Sunday, May 28, 2017

Big Sky Country

Would you hit a guy with glasses?
No. I'd hit him with my fist.
Or, in the case of Montana's Republican candidate for congress, Greg Gianforte, you might just slam him to the floor. That's what Mister Gianforte (Italian for "big and loud") did when he was approached by reporter Ben Jacobs. Mister Jacobs asked Mister Gianforte repeatedly about the Republican redux of the the Affordable Care Act, the guy running for office stopped running and took matters into his own hands. He threw Jacobs to the floor and, according to a Fox News team on the scene, and started punching him. These members of the press cooperated with the authorities who then cited Mister Big and Loud for misdemeanor assault, with an appearance in court scheduled for June 7.
Why wouldn't this automatically throw the election in the direction of the Democrat, Rob Quist? Or any other human being who hasn't body-slammed a reporter asking questions about politics? Well, we now live in a world that seems to thrive on such confrontations, and what seems unimaginable in the past is now Standard Operating Procedure. Candidate doesn't release his taxes? No problem. Candidate openly mocks reporter's disability? No worries. Candidate discusses his groping technique with a reporter? No contest. We now live in a country that seems to reward this kind of behavior. This will most definitely change the tenor of student council elections moving forward.
Did you kick that kid in the stomach?
Well, yeah.
Why did you do it?
I wanted to be Student of the Week.
And so it goes.
No mention about how the newly re-jiggered Trumpcare will deal with pre-existing conditions like broken glasses received at the hands of Mister Big and Loud.
But for heaven's sake, don't ask him about it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dying Is Easy, Playing James Bond Is Hard

I had already pretty much made up my mind. Sean Connery was James Bond because, duh, Goldfinger. Never mind that 007 was supposed to be English and Sean's Scottish brogue only got thicker with each iteration. I had seen the face of James Bond and it was Mister Connery.
So imagine my hard to please sneer when I heard he was being replaced by that TV spy, Roger Moore.  I can't say that I had watched an episode of The Saint before I landed on my opinion, but knowing that Mister Moore was able to wear a tuxedo well did not immediately qualify him for the big leagues. I kept this bias running through my eleven year old head in the first moments of Live and Let Die. Maybe it was the hard rocking theme from Paul McCartney and the Wings. Maybe it was the first time I had sat in a movie theater to get my James Bond fix. Maybe Roger Moore was up to the task of carrying a license to kill. It was probably a pastiche of those factors along with the sweeping zeitgeist of the seventies. Cubby Broccoli had made his choice and we were going to live with it. And let die with it.
And for seven feature films, from 1973 to 1985, Roger was the guy with the golden gun. Technically, this was Christopher Lee, but it makes such a fine phrase. Much in the same way that my son grew up in a world with prequel Star Wars, I was subject to the Moore-Bond, and I confess I enjoyed the ride. I still had my television reunions with Sean Connery, but soon ABC was showing Roger's oeuvre in slots that used to be From Russia With Love.  Suddenly, the Aston Martin with an ejection seat had competition: An underwater Lotus. The lighter, more sardonic image of Ian Fleming's superspy began to emerge. Okay, maybe this was James Bond Lite, but it was the sustaining version of my youth. The balcony of the Flatirons theater every other summer was filled with the kids from my neighborhood awaiting the next installment.
And now, Sir Roger Moore has gone to that big gadget filled adventure in the heavens. No doubt he will show up to the Pearly Gates in a dinner jacket, with a wink of fun. Shaken, not stirred. Because that was what he brought us. Aloha, Mister Bond. You stomped on the Terra.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Voice Of Reason

I am pretty sure that I don't want to live in a world of fake news. Yes, I know that all human observation is subjective and therefore each person's viewpoint comes to us through a filter of his or her own experience, but there should be some level at which we can simply trust. This was "journalism" as I grew up with it. Walter Cronkite didn't lie to us.
Did he?
Since Walter retired back in 1981, we lost the most trusted man in America. His voice brought us through the sixties and seventies. Vietnam. The Kennedy Assassination. Watergate. The moon landing. Not a screen full of screeching pundits, but one man who reported the news from behind a desk, with the occasional side trip to a war zone or vacation spot. Mostly you could find Mister Cronkite on CBS, giving you the evening news in a digestible form that wasn't designed to taunt or entice or inflame. It was the news.
Now we have an entire network that calls itself "News," but wants to keep its distance by reminding us after the fact that they are giving us opinions. That's part of the way that a twenty-four hour news cycle can be filled. Rushing to air with the first bit of information that has yet to be verified makes ratings spike, and that's good business.
But is it news?
In the wake of the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, the machine called News turned its Eye of Sauron onto Northern England to feed us the terror and confusion that was pouring out of that city. That's what happens when the satellite trucks show up. The correspondents will tell you what they have just heard and if enough of them agree on that collective hunch, we run with it. This is about the time that someone phones in their claim of responsibility, and the terrorism label can be applied. Meanwhile, the stories of the families go on in the background as the tragedy is mined for the patience of the audience.
Until something else blows up. The circus tents come down and move to the next crater. Before the smoke clears.
I miss you, Walter Cronkite.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Voting With Your Feet

And hands. And mouths. And whatever appendages express disapproval. This past week, a few dozen Notre Dame graduates walked out of their commencement in protest. Apparently, now that they had finished the formal portion of the schooling that they will spend some time (about twenty years) paying off, they didn't feel the need to hang around and get lectured about free speech by the Vice President of the United States. The Vice President of the United States who used to be the Governor of Indiana. Notre Dame is located in Indiana. Indiana is one of our fifty states. In our fifty states, the rule of the law is free speech. So there. 
"I would submit that the increasing intolerance and suppression of the time-honored tradition of free expression on our campuses jeopardizes the liberties of every American. This should not, and must not be met with silence," said the Vice Governor President guy. And those wacky kids, what do you suppose they did? That's right. They walked out anyway. They didn't toss their mortarboards and gowns in a pile and set them ablaze, dancing naked around the rising flames chanting anti-government slogans. They walked out Not a prank. A statement.
The government guy went on: "Far too many campuses across America have been characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness all of which amounts to nothing less than the suppression of the freedom of speech." 
Um, excuse me, Mister Governor Vice? Your ability to spout rhetoric is most definitely protected, but our willingness to listen to it is as well. It's like the "off" button you used to find on most televisions. You know, the one they call "power" now. An interesting thing, really. Since free speech seems to be connected to power. The last couple of commencement addresses given by members of the Trump Regime have included what we in the profession call "The Whiny Passage," in which the speaker announces how put upon they are because of the restrictions put on them by the media or the administration of the university at which they are speaking. "No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down, you can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams," opined our "President" to the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy. None of them walked out, but that may be because they were hoping to keep their jobs at the end of the presentation. My guess is that none of the Notre Dame early exiters were looking for a cushy job aboard a Coast Guard cutter, so they felt free to walk on out of their ceremony. 
Freedom. Ain't it grand? 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Foolin'

"Who's more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?" That's what Obi Wan Kenobi wanted to know when his leadership was questioned. Old Ben Kenobi had the Force to keep him in line, if you were into that kind of thing. But Han Solo, whose name suggested that he wasn't much of a follower, went along with a great big bag of skepticism. That was how a rebellion was born. Give or take. As it turns out, it wasn't really foolish, but courageous. Sure, there was a big gulf between the mystic Kenobi and the mercenary Solo, but the common ground of the rebellion brought them together.
There was another side of this coin, of course. There was Darth Vader holding down the mystic end on the Empire side. The rank and file of those bad guys were guys who were only in it for the money. Most of them were putting up with Vader's insistence on his sad devotion to his ancient religion. Whatever kept them in Nehru jackets and white helmets.
It seems like the Rebellion was always blowing up a Death Star. Somehow, the Empire kept finding funds for another planet sized weapon. And even though there was always some little flaw, no bigger than a womprat, the Empire went back to the drawing board and came up with another big laser beam that had to be carted around the galaxy on a floating platform that looked like a moon under construction. So who is more foolish?
If you're the kind of droid who would follow Old Ben on some idealistic crusade, then you'll probably be the fool who follows the rebellion. If you like the uniforms and that illusion of a super weapon that will destroy all enemies then you will probably fall into line with the empire. And then there's the rest of the galaxy that has no real rooting interest beyond getting enough credits to buy blue milk. This is the group that ends up getting blown up, sadly, more often than not.
So here we slow down and leave the long time ago and galaxy far, far away and zoom back to a planet called Earth. This is where we are all waiting in line for blue milk and trying to decide if we want to join up with the good guys or the bad guys. Presently it seems like the lines are pretty clear, but it's not clear that we're going to find the exhaust port in time.
May the Force be with us.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Bill Comes Due

"You can expect a bill!" These were the words intended to strike fear into my heart. It didn't. I was far too amused at myself and pleased with my performance. Shakey's had just  closed, and I was walking out into the crisp autumn night with my friends from high school and those who still attended. One of my former classmates had reached his car ahead of us, and was warming up the engine. The parking lot was almost empty, and when I saw the reverse lights come on I had made up my mind about what to do next.
This guy's car was coming at us, backward, at a speed that gave me just a moment to get ready. When his rear bumper came to a stop just in front of us, I stepped up on it. Then I used the collective momentum of car and me to hop up onto the roof of the Honda station wagon. When I crawled to the front of the car, I rolled down off the windshield, then the hood, and off onto the parking lot once again. It was all over in a matter of seconds. I turned to face the laughter and applause from my friends still waiting on the threshold. We barely notice the Honda racing back across the parking lot, this time forward. He stopped under one of the big, pink sodium lights, popped out of the car with the motor still running, and began to inspect his vehicle for signs of mistreatment. My friends and I were still giggling as we strolled toward our own cars. That's when we heard him yell.
"You can expect a bill!"
I was still living at my parents' house, and when the phone rang just after I got home, my father answered it. When he hung up, he came to ask me what had happened. I described my little stunt, and defended it with the rationalization, "He was coming straight at me, dad." He pursed his lips and told me we would talk more in the morning. We did. We discussed how we might go ahead and pay for any little scratch I might have made on this guy's car. In the days that followed, we got the report from his dad: twelve hundred dollars. Twelve hundred dollars? They wanted to paint the whole car, trunk to hood. How were we going to pay for that?
Insurance. That meant that we would have to talk to our insurance agent, my cousin. That meant I would have to explain this matter one more time. At least it wasn't going to be a complete stranger. So here we were, a week after the fact, sitting in my cousin's office waiting to give my deposition. "We have to record these things," my cousin told us as he rummaged in his desk for a cassette. He loaded it up, positioned the microphone, and asked me to describe the events of that evening.
"Well," I began, "We were walking out of Shakey's and this car came roaring at us from across the parking lot." I went on to enumerate the action, step by step, concluding with, "And I rolled off the hood, kind of like Starsky and Hutch."
With this, my cousin began to snicker, and reached for the stop button. "Sorry," he said, pulling himself together, "We'll need to do that last part again." He backed up the tape and we ran over it once again. I didn't spare any details or the potential for my own recklessness. And I finished with the same Starsky and  Hutch coda. This time without the snickers.
The bill got paid, and the car may or may not have been painted. I never saw it again. I never saw that guy again. But I still smile every time I see a rerun of Starsky and Hutch.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Help

Pete wasn't Pete when I taught him. Well, he was, but that wasn't the name by which I knew him. He was Wayne, because his father's name was Pete and he didn't want that confusion. He would explain this to anyone who wanted to hear it, but mostly he was Wayne. Wayne wanted to help.
On the playground, in the classroom, before school, after school, it didn't matter. Wayne's eager face greeted me most mornings when I went outside to distribute the jump ropes, balls and soccer goals, along with the orange cones that delineated the areas in which various games would be played. "Can I help, Mister Caven?" No matter how many times we had this interaction and no matter how well he knew the task ahead of him, he always asked.
There was something different about Wayne's quality of help. He didn't doddle or stretch the little jobs into endless tedium. He worked like it was his job. It wasn't. The majority of the kids at my school were happy to let the equipment come to them, waiting in little clusters, chatting with friends until the playground was made ready. There were some who came to me, anxious to begin their soccer game and offered to carry the jerseys to the field, or carry one end of a goal to speed the plow. Once their goal had been place/achieved, they were done helping. There were others who came to help carry this or place that, who wanted extensive praise and recognition for the menial bits they did. They got theirs. I have always been generous with praise and acknowledgement when my job is made easier.
That wasn't Wayne. He was there to work, and even when all the balls and goals and jerseys and jump ropes and cones had been spread across the playground in anticipation of a day's play, he came back to check if there was anything else. Wayne was eager in the way golden retrievers are eager. It wasn't the approval he was after. He was after the connection of completion.
Years passed, and when Wayne's little brother was promoted to fifth grade, I assumed that I would end up with a similar face on the playground every morning. Ned was no golden retriever. Probably because his brother was. Ned was more of a lone wolf, and it took me some months to fully understand just how different the two brothers were. I could still count on Wayne's little brother in a pinch. If he was interested, he was every bit as helpful as Wayne, but Ned had his own agenda. Ned became part of my fifth grade leadership group, and he did his part. He came to meetings and pitched in as the situation dictated, but he never overwhelmed me with his presence.
Last week when that leadership group gathered for a celebration of a year's worth of character building, Wayne showed up as Ned's chaperone. He showed up early, and helped carry trays of food into the gymnasium. He did this while his brother sat in a corner, waiting for his friends to show up. When Wayne spotted me, he came straight over and asked, "Do you have anything I can do, Mister Caven?" I let him hand out the certificates for completion to his little brother and his friends. I encouraged him to help himself to the dinner that was provided, and to relax while the rest of the presentations were made. He came and sat next to my wife and me, keeping a pleasant flow of chatter as the evening progressed. Wayne was a high school freshman now, and wanted to fill in all those missing years since we had last met on the playground.
When the celebration was over, Wayne cleaned up and offered to deliver the certificates of the kids who hadn't made it to the party that night. How could I say no? I didn't. And I watched Ned, who came clear to me in a moment, when I saw the tiniest pained expression cross his face when there was one more thing to do. But he followed along with nary an eye roll. That's life as the little brother of a golden retriever.