Sunday, December 30, 2007

Do not go gentle into that good night, unless you donate your body to science

One of my brothers-in-law gave me Mary Roach's splendid
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which I finished reading tonight. Cadavers are used in valuable medical, automotive, and criminal justice research, and organ donors ("beating-heart cadavers") actually save lives. Roach interviewed some of the folks who do this research; indeed, she watched some of it underway. She also discusses some of the unsavory history of cadaver research, and takes a detour through the grotesque topic of medicinal cannibalism. This could have been a dry, technical book, but Mary Roach has a wonderful sense for humor, which shows through on almost every page. On a few occasions, she appears over-eager to see certain events first-hand, grossing out even the professionals in cadaver research. Still, she is respectful of the human beings whose cadavers are being researched and of most of the people whose work she observed first-hand. This is a book that's well worth reading, though you might not want to be seen reading it in a restaurant, as I was earlier today.

Holy Moses!

It's conceivable that Moses would use an ATV to get up and down Sinai were he alive in our day, though it's equally conceivable that he wouldn't, as some environmental groups view them as environmentally unfriendly. Perhaps Moses would use a Hummer instead. Or, if he's like me, he'd just walk, as he did in Exodus.

My kids watching Blue's Clues on Christmas Day. Note that A is wearing his New Orleans Saints cap gangsta style.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas 2007--can we have a do-over?

blue! orange! elevators!
christmas day meltdown

father's heart breaking
brotherly compassion lives
brave little trooper

Christmas didn't go well for my little family this year. Everything was closed, including the McDonald's that's always been open before on Christmas day. T's entire local ritual is based on going to retail establishments either to shop or ride elevators, and he couldn't handle not being able to have the rituals that he anticipates and needs. A was a good sport about it all.

We never really had Christmas traditions when I was a kid. Every year, we'd drive from Oklahoma to Baton Rouge, where we stayed at my grandmother's house. We shuttled around the area to various relatives' homes, and spent a great deal of time with a set of relatives whom, quite honestly, I viewed as my inferiors--I mean, my mother made us wear shoes, for heaven's sake. Christmas day opened with us ripping open our packages, then waiting for the various and sundry relatives to arrive. The group was always very loud, and there were so many people there that chaos was the norm. The adults would watch meaningless football games on television with the volume turned up all the way, and the table talk was about scintillating topics like planning for retirement and how black people had a secret plan to take over the Deep South. The same pattern continued, only at our house, after my dad died and we moved to Baton Rouge. I would usually retreat to my bedroom with a book once the noise began to numb my brain.

DW's family is certainly not perfect, but they have relatively elaborate Christmas traditions. The children in the extended family perform a nativity skit, and presents aren't opened until pretty much everybody gets there. I did think it a bit odd that presents were passed out one at a time, to be opened in front of everyone, but it gave me a fabulous opening when DW's brother-in-law got so fascinated by his new electric drill that he didn't hear his name called on the next round. "Stop playing with your tool and get over there," I muttered to DW, who shouted my words out loud.

I think it would be neat to give my kids more memorable Christmases than I had, and DW would like to give the kids the kinds of Christmases she remembers. However, our reality is such that we have to adapt to our circumstances and do the best we can. The kids had some fun this time around, and they did like the merchandise Santa brought them, so it wasn't all bad--but my heart is still broken.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

There are Russians in the shower!

I bought a copy of David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises as a birthday present for myself today--happy birthday to me, btw.

Yes, Viggo Mortensen appears in full-frontal glory in a remarkable fight scene in a public bath, but the use of his nudity works well to show his vulnerability--especially as he was bare-handed against knife-wielding, coat-cladded professional killers. Nudity in movies, per se, has never bothered me. I do get annoyed when it's gratuitous and irrelevant to anything other than ticket sales. In any event, this was the most effective bare-handed fighting scene since the Jared Leto beatdown in Fight Club.

Eastern Promises is the story of a British midwife (Naomi Watts) who stumbles into a dirty little secret of the London Russian mafia, and of a Russian mob driver named Nikolai (Viggo), who seems to be the only mobster with anything approaching a conscience. I like how the movie was structured, and, as is the case with all of Cronenberg's films, there's not a moment or a word wasted. It's a very good crime drama. However, I liked the last Cronenberg/Mortensen vehicle, A History of Violence, just a little bit better. That film was a bit deeper, as it explored the corrosive and lasting effects of violence on individuals and families.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to mention a couple of insights I've had as to my love of violent entertainment and how I can hold that in my head in tension with a seemingly incompatable embrace of Zen Buddhism. I've had one series of dreams over the past few years involving knife-inflicted injuries, and, when I was around 10-11, I drew a series of decapitation drawings my dad found disturbing, but that my mother rightly blew off because I wasn't engaged in any patterns of behavior consistent with the violence depicted in the drawings. I suspect that my subconcious is now directing my attention to dissociation and having pieces of self cut off, isolated, repressed, and so on, just before the onset of puberty.

Another dream series, happening simulaneously with the first series, suggests a yearning to integrate everything into a healthy ego. It struck me recently how perfectly the Zen concepts of nonduality and interdependence fit with that second series of dreams. I started the whole meditation thing purely as a mental health exercise. Still, the recognition and realization of those concepts is a natural side-effect of Zen sitting. I don't know why that insight was unsettling--it really should be a good thing to understand that I backed into something that fits so exactly with what I need. Maybe it's because I've never believed in fate or predestination, and this is one of those things that seems like fate. Very weird.

So what does this all mean? Hell if I know for sure, but it's possible that my subconscious mind is telling me that I need to go back in time, find whatever pieces of my psyche have been split off, then deconstruct myself and put myself back together into a new and improved person. That sounds a whole lot like the first two seasons of Dexter.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bloody British Barber

Well, you had to know that I would go to see Tim Burton's movie version of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, a musical featuring a serial-killing barber played by Johnny Depp. Lots of blade work, blood, and cannabalism too! What's not to love? This is an absolute must-see for anybody with a love of violent cinema--one older gentleman staggered down the stairs during the film as if he was going to the bathroom to vomit. Of course, I loved the film.

Seriously, though, this is a terrific movie, with great music, great acting, and a fair amount of humor. The storyline is operatic and tragic--a family is destroyed by an act of injustice, and, later, a potential family never comes to be due to deep flaws in the would-be mother and father. Both characters have fatal obsessions--him with the judge who took his family and sent him into exile; she with him. His rage leads him to kill people; her obsession with him leads her to concoct an interesting method of disposing of the bodies. She is interested in having a future with him and an urchin she takes in; he has no interest in any future with anybody except the judge he wants to murder. The urchin sees her as a potential mother, but begins to suspect that Sweeney is bad news. The parallel storyline involving an optimistic young sailor and Sweeney's daughter is interesting too; as they come closer to freedom and a life together, Sweeney is desending into insanity.

Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter are fabulous as usual. His singing voice starts off a bit weak--especially up against the actor playing the sailor (Jamie Campbell Bower), whose voice is simply gorgeous. Depp's singing, however, gets much better as the movie goes along. It could be that he became a better singer through experience, or it could be that he only really finds his voice once he starts slashing people. Alan Rickman (Snape in the Harry Potter films) is the evil Judge Turpin, and his performance is as good as one would expect. I was very impressed by the child actor Ed Sanders, who played the urchin Toby. His almost-mother/son scenes with Bonham-Carter are convincing and heartbreaking, and the look in his eyes in the movie's final scene is both sad and terrifying. Indeed, his eyes look very much like Sweeney Todd's. I noticed that Sweeney Todd was nominated for a few Golden Globe awards before it was even relased. It wouldn't surprise me to see the film also nominated for a number of Oscars.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Daily Zen, freezing cold

For any gentle readers experiencing actual winter weather:

In field or mountain,
Nothing stirs
On this snowy morning.

- Chiyo-Ni

Monday, December 17, 2007

Child of God


Well, T's purchase of a King David action figure a couple of weeks ago may not have been an isolated incident. He is showing an interest in some of the formal aspects of the Sunday mass, and he may be trained to play a part in that. Yesterday, we bought him Moses, Samson, and Jonah action figures as Christmas presents to go along with David. Jesus was sold-out (by some WalMart Judas, I suppose). Whether his interest in religion progresses further is something on which we'll wait and see. In any event, it appears that something in that realm is connecting with T on some level. I suppose that if God can manifest Himself to folks like Moses, Joseph Smith, and St. Teresa of Avila, He can manifest Himself to a kid like T in a way that T can understand.

Shiznit, dogg! A be da gangsta!

This past weekend, A wore a ballcap promoting my undergraduate university, whose football team will be playing for the collegiate national championship in a couple of weeks. I put the cap on him bill-forward, but he soon changed it to bill-backward, then sideward, like a gangsta rapper.

Smells Like Teen Spirit?

I noticed a display at WalMart the other day suggesting that Tom Brady wears the same aftershave as I do. However, said aftershave lotion has not made me 6'5", athletic, and able to have my way with supermodels. Dang! I have to wonder whether other NFL players snort and giggle as they walk past the Stetson displays at their local stores. Probably not, given the way the Patriots are playing this season. The product Brady advertises seems to work well with my natural skin scent, and I have an odd ability to sniff out such things. But I don't think it would do well for me to go around telling other men (or women, for that matter) that they should use product that is more/less citrusy, woodsy, powdery, musky, etc., to complement or mask their natural scent.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas Angels

Check out the little man in the swimming pool on the second page.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Endogenic Retroviruses, oh my!

A few months back, I read an article in a scientific journal using statistics from genetic studies to propose a theory that autism in some children--particularly in families with more than one child with autism--may be caused by genetic mutations that enter the germ line (sperm and egg) and that are passed from generation to generation. Thanks to Gentle Reader Ros, Ph.D., for helping me interpret that article. The article suggested that those endogenetic mutations most likely were passed down through the female parent, something that my non-scientific brain wondered about. After all, my wife has five sisters, none of whom have children with autism--and we're talking about women who have between two and four kids.

Yesterday, I read a fascinating article in the New Yorker about the field of paleovirology, or the study of ancient retroviruses. Because retroviruses encode themselves into the DNA of their hosts, they are the only viruses that theoretically could enter the germ line and be passed down intergenerationally. It turns out that numerous retroviruses became endogenic over the years, and that harmless fragments of those retroviruses are in our DNA. It also turns out that a retrovirus may have been responsible for the development of the placenta, which allows mammals to have live births instead of hatching from eggs.

Molecular biologists have been able to piece together some of these ancient retroviruses and reconstruct them (somehow in a socially responsible way that allows them to reproduce only once) for use in research to assist in finding cures for modern retroviral infections. For instance, millions of years ago, other primates became infected with a retrovirus called PtERV, while humans did not become infected. We have a gene called TRIM5a, which produecs a protein that destroys PtERV. Other primates also have TRIM5a, but it works differently in them. In the Rhesus monkey, TRIM5a destroys HIV. Reserachers took the human gene and modified it to work like the monkey gene. What they discovered was that the gene can destroy PtERV or HIV, but never both. So, theoretically, if a medication can be formulated that will work the monkey gene, while not messing up the human one, there may be an effective cure for HIV diseases. It's a well-written article, as any scientific writing must be for me to make heads or tails of it.

The New Yorker article got me thinking about the article I read earlier about autism and its possible endogenetic causes. Could it be that there are dormant genetic mutations carried by both the female and the male of the species, that, when combined after X number of generations of mutation, create a sort of genetic perfect storm? I have no idea. This mad scientist stuff sure is interesting.

ETA--Senator Clinton is pledging to spend $700 million annually towards autism research and suppot services if she is elected president. I'm not endorsing; I'm just saying. Hopefully the other presidential candidates will make similar commitments.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tyler Durden, Pretty in Pink

Brad Pitt has become a benefactor of the Lower Ninth Ward post-K:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My daemon

I haven't seen The Golden Compass, and I probably won't. Nevertheless, I submitted information to determine my daemon--a sort of shape-shifting alter-ego. Let me know whether you think it fits.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Myth, Fear, and Magic

My dreams are filled with Jungian archetypes, but none of them take the forms of mythical, fairy tale figures. Nor did I really ever have a developed sense of magic and wonderment when I was a child. DW, OTOH, has always had a love of the magical, wonderous, credulous side of childhood. Last night, we got around to watching Guillermo del Toro's brilliant Pan's Labyrinth on DVD. She totally got everything about the film, while I had to fill in some gaps by watching the director's explanation of the power of childhood mythology. This is a film about choice, disobedience, belief, and coming of age into a very nasty adult world. That the true-life side of the story was really part and parcel of the fairy tale was something I didn't figure out until the very end, when the two clearly come together. This is a great movie, one that may be viewed in my home as many times as GoodFellas or Network.

Of the movies I saw that were made in 2006, I'd have to put Pan's Labyrinth and Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men atop even my beloved Martin Scorsese's The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine, a movie I still adore.

Life, Death, and Football

An older friend passed away last Sunday. His son--my best friend from LSU--called me with the news. CG was a very successful ophthalmologist and a humble guy. Despite hiving piles of money, CG lived in a modest-but-comfortable home and bought his clothes at Sears. He shared my interest in 20th Century history, and he owned a fish camp at which I enjoyed spending weekends. The family moved to Florida several years ago, in part so CG and his DW could be closer to their Disneyworld. CG grew up impoverished, but he indulged his love of Disney animation later in life, and with ample money to do so. His own reproductions of Disney animation cells were gorgeous in and of themselves.

CG had what I thought was a fun habit of probing for weak points of pride and/or arrogance the first time he met somebody. If he found one, he would poke at it relentlessly for his own amusement. I just laughed as he tried this with me. He didn't find what he was looking for, and we got on just fine.

CG's son MG told me that he realized Friday before last that CG would not leave the hospital alive, in light of his vital signs. So MG prepped CG for the LSU/Arkansas football game by putting an LSU hat on him and dressing him the jersey of a former LSU linebacker/friend of the family (whom I also happened to know) who died at a tragically young age. MG also placed an LSU pennant in CG's hand, and the two watched the game together. CG's vitals would perk up whenever LSU scored, and MG said that his dad "redlined" at the end of the game, which Arkansas won, evidently knocking LSU out of the national title picture. At least he was able to watch his last LSU game in a grand style.

Ironically, LSU may still have a shot at the title. With no. 1 Missouri and no. 2 West Virginia both losing last night, the teams ranked between no. 3 Ohio State and no. 7 LSU all have defects that could see my alma mater leapfrog over them. No. 4 Georgia came in second in the SEC's eastern division, while LSU won the SEC championship game. No. 5 Kansas came in second in the Big 12 northern division, and therefore didn't play for its conference championship. No. 6 Virginia Tech lost to LSU 48-7 earlier in the season. I love the Bowl Championship Series, mostly because it seems to get thrown into chaos every year, despite however much the formula is tweaked to avoid whatever fiasco occurred the previous year.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Dark Passenger is busted

Love the calmness of the Dark Passenger when his vehicle, Dexter, is caught red-handed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Allergy Fu

Tall summer grasses--
all that remains of
great soldiers' imperial dreams
--Matsuo Basho

Tall summer grasses--
allergy testing today
spots honor Basho

I did allergy testing this morning, with 60 substances put just under my skin. My allergies to weed pollen and grass pollen are pretty bad; I fared somewhat better with trees and mold spores. I had no allergic reaction at all to the indoor substances that were tested. I've had a number of upper respiratory infections and a whole lot of post-nasal drip in recent months. Thank goodness for breath mints.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Old English in 3D & CGI

We were in need of some mindless entertainment yesterday, so we saw Beowulf in 3D at the local IMAX theater. The writing and acting are mediocre at best, but seeing the movie was great fun nevertheless. I don't usually give a hoot about special effects, but the effects in this movie are spectacular. Also, it was funny how they played with the scenery to keep Beowulf's private parts from being seen when he was nekkid. Check it out.

I wonder whether some classic films with great action and scenery could be retrofitted in 3D? I know, I know, it's not nice to mess with the artists' vision, and, heaven knows, Ted Turner's colorized versions of Miracle on 34th Street and Casablanca were abominations. But wouldn't, say, Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Zhivago be fabulous in 3D?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Christmas Tradition

I've made a point of eating at least one box of Cap'n Crunch's seasonal cereal since I first discovered it in the late 1980s, in the years that I've been able to find it at the local grocery stores. In law school in St. Louis, I lived in a three-person apartment. One of my roommates--Bob--was so bitchy about his atheism that he had a hissy fit when someone suggested that we put up a tiny Christmas tree. We shrugged it off and didn't put up a tree. However, a few days later, I was at the grocery store and saw a display for Christmas Crunch. One of the few things Bob and I had in common was that we both ate large amounts of cereal, so I bought a box--my first Christmas Crunch purchase--and placed it in the pantry next to his cereal boxes. Even a box of cereal with an allusion to Christianity annoyed Bob; thus, I had my revenge. Anyhow, the very best Christmas Crunch came along a year or two thereafter, when they put a packet of frosting in each box. It was ridiculously sugary--crunchberries with frosting on top--but, damn, it was tasty!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Boy, elevated

My boys continue to amaze and fascinate me. T was obsessive/compulsive about elevators this weekend, so much so that he fell into a stagnant, stinky, black drainage canal trying to get to a building that has one. The most astonishing thing about this is that he was headed in exactly the right direction, without ever having been in that particular neighborhood before. It all started at a local park, when T ostensibly decided he to walk around on the nature trail. He and I ended up meandering around an unfamiliar part of town. It took a while for me to figure out what was going on. T's sense of geography is scarily accurate. He was heading straight for a hospital he knows has several elevators, though it was quite far ahead. The building is not visible from that neighborhood.

As for the drainage canal, I thought I had spotted a way to the nearby main thoroughfare, but the way was blocked by the canal. As I looked up and down the canal for a way to cross, T took off down the narrow bank. He was in tennis shoes; I was in Birkenstocks, so my footing was most unsure, and my balance isn't the greatest to begin with. T's balance is almost as good as his sense of geography, but he misjudged his footing and slid down into the knee-deep sludge. I pulled him out no worse for wear, but very wet and stinking badly. I saw a utility pipe going across the canal, parallel to, and about two feet away from, a telephone pole laid across the waterway. I sat on the pole and slid my butt across, holding T's hand as he walked across on the pipe. We came out very close to the LDS Bishop's Storehouse, which he is absolutely convinced contains an elevator. I've not been in the building, but I suspect that what looks like a second story is a food warehouse area accessed with ladders and/or lifts instead of elevators. I had to utilize a "crisis prevention" walk (read "manhandle") to get T back to the park, about a mile away. We got in plenty of elevator play at our usual stops, and I took T to the beach, which he enjoyed as much as A did last week.

It seemed that T's autism/OCD is coinciding with some pretty typical boy behavior. I wasn't one to risk dumping myself into the ooze just to get something I wanted when I was that age, much less not caring about it, but plenty of boys are more like T. Also, T won't let me give him hugs and kisses anymore--it seems to embarass him--while he remains openly affectionate towards DW. This afternoon, we brought T back to Alexandria and checked into the hotel where we have our "swimming pool" visits with our kids. After some swimming and elevator play, T pointed at me, put his face close to mine, and said, "nissyu." He repeated that phrase several times to both DW and me over the next few minutes, and it didn't dawn on me until later that he was saying "miss you," as in "okay, I'm ready to go back to school now." T is a very brave, rapidly maturing little man these days.

ETA--Another thing I've noticed recently is T's ability to window-shop for toys whilst playing with other ones. He'll fiddle with this or that toy at the store, then, on the next trip there, make a beeline for another, nearby toy in which he showed no interest whatsoever. Yesterday, he chose to purchase a Bible action figure of King David, I suppose demonstrating that his Catholic religious education is taking hold. I told him that his mommy would be very pleased with his selection. This David is a bit of a blabbermouth--he tends to speak for a few minutes at a stretch when you push the button on his back. Also, DW was pleased with the selection, particularly upon noticing that this plastic David did not blame Bathsheba for David's most notorious act of adultery and treachery--unlike the evidently self-hating women of the Logan, Utah, 24th LDS Ward gospel doctrine class, and unlike the self-hating woman in the New Orleans 1st LDS Ward, whose insistence that Bathsheba was to blame annoyed DW so much that she went into labor with A within hours of leading a doctrinal discussion of the David/Bathsheba incident. I think it would be hilarious to have a Soto Zen Buddha action figure. You push the button on his back, and he says absolutely nothing, emphasizing the wordless transmission of the dharma.

T had me draw this in the car yesterday, one of about 50 pictures of McDonald's I drew this week. Wouldn't it be nice if all of our obsessions and desires came with rainbows and sunshine?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Presto Manifesto

So the tension between the assertive, uninhibited, Lila-loving new Dexter and the cautious, kindly (except for the serial killer thing), Rita-loving old Dexter is about to snap. Lila literally plays with fire; I suspect that her figurative fire-play soon will find her in a Hefty bag at the bottom of the ocean. Doakes, too, may see the inside of a Hefty bag, or maybe a gurney and a needle if he can be framed as the Bay Harbor Butcher. Dex's set-up of Doakes to get his nemesis suspended was brilliant, especially the vicious head-butt in the lab that lead Doakes to attack our favorite anti-hero in the middle of the police station. I loved the "presto manifesto" that Dexter sent the newspaper after he cribbed a bunch of junk from various blogs. The fact that the ploy backfired doesn't make it any less funny, though it does show how reckless Lila's Dexter has become.

"I own you."

This show is fascinating in the psychological discoveries of its main character. He used to have a sort of Manichean view of himself, with most of himself being dark and monstrous. Last season, he slowly started to exhibit some of the good human emotions he denied were possible. This season, he's letting himself see that at least some of what he viewed as dark just is, and is neither good or bad. At the same time, he has been given every reason to doubt his foster father and the Code of Harry that has dictated almost all of his actions. It's almost like he is in psychotherapy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Birthday Boy

At the beach, Waveland, Mississippi.

A had a fabulous ninth birthday weekend. He even blew out the candle on his cake for the very first time, after DW pulled out a bubble wand to suggest how hard he needed to blow. I decided to let A walk into WalMart on his own, instead of placing him in a cart as soon as I park the car. He took the opportunity to explore his fascination with the cart "garage" in the foyer. He enjoyed the long strips of clear plastic at the end of that area, and he took me there repeatedly. Once he got inside and ran into the store that way, the interior part of the cart garage had no appeal. Inside the store, he still likes riding in the cart.

DW and I are seeing a huge overall improvement in A's development recently. He is much more aware of his environment than he used to be. He chooses videos to watch, and kinda, sorta knows how to work the VCR. He increasingly is taking the initiative to do things for himself instead of having other people do them for him--though he actually started doing that a few years ago when he started teaching himself to swim. Most important, he is communicating his needs and wants much better than before, sometimes in creative ways. When he wants the driver to turn right or left, for instance, he reaches up and pulls on the front seat passenger seat belt if nobody is in that seat. When I took him to the mall the other day, I wasn't sure whether he wanted to be there. I extended my arm into the back seat. He slapped the palm of my hand, which sometimes can mean "I want" (which he has been taught to indicate by clapping with his arms in front of his chest), then pushed my hand towards the steering wheel. Off to WalMart we went.

We tried a new thing with T yesterday when we dropped off A. It's very difficult to take T around town without us having free access to a swimming pool or an elevator. The boys' new living accommodations make it possible for us to visit them on-campus, something we've never tried before. We arranged with the autism center to have a play-date with T, knowing he would not be happy when he didn't ride away in the car. We got him a big kids' meal from Burger King and brought in some notebooks and pencils. We spent about 20 minutes there, and he didn't get upset until we said "bye-bye." The autism center's residential director was in the room to help him work through things. I felt like crap about disappointing T's expectations--it was like a razor blade cutting into my soul--but this is the only way I can see visiting him on the occasions when we take A back from a home visit. Moreover, we want to be able to attend some of the family functions on-campus, something we have been unable to do. We did an after-action review in the car on the drive home, so we know how we will tweak our next on-campus visit. We'll have T home for a few days early next week, so I'm getting ready for some elevator riding.

I am very proud of my boys, and I can't find the words to describe how much I love and cherish them. They are far more courageous than I ever had to be as a child. They also have come quite a ways in their development, and they love to learn. Absent a cure, they will always be severely developmentally disabled, and will require 24/7 supervision. However, that doesn't mean that they can't learn, grow, and have experiences that will help them be happy and achieve their full potential. As I've said before, all parents want the same basic things for their children--happiness, safety, long-term security, education, self-esteem, self-confidence, feeling loved, etc.; parents like us just have to redefine how those are measured and achieved with our childrens' limitations in mind.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Your Inner European is Irish!

Sprited and boisterous!
You drink everyone under the table.

This is funny. Not that I would mind being Irish at all, and I could go for a black-and-tan right now. However, I don't know anybody who would characterize me as "spirited and boisterous," though some of my online alter-egos might be described as such.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Watching Over Kids?

A 13-year-old boy shot himself in the head at school yesterday in Jefferson Parish, and he died this morning. Everybody interviewed by the newspaper characterized this boy as cheerful and friendly, and nobody saw any signs of trouble. However, his myspace page evidently contained talk of suicide. I don't know any more details than what made it into the paper, but I have to wonder whether someone should have paid attention to that myspace page and asked questions about it. I'm all for personal privacy and trust--I can't see myself reading my kids' e-mail without cause, for example--but something that is posted on the Internet isn't exactly meant to be private.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Southerners Without Accents

The website had this to say about North Carolina native son Michael C. Hall ("Dexter"):

He's a Southerner without a trace of a Southern accent (therefore he must be at least a little pretentious).

A few months ago, gentle reader/actor Cajun Boy was turned down for a role because a casting director said his imitation of a Cajun accent was inaccurate. Now, given Caj's origins in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, my guess is that he nailed the accent perfectly. As for me, when I started law school in St. Louis, some of my new friends asked where my Cajun accent was. I didn't feel like explaining that 1) my ancestors were from England and Scotland, and the British were the historic oppressors of the French-Canadian Acadians, so it would be most odd for me to have a Cajun accent; 2) people in other parts of Louisiana have other Southern accents--and then there's New Orleans, with it's own unique speech sounds; and 3) I grew up in Oklahoma, which is only kinda sorta in the South, though my parents were from Louisiana. So I said I just never acquired a Southern accent, which is probably all I should have said in this post.

There are some prominent individuals from the South who lack accents. Faux news commentator/presidential candidate Stephen Colbert (South Carolina); Fox news commentator Shepard Smith (Mississippi); hot actress Reese Witherspoon (Tennessee); and scorching hot actress Mary Louise Parker (South Carolina) come to mind. Some of them probably never acquired an accent; others probably worked at ridding themselves of theirs.

I think we Southerners Without Accents need to band together. Sure, we're humble men and women of the people just like everyone else, and not pretentious in the least, but we don't sound like the other people in our community. Perhaps we should have annual meetings at each others' yacht clubs and listen to each others' melodious, unaccented, speaking voices.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Other Game in Town

The New Orleans Hornets had their return-to-town rally in the park across the street from my office at noon today. It was nicely done, with free food, the Rebirth Brass, a parade, attractive cheerleaders, and NBA players singing "I Believe I Can Fly" while making airplane-wing arm motions. I took my cellphone over and snapped a few photos.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Haunted House

We wil be visiting the Haunted Mortuary later this week. I have a disturbing tendency to laugh at these kinds of things while others scream. It should be fun.

ETA: We made it out of the mortuary alive last night. It is very nicely done, and the setting is an old funeral home next to a group of cemetaries. There are a number of neat little tricks; my favorites being the dining room table that sprung open to have a ghost pop out and a rusty old toilet that sprayed water on some of the other visitors while I stood there laughing. The house had a few unnerving collapsed tunnels made of fan-blown fabric that we had to push our way through; the small girl behind me was truly terrified. The strobe lights and fake corpses were nicely designed, and the live actors timed their jumps and screams to scare the crap out of the more vulnerable-looking visitors in the group. I noticed that DW was targeted by one or two of those actors, but she only flinched once. DW was almost disappointed by the absence of one absolutely necessary element of any haunted house, then the guy with the chainsaw jumped out from an alcove as we were walking through the final passageway. The Mortuary is a job well done.

As we were driving home, I was amused once again that the parking lot of Slidell's local strip club is clearly visible from I-10. I used to look over to see if I recognized anybody's car over there. I never did, but the thought that a divorce or two might have been caused by that parking lot's placement has always struck me as funny. At least the porn store next door is situated such that one has to park out front of the leather/marijuana paraphernalia/cigar store and walk around back. Anybody whose car might be seen in that lot could be doing something entirely respectable.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It happened again!

Yesterday, DW and I attended our boys' planning conferences for the upcoming year. They're doing very well on their objectives, and we're confident that they will continue to achieve the goals that have been established for them.

On the way home, we stopped off in Lecompte, Louisiana, at the regionally renowned Lea's Lunchroom, which has dubbed itself the Pie Capital of Louisiana. As we were walking in, DW pointed at the sky to our south. Down somewhere around Bunkie or Cheneyville, there was a single beam of light shining through the clouds and, evidently, down to the ground. Last week's experience with beams of light convinced me beyond a reasonable doubt that we were observing another apparition. However, I wanted a slice of pecan pie, so I went inside the restaurant instead of jumping right back into the car and driving down to the sacred site.

Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, is rural, and much of the land is devoted to cotton cultivation, so I am assuming that that any apparition occurred in a cotton field somewhat like the one pictured above.

This is not a cotton field, but it's the best representation I could find in a two minute google search of an apparition by light beam, or, if you prefer, by a pillar of light. Coincidentally, this happens to be a representation of the most famous vision I learned about in Sunday School. Anyhow, someone in that Avoyelles Parish cotton patch must have had a vision somewhat like this one.

My source in the Vatican Apparition Investivation Agency tells me that it went down something like this. Jeanne d'Arc decided to appear next to her statue in New Orleans' French Market to proclaim the truth of the Sacred Feminine, and Mary Magdalene's status as the true Holy Grail. St. Jeanne, however, was either rusty on her apparating skills, or she wanted to pick up a pie at Lea's. In either event, she ended up in a cotton field.

My source tells me that St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of the Opus Dei, had been embroiled in a long-running controversy with St. Jeanne and other feminist saints over the issue of the Sacred Feminine. St. Josemaria discovered St. Jeanne's plan to travel to New Orleans, and he hatched a plot to stop her from ever making her proclamation. Josemaria had the Opus Dei headquarters send interception teams to every town in Louisiana and Mississippi, in the event that St. Jeanne appeared. The team in Avoyelles Parish was ready and waiting when she appeared in the cotton patch. The team quickly re-embodied St. Jeanne by sprinkling her with Katrina water. Once she was in her physical body, the Opus Dei team quickly stabbed her to death and placed her body parts in three hefty bags. The bags were flown to Rome, and the body parts will be placed under various buildings in that city. The clues to finding those body parts will be embedded in a childrens' television program on Nick Jr., in which a dog leaves clues for a man-child and his audience to figure out various puzzles. Dan Brown will write a novel about the whole story and make lots of money.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ave Maria

Last Sunday's apparition of Our Lady of the Lake on the lawn of the state capitol has proved accurate. Congressman Bobby Jindal was elected governor yesterday, with 54% of the votes. His closest rival came in at 18%. I watched the returns online, as LSU defeated Auburn with a Hail Mary pass as time ran out. Well, technically, it may not have been a Hail Mary, but it sure was dramatic.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Weekend Fun

I tried using the video-uploading tool, but I got a couple of those squares with the little red "x" in the corner, so I'm using still photos instead.

You know, a lot happens in an elevator, and I'm not just talking about people doing things on a dare in tall structures like the Sears Tower or Empire State Building. Any of you gentle readers who may have done such things, did you get away with it?

I would never have broken it all down until I watched my son, T, obsessing on the elements of elevators. You push a button, and a light comes on either on the button itself of on a symbol immediately above or below it. When the car arrives, a light goes on outside of it to alert you to its presence. The doors open, and, usually, a light dings on either immediately inside the car or on the wall above it to let you know which direction it will be going. You get inside and push the button for the floor you want, turning on another light. The doors close, and the ride starts. Usually, a light dings on inside giving you the direction, and the numbers ding on and off as you pass the various floors. Finally, the doors open, and a light dings on indicating in what direction the car will go next.

T's other obsession right now is shopping carts. He also likes to listen to store intercoms. Those two came together nicely for me Saturday night, when T wanted to go to Academy Sports. He pushed a cart around the store as I listened to LSU's three overtime periods with Kentucky over the intercom. Alas, LSU lost, but it was an interesting way to listen to the game.

My younger son, A, was a bundle of laughs on Sunday afternoon. He had a great time at St. Mary's over the weekend while T. was down here. There was a lot going on, and A enjoyed all of it. He was very fun to be around on Sunday. A is developing quite a fun, mischeiveous personality, as T has become more serious and analytical about the things he likes.

Killers Anonymous?

This season of "Dexter" is turning out to be more of a guilty pleasure than last season was, to the extent you feel guilty about laughing out loud at dark comedy done to perfection. The most recent episode, "An Inconvenient Lie," is a perfect case in point. Dex's girlfriend Rita, convinced that he is addicted to heroin, coerces him into a 12-step NarcAnon program. Dex's first sharing moment is so stereotypical that one of his fellow attendees asks whether he downloaded it from "" The two have a conversation, during which she describes the Urge in such fabulously seductive detail that he has to leave. We don't know her addiction yet; we know his is killing people. Dex's next sharing moment at NarcAnon is absolutely honest, except that everybody else in the room believes that his "dark passenger" is a compulsion to use drugs. He also reveals, for the first time, something that viewers of the show know already--that Dex the monster is becoming fully human for the first time in his life. Michael C. Hall pulls off Dex's poignant moment of truth perfectly, and the moment that follows with human bloodhound Sgt. Doakes brings us back to dark comedy done right. Dexter's "inconvenient lie" turns out to be most convenient, as he ends up with 1) a forum in which he can, risk-free, explore truths about himself; 2) his girlfriend appeased; and 3) Doakes no longer following him so he's free to go about the business of killing people. Oh, and nice play on Al Gore's book title.

Monday, October 15, 2007

King Arthur Revisited?

DW and I were driving across the Basin Bridge yesterday, and the sky ahead of us was such that it appeared as if a single beam of light was shining down on Baton Rouge. DW suggested that it might be an apparition, and I came up with the idea for the following story:

Once upon a time, a young man named Bobby Jindal visited the State Capitol building in Baton Rouge, towards the end of a long campaign for Governor. He walked onto the lawn to pay respects at the grave of Louisiana’s secular saint/ruthless dictator Huey P. Long. A beam of light shone down from the heavens, and the statue of Long was transfigured into Our Lady of the Lake. Young Bobby knelt reverently, and Our Lady began to speak.

Our Lady: Thou art Bobby, in whom Our Father is well pleased.

Bobby: I am Bobby, though I am called Piyush by the local Democratic Party, so as to suggest that people of fairer complexions should not vote for me.

Our Lady: Tsk, tsk. Thou art not judged by the color of thy skin. Unless thou liveth in Jena, which thou dost not.

Bobby: What message dost thou bear, oh Holy Mother?

Our Lady: I cannot speak in the presence of those who art knowing one another under a bush. What is it with these grounds? This place doth appear as the mens' room in the Minneapolis airport soundeth like. Canst these people rent a room?

Bobby: Hey, you guys! Show a little respect!

Two men stand, pull up their pants, and run off.

Our Lady: Bobby, I bear good tidings. Thou hast been called to govern this State of Louisiana, and, if thine poll numbers art accurate, thy calling shalt be confirmed on this Saturday hence.

Bobby: Thank you, Holy Mother. But why are you here?

Our Lady: There is much to be done. Thou must build up this state from its state of decay and make sure they do a better job building levees around here. Thou shalt bring new businesses into the state, other than ginormous sporting goods stores on the edges of thy capital city. Thou shalt smite those who hold office for the benefit of themselves and their friends. Thou shalt transform New Orleans into a shining city on a hill. Thou shalt moderate the less tolerant amongst thy fellow Republican political travelers. Thou shalt . . .

Bobby: Those are big things. I mean, I have a platform and I'm really smart and all, but how are you sure I’ll get it all done? And there aren’t any hills in New Orleans. And how am I going to make that city shiny, other than working with that garbage collector from down in da Parish that all the women want to take off their clothes for?

Our Lady: Do not worry. Behold, I bring thee Excalibur!

Our Lady holds out a tiny fingernail clipper.

Bobby: Um, it doesn’t look like a sword to me.

Our Lady: TSA regulations prohibit me from apparating from the sky with weapons. What canst thou do?

Bobby: Okey dokey.

Bobby takes Excalibur in his trembling hands and vows to rule as a just prince. Louisiana is saved!

Monday, October 08, 2007

International Boob Tube

I've noticed a few U.K. flags on my site counter recently, and I just happen to be working through the BBC version of The Office on DVD. It's a brilliant show, and one that was able to be adapted for American TV with few major modifications--it's more like NBC fine-tuned the show a bit and even improved on it.

My question to the gentle puddle readers who live outside of the United States this: What American shows do you watch, and what do you like about them? To you gentle readers inside the United States, what non-American shows do you like? Just curious.

ETA--my own favorite imports from Britain are Monty Python's Flying Circus, Fawlty Towers--which may be the funniest show ever made--All Creatures Great and Small, and To the Manor Born. I really should watch BBC America for some newer shows. I've never even seen the Helen Mirren cop drama. From Canada, I've liked Second City Television and Kids in the Hall. SCTV's Way to Go Woman! feature about Mother Theresa, and its Battle of the PBS Stars, are as funny as any of Monty Python's famous skits.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Puddle of Paddling

My wife gave me a kayak for Christmas in 2002. With everything that's gone on in our household the past few years, the kayak sat in the garage, unused, until this morning. I took it to Bayou Lacombe and paddled around for a couple of hours. The water there is calm enough for a rusty paddler like me to move around. It was enjoyable watching the fish jumping and the pelicans dive-bombing the bayou. I'm looking forward to more kayaking, and I may even take a class and learn how to do it properly.

Friday, October 05, 2007

All-American Kids

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Fun New Show

DW and I watched "Pushing Daisies" last night on ABC. I pretty much forgot that network even existed. Anyhow, it's a clever show that reminds me of Showtime's most excellent-but-cancelled "Dead Like Me." The main character of the show can revive the dead by touching them, but only at the cost of someone else dying. He strikes a deal with a private detective to revive murder victims, discover who killed them, make them dead again, then collect any reward money. The show takes a romantic twist early-on, and I kind of wonder whether they can sustain it for long under the circumstances--but then, they kept Jim and Pam in a state of sexual tension for three seasons on "The Office." The colors on the show are vivid and fantasyland-ish, and the voiceover reminds me of old Christmas movies.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Courage and Hope

I'm reminded frequently that my kids are extremely courageous. We had a nice visit with both of them in Alexandria, LA, this past weekend. T. got to ride the elevator at the local hotel, and both kids had a great time in the hotel's outdoor swimming pool. As we drove T. past the local hospital, where he is obsessive/compulsive about wanting to go play with the multi-storied elevators therein, we could hear him talking to himself--"okay, be quiet; okay, be quiet." He maintained his self-control, and we made it around the corner and down the street to WalMart without incident. It took guts for him to keep it together as we drove past that hospital.

Is it really almost Halloween? Well, how could I not know this, seeing how WalMart and Target have had their Halloween stuff out since late August.

We visited the newly refurbished St. Mary's miniature golf course on Sunday afternoon. The course was recently redone by the parents' group, and since we're parents, we accepted an invitation to walk over and have a look at it. We also visited a new group home for young adult men; it is nicer than our house inside. The improvements and additions up there give me hope for the future.

Republicans (not) on Parade

Monday, October 01, 2007

Dexter, sharpest knife in the drawer--updated

Season Two of Showtime's very dark comedy "Dexter" begins this coming Sunday night. The first season featured Dexter's journey of self-discovery, starting off very comfortably faking emotions he didn't have, then gradually becoming uncomfortably human and emotional as the Ice Truck Killer led him to the truth about his being "born free" of everything that is human. There were some moderately uncomfortable moments for me as I noticed similarities between Dexter and myself--though, I must point out, I am not a serial killer. No doubt other somewhat socially maladjusted people felt the same way.

Evidently, Season Two will consist mostly of an investigation of Dexter's own kills. The interaction between Dexter and Sgt. Doakes, a killer himself, will be fun to watch, and Keith Carradine should be interesting as the lead investigator. I wonder how much Dexter's cop sister Deborah will figure out, and I'm curious as to where the show will go with Dexter's internal monologue--and that monologue was a major feature of Season One--now that he knows himself better.

ETA--watch the first episode of Season Two for free here. "Bowl 'til you bleed." Hee!

Friday, September 28, 2007

My place or yours?

An MSN columnist has compiled a list of the ten worst pickup lines ever, and eight really bad ones that worked. I've never used a pickup line, but I know someone who successfully used "nice butt!" to get a date.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I've been sleepy a lot recently. I even fell asleep several times during the Saints' game last night, though some might say that being asleep was the best way to watch the game. I have a sleep disorder that has me waking up in the wee hours of the morning, and the heat lamp that the doctor has me using to jiggle my circadian rhythms seems to make me tired earlier than usual. Maybe I'll start using it later in the day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Doing it himself

My youngest son is realizing that he can do some of his favorite things for himself, like blowing bubbles and running the vacuum (though he already has taught himself to swim). This is huge, and a source of great parental pride. Of course, someone else has to push the vacuum while he looks at the light on the front of it. Also, he is going through a phase during which there is a place for everything, and everything must be in its place. He apparently noticed that a particular item was placed slightly differently in our two local WalMarts, and I think he wanted me to move it at one of the stores. Because he's nonverbal, I'm not absolutely sure about this, but a trip back to the other WalMart seemed to support my theory. The item in question is a fixed display, so I couldn't move it for him even if I had wanted to. However, I noticed that another store we frequent actually moved its sales circular rack to the spot where A. had me move it several few months ago. I guess he was right about where the thing belongs.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Splatter Season

As the Louisiana resident readers of this blog are aware, we are in one of our semi-annual swarms of copulating bugs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Great N.O. Music Video

Local musician Clint Maedgen made this fabulous video in the lower French Quarter shortly before Hurricane Katrina:

Thanks to gentle reader Cajun Boy for the heads-up.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

NPR Vigilante?

Jodie Foster's most recent film, "The Brave One," reminded me somewhat of her first film, "Taxi Driver," except with Foster filling in for Robert de Niro in the Travis Bickle role. However, the main character of "The Brave One" is not a maladjusted ne'er do well like Travis; rather, she is a sophisticated Upper West Side dweller who hosts an public radio show on which she decries the loss of various aspects of life in New York, the city she loves passionately. After she herself is the victim of a violent crime, she becomes terrified of damn near everything about New York, so she gets herself an unlicensed nine millimeter pistol and stumbles into an increasingly bold campaign of vigilante acts. Hip, leftish intellectuals generally don't tend to glorify one-person vengeance campaigns, and Foster's character has a fascinating internal monologue about the morality of her actions. I suspect that half of the audience last night was oblivious to that monologue, given the loud cheering that erupted when Foster blasted away at bad guys. However, that obnoxious audience reaction reinforced to me the debate Foster's character had with herself. Foster also played a cat-and-mouse game--in person and on the air--with a quiet, dignified cop played by Terrence Howard. The final plot twist was somewhat disappointing, and seemed to cut against where the movie seemed to be heading.

I thought the leftish twist on a usually right-wing genre was interesting, and it might draw some derisive hoots from the cultural and political left. I personally take a dim view of vigilantism and unsanctioned ownership and carrying of firearms, but it's worth exploring how someone from a class unaccustomed to the kind of violent behavior that particular individual might associate with a lower socioeconomic class might turn to that behavior herself. It may also be worth exploring why a hip, leftish intellectual might think herself somehow above such a violent response to violence. I also wonder whether a sort of class snobbery on these questions may be affecting the rather virulent denunciations of this movie by some of the critics.

Home Improvement?

I've been vexed by the small garden bed between our front window and walkway ever since we moved into this house eight years ago. It's difficult to grow much of anything in there, and we aren't around here enough on weekends to work too hard on keeping it clean of the weeds that have tended to fill up the area. We've talked for a couple or three years about creating a rock garden in the area, and, yesterday, I went to Home Depot and bought edging, red lava rocks, and marble chips. I pulled out the scraggly plants that had managed to survive the past few years, put down a anti-weed cloth, and filled up the area with rocks. We placed a couple of plaster statues representing our two sons in the area; DW has been wanting to put those in the front yard for several years. BTW, you can see from my shadow in the photo that I'm really, really tall.