Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Ten Very Strong Suggestions?

Well, for those who are members of the Jewish faith, the holiday of Shavuot (respectively pronounced as Shu-VOO-oht or Shu-VOO-ohs, in the Sephardic and Ashkenazi tongues) was held on Friday and today. In Israel, like many holidays held in the Holy Land, only one day is used to recall the date. The holiday commemorates the giving of the Law or what most scholars think of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. This is the day that Jewish scholars state the Jewish people was formed as a nation. It's interesting because already they had been an enslaved people in Egypt and had fled during the period of the Exodus. Torah is used to describe all of the learning in the Jewish universe, but is most often used to describe the Chumash (Chuh-MISH), the Torah scroll that contains the Five Books of Moses. The cornerstone of the Hebrew Bible began with the Ten Commandments, but it would seem that many of those who view them would prefer they not be nearly so strict. My title to today's blog may seem silly, but it is true that many of us are guilty of ignoring or not complying fully with the letter and spirit of these laws. Okay, so not many of us are guilty of murdering on a daily basis, but many of our brave soldiers in the field must do so in order to stay alive. We may not be committing adultery by looking at magazines or viewing so-called adult sites, but it is a very fine line between lusting for an attractive sexual partner and actually committing the act. Most men see viewing porn as harmless. Most women don't agree, noting that much of what is out there is demeaning to women. Women draw the line especially when it comes to chat rooms where boyfriends and husbands have been known to openly lie to those they meet online. Men are a more visually attractable species than women. They need visual cues in order to be stimulated. Women are more complex and respond to other stimuli. But the differences are enough that even Bill Clinton could claim that sexual intercourse could only be defined by one specific act of coitus and definitely not one involving a cigar! Of course, the Ten Commandments prohibit adultery, which specifically prohibits sexual contact outside of a marriage, not procreation. On another front, how many of us are guilty of stealing? When you downloaded that picture from the Internet the other day, weren't you guilty of stealing someone else's proprietary work? The fact is most of us steal with computers without knowing it. The very basic way that browsers like Internet Explorer or Firefox work is to keep temporary Internet files in folders that periodically need to be deleted. So without intending to steal images, your computer is doing so every day. Bearing false witness is a specific crime that needs to be witnessed, but many of us are guilty of the sin of Loshon Hora or gossip mongering about adversaries or even about friends and family. Shouldn't we be considerate of those whose reputation we besmirch without any hesitation? Many of us try to honor our parents, but do we do everything we should and maintain the kind of reverence we should in light of their diminishing years? Probably not. As to Sabbath worship, how many of us skip services of whatever religious background, opting to make the day of rest a day of watching football or baseball? I know I'm guilty of many of these and I hope that I may get myself straightened out in time before the Judgment Day, whenever that may be. I take little solace in knowing that I am hardly alone.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Internet disappears

It took nearly 12 hours for AT&T to restore my Internet today, a fact which boggles my mind. Yet, even more frightening than the time that it took to reconnect me to the outside world, is the notion made abundantly clear to me that the Internet has become more essential to me than even air conditioning. Anyone who has endured a hot humid summer day in New Orleans knows full well the breadth and import of my previous statement. Air conditioning is not something we throw away lightly here. It is practically a required part of living well in the Big Easy and coping without it is seen as something people do begrudgingly as in the case of the indigent or those forced to live on a fixed income. I am neither, yet I now recognize the essential nature of the Internet and its impact on my life and business. I can no longer perform work without e-mails or access to the Information Superhighway. I cannot blog, cannot Twitter, cannot see Facebook, cannot update my websites or find out anything of substance without my connection to the world wide web. And let us not be mistaken: I need to access the Internet with all due speed via fast access, unimpeded in my progress as I seek out current updated information. I would sooner schvitz (sweat) and feel the oppressive heat and humidity rather than give up my multiple wireless and wired connections. Trust me. I am hooked. I don't believe there is a 12-step program for this particular addiction, but perhaps admitting the problem is the first step in the process. All I know is that I need a plan B. I now recognize I can't go without Internet access any longer than a few hours or I risk very real consequences in my life. Hey buddy, can you spare me a line?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A short life well spent

Today was an especially hard day. Today we said goodbye to one of my troop's Boy Scouts, a 13-year-old boy who will never become an Eagle Scout, but who got so much out of the program and who so loved Scouting that he might well have been thought of achieving that hallowed rank. Zachary Malik Tyler was an amazing kid, a boy whose teachers, doctor and classmates all marveled at his kindness and cheerfulness despite years of courageously battling an insidious disease known as Langherhans Cell Histocytocis (or LCH). Zachary's parents permitted him to take part in Scouting activities like camping that might have scared others away and increased chances of infection. But there was no holding Zack back. In the end he succumbed to the ravages of a disease that shut down his organs, but kept his mind alert and focused. The outpouring of love for Zachary was evident at the memorial service held in his honor at Lakelawn Funeral Home. There was no body. This was not a funeral, but a celebration of his life. There were only pictures and videos of a really sweet kid enjoying life as best he could while dealing with the harshness and reality of his disease. The Lusher School Strings provided musical accompaniment in addition to choral singers and a guitarist. Special readings both religious and spiritual in nature including a poem written by Zachary were read aloud. Most of the memories recalled were humorous, revealing a playful side to Zack that everyone will recall many years hence. It was a hard day, but it was also one that bound everyone together in the celebration of this young man's life. I will be forever grateful and proud I was a part of it and sorry that I won't be able to share any more of my life with Zachary as a part of our troop. He may not have made Eagle Scout, but he was one of those rare Boy Scouts who truly understood the program and reveled in it. God speed, Zachary.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

To blog or not to blog....

This may go down in the record books as one of the worst periods of blogging I have ever had. I offer my sincerest apologies to all of those who regularly read what has recently been a less-than-daily blog. Part of it has been due to an overabundance of work, while the other part has been that I've been out of town. It is usually my practice to recap a vacation after the fact rather than comment on it as it unfolds. Nevertheless, the period leading up to the National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America was especially busy and my ability to write was severely compromised. Even after I had left for Orlando, several clients, friends and family had expected I would be available for them with computing help, but I was forced to advise them of my departure and that I did not expect to return until late yesterday. Many of them know of my commitment to Scouting. I have been quite involved since my son was in lower school. My work has led me to work with dens and later Cub Scout packs. After that I became involved with Boy Scouts and Venturing. My dedication has led me to work on a district and council level and in some cases on a regional and national basis. I volunteer for two national committees at present and have become a dedicated member of the youth-led Order of the Arrow, the BSA's honor society of Scouts and Scouters. My eleven-hour drive to Orlando enabled me to learn more about the 100th anniversary of the BSA, with the crowning achievement expected to be the final Jamboree that will be held at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. in late July and August. Several factors are figuring in what I will cautiously announce as the greatest gathering of Boy Scouts in this country since its founding. Aside from the fact that it is the centennial year of Scouting in America, there are huge numbers of attendees and support personnel who are even now formulating plans to make this event a safe and meaningful experience for Scouts and Scouters alike with bigger and better displays and venues. There will be an Internet and multimedia presence at the Jamboree that will blow all other previous events out of the water. The Jamboree will be gigantic. But the good news for all of Scouting is that change has come to the BSA, like it or not. That was the theme of this year's meeting "Building the Brand." The "new BSA" is leaner and more consolidated, allowing councils to be supported in a better fashion than in the past. Chief Scout Executive Robert Mazzuca has restructured the administration and, with newly installed National Commissioner Tico Perez and President John Gottshalk lending logistical support, they are on the brink of bringing about much-needed dynamic changes for the organization founded by William Boyce and others in 1910. They are all working to make social networking like Twitter and Facebook a part of the Scouting family. In the coming months a new national BSA website will be unveiled and other interactive uses of the world wide web will follow. So, in a word, I am jazzed. I can't wait to contribute to this tremendous effort to revitalize and reinvigorate a movement that has lost momentum in trying times. But these are the times that demand young leaders, the type of leaders that Scouting will mint in the future. It is time to trumpet the praises of what Scouting means to kids across the nation who depend on it. It's time for everyone to stop pointing accusing fingers and lend a hand to raise up the youth who need what Scouting offers. I am ready to get the ball rolling as we advance towards the centennial year. In the meantime I will take an oath to be more regular in my blogging and try to continue to post items of interest in a more timely fashion. So, I'll do my best and hope that you will be prepared for them.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

It's been a while since I last contributed to this blog. Suffice it to say that I have been very busy, much of it to with preparing to leave for the National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America held this past week in Orlando.  I will be reporting shortly on much of what went on at the meeting, but in the meantime, I hope that everyone will take a moment to consider those brave men and women who have given the greatest measure of sacrifice in service to our nation.  

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A different kind of Shotgun

John Biguenet, the Loyola University playwright, has scored a major success with his second Hurricane Katrina-inspired drama "Shotgun." Biguenet's earlier play "Rising Water" garnered national and regional awards for the soft-spoken and gregarious Biguenet, and set the mark for other dramas dealing with the tragedy of lives literally washed away by the monster hurricane. Much of Biguenet's first offering took place in an attic as a longtime married New Orleans couple sought refuge from drowning in the hours following the storm. "Shotgun" takes place in the period that ran from January through May of 2006, a time when race relations were less strained due to a common perceived recovery effort on the parts of both the Caucasian and African-American communities. At the opening of the play, a white man, Beau Harlan (played by Rus Blackwell) and his son Eugene (Alex Lemonier) seek out a place to live in a black section of Algiers, across the river from their destroyed home in Gentilly. The imagery of bridge building and using bridges to build relationships is key to this script as Mattie Godchaux, the daughter (Donna Duplantier) of an old out-of-work machinist (Lance E. Nichols) allows them to rent the other side of her shotgun home she is sharing with her father. There is a sense of loss that both families have experienced due to the storm and the characters are fleshed out very well from the start when the white family accepts the generous offer of housing from the down-on-their luck Godchaux family. As the days move on the two incomplete families become closer and Beau and Mattie come to lean on each other for emotional support. Mattie's former love interest, Clarence "Willie" Williams (Kenneth Brown, Jr.) provides comic release as a ne'er-do-well who comes of age and achieves real growth at the play's end. Each of the play's characters comes to grips with extreme loss. Mattie has suffered a miscarriage. Dex, who has been proudly and fiercely independent, has lost his Ninth Ward home and the memories associated with his deceased wife. Both of the Harlans are dealing with the storm-related death of the wife and mother they deeply loved. Even Clarence, who wants everyone to call him Willie now, bemoans the loss of Mattie's love for him. In "Rising Water" Biguenet showed two people literally clinging to each other as the murky waters of the broken levees forced them into the crawl space of their attic. In "Shotgun" he shows two people clinging to each other who are literally torn apart by outside forces. Valerie Curtis-Newman previously directed Nichols in "Yellowman," the emotional play dealing with color variations within the African-American community. Her brilliant direction of Biguenet's script is a must-see for all devotees of theatre and the cast has responded to her direction with exceptional work. Geoffrey Hall handled the scenic designs, which prominently featured a front stoop throughout the play. At one point in the play Mattie refers to the two families living together in the shotgun home as emblematic of the city of New Orleans in a post-Katrina environment, living together and depending upon one another. "Yeah, but there's a wall running down the middle," her father answers, highlighting the problem of racial prejudice that has always existed within the city. "Shotgun" will be seen throughout the remainder of the month at Southern Repertory Theatre. In a talk-back session following the play Biguenet described "Shotgun" as a group of human beings who are dealing with trying to piece their lives together while confronting the external pressure of a climate of returning racism. It is worthy theatre and will play well outside of New Orleans later in the year because of the universality of its message.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Son of a gun....

Well, just when I thought the news of the faltering economy, the sliding stock market, the Madoff rip-off, the ethical problems of Ray Nagin's administration and the slow recovery from Katrina couldn't get any worse, I got another shock. Louisiana leads the nation in gun deaths! Now that's a number one title I would have preferred we not earn. But earn it we did. Louisiana has more per capita gun-related deaths than any other state. Remember, we only have approximately three million residents and most of them live in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. According to the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group out of Washington, D.C. that monitors such statistics, Hawaii showed up with the fewest gun deaths. While the national death rate was pegged at 10.32 deaths per 100,000 residents, Louisiana led the way at nearly twice that with its 19.58. Alabama was second with 16.99 and Alaska and our other neighbor Mississippi were tied for third place on this unenviable list with 16.38 per 100,000. Nevada finished off the top five list with its ranking of 16.25. It almost boggles the mind that three of the top five states are located in the Deep South. States like Texas or Arizona with their Wild West histories don't even make the cut. To my knowledge, gun ownership is high in those states too. Apparently, the gun owners there are more responsible and careful than the denizens of Dixie. Then, again, residents of New Orleans have been known to signal in each year by firing rounds of automatic and semi-automatic weapons into the air as one might have seen in Hussein's Iraq. Ah, yes, welcome to Louisiana. Welcome to the Third World. Can somebody cover me while I make a dash for my car?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The march toward summer

There is a point in the springtime when the heat index starts to rise and the temperate, comfortable days of April and early May begin the oppressive march toward the high heat and high humidity of summer. The days when a fan seems adequate to cool a room start to slide into a succession of sticky, moist days when only air conditioning, a cool iced tea, lemonade or a cold treat like a snowball offer any respite from the relentless heat. This is New Orleans after all. Louis Armstrong's jazz standard "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and George Gershwin's "Summertime" suggest a laissez faire attitude by most folks down here. That attitude might well be attributed to the high heat and humidity that abounds here starting in May and which lasts until October or later. When one moves from an air conditioned building into the outdoor heat, the rush of hot air is almost overwhelming. Eyeglasses immediately fog and an automobile seems more like an oven than a mode of transportation. Yet for all of these minor annoyances there is little doubt that few of us would exchange that indominable heat for any of those snowbound days of winter the northern folk face with snowblowers, scrapers and shovels in hand. Ah, yes, the dog days of summer are nearly here, but thank goodness for that heat. It makes me appreciate what passes for winter down here all the more and I look to the fall for relief from the onslaught of summer. As near as I can figure it, that should be sometime around Halloween.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The winding down of Jazz Fest

Nothing can take the joy out of a Jazz Fest and spin it into a muddy mess quite like severe thunderstorms. In April or May it's always a crap shoot as to whether or not the weather will prove to be overly kind and mild or excessively stern and challenging. A rapid moving thunderstorm with heavy downbursts of wind and rain can take a pleasant day and suddenly make it a horrid experience. True musiclovers will allow little to deter them from their enjoyment of the performances, but for those of us used to creature comforts like dryness and the ability to move about unfettered by mud and slop, it's a real challenge. Yesterday's mid-afternoon downbursts did their best to bring down the spirits of the huge crowd gathered at the historic Fair Grounds. But try as the rain did, the sun reappeared for a bit and the party went on. The ground was soaked so quickly that water gathered in pools adjacent to walkways and near the entrances of the tents erected to protect the smaller crowds gathered to hear gospel, contemporary jazz and traditional jazz. Like Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" suggests flip flops were blown out in record numbers following the storm as they became mired in the muck stirred up by rain and refuse from the crowds. When the Radiators and the Neville Brothers finished up their sets at 7:00 p.m. (the Radiators ended a tad early), the crowd was largely smiling and happy. It was, after all, Jazz Fest and it could have been the best one so far.