Saturday, July 30, 2016

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. These are the things we might be discussing during this presidential election. Donald Trumpence started the ball rolling early on, calling his chief rival "Lyin' Ted." This was not for Senator Cruz's propensity to fall into a prone position on the floor whenever he didn't get his way, but rather because he felt that Ted would obfuscate or mislead those within earshot of his fiery rhetoric. Manipulation of the facts, however, is what makes this season so special. Truth, it seems, will be a rather tough commodity to come by over the next few months. That and a civility.
Nowhere is this reality gulf felt more widely than the question of law and order. One party would like us to cling to the fear that has been laid out, partly by the media, but mostly by the terror-infused speeches of the Grand Old Party. On the other side we have the folks who will insist that, in spite of the high profile death and destruction we tune into nightly and click on each morning, all is well. There are plenty of media types who will point at graphs that show that violent crime has been on the decline for more than twenty five years. This is usually just before a cut to commercial and then a report on the latest mass shooting or suicide bombing.
What is the truth? Hard to say, especially with so many emotions mixed into the math. But here is where I start to get confused: If the country is becoming more violent, doesn't it make sense to put all our guns away? Or if the opposite is true, and we have never been so safe, why make such a fuss about all those assault rifles?
Maybe the real truth, as so often is the case, lies somewhere in the middle. Like so many slippery, stubborn things facts require management or at least heavy gloves when handling them. Like the economy, which has all those numbers and quantifiers, there will be a lot of arguments about if we are better off now or if we need to change course before we fall down the rabbit hole. You remember the rabbit hole. The one Alice fell into so many years ago. The rabbit hole of political satire.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Float On, FLOTUS

I have stayed away from the spectacle of both the Republican and Democratic conventions. The idea that I might find something in either one of these gatherings of the party faithful that would significantly alter my perception of the way the world works or that suddenly the scales would fall from my eyes and I would finally see the Emperor's fancy new suit for what it actually is seems faulty from the get-go. There have been times, in the past, when I have peeked in at the hubbub just to check it out, reaffirming my longstanding beliefs about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. But like those late-night talk shows that have ceased to be important to me, if something really important or amusing happens, it will be on YouTube the next day.
That's how I missed Michelle Obama's address to the Democratic National Convention. The next day, I heard about how inspiring and soaring her words were. I decided to check it out, and by golly, even after the fact it was stirring. An African-American woman was addressing the assemblage of one of our nation's major political parties not as a token or a stunt. She was there as the First Lady of the United States. She was there as a representative of women and, more to her point, mothers across this great land of ours. It would have been easy enough to toss around the invective that has been standard orating procedure over the past two years. It would have been easy enough for her to simply stand there, as the object of all those things that Herr Trumppenstein holds with such little regard. She spoke of what it means to see the change that is possible in our country. She talked about waking up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.
Wait a minute, says Bill O'Reilly. Let's check the facts on that one. Because we don't want to give this already bleeding heart party any more grist for their mill. "Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well." Overseers, perhaps? Bill went on: "Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz." Hey, Bill? You just used your bully pulpit (a pulpit used by bullies) to acknowledge that Michelle Obama was correct in her assertion. All that other fluff and nonsense about well-fed and decent lodgings in no way deflects the point she was making. Got it? There will be a quiz.
As for me, I'm just glad that after a minor crisis in confidence by yours truly, order has been restored in the cosmos. Bill O'Reilly is a nutjob. And Michelle Obama is pretty awesome. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Such Small Portions

We took our son to see his first Woody Allen film. Like so many first-time experiences he has shared with his parents, I found myself spending equal amounts of time reflecting on what was going on next to me and what was going on in front of me. Cafe Society was an easy sell for my wife, who would happily watch a group of marginally talented actors reciting the Manhattan phone book dressed in vintage clothes. My son was eager to go because he is a fan of Jesse Eisenberg, in spite of his involvement in the debacle at the beginning of the summer called Batman V Superman: Murderverse.  Or maybe because of it. 1930's Hollywood wasn't the appeal for him. Nor Was Woody Allen, auteur. My son, as I mentioned, had never seen a Woody Allen film.
I had. Lots of them. Not every single movie he ever made, but a vast majority. Mister Allen made many of my favorite movies when I was a teenager. Annie Hall came out when I was fifteen, and I figured that this was the future of cinema. This was mildly ironic, since I had seen the future four years earlier in Sleeper. As amusing as that one was, and since it was filmed in and around Boulder, I was still a little young to grasp all the innuendo and witty banter. But the slapstick worked. That got me looking back at what came before: Take The Money And Run, Bananas. My mother, always with an eye  toward broadening my cultural horizons, pointed me in the direction of Woody's short stories in The New Yorker. I was already reading the cartoons each week, and cultivating my own urbane sense of humor, so this along with large doses of Monty Python fueled my head with references to books I had not yet read and physical acts at which I could only guess. It wasn't until Annie Hall that all of these pieces began to coalesce.
And that's about the time he stopped making funny movies. It was also just before the time when Woody's personal life began to fray at the edges. And then turn into its own tawdry Bergmanesque mess. When he left Mia Farrow for his new muse, Soon-Yi, I had to turn away. It wasn't funny anymore.
Cafe Society was amusing, and highly reminiscent of some of those short stories I read way back when. It reminded me of all those movies I watched way back when. It made me remember that I was sitting next to my own teenager, who was making up his own mind.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wagon Train To The Stars

Genre expectations met?
Specifically, the part where there is this group of humanoid, uniformed types who are boldly going where no man/person has gone before. Led by a reckless and daring throwback of a captain who seems to embrace danger at every point, coupled with a hyper-rational first officer who leads with his mind but follows with his alien heart, this crew is on a five year mission that seems much longer. A lot longer. And that whole "where no one has gone before" jazz? That may be for the folks on this ship, but for those of us tagging along on this voyage, it all seems very familiar.
What a favor the United Federation of Planets has done for all of us who might have had to stick around and learn a lot of alien languages and other forms of communication. They have recruited almost exclusively from the English-speaking, bipedal, standard-size portion of the galaxy. Wandering around the decks of the starships and space stations are these emissaries of this earth-based group that shouldn't be confused with any of that colonial stuff that Klingons and Romulans seem to favor. If it happens that there is some sort of conflict or disruption of the way things are supposed to go down on the outer reaches of those places we may boldly go, the captain and crew will try and reason with the troublemakers. And if that doesn't work, there are always phasers.
Did  I mention that there are almost always time constraints? The core of this planet seems unstable and there will only be a moment or two left when the survivors can be lifted to safety via special effects. If their ship is in danger, the countdown will commence at some point that will only allow the slimmest of margins for the captain and its crew to make it out of whatever catastrophe threatens them. Stress must be the reason for a lot of starship personnel to wash out. There are probably a lot of red-shirted crew members on the lower decks wondering what that guy in the captain's chair has gotten them into this time. But it all works out in the end. Who would have doubted that things would work out? All those English-speaking bipeds are safe once again. And those routine missions that result in nothing more than  a supply run to some remote outpost or visits to planets that really are just cold, dusty wastelands that can be ignored, they won't be making movies out of those. And those boring, lazy inhabitants of that distant system that no one can understand? Let's not invite them  to join the Federation, okay?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


The doorbell rang. The phone rang. The shower was running and I was about to hop in, since I was a hot mess after my morning exercise. It occurred to me that I could let any one of these matters slide. I could let the phone ring. I could let the water run. I could leave the door closed. My son was asleep. My wife was out. I could easily disappear into the fabric of a Saturday morning. "Sorry. Nobody home." I could be standing in the tub, washing off the cares of the day that had only just begun.
But I didn't.
I turned off the water. I answered the door. The phone kept ringing. On the front porch were two snappily dressed gentlemen. It was Saturday morning. They were wearing ties and carrying briefcases. I knew who they were. Rather, I knew what they were. I knew who they were representing. They were Jehovah Witnesses, here on my front porch on this bright summer day to spread the Word of the Lord. Or at least the word of the folks who may have had some notion about what the Lord had on his mind. They were there to spread that word to those who would listen.
I wasn't exactly in that category. I needed a shower. The phone was still ringing. I told them as much when I answered the door. These two gentlemen remained pleasant and encouraged me to take their literature, to read when I got a chance. I took the tract, bid them good day, and closed the door. The phone was still ringing. I was able to catch it on the last ring before it went to voice mail.
It was my wife, the lady who once upon a time answered our door on a Saturday morning and gave a nice group of Jehovah Witnesses the gift of her time and interest. This is what led them back to our door. I let her know that she would have something to read when she got home.
With the outside distractions taken care of, I returned to my shower. The water was still warm, and as I stood under the stream, I had to give up a certain begrudging appreciation to the Jehovah Witnesses. In an age of robo-calls and email spam, they were still out there pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and meeting people face to face. And as much as I admired their tenacity, I reminded myself to go ahead and take care of myself first on Saturday mornings. Cleanliness, after all, is next to godliness.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Out Of The Ashes

There is this legendary bird. It's a big red and orange thing with colors that remind you of the flames from whence it came. It is called a Phoenix, and it is that beautiful, hopeful reminder of the possibilities of something wonderful appearing after a cataclysm. Like those first green sprouts that poke their heads out of the scorched soil left after a fire, there is renewal. There is a time for picking up the pieces. There is a time for rebuilding. Something good will come of all this.
Before any of you believe that in this orange bird reference I am referencing anything connected to the campaign, words, or existence of Donald J. Tramp, let me assure you that I mean nothing remotely like that. Red, and specifically its neighbor on the color wheel orange, are not the divine providence of those with bad hair and spray tans. They exist as part of a rainbow, a rainbow that has been largely forgotten or dismissed by those who would like to limit us to a box with only two crayons. Black, white, blue, orange, pomegranate. Roy G. Biv would like us all to believe that, for the purposes of memorization, that there are seven  colors in the spectrum. But any self-respecting physicist  will tell you that there are infinite gradations between those seven spots on the scale, and those are just the colors that we can see with our eyes. Any self-respecting metaphysicist will tell you that there are an  infinite numbers of colors that we can see with our hearts.
There are plenty of more intelligent folks than myself who have pointed out the stunning variety and barely conceivable permutations of color, shape and size of all manner of things. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. This is the  motto of a country that was formed out of wretched refuse, yearning to breathe free. There have been plenty of times when it was thought that the immigrants who were in charge were the ones who would stay in charge. White men have had their way for a very long time here in the melting pot. Civilization, in spite of the opinions to the contrary, owes a debt to all the colors and races and creeds and  religions and sexes and shapes and sizes who came before us. We are, like it or not, a rainbow.
A rainbow that is still visible through the smoke and the haze of the fires currently burning around us and across the globe. These are fires that have been burning for hundreds of years, but periodically, when things seem most bleak, a Phoenix will rise from the ashes. Watch closely, since you never know how long they will stick around or what form they may take, but they almost always bring a necessary change. Emily Dickinson suggested that hope is the thing with feathers, and I would suggest to Emily that she is right, but those feathers are as brightly colored as all those found in the sky after a storm.
Sleep tight, America. E pluribus unum.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You Gotta Have Heart

There are a lot of people who will miss Garry Marshall's work behind the camera. I grew up in the seventies. I watched Happy Days. I watched Laverne and Shirley. I watched Mork and Mindy. I watched Mork and Mindy carefully. I lived in Boulder. I used to give directions to Mork's house to tourists, anxious to soak up the zaniness that seemed to permeate that address and the streets and shops around it. To be precise, this was actually Mindy's house, and it seemed as though she was merely a tenant there, keeping primarily to the upper floor while her newly discovered Orkan friend hung out in the attic. On a trapeze. Zany. Zany enough to periodically run afoul of their downstairs neighbor, Mister Bickley. For the first season, anyway.
I watched Happy Days, because we all did, but I cared about Mork. I cared enough to have my own set of rainbow suspenders. I cared enough to make The New York Delicatessen a regular stop because, as the t-shirt reminded us, "Mork and Mindy Eat There." 
They didn't really. Every year or so, during the run of the series, a crew would pop into town and shoot some exteriors. Mork didn't really live there. Or eat there. A couple times Robin Williams came to Boulder for those shoots, and things went a little crazy for a day or two. It was zany. And then it was over. Mork went on to make movies. So did Garry Marshall. I really enjoyed The Flamingo Kid. I didn't get a job as a cabana boy because of it, but I did sharpen up my gin rummy game. I wasn't as enamored of Pretty Woman as everyone else seemed to be, but I was happy for Garry's success.
And I was amazed at the talent that he seemed to surround and be attracted by him. Not just Robin Williams, but Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks and Bette Midler. And Albert Brooks. One of the funniest things I ever saw Garry Marshall do wasn't written or directed by him. He was just there, acting. He was the casino manager in Lost in America, the guy who listens mostly patiently to Albert Brooks pitch his idea for an ad campaign that will bring back the nest egg that his wife lost in an overnight gambling binge. The Desert Inn has heart.
Garry Marshall had a lot of heart, and he wore it on his sleeve, especially if it got him a laugh. Garry yukked it up on the Terra. Aloha, Garry.