Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Love Means...

Love means never having to say you're sorry. That was the tag line from "Love Story," a little book and film from the 1970's. It's the kind of thing that used to go on posters and T-shirts back then. It was a simpler time. It was a time for silliness like Andy Warhol and bell-bottom blue jeans. Bad things happened. Wars were being fought across the globe. Disco was still dance music, and Coke was still a smile and not for grinding your teeth.
Some decades later, bad things are still happening, but the legs of our jeans have become thinner to the point of absurdity. Disco has died and come back to life as many times as Jason Voorhees. Andy Warhol is a venerated master. And love still means never having to say you're sorry.
If the opposite of love is war, as we learned back in those days after the endless slog of Vietnam, what do we say about the accidental air strike in Afghanistan that killed nineteen? Not nineteen bad guys, by the way. These were nineteen non-combatants. Twelve staff members for Doctors Without Borders, and seven of their patients, three of whom were children. Thirty-seven others were injured in the melee, brought to you by the United States Air Force. Just doing our job. Keeping the peace. What do we do now? Now that the doctors who had been attending to the wounded in the region have been killed as part of "collateral damage?" Would now be a good time to say "sorry?"
I will tell you how it works on our playground: We say, "I'm sorry," followed immediately by, "Are you okay?" This is used at each point of contact, intentional or unintentional. Accidents happen on playgrounds. "I didn't mean to hurt anyone," is not an excuse. We want the person who got hit on the nose with an errant four-square ball to know that even if we didn't mean to hit them on the nose, we are still concerned for their welfare. In Afghanistan? "The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation."
One thing is clear: Afghanistan is no playground. Nor is it a Love Story. My suggestion is that we don't sit around waiting for an apology from the ones who dropped the bombs. By then we could all be doing the Hustle in our elephant bells once again. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

Another In A Continuing Series

If I had been President of the United States for the past eight years, I don't know how I would have responded. Showing up at the podium for yet another acknowledgement of a mass shooting, I don't know if I could have held it together as well as our President has. Considering the number of these heinous acts has done nothing but grow since 2008, even the published timelines of these events go out of date on a ridiculously rapid rate. Who shot whom and why has ceased to be any sort of discussion. The fact that this has become a generally accepted part of our American culture is tragic beyond words.
And yet, that's what we are left with: Words. Names. And the faces. Casualties in a war that was never declared, but nonetheless we feel compelled to win. Arguing about guns and the Constitution is the way we make ourselves feel better about doing nothing to stem this bloody tide. Discussion of security measures like metal detectors and more police in the hallways of schools deflect the insanity of having the discussion of arming teachers. Wringing our collective hands about the state of mental health in our country feels like a proactive way to get to the source, but it's still a package deal. One lunatic with one gun can do so much damage.
There are too many cracks. The refrain, "He seemed like such a normal guy. We never would have imagined that he could do such a thing," has become such a cliche that it shows up in pop songs. TV shows. Movies. Video games. The lone gunman is an institution. As long as the targets happen to be bad guys, we make them heroes. When they are moms and dads and kids and fellow students, we recoil in fear.
How did it get this bad? I wish I had a mathematical formula that would reduce this to some kind of relate-able experience. There is no such algorithm. We are stuck with being shattered and shocked by the announcement of each new killing spree. We become numb to the effect it is having on all of us. The nation no longer mourns. We go about our business. Until it happens in our town. Then we stop and wonder how it got this bad. Local politicians promise to take a stand. Memorials and tributes pop up, only to be swept away months later when that town's name joins the list of those who have added to the roll. And once again, the President steps up to the microphone and announces another in a series. I know that I couldn't do it.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Scorched Earth

Donald Trump, to paraphrase an old bit, promises to return America to what it once was: A vast arctic wasteland covered with volcanic ash and snow. I do believe he is just the man to do this. He has done nothing so far to inspire anything but fear and contempt in me. I tend, like many people who have liberal bleeding hearts, to mask that fear with attempts at humor: See the funny man with the questionable hair and orange face make statements that hurt and defame. Isn't his hair funny? Isn't it ridiculous that he can get away with saying such awful things and doing such despicable acts? 
Well, I have been getting along just fine for the past few months poking fun. All the while I have been reminding anyone who will listen to me that four years ago Herman Cain was the front-runner in the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination. Herman Cain of the "Nine-Nine-Nine" tax reform plan. Herman Cain of Godfather's Pizza. Herman Cain of the Stephen Colbert punchline. Herman Cain of the "Herman Cain Show," and fan of Von Trumpenstein. 
It's all so amusing. Wouldn't it be hysterical if he won?
It's not funny anymore.

What would Donald Trump do if he was elected President? He would send the Syrian refugees taken in by the United States back to their homeland. "I'm putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration. If I win, they're going back." Direct. To the point. Full of that bluster and straight talk that put him where he is: In the national spotlight. The same mind that gave us this:  "Putin is a nicer person than I am. I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he's getting an 'A' and our president is not doing so well." 
And the hits just keep on coming.
It's not funny anymore. It's tragic. A year from now we will be asked to pick the leader of what we like to call "the free world." I confess that I still haven't made up my mind about the next election, but I am pretty sure that this is no longer a laughing matter

Saturday, October 03, 2015

One Hundred Percent

There are not a lot of things that you can say for certain are one hundred percent. The members of the United States Congress who believe in climate change, for example. There are plenty of other measures that are very close, but not quite the whole enchilada. Like the number of Republicans who don't believe in evolution, a number which has been declining in the past few years. Way to go, Elephant Guys! Since science may not be the best approach, maybe we should try something a little more absolute: math.
One hundred percent of the women on death row in Georgia have been executed. For the purposes of this experiment, it helps to have a very small sample: one. Kelly Renee Gissendaner was put down with a lethal dose of intravenous drugs just after midnight on Tuesday morning. There were witnesses. It helps to have all that certainty of having doctors and law enforcement types around to preside over the proceedings, just in case Ms. Gissendaner had tried to slip off the table and sneak out the side door while everyone else was busy trying to find the cotton swab to wipe the spot where the deadly chemicals would be introduced to avoid a nasty infection. You get the idea. There are no more women on Georgia's death row. The mission of that particular tentacle of the justice system has fulfilled its prime directive, and now they can rest easy.
Please understand that I have no interest in defending Ms. Gissendaner. She was convicted and sentenced to death in 1997 for conspiring to murder her her husband. The guy who actually did the stabbing, Kelly's lover Gregory Owen, also set the Gissendaner family car on fire and relieved the murdered husband of his wallet and watch to make it appear as a robbery. Mister Owen is serving a life sentence. He is eligible for parole in 2022. The number of people on death row for the murder of Douglas Gissendaner is now zero. One hundred percent. Nice job, justice guys!
So I will put this into the file that suggests that we are finally making inroads to gender equality. Equal pay for equal work. We can have women running for President of the United States. We can execute men, women and children if necessary. Justice is blind. One hundred percent.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Curious Yellow

Yesterday I discussed the inevitable but seemingly impossible end to the story of a bunch of clever kids and their cars: The Fast and the Furious. There are plenty of jokes to be made about just how fast and/or furious these folks may or may not be by the time they have been at the business of squealing tires and launching incredibly expensive cars out of even more expensive skyscrapers. If, after two decades of living life a quarter mile at a time they are all still up to the task, one wonders if they will be having to race their heavily modified motor vehicles on the moon just to create anything that seems new or vibrant. You know: for kids.
Speaking of kids, today I was reading about cartoons. Not that cartoons have been the domain of children waking up early on Saturday morning for a very long time, but it could be that this was only a sliver of the reality that I remember from my own youth. The Warner Brothers shorts that I watched as a kid continue to amuse me today even more than they did way back when. I get the layers. The same can be said of Rocky and Bullwinkle and all manner of other mildly subversive fare from the olden days.
I remember the first time I saw The Simpsons. I was watching Tracy Ullman's show and there was this jaggedly animated bit between skits that featured an angry yellow family that reminded me of Matt Groening's cartoons. Because they were. I remember thinking what a treasure this was, and how lucky I was to have discovered them. That was back in 1987. It was only a few years after that when Fox TV gave Mister Groening his own half hour to put the funk back in dysfunctional family. Twenty-six years after their premiere, everyone's favorite Nuclear Family has become less jagged and more round. Less harsh and more thoughtful. It had to. I watched them all when Otto's bus was first pulling out of the station. I watched the reruns to catch what I might have missed. And somewhere along the track, I think it was about the time I started having a son of my own to strangle, I stopped watching. I had switched to harder stuff, like South Park and Robot Chicken. And sometime after that, I lost track of them too.
Now I hear that Simpsons' showrunner Al Jean is thinking it's about time to pack it in. I bought my T-shirt way back when. I had a lunchbox. I got it. Now it's time to turn the page, even though I haven't read those comics for years.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Franchises. I have worked for a few. I have entertained and enthralled dozens with my tales of the back room at Arby's. I got a name tag for that. And a nice brown vest. With a pocket in which I kept the keys to the register. After a stint at Target, where I was not even required to wear one of those hokey red vests, I found myself ensconced in the rarefied air of a locally owned video store. Customers knew my by name, thus badges were not necessary.  They knew me by reputation. I was the guy they could go to for advice about movies they had never seen, but was disposed to rolling my eyes whenever I was asked "what'snewthat'sgoodthat'sinthatIhaven'tseenyet?" You want to see what everyone else is watching? Be my guest. Sigh.
And I got away with that. For a while. Until our store was sold away to a lawyer from out of town who had it in his head that owning a video store might be a fun way to spend his time because practicing law turned out to be an awful lot of work. The lawyer turned us into a National Video franchise store. If you haven't heard of them, that's okay since they went belly up not long after the store in which I worked passed away quietly back in the late 1980's. It may have been the overhead. All those blue polyester shirts. And name tags.
So I know a few things about franchises. Which is probably why I had to click on the story whose headline read, "Vin Diesel Says The 'Fast and Furious' Franchise Will End After Three More Films." First of all, from Vin's lips to my ears, right? And it also got me thinking about what it must be like for him and the rest of the F&F crew to work for a franchise. It's probably a little different than my experience at Arby's, and even though I like to think of my video store experience as part of my film career, I don't guess that Mister Diesel is required to wear a name tag while he is on set. If you're curious, by the way, three more "Fast" films will bring the total to ten. Not content to stand on lucky number seven, probably because of the less-than-lucky fate of the late Paul Walker, And that one made a hemi-powered drone full of cash, so why not make them until that particular stone has been wrung dry?
The first episode in this saga roared across movie screens in 2001, and there has been a nearly constant biennial stream of fast cars and tough talk coming from the producers of this series ever since. That will mean that this franchise will last a little over twenty years. Nice work, if you can get it, even if it doesn't come with a nice blue polo shirt.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

States Of Confusion

I was lucky. When I was a kid, and I had to draw a picture of my home state, I made a rectangle. Growing up in the center of these United States was a bit of a gift that way. Students in Wyoming may have felt the same way, but since they were growing up in Wyoming it would be difficult to make that kind of distinction. We were fortunate to have regular polygons for borders. Quadrilaterals. There are some parallelograms out there, like Kansas and South Dakota, but those guys have to contend with squiggly corners, brought on primarily by rivers and that sort of less linear boundary that make things less regular.
On the bright side, it does make doing those jigsaw puzzles much easier. Sure, you might initially confuse Idaho for Oklahoma, but once you differentiate panhandle from smokestack, you're good to go. Remembering Tennessee goes below Kentucky, and that East Virginia is just Virginia and the rest of it all goes together pretty quick. Except for that East Coast.
Go ahead, if you dare, and try to draw the contiguous states from Maine to Florida. It's a mess. That whole Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia mish-mosh. And Rhode Island? It's not even an island. Don't get me started on islands, either, since Hawaii isn't that hard to figure out, but all those little bits trailing off the back end of Alaska. Shouldn't that be extra credit? Wouldn't it be better to do everything we could to regulate our state sizes and shapes?
I understand this is coming from Mister Quadrolado, but I am also a current resident of California, the state some would like to chop into pieces to make things not must more sane geometrically, but more politically delineated. These plans aren't just a simple north/south division, but making the Golden State into six new ones: Jefferson, North California, Central California, Silicon Valley, West California, and South California. None of these are rectangles, and after "Jefferson," the creative naming drops off to just about nothing.
So maybe that should be our new focus. Instead of making rhombuses and squares or even pentagons out of what we have, let's start making everything more loopy. Go ahead and dismantle that whole neat stack of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. Turn a second grader loose with a crayon and let him scribble some new borders. We've had it far too easy for far too long. And while we're at it, let that same second grader take a shot at renaming our new territories. I hope I end up living in West Brontosaurus.