Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Sanity is vastly overrated"

[It is a requirement for foster parents in my state to write an essay about their life's story as part of the qualification process. As I am wont to do, I decided to have some fun with it. Everything you are about to read is true... except for the bullshit, and I point that out for you. I hope you enjoy it. This is what I'm actually turning in to the state board. I hope they have a sense of humor!]



“Sanity is vastly overrated”

I was born in Montfort Jones Memorial in Kosciusko, Mississippi at quitting time on a Friday, and that largely set the tone for my laid-back personality. My parents were quite old-fashioned, in that they insisted on being married for over a year before conceiving me. They were so pleased with the result that they quickly went to work producing my brother. After he was born, mom had her tubes tied. I'm sure that that was purely coincidence. ***cough***

We lived in Kosciusko my entire childhood. We lived in the same house from the time I was 2 years old until I left for the Navy. In fact, from the day I was born until I left for the Navy on my 18th birthday, I was not outside Attala County for more than 120 days total. The resulting boredom and frustration explains why I was on a bus for the Navy on my 18th birthday. I believe my mental state at that time could best be summed up as follows: “Get me the HELL out of here!!!” I am told this is a common reaction of teenagers to small town life.

I came as close to a “Mayberry” childhood as anyone. My parents quite literally never argued in front of my brother and me. We went to church three times a week, minimum, for 18 years. I'm pretty sure my pew there still has the imprint of my butt on it. Ours was a denomination of the Pentecostal variety, complete with speaking in tongues and people falling out under the influence of the Spirit. (That would be the Holy Spirit, not the kind in a bottle. Sometimes I wonder now if that was always the case, though.) I didn't realize how different our services were until I brought a date to Sunday night service as a 12th grader. I had to go find her when she fled out the back door during the alter call. Did I mention she'd never been to anything but a Southern Baptist church? Turns out the Baptists aren't much into speaking in tongues. Who knew?

The family joke is that my brother and I are twins. He's actually two years younger than me, and was my complete and perfect opposite. He was blond, thin, athletic, popular with the girls, an outdoorsman, and dumb as a box of rocks, at least regarding academics. I asked my parents once why they demanded “A”s from me and accepted “C”s from him. Their response was, “We expect your best from each of you... and that's his best.” Sucked to be me on that point. My brother would be hard pressed to type as much as I've already typed. We grated on each other pretty consistently. He was the prankster, and I was the older brother he kept having thrown in his face as an example. That didn't exactly make for a harmonious relationship.

I loved learning, but quickly grew to hate school. I began reading when I was less than 3 years old. The first day of 1st grade, I tested at a 5th grade reading level. Teachers took me from class to class to have me read for the other teachers. I felt like a freak, a one-boy dog-and-pony show... without the dog or pony, of course. Being the school nerd made me very popular with the other students, as you can imagine. (In case you missed it, that last sentence was intended as sarcasm.) By the time I was in the 6th grade, I was testing out as though I were a college freshman. School quite literally bored me to tears, and if my parents hadn't been as strict as they were I'd have dropped out in frustration.

Also, I started school not long after the courts finally forced integration on this state, and I got to observe the social phenomenon known as “white flight” firsthand... from the perspective of one who didn't fly. Caucasians were always a minority in the county schools, and each year became more so. In the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades, in a class of about 60 students, it was down to me. I was one single almond on the chocolate bar. I still get some funny reactions to my school yearbook, let me tell you! However, I am grateful now for the experience. It taught me a lot about people that I'd not have known otherwise. Basically, all people are people. Some are very good, some are downright evil, but most are in the middle, just trying to get through the day. This holds true for all people of all races, I think. In Mississippi, that view makes me downright liberal, maybe even socialist. I'm good with that.

I am the family freak in several ways. My entire family is blue-collar; I'm the first on either side of the family to even set foot on a college campus. I'm still the only one with a baccalaureate degree or more. I've always loved to read. I taught myself to play chess when I was about 10 years old, just because I wanted to know how to do it. I only had one real nemesis in school, a jerk named Alfred who decided to dedicate himself to the proposition that Glenn needed to really hate life, and he was pretty good at it. Everyone else was on good terms with me, and I with them. However, I didn't have many close friends. When you live in the county, you pretty much just see your classmates at school and that was it. They were too far away to walk to see, and I didn't have the use of a car until I was 16.

I did end up my senior year at Kosciusko High School, thanks to the shenanigans of the principal at my other school. I always believed it infuriated him that the only Caucasian in the class was certain to be valedictorian. My grades were just that far and away above everyone else's. Dad and I always thought that he should have used my success to show that no whites needed to run away to private schools, but... well, the principal didn't see it that way. Dad finally agreed to let me transfer after the principal expressed his displeasure with me by shaking a broom handle in my face and threatening to beat me with it. (He didn't actually hit me with it, but still... that was uncool.) Dad would've been fine with the principal paddling me, but “my boy is not a dog to be hit with a stick” was how I believe Dad put it at the time.

I liked KHS pretty well, but when you transfer in as a senior, you are going to be the outsider anywhere. Still, I had more of a social life there than I'd ever had before, and the girls were very pretty, and that was enjoyable. I never kept up with any of my classmates, but recently I've been using social websites like Facebook to locate a few of them. I'm pleased that most of the ones I've found seem to be doing well with their lives.


I see from the questionnaire that I'm to discuss my previous marriages. Sigh. OK, there was the slut, then the nut, then Rhonda. I'd just as soon leave it at that, but I doubt that is what you had in mind for this assignment, huh?

I married Number One when I was 20 years old and still in the Navy. I met her through a Navy buddy who asked me, “Hey, you want a pen pal?” I responded with the same answer I'd given the Navy recruiter who asked me if I'd meet with and talk to him: “Sure. What harm can it do?” (I do not EVER EVER EVER answer a question with that answer anymore, having found out just exactly what harm it could do both times.) We wrote, we met, we had sex. She was my first. I decided that I liked sex very much, so much, in fact, that I moved her from Illinois down to where I was stationed and married her. That went fine until I learned that she'd been given a mission to sleep with every sailor in the 7th Fleet. That kind of hurt my feelings. I'm just glad there were no kids born to us. Boy, howdy, that'd have been bad. So, back I came to Mississippi and started community college. Didn't bother divorcing her; I wasn't looking to ever get married again, so what was the hurry? Then, I met Number Two.

I got talkied into taking drama and getting into a play in junior college to help out Mr. Alexander, a retired old coot who took a class or two in Goodman every semester just to have somewhere to go during the day. Very nice old man, but you'd better have 30 minutes to kill if he saw you coming. No one EVER had a short conversation with Mr. Alexander! Anyway, the cast for the play Mr. Alexander was directing consisted of me, the drama teacher, and three female students. I was about tired of eating my suppers alone, so I resolved to ask one of the three out on a date. I knew two of them already had boyfriends, so I asked the other one out. Turns out she had a boyfriend too, I just didn't know it, but she seemed about ready to kick him to the curb, and he was fine with escaping her clutches... errr, I mean, not being her boyfriend anymore. She and I had more suppers together and got along well enough for me to remember that I still liked sex a LOT. So, we had sex a lot.

Now, you have to remember that I thought I was sterile from being exposed to microwave radiation while in the Navy. Number One and I had tried fervently to have a child. (I only found out later that she was trying even harder than I was, with the entire 7th Fleet.) So, lo and behold, girlfriend comes up pregnant and needed to become Number Two Wife. As I recall, my initial reaction was, “Oh, shit. Maybe I better get divorced now.” We managed to obtain my divorce and get married before she was showing too badly.

The ten years of that marriage weren't all bad, my jokes to the contrary notwithstanding. I love my two kids by her very much, and they love me, and she is a good mother to my children. I don't hate her; we were just a very poor match, and I ended up hitting the 'eject' button before I was driven to desperate measures. But we get along well enough, and neither of us trashes the other one to the kids.We are able to be decent to each other.

I left that marriage fully intent on never again going down that whole 'marriage' road. Rhonda (also known as “she who must be obeyed”) is literally the only woman who would have gotten past that decision. You see, I'd dated Rhonda while I was in the Navy, at the same time I was 'sparking' Wife Number One. Yes, I was a dog. Didn't you figure that out already? I settled on Number One instead of Rhonda. Bad, dumb move, as I discussed above. Anyway, I hadn't seen or heard from Rhonda in many years, but I saw a picture of her at my brother's house which I could tell was recent. He and his wife had stayed in touch with her, unbeknown to me. So, I emailed her pretty much just hoping she'd forgiven me for being an idiot and an ass. Turns out I was her 'long lost love' the same way she'd been mine. Who knew? Rhonda and I went together for a long time, both having been burned twice before, until she decided that my whole “you be my girlfriend forever” plan was not going to happen. She had decided that she was the marrying kind. So, I chose a good moment, proposed to her, and she accepted. Then, we finished having sex. Did I mention I like sex a lot?

Her upbringing and mine could hardly be more different, and our personalities reflect it. Where my upbringing was the ultimate in stability, hers was a model of change and chaos. So now, I'm very calm, centered, and do not express my emotions very much, other than through my humor. She has to be part Italian: if she's awake, she's emotional. Hell, sometimes if she's asleep, she's emotional. But it has been a good blend so far. We very seldom ever disagree, let alone argue. However, that last fight we had was a doozy. We went round and round half the night, but when it was over she came to me on her hands and knees, and do you know what she said? She said, “Come out from under that bed and finish this fight, you weenie!” (OK, I made that part up. It's one of my wife's favorite jokes that I tell. I doubt that fact surprises you.)

Most of the problems Rhonda and I have had to overcome have been in one of two categories: financial and the “Brady Bunch” factor. Hey, I have five kids to care for, not to mention a wife and an ex. I go around singing “Come on, payday” so much that people think I've recorded it. (I haven't. Yet. We'll see.) Blending the families, especially the children, has been a challenge, but it has been almost 10 years now. We're doing fine on that front. Of course, that brings me to your next category of questions: Children.


One of my few pet peeves is when people ask me which of my five children are mine. “They all are” is my polite and honest reply. It just happens that two are mine by biology, and three are mine by choice, both my choice and theirs. It amuses me to show people our family picture and ask them to pick out the two that happen to share some genetic code with me. To date, no one has been able to do so correctly. They usually say, “But they ALL look like you!” This fact just goes to prove an old adage in DHS: if you feed them long enough, they look like you. I love all five of mine, and I am confident they all love me. I'll list them off chronologically, and no, I don't intend to point out the biological from the adoptive. They are all mine. Did I mention that requests to differentiate them are a pet peeve of mine?

HOPE: she's the oldest, being 24 years old now. She's married and old-fashioned like my parents, since she didn't bring me my granddaughter until 13 months after her marriage. We wouldn't have a grandchild even now, except that her husband is Irish Catholic and she has her mother's fertility. That birth control pill didn't stand a chance. She is perhaps the most academically gifted of the five, and has a bright, cheerful personality that she formerly tried to hide under a “Goth-ish” exterior. No one was fooled. While she has my intellect, she has her mother's emotional expressiveness. Now, if I could just get her to clean her room...

CHRISTOPHER: the oldest son, he turns 20 this month. He probably looks more like me than any of the other children; we've been mistaken for each other, at least from the back and side. He is far more disciplined and focused than I was at that age, combining college and work and doing well in both. It took four years in the Navy to give me that ability. He shares my sense of humor and my fierce loyalty to my friends, but he has a maturity and self-control that I didn't at his age. He's also possessed of some musical talents and is learning guitar more quickly than most people can. Now, if I could just get him to clean his room...

JONATHAN: 18 years old and graduating high school this year. He has the biggest dreams of the five, and works hard to achieve them. He already has his plans laid out for college and becoming a writer, and I give him a better chance to succeed at it than most people. He can focus on a problem intensely when he must, as I can. He and I share a love of politics, religion, and sports, and we can talk about them for hours. His worse weakness is his desire for the approval of others, which gets him into trouble sometimes, but he has improved on that greatly. He has an optimistic spirit that I have never had. Now, if I could just get him to clean his room...

ANTHONY: 16 years old, and as rebellious as you might expect. He is the least academically inclined of the five. Unlike my brother, Anthony's problem is a lack of interest, not a lack of ability. Like many teens, he both wants his freedom and somewhere safe to go, and I think he has a lot of both. He has a mercurial temperament, but can quickly get to the heart of a problem and solve it--- when he chooses to do so. He generally has an open and friendly nature, but also has a quick wit and sharp tongue when he is provoked. He has been an enigma to me much of his life, but he's on balance shaping into a fine young man. Now, if I could just get him to clean his room...

AMBER: the baby of the bunch turns 13 soon. She may take Hope's perch as the most academically gifted child, but it's too soon to tell. She is usually bright and cheerful, but wears her heart on her sleeve and always has. She's the most easily upset by bad news, but also is quick to rebound from it. She is a “Daddy's girl.” She already has strong maternal instincts, and loves to look after younger children. She plans to be a teacher, and I have no doubt that she will be a very good one. The

worst weakness I've seen in her so far is that she gives up far too easily; if something doesn't come to her quickly, she's just as likely to walk away from it in frustration. Also, if I could just get her to clean her room...

FOSTER CHILDREN: I have no earthly idea what to expect from a foster child. Every person is different. I expect them to attend church with us and to try to do well in school, and I intend to have them under the same rules as the rest of the children (which is to say, darned few; I'm not exactly an authoritarian). I know that I can provide for their physical needs, and believe that I am easy enough to get along with that they will become comfortable with me fairly quickly. As for discipline... well, my plan is to send them to Rhonda. That'll fix them for sure!


I'm now a member of the Methodist persuasion, which is a far cry from my charismatic upbringing. I've often thought about starting a riot in Sunday service by standing up and shouting “Amen!” for the preacher, but so far I have refrained myself. Somebody would have a stroke for sure, and that wouldn't be so funny. Man, these are some uptight folks. You'd think that they were Southern Baptists or something. (A friendly jibe at my Baptist brethren. Jesus loves you, too. I think.)

I'm fairly active in our church, being the Sunday School Superintendent, teacher for the Young Adult class, member of the choir, and stuck on a couple of committees. Committees?? I've been Church of God, I was even Southern Baptist for a while, but nobody loves them some committees like Methodists do. I think they have a “Toilet Paper Committee.” If they don't, then I hope they don't read this, 'cause they'll sure create one if they get the idea, and I'm pretty sure I'd get nominated to head up that committee with my luck. Should I go with the expensive paper or the “John Wayne” paper? (John Wayne paper is rough, it's tough, and it won't take crap off of anybody.”)

Look, my bottom line is it doesn't matter what building you attend or which group you hang with. There's going to be plenty of people in every church that go to heaven. There's also gonna be plenty of people in every church who are gonna be real surprised when Lucifer tells them, “Welcome to the rest of your eternity, sucker.” Church doesn't get you to heaven, and it doesn't necessarily teach you how to be a good person. It's a lot like school: the tools are there for you if you choose to use them, but they won't do you a bit of good if you choose to let them sit there. (There are also bullies and wiseguys in church too, but that's not my point.) I'm happy with my church. They haven't thrown me out yet, and with my sense of humor, that kinda surprises me. I'll have to speak to them about their low standards. Who's going to take them seriously when they let the likes of me hang out there?


It may shock you to learn that I think a sense of humor is highly important. (I'll wait while you get over that choking spell there.) Humor is a very useful tool. It gets me through the day without screaming. It usually eases social situations, although take it from me; most people don't see the humor in a knock-knock joke at the funeral home. As long as the purpose is to make people feel better and not to embarrass or belittle them, I think it's almost always welcome. Humor, tolerance, honesty, and integrity are necessary to get along in this world. I believe that I can be a model of these behaviors for children who are placed with us. Well, I'm certain about the humor and the tolerance part. As for the honesty and integrity part--- did I mention yet that I'm a lawyer? I gotta work with what I got.


It might be quicker just to tell what I haven't done in my life; if nothing else, I do work. Even though I don't think this question contemplates high school jobs, I did pump gas, volunteer at the library, and work with my Dad at the greenhouse at different times while I was in high school.

From 1984 to 1988, I was a sailor in the boiler room of an aircraft carrier. It's humid, it smells like diesel, and it gets up to 130 degrees down there. Loads of fun. It was in the Navy that I learned how to drink and curse like a sailor. I'm sure there's a connection there somewhere. On the positive side, that was my first training in first aid and in firefighting. Trust me, when you live on a floating cracker in the Atlantic, you are highly motivated to keep that cracker from burning up underneath you.

After I left the Navy in 1988, I worked at a hardware store for a few months and took some classes at a community college in Jacksonville, Florida. This was when I learned about Wife Number One's mission to continue sleeping with sailors even though I wasn't one anymore. Ka-Boom. Came back to Kosciusko at the end of 1988 on a borrowed ride, with a busted marriage and everything I owed in the back of a pickup truck. Merry Christmas.

January of 1989 I enrolled at Holmes Community College in Goodman, MS, and worked the 11pm to 7am shift at Gas Mart on the Interstate at Durant for several months. The company crapped on my manager, who I liked, and the entire store quit en masse. I then got the same job and same shift at a different gas station, MGM Fuelcenter in Pickens, and still attended college. I kept that job until I transferred to Ole Miss in Oxford and moved there in August, 1990.

I attended Ole Miss full time from 1990 to 1995, during which time I picked up two baccalaureates and a Masters degree. I also worked full time on the 11pm to 7am shift at different places through that period. From August 1990 to about August 1991, I worked at the only convenience store in Oxford that served hot food after the bars closed at midnight. Worst. Job. In. My. Life. I got SO sick of drunk college punks staggering in to put $100 of junk food on daddy's credit card. That remains the only job where stress caused me physical symptoms. My lower back hurt so badly that I had to roll out of bed onto the floor and pull myself up with my arms to get moving. However, I’d made a friend who worked at a local hotel, and he was up for a promotion if he could get someone to take his job as night auditor on the graveyard shift. I jumped at it.

From 1991 until I passed the bar in 2002, I worked as hotel auditor. The pay was crap, but it was the least stressful job I’ve ever had, and it was all the study time in the world. From 1995 to 1999 I wasn’t in school, but kept that job just because I liked it so well. During that time I was also a volunteer fireman for a while, and worked electronics at Wal-Mart for a year. Once I started law school in the fall of 1999, I let those jobs go, but hotel auditor was once again a perfect job for a student.

Shortly after I passed the bar in September, 2002, I was hired as associate attorney for the Barrett Law Office in Lexington, Mississippi. There I was your basic clueless newbie lawyer for a while, until I began to get the idea as to what I was supposed to be doing. I stayed there until October 2007, when changes in Mississippi law and the economy took their toll, and I got that hideous euphemism, “downsized.” It sounds like a weight loss plan instead of a job loss. After a couple of nerve-wracking months, I landed my current job with DHS in Holmes and Yazoo Counties, where I spend my days chasing down daddies who ran and try to get child support out of sluggards too slothful to work to feed themselves, let alone their children. Eh, it’s a living, and I’m on the side of the kids, so there is that. So, there it is: 25 years of doing damned near everything under the sun for money.


Look, some people have black sheep in their family. I’m pretty much the white sheep in a black sheep family. I can’t even tell you the names of most of my cousins, let alone where they are. I have three or four I remain in contact with, and about that many aunts and uncles. My last grandparent died when I was three or four, and my father died in 2003. I’m still close to Mom, and close-ish to my brother. They think I’m doing a good thing becoming a foster parent, but worry about it. I see the few extended family members I stay in contact with only on holidays, and not always then. Other than Mom, they don’t have any input into Rhonda and my decision to become foster parents, and Mom kicked around the idea of becoming one herself.


The fact is, I’m an old hand at this adoption thing. In addition to my three children by adoption, I have several nephews, nieces, and my kid’s friends who have informally adopted us as their family. My best friend’s daughter calls me her “other Dad.” Rhonda’s side of the family is as unconventional a family as you’ll ever find. We don’t have a family tree--- we have family kudzu! It goes all over the damned place, and crosses back on itself in places. A kid is a kid. They all gotta eat and have clothes and shelter. I plan to keep doing what I’ve always done: Meet their physical needs, listen when they talk, and run like hell when they start yelling. Hey, it’s worked so far.


I’ve already told you how I came to be at DHS with the layoff. What I didn’t tell you is the spiritual side of it. I’m here because God sent me. No, really, he did. He said, “Hey, my son loves all the little children of the world--- so YOU go out there and get them some money!” OK, I didn’t really hear the Lord’s voice say that, but this was the ONLY job available. I took that as a pretty clear sign that I was supposed to be here, at least for now. You at DHS who are reading this ought to know my job pretty well. I establish paternity for children born out of wedlock, get child support from non-custodial parents, and sue the jokers who won’t pay for contempt of court. That’s the job description, anyway.

Of course, no job description ever really captures everything that goes along with a job, and this one isn’t any different. Let’s cover the good stuff first, shall we? I work for the state, so I get all KINDS of holidays off. I even get Confederate Memorial Day off. (snort) Hey, I don’t care if they call it “Joe Stalin Appreciation Day,” a day off is a day off. That’s cool. Also, I’m straight 8 to 5, no late nights, no weekends. This is a very nice deal for a lawyer, who is quite accustomed to working until 10pm or later weeknights, lots of Saturdays, and some Sundays. I have a good retirement plan, and don’t have any of the expenses that most attorneys have.

Then, there’s the downside. I work for the State of Mississippi, the poorest and cheapest organization in the Western Hemisphere. Hell, Peruvian mothers warn their children that if they’re bad, they will send them to Mississippi. The equipment is cheap and faulty, and the pay blows. Worst of all, they’ve given me a job that would require at least two attorneys to do properly. I am the only attorney for two counties. I have over 9,000 active cases of child support in those counties, and while most men are actually paying their support, there are never fewer than 900 cases in legal status at any one time. I represent the state as an attorney, but I am expected to counsel both mothers and fathers in our system, figure out how to get support from an unemployed guy, chase men who have no permanent addresses, heal the sick and raise the dead. OK, I made up those last two, but it feels like it sometimes. I don’t have time to write my orders from one court before I’m in then next court. My paperwork looks like a child’s scribble, not a professional’s work, and I make more mistakes than I’d have ever accepted even as a hotel auditor.

And for all that, this might be the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. I love being on the side of the angels, and of the underdogs. I love seeking justice for people who can’t afford an attorney. I relish facing impossible odds, not because the case is hard, but because I have 120 cases on the docket to hear in 8 hours. It cannot be done--- and yet I get much done. I love that ‘thank you’ card from a lady who I got just a little more money in child support. I love my case workers telling me that I’m the best they’ve ever seen, even if I don’t believe them. I love feeling needed, and appreciated, and if I can figure out how to get by on the crappy state salary, I might have this job the rest of my days. Well, if I can keep from getting fired for telling state office what I think of them, but that’s a different issue entirely.


I’d have to say my father was the most important influence on my life. I love my Mom, but I always wanted my Dad to be proud of me, and I know in many things, he was. I’m not everything he’d have wanted, to be sure, but he began to open up a little bit before he died, and he told me how proud he was that I’d become a lawyer. It is the most exalted job anyone in his family has ever had. His father was a sharecropper, and the best job he ever had was as a welder. I think he wished I liked sex a little less, knowing the trouble it’d lead to, but he told me he had never had to hang his head in shame because of me. That may not sound like high praise to your ears, but he was very reserved in his praise: that was a big “thumbs up” coming from him. I wish he could’ve lived to see me in action in court. I don’t know if he’d have been proud or astounded, but I’d have loved to see the look on his face when I cracked a joke in front of the judge.

I think I won’t go into all the hardships and problems I’ve overcome. I’ll say only that I’ve faced death five times in my life, and I am satisfied with my response in four of the five. I’m more than a little ashamed that I came within a hair-trigger of feeding myself a gunpowder sandwich; the Lord expects a little faith out of us, not despair. But the other four times I showed some courage and humor, and I am satisfied with that.

Like everyone, I hope that my children will be happy, productive people. As for the details of what jobs they take or where they live, I care little. What matters is that they be content with their lives, and that they make a difference for somebody along the way. That is, after all, what I hope for myself: that I mattered to somebody, somewhere, and that my life was not just footprints in the sand, washed away with the next high tide.

The fact is that we never know what thing we do that makes a difference. When I was in the 9th grade, a young lady transferred into our school for only about six weeks. During that time, she befriended me, but never spoke that much. Just before she left, she wrote me a note. I took much teasing from my classmates about that note! In it, she complimented me as a person and gave me words of encouragement. I cannot even remember her name now, nor would I recognize her if I met her in the street, but I have never forgotten how she made me feel. I like to think that somewhere along the way I’ve done something similar, that I showed someone some kindness or consideration that I don’t even remember because it seems inconsequential, but that they have never forgotten.

I am now on the downhill side of life. Most people think “middle age” is somewhere in their sixties, but who lives to be 120? I will be forty-three soon, and statistically, I’m over halfway home now. I have reached peace with myself, both with the mistakes I’ve made and the good I’ve tried to do within the limitations of my humanity. I am no longer that which I once was, but that isn’t all bad. That which I have, and that which I am, are sufficient for the task that has been given unto me. If I am able to change anything about myself or my life, I hope and trust that it will be for the good, to do good, for so long as I am able.

Also, I still hope to figure out that whole “sex” thing, but that is a story for another day.

Glenn A. Huggins

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The nature of freedom

So, I was hanging out at my friend's virtual digs last night, and we got into a heated discussion about police states. (Here if you are interested.) It got me to thinking about the nature of freedom, and how it is on a graduating scale rather than an absolute in most places. After all, even in the most repressive regimes like the Soviet Union, individuals retained the ability to make certain personal decisions with impunity. Likewise, in even the most free states, there are restrictions on the individual that the majority deem acceptable, wise and prudent. My position is that the U.S. has become relentlessly less free over my 42 years. (For this article, I mean "freedom" as the ability of the individual to make decisions and take actions without fear of governmental interference of any kind, whether it be criminal prosecution or civil regulation.)

The following is a short compilation of some of the powers the national government has abrogated to itself over the last 25 years or so.

***Invade sovereign nations to bring that country's political leadership to the U.S. for trial for violations of U.S. law (Noriega, Panama, 1989). This was a violation of treaties our government approved, and thus was a violation of U.S. law. But because Noriega is so unsympathetic a person, no one much cared.

***Invade sovereign nations that might, some day, obtain the capacity to harm the U.S., without regard to their current capability to do so. This is no different at all from what Stalin did to Finland, or Hitler to Poland. Every nation might someday in the future become a threat to any other nation, after all; this simply undoes by fiat the international condemnation of wars of aggression.

***Declare any individual to be a non-citizen and an 'enemy combatant,' who then has no recourse to any neutral judge to contest his detention.

***Ship any person either to our own torture centers or through 'extraordinary rendition' to the torture centers of other countries for the extraction of a 'confession.'

***Hold any person in a cell for the duration of their life without charges, if said person is deemed by the executive branch to be 'enemy combatant.' Said decision is not subject to review for error or bias by anyone.

***Record, preserve, and analyze with computers the transmissions of any data via any media, without warrants or any other approval.

***Through secret letters of demand, which the target is not even allowed to know about, the gov't can without a warrant get any and all information concerning a specific individual from anyone in U.S. jurisdiction. This includes mental health treatment, tax records, physical health treatment, and library records.

As was pointed out to me, the Wiki definition of "Police State," "describes a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic and political life of the population." I have to concede that the U.S., today, does not meet that technical definition of a police state. All the powers claimed by the U.S. government have not been applied to a large segment of the population to date. As of today, only a couple of disaffected nutjobs like Lindh and a few other marginal citizens have been black-bagged to Gitmo, or to years of solitary confinement in a brig, or to heaven only knows what. Most people aren't under the boot heel, so I lose that argument on the numbers.

I could probably dig around and find a less strict definition for "police state," but that wouldn't address my main point, which is that freedom is on the retreat in this country. Bear in mind that our own revolution was not fought after liberties had been taken, but after Parliament claimed the right to take those liberties. That your gov't claims authority to do these things to you, and to me, ought to bother us all far more than it does. But we (the U.S. as a whole, not you and I specifically) are no different from the people in that poem against the Nazis, in which no one spoke up when they went after the Jews, the gays, the commies, and so on, because it didn't affect them personally. There is no general outcry against these abuses, no marches in the streets, because of who the targets have been so far.

I've said for a year and a half that my highest hope is that a new president would begin to dismantle these and other extralegal systems immediately upon taking office. That is my hope. My fear is that the new president will decide that these powers are very useful tools for him, and that he'll only use them for good, and he'll keep a tight reign on them... and then those powers are permanent, since both parties have both officially and in practice signed off on them.

Lord Acton was correct in his axiom, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The bedrock principle underlying our Constitution is that no one person, or group of persons, no matter how wise or well-intentioned, can ever be trusted with unchecked power. It's a good principle. However, the development of our government over time has uniformly been a long, mostly uninterrupted slide away from legislative power and toward executive power. The metaphor I've long used is the transition of Rome from republic to empire. There was never any official declaration of empire, you know. The Roman Senate remained in place almost to the very end. But real power began to shift with Julius Caesar, and by the end of Augustus' reign real power was completely in the hands of the emperor. (Augustus never used that term, by the way, maintaining throughout his life he was merely 'first among equals.' Clever pol, that Augustus).

I am a firm believer that "the past is prologue." That is, history is an excellent tool for predicting future human behavior, because our fundamental nature remains unchanged for all our technological advances. The history of every republic, without exception, is that devolves into some form of authoritarian regime over time. Perhaps humans simply haven't the will to do the work necessary to keep a republic; perhaps their fears make too many willing to trade essential liberties for illusions of security. So in the long run, I am not optimistic that our fate as a nation will be any different. Nonetheless, I can do what I can do to not let it happen in my lifetime, and trust that my children, and theirs, will do the same.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008 in review

Tagged by mi amigo at for this one, so here goes:

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before? Ate the pink stuff next to the wasabi at the Japanese restaurant. It tastes like lemon soap.

2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?I don't make NYR, but I do intend to keep losing weight. (Down to 315 now from 355 in September.)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Have I mentioned my granddaughter in the last 35 seconds? Yeah. Pics at my facebook.

4. Did anyone close to you die? Thankfully, no.

5. What places did you visit? I think I didn't leave the state of Mississippi in 2008. Damn, no wonder I'm so irritable lately...

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008? Time and money are givens for everyone, so it would be cheesy to say those, IMO. I think the only honest answer besides those two, though, is "sex."

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? November 4th, 2008, of course. August 14, being present at my grandchild's birth, on a personal level.

8. What was your biggest achievement(s) of the year? I got over 1,000 substantive court orders (1,017 to be precise) and filed over 700 new cases for support. With a two-county legal department that consists of the three of us: me, myself, and I.

9. What was your biggest failure? The price I paid to do what was necessary for those orders and filings: I did fast, mistake-filled work, making a conscious choice that I could fix my mistakes more easily than I could live with the knowledge that I was keeping some kid without by being persnickity about my paperwork. I loathe myself for the boneheaded errors I've made, but still think I made the objectively best, utilitarian choice. ("The needs of the many," you know.)

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? I lost my voice in October and had to do court sounding like Wolfman Jack. That was interesting.

11. What was the best thing you bought? The Honda Civic. I got it in January, so it counts for 2008.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? In the public arena, Obama. Toast's answer to this one is very good. In my personal life... well, I'm a bit embarrassed to say I'm not sure. We all had a pretty uneventful year.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Miss South Carolina. Every public official of the Republican party. Some of my racist in-laws.

14. Where did most of your money go? Bills, of course. Didn't everyone's?

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Honestly... only my grandchild, and even that was only "really excited" on my personal scale. Any observer would have called me "mildly interested."

16. What song will always remind you of 2008? There is no song with which I associate 2008.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) Happier or sadder? Happier. b) thinner or fatter? Thinner . c) richer or poorer? Poorer. I've paid down the mortgage for a year, but began 2008 involuntarily unemployed.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Traveled.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? File cases and write orders. Duh.

20. How did you spend Christmas this year? We went to several people's houses and had a gathering here as well. It was quite hectic.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008? Yeah. Did I mention my granddaughter in the last 15 sentences?

22. How was work? New job, completely different scale and nature of work, and not enough of any resource whatsoever. I made 1/3 of what I made in 2007, and my judge cries when she sees me coming with a 2 foot tall stack of orders for her. Other than that, I can't complain.

23. What was your favorite TV program? Either Doctor Who or Torchwood.

24. What did you do for your birthday in 2008? Small party at my house with closest friends and immediate family.

25. What was the best book you read? No lie, it's one I got from my son for Christmas called Uncle John's Biggest Ever Bathroom Reader. 600 pages of beautiful tidbits and trivia in perfectly sized portions for, oh, 15 minutes of reading.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery? That it is really, really easy to put all my CDs on the computer and burn my own mixes for the car.

27. What did you want and get? The Honda Civic. A leather hip holster for my Zippo. A black fedora hat. And sex, of course.

28. What did you want and not get? Sex, of course. An office printer that works properly. An office computer that doesn't go "blue screen of death" at least once a day. Respect of my peers.

29. What was your favorite film of this year? Dark Knight. Bought it on DVD the day it came out.

30. Did you make some new friends this year? That depends on definitions, I think. But in common parlance, I would say no.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Same as last year: Impeachment proceedings.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008? Whatever is in my closet will do.

33. What kept you sane? Who said I'm sane?

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? I'm interpreting "fancy" to mean "lust for," and will say Kim Kardashian.

35. What political issue stirred you the most? Civil liberties and their continued, ongoing repeal.

35a. What political issue stirred you the least? Among the major ones, I'd have to say "gun rights." Don't misunderstand, I am all in favorite of individual rights to firearms; I just perceive that the Dems have been effectively neutered on the matter for a while and am content with the status quo on that front. Hence, it didn't stir me.

36. Who did you miss? Same person I've missed the most since Palm Sunday, 2003: my dad.

37. Who was the best new person you met? I met several at and through work. (BTW, I consider co-workers to be by my definition excluded from "friend" unless they eat at my house, or I at theirs. Hence, no new friends this year, though I like all my people.) Since I am given no criteria to determine "best" (best looking, best dressed, best bank account, what?), I decline to answer this one.

38. Burn any bridges? I never, ever burn bridges. At least not deliberately.

39. Best new restaurant you went to? I think we started going to Ichiban before 2008, but it's still the best.

40. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008. No new lessons leap to mind. I was reminded of the truth of many old lessons I already knew. Endure. Hope. Be kind. Try to give a damn even when you aren't sure why, it'll come to you later. Keep doing all that you know to do, and when you have done all, stand firm.

I am not the least sorry to see this year go. Buh bye. Don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Movies I've seen

In answering these, I only chose those movies I have seen in their entirety. Many of the rest I have caught 5 to 10 minutes of, or seen the "highlights" along the way.

(x) Rocky Horror Picture Show
( ) Grease
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest
( ) Boondock Saints
(x) Fight Club
( ) Starsky and Hutch
(x) Neverending Story
(x) Blazing Saddles
( ) Universal Soldier
( ) Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events
( ) Along Came Polly
( ) Joe Dirt
(x) KING KONG [only one or two versions]
Total so far: 7

( ) A Cinderella Story
( ) The Terminal
( ) The Lizzie McGuire Movie
( ) Passport to Paris
(x) Dumb & Dumber
( ) Dumber & Dumberer
(x) Final Destination
( ) Final Destination 2
( ) Final Destination 3
(x) Halloween
( ) The Ring
( ) The Ring 2
( ) Surviving -MAS
(x) Flubber (orignal only)
Total so far: 11

( ) Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
( ) Practical Magic
(x) Chicago
(x) Ghost Ship
(x) From Hell
(x) Hellboy
(x) Secret Window
( ) I Am Sam
( ) The Whole Nine Yards
( ) The Whole Ten Yards
Total so far: 16

(x) The Day After Tomorrow
(x) Child's Play
(x) Seed of Chucky
(x) Bride of Chucky
( ) Ten Things I Hate About You
( ) Just Married
( ) Gothika
(x) Nightmare on Elm Street
(x) Sixteen Candles [One of the best in the John Hughes, suburban teenage white kid flicks]
( ) Remember the Titans
( ) Coach Carter
( ) The Grudge
( ) The Grudge 2
(x) The Mask
(x) Son Of The Mask
Total so far: 24

( ) Bad Boys
( ) Bad Boys 2
( ) Joy Ride
( ) Lucky Number Sleven
(x) Ocean's Eleven
( ) Ocean's Twelve
(x) Bourne Identity
(x) Bourne Supremacy
( ) Lone Star
( ) Bedazzled (original only) [the remake has the sublime Liz Hurley]
(x) Predator I
( ) Predator II
( ) The Fog
(x) Ice Age
(x) Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
( ) Curious George
Total so far: 30

(x) Independence Day
( ) Cujo
( ) A Bronx Tale
( ) Darkness Falls
( ) Christine
( ) ET [my boycott may not last now that I'm a dad.]
( ) Children of the Corn
( ) My Bosses Daughter
( ) Maid in Manhattan
(x) War of the Worlds
(x) Rush Hour
(x) Rush Hour 2
Total so far: 34

( ) Best Bet
( ) How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
( ) She's All That
( ) Calendar Girls
( ) Sideways
(x) Mars Attacks
( ) Event Horizon
( ) Ever After
(x) Wizard of Oz
(x) Forrest Gump
(x) Big Trouble in Little China [watched this about a hundred times in H.S. great!]
(x) The Terminator
(x) The Terminator 2
(x) The Terminator 3
Total so far: 41

(x) X-Men
(x) X2
(x) X-3
(x) Spider-Man
(x) Spider-Man 2
( ) Sky High
( ) Jeepers Creepers
( ) Jeepers Creepers 2
( ) Catch Me If You Can
(x) The Little Mermaid
(x) Freaky Friday (original only)
(x) Reign of Fire
( ) The Skulls
( ) Cruel Intentions
( ) Cruel Intentions 2
( ) The Hot Chick
(x) Shrek
(x) Shrek 2
Total so far: 51

( ) Swimfan
( ) Miracle on 34th street
(x) Old School
( ) The Notebook
( ) K-Pax [Did anyone see this garbage?]
( ) Kippendorf's Tribe [not proud of this]
( ) A Walk to Remember
( ) Ice Castles
( ) Boogeyman
( ) The 40-year-old-virgin
Total so far: 52

(x) Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring
(x) Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
(x) Lord of the Rings Return Of the King
(x) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
(x) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
(x) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Total so far: 58

(x) Baseketball
( ) Hostel
( ) Waiting for Guffman
( ) House of 1000 Corpses
( ) Devils Rejects
( ) Elf
(x) Highlander
(x) Mothman Prophecies
( ) American History ( I'm assuming this is American History X but the x got deleted?)
( ) Three
Total so Far: 61

( ) The Jacket
( ) Kung Fu Hustle
( ) Shaolin Soccer
( ) Night Watch
(x) Monsters Inc.
(x) Titanic
(x) Monty Python and the Holy Grail
( ) Shaun Of the Dead
( ) Willard
Total so far: 64

( ) High Tension
( ) Club Dread
(x) Hulk
(x) Dawn of the Dead
(x) Hook
(x) Chronicle Of Narnia The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
(x) 28 days later
(x) Orgazmo
( ) Phantasm (Underrated)
(x) Waterworld
Total so far: 71

(x) Kill Bill vol 1
(x) Kill Bill vol 2
( ) Mortal Kombat
( ) Wolf Creek
(x) Kingdom of Heaven
( ) the Hills Have Eyes
( ) I Spit on Your Grave aka the Day of the Woman
( ) The Last House on the Left
(x) Re-Animator
( ) Army of Darkness
Total so far: 75

(x) Star Wars Ep. I The Phantom Menace
(x) Star Wars Ep. II Attack of the Clones
(x) Star Wars Ep. III Revenge of the Sith
(x) Star Wars Ep. IV A New Hope
(x) Star Wars Ep. V The Empire Strikes Back
(x) Star Wars Ep. VI Return of the Jedi
( ) Ewoks Caravan Of Courage
( ) Ewoks The Battle For Endor
Total so far: 81

(x) The Matrix
( ) The Matrix Reloaded
( ) The Matrix Revolutions
(x) Animatrix
( ) Evil Dead
( ) Evil Dead 2 [easily one of my favorite movies of all time]
(x) Team America: World Police
( ) Red Dragon
(x) Silence of the Lambs
( ) Hannibal
Total so far: 85

( ) Battle Royale
( ) Battle Royale 2
(x) Brazil
( ) Contact
( ) Cube
(x) Dr. Strangelove
( ) Enlightenment Guaranteed
( ) Four Rooms
( ) Memento
( ) Pi
( ) Requiem for a Dream
(x) Pulp Fiction
(x) Reservoir Dogs
( ) Run Lola Run
( ) Russian Ark
(x) Serenity
(x) Sin City
(x) Snatch
( ) Spider
(x) The Sixth Sense
(x) The Village
( ) Waking Life
( ) Zatoichi
( ) Ikiru
( ) The Seven Samurai
( ) Brick
( ) Akira
Total so far: 94

Certainly a lot less than many of my fellow bloggers, I suppose.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Another fine meme

This one courtesy of Toast.

  1. Five names you go by (or have):

    • nightshift

    • Glenn

    • G-Hug

    • Huggy Bear

    • Attorney Dude

  2. Three things you are wearing right now:

    • Blue t-shirt with pocket.

    • Sweat pants

    • Underwear (glad it didn't ask for 4, cause that's it)

  3. Two things you want very badly at the moment:

    • A huge pile of money

    • Sex

  4. Three people who will probably fill this out:

      I doubt anyone does from this blog
  5. Two things you did last night:

    • Went to get my youngest child for the weekend

    • Goofed on the Internet

  6. Two things you ate today:

    • Burgers

    • Fries

  7. Two people you last talked to on the phone:

    • My ex-wife

    • My wife

  8. Two things you are going to do tomorrow:

    • Little

    • Nothing

  9. Two longest car rides:

    • Jacksonville, FL to Kosciusko, MS (several times in the Navy)

    • Oxford, MS to Topeka, KS (when courting Rhonda)

  10. Two of your favorite beverages:

    • Rum & coke

    • Sweet tea

College football playoffs AND bowl games? Yes, we can.

Many of us who love football have long kvetched that I-A college football (I flatly refuse to use that FBS and FCS garbage the BCS has foisted on us) has no true national champion. I absolutely favor a playoff; sports ought to be determined on the field of play. However, I see the smaller schools' point that a playoff shuts them out of serious money provided by the bowl games. But does a 6-6 squad actually deserve a bowl game? Few people would care to watch, certainly. And since there are now 34 bowl games needing 68 teams, and only 72 teams qualify, the bowls are scratching for eligible candidates now.

So, I came up with a plan to incorporate a playoff into the existing bowl system. Obviously, elements of it weren't original to me, but to the best of my knowledge, the whole package is.

1. There should be 16 teams in a playoff. 8 rules out some conference champs, and while I know the Sun Belt champion isn't likely to make the run, the kids who won their conference deserve their shot at it. So, there are 11 conferences in I-A football. The 11 champs get automatic bids. The remaining 5 slots are at large, to be awarded in a similar manner to the at-large NCAA basketball bids now. These are announced the Sunday immediately following the last regular season game.

2. The bowls themselves bid on hosting the games. Highest bid hosts the championship; next two highest host the semi-finals; next 4 highest host the quarterfinals; lowest 8 host the opening round. At each level, the highest bid among that group chooses its pairing first. Seriously, which would be a bigger draw for the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, two 6-6 teams or #3 v. #14 seed of a playoff with something real on the line?

3. The remaining 19 bowls that are not part of the playoff process are free to invite non-playoff teams to come play in their bowls. It's analogous to the NIT tournament in basketball. However, instead of trying to fill 68 slots and having to take 6-6 Arkansas State to do it, you now have 54 slots to fill. (16 playoff teams plus 38 non-playoff bowl teams.) By having 14 fewer slots, you've increased the quality of the teams playing. That always results in better ratings, higher ad revenue... that is, more money. And that is, of course, what it's all about for the school administrations involved.

4. Speaking of money, since the playoff funds would be going into a general pot rather than to individual schools, I'd divide the playoff funds across all I-A schools. Something along the lines of 1/3 to the school playing the game, 1/3 to be divided equally among the schools in that conference, and 1/3 to be divided equally among all I-A schools. The non-playoff bowls could either continue their current practice of half to the school and half to the school's conference, or join in with the thirds plan.

While nothing is perfect, this idea seems to me to address most of the concerns both sides have. There is money for all; there is a true national champ decided on the field; the bowls are still there as a nice year-end for nearly all the schools that would have gone anyway; only 8 schools in the entire country play even one more game than they play under the current system. I am certain that a playoff would generate more interest and more money for the schools. The success of the conference championship games seems to show that, and it just makes sense that there will be more general interest in a meaningful game.

So, anyone who has a direct line to President-elect Obama, could you put this in front of him for me? Word is he has an interest in this sort of thing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tagged by a meme: Five things about me

Tracy tagged me with this meme, to list five "interesting" things about me. I have no idea what people will find interesting, and can't remember what I've told and haven't. Therefore, I shall interpret the mission as telling five things or events that are probably unique, or at least unusual, about myself.

1. I was raised in a fundamentalist, holiness, charismatic church. Translation: my entire experience with worship services until I was grown contained large doses of emotionally charged preaching (frequent aisle running by the preacher, for instance), speaking in tongues, and people falling out in the floor in religious ecstasy. Since a child only knows their own experience, I assumed all churches were like mine. It was a great surprise to me when I at age 17 invited a Southern Baptist girlfriend to a service, and she reacted by fleeing out the back door. Turns out most Christians do not worship in that manner. Who knew?

2. We didn't have pre-k or kindergarten when I was a child; first grade was FIRST grade. However, I walked in the doors the first day and tested out at a 5th grade reading level. Thereafter, I spent the next two years being something of a one-boy dog-and-pony show, to be paraded through the school for the amazement of the teachers. As you can imagine, this made me very popular with the other students. Ah, well.

3. Although Brown v. Board was decided in 1954, my school system didn't actually integrate until the late 1960's. Apparently, "all due haste" wasn't all that hasty. In 1972 I entered first grade in what had been called the "colored" school. Caucasians were 20% of the class in first grade. That number shrank each year, and in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades, I was the only Caucasian in my grade/class. When I transferred to a different school for my senior year after a fight with the principal, I found I was completely unable to talk to Caucasians, especially girls. Go figure. (There were no kids my age in church, either, most of my childhood.)

4. When I went off to Navy boot camp on my 18th birthday, I had spent every day of my life, except 50 days or so, in Attala County, Mississippi. To say that I was a "rube" would be understatement. I had never been in a movie theater; never had a beer; never had a smoke; never had a pizza that didn't come in a box from the grocery store. This inexperience combined with my phenomenal academic knowledge made me... well, unusual, let's say.

5. Because I spent much of my childhood bored to tears, I developed the ability to "mirror write." I still do it from time to time to show people. It is actually far more legible than my normal, atrocious handwriting, and I can do it almost as quickly.

I hope you found those interesting. If you did, I'll be happy to answer questions on them. I tag Tart, Mike, and Mr. Furious.

Monday, October 13, 2008

And now, for something completely different

Office morale was tanking today; Mondays are often the worst in any office, with all the pent-up complaints from the weekend flowing in on the phones and in person. So, I decided that we needed a morale booster; in fact, we needed a theme song. Something to really pick up our spirits, you know? So, since I already had a tune to work with, I cribbed out a ditty. The office staff seemed to like it, and since it is applicable to many job settings with minor changes, I thought I'd share it with you. (And yes, that's me on the vocals.) I'd give it a PG-13, maybe NSFW if you've got some really touchy people. Audio only.