Sunday, August 19, 2018

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I don't often go big for honorary titles, but every so often the powers that be get it right. For example, I have never been completely comfortable calling Elvis "The King." His impact and influence is undeniable, but he essentially usurped the throne that belonged to Chuck Berry. But, since justice doesn't tend to have much to do with the the way kingdoms are handed out, I suppose it makes some sense. Michael Jackson as the "King of Pop?" Okay. I won't argue that, if only for those moments when he had just made Off the Wall and was on his way to unleashing Thriller on an unsuspecting planet. Not quite Chuck Berry, but it'll do.
Late last week, the Queen of Soul died. Long live the Queen. I don't have much to quibble with when it comes to calling Aretha Franklin The Queen Of Soul. There are not very many folks lining up to argue about this one. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Elvis and Chuck Berry made it in that first year, but Aretha was right there behind them. There was no doubt as to who had earned the R-E-S-P-E-C-T. She defined it. In 1980, she gave a command performance for that other queen, Elizabeth. She performed at inaugurations for Presidents, perhaps most notably, bringing down the house not just with her rendition of "My Country 'Tis Of Thee" but her amazing hat as well.
But what I think I will remember most about Ms. Franklin was her no-nonsense performance in The Blues Brothers. There was no doubt that her vocal chops would stand that test, even in the company of other greats such as Ray Charles, James Brown, and John Lee Hooker, she filled the screen with her own style and grace. Wearing a dirty apron. In that film she also managed to hold her place as in her character, as well as her singing. We should all do right by her and "Think."
And now she's gone, leaving a void in the royal succession. Who could possibly presume upon that title now that the Queen has gone and left us? I would suggest that the position be left vacant. For the time being, anyway. Anyone who sang for Martin Luther King as well as the Obamas holds a lasting place in the pantheon of music.
Aloha, Aretha. You stomped on the Terra, and you will be missed.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Warning Signs

Here's a phrase that should set off alarms: "I'm not racist, but..."
Did you miss it? Let's see if this helps: "I'm not racist, BUT..."
Ir you spotted that conjunction right there at the end, you're a quick study, and are probably ready to move on to something a little more challenging, like "Some of my best friends are..."
Again, if you were reading carefully, you noticed those telltale dots at the end of the sentence, commonly known as an ellipsis, used to denote a missing word or words. In these examples, that's where you'll find the racist part, the part that should be setting off bells, or an air horn, or something like the sound of a thousand wasps descending on you at high velocity. 
In case you're curious, I looked it up for you. A racist is, "a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another." And in case there was any doubt, prejudice is the "preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience." All of which tends to add up to racism or aggressive stupidity, which is an easy enough leap to make. 
Currently, there are a number of public figures who are making the claim that they are not racist, but this tends to swing the argument back around to something that sounds like, "Well, if that's not racist, what is?" A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another. Didn't we just cover this? 
How about the time that guy was ridiculing the African American anchorman for his interview with the African American basketball player for being stupid? 
Or that guy who repeatedly commented on the "extraordinarily low I.Q." of a certain African American member of Congress? 
Maybe it was that guy who tends to speak of foreign criminals and terrorists with phrases such as "These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength!"
The easiest assertion to make would be that these guys may need to check themselves to be certain that they don't carry around a lot of prejudice, but since they are all the same guy, the answer is even easier. "The President" is a racist. 
Or maybe that's just me being prejudiced? 
Nope. I have experience and reason that backs up my opinion. 
I looked it up. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Center For Shark Control

The most callous part of me woke with this thought: New school year, time for those back-to-school shootings. Perhaps this was fueled by that meme of a photo of the gun sale at Wal-Mart. Of course that doesn't mean that gun violence took a holiday in June and July. Caps were popped into folks all through the summer. Chicago had a particularly rough time of it.
Which is important, but it is not the thing that makes me cringe the way that phrase "school shooting" does. All of those minds coming up with solutions like metal detectors and arming teachers are trying to imagine ways to solve a problem without fully understanding the problem. Last spring, Congress voted down funding for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence. If you had already concluded that the National Rifle Association had something to do with that vote, please feel free to take a hollow point round out of the prize bin for being so clever. If you figured this was a recent event, sorry, you'll have to give back your souvenir. It was back in 1996 that the CDC was prevented from studying gun violence as a public health issue. In the past twenty-two years, more than six hundred thousand Americans have been shot.
And yes, there are probably a vast number of people who have been stabbed during that span.
Or run over.
Or electrocuted.
Or attacked by sharks.
Eighty-eight shark attack fatalities in 2017. Worldwide.  It is interesting to note that the United States leads the way with fifty-three of those deaths. More than half. Somebody was studying this. Keeping track. There is no shark lobby interfering with the research being done on how to keep humans safe from sharks. Because sharks are dangerous. I would suspect that bringing a hungry shark to a school would be something that would be discouraged, after some research. Or maybe we can just agree that having a hungry shark anywhere near a school is a bad idea.
How about loaded guns? I guess we'll have to wait for the report to be released.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ditched

I was introduced to Lime Bikes by my wife, who knows a thing or two about conservation and public transit. I have avoided learning a lot about my city's mass transit by adopting a bicycle of my own. If you are unfamiliar with Lime Bikes or other ride-sharing opportunities, you should know that these are pedal-powered conveyances used by citizens of towns across this great land of ours to get around. You use an app on your smart device to log into the system that allows you to borrow one of these bikes for a dollar, and then charges you another dollar for each half hour that you ride. Pretty cheap if you're willing to do the pedaling. For those less pedal-inclined, there are electric bikes and scooters as alternatives.
Gosh, what a great, forward-thinking solution to urban commuting. Except when it doesn't work. Like when dozens of trips terminate at one place, like a BART station. In a perfect model of this Utopian system, there would be dozens of folks coming off the next morning's BART trains, eager to scoop up those same bikes and roll them on to their next destination. Distribution of all of this transport should take care of itself.
Except for when it doesn't. Users who go online to discover the nearest bike to them find out that they are still in a heap where there were dropped by the exodus the night before. The same thing happens with the scooters and electric bikes. They tend to pile up in central locations. And in Oakland, some of the less-civic-minded folks have made a sport of tossing the scooters into Lake Merritt, where they tend to do even less good than cluttering up the mass transit stations.
Which made my question to my wife, upon hearing about this new service, even more apt: Is it somebody's job to retrieve and redistribute all of those wayward machines? Could I get a job as a Lime Bike wrangler? I checked their employment opportunities, and found that being a "local route driver" was the thing I had hoped to find. It brought back memories of my youth, when bad kids used to sneak into our neighborhood under cover of darkness and take anyone's bike that was foolish enough to leave them outside in the yard or in the driveway overnight. The next day, that bike would be missing, and a search would ensue until it was found, usually much the worse for wear, sometimes in an irrigation ditch, but the lesson was learned: Don't leave your bike unattended, or it will be "ditched." Which may be the reason they are all painted green.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cold Comfort

A lot can change in a year.
In Charlottesville, Virginia there was an anniversary observance. Like other dates and in other locations, there is now a reckoning for what brought us to that point and what happened after. The realization for so many Americans that racism is alive and well in spite of the fact that we have Martin Luther King Day and we elected a black president came as a shock. Alive, well, kicking and screaming. 
A year later, we have demonstrations and marches across this great land of ours reminding us just how far we have not come. Our current "President" reminded us "The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!" That particular tweet came just a day after the one in which he chastised NFL players thusly: "“They make a fortune doing what they love…Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of the money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!” Which seems to be how he expects us to come together as a nation. His way. 
A year ago, Heather Heyer was alive. She was doing what she thought was right. She was trying to "spread love," in the words of a friend. And she was run down by a young man with very different views. He was not spreading love when he crashed his car into a group of protesters who were there to shout down the hate being spewed by Unite The Right.
A year later, a state of emergency was called before the anniversary was fully upon Charlottesville. The thought that things would be calm and that lessons had been learned was not considered. Police in riot gear were there ahead of time, just to make sure that everyone stayed in their lanes. 
A year later, dozens of white supremacists gathered in Washington D.C. to stage the sequel, and were drowned out by counter demonstrators who outnumbered them by hundreds. Which came as some comfort.  Not the kind of warm and fuzzy feeling you get when the bad guys are finally gone for good. More like the kind of feeling you get when the battle is over and the war is still far from being won. 
Maybe next year. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Parentalnoia

It's a parental thing. I can accept that.
First of all, let me say that I cannot be happier in my heart of hearts for my son who has found a girlfriend. I am not sure if that is the current term or the one he and his paramour feel comfortable using, but it is the one that fits the convention of which I am about to prattle on about. As I said, I feel nothing but joy in my heart for my son and this discovery he has made.
And I'm pretty sure she's not good enough for him.
Which, of course, sounds immediately contradictory. If you're confused, imagine how it must feel inside my head as I try to discover from where that little voice erupts. The one that suspects that I would find something wrong with Meghan Markle if she had showed up on my son's arm. Too duchessy. Or how about Malala Yousafzai? Too into herself and her "causes" to give my son the attention he deserves. 
Hold on. I just got finished telling everyone how happy I was that my son has found a relationship, the kind that I know he has pined for on occasion for many years. So what is my problem? 
Currently? I believe that I am being way too protective. I want him to sail through life without the bumps and crags that caught his old man. I don't want him to have to sit outside, staring up at the stars trying to figure out just how a night with such promise ended up in so much pain. I don't want him to have his heart broken.
And I know that's ridiculous. It is bound to happen, and there is nothing I can do about it. Of course, I can also accept a possible future in which nothing bad happens and my son sails through this pairing that lasts into that region called "forever." Wouldn't that be, as the song has it, loverly?
So I will set my sights on that place, and do that parent thing, keeping the bad voices at bay. I know that his experience is different from mine, and for the most part, he has conducted himself with far more restraint and dignity that I ever did at his age. I am guessing that his responses will be far more evolved than mine were. He's a pretty clever kid.
I wonder where he gets that? 

Monday, August 13, 2018

So Peaceful

I made a note of it. That quiet moment on the Friday before the first day of school. I had spent the day helping anyone and everyone in the building get prepared for that first day of school. I spent a lot of time going up the stairs and down the stairs, visiting classrooms and checking in with teachers who were working feverishly at the arrangement of desks and chairs for their pending students. The school was that beehive of activity you have always imagined.
I didn't have to imagine it. I was there. Again. Bulletin boards covered with brightly colored paper. Furniture that had no place in one room found a place in another. Games that had lost their pieces, books that had lost most of their pages, VHS tapes and other obsolete items found their way to the proper receptacles. More books and games were put away on empty shelves that became full.
The quiet moment did not come until much later. Lots of staples had to be pushed into paper, and plenty of signatures had to be affixed to forms that would allow those eager faces into those prepped and polished classrooms. Grownups reminded one another that certain phrases and attitudes would need to be put on hold before the kids appeared to be confounded or oppressed by same.
Teachers, after working in their classrooms for a number of days were having a mixture of feelings: anticipation, excitement, confusion, fear, and more anticipation. As the hours passed, many of them started getting a little punchy. It is a pretty unusual thing to have that much adult interaction over the course of a day in an elementary school. The rooms and hallways were full of a different type of energy.
Until suddenly they weren't. At some point, everyone had to give in and go home. At some point, no matter how much any teacher prepares, there is only one thing left to do: bring in the students. Everyone came to that point at a little different time, but eventually the time came to surrender. What else could be done? And that was when that moment came. It sounded a lot like the moments after the last day of school. That teacher work day that feels so strange.
And so quiet.
But not for long.