Thursday, July 31, 2008

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

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008


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

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2008

My, but that panda is crunchy!

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

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Holy Psycho Anarcho-Nihilist, Batman!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 18, 2008

Daily Zen, woo-hoo!

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

- Confucius

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Death in the Family

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

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Don't mess with a missionary man

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blinding me with science

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


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

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Magic Bus, Death Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why, it's an article about me.

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

Rotten Apples

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

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

MacBama? McLear? WTMcF?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Child's Nostalgia

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Louisiana High School Biology Class Caught on Video!

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


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

Be it enacted by the Legislature of Louisiana:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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