Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's A Little Fire Between Friends?

Don't you know we got smart bombs, it's a good thing that our bombs are clever.
Don't you know that the smart bombs are so clever, they only kill bad people.

- Oingo Boingo, "War Again"
Last night in my living room, there was a war going on. Three pre-teen boys were staring intently at the TV, using their ample thumb dexterity to blast away at each other on a distant planet. There was moderately heroic music in the background, and they seemed to be taking turns at being the aggressor. This caused the other two to whine and moan about the relative fairness of the combat taking place. A sample
"Why are you always trying to kill me? That's not fair!" Or "Are you using laser guidance? That's not fair!" The relative fairness of warfare was the featured topic for discussion. The general consensus was that anything that blew you up was unfair. To you. Everyone else just laughed.
A joint U.S.-Afghan force called in an airstrike on what turned out to be an Afghan army post after taking fire from there before dawn Saturday, killing four Afghan soldiers and prompting an angry demand for punishment from the country's defense ministry. Instead of crying, "That's not fair," They had this to say: "Besides expressing heartfelt condolences to the families of the martyrs, the Afghan Defense Ministry is condemning this incident. After the investigation is completed, the Defense Ministry wants to bring those responsible to justice." The difference here is that there is no reset button, and the cries for justice come from the survivors. Meanwhile, the Taliban would be the ones across the room, snickering into their hands as NATO scrambles to mend fences with the people of Afghanistan. Just last month, the United Nations reported that most civilian casualties were caused by the Taliban.
Hey, that's not fair!
Don't you know it's Nintendo, really gets the blood flowing thru my veins now
Don't you know it's a feel-good show, electronic bliss, it's a video, video

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Contemporary Classic

I didn't read "Catcher In The Rye" until I was twenty-three years old. I understood that it was a classic, and there were plenty of sideways looks when I told people prior to that time that I had somehow missed the opportunity to experience J.D. Salinger's masterpiece. This was not unlike my experience when I told folks that I had never read "Lord of the Rings." I didn't get around to those until sometime after the movies came out, and I read them aloud to my son. A good deal of my reticence stems from my ongoing need to ignore Classics, illustrated or otherwise.
This is an interesting response from a guy who read "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" before he was twelve. "War of the Worlds" and "Treasure Island" too. My contrariness began when I started hearing the phrase, "Oh you liked that? Then you really should read..." It felt like I wasn't getting any credit for the books that I had read. There was always one more hill to climb, one more page to turn.
That is why Mister Salinger's book sat out there for so long without me as a reader. I understood its importance in the cultural landscape, and understood it from a Cliff's Notes point of view. And as my troubled youth sped by, it never occurred to me that I could be relating to Holden Caulfield. Or not. I was far too busy with Billy Pilgrim and Tralfamadorians. Mark David Chapman was the reason why I swore off the book for another five years. When the smoke finally cleared, I found myself sitting in my apartment with "nothing to read," and so I borrowed my roommate's well-worn copy of "Catcher In The Rye." It was a quick read. I enjoyed it and was able to imagine how it could become the text of a generation or two. Youthful angst that predated Woodstock and Generation X. It was the poetry of alienation. J.D. Salinger caught lightning in a bottle, and before he became tiresome, he quit.
And for that, I say "hurrah." His novel that made it okay to not be okay was a sign at the end of a road. After a few more stories in the New Yorker, that was all he had to tell us. He had the good sense to shut up. What would the world be like if Bruce Springsteen had called it a career after "Born To Run?" Picasso hung up his easel after his Blue Period? Bill Cosby left TV after "I Spy?" So many people want to know what is hidden inside Salinger's safe. Unpublished novels? Essays and stories that chronicle his later years? Or just a stack bills, cash money from the sixty-five million copies he sold of his one book.
Sleep tight, J.D. Salinger.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Duty Now For The Future

The ordeal is over now. I can begin to sort out my feelings about being part of the judicial system for a few days this month. I have written before about the massive ambivalence I harbor about jury duty. The public servant in me is gassed up and ready to go. I am happy to be a part of "the system." That's the part of me that loves to vote and watch the State of the Union address. I prefer to be an active member of my city, state, and country. If nothing else, it gives me the moral high ground when I do start to complain.
Then there's the weaselly part. The one that sighs mightily at the prospect of spending any sort of unstructured time. It's the waiting that kills me. Sitting in the jury room is painful, but offers the distraction of a number of television sets and the opportunity to catch up on my reading. Once called to a courtroom, however, all that preoccupation ends. A sign in front of prospective jurors reminds us to turn off our cell phones and not to read while court is in session. We wouldn't want to miss a word.
So for a day and a half, I sat there and listened while those around me were summoned. Some were excused. Others were seated in the cushy chairs of the jury box. And the process ground on and on. Each time a juror was cut loose, we all winced in anticipation of the next name to be called. They never called mine. I sat there and memorized the layout of the courtroom. I remembered the judge's apology at the outset, for while the courthouse had received many renovations in the seventy-plus years that it had served the county, the seats we found ourselves in were the same as they had been in the Roosevelt administration. Being selected for the jury offered the mild release of a comfortable seat.
And I stared at the attorneys. Long after I stopped listening to their importantly repetitious questions, I stared. I was casting the movie of my day. The defense featured James Whitmore, Victor Buono, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Zach Braff with a twenty-dollar haircut. The district attorney was played by a clean-shaven Ryan Gosling. As I drifted in and out of full awareness, I considered all the questions those who went before me were asked: What biases do you bring to this proceeding? Can you weigh all the evidence before making a decision? Do you understand the concept of "reasonable doubt?"
I spent that time mostly in my own head. I'm more comfortable being able to share my thoughts with others. Sitting there in silence for so very long gave me a strain in my neck and a pain behind my eyes. What would they ask me? What would it be like to serve for six weeks or more with the peers I saw in front of me in the jury box? Would it be me who caused the deadlock, just like Henry Fonda or Aunt Bea? What is it about being "ordered" and "summoned" that feels like authority that I want to rail against? Would I be one of those whiners whose job was so very important that I couldn't possibly take the time to participate fully in bringing justice to this case? Could I just unclench for a few minutes?
Then, suddenly, it was over. The third alternate was seated and those of us in the gallery exhaled as we were told we could "go home or about our business." The courtroom cleared quickly after that, and the elevators going down were full. I chose, along with a number of my fellow excused jurors to take the stairs. Suddenly we were free to discuss and converse. The guy behind me said something about how it had been twenty-two years since the last time he had been called. I was surprised, considering the regularity with which I find jury summons in my mailbox, but it made me think: Would I be sad if it took another twenty-two years before I sat on a jury?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Diamond Jubilee

Somehow it escaped comment here. A little over a week ago, my mother celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday. That didn't mean that I forgot her entirely. I called and sang "Happy Birthday" along with my brood in our own inimitable style, and we sent our gift and card to celebrate the occasion. Yet here on the blogosphere it was strangely quiet. How could this be? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had not one but two enormous concerts at Madison Square Garden with accompanying special issue of Rolling Stone to acknowledge twenty-five years of existence. Shouldn't my mother get three times the coverage?
This is, after all, a woman who raised three boys. They grew up to be a sheriff's officer, a teacher, and an artist, and responsible members of their communities. She mothered countless more of their friends and acquaintances over the years: feeding them, pulling their loose teeth, cleaning up their messes and scrapes and bumps, and always giving them the attention that they might have missed somewhere else along the way. When she became a grandmother, it was almost redundant, since she had been so grand to all of us for so long.
This was the woman who celebrated her seventieth birthday in Disneyland. In a torrential downpour. Standing in line with all of us as we cajoled her onto just one more ride. After years of kidding and pranking and joking, she is the woman who has asked, "Don't I deserve a little respect?" And while we all kept giggling and playing along, we knew she didn't mean it rhetorically.
Whenever I got hurt, physically or emotionally, my mother was there to console me. She still is. Back in the olden days, she used to put my head in her lap and stroke my head, letting me know that everything would be all right. It wasn't until I was a little older, and watched her comforting our dachshund after an ill-advised run-in with a pair of German Shepherds, I was able to hear what she was saying: "Assatime, assatime." I recognized those words, not because they made literal sense, but because I knew what they meant. She could make pork chops in orange juice and brown sugar glaze and bake legendary chocolate chip cookies and host parties for our entire neighborhood and run her own bookkeeping business and clean the house and play the piano and read us all stories and buy us comic books and drive that twisty dirt road up to our cabin loaded down with supplies in a Volkswagen squareback, and she could make everything all right.
My mom deserves to have Bruce Springsteen to drop by and serenade her.
Happy Birthday, Mom. Assatime.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

All Apologies

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed! You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that." And so begins another fun-filled town hall meeting in South Carolina. Those were not the words of some addled citizen with five minutes at the open mic. That was the Number Two man in South Carolina, lieutenant governor Andre Bauer musing on welfare. Suddenly, running off to Argentina to "hike the Appalachian Trail" doesn't seem like such a bad deal after all.

What it does do, besides making every thinking person in the state wince, is make me wonder where all that common sense we were supposed to have went. I was recently surprised and saddened to see that the "Tea Party" continues, and Doctor Orly Taitz filed a lawsuit claiming that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen just last month. That thin veneer of public sanity continues to drift away, and I cringe at the thought of mid-term elections taking place in a climate where the voice of reason is found on Al Gore's Internet.

Which brings us back to Mister Andre. At just forty years old, it's plain that he sees a future in this governing gig, and he will be running to fill those big shoes left by his predecessor, Mark Sanford. What will the people of South Carolina do? Stay tuned to Fox News and find out. I'm sure they'll have some fair and balanced ideas on the subject.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We R Sad

Preface: I was once asked what I would like for my birthday. I merrily replied, "Toys! Plastic toys!" I was seventeen at the time.
My son still grits his teeth and grumbles whenever we pass by the "Babies R Us" in Emeryville. That used to be "his" toy store. Back when we weR "Toys" instead of "Babies." He and I spent many a glorious afternoon wandering the aisles and imagining shopping sprees that would fill the back of our car. Most of the time we walked out with just a ninety-nine cent Hot Wheel, and sometimes we didn't buy anything. It was a comfort for us to know that there was a warehouse full of toys just over the hill when we really needed it.
Wal-Mart put an end to all that. "Toys R Us" couldn't match the everyday low prices of that retail behemoth, and so the big change came and the toy store became a baby store. My son wanted no part of that. He just recently noted that the shopping center had finally managed to change the big sign that announces all the stores in the mall to reflect the change, years after it had come. The next victim in the toy war, according to Forbes, will be KB. It would seems that all those acres of playthings have gone by the wayside, and people are either going to discount stores where they can buy their prescriptions and table lamps while they look for action figures for their kids, or they are pointing, clicking and waiting for the Internet to send them Hasbro or Mattel.
KB Toys, or Kay Bee as they were originally known, has been around since 1922, and ironically when they filed for bankruptcy last year, what was left of them was snapped up by Toys R Us. And now the watch continues. We can still get in the car and drive up the highway to our nearest Toy Barn, and for a few minutes we can feel that same giddy whirl of conspicuous consumption. We shall continue to make those pilgrimages, knowing full well that we are clinging to a chunk of Americana that is only a few decades old, but then again, so am I.
Epilogue: Some years after that first inquiry, amidst a sea of opened packages that did in fact contain plastic toys, my mother asked me when it would be okay to stop giving me plastic toys. I replied, "Never."

Monday, January 25, 2010


I am generally an uni-directional person. When I get pointed in a particular direction, I tend to stay in that direction until acted on by an outside force. Such is the case with my mornings. Once I start to move, I tend to keep moving until the day is done. It's all about the momentum. That's why weekends can be so tremolous for me. I would love to imagine a morning like I had in my youth, where I could stay in bed until noon, but the realities of home and hearth work against that wish.
I have surrendered to the dog who needs to be up and out before the dew settles on the grass. I know that my son will somehow muster the strength to pull himself out of his own bed on these two days each week, even though school days require special documentation from a circuit judge and a portable defibrillator to move him. My wife's ability to sleep through earthquakes is well-documented, and so that leaves me. Mister Light Sleeper. As long as I'm up, I might as well do whatever it was that I was going to do anyway.
That's why Sunday morning was such a revelation for me. I heard the dog stir at quarter til seven. Happily, that storm passed, and I hovered in the twilight sleep until I first heard the rooster. Our neighborhood's free range rooster. He was crowing just outside our bedroom window. I rolled over and kept my eyes closed. As the rooster continued his salute to the new day, I heard my wife moan, "Oh no." We waited for the bird to move on. He didn't.
My wife was up first. Opening the window, she tried to shoo nature's alarm clock away. He did move, but only a little further into our back yard, where he continued his serenade. This got my son out of bed. "What's going on?" he asked blearily. And now the dog was up too. I curled up on my side of the bed, trying to separate myself from the fracas going on outside my wall of sleep.
But it wasn't really sleep. In my mind I was able to track the movements of my family through the house, and out into the yard, where they attempted to chase the rooster away with curses and threatening gestures.
Finally, after realizing the essential futility of their efforts, they surrendered and came back inside. My wife came back to bed, and I hoped for a last-ditch effort at some shut-eye. That's when I heard her typing. She was Googling ways to shut up roosters. I implored her to put the laptop down and pretend to sleep. To her credit and my everlasting gratitude, she powered down herself and her computer. She pulled the covers up to her chin, and even though we could still hear that infernal bird strutting about our yard, shouting his approval of the new day, we stayed the course.
Until eight forty-five when the phone rang. Back to our lives, already in progress.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's Hip To Be Square

A friend of mine told me while she was shopping for groceries the other day, she heard "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones on the Muzak. Not an easy-listening version, but the real hardcore punk version. It was an amusing enough image, standing in the frozen food aisle, as Joey wails, "I can't control my fingers, I can't control my brain, Oh no oh oh oh oh." Another wet cleanup on aisle four.
And that's when we came to the realization that we are old. It wasn't necessarily that the grocery store was so hip and cool that they were playing punk rock, but we had lived long enough that the music of our youth was no longer cutting edge. The suggestion that any or all of us needed to be medicated was no longer scary or disturbing. Every day we see commercials for this sleep aid or that form of male enhancement, the fact that the Ramones have yet to be licensed by some major pharmaceutical company is a kind of pleasant surprise.
So now we live in a time where people "our age" want to host "The Tonight Show." People who are "our age" get the joke when Conan O'Brien chose to end his seven month reign as nominal king of the late-night world by playing "Freebird." All this stuff must be as mildly incomprehensible to your average fifteen-year-old as Johnny Carson and Dean Martin were to me back when I was in junior high.
I have lived long enough that the cool toys that I was too old for when I was in college have become action stars in their own films. Spiderman has been sent back to high school after burning through his initial movie renaissance in just eight years. I asked my wife why all the kids were wearing their baseball caps with the labels still stuck to them, and she replied, "because it's the fashion." I don't get it anymore. Most of the music on my fancy mp3 player comes from an era before the compact disc. Even my fancy mp3 player is a couple generations old, and my cell phone can't project 3D holograms of my loved ones. The kids at school thought I was cool for a few weeks when they found out that I played Guitar Hero, but they lost interest when they found out that I didn't have DJ Hero. It didn't help that I told them that my favorite rap album was "Tougher Than Leather." They looked up, blankly, "What's an album?"
Well, just put me in a wheelchair, get me to the show. Hurry hurry hurry, before I go loco.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I've Got A Little Proposition To Make

Polygamy is not legal in the Netherlands, but the idea that it is became an urban myth of sorts in 2005 after a man and two women signed a private "cohabitation contract" while wearing wedding garb. Consensual incest between adults is no longer prosecuted in the Netherlands, but close relatives are not allowed to wed.

But that's not what Hak-Shing William Tam of San Francisco read. On the Internet. He believes that incest and polygamy are legal there , and he came to that conclusion after reading an Internet article that claimed incest and polygamy were legal in the Netherlands, where same-same marriages became legal in 2001. Is this a big deal? There are plenty of people roaming around our planet believing that gang members drive without their headlights on, and shoot anyone who flashes their lights at them. Or cell phones cause explosions at gas stations. Maybe they believe that Alabama has redefined the value of pi to bring it in line with Biblical precepts. How about scientists in Siberia are trying to drill through the earth's crust to reach Hell? What about the ones who believe that Coca Cola used to contain cocaine?

Actually, that last one is true, but now it's just corn syrup. The problem with Mister Hak-Shing believing what he reads on the Internet is, pardon the expression, gospel is this: He was one of five individuals who signed on as official proponents of the ban and whose names appeared alongside ballot arguments for Proposition 8.

And if you don't belive this, remember where you read it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

If It Ends Tonight

Tonight, the National Broadcasting Company will air the last "Tonight Show." Hereafter, the replacement show will fall back into the vortex created by a corporation that seems to know nothing about comedy but everything about irony. To be clear, the title of the show appearing at 11:35 PM, 10:35 PM Mountain, will be "The Tonight Show," but make no mistake: It will be The Jay Leno Show.

It was never the Steve Allen Show. Or The Jack Parr Show. Even Johnny Carson was happy, perhaps even relieved, to have his name after "with your host." As Conan O'Brien has suggested, "The Tonight Show" is a broadcasting institution, the third longest-running entertainment program in U.S. television history, after "Guiding Light" and "Hallmark Hall of Fame." In the legacy of hosts of the "Tonight Show," even Ernie Kovacs was given a year of Monday and Thursday nights to get his act together. NBC wanted Steve Allen to get busy on a Sunday evening show that would compete with the Ed Sullivan Show. For six months, they even scrapped the variety show aspect of the show and turned into a late night "Today Show" clone, featuring news and features for those who couldn't get enough of that kind of thing at seven in the morning.

As much as I would love to blame Jay Leno for this debacle, the onus is squarely on the back of "the pinheads at GE," as former NBC employee David Letterman once referred to them. Would they have been better off if they had never rushed Jay to the door in the first place? Maybe. Could Conan have found his way and forged a new, younger audience for the ever-aging demographic that Jay delivers? Leno's first few months behind the "Tonight Show" desk were so tenuous that there was a plan in the works to stage a coup and bring Letterman back to the fold. Seven months to become a fixture on late-night TV? It seems more than a little daunting. Is it worth forty-five million dollars to get Conan off the air? In the end, it won't matter, since the right thing to do was never on the table. It was always the NBC way. No Body Cares.

Farewell, Coco, and godspeed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

They Don't Wage Them Like They Used To

We love science. We love statistics. Without them, we would not know what the chances are that the sun would rise in the east. So very many useful things have come our way via studies of the natural and social sciences that the sheer volume of discovery becomes overwhelming at times. Take for example this recent report that informs us that war is less deadly than it used to be. One of the main reasons that body counts are down is the lack of global participation. It's hard to get the whole world involved in any one particular conflict these days. Nowadays we have to rely on territorial skirmishes that take place on a much smaller scale than they used to.
Better health care has something to do with it. The Human Security Report Project at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University says that since 2000, the average conflict has killed ninety percent fewer people each year than in the 1950s. Wars fought with huge armies, heavy weapons and major-power involvement have largely given way to low-level insurgencies fought mostly by small, lightly armed rebel groups. The title of the report? "The Shrinking Costs of War."
That's when I start thinking about a hillside in Lafayette, California. There is a cross on that hill for every U.S. service person who has died in Iraq. More than four thousand crosses cover obscure the grass and crowd the trees. Then I think about the seven hundred billion dollars that we have spent on the war in Iraq, and I wonder about shrinking costs of war.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Matthew 26:52

There are all kinds of reasons why it is a good idea to separate church and state. We are governed by the words of men rather than the Word of God. The level to which these two entities have become intertwined over the centuries can be debated endlessly, beginning with that whole "In God We Trust" that keeps showing up every time we try and spend any money. But for now, that is the rule. That would seem to be the price of freedom: No one can tell you how to worship, but then again, you can't tell them either.
Still, there's plenty of God floating around, from those pesky dollar bills to the bottom of your In 'n' Out burger cup. Just our way of keeping our religious foot in the door. Much in the same way that a Michigan defense contractor has been stamping references to Bible verses on the sights of combat rifles used in Iraq and Afghanistan. What better way to promote the time honored tradition of Christians killing Muslims? Unfortunately, the government has a rule about proselytizing by our troops. Trijicon Incorporated claims they've never made a secret about their hidden messages, it's just that not very many people think to ask.
Markings on the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, which is standard issue to U.S. special operations forces, include "JN8:12," a reference to John 8:12: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, 'I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,'" according to the King James version of the Bible. The Trijicon Reflex sight is stamped with 2COR4:6, a reference to part of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." I don't claim to be a biblical scholar, but I have read the book, and I don't think that this "light" that they keep referring to equates with a muzzle flash.
U.S. Central Command insists that the sights don't violate the ban on proselytizing since the sights aren't being distributed beyond the U.S. troops who are using them. No word about how the Jewish, Atheist, and Muslim soldiers who use those sights to kill others feel about this, however. The Central Command was also quick to point out the connection between the sights and U.S. currency. "Are we going to stop using money because many of our bills say 'In God We Trust' on them?" Considering the United States government is spending millions of those bills on the products on Trijicon's products, it might be a discussion worth continuing. And last time I checked, using a dollar bill properly could get you a Sausage McMuffin, but using a Trijicon Reflex sight properly will get you a clean head shot.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Politics Of Suffering

My wife has been reading Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope." She has continued to pass along tidbits that she finds interesting, such as our president's attitude toward conservative pundits who might seek to bring him low. She told me that he tries not to give them too much credence, preferring to let the sound of their exhalations be that of the passing wind. Feel free to interject your "passing wind" snicker here.
But that doesn't keep me from flinching when I hear idiots with access to the airwaves launching into tirades that are more more about character assassination than criticism of policy. This past week, Rush Limbaugh insisted that the Obama White House would use the catastrophe in Haiti to "burnish" the president's standing and credibility "with the black community, in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community, in this country." Maybe it was the OxyContin talking, since most of the right side of the country was left a little taken aback by his sound and fury. After years of taking my shots at the previous administration, I am here to point out the continuing evolution of a nation and its leaders. On Meet The Press, former president and humanitarian George W. Bush had this to say about the certain media outlet's reaction to the Obama administration's response to the earthquake in Haiti: "I don't know if -- what they're talking about. I've been briefed by the President about the response. And as I said in my opening comment, I appreciate the president's quick response to this disaster."
This comes from a guy who had his own experience with the politicization of catastrophe. It was a disaster all by itself, and Rush defended it. Even George W. took his raps for that one. If you are a politician, you will be judged by your ability to deal with the events that occur during your time in office. It is the measure of competency, the ability to lead. Democrat or Republican, after Katrina, the response to disaster here or abroad changed. It had to. And we are all better for it, in spite of what Mister Limbaugh might suggest.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Near Fatal Conceit

It's the kind of news that I don't really want or need on a three-day weekend. A new study finds that going long periods without sleep can lead to a sort of "sleep debt" that cannot simply be undone with a little extra snoozing from time to time. All of that time I have spent anticipating a moment in the not-too-distant future where I could "sleep in" has been wasted, if science is to be trusted on this matter. It's pretty much a no-brainer to suggest that going a full day, the twenty-four hour kind, will cause a person's performance to slip, but the study says it "can drop to the level of someone who is legally drunk."
Okay Mister Science, then how would you explain the following anecdote: As a freshman at Colorado College, I was up late one night studying for my Art History final. We were on the block schedule there, which meant that we took one class at a time, and we were responsible for a semester's worth of material for every four weeks. This meant I was trying to cram half of Janson's History of Art into my head for easy access the following morning. Then came the knock at the door. "Dollar Pitchers at Benjamin's Basement."
I glared at the closed door. Darren was out there, taunting me. "Go away," I yelled.
After a carefully timed pause, another knock. Then, "Beatles Night."
I looked at my book, the color plates shining in the light from my desk lamp. I looked back at the door. Silence. Then back to the book. I flipped through the pages I had left. I had just passed Rembrandt and knew the big turn was coming before the Impressionists and Expressionists and the Post-Impressionists.
Another knock. I slammed the book shut and grabbed my jacket. Before his knuckles could rap once more, I stared Darren down. "Okay. Let's go."
It was a magical night, as most nights in Benjamin's Basement were, but this was enhanced by a non-stop flood of sound of the Boys from Liverpool. We drank. We sang. We drank and sang some more. We enjoyed ourselves as much as we were capable of back then, and when the last notes of "Abbey Road" wound up the evening's entertainment, it wasn't evening anymore. It was the wee hours of the next morning. Upon returning to my dorm room, I collapsed on my bed. Drunk, I still was fully aware of the five hours of sleep I was going to need before the alarm woke me to face the exam I had blithely ignored.
Sure enough, when the radio came on at seven, I did some hasty math, and determined that fifteen more minutes would not save me, and I was better off dragging myself to the shower and swallowing a handful of aspirin. Breakfast was out of the question. When I teetered into Packard Hall to take my seat, the lights were already dimmed for the upcoming series of slides that we were expected to identify and explain in the larger context of the History of Art. I remember being grateful for the dark, and I proceeded to scrawl furiously in my blue book, working primarily on adrenaline and the thought that these could be my last few moments on earth.
It was all over so fast, I don't remember everything that I wrote. I do recall walking out into the midday light and wondering if I might make it back to my dorm before what was left of my brain burst into flame.
I don't know if I ever got those hours of sleep and study I should have had back. I slept until dinner and did the best I could with the SAGA food service, surrendering to the comfort of red Jello. Then it was over. I took my four day break and came back to read the news: I got an "A." As the years went by, I was tempted to reproduce the results of that experiment time and again on the eve of major tests and exams. But doing so just made me tired. And smug.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Two Wheels, Nine Lives

I stopped. I looked both ways. I saw a car pulling up to the stop sign on my right. Having waited my turn at the four-way, I started across the intersection. That's when I noticed that the car at the stop sign was starting to ease ahead. If I didn't stop, honk, or wave, I might soon be beneath its wheels. I have no horn, and as I started to swerve as I yelled. I yelled, "Hey!" That's my standard yell when I'm about to be crushed by a motor vehicle. That's when the driver looked up, took his hands off the wheel and gave me a very sheepish, "my bad" shrug of the shoulders. Happily, this coincided with him stepping on the brakes, and a collision was averted. My bike and I had avoided yet another nearly near death experience.
It wasn't a new thing, almost getting run over in my bike. I live and ride in Oakland, after all. It's not a city that will be described as "bicycle friendly." By contrast, we don't feel the need to get all aggro on motorists like they do in San Francisco. There is a mob-bike-ride the last Friday of every month, sponsored by Critical Mass, in downtown San Francisco. The idea is that a large enough group of riders will intimidate and oppress the cars and trucks and other things that go. Confrontation is the name of the game there. Not a lot of "aw shucks" gestures on those streets. Gestures of another sort are quite common.
And so, back on the mean streets of Oakland, I ride with my eyes open and my head on a swivel. When I have a near-miss with a car I tend not to get too worked up when I'm all on my own. Antagonizing somebody with a three thousand pound weight advantage isn't a great plan, and so I keep to the right and obey the traffic laws. I wait until I am through the intersection before I shake my head and mumble curses under my breath. It's safer that way.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Numbers Game

I can remember, sometime back in the 1980's, when it seemed as though I might never find the woman of my dreams. This was curious, since at the time there was a surplus of females inhabiting the urban areas of the United States. As my wholly inept dating strategy went, it wasn't for lack of available targets, I was just afraid to take the shot. Metaphorically speaking. At a time when all my other male friends seemed to be finding Miss Right, I was contemplating a life of agitated bachelorhood. It probably didn't help that during this span I was living with a well-known Lothario. He was skewing the figures of one guy to one girl in impossible directions. I considered briefly that merely standing in his wake might avail me of some of the runoff, but that never happened.
As fate would have it, I just needed to be patient, and the Right Woman For Me was revealed and we settled down and lived happily ever after. I'm just glad I'm not Chinese. More than twenty-four million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without spouses in 2020, state media reported on Monday, citing a study that blamed sex-specific abortions as a major factor. Strict family-planning policy, especially in rural areas, created a glut of males. And if you've ever seen a glut of males flying south for the winter, you know how stirring a sight that can be.
The skewed birth rate over the past ten years, with a ratio as high as one hundred thirty boys to every one hundred girls. It's a pretty good deal for Sadie Hawkins day, but misery for those extra guys standing there looking silly. That's why I am guessing that China will probably be one step ahead of us once again and become the largest nation on the planet to legalize gay marriage. In a country where abortions are legal and paid for by the government, it just makes godless sense.

Friday, January 15, 2010


The deal was very simple: When my brother's daughter was born, I told him that she was more than welcome to spend the night at my house. Just as soon as she could say these words: "Uncle Dave, I need to go to the bathroom, where is it?" This suggestion caused some minor challenges to her normal development, as my brother looked at this as a challenge to skip past "Mama," "Dada," "doggie," and other such infantile drivel to focus on that particular phrase. It is hard for me now, after ranching my own son's diapers and those of numerous babies since, to imagine how upsetting the idea of someone else's poop was to me back then.
But, on the occasion of my niece's twenty-first birthday, it should be noted that I am just a little sad that I was so uptight. It is difficult for me now to reconcile just what part of that bit was for real and what was hyperbole. I know that she was the first baby with whom I actively worked to forge an actual connection. I was always good at amusing babies, but I really wanted to make sure that she knew that I was there for her. I fed her. I held her. I carried her around. And in a shopping mall recording booth, my younger brother and I teamed up as her uncles to sing to her. In her first few years, I made her laugh, cry, fall down, and dance around my mother's dining room to the soundtrack of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." She knew all the words. Scarcely more than two, she knew all the words. But she never said those "magic words."
She was three when I got married and moved to California. She was our flower girl. Years later, she came out here with a couple of her friends to experience life on the coast as a teenager. She watched our house while we went off to Disneyland. Not once did she or her friends inquire as to the whereabouts of the bathroom. I guess she's all grown up, and she's welcome at my house anytime. Happy Birthday.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Post-Cinematic Depression

We had to wait an extra few minutes after we went to see "Avatar" while my wife pulled herself together. She was in the ladies room, sobbing. So taken with James Cameron's vision of a future where ten-foot-tall blue people mingled with fluorescent flora and fauna on a paradise known as Pandora. It should be noted that my wife tends to cry at the weddings of characters in sit-coms, but that's only because she is so very sensitive. It's a good thing. You could be the curmudgeon half of the relationship, after all.
As it turns out, she is not alone in her longing to be a part of that Brave Blue World. Avatar forums are beginning to spawn threads discussing ways to cope with the fact that Pandora is not a real place. To wit: "I just watched avatar a few weeks ago and I'm feeling depressed and sad. It's like I want to reach out and be in Pandora. I'd do anything to be in Pandora. I've tried so hard to dream about me being on Pandora but it hasn't worked." Or, "Ever since I went to see 'Avatar' I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na'vi made me want to be one of them. I can't stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it. I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in 'Avatar.'"
This makes me wonder about the relative ages and socialization of these poor souls. I understand that they have been witness to a profound movie-going experience, but when the lights come up and you have to put the 3-D glasses back in the bin, Real Life returns.
Or does it? Perhaps this new technology that Mister Cameron has launched actively promotes a schizophrenic panic. Three dimensional motion capture IMAX tumor that burdens viewers with a confusion between what is real and what is the domain of Gollum and Smurfs. It's only a movie, after all.
Then I remember how my eyes welled up at the end of "The Blind Side." I want to live in a world where college coaches come to my house and chat up my adopted parents and siblings until I deal with my dark past until I am able to find my way onto the roster of a 2009 NFL playoff team. They got to eat fast food all the time. Sandra Bullock was his mom. If it really is only a dream, don't wake me up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

To Die For

When the news, and I use the word "news" in its loosest possible sense, broke that Sarah Palin was going to join Fox News, a number of my close personal friends and confidants sent me e-mail on a very similar thread: "Didn't I tell you?" or "What took her so long?" I could only shake my head and agree. It was as inevitable as the coming of winter, or the late-season collapse of the Denver Broncos. What did take her so long to join the media elite?
Six months ago, when Miss Maverick resigned her post as governor of Alaska, she said, " I'm not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual." Politics as usual would seem to mean not finishing your term, then taking a while to get your book ghost written, and mulling over all the ways she could use her powers for good. She chose the darkest of the dark side.
It makes you wonder just how much anyone, especially the powers that be in the McCain campaign, knew about Sarah when she burst onto the scene two years ago. Or the voters of Alaska who elected her two years before that. Or the voters of Wasilla three years before that. You can't fool all of the people all of the time, but her somewhat meteoric rise over the past ten years sure gives one pause. Hockey mom to Fox News contributor in a decade. Nice trajectory. To be fair, it takes her back to her broadcast roots. She majored in journalism with an emphasis on broadcasting at the University of Idaho and worked part time as a weekend sportscaster in 1988 for an Anchorage TV station. Now she'll be hob-nobbing with Bill O'Reilly and friends.
And we wait. Wait for the inevitable return to politics as usual. Whatever that is.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Black LIke Whom?

"I could have used better words," were the words Senator Harry Reid used to describe his assessment of a certain Illinois Senator. For the record, those words were "light-skinned" and "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." That was during the 2008 presidential campaign. The one that a certain Illinois Senator won and became the boss of Senator Harry Reid. For the record, President Obama accepted Senator Reid's apology and hoped to close the book on the matter. If everyone listening were a Democrat, that might have been it.
Everyone listening is not a Democrat. Reid and Obama are. Trent Lott is not. Michael Steele is not. They are Republicans, and they would like us to remember how Lott was forced to resign from the Senate for his racist comments. Michael Steele is African-American. Trent Lott is not. Michael Steele believes that Harry Reid should step down as Majority Leader, much in the same way that Lott did in 2002, when he was lauding noted segregationist Strom Thurmond on the occasion of his hundredth birthday. "If we had elected him (Thurmond ran for president in 1948) thirty years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today." Maybe he was talking about Thurmond's fiscal policies. Maybe he wasn't. But it was enough to get him to step down as Senate Majority Leader back in 2002. For the record, Strom Thurmond was first a Democrat, then a Republican.
Rod Blagojevich is a Democrat. He asserts, in an interview with Esquire magazine, that he is "blacker than Obama." For the record, Rod Blagojevich is an idiot. Even he agrees.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Let's Give Them Something To Talk About

First, there was the Oprah crisis. After September 9, 2011, you'll have to find alternative ways to get your fix from the Oprah Winfrey communications empire. She was kind enough, before she told the rest of the world, to call Ellen DeGeneres to let her know that her twenty-fifth year at the top of the heap would be her last. There are still so many other mountains to climb, metaphorically speaking.
This void may be filled by Ellen when she is not busy judging American Idols, but it won't be Tyra Banks battling her for talk show supremacy. Tyra will pull the plug on her five-year chatfest this spring. Her focus will be exclusively on America's Next Top Model. No word on whether she called to give Ellen the heads-up.
Maybe Ellen should call Jay Leno to let him know that the world in which everyone, including William Shatner, has their own talk show. It won't be me. I will be happy to see the sun go down on Jay's prime-time show. I have not watched, so I won't miss it. I never watched when he was hosting the Tonight Show, either. I have watched more complete episodes of Oprah, Ellen, and Tyra than I have Jay.
And not because I don't think Jay is funny. He might be. I used to think he was very funny, back when he showed up on David Letterman's late night show on NBC. When he was a comedian. When he was funny, instead of a corporate tool. I was one of those who believed that Johnny Carson's heir apparent was Letterman, not Leno, and to be honest I never gave Jay any chance at all. When General Electric decided to save money by moving their big chin into a prime-time slot that used to house scripted dramas, I hoped their experiment would fail.
Now that has come to pass, and yet I feel empty inside. All signs point to Leno moving back to eleven thirty, while Conan O'Brien will be shoved back to midnight. And Conan's show will still be called "Tonight." Jimmy Fallon, in the meantime, will be hanging around in the wee-Tom-Snyder hours of the morning.
Or not. These kind of deals don't seem built to last. Instead, they seem like desperate moves made by desperate men. When the dust settles, who will be watching? People who don't have to get up and go to work every morning. Like Oprah.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Anyone who has suffered a painful breakup will understand the concept of "transition girlfriend/boyfriend." This is the person who shows up in your life right after you have been crushed by the love of your life and you feel as though you will never be loved again. The transition relationship is supposed to get you to the next place: The Love Of Your Life. It is not supposed to go on and on, as Celine Dion might suggest. I am sad to say that I believe that Barack Obama may be our transition President.
Please understand that this breaks my heart, since I can't remember liking a President as much as I like Obama. He's smart, pragmatic, scholarly, a great orator, and he likes Springsteen. But I was imagining life on Earth 2 yesterday morning, the one where John McCain won the election. Not by a landslide, but enough to put him in the Oval Office with his vice-president Miss Maverick just down the hall. Given the climate of the country in the past couple of years, it is hard to imagine that either reality would allow things to continue as they had. This also assumes the Democratic super-majority in Congress, creating a check for the Executive Branch. Back here on Earth 1, we continue to struggle getting things done in spite of the fact that Democrats control the world. Or at least they should. Maybe the challenge they are facing is that there is no friction. Politicians are so very keen on debate that even when they are confronted with a direct path to what they say they want, it will still be a matter of endless discussion and acrimony as they make endless twists and turns on that straight path. There is no one with whom they can argue, and so they argue amongst themselves.
Back on Earth 2, President McCain is forced to surrender to the wishes of the people, enforced by the legislative branch, led by Senators Obama and Clinton. The stimulus package that was passed at the end of Pinhead's administration continues to revive the economy from the coma it was in for eight years. Health Care is presented as a common concern by a united front, and though it faces a veto from President Curmudgeon, there are more than enough votes to override it. And the wars? Back on Earth 1, President Obama feels the need to appease the Hawks while consoling the Doves. Earth 2 has a clear choice: Follow the Republican path of war, or listen to the public's cries for peace. The compromise is made explicit by the split between Us and Them.
Here on Earth 1, we're stuck making deals. Sure, things are getting better, but anything would be better than the past eight. What made Bill Clinton such a breath of fresh air was the four years of Pinhead Senior. He had a ninny for a vice-president, and when all was said and done, the fresh air felt like the Winds Of Change. Pinhead Senior was our last transition president. He helped soften the blow after the Reagan dynasty.
I know that there are still great things ahead of us in the Obama administration. I will always treasure the feeling I had a year ago, when everything changed. I wonder if we can get that feeling back again.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Yesterday evening, I sat down to spend some virtual quality time with my computer. My wife bought me "SimCity Societies" for Christmas, and I was happy to take a few moments before we went out to dinner playing this game of simulated reality. The appeal to this sort of activity is the opportunity to play God. Manipulating a culture and its twists and turns has proven to be a very effective timesink. SimCity was not the first.
Years ago, I was given a copy of "Age of Empires" by a teacher friend who told me it was his way of unwinding after a particularly trying day. The focus of this game was conquest: destroying other societies was the goal. It wasn't over until you had crushed your opponents or they had done the same to you. As described by the title, the methods of doing away with those around you was limited to swords, shields and the occasional trireme. I started out slow, but soon gathered the basic knowledge that allowed me to vanquish the pitiful wretches who sought to bring me down.
It was after several months of listening to me bombard those around me that my wife decided it was time to steer my impulses to something more altruistic. She bought me "Civilization: The Gold Edition." Now I was encouraged to build up a wealth of scientific and artistic knowledge along with the ability to eliminate nations that challenged me. But this game offered diplomacy as an alternative to war. I would spend hours exploring, colonizing and manicuring a culture that maintained a strong defense, but was also benevolent when necessary to achieve its ends. I negotiated, and only occasionally flattened cities.
Still, my wife looked to refine my baser reflexes, and with SimCity, I think she hoped that I would come around to a more civilized way of dealing with my civilizations. At least that was the message that I got. Right after Christmas, I set about making my city of Sims, and I worked carefully to balance the creative with the productive, the authority with the hedonism. I wanted the little people wandering through the maze of city streets I constructed to love me. It never occurred to me to put a sewage treatment plant next to the aquarium "just to see what happens." This was a carryover from my days with "Civilization," where I never started a war simply to "see what happens." I try to think a few moves ahead, and generally have my virtual citizen's best interests in mind.
So, when I toggled on the "weather" tab on SimCity, I wished that I would have taken the time to read the whole manual. Especially after I inadvertently caused a fiery meteor storm that destroyed four buildings and caused untold psychic damage. Well, the psychic damage was immediately visible via in the bar graph at the bottom of the screen. The majority of happy green faces were quickly replaced with angry red faces. I did that. For a moment I felt horrible. I felt as though I had really let those people down. Here I had control over not just the financial and city planning, but heaven and earth as well, and I had brought on catastrophe. How could I have let that happen?
And that's when I remembered: It's just a game. Even though what happened could hardly be described as succumbing to my baser instincts, I knew there was a simpler solution. The game has an auto-save function that allows you to return to a time where things were a little more manageable. Before the flaming boulders fell from the sky. Do over.
And now I think I should send one of these to Barack Obama.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Never Can Say Goodbye

The guy bought his ticket with cash. He wasn't carrying any luggage. None. On a trip from Nigeria to Amsterdam to Detroit. Oh, and his father told the CIA that they should be looking out for him, since he was acting like a terrorist. Hanging out with them. Talking like them. And this was the guy who almost blew up his undies and everyone else on board Northwest flight 253. At least it wasn't his shoes. We've got that much on the ball at least.
As a result, our president has declared that the anti-terror buck stops with him. It's time to learn from our mistakes and to create a more safe and secure planet for those of us who aren't terrorists. What about young lovers? Flights were delayed across the globe this past Sunday and Newark Liberty International Airport was shut down for several hours because of the extended farewell that was allowed by a security guard leaving his post "for just a few seconds." Long enough for this young paramour to find his lady love and walk back up an exit ramp into the secure area of the airport.
Did I say "secure?" Apparently while all the conscientious among us are standing in line, slipping off our shoes, having our babies frisked, and behaving like cattle, those clever, amorous or adventuresome folks are looking for those little holes that still exist in the ultra-tight net of security. And when they do, the rest of us in line stop. And wait. While the system works. The system that gets the barn door tightly closed while the livestock mill around in the International Terminal.
Back in the olden days, before the troubles, one of the best dates my wife and I ever had was when we drove down to the airport and had dinner at the Tower Lounge. Afterward, we wandered around "reading departure signs at some big airport." It reminded us of places we'd been. We weren't breaking any rules. We weren't breaching anything. We were young and in love. We're still in love, but when we go looking for romance, we stay away from the airport. It's just too stressful.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Education President

If I had a dollar for every Mister Smith who found his way to Washington on the assurance that he would, at last, be "The Education President," I would have saved up at least five or six bucks by now. But what exactly does that mean? Will we spend more money on education this year than we do on tanks and guns? Will we finally "fix" public education? Will we establish a network of charter schools that will bring communities together to support their educational institutions? Or will we simply continue to throw money and platitudes at the problem, hoping that our best intentions will be realized, whatever they are?
I have no real answers. I can say that "Yes Virginia, public education is very sick and in need of some sort of operation or transfusion," but I cannot pinpoint the precise program or solution to what ails it. The current Education President just announced a two hundred and fifty million dollar initiative that would train math and science teachers in hopes of moving the United States from somewhere in the middle of the pack to leaders in those subjects. Even as he passed out awards to one hundred outstanding educators, he let them know that they came with a price tag. He asserted that teacher quality is the single most important factor that determines how students fare in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The logic of this episode seemed a little skewed to me: If the United States is suffering from a deficit of good math and science teachers, where are we going to go to get educated? If we keep teaching ourselves, won't we just keep getting dimmer on those particular subjects? Why don't we ask Singapore to drop by and teach our kids for a while?
But is it all really about competition? So what if we're number twelve out of forty-five nations who bother to turn in their data? How do you make science and math interesting for kids again? Make it part of survival. Not just about getting a good job, but actual survival on a hostile planet filled with nine-foot tall lizard men who want to kill us. Don't you wish you'd remembered your high school chemistry now? I say spend that money on Star Trek reruns.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


There aren't a lot of quiet moments at an elementary school, in spite of the number of times I find myself using that word: Quiet. It's one of the reasons I arrive early each day. There are a few minutes for reflection before the onslaught continues. And one of the very quietest spots on our campus before eight o'clock is the Men's Room. Given that less than a third of our staff is male, the chances of being interrupted there, especially at the beginning of the day are slim and few.
That's where I found myself, acutely aware of the dwindling roll of toilet paper as well as the Business section left there, no doubt, by the other early arrival: a first grade teacher. Had he left the sports pages, I might have distracted myself with accounts of the previous night's highlights and scores. Instead, I decided to check on the state of my own finances. It's a rare enough experience for me to have any folding money in my wallet at all, and the fact that there were a number of bills to count was a silly sort of treat for me. Thirteen ones, two fives, and a ten. Thirty-three dollars. It felt good to feel like, for a change, I was probably carrying more cash than most of the kids I teach.
With that task behind me, I absently opened the snap that holds my photos in place. I know them all by heart, and aside from the yearly update of my son's picture, the contents of this section have not changed in more than a decade. Which is why it was odd that when I thumbed past the tiny snapshot of my father and I crossing the finish line of the Bolder Boulder Ten-K race I should get a lump in my throat. It's a relic of another time. A bookmark in the span of my life. I was surprised how quickly the thoughts and emotions rushed through me. It's not as though he was forgotten. There are a number of reminders around my house that keep him on my mind on any given day, but this was intense.
I felt sad and angry that my father didn't live long enough to see me become a teacher. I was equally frustrated that he never got to meet his namesake, my son. It was a flurry of angst set by this confrontation with mortality. I negotiated briefly with my feelings and tried to reconcile the tears and smiles. That's when the bell rang.
It was time for the kids to come off the playground into the cafeteria for breakfast, and I could hear the stirring outside in the hall. Another day had begun.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Would You Like Fries With That?

If you spent any quality time with your television set, as I did, over the past couple of weeks, you may have been made aware of the incredible story of Christine. She's the young lady who, against all odds, managed to lose fifty-four pounds just by eating from the drive-thru menu at Taco Bell. There are plenty of "after" photos that help illuminate this incredible story of determination, hope, and soft tacos.
Does it remind you a little of the courageous tale of Jared, who lost two hundred and forty-five pounds on a diet of two Subway sandwiches a day. Downright inspirational, wouldn't you say? The notion that I could be sitting here on my couch, savoring my fast food meal, watching other people exert themselves on TV, and losing weight I find very stirring. Not enough to get up and exercise, but in a very spiritual way.
Of course, the fine print is really the problem. Both Jared and Christine suggest a reduced calorie diet as well as reducing fat intake along with moderate exercise to achieve the results they did. In fine print. Fast Food could be your salvation. There's even a web site that will tell you how you can eat Big Macs, Whoppers, "even pizza" and still lose weight. They won't tell you all the secrets online, but you can buy their e-book and get all the details. Want to bet that they suggest that you can eat anything you want as long as you limit the fat and calories along with moderate exercise?
Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonald's for thirty days and it nearly killed him. Of course, it also gave him a career. Jared has been on Oprah and Larry King. He gets to hang around with Michael Strahan as they fight childhood obesity. Maybe Christine can go on the road with Paris Hilton washing cars. You know, for kids.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Paying The Tithe

I hope the Lord will forgive me for overlooking the passing of Oral Roberts. Though his ministry stretched over six decades and across the globe, when he died on December 15, I was busy with other more pressing matters. But make no mistake, this was a pioneer: the inventor of TV evanglism, who first started reularly airing God's word in 1954, three years before Sputnik. Oral spread the word as he spread the wealth. With those who shared his surname.
He made millions of dollars and spent it on important things like hospitals and a university, and homes in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. Not bad for a kid from Oklahoma who nearly died of tuberculosis when he was seventeen. The irony of a faith-healer who once claimed to have raised a child from the dead running his own medical school may have been lost on those who attended the City of Faith Medical and Research Center.
Fifty-five years after his first broadcast, you can still see "A Place For Miracles" airing daily on a blessed affiliate near you. He said that God would "call him home" if he didn't raise eight million dollalrs back in 1987. His supporters beat that by more than a million, and so he stuck around for another couple decades. Oral's gone, but not forgotten. Evangelical pastor Rick Warren's plea for donations to fill a nine hundred thousand dollar deficit at his Southern California megachurch brought in almost two and a half million dollars. Pastor Warren said that none of the donations were bigger than one hundred dollars. You remember Reverend Rick: he was the one who gave the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. He's part of the new wave of "purpose-driven preachers" who are paving the way to Heaven with book sales and talk show appearances. He makes Bill O'Reilly nervous. He's Rupert Murdoch's pastor. God said, "Let there be light," but he's not paying to keep the lights on. Give me some of that old time religion!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Step Two

"Well, I'm gone to Detox Mansion
Way down on Last Breath Farm
I've been rakin' leaves with Liza
Me and Liz clean up the yard"

Aging rock star Elton John went on the BBC yesterday and told the world that he has been helping his rapper pal Eminem with his substance abuse problem. It put me in mind of all the Celebrity Rehab stories I have heard over the past few years, and it made me wonder just how successful the program could be if Elton John was your sponsor. Elton said that as a recovered drug abuser he is happy to help people if they want the assistance, but drugs make people so cocky and arrogant that they often reject help. Cocky enough, for example, to wear a Donald Duck costume in Central Park. In front of four hundred thousand people. Come to think of it, this level of humility may be precisely what makes Mister John so imminently qualified to council others on the evils of addiction.
This would apparently open the door for Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue to have a sit-down with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to discuss the evils of painkillers and using the wrong conditioner on your hair. Maybe Rush Limbaugh could help Barack Obama finally kick that nicotine habit. Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Britany Murphy: too late. Or perhaps we could get Ozzy Osbourne on some sort of twenty-four hour teleconference hookup for any celebrity who has the slightest inkling about ingesting, snorting or injecting anything. When it comes to submitting to a higher power, he sure seems like the best bat - er, bet.

"Well, it's tough to be somebody
And it's hard not to fall apart
Up here on Rehab Mountain
We gonna learn these things by heart"

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Boom Boom Pow

It's January, and the football portion of our year is about to wind up, with the hardcore holding out for the Pro Bowl and attendant hoopla of the Super Bowl, not to mention the plethora of Bowls that will occur prior to handing the Dr. Pepper trophy to the "best" college team in the country. Then there's a void that includes watching hours of NFL films and trying to generate interest in draft combines and potential trades and coaching changes. But really, these next few weeks take all that enthusiasm for football and force it through an ever-shrinking opening that makes a Championship feel like the pinnacle.
Then, it will be done. There will be hockey. Pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. And we can continue to watch Tiger Woods' endorsement deals evaporate. But while we patiently await the return of Sports As We Know It, we can amuse ourselves with what amounts to the "other" big deal: Professional basketball. I can only admit to a passing interest in the progress of the NBA regular season. One game a week in the NFL provides me with just enough distraction to get me through, but watching basketball two or three times in a seven-day period is just too much. Unless you add the added incentive of urban crime drama: According to the New York Post, Washington Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton drew guns on each other during a Christmas Eve locker room argument over a gambling debt. The Wizards are not the best team in the league, and they are not currently the worst, when you consider ten wins in thirty games keeps them a game better than our local franchise. What makes them exciting is the "North Dallas Forty" vibe. While the NFL continues to clean its house, the NBA is showing up as a solid diversion for those pigskin-free months that stretch on ahead of us. All of a sudden, I don't miss Tonya Harding so much.

Friday, January 01, 2010


The poet said, "Breathe in, breathe out, move on." It's pretty good advice for any day, but today it seems especially pertinent. It fits in well with the other sentiment that I have adopted as a child of the eighties: "Nothing changes, it's New Year's Day." These are the things I think about as I wake up and realize that I don't have a new calendar.
As I swept my porch yesterday morning, I mused on how clever the Chinese are to move their New Year's celebration a little further down the page, away from the rest of the holiday flurry. Any ritual that takes into account the passage of time seems a little simplistic, but finding a natural stop and start gives us dominion over something that we can only hope to observe. We can't control the way the present slips into the past, so why not rejoice?
This will be the year of firsts: first dates, first steps, first chances. It will be a year of lasts: last dances, last calls, last chances. New year, new decade, new opportunities. All those possibilities await, and this could be the time. New job, new carpet, new hope. It's hard not to get excited about the possibility.
Then again, most of this year will be tediously the same. Routine days in hum-drum weeks, with the anticipation of any break in the monotony: vacations, weddings, birthdays, Pop Tarts. It's a New Year, breathe in, breathe out, move on.