Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lapsed Catholic

There was a time, many moons ago, when my father-in-law thought it might be a good thing for my son to attend Saint Jarlath School, just up the street from us. The consideration my wife and I gave to this choice started and ended with the "up the street" part of that equation. For my father-in-law, it was the Saint that appealed to him. Maybe it was the lapsed part of the lapsed Catholic in him that hoped to get his grandson into school, and maybe a spot in heaven as well.
It was a blessedly short debate, and our son ended up walking up the hill to an Oakland Public School. After being promoted at the end of his  fifth grade year, he moved on to the middle school a few blocks away from his elementary school, and then off to high school across town. And every day he walked, rode his bike, and eventually drove his car past Saint Jarlath. There was never a lot of thought given to what might have been. He was the son of an Oakland Public School teacher, and so it was only natural that he walk past the Catholic School on his way to where he belonged.
Now Saint Jarlath is closed. The school, not the church that holds down the corner, but the classrooms that sit in its shadow. Over the summer, Bishop Barber sent word that declining enrollment and increasing costs were the reasons for closing their doors. Those factors are the same ones that have been responsible for any number of public school closures across Oakland and across the country.
The math for public schools is pretty simple: more students equals more money. When parents start sending their kids to charter schools, public schools lose funding. When parents take their kids out of private schools like Saint Jarlath, where do they go?
One option could be a charter school. Like the one that opened this fall on the site of Saint Jarlath. Lodesar, a "community public school" from the Lighthouse Family of schools, with a lot of words on their website to describe how very different they are from every other elementary school in Oakland, in California, on planet Earth. What is really different is the money. While the church runs its school from their coffers, and Oakland schools run on the money offered up by the state and federal government. Lodestar will get some of that good state and federal money, as well as supplemental funds from individuals and foundations. Those individuals  and foundations are encouraged to support those "underserved" students in Oakland.
And where do you suppose those underserved students came from? Most of us with a pubic school education can figure out that one.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Did You Miss Him?

He's back.
After that vaguely compassionate flurry of side trips to regions affected by disaster, our "President" has returned to form. What does that mean? He's back to fear mongering and name calling. The first indication was his reaction to Hillary Clinton's book, What Happened. (Spoiler Alert: She lost). What we were all missing there for a couple weeks was the twittering of that rare orange bird. He's back. Our "President" is back to name-calling and reminding us all of the sad and inevitable reality of his election, now some ten months in the rearview mirror. 
"Crooked Hillary?" Maybe shining a light a little further into the recesses of his own cabinet might generate more interesting news. As Tina Fey shouted out a few weeks ago on her Weekend Update appearance, "Who drove the car into the crowd? Hillary's emails?!" On any given day, our "President" can still be found out in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue handing out Xerox copies of the 2016 Electoral College map. 
Which doesn't mean he doesn't keep up with current events. Events that he tends to stir up himself by making his proclamations from his early morning perch while watching Fox & Friends. Connecting hurricane damage with the necessity of tax cuts. The rules of passing legislation in Congress. And let's not forget using tragedy to support his own scientifically implausible narrow-minded views: "The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!" Or, "Loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner.The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!" And of course, "Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!"
Maybe someone could explain to our "President" that "proactive" and "paranoid" are not synonyms. Not that I am volunteering for that job. From where I am sitting, a continent away, it hurts my brain to listen to this angry blister of a man shouting fear and anger from our nation's highest office while the carnage is still being cleaned up in our ally's subway station. 
Brainless. Heartless. Not exactly a winning combination. 
He's back. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Do you know what phrase I will never be comfortable with? "School shootings."
There has not been a single time when I have heard or read those words without feeling a pain in the pit of my stomach. My next move is almost always to click or wait to hear a number. The number of fatalities. There is no "good number," but there are worse. The number of injured is usually limited to those who were wounded or physically injured. There is no mention of the total devastation heaped upon a community after such an event. How many lives will be damaged, ruined, forever changed by the act of a "lone gunman?"
But are they really acting alone? The young man who opened fire at Freeman High School was, according to reports, obsessed with other school shootings. Oops. There goes that pain again. It's not the pain that residents in Rockford, Washington will be feeling for the next few weeks, months, years. It's that pain that comes from the seemingly relentless string of young men and women who come to school with the expressed intent of doing harm. It's the pain of all those souls trying to imagine how this phrase will now have to applied to their community in perpetuity. Aurora. Sandy Hook. Springfield. Blacksburg. And the list seems to grow by the day. The week. The month. The year.
My wife reminds me that the names of these shooters should remain unknown. Any sort of notoriety brings them the potential satisfaction of a job well done. Mission accomplished. The safest place in the world is no longer just that. Without reason. Without purpose. Another hallway becomes a crime scene.
It makes me sick. It makes me tired. It makes me wish for a solution that seems to have been left behind decades ago. When the metal detectors showed up. When the talk of arming teachers began. When we didn't have that extra word to put in front of "school shooting" that made it even worse.
You'll forgive me.
My stomach hurts.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ask A Doctor

“Boom! Boom! Just like that. The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now ― with somebody ― and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerrilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”
This how Doctor Hunter S. Thompson described the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The founder of Gonzo and one time candidate for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado wrote down his thoughts and concerns in an essay published on ESPN.com, of all places. How did this polemic show up on an entertainment/sports network's website? As the Doctor once said himself, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." 
Hunter died in 2005. He never got to fully appreciate just how weird things would become. We can now look back at what he wrote then to appreciate just how much he understood: "This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed -- for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won't hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force."
Sixteen years burning down the road, we've got another goofy child-president who is still trying to manage a war that might not ever end. Because this is a war of fear and loathing, something Doctor Thompson wrote about most of his life. Trying to find the bad guys turned out to be pretty difficult because, at times, they were us. The merciless fanatics on both sides continue to wage this war as if there could be a winner. Maybe it hasn't been long enough yet, but here's something else Hunter wanted us to remember: "Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why."

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Crux Of The Matter

So many voices these days. So little time.
But now maybe it's time to take some time.
Listen to the children.
Listen to the wind.
Listen to the Pope.
Man is stupid,” he said, referencing a passage in the Old Testament, according to the The New York Times and The Associated Press. “When you don’t want to see, you don’t see.” 
He may have been quoting the Bible, but it sounds a lot like the Rock Man to me: "You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear, dig?"
And that's fine, if the intersection of what I believe in Catholic dogma happens to intersect in The Point, I can live with that. Like the way I can live with Pope Francis. I was just lauding the thoughtful words of Miss Texas, so why should I be shy about my fondness for the pontiff? Like when he and our "President" got together last and Pope Francis handed our Pointless Man his one hundred eighty-four page encyclical "Laudato Si," calling on all Catholics to make saving the planet a top priority. If your Italian is a little shaky, that translates to "Be Praised." 
Yes. Let's praise those who see saving the earth upon which we spend most of our time a priority. Let's also sing for those who are willing to point out when the Emperor shows up in his birthday suit. Like the way Francis chose to call out our "President" on his threats against DACA. Dividing families, he said, isn't "pro-life." 
Well played, Francis.
And so we navigate through this scary time, brightened by the sounds we hear coming from what is not really the resistance as much as the reality check. And we take heart in the fact that while hurricane season continues, "President" Trump seems to have found a safe quiet place to hunker down until the storms pass, tweeting his encouragement and going out only when it's time to pass out hot dogs. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Say What?

The bright spot, it seems to me, is that people who you never would have expected are finding their voice. Majority, minority: it doesn't matter. There will be no more silence.
“I think that the white supremacist issue, it was very obvious, that it was a terrorist attack. And I think that President Donald Trump should’ve made a statement earlier addressing the fact, and in making sure all Americans feel safe in this country. That is the number one issue right now.” These were not the words of a politician. These were the words of Miss Texas 2017.
Margana Wood did not go on to win the title of Miss America, but she won over a group of skeptics (myself included) when she chose to stand up and deliver a fifteen second response to white supremacists that our "President" never approached. If she had crept up to the question and suggested that there were "many sides" to this issue, it would not have seemed out of character or place. Beauty pageants and direct speech about the world's problems are not immediately associated. World peace and famine have been trotted out to display the limitations of Miss America as a forum. 
It would be rude and sexist of me to suggest that pageant contestants are not capable of speaking their minds and hearts. It would not be a surprise to read here and now that pageant contestants are suddenly much more ready and capable to discuss issues that matter than our "President." Ms. Wood's platform was one of inclusion: You Belong. In an interview with Out Smart, a Houston-based magazine for the LGBTQ community, she said, “It’s important for everyone to hear the phrase because they do ― everybody belongs.” 
And suddenly, I wished that I could vote for her not just for Miss America, but for Miss Belong. I wished that I could hear some of these inspiring words from someone in elected office. Who knows? Maybe in a few years we'll have that chance.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mars Attacks

A few years back, a colleague suggested to me that I might be suffering from NES - Night Eating Disorder. It was suggested that my fondness for consuming mass quantities of peanut M&Ms was part of the trouble I was having with sleep and maintaining an overall happy vision of life as it rolled out in front of me.
Turns out I was just trying to save the world.
This was back when our grocery list included peanut M&Ms as a staple, right up there with frozen pizza. When it was discovered that these candies could be purchased in pillowcase sized sacks called "pounders," I looked on this as a challenge. At the end of a hard day, I would sit in front of my computer and answer email, engage in a variety of online time sinks, and consume peanut M&Ms. And all the while I was saving the world.
As it turns out, you see, Mars Incorporated (the makers of peanut M&Ms and a great many other delicious candy treats (was busy building a massive war chest that would eventually be used to fund the fight against climate change. My contributions helped generate part of the one billion dollars the candy folks are contributing to sustainability.
One billion dollars. That's a figure that might give Doctor Evil pause. Who would have guessed that Skittles and Snickers and yes, peanut M&Ms would be the thing that brought us to this momentous occasion? My wife wasn't buying it. Not at first.
"You mean they're going to find some way to weasel out of their responsibility for global warming and throw blame on someone else."
No. They are interested in supporting sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. Which makes a lot of sense, since the end of the world would be catastrophic for candy sales, eventually. Initially it might be great, since a lot of people would be happy to cast their dietary regimen aside for one last binge before we turn into a burned out husk of a planet, but then the gravy train pretty much stops. And that would be a bummer for everyone involved in this particular food chain.
Which leaves me at a bit of a crossroads. I want to be around forever, but I also enjoy my peanut M&Ms. I would probably live longer and be able to see more of the future supplied by this initiative if I ate more kale and avoided gorging myself on chocolate covered peanuts encased in a colorful candy shell. But I also want to save the world.
What's a guy to do?