, in turn, is based on the availability of wild crops and wild large mammals suitable for domestication. Early developments in Eurasia (largely the "Fertile Crescent," but also in China) were spread easily throughout Eurasia due to that land mass's East-West access, which allowed societies from Europe to India to China to adopt plant/animal "packages" at similar lattitudes (though, due to geography, the interactions between China and the Fertile Crescent area were much more limited than the interactions between the Fertile Crescent, India, and Europe. Also, the more evenly distributed populations of the Eurasian land mass helped in the diffusion of crops, animals, and ideas, while the more isoloated populations of the other areas of the world were less able to share with each other.

Diamond is very convincing, and he discredits the old, at least implicitly racist, Euro-centric theories that attempted to explain why some cultures progressed more rapidy than others. In his broad sweep and fresh approach to the subject of world history, Diamond reminds me somewhat of the French "Annalistes" of the 1930s, who focused more on issues like the history of climate than on the more traditional subjects of their field. Also, sweeping theories of comparative history have been out of favor for years, and Diamond's book suggests the difficulties inherent in formulating such a sweeping theory; his theory takes into account plant and animal physiology (he is a physiologist by training), epidemiology, economics, political science, sociology, geography, demographics, technological innovation, linguistics, and cultural anthropology--and history too. With knowledge as specialized as it has become, the possibility of forumlating a single, broad theory of the history of the development of human socieites has been greatly reduced from the days of intellectual generalists. There are a few underdeveloped areas in the book, and Diamond himself mentions a few in his 2003 afterword--the role of cultural idiosyncracies, and the assertive proselytizing of Islam and Christianity being a couple of them. I thought he gave the role of religion in social development short shrift, limiting his discussion of religion to its role in supporting the social order in highly stratified societies. Certainly all of what we would call major religions (all of which are relatively recent in the long history of human life on Earth) have served that purpose, but it seems to me that the teachings of different religions have different and powerful influcences on their respective adherents and societies--whatever their unique historical and spiritual claims. Whether you accept Diamond's hypothesis or not, "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is a brilliant, fresh approach to history, and one that makes for a damn interesting read. Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 24, 2006

Holy freaking hell!

DW and I spent last night at the local emergency room, and she was admitted to the hospital for most of the day. She's had a mysterious series of tremors, and a false alarm on a CT-scan had us concerned that she might have suffered a stroke recently. However, it turned out not to be, and all of the other neurological testing came out fine.

It was a rough crowd at the ER last night. DW sat next to a guy who had scraped off a significant portion of his face. He had wrapped his pickup around a tree the night before last, and decided to seek treatment only last night. He was a very pleasant fellow, and he helped calm DW just by shooting the shit with her. The guy did make an interesting comment about his home state, saying that the state motto should be "come on vacation; leave on probation." Hmmm.

The highlight of the evening in the ER was the arrival of four Slidell Police officers with a drunken, bloodied-up Russian they had arrested after a bar fight. The Russian guy spoke decent enough English, but he loved to use variations of the word "fuck," and to say them rather loudly. Now, I'll grant that this is not a word unknown to my own vocabulary, but it's not one that I would use when speaking with officers of the law. The Russian was extremely belligerent to everybody in all directions, and he attempted to attack the cops on several occasions. He even spat on one of the officers and broke the cops' Polaroid when they started photographing his injuries. When they shoved him into a corner, a would-be do-gooder came from the next room and shouted that there were citizens watching the police. Those of us standing next to the cops and their prisoner took a different view--if anything, they were too easy on the guy. I've seen beaucoup Texas prison use-of-force videos, and I can safely say that Russian would have been either completely manacled and restrained, or he would have been body-slammed onto the floor instead of merely being pressed into a handy wheelchair, which then tipped over. After about an hour of this, we mostly were ignoring the Russian and encouraging the cops. Tough crowd at Slidell Memorial. They finally took the guy and disappeared into their pre-arranged "quiet room." Shortly thereafter, a police captain apeared and interviewed several people to ensure that his officers complied with the law, which they clearly did. It was actually very entertaining.

Snarky pizza ad

Get your pizza from the ACLU.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New style guide

To heck with the Bluebook, the Texas Law Review manual, Strunk & White, Little Brown, and all those other so-called guides to writing style. I saw something this morning that reminded me of the National Lampoon's classic "How to Write Good." It's still the funnest style guide available.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday Lagniappe

Adam did a little decorating in the master bedroom over the weekend. Here he poses in front of his mural.

Adam had a busy weekend at home, going to all the usual places and doing all the usual things. I may have been too ambitious for him today. After he ran around petting dogs and watching fish at PetSmart, we went to Target to get more crayons. He pitched a fit in the checkout line, so I tried bribing him with a Sprite from the cooler in the line. No, that didn't do it, hmmm, oh, yeah, he wants a Sierra Mist from that particular cooler three aisles down. That worked, and I have no idea where that drink preference came from. We went to the mall and started playing with the tiny carousel there. Some nice grandma put her kid on the carousel, and the trouble started. The woman must have reminded Adam of someone, because he ran off of the carousel and charged at her, as if to push her away. Evidently, Adam had her confused with someone who simply isn't supposed to be in the Slidell/Northshore Mall part of his life. I grabbed him, but he persisted. The woman tried hiding behind a pole, but it didn't satisfy Adam. She was concerned about having upset him; if it had been me, I would have thought that Adam's dad was an idiot. Adam then slapped a girl on the arm, so I said, "that's it; we're out of here!" I picked Adam up, and started down the mall.

I was sick for part of the week, and yesterday was pretty bad. That left me weak and slow to respond. Adam lurched out of my arms in front of one of the stores, and landed on his back. Fortunately, he lurched as I was trying to get him off of the floor, so he didn't have far to go. A well-meaning mall cop came over and tried to help out, but really didn't understand the situation. Then the kid from the sunglass kiosk came over and said that he used to have out-of-control tantrums when he was younger. He gently placed Adam in a basket hold as I kept Adam from harming anybody. You don't hear me complaining about today's teenagers, though I could have lived without the kid asking whether Adam had been evaluated. A lady at the pretzel store who knows us by sight just handed us a pretzel and a lemonade when Adam wandered across the mall into that store, then she refused to let me pay for it. I felt like Blanche duBois, relying on the kindness of strangers. Adam finally got settled down enough to deal with things, but we were there for another hour before he was ready to leave. Even then, I had to pick him up and carry him around the exterior of the mall to get to the car.

This was the one bad part of a pretty good weekend with Adam, but it was very, very bad. It's the first time I've really felt like I couldn't control one of my kids. I've been warned about this, but I chose to ignore those warnings. I've always been able to whisk Adam or Toby out to the car and calm them by driving away from whatever is provoking them. This time, I was just too damn tired and weak. Sigh.

I got a call out of the clear blue sky from the old local LDS bishop tonight. He and his family moved to Houston a few years ago, and we weren't especially close, even though we worked together in church affairs. He said they were just talking about Slidell and wondered "how they're doing." I told him what's up with us and the kids, and asked about his kids (great kids, btw), but the whole time I was thinking "huh? wha?" I doubt anybody here put him up to calling us--we've always been open to being contacted, and we've had a comfortable, informal understanding for a few years that we and our ward leave each other alone. I mean, what do you say when someone you didn't know all that well calls out of the blue like that?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bad sleep

undiscovered country
illegal alien

Dreaming was very weird last night. I was inside some kind of satanic temple, but it was being run by my friend from the N.O. Zen Temple. I was hot for a woman who was a member of this group, but, as a member of this satanic group, she could only survive inside the facility, inside a gigantic tank of water. I declared that I would live in the tank of water if I had to, and I jumped in. I came up for air shortly thereafter, and Jeff decided to allow the woman to come up for air also (strange, actually, if she could live underwater without it, but we're in dreamland). But there was no air at the top of the tank when she came up. Next thing I know, the woman has escaped, and the two of us are in my pickup truck (I don't own a pickup, but, again, we're in dreamland here). I go into the satanic facility, and Jeff and another dude laugh at the thought of this woman living in the sunlight and out of her water tank. I go outside, and the woman has escaped in my pickup, leaving no clue as to where she has gone. So I lost my truck, and we didn't even . . . .

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Storm-tossed sea

A coworker sent me this photo of the Katrina storm surge bursting through the levee along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a canal that acted like a funnel for the water pushed by the storm. Posted by Picasa

"This was Arrested Development"

All good things must come to an end, and, last night, the funniest television show ever, period, came to its end--and what a finale! The final four episodes of "Arrested Development" ran in a two-hour block. The show had drifted a little earlier in the season, but the episodes last night were among the sharpest and funniest of the entire run. The Bluth family satirized the Terry Schiavo controversy, and the war in Iraq (a lot of war satire, and it was razor-sharp funny), Court TV, among other things, and they managed to give the Fox network another kick in the ass through a couple of snarky references to "Skating with Celebrities." I have a nasty cough, and I thought I was going to die coughing on several occasions.

The show came full-circle in the final episode, with the Bluth family having a boat party, this time on the Queen Mary. Instead of saving the day as usual, however, Michael and George Michael sailed off into the sunset on a small yacht as the SEC's speedboats chased after the rest of the Bluth family. Ron Howard's voice-over said, "this was Arrested Development." Then, in a brief epilogue, Maeby was trying to sell the family's story to an unidentified Hollywood Mogul. For the first time in the series, Ron Howard appeared on camera to say that he didn't see it as a series, but maybe as a movie. Hot damn! An AD movie! That would be very cool.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I'm not jealous, mind you, no, not me

Here is a video from the Today Show of my friends Jim and Katie in Tuscany.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The body brain

This morning at zazen, a practitioner asked the master about the importance of the precepts that every ordained Zen practitioner vows to practice (I'm not ordained, so I suppose I can be a hedonistic, greedy, exploitative bastard, right?). The master responded that the precepts are guidelines, but that the development of the "body brain" is far more important. That is why he does not discuss the precepts, and, presumably, why we don't work with koans. He explained that once the "body brain" is developed through the frequent, repetitive practice of zazen, that the entire body can think and make correct decisions, whether or not they technically comply with precepts or laws.

Here is a somewhat detailed explanation of the "body brain" concept that I cribbed from a Zen website:

The correct attitude of mind comes naturally from a deep concentration during zazen on the posture and the breathing.

During zazen the conscious flow of thought from the cerebral cortex is greatly diminished and the thinking brain becomes calm and cool. Blood flows toward the deeper layers of the brain, the thalamus and the hypo-thalamus, and this body-brain becomes more active and developed. The nervous system becomes relaxed while our deeper brain becomes more active. Receptive and attentive in every cell of the body, you learn to think with the body, unconsciously.

During zazen, thoughts, conscious and subconscious, naturally and continuously rise to the surface of our mind. Don't try to stop these thoughts from arising. But at the same time, don't get involved with the thoughts or let them take you away from concentration on posture and breathing. Just let the thoughts pass, like clouds in the sky, neither opposing them nor attaching to them. Shadows pass and vanish. Images arise from the subconscious, then disappear. The brain becomes deeply calm. One arrives at the deep unconscious, beyond thought, to hishiryo consciousness, true purity.

Hishiryo is the unconscious of Zen--universal mind. In Japanese, shiryo is thinking, fushiryo non-thinking. But hishiryo is absolute thinking, beyond thinking and non-thinking. Beyond categories, opposites, contradictions. Beyond all problems of personal consciousness. Our original nature, Buddha nature, the Cosmic unconscious.

A few questions come to mind. First, is it possible to create and develop instincts? Or is the body brain a more conscious type of instinct? Second, does this concept collapse Freud's model of super-ego, ego, and id, merging all three of those together? Like many who grew up in conservative families, I personally have always been skittish about my id, so it's interesting to think about a thought process that perhaps elevates the role of that mysterious part of my psychology. Conceptually, I can see how the spirit of the precepts (super-ego) could be absorbed into the "body brain" (which would seem to combine the self-imposed internal restraints of the ego with the internal desires and yearnings of the id), thus resulting in essentially instinctual decisions that are moral, whether or not they comply with the letter of the precepts. Or is this just another one of those wonderful Zen paradoxes? Talk to me, people!

Edited to add some excellent insight from Shannon W. in another corner of cyberspace, in a completely different context. When I read her comment, it occurred to me that the Zen notion of the body brain may relate to what we think of as simple intuition:

When I first commited to trying out following my intuition, it took some time to pay attention to what was intuition vs. what was stereotypes vs. what was fear. But with practice I got more confident about following what felt/feels right in my gut. And as an internal trade off for following the intuition that set off a negative vibe, I committed to myself to follow the positive intuition that I feel. So, when I get a gut feeling that I should go and ask someone how they are really feeling, or that I should offer to help someone I try to follow that, too. Because I'd spent so many years trying to unlearn stereotypes and clarify my values, initially I wanted to dismiss the intuition of a negative nature. But it seems to have balanced itself out, at least for me.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Now THAT's funny

From The Smoking Gun. The trial of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling got underway in Houston this week. Posted by Picasa

Congrats to a gentle reader

Congratulations to BIL Bill for landing a big one. He is now engaged to a gal he once thought was out of his league. Good for you, Bill. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tranzliate this Shiznit to Jive!

Click the Spinn'n Rim Beotch!

www.myYearbook.com -- Created
by 2 high school students to kick myspace's ass

Yo, dogg, cheq out da cracka Bush's State of the Union rap. N' shot calla Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Here be LDS Church Brotha Boyd K. Packer goin' all crazy ass postal on gays, wimmyn n' inteelectchals. N' here's the motherfucka Shakespeare n' King Lear.

Prank on the teacher?

Adam has always loved clocks; I don't know why. However, it sure looks like he's discovered the easy way to get out of class early.