Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Hand Raised

A lot of kids are anxious for summer vacation. Looking forward to spending more time with family. Fun in the sun. Road trips. A few months away from the pencils, books, and the looming specter of being gunned down in home room.
In the days after the shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, this sentiment has been echoed without a smirk by children across the country. They are not cracking wise. They are stating what has become inevitable fact. News sites have to amend their list of fatal school shootings an a weekly basis. And even as the numbness continues to set in, there is still outrage, pain and suffering among those who can still feel. While we wait for someone to offer up anything that sounds like sense. 
It's not coming from the Lieutenant Governor's office in Texas. Dan Patrick has a lot to say about what is happening in his state, and the nation. Lt. Dan appeared on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, he wanted us all to remember that guns "are a part of who we are as a nation. It is our Second Amendment — you know, it talks about a well-run militia…our teachers are part of that well-run militia.” Yes, I know that there are plenty of other folks across this great land of ours who would like teachers to take on the additional responsibility of armed security for our schools. Most of us educators feel like the job description is already pretty full, and finding the prep time to fit in target practice would mean a whole lot more negotiation with the district and will it be a merit based system whereby each bad guy gunned down brings a bigger bonus? 
This is a guy who suggested that there were just too many doors in a school to keep all the kids safe. Which is interesting from the standpoint of someone who has to run fire, earthquake, and lockdown drills. Mostly we want to keep the kids away from the fire or the falling debris or the gun. It helps to have more than one door for this. We do whatever we can to keep kids from bringing matches to school. We don't allow students to have guns. These seem like pretty good rules to have in place, safety wise. So far this year, adults bringing guns to campus hasn't really worked out so well. 
Oliver North, the new president of the National Rifle Association has a different take. He blamed the problem on "youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence" in which many young boys have "been on Ritalin" since early childhood. "They've been drugged in many cases," he said. Ollie failed to make a connection between the culture of violence and the easy availability of guns. 
So we get ready to head off to summer vacation. Don't worry kids, I'm sure the grownups will have this all figured out by the time the Back To School sales start. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Cult-cha

I have been accused of "knowing everything." Not by anyone in a position to grant true Genius standing to yours truly, but being Mister Know-It-All has its downside. Like the knowledge that I do not, in fact, know everything. I have harnessed my concern rays on a rather specific sliver of all the world's information. A voracious reader and storehouse of pop culture references does not equip me to be a rocket scientist.
I know that at times I appear in people's lives as a font of wisdom, but it is primarily recycled aphorisms from movies that I have seen and lyrics from rock songs that have disappeared from playlists in other folks' minds. I can't count cards, but I can tell you about Rain Man. I find things that appeal or amuse me, and I try to spread these bits of trivia as if they were my gospel. A walk into my living room is a walk into a very busy mind. Two very busy minds, since my wife's obsessions are stuffed in there too. If you visit, we will take turns trying to cram your head full of the things we have just noticed or experienced. We are fortunate when those visitors are willing recipients of the word on high, or medium high anyway.
The trouble is, I am a much better transmitter than a receiver. Heaven forbid someone will take me aside to tell me about a TV show they have been enjoying and it hasn't made my playlist. I search frantically for a reason or connection to something else that will allow me access without having to increase my bandwidth too awfully much. My reputation, as I mentioned, tends to proceed me. That means friends will often show up with artists or artifices that really should be in my lexicon. "You haven't seen....?" or "I can't believe you missed..." Which sets off an alarm in my head. How did this happen? What could have been in the way from me to have ignored this significant event? For this reason, I own a Grateful Dead CD. I have watched the first season of Game of Thrones. These initial contacts were not enough to send me into a frenzy, watching and listening to all aspects and tangential material connected. Breaking Bad was different. That one set off a binge watch that ended with the purchase of a Walter White action figure that now stands on the altar above the television. No Jerry Garcia action figure, sorry.
But now that I have taken the time to write this, I know that such a thing exists.
It never stops.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Which Witch?

“Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History," tweeted the "President," “And there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!”
First, apologies on the grammar and capitalization. This is how our "President" tends to spray his invective, in odd swatches of poorly written babble. Words that are to emphasized are big, and we can only be relieved that Twitter does not allow much in the way of font management, or we might be subject to even more creative use of the characters those tiny thumbs are pushing out. 
But what is the message? It seems to be sarcastic, since his overall feeling about the Mueller probe does not seem to warrant congratulations. He does seems to be pretty convinced that there is No evidence of collusion or obstruction, which is interesting since there seems to be a number of other bright red arrows pointing to just the opposite. So far nineteen people and three companies have either been indicted or given guilty pleas: four former Trump advisers, thirteen Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, and one London-based lawyer. In the business of hunting witches, we call this "evidence." And like the trail of bread crumbs in that first showed up in Hansel and Gretel, the idea is to follow them until you find home, you don't expect to find a witch. 
But if it cast spells like a witch, cackles like a witch, and turns people into newts like a witch, it's probably worth checking out. Those bread crumbs, by the way, get more difficult to follow with each passing day, since wind or birds or scurrying rodents tend to disturb that clear path to and from home. A clever witch would probably do whatever he or she might do, as a witch, to disrupt that improvised trail. Which suggests that it might take more than a weekend to uncover the truth behind that house in the woods all covered with candy, and the witch that lives inside. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Surprise Free Zone

My thoughts and prayers this week are with Meghan and Harry. I wish them well, and thank them for supplying a great big international distraction from the horror of everyday life here in the Colonies. Speaking of the "thoughts and prayers" meme, most of the talking heads steered clear of that phrase as they attempted to wrestle with yet another school shooting.
Quick aside: Do you know how much it pains me to put the phrases "yet another" and "school shooting" together?
And we're back. Texas this time. Santa Fe. The headline in the New York Times included the phrase, "Many unsurprised."
Sorry. Another quick aside. Many unsurprised?
A seventeen year old student, armed with a shotgun and a pistol killed ten and injured another ten, including an armed security officer who was unable to stop the carnage or detain the suspect. Ironically, considering the New York Times headline, witnesses reported that the killer shouted something before he opened fire: "Surprise!"
Another quick stop here, while I check to see if the meaning of "ironically" can be stretched to include the way it makes my stomach pitch and fists clench.
This was, by reportage, the deadliest school shooting "since Parkland." Way back three months ago. Back when we didn't have any common sense gun legislation being enacted by our government. By contrast, there was a flash of a scandal last week when a mass shooting occurred in Australia. Certain wags pointed their fingers at that incident to say, "See? Australia doesn't allow any guns and still people die. You can't stop the killing."
A friend of mine said this: "Every time politicians say there’s nothing that can be done to stop school shootings, it becomes a little more true."
Which is why we aren't surprised. It's a part of the news cycle: Sports, weather, and this week's tragic mass shooting. News trucks descend on the town, knowing the drill: conduct the interviews, get some shots of the candlelight vigil, capture the shock and pain, wait for the call to pack up and move to the next little town torn apart. Another church. Another school. Another town full of families that will never be whole again.
I think I will continue to pray that I don't have to think and pray so much about this anymore. No surprise there, either.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What Me Worry

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day drama that I often refer to End Days here. The "President" fulfilling "biblical prophecy" and the international bartering over nuclear weapons makes most of us nervous. And then it takes a little Neil deGrasse Tyson to remind us about our planet. "Planet Earth survives massive asteroid strikes - it'll survive anything we throw at it. But Life on Earth will not." A fine distinction, but one that seems quite relevant to me after Monday night.
With a head full of concerns about the Golden State Warriors' chances in the NBA playoffs, I sat with my wife on the couch after finishing dinner. That reverie was replaced abruptly by the house rattling and my seat below reminding me of the seventies movie theater gimmick, Sensurround. For a few seconds, I had a chance to reflect on all the things I had been told about surviving in the event of an earthquake. When the shaking stopped, my wife and I were still sitting, transfixed, on the couch holding hands. If that had been The Big One, we would have gone happy, together. Without any rage against the conditions that brought me to the brink of that abyss. It would have simply been the way nature decides for itself in some geological way that enough is enough. Thank you for playing. Game over. 
Humans like to exert their mastery over the ground upon which they tread, but at the end of the day, we don't do as much dictating as we would like to imagine we do. The fracking and the ozone and the litter and the cute attempts at conservation are essentially a sum zero equation for the third planet from the sun. Climate change might eventually make life unbearable for us, but our replacements will be hot and happy with the biosphere we have generated. Someday they will write books about the land dwelling mammals that created the vast oceans that cover the surface and made it possible for the return to the sea. Those volcanic eruptions in Hawaii were just the first shots in a war that sent us back to where life began. 
Or maybe they won't write books at all. Documenting their existence may be low on their list of priorities, since survival seems so very much more important. It's pretty hard to type with flippers. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Stories To Tell

My wife made an interesting point to our son on the advent of his twenty-first year. She said that she was tempted to spend a lot of energy and time re-living the past two decades and change, through pictures and videos and stories. Because we have a lot of them. As an only child, he has never suffered from an attention deficit, externally anyway. But she didn't want to focus on all those memories. Instead she encouraged us all to look ahead at the next phase of his life: adulthood. Which I understood, especially since each new day brings a little more of that future to light.
Which does not mean that I don't find myself staring down into that well from time to time. I take a lot of pride in the childhood that I witnessed and helped construct. The man that my son has become was shaped by the boy that he was. A pediatrician once suggested that there was a lot of music in our son's head. This didn't turn out to be a prediction of his piano prowess or his fondness for classic rock. It was a way to explain the way his brain worked, with a nearly constant soundtrack as an accompaniment to the adventure that was his youth.
The music is still there, but he now has a better handle on the volume, though he still likes it loud. I take responsibility for that gene.
It's the kind of thing a parent can make themselves crazy doing: taking credit for the way their little weed grew. Each little bump and scrape was my fault, but so were the triumphs. There were plenty of times I know that my wife and I were taking proud satisfaction for providing the inspiration for the same landmark. We all took piano lessons. We all drew pictures in the margins of our notebooks. We all rose up from a remarkably similar pool of genes.
Which makes those slight divergences from the path we drew so long ago such a surprise. All the comfort we might take at knowing just exactly where our little boy might be at any given moment goes out the window when we can't find him on our map. A million years ago, he used to cry when his mom would leave the house for any period of time, and needed armloads of assurance that "mommies always come back." Now it's his parents that need that reinforcement. He'll be back. And he'll have stories to tell.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Depends A Lot On Which Book You Read

And we're back!
Not that we ever really left.
But Judge Jeanine of Fox News would like everyone to know that "the U.S. is back as a dominant regional player after the Obama years." The region in question is the Middle East, and this assertion was made in anticipation of the United States opening an embassy in Jerusalem. The judge went on to tell us, "[Trump], like King Cyrus before him, fulfilled the biblical prophecy of the gods worshiped by Jews, Christians and, yes, Muslims, that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state and that the Jewish people finally deserve a righteous, free and sovereign Israel.” First, I looked up Jerusalem. Wikipedia tells us, "It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions — JudaismChristianity, and Islam Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, as Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there and the State of Palestine ultimately foresees it as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally." As for the King Cyrus thing, he was considered by many to be the deliverer of the Jews, which is apparently the connection drawn between the current "President" of our country and this ancient king of Persia. 
But what about the Palestinians? If the United States is plotzing their embassy for Israel in Jerusalem, instead of part of the consulate, it is pretty solidly picking a side. Which has a long history of not working out so well in the Middle East. Which is why there were bloody riots on the day that the embassy officially opened. Meanwhile, one of the biggest soccer clubs in Jerusalem will be adding the current "President" to its name, becoming “Beitar Trump Jerusalem.” Which works out well for a guy who likes to stick his name on things that other people built. 
Now might be a good time to point out that biblical prophecy also includes a pretty fiery and miserable end to mankind, nor is there any mention of a "Jared Kushner," but I guess we'll have that as breaking news when it occurs. We live in interesting times.