Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Family Values Emperor

Entertainment Weekly's snarky blurb for the upcoming episode:

Great White North

Last night, I dreamed that New Orleans had been wiped out by another major hurricane and that the federal court where I work had moved to Toronto, lock, stock, and barrel. Houston evidently was damaged also, so that city was unable to provide the extraordinary hospitality it gave us in the wake of Katrina. My coworkers and I were giddy about living in this cool, cosmopolitan town, so much so that we wanted to put a Canadian flag on our building and sing "O, Canada" in the morning. My former boss was in charge of the office once again, and he strenuously objected to having any symbols of Canada displayed; only the American flag could be flown.

When I woke up, I thought, "hey, if this office has to move to Canada, then more than just New Orleans got messed up!" Moreover, I see the American flag as symbolizing my own, personal ideal of America, so I like seeing it wave. Maybe I'm just missing me my Calgarian Gentle Reader Doug, and I had this dream about moving to Canada so I could post about it and get him to leave a comment. Anyhow, this is the second post-Katrina dream I've had about the city being destroyed and us moving.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Love-bombing backfires

We got a letter from the local bishop last week, encouraging us to return to fellowship with our church, with which we maintain a nominal affiliation. He's a nice enough fellow, but did he ever use the wrong approach with us. Enclosed with the letter was a copy of a church magazine article all about how various parents of disabled children have been able to find ways to make their kids' behaviors sufficiently manageable so they can all function and attend church. I don't think he meant any harm--I think it was more a message of inclusion than one of "hey, other people do this, so get your act together"--but this is not the kind of thing we need to be getting in the mail. It's not like Bishop E. is going to get this cowboy back, so I was only mildly annoyed, but DW seemed a little hurt.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Going from here to there

Gentle Reader Jer poses the question on self-definition on his blog; I've wrestled with various aspects of that question for years. Anyhow, I suppose that, to a large extent, our self-identifcation has to do with working from where we are, with all of our conditioning and circumstances taken into account:

Wrapped, surrounded by ten thousand
cut off, no place to go . . .

Until you're here, there's no way to get here.
Once you're here, there's no way to go.

"On the Road to T'ien-t'ai," Yuan Mei (1716-1798)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

World Movie

I watched "Babel" this morning, and, I must say, I found myself a little "meh" about the film. It's a good movie, but not a great one. The acting is excellent, and it is nice to see some of the best talent in other countries on the American screen. The idea of interconnected storylines in very different parts of the world is appealing, but it's damn hard to pull off convincingly, unless it's a James Bond movie, and those aren't exactly written to show the interconnectedness of all sentient beings. In "Babel," the point is that suffering and hope are universal phenomena. I found myself a little icked out by the Japanese girl looking for love in all the wrong places, and pretty unsympathetic to the undocumented alien nanny in California who took the kids to Mexico--after learning that their mother had been shot in Africa, if I got the timeline of the film right. Also, the link between the Japanese and African storylines was just a bit too tenuous for me.

If I a vote, I would probably pick "Little Miss Sunshine" as best motion picture of the year, with "The Departed" a very close second. As much as I love violent Scorsese films, LMS is fresh, quirky, and authentic. Interestingly, DW agrees with me on that. We frequently don't see eye to eye on our entertainment choices, and I didn't think she would like LMS. I haven't seen "The Queen" or "Letters from Iwo Jima," so I can't comment on them.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Death of the Republic

HBO did a nice job with the battle of Philippi and the events leading up to it in the most recent episode of "Rome." The battle scene is historically inaccurate in several respects, but at least they gave the viewer a feel for the scope of the largest battle in ancient history, and the inaccuracies enhance the dramatic qualities of the story. Also, I enjoyed the contrast between the tough soldier Antony and the cunning, non-soldier politician Octavian, and the small-talk between Brutus and Cassius over the latter's birthday is cute. As always, James Purefoy's Antony got off a snarky line, this time suggesting that Octavian might just end up peeing his pants during battle. I like the sort of closure they created by having Brutus's death visually parallel Caesar's assassination (Brutus in fact committed suicide after Antony broke his army). If Caesar's assassination gave hope to Brutus, Cassius, and the other custodians of the old order, Philippi marked the death of the Roman Republic, for better or worse. After the brutal proscriptions designed to pay for the battle and the battle itself, the only leaders left standing were Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus, who was soon pushed out of the picture by the ruthless, ambitious future emperor. Speaking of the proscriptions, the way they treated Cicero's killing was most excellent, even if it was factually inaccurate. It says a lot about the brutality of Rome that Pullo saw going out to Cicero's country villa to kill the man as an excuse for a big family picnic. That someone was going to die didn't much matter.

The period covered in the series--roughly 50 B.C. to 30 B.C.--is filled with several major "what-ifs." What if Pompey had defeated Caesar at Pharsalus? What if Cassius had prevailed on Brutus to have Antony killed along with Caesar? What if Brutus and Cassius had won at Philippi? What if Antony had won at Actium? It's arguable that it took all of these what-ifs coming out as they did to result in the powerful influence that the Roman Empire has had on the history of western civilization. I suppose it's also arguable that some general somewher along the line would have figured out that the republican form of government, as practiced in Rome, was simply inadequate to govern a far-flung empire, and would have set things up exactly as Octavian did. But it is fascinating to have so many major historical what-ifs crammed into such a short period.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Brrr! at the Beach

Your humble host can be talked into doing some pretty silly things, like taking a kid to the beach when it's 58 degrees out, after several days of temperatures getting down into the low 30s. However, T. ran straight to the swimsuits, shouting "beach!" when we walked into Target earlier today, so I knew right then that I had to be firm about saying "whatever" and braving the cold water. The Mississippi Sound at low tide is basically a wading pool anyway.

Like my new hair?

My new skill

T's obsession with the Plush Bus toy hook/crane machine in the WalMart foyer has forced me to acquire a new skill. I run the machines at his direction. I probably spent at least $50 acquiring the toys seen in this photo. However, I had never, ever won a prize from one of these machines before last night. I feel like Buster from "Arrested Development." Woo-hoo!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mardi Gras 2007

Oh yeah, Mardi Gras is next Tuesday. Enjoy the video, unless, of course, you're using a Microsoft browser (what has Google/YouTube done to piss off Microsoft?). My 60-something retired superivor marches in this parade.

Edited to add: Here is the Krewe du Vieux's newsletter. It's loaded with snark and satire directed at the political establishment, national, state, and local.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bloody in Boston

As far as I know, Boston was the last major American city to have an Irish-American mob that could hold its own against La Cosa Nostra. Until the mid-1990s, that mob was run by an arch-criminal named Whitey Bulger, who managed to corrupt an agent inside the Boston FBI field office. Bulger went on the lam in 1995, and he remains on the run.

DW and I saw "The Departed" on DVD night before last. Jack Nicholson's character is based in part on Bulger. In the movie, Nicholson's character essentially takes Matt Damon's character under his wing from childhood and places him as a mole inside the Massachusetts State Police. Leonardo Di Caprio's character, meanwhile, joins the state police for personal reasons, and is placed as a mole inside the mob. The movie is an increasingly desparate and violent cat-and-mouse game, in which Damon and Di Caprio attempt to smoke each other out. Di Caprio's despair, fear, and paranoia is increasingly visible as his character falls apart emotionally; Damon, on the other hand, is cool as a cucumber, hiding his near-panic behind his slick, cocky exterior. Oh yeah, and they both have sex with the same woman, though that fact is unbeknownst to Damon's character. Well, he knows that he is, not that the other guy is. Also, how many women in America wouldn't mind being with both of those guys? Anyhow, Damon and Di Caprio are stellar in this film, and an angry Mark Wahlberg steals every scene he's in. Nicholson does his best acting since "A Few Good Men," IMHO.

Martin Scorsese's direction is magnificent, particularly at the beginning and end of the film. I read one review suggesting that Scorsese has forgotten how to edit, but I didn't see anything I would have cut. The movie is able to set up the unique, unfamiliar (to me, anyway) environment of South Boston and establish the plotline efficiently and quickly, then dive headlong into the frantic action of the darkly-tinted cat-and-mouse game. This film doesn't remind me of any of Scorsese's other movies, except perhaps for its violence. It has organized crime, like "Casino" and "GoodFellas" (which I've seen about a million times), but this is more an action/suspense picture than a mob movie. DW even compared it to "Casino Royale" in that regard. Man, the final half hour of this movie kept me on the edge of my seat. Everybody needs to see this film. Can you tell I like Scorsese's work?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Autism in Utah

The Salt Lake Tribune is running a series of articles on autism in Utah this week. My boys are of mixed genetic heritage--half Utahn/half Texan (it is a whole other country, after all)--but we don't know anything about the Texas genetic family tree. The CDC collected data in 14 different states over the past few years, and there were a few stats in the Utah data I found interesting. Utah's overall rate of autism is slightly higher than the average of the 14 sites (7.5 per 1,000 as opposed to 6.6 per 1,000). Nationally, the boy/girl autism ratio is somewhere around 3:1 or 3.5:1. In Utah, it is 6.5:1. The rate of autism in Utah among Caucasian children is 8 per 1,000 and 4.4 per 1,000 Hispanic children. The overall rate in the state is 20 times higher than it was in the mid-1980s.

The University of Utah medical school is doing some research into the genetics of autism, as are several other prominent institutions. Utah's overall autism rate isn't that much above the average to raise any questions, I wouldn't think. However, the boy/girl ratio is interesting. As with anything related to genetics in the Intermountain West, I have to wonder if any of this has anything to do with the genetic heritage of polygamy. It seems to me that a polygamist husband would have broadcast any odd genetics more widely than would a monogamist husband, and that those odd genetics would be passed down to far more people than in a monogamist society. The notion fascinates me. Part of the U. of U.'s genetic research may actually end up going in that direction; their website mentions having access to the LDS Church's genealogical records. It seems like it would be damn difficult to trace something as complex as autism back via genealogical records and diaries and such--particularly as mainstream Mormons abandoned polygamy by the early 20th Century--but it could be an interesting endeavor, nevertheless. It is known that a rare condition called fumarase deficiency is found mostly in the polygamist colony along the Arizona/Utah border, so it seems at least conceivable that whatever genetics are involved in autism, partiuclarly as it affects boys, were somehow passed along through polygamist families. The state's overall autism incidence, however, may suggest that polygamy has nothing to do with it. Moreover, my childrens' genetic predisposition to autism may have nothing to do with their polygamist ancestors--it could come totally from my Texan DNA for all I know. But I'm a lawyer, not a geneticist, so I could just be blowing smoke.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.

I saw the appalling reality-show trainwreck "Showbiz Moms and Dads" on A&E a year or two ago, so when I heard that there was a movie out involving a young girls' beauty pageant, I thought I would take a pass on it. This past Tuesday, I went to WalMart, eagerly anticipating the purchase of "The Departed" on DVD. However, I had my dates wrong, and "The Departed" isn't out until this coming Tuesday. I had seen that "Little Miss Sunshine" had won a few awards, and I actually got around to reading a very brief review of it, so I figured, "what the hell?" and picked it up.

The Hoover family in "Little Miss Sunshine" may be the quirkiest movie family since "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" came out in the early 1990s. Unlike "Gilbert Grape," however, this movie doesn't hit so close to my own life as to make it difficult to watch. "Little Miss Sunshine" is a commentary on the obsession we have with being winners. I was expecting a light, fluffy comedy, but that's not what I got. It's slightly dark, actually, with the members of the family failing at one thing or another as the movie rolls along. The beauty pageant at the end, however, is fabulously funny. The quirk factor of this movie is high, and I can see why it got an Oscar nomination for best picture.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Unanswered prayers

"More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."
--St. Teresa of Avila

As some of my gentle readers are aware, LDS Church Public Affairs Director Michael Otterson has a blog on the Washington Post website. I actually think this is a good thing, though he tends to be very general and noncontroversial in his comments. This week, Brother Otterson wrote about the lessons he has gleaned from his regular practice of prayer. One of his lessons in particular caught my eye:

That prayer may never be more meaningful than when the life or health of our own child is in the balance.

Your humble host commented:
All due respect, what would you say to a father who prayed frequently, sincerely, and desperately, begging his Heavenly Father for improvement in his chldrens' health, received nothing at all by way of an answer, and saw the situation continuing to deteriorate around him? Shouldn't that father have received something--anything--in response to his frequently tearful, sometimes angry entreaties? I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall by offering unanswered prayers, and that pain went away only when I gave up on that practice.

Sadly, this was how I felt a few years ago, as I sought a solace that I never received. My family situation was a disaster--two children with severe developmental disabilities, a deeply depressed spouse, and no support system to speak of. I, too, was diagnosed with depression. Up until this time, I had prayed mostly out of habit, but when the crap hit the fan, I spent hours on my knees. Alas, nothing came of it. Eventually, I began finding a measure of relief in a meditation practice that allowed the pain, fear, anger, and sadness to float around inside my mind, and that somehow made me feel connected to everybody and everything else in the cosmos. I know that others achieve something like this through traditional prayers, and, in theory, I think that it is life-affirming to be able to communicate intimately and familiarly with an omniscient God, and I'm happy for those who accomplish that, but it just didn't work for me. OTOH, perhaps St. Teresa was right about answered prayers and unanswered prayers. As the maxim says, be careful about what you ask for, because you might just get it. But I don't know how having my kids' conditions healed--or at least my own white-hot pain lessened--could ever be considered a bad thing.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Boundary Pushing

A. was home over the weekend, and I found him pushing the boundaries of physical safety on some of our usual outings. This is new, and it scared me a little. It began when we were playing a little chase game at a local park. A portion of the park runs alongside a bayou. There's a boat-launch leading directly into the water; on one side there runs a sidewalk with a railing, while the other side has no railing due to the hitches for boats to tie up and load/unload. A. and I were about to run around the boat launch to the un-railed side. I was anticipating my safety procedure for that side of the park, placing myself between A. and the bayou and keeping us both a safe distance from the edge. Suddenly, A. darted down the launch and into the cold water. I tossed my jacket off and started after him, when he turned around and walked out. He was amused by my surprise. Later, we went to the other local park, where A. spotted a couple of gaps in the fences separating the play area from an interstate highway. He had no chance to get through those gaps, as I spotted them also and blocked the way. One of those gaps was atop an embankment that local kids slide down on pieces of cardboard. A. likes sliding like that, though I have to bend over and pull him down. I suppose it makes him feel cool, like a teenager. Anyhow, whenever we got to the top, he would lean over the guardrail, as if he wanted me to lift him over it and onto the roadway. I wouldn't do that, of course, and I wouldn't walk him down the roadway any further than the end of the guardrail.

We've always been conscious of physical safety issues, something that is a matter of particular concern to the parents of children with autism. Many autistic kids have no fear of danger, and A. falls into that category. Also, most children--whether or not they have autism--tend to push against the boundaries that we parents impose on them. A. also shows the potential of becoming a kind of "adreneline junkie" thrill-seeker, not something most parents relish. This is the first time I've really noticed one of my kids deliberately pushing the boundaries of his own physical safety. I suppose we'll have to work at setting up appropriate times and places for certain activities, like running, that inherently have some potential for danger, and more strictly enforce the limitations we already impose.

Simultaneous with this is the difficult task of training T. in age-appropriate behavior as he nears puberty. His mental functioning may be at the level of a 3-year-old overall, but his hormones and his body are those of a 10-year-old. A couple of the issues we're working on have dredged up some unpleasant, anxiety-provoking experiences from my own early childhood that I had forgotten about. I've been told this is a fairly common phenomenon for parents.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Childrens' Television Tourette's?

Two happy Teletubbies
sitting in the Sun--
one pulled a knife;
the other, a gun.

I blurted this out around 5 a.m. today, while watching a video with my son, A, as my alternative version of a cute little poem. Over the years, I've developed something akin to the sudden verbal outbursts popularly associated with Tourette's Syndrome. I suppose that's a way we grown-ups make our kids' shows bearable, though I think childrens' television generally is much better than it was when I was a kid.

Yesterday, DW and I showed an old Disney video to A. We just looked at each other, laughing hard as we recalled my alternative version from years ago of the following song, which, on the video, features Donald Duck parading a group of kids through Disneyland. I didn't sing it, and neither of us had to say a word. My alternative version changed only one word; anybody who spent his or her childhood in LDS Sunday School and Primary should get it pretty quickly. DW still thinks it blasphemous:

We're following the leader, the leader, the leader
We're following the leader wherever he may go
We won't be home till morning, till morning
We won't be home till morning
Because he told us so

Tee dum, tee dee
A teedle ee do tee day
We're out for fun
And this is the game we play:
Come on, join in
And sing your troubles away
With a teedle ee dum
A teedle do tee day

We're following the leader, the leader, the leader
We're following the leader wherever he may go
We won't be home till morning, till morning
We won't be home till morning
Because he told us so

DW and I had dinner tonight with an old law school buddy of mine who I hadn't seen since graduation. He and his fiancee took a cruise from New Orleans last week and got back today. We went out with the two of them on our way back from dropping A. back at school. It's always nice to reconnect with old friends, and those New York accents are wonderful to hear.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Crimson dreamin'

I was in a dumpy local bar (the beloved Flora-Bama comes to mind--what a fun place!) with some people I knew, though I can't remember whom. I needed to take a whiz, so I looked up and saw the sign with one arrow directing the men in one direction and the other arrow directing the women in the other direction. I went behind the "mens" door, and saw another sign, giving me a choice of options, one of which was the local chapter of the Harvard Club. It was a pretty large area, with several rooms and lots of waiters and other service personnel. Yet it remained the same dumpy old bar. I took a seat in one of the rooms, which had people seated at tables arranged in a semicircle. A couple of mid-20ish guys stood up and told bad jokes that I can't remember. I remember thinking that I attended LSU, so what am I doing hanging around in here? I still needed to pee, so I stood up and started off in search of the head. Someone asked whether I would be back, and I said something about needing to pee right now.

I have nothing against Harvard or any other college. Also, to my knowledge, there is no local Harvard Club, and, somehow, I doubt it would look like the Flora-Bama if there were one.