Wednesday, March 31, 2010
By contrast, we have "disgraced congressman" Eric Massa's appearance on Glenn Beck. "Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe, and then four guys jumped on top of me!" Not exactly in the Democratic tradition of "I did not have sex with that woman, depending on just exactly what you mean by sex," from the Clinton years, but still in line with the party that gave us skanky John Edwards and the tonsillectomy Al Gore gave his wife at the 2000 convention or the way that Jimmy Carter lusted in his heart. The Democrats are a pretty lusty bunch, even before you start counting the notches on JFK's bedpost.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era for the Grand Old Party. The staffer fired over all this indiscretion was Allison Meyers, who headed the Young Eagles, which tries to recruit major GOP donors forty-five and younger. Maybe Ms. Meyers was looking to test the distinction between "hard" and "soft" money. But let's be honest: They spent less than two thousand dollars for a night at a strip club in Hollywood. The boys from Mötley Crüe would go through that in a couple of hours. These guys are sure to be on the next Young Eagles mailing list.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
In the past few weeks, my family has gathered together at our local movie theater to don the now requisite 3D glasses in hopes of experiencing some entertainment. Something for everyone. To that end, we picked "Alice In Wonderland" and "How To Train Your Dragon." They came from trusted names in family viewing, Disney and Dreamworks respectively. They had both received decent reviews. Why not spend the afternoon in the dark, savoring the fantasy?
For me, the answer would be, "Because I don't feel like having to deal with the lingering issues brought up by both of these movies made, ostensibly, for children."
Chief among those issues: slaying dragons. I understand the long and impressive literary tradition of heroes killing monsters. It's hardly worth discussing as a metaphor anymore, since we all apparently all harbor our own demons and they are all in need of slaying. It helps us grow, after all. Conquering fear and all that. There's just one problem: neither Alice or Hiccup, the hero of "Dragon," have any interest in slaying. They say as much to anyone who will listen.
Alice doesn't want to kill the Jabberwock, in spite of the prophecy that is continually thrust in front of her. It becomes her destiny, even though she has no particular quarrel with the beast. For the moment, let's set aside the implications of a young woman chopping the head off a large, serpentine beast. Her wish not to surrender to the inevitable marriage to her dweebish suitor is clear enough. No means no. Why should she have to cut off the head, or any other part, of that scary beast? Take a page from Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener," whose constant reply of "I would prefer not to" flies in the face of the authority he faces.
Okay, maybe that's a bit of a downer for a Disney movie. And the fact that young Hiccup chooses for nine tenths of the running time of his story to fly, literally, in the face of his father's authority is a refreshing response to the idea that we must dominate nature and kill those things we don't understand. The idea that dragons are as afraid of us as we are of them might explain all of this aggression. Ultimately, however, the young Viking discovers the dragon hive, and the queen who dwells inside. Kill the queen, his father reasons, kill the swarm. Hiccup sets out to intervene, but then gathers his young friends together astride their newly "trained" dragons to overwhelm and eventually explode the beast that dwells inside the nest. It's a really cool explosion, especially in 3D, but it started me fretting about the ecosystem they had just disrupted. It worked so well for Ripley in "Aliens" because she was in a life or death struggle for her life, and the life of her young charge, Newt. This was more on a par with taking Kong off Skull Island. What will happen to the natives after they no longer have a giant ape to maintain order over all those other giant nasties on the other side of that wall?
I know horrible things have to happen in fairy tales. It's the nature of the beast, if you pardon the pun. But this is 2010. Haven't we learned any new lessons in three hundred years? Perhaps I am over-thinking this. Maybe I should go relax and watch Bugs Bunny.
Monday, March 29, 2010
One young man rolled up on his motorcycle, and sauntered down to the corner, smoking a cigarette. "I guess I should put this out if I'm gonna watch them run," he said sheepishly as he dropped his butt on the ground and turned it under a heel.
"Good idea," I agreed.
"I just started smoking," he confessed to my wife and I for no apparent reason other than the simple contrast between his actions and those of the sweaty throng in front of him.
My wife then asked the obvious question: "Why did you start?"
And that's where this guy's self-awareness stopped. His only reply was a mild shrug and then he returned to staring at the stream of humanity parading in front of him.
"Superhumans!" my wife enthused, "You're all amazing!"
Our young smoker friend watched with us for another twenty minutes or so, then moved on up the sidewalk where he told us he was meeting a friend. Not a runner. Maybe another smoker. It really wasn't any of our business, but then again, we didn't need to know about his new habit, either.
After he was gone, I had occasion to marvel at the cardiovascular systems of all the athletes pouring past us, and wondered how many of them had a cigarette in their past. Of all the things I have sniffed, eaten, drank, or otherwise ingested, I have never smoked a cigarette. I suppose I was properly brainwashed about the evils of tar and nicotine back in grade school and I was terrified of winding up with a pair of shriveled black bags for lungs.
So I returned to my original purpose for that morning: bellering at those more fit or at least more brave than myself. "Keep it up," I reiterated, using all that lung power with which I was so blessed.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Judge Smails: Ty, what did you shoot today?
Ty Webb: Oh, Judge, I don't keep score.
Judge Smails: Then how do you measure yourself with other golfers?
Ty Webb: By height.
And that's pretty much how I feel about keeping my time when I run. Back in the olden days, I used to run with a stop watch, and when I returned home, I would write down my route and time in my Runner's Log. It was a mildly compulsive thing to do, but it seemed to give meaning to all the hours that I spent each week running from here to there. I made notes about my overall health and mood, feeling that it would somehow help me to better my performance over weeks and months, leading up to more weeks and months of running.
About the time my son was born, I stopped keeping track. I had moved into my own house with my new family, and while I still felt the need to lace up my running shoes and go up and down the hills in my new neighborhood, but the documentation ended. I also became a little more complacent about running every single day. I still get out three or four times a week, but the idea that I am training for anything has fallen away.
This morning, a thousand or more runners will pass by in front of my house. I can look out on the mass of healthy humanity, each with a tiny chip attached to their shoelace to keep track of how long it takes them to navigate the twenty-six mile course. I know a couple of people who are running the half-marathon. I know one who will be doing the full course. I know that the marathon course covers part of the route that I often run myself, and for moments I entertained the idea of joining in the celebration that is the Oakland Marathon. They don't allow pets. They discourage "personal music devices." I am discouraged by both of these edicts. Running with my dog to the sounds of music of my choice are two of the prime reasons for me to continue to pursue this means of exercise. Instead, I will stand at the intersection and instruct wayward motorists how to get where they are going while portions of the city are obstructed by a bunch of ninnies exerting themselves in the extreme. "How long will it take?" They might ask. I could tell them when the course is scheduled to be closed, or I could give them the runner's answer: As long as it takes.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
From the time he was very small, I have referred to my son affectionately as "Circus McGurkus," after the Dr. Seuss book "If I Ran The Circus." If you are unfamiliar with the story, a young boy imagines what it would be like to put on a show in old man Sneelock's vacant lot. The kid has Sneelock do most of the dangerous stuff, but after all, he's running the show. I think this story stuck with him, and it's the reason why he decided to join me on stage back when I was the Master of Ceremonies at his school's yearly talent show. I believe it's why he has continued to find ways to perform feats of relative daring and skill.
Not that his mother was without influence. She's the one who signed him up for eight weeks of circus training in the first place. She liked to tell people that it was because our son is on the cusp of "aging out" of pre-teen activities and she wanted him to take full advantage of all the opportunities he could before turning thirteen. It might also have something to do with the onstage personae that she has maintained for so many years herself: Tangerine the lounge singer, or Miss Art Deco, or the local poet and storyteller. My wife is not one to duck the spotlight once it is squarely upon her.
But my son didn't have to choose that path. He can say "no." He often does. But when it comes to getting up in front of a crowd of people and doing ball tricks and spinning plates, he's raring to go. I have no idea if he will get back on stilts or start spinning the family Fiestaware any time soon. I suspect that he will bide his time and wait for his next big shot. His shot at the center ring.
Friday, March 26, 2010
That's why I am glad to live here in California. Not only do we have a chance to depose Arnold the Barbarian after seven years of cyborg-friendly rule, but we might actually cast a vote that makes a real difference: We will decide on the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana for adults. Then we, as a state, can start doing all those things that states do to make it less fun, but nonetheless available, like marketing and taxing it. I'm very much looking forward to the commercials from our new state spokespersons, Thomas Chong and Cheech Marin. Not only will there be a brand new wellspring of revenue for us Californian, but maybe everyone here can begin to mellow out a little bit.
Then we can start inviting folks from other states to drop by and chill out, you know, just to get their heads together. Then they can go back out into that "straight world" with their attitudes adjusted. Instead of worrying about which party they represent, they can start lo0king for the party. Even Arnold can return to his roots. I'll bring the Twinkies.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I don't have a radio on my bike. Instead of listening to the drive-time DJs on my favorite radio station on the way to work, or catch up on the day's headlines as I make my way to work, I listen to the random thoughts inside my head. Sometimes they are very focused and directed, especially if there is a pending concern or problem at work. Sometimes I can use this "quiet time" to meditate on the best solutions for a challenging situation. Sometimes it can lead to obsessing on that problem until my thoughts become frayed and useless. Mostly, on any given day, the sounds inside my head are like my power cord quandary.
It's an exercise. Even though I travel the same streets and intersections back and forth twice a day, five days a week, I rarely lack some interior monologue. Usually I am nominally focused on the task of getting myself from point A to point B, but there are always a thousand questions along the way: What is the change of elevation from the school to my house? Do I really go uphill from school, or does it just feel like it at first? Didn't those people just paint their window frames, or was that last spring? When will that store on the corner be open again? Did the family that ran it move away? Maybe something more nefarious?
Making up stories about the scraps and bits that litter the path between my house and school keeps me from thinking about the physical task of getting from place to place. That's a matter of fact. The whimsy I collect from here to there is the music that starts my day.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Does that mean I understand what all this fuss is about health care reform? States filing lawsuits against a law that was passed by our Congress, vengeful tea parties, and a partisan divide in our political system like we haven't seen since the Civil War: to what end? At one point, those who opposed health care reform seemed to want a measured response, a slow transition. The chief objection, currently, is the cost. How can our country afford such a massive new program?
Well, here in the United States, we pay for it with taxes. That's the nature of social programs. Public education would be one of those. President Roosevelt, America's most beloved socialist, gave us a bunch of these programs, not the least of which was the origin of our interstate highway system. At the time, there were plenty of folks who wondered why the federal government would get involved in what seemed like a pretty local affair: roads. Why should somebody in New York have to pay for a highway in Texas? Keep your hands off my roads and my pocketbook!
It is but one example. I wouldn't say that the current health care bill is by any stretch a full and comprehensive fix for the problems that ail our country, literally and figuratively. I would say that maintaining the status quo is even more harmful, and we can only hope that once the dust settles, we can all look at the problem of health care costs and insurance rationally as a group. Even if it means switching from mayonnaise to mustard on that sandwich of ours.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
There I was, relaxing on the couch after yet another heroic bout of Rock Band with my younger brother, flipping through all the downloadable tunes that were available to add on to our pretend-music experience. Much in the same way that we pondered each additional song as we generated our playlist for the marathon set we had only recently finished, each title was considered before moving on. Did it rock hard? Would it be possible to sing in the mucho gusto style to which my brother constantly aspired? Were there some wicked licks for me to shred on my plastic guitar? To give you some sense of our general outlook, we were using Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" as our litmus, though we weren't afraid to slow things down a little with something like Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue."
Our tastes were, to put it mildly, eclectic. Which is why I was surprised when flipping through the songs we might eventually add and I came to Joe Satriani's "Surfing With The Alien," I got a mildly adverse reaction from across the room. I asked my brother what he meant.
"I know, we're supposed to like it because he's like an amazing guitarist, but who really listens to that stuff?"
"Yeah," I sniffed, choosing not to mention that it was one of my favorite albums from back in the day, partly because of the Marvel Comics-inspired cover art, but also because of the perfect storm of fretwork by Maestro Satriani. Before I ever had a plastic guitar with buttons on it, I played along with the air to the maximum: eleven.
"It's like jazz," my brother continued, making a small confession of his own, "I know we're supposed to like jazz, but when do you ever really listen to it?"
I got his point. He is, after all, my brother. In spite of the fact that my son gets up every morning to go and play in his middle school's jazz band, I could not remember the last time I pulled out my Dave Brubeck CD, or turned up Dizzy Gillespie when I heard him on the radio. We were both raised to appreciate all kinds of music. We listened to opera, played classical piano, and various other instruments, including a brief sting on the accordion. But we were products of our generation. We ate up the popular music of our age and now we spit it out. Both of us came to the realization that we had arrived at the point in history where we were the dominant demographic. Halftime shows and commercials now feature music from our formative years, and even though my younger brother owns and plays his own guitar, he still enjoys dropping by my house on occasion to channel his inner rock star. And I'm only happy to be his axe man. Even if he doesn't go big for those all-instrumental tracks.
Monday, March 22, 2010
When did this ideological divide become one of race as well as party? Republican leaders, including RNC Chairman Michael Steele, strongly condemned the action of these frothing members of the so-called Tea Party. "It's certainly not a reflection of the movement or the Republican Party when you have idiots out there saying stupid things," said Chairman Steele, who is black.
And what about the homophobic slurs hurled at Representative Barney Frank? Now we've got politics, race, and sexual preference to choose from, and if your tiny brain has a hard time with the intricacies of a public health care initiative, maybe it's best to stick to what you know best: hate.
"Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list." - Denis Leary
Well folks, gather your cups and saucers and your tea bags and prepare to start hating the beginning of health care reform in America.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
One might ask just how we expect to keep things settled down when our very presence seems to keep them stirred up, but such is the way of these things. The expectation continues that by August of 2010, U.S. combat troops will come home, leaving a mere fifty-thousand "advisers." That is more than twice the number of American soldiers in Vietnam during 1972's "Vietnamization" of that war. Perhaps this disparity helps clarify once and for all that Iraq is, in fact, no Vietnam.
Don't tell that to Cindy Sheehan, however. "Arrest that war criminal!" Sheehan shouted outside the White House before her arrest, referring to Obama. Ironically, these were the words she yelled just prior to her own arrest at a march that ended with her and her fellow protesters laying in coffins outside the fence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The challenge for Ms. Sheehan and the rest of us who have grown tired of waiting for the war in Iraq to end is simple enough to grasp: we're just a little too familiar with it. After seven years, it has become part of our national wallpaper. Roadside bombs, sectarian violence, and Operation New Dawn don't jangle our senses the way they used to. "The Hurt Locker" won Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. The war in Iraq has become mainstream. America's involvement in Vietnam lasted thirteen years. We're over halfway there, and the clock is ticking.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
As a teacher, it is some small blessing that we won't have to wince in anticipation of what our class might do "out in public." Counting heads on a city bus or rounding up scattered fourth graders on a beach can be a pretty thankless task, but in the final analysis it's a small price to pay for the experiences offered to our kids outside the classroom. I offer the following anecdote as evidence: A few years back, I took my fourth grade class downtown to the Oakland Museum for a peek into California history. On the ten minute bus ride from our neighborhood, I remember seeing a pair of my students with their faces pressed to the window for most of the trip. As we passed by Lake Merritt, one boy asked the other, "Is that the ocean?"
And that's when it struck me that this kid probably hadn't been outside of his four block comfort zone for most of his life. The lake he was looking at was the ocean to him. If he didn't take away any memories of the Chumash or panning for gold or the missions, he had seen the ocean.
School districts across the country, including my home state of Colorado, have begun using the sides of school buses for advertising space in attempts to stem the receding budget tides. John Green, of the California Department of Education, argues that the ads never generate as much money as they are supposed to, and they may distract drivers and lead to accidents. Cost of straightening a few fenders for distracted drivers on otherwise "distraction-free" highways of California? Thousands of dollars each year. Cost of mistaking a salt water lake for the Pacific Ocean? Priceless.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Ain't got time to take a fast train.
Lonely days are gone,
I'm a-goin' home,
'Cause my baby just a-wrote me a letter.
I never got one of those letters, but I always wished that I could have. I was five years old when that song was a hit, and Alex Chilton was only sixteen when he sang it, but it stayed with me. Maybe it was the "air-o-plane" or the vision of a "fast train" that appealed to my childhood fantasies about travel. More likely it was the essential desperation found in those lyrics and in their soulful delivery. It would be another decade before I could truly identify with the longing found in "The Letter," but I could still identify strong emotion when I heard it.
Twenty-some years after I heard that song, I was reintroduced to Alex Chilton. The Replacements had a song about him. The sang about how "children sang by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes around." Little did I know just how influential this one guy's voice could be. Rolling Stone thought enough of his work to put all three of his Big Star albums on their list of the five hundred greatest. He never wanted to be Bruce Springsteen. "What would be ideal would be to make a ton of money and have nobody know about you," he said. "Fame has a lot of baggage to carry around."
And so Alex Chilton continued to travel light. Right up to the very end. He was scheduled to play at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin this weekend. Alas, he won't make that gig. For the rest of us, we'll have to be content to follow the urging of the Replacements: "I never travel far, without a little Big Star."
Thursday, March 18, 2010
No, I'm not talking about Jimmy Cliff, though one could choose to take issue with the reggae pioneer's appearance in the Robin Williams island treat, "Club Paradise." It was the eighties, after all, and we all did things back then we weren't expressly proud of. Speaking of proud, it was the induction of ABBA that I thought might bring about the biggest groundswell of support from my wife, who has a special section of her iTunes devoted to the Swedish supergroup. I was surprised by her reaction: "Rock and roll? Not really." Her love for Benny, Bjorn, Ani-frid and Agnetha would not get her past the distinction: Rock and Roll. Surely there's a Pop Music Hall of Fame where they would be more comfortable, even revered. Perhaps by the same rabid fanbase that bought Animotion's second album.
Then there's Genesis. This one has some pretty clear party lines: with Peter Gabriel or without. I tend to favor the Gabriel version, though at times they seemed to be pushing just a little hard on the "art" side of the "art-rock" thing. The same cannot be said of the Phil Collins era, where hit-making and radio play was the order of the day. It's not surprising that even the celebration of the band's career couldn't bring the group back together. Peter Gabriel skipped the Hall of Fame ceremony, citing the need to prepare for his solo tour, while Phil sniped "we've been doing it for years without him, anyway."
Ouch. Happily, Iggy Pop showed up with the Stooges, and thanked his fans for being so cool." That's when the sixty-seven year old pulled off his shirt and got to work. And now let the discussions begin about the relative merits of Mister Pop's post-punk abs.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
My wife sent me a most amusing story about zombies the other day. It described a game of zombies versus humans played out on a college campus. It was the author's belief that this game was a win for the real world over the virtual. It was a game won by cunning and speed, not super-strong thumbs or the ability to program in cheat codes. It was, as most of the best games of my youth, a matter of life and death.
In my neighborhood, the game was "Gunner." We played most evenings from the time we got home from school until dinner, and if the light permitted, even after. One person, usually me since it was easier to volunteer and get the game going than waiting for one-potato-two-potato to sort things out, would get a toy gun from the barrel of armaments in my friend's garage. While that selection was being made, the rest of the kids would scatter. Depending on the size of the group and our own feeling of adventure, boundaries could range between a few back yards or the entire block. When the Gunner emerged, armed and ready to hunt, his job was to "shoot" anyone he saw. They were to die honorably on the spot, and lay there until someone else who was alive came by and tagged them, bringing them back to life and ready to play. The Gunner won only when he was able to snuff out every living kid in sight and out until there was only the cool breeze and the smoke from the muzzle to keep him company.
There were plenty of arguments with corpses about how the Gunner could possibly shoot around corners, or the relative accuracy of an eleven-year-old firing on a dead run, but for the most part the victims were all pretty good sports. Probably because they assumed that their mortality was only a matter of waiting for their friend to come out from behind the hedge and zap them back into existence. Unless the Gunner in question happened to be laying in wait for those foolish enough to fall prey to his ambush.
I got quite a reputation over the years. Eventually, the other kids in the neighborhood whined and complained if I offered to be Gunner. They preferred my younger brother, or someone less wily than myself. Even though we were playing a game that was, at its heart, freeze tag, there was still more than a little danger associated with it. To be the last man standing: it was a heady thing.
Every so often, I watch my son and his buddies haul out his Nerf gun arsenal and fire foam darts at each other for minutes at a time. Sooner or later, one of them comes up with the logical alternative of the Wii version. Why chase around in the streets when we could be doing this from the comfort and safety of the living room couch. My parental brain splits down the middle: video games bad, kids shooting at pretend remotes instead of each other good. With this weighty ambivalence, I watch the hour pass before they ask me for more time, and I suggest they could play outside some more. The pained expression on their faces tells me how much things have changed since I was a kid. And one heck of a Gunner.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I know how Navin must have felt, lo those many moons ago. Today we got our Census form in the afternoon mail: our chance to participate, our chance to connect, our chance to belong. Ten years ago I was so caught up in the turn of the century that I probably didn't pay the kind of attention to my civic responsibilities as I probably should have. I was still digging out from all that duct tape and sheets of plastic, I don't even remember filling out my form. Ten years before that? I was back in Colorado, where I'm pretty sure they still use airplanes flying overhead to count folks up like wandering cattle. At least that's what I remember.
But not this year. I'm going to give my all, and make sure that I do everything I can to help my government get a handle on who we are, numerically speaking. Question number one seems simple enough: How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment or mobile home on April 1, 2010? Well, since that excludes the stranger whom I believe may have taken up residence in my garage, I think I'll get past that one pretty quick, but just to be sure I think I'll wait until the first of April to make sure no one else shows up or disappears.
Then question number two asks about any additional people not mentioned in question number one. Does my government expect me to lie? Okay, okay, I confess! I have a family of Belgian immigrants living in my attic that I forgot all about until you asked me that followup. Now I see how airtight this system really is.
Question number three wants to know who owns the place where I live. There are only check boxes, so I suppose the essay I had planned to write about who really owns anything may be superfluous. Maybe there's another page for that kind of feedback.
Number five asks for my phone number. They say that it's just in case they don't understand one of my answers, but I think it's really an elaborate ruse on the part of that creepy girl I ignored in junior high school who is still stalking me.
Number six is about sex. Okay, it's really about gender, but that's still pretty tawdry for a government survey, don't you think?
It starts getting interesting again on question seven, where they ask about my age and birthday. I think maybe the government is planning on sending me a nice gift. How about a red, white and blue Snuggie. It's the blanket with sleeves.
Question numero ocho would like me to relate any Latino or Hispanic origin on my part. I'm not certain about origins, but I think that's where I would like to end up.
Coming down the home stretch, number nine wants to know my race. Since I don't see ten-kilometer running, or even the Indianapolis 500, I suspect they would prefer a less tongue in cheek response.
The tenth and final question asks if the person filling out the form sometimes lives or stays someplace else. This makes me nervous, since it makes me wonder what these census takers are trying to tell me. Should I be looking for another place to stay? What is person number two on the form saying about me?
Maybe I should let my wife fill it out.
Monday, March 15, 2010
What does it mean to be first or last in per-student spending, and isn't it sad that such a statistic exists? Maybe the happy face that could be put on this idea would be that students here in the Golden State are so very clever that they simply require less material and attention than their counterparts across the nation. We can put more of them into a classroom and they will still succeed. We're getting a bargain here.
Or maybe we have to actively pursue financial solutions to this problem. Are there programs and staff that could be eliminated in public education? There is little doubt that, like so many other government operations, our belts could be tightened, metaphorically. But that solution is not met by simply chopping off those hired most recently. It would require a systematic house cleaning, with an eye toward improving the education while saving money. That takes time. Time is money. Therefore, another round of pink slips will be found in teacher's mailboxes today, while we try to unravel our nation's health care issues and prosecute two wars.
"Unless we take action — unless we step up — there are countless children who will never realize their full talent and potential," President Barack Obama said during a video address on Saturday. "I don't accept that future for them. And I don't accept that future for the United States of America." Okay. Let's begin, shall we?
Sunday, March 14, 2010
There was a time when I would have been the one making a break for it. I drove motor vehicles with unfair amounts of pollutants in my system on numerous occasions. I drove "small" enough times that I felt that I was "good" at it. It wasn't just me, either. I regularly took family and friends along for the ride. I got pulled over once, for running a flashing yellow light. The officer who stopped me looked at my license and asked if I had a brother who was a cop. "Well, yes I do," I replied in my best attempt at appearing overtly sober. He let me go with a warning, and I remembered what my older brother had once told me: "I can't keep you out of jail, but I can get you a good room." I was lucky not to have to take him up on that offer.
I was lucky for a lot of years, and now, pulling up to the sobriety checkpoint, my wife rolled down her window and presented her license to the smiling policeman. When asked, she proudly announced that she had not had a drink that night "and it's been twenty-one years since my husband has had anything to drink."
"Congratulations," said Officer Friendly as he handed the license back through the window. Congratulations indeed. Maybe I should offer to drive a little more often.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
In addition to learning the Bill of Rights, the board specified a reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms in a section about citizenship in a U.S. government class. Carrying guns to class is still against the rules, however. On the other hand, conservatives beat back multiple attempts to include hip-hop as an example of a significant cultural movement. There was little discussion about whether to include the distinction between Old Country and New Country.
There were numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history. These were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Everybody knows John Wayne didn't fight for us to have a bunch of Hispanics in our textbooks. He was an American.
As debate became futile late Thursday night, the Democratic members of the board sensed the futility and left, leaving Republicans to easily push through amendments heralding "American exceptionalism" and the U.S. free enterprise system, suggesting it thrives best absent excessive government intervention. Just like editing textbooks, I guess.
Friday, March 12, 2010
And so, there will be no prom in Fulton this year. "I am a little bummed out about it. I guess it's a decision that had to be made. Either way someone was going to get disappointed — either Constance was or we were," seventeen-year-old junior Anna Watson said. "I don't agree with homosexuality, but I can't change what another person thinks or does." Not all the students felt that way. McKenzie Chaney, who said she wasn't planning to attend the prom anyway, "it's kind of ridiculous that they can't let her wear the tuxedo and it all be over with."
That's the interesting thing about high school. Everything seems to be monumentally important at the time, as long as it is happening to you. Constance might have chosen to flaunt convention and simply show up at the dance with her date, dressed as she chose, and waited for the reaction. She might have asked for an "alternative prom" to be held, organizing friends and family in attempts to bypass the staid powers that be. That might have proved more dramatic. Cinematic.
In the long and impressive tradition of "Carrie" and "Twilight," or even "Pretty In Pink," there could be a screenplay here. When the movie does get made, I wonder if it will play at the Fulton multiplex. If they had one.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
It made me think about the times we live in now, compared to our days of yore. That was back in the days when there really were number one albums and TV shows. There were things that everyone saw or heard, or at least they were supposed to. Getting your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone would still qualify you as "cool to the masses." But now it's getting harder and harder to define who those masses are.
I wouldn't have picked The Who to represent My Generation, but I have to admit that it is now people like me who get to pick the halftime show at the Super Bowl. People like me created cable TV and then another box that would watch all that stuff you didn't have time for while you slept. Record collections that used to fill crates and cause you to buy your brother an extra six pack for hefting them into your new apartment can now be stored on a digital thingie smaller than the Walkman that used to play those cool ninety minute mix tapes you made.
That was the olden days. That was way back when I could discern one Corey from the next. Now it's even easier. One is alive. And so are we, bless us all, and we brace for the next big wave of nostalgia. Surfs up!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
In case you missed it, Brooklyn prosecutors cleared ACORN of any criminal wrongdoing last week. This was after a four month investigation into claims that ACORN staffers were giving advice to a pimp and a protstitute about how to avoid paying taxes. At least that's what the video, shot by Mister O'Keefe would have us believe. Shot, by the way, and then carefully edited. He hasn't exactly been making the rounds at Fox News like he did back last September, when he was the darling of the Right. Maybe that was going to happen anyway, after little Jimmy got caught trying to tap the phones of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Who knows what creative fun he might have had with that connection. It's almost certain that a phrase here or there, played out of context, could stir up a whole new controversy. After all, isn't that what reporting is all about? Just ask the Jerky Boys.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Host Candy Crowley: Congressman, that's a hard sell, isn't it?
Delay: It's the truth.
Crowley: People are unemployed because they want to be?
Delay: well, it is the truth. and people in the real world know it. And they have friends and they know it. Sure, we ought to be helping people that are unemployed find a job, but we also have budget considerations that are incredibly important, especially now that Obama is spending monies that we don't have.
It's a pretty familiar piece of rhetoric from a Republican, but becomes more intriguing as one examines the first word in the man's title: Former. In 2005, a Texas court charged DeLay with criminal violations of state campaign finance laws and money laundering. That's when he left his job, or it left him, depending on where you happened to be standing. The good news, hypocritically speaking, is that Tom hasn't been out of work for long. He's stayed busy writing books, campaigning for others, and Dancing with the Stars.
As long as there are TV shows on which he can show off his rhetoric or his footwork, he will continue to be a useful, hard-working member of our society. The problem is, sometimes those two elements get mixed up, and he ends up with his foot squarely in his mouth. Somebody please give this guy a real job.
Monday, March 08, 2010
In our information age, it only takes one big, loud voice to get smaller brains running for the nearest cliff. That's why a recent spouting by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so unfortunate. "September 11 was a big lie and a pretext for the war on terror and a prelude to invading Afghanistan," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by state TV. He called the attacks a "complicated intelligence scenario and act." No matter that this is the same guy who refers to the Holocaust as "a big deception." In its own twisted way, this logic makes sense for the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The problem is that it finds its way into the darnedest places, like between the ears of Americans who can find their way onto the Internet or read. As many as one third of America believes that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were allowed to be carried out or perpetrated by the U.S. government. Take a moment and look around the room. If there are more than two of you, ask one of them to 'fess up. I currently believe that my dog is harboring dark conspiratorial thoughts.
It is a truly ugly irony that those who might find themselves agreeing with Ahmadinejad on this matter would have a hard time getting in line with the rest of this guy's party line. No matter, though. Additional gunmen and UFO's and AIDS are great, hanging questions in the minds of those who have trouble with the "easy answers." That's where Adam and Jamie come in. In the coming season, they will do a series of shows that will deflate the lingering doubts about one of the biggest myths of the new century: can a cell phone really pop corn? If they can, why not see if they could use a few to pop that nasty pimple on top of Mahmoud's neck?
Sunday, March 07, 2010
I was there to teach, as I often am in my dreams, and I chose as my first lesson the Club Sandwich. I felt it was very important to pass along the significance of that extra slice of bread. All of my students were suitably impressed by this tidbit, and we shared a tray of these tasty snacks. When were were done, it was time for the main event.
I lay down on the floor, face against the shifting surface of the floor, and asked the boys and girls in attendance to watch closely as I shut my eyes and began to concentrate. For a moment, I rocked back and forth on my belly, then abruptly I raised off the floor and shot about the room. I was flying just over their heads and outstretched hands. No wires. No tricks. Just pure concentration. When I settled back to the floor, they all wanted to try it.
I watched as they attempted to duplicate my feat. I coached the ones who seemed to strain the most, and encouraged those who had begun to levitate just inches from the ground. All at once, one little girl, a first grader, got it, and she began to zip around the room, nearly careening off the paneling. But she held it together. When she dropped back down to the earth again, her eyes were as wide as her smile. "That was cool!" she exclaimed.
Then I woke up. Sometimes that's what teaching is like.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
This begs the question: What other team building exercises has coach Morriss run his boys through? A partial list might include testing nine volt batteries with their tongues, phone-booth stuffing, goldfish swallowing, jumping sharks on water skis, stapling body parts together, rush-hour bungee-jumping, trying to pass a bipartisan health care bill. With all of these options, why would stealing copies of a free campus newspaper be such an effective motivator?
An officer notified Cooper that players appeared to be involved, and the athletic director expressed concern because he “didn’t think they were smart enough to do this on their own,” according to the incident report. Who could the criminal mastermind behind these thefts be? Coach Morriss is 5-5 after one season at Texas A&M-Commerce. He was 27-54 as head coach for two seasons at Kentucky and five at Baylor. With a record like that, one wonders if the coach might need a little help pulling off this scam.
Friday, March 05, 2010
In particular, one of the graphics depicts the Obama administration as "The Evil Empire," including the infamous image of President Obama made over in the makeup Heath Ledger used in his performance as the Joker. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears as Cruella De Vil, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is Scooby-Doo. I get the criminal mastermind connection to the President, and how Ms. Pelosi might be seen as a Disney villain, but Scooby-Doo? If Droopy Dog hadn't already been assigned in perpetuity to Joe Lieberman, then that might have been a better "get," cartoon canine-wise.
But really, is this how desperate Michael Steele and company have become? I confess that my own characterizations of the Pinhead administration not only strayed from the respectful, but set up camp there and made a pretty nice living. The difference is, this is the official party line. The one with the embossed red, white and blue elephant on it. Worse still, they aren't content simply mocking the other party. These guys are taking pot-shots at their own major donors, referring to them as "ego-driven" and easily pleased with "tchochkes" like key rings and fleece throws. That illusory distance between the Tea Party and the Republican Party is shrinking by the minute.
The Republican National Committee wants you to help stem the tide of creeping socialism, brought on by Batman's arch-enemy and a lady who wears a coat made of puppies. And a guy who will pass the health care bill for a Scooby snack. If you send them a bunch of money, they might laugh at you behind your back, but they'll send you some cool stuff.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
All in good fun. Except that the FAA has rules and regulations that don't allow such antics in their control towers. "This lapse in judgment not only violated FAA's own policies, but common-sense standards for professional conduct. These kinds of distractions are totally unacceptable," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement. "This kind of behavior does not reflect the true caliber of our work force." Maybe Randy didn't consider the relative impossibility of
getting daycare in the midst of the blizzards that closed New York's schools back in mid-February. Maybe he doesn't care. Probably doesn't care. For the record, the pilots didn't seem to mind. One of them can be heard on the tape of the exchange,"I wish I could bring my kid to work."
And so maybe there should be a list of jobs where kids are better off staying with their uncle at the pool hall instead of joining mom or dad on the job. Meat inspector comes to mind. Lumberjacks. Roofers. Chimney sweeps. Pilots. And yes, air traffic controllers. As endearing as it might seem after the fact, if anything had gone wrong, it wouldn't be in the "most amusing" section of the news. This comes from a guy whose father used to take him and his friends on tours of the printing company where he worked, and occasionally stopped to ask the kids if they wanted to "test the temperature of the ink." This resulted in the child in question walking around with an indelibly black finger for days after. Maybe we were better off staying at home, too.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Well, it seems that some habits die hard, and not the Bruce Willis way. After their worst-ever performance in the Vancouver Winter Olympics, President Dmitry Medvedev called for the resignation of the entire Russian Olympic committee. "Those responsible should take the brave decision and sign a letter" of resignation, Medvedev said in televised comments. "If they can't we will help them." As Shel Silverstein once pointed out, "Some kind of helping is what helping's all about, but some kind of help is the kind we can all do without."
Of course, Russia no longer has the rest of the former Soviet Union to draw on when assembling their teams, but it does make one wonder how they fell so far so fast. I suspect that things will change before the next Winter Games in Sochi. That should give our Russian friends time enough to genetically engineer the ultimate skating, skiing, curling, half-pipe athlete. Like the champ said way back in 1985 to that crowd in Moscow: "I guess what I'm trying to say is, if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change." Change, or there will be trouble.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Just last month, Starbucks decided to back off their corporate ban against customers carrying weapons in their coffee bars. This was, in part, due to the intense lobbying of OpenCarry.org. These are the folks who believe that if you have the right to carry your weapon in public, you should use it. As they like to say, "an unexercised right is a right lost!" And so, in a number of states and municipalities, it is now perfectly acceptable to be "packing" while you're lining up for your morning latte.
Why not start your own newspaper? How about a little due process? Or a trial by jury? There must be some rights that you haven't used recently that would cause less of a stir than carrying a gun into your local chain coffee house. Of course, there are those who insist that the reason they carry their own weapons is because they feel this is the only way they can protect themselves in today's lawless society. The horribly bizarre irony of the shooting deaths of four policemen in Parkland, Washington last November would seem to be an argument against guns in coffee houses. Whether they are grouchy before getting their caffeine fix, or jittery just after, are patrons at a coffee bar the best candidates to test the second amendment? If so, then shouldn't we train and arm the baristas as well, just in case there's trouble? Isn't that what happened in Afghanistan back in the eighties?
For me, it is yet another example of just how wonderfully things have worked out here in the United States. People are carrying guns just to show off the freedom they are allowed. If I walked into a Starbucks without a shirt or shoes, I would be asked to leave. America is a funny place.
Monday, March 01, 2010
Take Sarah Palin's recent issue with the "R" word. So many different clever things came to mind when I first read of her outrage with an animated TV show. Chief among them was her blank indifference to the fact that the network that aired the offending episode is owned by the same corporation that is currently writing her nice, big checks. Maybe that's what makes her a maverick. I don't know. What I do know is that since I have never been a big fan of "Family Guy" primarily because it seems to exist for the sole purpose of pushing buttons, I didn't feel free to comment. As I just have. But not on the matter of taste. I have no issue with someone who puts themselves in the spotlight being ridiculed. That's part of the game. I'm not a big fan of innocent bystanders.
That's why there's not a lot of Haiti humor making the rounds out there. Taking a big swipe at God's little elf, Pat Robertson for opening his mouth to explain how the Haitians somehow deserved to have their country leveled is completely permissible and encouraged. Maybe Gilbert Gottfried might feel free to explore the comedic possibilities of earthquakes, orca whale attacks, or George Lucas, but you won't find it here.
Maybe it comes from my deep-seated need to be loved. Maybe I've got good taste. Or maybe I'm chicken. Chicken of the sea.