Friday, August 18, 2017

Fly On The Wall

"Okay. Let's go over it again."
"Right. There's lots of blame on all sides."
"No, no, no. It's got to be more specific."
"There's a bunch of bad hombres out there."
"I think we might want to avoid vernacular, sir."
"Hate is bad. I can say that, can't I?"
"Well sure, but I think it would be best if we..."
"And we as a nation don't like hate. Of any kind."
"Well, yes."
"It's sad."
"Yes it is, but let's try and get back to -"
"I know, I know. More specific."
"Yes. If you would."
"Okay. Haters be hatin' and we won't let that happen."
"Nice start, but what about naming some of the groups or organizations?"
"Like CNN?"
"Not today."
"Obstructionist Democrats?"
"I thought Captain America took care of them."
"That was a movie, sir."
"Great one, too. Maybe we could get that Steve Rogers to drop by the White House."
"Yes. We'll see what we can do about that. Now about your statement."
"You want me to say Nazis are bad?"
"Yes. And the KKK?"
"The Klan. The Ku Klux Klan."
"But if ai call them out, won't that make them mad at me?"
"There are a lot of angry people who need to be reassured."
"Like that's my job?"
"Well. Yes."
"Okay. What do I have to say?"
"You should say that we as Americans will not allow these groups, the KKK, neo-Nazis, white bring their repugnant -"
"Oooo. Repugnant. Can I use that?"
"Yes sir."
"But if I call out all those groups -"
"Who will I be left with?"

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lessons We Learn

Actions have consequences. My son got a speeding ticket Monday. He was rushing to work and was pulled over, given a summons and was an extra fifteen minutes late to work for his trouble. To his credit, he called his parents to let us know what had happened and that he was going to work a couple of shifts to get back to even. Leaving a few minutes early for work next time might be a solution that would be more cost-effective. And safe. He did that all by himself.
Okay. Not exactly by himself. I'm sure he could hear the voices of his mom and dad in his head before he ever called, because that's the person he has become.
I wonder what Peter Cvjetanovic's parents think about their son. Peter is twenty years old, and he spent a part of his summer vacation from the University of Nevada attending a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. His face became easily recognized in a photo that was spread far and wide on social media. There he is, carrying a Tiki torch, and screaming angrily into the night. He is shoulder to shoulder with a number of other young white men who had come to the University of Virginia campus to share their views about the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. At the top of his lungs. 
Later, when journalists tracked down this face of the white nationalists, he said he was surprised that people see him as "an angry racist." Interesting, since the photo shows him in a highly agitated state amid a group of people whose views might best be described as racist. “I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture. It is not perfect; there are flaws to it, of course. However I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time.”
It makes me wonder just what sort of history courses Mister Cvjetanovic has audited at the University of Nevada. What does he understand about what Robert E. Lee stood for during his time? Maybe a letter he wrote in response to then President Franklin Pierce might shed some light. In it, he concludes, "Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?" Coupled with his assurance that slaves were most certainly better off here in America, it does make you wonder what honor and respect we owe him, exactly. 
The statue is not a relic of the Confederacy. It was commissioned in 1917 and completed in 1924. It is a monument to another place and time. I don't know if Peter and his young friends fully comprehend that, and how culture and history move together through time. “As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.”
My son is going to pay his ticket. He'll probably have to do some online traffic school. I confess that I'm a little surprised that it's taken this long for him learn the lesson about speeding, but I'm proud to see him evolving. 
I wonder how Peter's parents feel. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


It happens every so often: Kids from my school see me outside the confines of my classroom, playground or sidewalk in front, and they stare in wonder. This can be as minuscule a deviation as the distance up the hill from my school, riding my bike: "Hey! It's Mister Caven!" For many this sight is on par with a sighting of Big Foot, and since Sasquatch are pretty scarce on the streets of Oakland, I will have to do as a curiosity.
Still, I was surprised by the amount of awe I was able to arouse in the faces of my elementary schoolers when  they came across me standing at a table at the city's big Back To School Rally. I was there to hand out copies of my wife's book, The Bullying Antidote, and to act as the face of a parent and teacher. I was spreading the word: Zorgos. That's the name of the super power that my wife and her mother discovered and wanted to share with our community. The Back To School Rally was a great place to do just that.
In that great milling throng of humanity, every so often, I familiar face would pop up. Invariably with the same surprised look. "Mister Caven?"
Yup. That's me. I tend to appear at or around the start of school each year and dissipate once summer has come. Think of me as your Autumnal Groundhog. I saw my shadow, so it's back to school with you. Oh, and please, take a book to share with your parents.
I took my job very seriously. I made a point of putting a book in anybody's hand with whom I made eye contact. It's a free book, and it has lots of great words in it. I'm standing here in the August sunshine letting you know about it. Come on. Take a chance.
I joked with a number of people about how I was anxious to have my basement free of the pallet of boxes full of books that had been there waiting for such an event. There was a true and serious side to this, primarily since these books were doing absolutely no good to anyone locked up beneath my house. Sharing them with the parents, teachers, and students of Oakland seems like a much better deal.
And now I have room for that antique coffee grinder collection I have always dreamed about.
"Mister Caven, do you really have a collection of antique coffee grinders?"
Well, once I return to my hole in the ground, I'll have to check that out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rally 'Round The Flag, Boys!

It's a pretty easy thing to claim white supremacy in a town where whites make up just a little under seventy percent of the population. Like Charlottesville, Virginia. Congratulations, you win. Not satisfied with this statistical edge, however, a rally was put together to protest the potential removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park there. Organizers called their get-together "Unite The Right," probably in reference to their politics, not their actual correctness. The white nationalists who are concerned that their history and their heroes are being cast aside like so many pigeon-dung-infused chunks of granite. Come to think of it, getting rid of a statue is a pretty big endeavor and probably involves heavy equipment.
So what did these guys have in mind? Laying down in front of the bulldozers? Chaining themselves to the crane that would lift their stony hero from his perch? They found themselves surrounding a statue of Thomas Jefferson Saturday night. My suspicion is that the light of their Home Depot Tiki torches didn't allow them to distinguish the author of the Declaration of Independence from the leader of the Confederate Army during our nation's Civil War.
And now it's probably time to mention the frequency that the Confederate Flag gets displayed alongside the flag of Nazi Germany. What do they have in common? Well, both of these nations lost their wars, and fell into - how shall I say it? - disfavor. A bunch of young men screaming at the top of their lungs surrounded by symbols of historical losers sends a very sad message. All that anger comes from somewhere. As I have often reminded us all, Denis Leary once made a list of all the things his five year old hates: "Naps. End of list." His point was that hate is something you have to learn. It doesn't just spring forth organically. All that hate that brought people from both sides came from a great big pool of fear. A lake. An ocean. The thought of losing the position at the top of the pecking order is horrifying to many. The thought of never being allowed that opportunity is just as horrifying for those who have not been allowed to breathe free.
Hence the Tiki torches and the yelling and screaming. The governor of Virginia called for a state of emergency to deal with the violence that has erupted in the wake of Uniting the Right. Oh, and the fondness these guys have for that freedom of assembly doesn't stop there. It continues on to the glorious Second Amendment, which brought a whole lot of guns to the show. Lob some tear gas, baseball bats, and elevated tension, and you've got yourself an emergency.
All of which doubles back on the continuing whirl of our political landscape. Some seven thousand miles away, a very scary young man leading a country now emboldened by their nascent nuclear weapons capability is wondering if it's worth wasting a missile on us. We seem to be perfectly capable of beating ourselves to a bloody pulp. Over a statue. I hope they don't do anything drastic until they figure out which one they really want to tear down.

Monday, August 14, 2017


To begin the year, folks like me who help facilitate educational technology got a little pep talk/wake up. We were reminded once again that we have ten year olds walking round with more computing power in their back pocket than was used to land on the moon. Back in 1969, there were not very many ten year olds involved in landing a man on the moon, but wouldn't it have been amazing, as an educator, to have your students connected to such a momentous occasion?
I think about the time I spent back in 2009, rushing around our school building, trying to get televisions set up so that every classroom could watch Barack Obama's Inauguration. It was a day that wanted to be shared. It needed to be shared. This contrasted mightily with the Inauguration that occurred eight years later. Our teachers, parents, and students as a group put their heads in the metaphorical sand and made ignoring it an act of defiance. Looking back, I do wish that I had taken the opportunity to engage some of our fifth grade students in a more proactive way. They definitely had opinions, and lacking an organized forum or a unified voice, they were left with the fear, hurt and anger this election generated among the families at my school.
If the kids at my school aren't using their technology to land men on the moon or to live stream the inauguration of the first circus peanut ever to become President of the United States, what are they doing with it? According to most studies, listening to music or watching TV. After that, they are connecting with one another about what they just saw or heard. The kind of conversations that take place on the playground about didja see this or didja hear that can now take place across vast distances and be shared with millions of other interested kids.
Millions. This is the highlight of the tour. What you thought about last night's WWE cage match will be sent out across the wi-fis to anyone who cares to pick up the thread you've cast. Just like that photo you took of your friend. Whether they wanted you to or not. And then there are all those things that you might be tempted to do with that much bandwidth and that many eyes and ears. If you weren't interested in landing a man on the moon. Or watching Barack Obama's Inauguration.
In an instant. To millions. Not just whoever happened to come into the bathroom and read what you wrote on the stall. It's my job to try and keep the ketchup in the bottle. Once it's out, it tends to be pretty difficult to get it back in. And these are very powerful bottles of ketchup. Did I mention that they could land a man on the moon?
Or maybe you could text your President and tell him what you think. You've got the power. Use it wisely. Use it well. No pressure.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Make America Dark Again

In just over a week, darkness will be coming to this country. It comes in the shape of a solar eclipse, which at one time was seen as a sign, a portent of things to come. Interestingly, we live in an era when, instead of fleeing the shadow of the moon as it wanders across North America, people are moving in droves to be within the path of totality. This is possible because of science. Yes, I said it, and I stand by it. The ability to track and predict solar eclipses is a gift given to us by astronomers and mathematicians who have this thing figured out to the nth degree. These folks are so very clever, in fact, that they know that "nth degree" means. Serious biz.
It wasn't always that way. There was a time when humans looked up at the sun and were terrified to see it being eaten by some terrifying force that threatened to swallow it whole. Imagine their relief when the light returned and order was restored. About three hours later. Imagine the chaos and terror that might have ensued back before there was a way to forecast such events. The end of days came and I didn't even make it out to Costco to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Of course, that was before the invention of duct tape, which is something we can also take time to thank science for, but not right now. This was back when Galileo was put in prison for saying that the earth was not the center of the universe. Thanks to him and his buddy Coprenicus, I can take a flashlight, a tennis ball, and a globe and entertain fourth graders with the very low-fi version of how all of this magic happens. Thanks to the science of flashlights, too. And globes.
So here we are, in the twenty-first century with families and friends taking time off work to find their little place in the lack of sun. There will be plenty of these folks who would probably like to argue the existence of global warming, since they don't see Florida sinking.
Not yet.
And yet, when climate scientists released their State of the Climate report for 2016, stating that last year was the hottest on record, a great many of us shrugged their shoulders and went back to their Twitter accounts. Oddly enough, it was on Twitter that I was encouraged to consider this science thing by noted science guy, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He's kind of like the Twitter version of Galileo. He keeps jabbering on and on about how the world isn't that hard to figure out if you do the math. Because that is what science does. Next week it's going to bring the darkness. We can't really stop that from happening.
Global warming? There are still things we can do.
Thanks, science.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fire And Fury

First of all, I think that Marvel comics has its new spinoff series title, thanks to our "President." He really said that he would respond to North Korea's threats with "fire and fury." It  could be that he chose this particular turn of phrase because "shock and awe" was still under review by the patent commission. These things take time, you know. 
The trademarking of a phrase, I mean. Not the popping off despot dictators. That just takes a few seconds. This may also be why, a couple weeks back, when the "President" made his multi-tweet pronouncement that began, "After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow… " followed by a nine minute pause, many Americans feared the worst. The misguided and phobic finale of that flurry came as a relief to some, including some of the Generals who were not only caught off-guard by the ban on transgender Americans in the Armed Forces, but feared for a moment that the "President" may have been declaring war between games of Candy Crush
Drop on top of this frightening war of words the assurance the "President" gave in yet another tweet: "My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before...." Then a seven minute gap before he finished his his thought: "...Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!" The guy has been in office for six months. A few of those months had to be spent explaining to Rick Perry that part of his job as Energy Secretary included managing our nuclear weapons. Almost five thousand warheads. Let's say that Rick got right to work in February. And he had some help. Are we convinced that they all got renovated? And modernized? No more steam-powered nukes for the USA!
That's what makes America Great. Again. A renovated nuclear stockpile and a nutjob with an itchy trigger finger. A nutjob with an itchy trigger finger with no sense of history. The only country to ever use a nuclear weapon in war is the United States. Twice. Once on August 6, and then three days later in 1945. Ask the folks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They're in Japan. That's pretty close to North Korea. And our "President" chose to drop his bomb right between those dates.
Saber rattling is something that countries that like to think of themselves as super powers do. If you have super powers like Fury and Fire, you don't really have to do that. Unless you're a nutjob with an itchy trigger finger and no sense of history.