Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Katrina Anniversary

Today is the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Much of the region is recovering fairly well, but New Orleans proper is struggling with numerous issues, of which an escalating crime rate is the most serious. Still, around 85% of the region's population is back--though only about 60% of the city's and 35% of neighboring St. Bernard Parish's people have returned--and the place is slowly being rebuilt.

Bad Hippy

A San Francisco resident set fire to the Burning Man several days ahead of schedule, and he has been arrested for arson. He apparently acted alone, and not as part of some organized counter-counterculture effort.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tricky Vick

I pulled Michael Vick's plea agreement and written factual basis from this afternoon, and the documents make for interesting reading. I read these kinds of documents all the time, so I wanted to read Vick's when I saw they were available. The lawyering is quite good, IMHO.

I've never seen a plea agreement before in which the parties agree to an upward departure from the Sentencing Guideline sentencing range, but Vick agreed to one, taking him from what looked like a 0-6 month range to a 12-18 month range. The agreed-upon range is merely a statement of what the Government and Vick believe is an appropriate sentence; it is not binding on the sentencing judge. It could be that Vick's attorneys believed that the facts of the case, the notoriety of the crime, and the high profile of the defendant would result in a sentence above the guideline range, and wanted to limit the damage by agreeing on a realistic range in advance. Vick also waived his right to appeal, which is very common. He may realize that he has maybe 4-6 years left to pursue his football career when he gets out of the can--if he's allowed to return--so it's in his interest to serve his sentence as quickly as possible.

Vick's written factual basis contains some clever phraseology. He admitted to running a gambling operation (his dogfighting ring), but not to taking any winnings or placing any bets. Most likely that paragraph is directed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who reportedly declined to commit in advance to allowing Vick back into the NFL after he gets out of prison. Goodell could easily invoke the league's anti-gambling policy to banish Vick, without having to address the issues whether dogfighting is an element of African-American popular culture and whether Vick's prosecution is inherently racist. I think those claims are bullshit--and demeaning to black people--but they have a tiny kernel of credibility in the fact that people kill animals all the time in recreational hunting. But bloodsports are illegal in all states (now including Louisiana!) and, historically, African-Americans are not the only people who have been involved in that kind of activity. Anyhow, Goodell might find it a little more problematic to invoke the gambling policy against someone who took no winnings and placed no bets, though the fact that he acknowledged operating a gambling enterprise might be enough, I don't know.

The most cleverly phrased provision is the one in which Vick admits to personally killing dogs without actually saying "I killed dogs in very nasty ways." To wit: "PEACE, PHILLIPS, and VICK agreed to the killing of approximately 6-8 dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sections . . . and all of those dogs were killed by various methods, including hangning and drowning. VICK agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts of PEACE, PHILLIPS, and VICK." It makes it all sound rather passive.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Beautiful Oblivion?

Right meditation is not escapism; it is not meant to provide hiding-places for temporary oblivion. Realistic meditation has the purpose of training the mind to face, to understand and to conquer this very world in which we live.

-Nyanaponika Thera, "Power of Minfulness"

It seems a bit odd to see a quotation about meditation using the word "conquer," but, otherwise, I like this quote. It's tricky--for me, anyway--getting to a state of non-thought without escaping into temporary oblivion--and that kind of escaping is very tempting on some days.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Don't Mess With Texas

The Redneck Games near Athens, Texas, resulted in 54 arrests this week. Anyhow, I can't believe that this cultural event wasn't more widely covered--it's like an East Texas version of Woodstock, only with beer instead of acid.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Heartbreak and Hope

DW and I ran around locally with our boys over the weekend, and, as sometimes happens, the experience was an emotional roller coaster ride.

T watches the elevator at the hotel. As usual, he had fun watching Blue's Clues, drawing with us, playing in the pool, and riding the elevator. I like that he's able to distinguish one-story buildings from multi-story buildings, and I don't mind him riding up and down on elevators to his heart's content when it doesn't bother anybody, but his elevator obsession on Saturday was much like the bad habit one is determined to kick but just can't. It ended with him tantruming uncontrollably when I wouldn't take him inside a high rise building in the downtown area we always drive through on our local visits. But then, I shouldn't have been dismissive when he was shouting "right!" and pointing down the last major street we passed before entering the downtown area. As soon as we got away from the tall buildings and chased a train, the tantruming stopped. In retrospect, it was like he knew what was going to happen and wanted to avoid it, but I thought he just wanted to go back to WalMart and past the high rise hospital close to that store. I suppose that any self-awareness of the situation is a good sign. My kids have up-and-down behaviors, and T is entering puberty, which is difficult for any kid--and neurotypical kids his age certainly can misbehave when they don't get their way--but this particular episode left me heartbroken for the rest of the day.

A was his mischievous little self during our visit with him. When he tired of the outdoor swimming pool at the hotel, he got out, ran through the gate, and had me chase him on a circuitous route to the indoor pool. He was laughing like hell the whole way. A worked on his dog-paddling skills, which aren't as well developed as his underwater swimming skills.

My kids' new mini-group home has a funky, retro-contempo motif. The place is roomy, and it has a tiny kitchen so the kids can learn how to prepare snacks and other foods requiring minimal cooking. There's also a washer and dryer so they can learn how to do laundry. The kids' new living quarters and their intensified ABA training program make me hopeful for their futures. DW and I want what every other parent wants for his/her children--to be safe, happy, and as well prepared as possible to function in the world, and to feel loved at all times. We obviously have a different situation from most families, but those basic parental desires are the same.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Drink for New Orleans

I noticed a display for Absolut Vodka's New Orleans-themed beverage at WalMart earlier this evening. "Every Sip Brings Back the Gulf" made me go "ewww!" as I thought about a drink evoking the salt-water flavor of the Gulf of Mexico. It took a second or two to sink in that the slogan meant that the company is donating all of the profits from the product to charities in New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast. That's pretty damn decent, IMHO, so, if you like Vodka, down a shot of this stuff.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Don't stop

Here it is, the most controversial ending in television history. It's grown on me since the initial shock. There's a big buildup of tension, chock full of symbolism from past episodes, then . . . nothing happens.

Shortly before that final episode, I had my oldest son at WalMart, and I needed to divert him from a very expensive home remodeling magazine he wanted me to buy (he likes looking at pictures of home interiors). I put my hand on "The Sopranos, the Book," which he grabbed off the shelf. It has quite a few photos of post-industrial North Jersey, with lots of bridges, trucks, etc. Anyhow, I was reading the text, and a couple of paragraphs sum up a couple of aspects of the show that always apealled to me:

By grafting the trapings of a gangster film onto a domestic drama, all set in end-of-the-millenium suburbs, [David] Chase had created a character who was both unique and entirely recognizable. When Tony famously told Dr. Melfi, "Lately I feel like I came in at the end of something. The best is over," he might have specifically been talking about the downfall of the Mafia, but he could have been speaking for any number of baby-boomers who woke up one morning to find themselves with a good job, a beautiful house, a nice car, and a queer sense of emptiness. He might as well have been talking about the failings of the American dream.

Such acute monitoring ot the national temperature has always been a feature of The Sopranos throughout its run. The show has dealt with issues from the gentrification of gay rights to the various ripple effets of September 11. The latter has been evoked both literally--when FBI Agent Harris is transferred from the pork store beat to counter-terorism work in Afghanistan--and more subtly in the ever-increasing sense of dislocation the characters seem to feel. It's hard to watch Tony resolve to change, only to revert to his old ways, without thinking of the countless resolutions of change made--and gradually forgotten--by many Americans in the wake of September 11. "That's thematic in the show," Chase says. "We all do it. I do it. We wake up and say, 'I have to do a better job of living my life. I have to be a better person. I have to do something.' And then, we don't."

I'm on a big self-improvement program at the moment, but it sure is easy to just sink back into avoidance, procrastination, overeating, distraction, and blogging (no, wait, that one's okay).