Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallow's Eve

Back on the couch again. This time I'm watching the credits begin to pop up for "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers." I can feel myself tense as I begin to anticipate the measured and deliberate dismemberment of another slew of teenagers in a small Illinois town. I am thinking about what a well timed showing this turns out to be, and how lucky I am to have access to the wide variety of broadcasting offered by cable television. I am looking at a movie that I watched with this same fevered anticipation back in 1988. Then I started to remember the formula by which these teenagers would be killed, with the wicked intent of generating yet another sequel. I was twenty-six when I first saw "Halloween 4." I was sixteen when I saw the first one.
I remember sitting in the band room of our high school with my friend Clark and I sat slack-jawed as Lance Hardesty, who was a year ahead of us, gave a shot-by-shot re-enactment of John Carpenter's magnum opus. We were transfixed, and when we finally went to see the film ourselves a few nights later, it was a terrifying experience that had not been dulled by Lance's bravura performance.
Now I'm creeping toward fifty, and outside the tear gas has dissipated from Oakland's most recent riot. The homicide rate for the year in this city is climbing toward one hundred. The news magazines and Internet are still awash with the matter-of-fact photos of the bloody corpse of Muammar Qaddafi. When I was ten, Halloween was about costumes and Trick-or-Treating. When I was twenty it was about drunken debauchery and pushing back the veil of night. When I was in my thirties I watched my son begin his own pilgrimage up to the porch to beg for candy dressed as a truck. In my forties I have started to wonder what Halloween really is.
I switched the channel to watch the World Series.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Michael Moore's Address To The Occupy Oakland Protesters

I want you folks to remember that no bastard ever won a demonstration by getting hit in the head for his cause. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard get hit in the head for his cause. All this stuff you’ve heard about the ninety-nine percent not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of jail, is a lot of horse hockey. Americans love to demonstrate. All real Americans love the stink and clash of sleeping out in a park. When you were kids, you all admired the sit-ins, the thinnest member of the hunger strike, the big league hippies, and the highest -grossing documentary film makers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to a tie all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in heck for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a non-violent demonstration. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. An occupying non-violent cooperative is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, and fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of hooey. The ninnies who write that silly stuff about individuality for the Utne Reader, don’t know any more about real protest than they do about hydroponic gardening. We have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit, and the best men, women and children in the world. I pity those poor authority-types we’re going up against. We’re not just going to sit here, we’re going to mess up their parks and public plazas and use them as our personal waste stations. We’re going to annoy those lousy one-percenters by the bushel basket. Some of you are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you from my office in Los Angeles that you’ll all do your full duty. The Man is the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their Jamba Juice. Tip over thier garbage cans. When you put your hand into a bunch of poo, that a moment before was in your best friend, you’ll know what to do. There’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying we’re advancing constantly. We’re holding our position, and we’re not interested in advancing onto anything except the next patch of dead grass. We’re going to hold onto ourselves and we're going to hug each other. We’re going to hug each other all the time. We’re going to sit here like geese. There’s one thing you folks will be able to say when you get back home, and you may be thankful for it. Thirty years from now, when you’re sitting around your fireside, with your grandson on your knee, and he asks, “What did you do in the great Occupy Wall Street Demonstration?” You won’t have to say, “Well, I watched it on TV.” Alright, you sons of factory workers, you know how I feel. I’ll be proud to lead you wonderful guys into non-violent demonstration anywhere, anytime, but right now I'm late for a taping of Bill Maher's show. Oh, and don't forget that "Capitalism: A Love Story" is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Amazon.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I see Dawn just about every morning when I ride to work. She's the neighborhood bag lady. I don't use this term in a derogatory way, it is simply the best way I know to describe her. She has bags full of different things, depending on the day. She could be cleaning up the street, or she might be collecting treasure. Some days she looks up from her chores and smiles. Others she keeps her head down, focusing on the task in front of her, whatever that task might be. I've stopped on a couple of occasions to talk, but these chats usually dissolve after a few moments. Maybe it's me, but they don't track very well.
Consequently, I don't know a lot about Dawn outside of our brief encounters on my ride to school. She may be at home the rest of the day, busy making wads of cash on her E-Trade account. She may be living in a mansion up on the hill, making her way down to this corner of the 'hood to help out in any way she can. I do know that Dawn has been having some trouble getting around lately. I watched her negotiate a curb a few weeks ago, and that meant she needed to set her bags down, get herself up out of the street, then pick up the bags again. I didn't see her again for a couple of weeks, and I wondered if she had to retire.
Happily, this week I saw that she had acquired a shopping cart to aid in her constitutionals. I waved, but she was intent on keeping the wheels on the sidewalk, moving straight ahead. She had someplace she needed to be.

Friday, October 28, 2011

To B53 Or Not B53

Another execution took place in Texas. Only this one probably won't have the same groups up in arms as the last one. In Amarillo, the last of the United States B53 nuclear bombs was dismantled. This delivery system for death from above, hundreds of times more powerful than the one that was dropped on Hiroshima, is being taken out of service. The disassembling is taking place one year ahead of schedule as part of the President's goal of reducing our nuclear stockpile.
First put into service in 1962, when Cold War tensions peaked during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the B53 weighed ten thousand pounds and was the size of a minivan. The significant difference would be that you probably couldn't use it to drive the kids to soccer. It was designed to be carried by B-52 bombers with the stated purpose of destroying underground bunkers. Since the Cold War ended a few decades ago (you can blame Ronald Reagan for that), there isn't as big a need to destroy underground bunkers. Instead, our efforts in national defense center around shoes, underwear, and model planes, not to mention the occasional minivan.
It's a different world, and you can expect that we will continue to take apart those weapons of mass destruction as part of our dedication to peace. That's the kind of job creation I'm happy to see. Now there's just about nine thousand, nine hundred left to go.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

That Bites

I thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for delivering with his noodly appendages such a character as Pat Robertson. Over the years he has redefined ridiculous with his moral outrage. He has found ways to connect God to any number of triumphs and tragedies in ways that can best be described as conspiratorial. Usually there is some punishment involved for some perceived oversight or misdeed on the part of the unbelievers. Hurricanes seem to seek out those who don't see the world the way the Reverend Pat does. Death awaits those who don't fall into line with the Gospel According to Robertson.
It happened again last week in Zanesville, Ohio. Terry Thompson, who had recently been released from jail for a gun conviction, chose to settle the accounts of his disturbed life by setting free the fifty-six wild animals that he kept on his farm, including eighteen Bengal tigers. These were among the dozens of animals that were killed as authorities attempted to deal with the bizarre occurrence. While the debate rages on about how the animals were dealt with, both in Mister Thompson's care and after they were set loose on an unsuspecting populace, God's Little Elf has the answer: “God allowed those wild animals to escape because he wanted them to find gay people and bite them.” Citing the Book of Revelation he made explicit reference to “escaped lions, tigers and bears running around Ohio biting gay people” as a prelude to the Rapture.
Pastor Harold Camping reportedly smacked himself in the forehead sighing, "If only I could have seen the signs."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A League Of Their Own

Like every good American, I was watching the World Series on Saturday night, primarily because the college football games were ending and because I wanted to see what was becoming a monumental display of hitting a baseball. Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals was putting on a show with his bat. He hit three home runs, batting in six runs. All of these were tape-measure jobs that seemed to leap out into the Texas night like fireworks. It was an exhibition. I made a point of sharing it with my son, and later my wife, who asked "Was it steroids?"Initially I was shocked. How cynical could this woman be? Degrading our national pastime with such talk. Here's this stunning achievement, and all she can do is imply some sort of conspiracy. How about a little simple appreciation for the physical feat? Under pressure with a worldwide television audience? Can't she just pause long enough to be impressed by the spectacle? Not every professional athlete is fueled by stimulants and bovine growth hormones.Then I noticed a face peering out from the Cardinal dugout. A little older, and perhaps a little wiser: Mark McGwire. One of the original Bash Brothers. The guy who hit seventy home runs in a season. The guy who whiffed mightily in front of Congress when he was asked about taking steroids to enhance his performance on the baseball diamond. He later got around to crying about it to Bob Costas.I guess it would have been better if he had talked to Tom Hanks. There is no crying in baseball. But thanks to guys like Mark, there will always be plenty of questions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shocked And Awed

Is anybody keeping score out there? Yes, I know the economy is still in the tank, and there's probably very little a jobs program or a flat tax or anything short of a redistribution of wealth will fix anytime soon. But didn't I just read that the war in Iraq is over, at least for Americans. The troops are coming home.
Then there's that little matter of Libya, where regime change was accomplished without U.S. soldiers on the ground. The dictator was toppled the old fashioned way: by the people he was oppressing. Okay, maybe the NATO air strikes played a part, but after forty years, the Mad Dog of the Middle East has been put down. And the mastermind behind the Taliban and al-Qaeda was dispatched with quiet efficiency as well. Over the past six months, a great many of the "bad guys" have been sent packing. It's almost as if there was a list or something.
And so it doesn't quite stand up to the image of Hope and Change we might have all imagined on that November evening three years ago, but things are happening. "Terrorists and dictators, lacking the filibuster, have no effective defense against Barack Obama," tweeted Democratic strategist Rebecca Kirszner Katz this past week. It's kind of sad that all of a sudden we have traded our Presidential image from Martin Sheen to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but these are curious times. Maybe some Navy Seals could push through some education reform.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Road Home

I have a lot of memories of Darren. There aren't many days that go by that I don't reference the Okie from Muskogee at some level. I should also point out that one of Darren's chief annoyances was that Merle Haggard had never visited his hometown before he wrote a song about it. I know how deeply connected he was to the wide open plains of Oklahoma. He was proud. And he was lonely.
Part of the reason we became friends in our freshman year of college was that we could not abide by our assigned room mates. Along with another like-minded pal, we forged a bond of laughter and forgetting. The three of us would meet up in the hallway after dinner and we would keep each other company as we navigated the uncertain path of that first year of higher education. They looked at me with mild disdain as I hopped in my car each Friday afternoon and drove a hundred miles back to my home, where my family and girl friend were waiting. Couldn't I just stick around for one weekend?
I never did. I heard stories about the debauchery that took place on our wing while I was gone, and I shared my own about the adventures I had in my home town. I must have been persuasive, since eventually, I managed to get Darren to come along. By the time Spring rolled around, he was making the trip almost as often as I was. By the next fall, he had decided to transfer to the University of Colorado with me.
We got an apartment, found another pair of roommates for the other bedroom, and we set up our bachelor pad. Life was a giddy adventure for a month or two. Then one day I came home from class and found Darren in our room, lying face down on my bed. If he had been drunk, it would have been part of the plan, but instead when he rolled over, I could see that he had been crying. Then it all came out in a rush: He really wanted to go home. He had been on the phone with his father, and he was taking a long weekend to drive back to Oklahoma. "I just need to be home for a while," he explained.
And that was the moment that we stopped being friends in that hungry drunk boy way. Now I understood that part of him that was just like me. He was as connected to the place where he grew up as I was, and his batteries were in need of recharge. When he came back the next week, he regaled me with tales of the three days he spent in Muskogee: curb parties, cruising in the Dyno-Buick, having dinner with the 'rents. It wasn't anything special, but it was incredibly important. We didn't talk about what brought all that travelling on again. We didn't need to. We were friends and always would be.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Isolated Variable

When I dropped out of Elementary Functions in my senior year of high school, I didn't flinch when I dropped into Selected Topics in Math. "Sel Top," as we used to call it, fulfilled my math requirements for graduation, and it gave me plenty of time to catch up on the notes I needed to be writing to my girl friend. Sure, there was a part of me that wished that I could be cruising along at that elevated level of math genius with my very clever friends, but math had suddenly ceased to be a priority for me. On the contrary. I felt released.
From the time I had entered junior high, I was uncomfortably ensconced in the upper echelon of mathematics class. I tested high, so that's where I was placed. The trouble I encountered was that I was much better at taking tests than I was at doing class work. I struggled mightily with the repetition of problem after problem, knowing that there was an answer: one correct answer. That answer routinely sat just outside of my understanding as the hours passed and my homework became a struggle that confounded me on many occasions.
But I continued to pound away, and in spite of my parents' suggestions that I go in early or stay late for help, I was determined to do it myself. This nose to the grindstone ethic kept me going for nearly six years, and when I was confronted by my Elementary Functions teacher, not about my frustrations with the math but rather my flippant attitude in class, I was relieved to be shown the way out. In my mind, there was this thought, the one that echoes in the heads of countless teenagers: "When am I going to use this stuff anyway?"
Now I have the answer: the answer is now. Now I have a son who is doing much of the same math that perplexed me when I was his age. Now he's coming to me for help. Now I am working toward a supplemental math credential. Now I understand rational numbers and domain and range and matrices. Now I understand irony. It comes right after functions.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Signs O' The Times

There have been a number of amusing signs on display at the various "Occupy" demonstrations across the planet. There have been still more on Al Gore's Internet. The message of discontent continues to roil about out there in parks and streets across this great land of ours. While the world continues to sort out just where they stand on this "one percent versus ninety-nine" confrontation. Republicans would like to call it class warfare. Democrats would like to adopt it as their own version of the Tea Party. Plenty of millionaires have offered to pay their fair share. Whatever that is.
"Fair is when everyone gets what they need." These words keep ringing in my head as I consider the way our planet has become so oddly top-heavy. How could it be that one percent of the population controls more than forty percent of the wealth? This didn't happen overnight. Or years. Or even decades. We've had Rockefellers and Kennedys throughout our history. They are routinely held up as "success stories," but how much success does one really need? What about the bottom one percent?
I remember a comedian suggesting that if you are a homeless person with a "funny sign," you haven't been homeless long enough. Back at the "Occupy" camps, sometimes the sentiments are clear, other times they are obscure, but one thing's for sure: sign makers are making a killing off of this.

Friday, October 21, 2011


We live in a world where things fall apart. If you've read the the name of this blog on your way to my typically pithy comments, you understand that I tend to revel in the amount of disorder in a system. Things move from an ordered state to a less ordered state. It's not just a good idea, it's the law.
That's why I expect to have to repair and replace things on a regular basis. The older I get, the more resistant I am to simply scrapping whatever appliance or household item when their usefulness begins to deteriorate. This ensures that we will go through our share of duct tape and glue. We will, as a household, have a vast array of screwdrivers for opening up small cavities to see if the batteries are, in fact, replicable. I will admit that a good deal of this mania is built upon my wife's insistence that we never add to the ever expanding landfill. It also brings great satisfaction to me when a machine can be resurrected. Having that power over life and death, at least in the appliance world, is completely gratifying.
Then there was the matter of our bathroom scale. I went to step on it the other day, and the digital readout came back as a black splotch. I tried to make sense of this information, assuming that I no longer weighed anything, and all of my exercise goals had been achieved. Then I decided to inspect further, using a big toe to try and clear whatever gunk might have been obscuring the screen. I understand that using all these technical terms like "splotch" and "gunk" may be causing some of you to lose the thread of this story, but what I eventually concluded was that the liquid crystal display had been cracked. The scale was, alas, a goner.
I carried the carcass to the front door, where my wife told me she was willing to take it the final few yards to our electronic waste pile. She confessed to having dropped our Sonicare toothbrush on the scale, causing the crack and we both shared a moment of silence at the passing. And then we took come solace in the notion that she would eventually cart the scale and a number of other dead soldiers off to a facility that makes a project out of reinvigorating the damaged and defective appliances that have exceeded our patience and abilities. It goes now to a better place.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


"Are you kidding?"
This is a question I get a lot. Sometimes it's face to face, since my general tone tends to skew to the sarcastic. This failing causes me to have to explain that I probably don't mean a large percentage of the things that fall out of my mouth, but when I am being sincere, you can generally tell by my tone of voice. It is one of the chief problems I have with electronic communication, since I don't always remember to put things in "quotes" or attach an emoticon ;) to let readers know that what I really meant. It's all in the delivery.
This is my struggle, but it made me reflect on the challenges of another less than verbal form of communication: honking your horn. It could be a friendly acknowledgement. It could be an angry response to some perceived slight. It could be the excited plea for help. All of those toots and beeps that form the symphony of the streets are a mass of sound that could signify fury or nothing.
Sure, sometimes the meaning is obvious, helped along with a little gesture or additional verbal utterance. For the most part, however, the cheerful tone of most horns currently in production don't tend to carry the harsh tone that many might intend. They actually sound a little cute or endearing compared to the brash blare of a Dodge station wagon from the seventies. Maybe this was a social engineer's plan: to limit the insult of having someone honk their horn at you. Many people have made up for this lack of harshness by simply leaning on the button that sends the message, creating one long nasal-inflected beep.
Still, it's hard to get the precise meaning when everyone's window is rolled up. That's why I tend to skip the horn when I'm driving. If I really want someone to get my point of view, I'll send them an e-mail.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Value Menu

It makes sense that the former CEO of a fast food franchise would come up with something as eminently simple as his "9-9-9" tax plan. It's like those deals on pizza where you can get any three medium pizzas for just five dollars. No. It's simpler than that, because three and five are different. Nine, nine, nine are all the same. It's so simple even a child could understand it. Perhaps this is why the American public is suddenly fascinated by it.
You have your corporate tax rate: nine percent. You have your personal tax rate: nine percent. You have your national sales tax: nine percent. It's like going to your local Subway franchise during the month of Anytober and getting a foot-long sub for just five dollars. Any foot-long sub. You read that right. We can only assume that under Herman Cain's administration Anytober would be every month, and you could get your twelve inches of delicious sub sandwich on your choice of bread for the low, low price of just five dollars. But what if you want extra cheese? What if you've got a coupon that says you can get a foot-long Meatball Marinara for just three dollars and fifty cents? Can I still get the meal deal if I switch my chips for a cookie?
Which brings us back to Herman's tax plan. What if you're a corporation and you decide that you want an eight and a half percent corporate tax rate because, after all, you're a job creator and everyone else needs you to stimulate the economy so how about just this one time can we see a little flexibility on that nine percent? Since the idea seems to have originated from a video game, why not just type in that cheat code and get started? What if I've got a coupon?
A simpler tax structure would allow our leaders to focus on more important matters such as national security and the war on terror. And opening up new franchises in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fresh Man

This past week was a tumultuous one for my son, the high school freshman. He participated in his first full-fledged Spirit Week, culminating in his first full-fledged Pep Rally. He wore his prescribed freshman colors and sat in his prescribed freshman section and yelled at the top of his lungs when he was asked to. When it was all over, a number of his friends headed out to the football field to watch his school's team take on the hated cross-town rivals. That one didn't end so well for the home team.
But that didn't matter, since by kickoff time he was on his way up the hill and away from all the action. He was on his way with his friend to meet up with his friend's girlfriend. So while the gridiron battle was taking place back at school, my son was exploring the wonders of being a third wheel. The good news is that his friend and his gal pal were happy to include him in all their teen-aged loitering and innocuous conversation. He was not asked to sit through an unwarranted amount of public displays of affection. It was a convivial afternoon among friends.
Thank goodness, since his father certainly spent enough time hanging around as a single in a sea of couples back in high school, or at least that's how it felt. I remember being at school for the ostensible purpose of getting an education, but keeping a thin veil on my actual intention of getting a girlfriend. It was only recently that I arrived at this accounting: I have had three girlfriends in my life, having the good fortune to marry the last in that string. The other two were guests at the wedding. I don't know how bizarre or unique that makes me, but it wasn't how I had imagined it when I was fourteen. By the time I was seventeen, I knew all three of these women. Thirty-two years later, I wonder how I could explain this to my son.
I'm not sure if I told him that he may have already met the love of his life that he would believe me. For that he'll have to wait for his sophomore year.

Monday, October 17, 2011

One Pill Makes You Smaller

Last week, during an otherwise free-wheeling morning chit-chat before I rushed out the door to work, my wife made this provocative suggestion: "I heard that Steve Jobs was a real acid-head." This generated a number of responses in my mind. Perhaps these were the flashbacks that I was warned about back in my hippie days. I avoided most of them and asked for clarification.
"Where did you get this tidbit?"
She told me that she had been discussing Mister Jobs' legacy with our son's substitute English teacher who seemed uniquely qualified to discuss such matters because he had a grey ponytail and was wearing a tie-dye shirt. The idea that psychedelics would open doors of perception and creativity is not a new one. Carols Castendada and Aldous Huxley may not have been there first, and Timothy Leary certainly wasn't the last, but I don't know if personal computing and iPhones are a direct byproduct of expanding one's mind with drugs.
I'm not saying this for any Nancy Reagan, "this is your brain on drugs" reason. I am merely reflecting personal experience. Even though I can say that I am pleased and happy that I came back from all the trips I ever took with a little better understanding of my place in the world, along with memories of my college apartment turning into the Copacabana, I don't believe that my most creative moments occurred under the influence of psychedelics. From time to time, it came to me in a flash that I should be writing some of this stuff down, rather than simply staring at the carpet. One such impulse generated an open letter to Victoria Principal: "Dear Victoria, Meet a nice guy. Settle down."
That was it. The world's problems solved, or at least Ms. Principal's dating woes. Other times, my friends and I would sit in front of the television, watching skits by Monty Python, certain that all the members of that troupe must have been tripping hard when they wrote and filmed those episodes. It was only after years of calm reflection that I realized that the precise wordplay and timing would have been impossible in the wobbly world of psychedelics. Inspired by moments of drug-addled hysteria? Possibly. But the actual production of movies, TV, music and the arts beyond almost certainly required a clear head.
Then there's this: A letter from LSD inventor Albert Hoffman to Steve Jobs. It would seem that Mister Jobs was never coy about his own drug use. He called his LSD use "one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life." The cynic in me wonders what he might have produced if he had remained drug-free. The bitter me wonders if there is some chromosomal connection between pancreatic cancer and the use of mind-altering substances. The fellow tripster wonders what Steve was scribbling on his pad when he was eight miles high. I'll bet he had a much better solution to Victoria Principal's love life.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Body Count

Here in Oakland, we're getting ready to replace our police chief. Chief Batts resigned just two years into his three year contract, citing the bureaucratic challenges as the main reason he found it hard to get his job done. He didn't mention that it's pretty hard to get a job done when people are shooting at you.
Most of us don't have to think about this. It was only fairly recently that being a teacher here was a gunfire-related profession. There were three separate lockdown incidents in the first two days of school in the Oakland Unified School District. There are plenty of kids at my school who openly share about this relative or that friend who got shot. It's part of the world in which they live. And die.
There aren't many days that go by when I can read my local news without a report of a shooting, drive-by or otherwise. The residents of the "sleepy little town" in southern California didn't expect to have to read about eight people being gunned down in and around a local beauty salon. Seal Beach, after all, is not Oakland. I'm not guessing that the police chief of that "sleepy little town" will be tendering his resignation anytime soon. Orange County was happy to report that this was the first mass shooting since 1976. Those are the ones that make the TV cameras show up. There's not a lot of network coverage of the weekly body count here in Oakland. It made my wife wonder if there have been days when the casualty rate of the United States outstripped that of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My guess is that Chief Batts won't be looking at any of those locales for a relief from the bureaucracy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Victory Through Apathy

Every so often a moment in time sets off my conspiracy alarm. The one that got me going this time was the announcement that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is going to plead guilty to eight charges he faced, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted murder. You might remember when Umar was caught "red handed" a couple of Christmases ago, trying to blow up a plane with his underwear. Now, almost two years later, the trial of this accused terrorist is going to go quietly into the night, or prison for-what-amounts-to-ever.
Why just send yourself off to jail without a chance to shout loudly from the defense table? Why give up the opportunity to keep the face of al Qaeda's most notorious living martyr out of the twenty-four hour news cycle?
Well, there was some evidence: Abdulmutallab was badly burned in a plane full of witnesses. The government said he told FBI agents he was working for al-Qaeda and directed by Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, American-born Muslim cleric recently killed by the U.S. in Yemen.There are also photos of his scorched shorts as well as video of Abdulmutallab explaining his suicide mission before departing for the U.S. Okay. So maybe "not guilty" would have been a stretch, but since when has that been an issue for al Qaeda?
The conspiracy twitch tells me it has something to do with Anwar al-Awlaki. He was the one the U.S. killed with a drone. Not underwear. A model plane. Maybe the reason this whole thing is just going away is sheer embarrassment.

Friday, October 14, 2011

While Rome Burns

As the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations continue, and begin to spread to other streets, I continue to be impressed by their tenacity if not their cohesion. The most recent reports of unrest in Boston, Philadephia, St. Louis, and San Francisco attest to the surging unrest among the "ninety-nine percent." It is, for many, reminiscent of another time. My mother talked with me over the weekend about the times she has seen the people rise up during her lifetime. Riots and protests are nothing new to her: the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, Opposition to the war in Vietnam. Change has come, but never quickly.
Flip the channel to sports: National Basketball Association Commisioner David Stern announced that the owners and players are are still separated by a "gulf." That meant that he was forced to cancel the first two weeks' games of the season. Stern said he was "sorry" and "sad" to announce the cancellation. I suspect that the owners and players are "sorry" and "sad" as well. That means that some of these people might slip down into the ninety-nine percent. The salary for an incoming rookie in the NBA is more than four hundred thousand dollars a year. That would qualify them to move into that one percent. Veteran players make much more, with the average salary coming in at just over five million dollars a year. The figures for owners are a little more complex, but I think it's fair to expect that none of them are joining the protestors out on the streets.
But what about the families of the concession workers and custodians of the arenas where those games won't be played? The drivers of charter busses, taking teams and fans to and from venues? Professional gamblers can probably make out all right by switching to the over/under bet on when the season might resume, but the rest of us? The business of professional sports continues, with the most ironic place on the map being Detroit, where the sports continue to be played while the city itself falls into ruin. Meanwhile, that gulf continues to grow.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


When I was in fourth grade, I had a wonderful art teacher. She spoiled me for all the art teachers I would have from that point until my undergraduate days when I maintained, for about a semester, a major in studio art. What Ms. Kunesh taught me was this: Use your mistakes. Don't erase. Just keep going and you'll find a way to use that big black line through the middle of your paper. I've carried this with me, and I believe that Hank Williams Jr. got the message too.
A week and a half ago Hank Jr., Bocephus to all his rowdy friends, did something that he has done for most of his life: He shot off his mouth in public. On "Fox and Friends," he compared Barack Obama to Hitler, and then referred to the President and Vice President as "the Three Stooges." The first thing that occurred to me was to wonder how two guys could be three stooges, but that's not where Junior made his big mistake. His employers, the very sensitive folks over at Entertainment Sports Programming Network, which is a part of the American Broadcasting Corporation, which is in itself a part of the Walt Disney company, were watching. They decided that his views did not reflect those of the parent corporation and his twenty-two year run as the introduction to Monday Night Football.
A lot of people wanted to make it about free speech. A lot of people were happy to declare their allegiance to Bocephus, including Whoopi Goldberg and Jon Stewart. But at the end of the day, if you make your boss mad, you probably won't keep your job. You can share your opinions outside, but not from the worldwide cable network and the undisputed leader in sports programming.
And so that's what Hank Williams Jr. did. He and some of those rowdy friends put together a song that calls out both ESPN and "Fox and Friends." It goes: "So Fox 'n Friends wanna put me down/Ask for my opinion/Twist it all around." He finishes the verse: "Well two can play that gotcha game you'll see." Now that Sarah Palin has quit before she even began running for president, the country might be ready for some Bocephus.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Have A Little Faith

I hope it doesn't get me into trouble with my liberal friends, but I kind of feel sorry for Mitt Romney. Part of me wants to revel in the fact that other Republicans seem to be delighting in all of the infighting that has been taking place over the past couple of months, leaving us all to wonder if there will be anyone left standing to take up the nomination by the time the convention rolls around next summer. I don't know if Nietzsche was a Republican, but whatever doesn't kill these men and women might not make them stronger. It might just make them want to give up public service all together.
Take for example the conservative right's willingness to chew on each other unrelentingly until it's time to chew on Democrats. Last week, Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, gave an interview in which he said that Mormonism was not a Christian faith and was a cult. Mitt Romney is, via this reasoning, part of a cult. Opinions seem to run like longhorn steers in Texas, but this one was notable because it came out of the same mouth that introduced Governor Rick Perry just moments before. It was reminiscent of all of the fuss stirred up about Barack Obama's faith during the election of 2008: Is he a Muslim? Does Jeremiah Wright speak for him? Of course back then these slings and arrows were being flung by the other party. Even though Rick Perry was quick to distance himself from Pastor Jeffress' comments, the question of one person's faith has become an issue again.
Like way back when people worried that the Vatican would take root in the United States if John F. Kennedy was elected. That didn't happen, and I doubt that Mister Romney has any visions of moving the White House to Salt Lake City either. It is the kind of “poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause.” What cause might that be? For the good pastor, it would be working to choose another evangelical “who embraces historic Christianity." You know, the kind that that is certain that "all Scripture is divinely inspired and serves as the final authority in all matters of belief and behavior." Baptism, by the way, is not a cult. But they know one when they see it.
Maybe Mitt could help himself out by talking Tom Cruise into taking a shot at the next GOP debate.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Black And Silver Blues

The king is dead. Long live the king. In this permutation, the king in question is Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders. He was the craggy old face of that franchise from its inception, first as general manager, then owner. His football credentials were solid, having coached in both the college and pro ranks before moving into the front office to stay. Or at least that was what we all might have expected. Al Davis never really gave up coaching. Unlike so many other owners of sports teams, he was unwilling to simply sit idly by in his luxury box, grinning or wincing in response to the action on the field. For better or worse, Al took an active interest in his team. Sometimes that meant threatening to move from one city to another. Sometimes it meant inserting himself in contract negotiations with players. Sometimes it meant drawing up plays that he wanted to see. Sometimes all this "help" got in the way of the coaching staff that he had hired to carry off his simple edict: "Just win, baby."
It was easy for me to hate Al. He was the enemy. As a Denver Broncos fan, born and raised, there were few sights that would get my hackles up faster than the mere sight of Al's slicked back hair atop his silver and black track suit. He seemed to revel in the reputation his teams generated: rebellious and tough, sometimes to a fault. He took chances on players that no one else seemed to want. He helped himself to the last few years of character issues like Lyle Alzado and Bill Romanowski. Bad boys just seemed to find a place on the Raiders' roster.
All of that was fine through the later part of the last century. Al won three Super Bowls, and he seemed close to getting another one when Tom Brady helped define a rule that had may not have existed before that night in Foxboro. Somehow, it was almost fitting that a team that had made a practice out of breaking rules were undone by one that had been hanging around waiting for someone to run into it.
After that, the fortunes of the silver and black went precipitously south. The "commitment to excellence" Al trumpeted all those years became a sad reminder of a once proud franchise. It got bad enough that there were plenty of die-hard Raider fans who wished that the head Raider would just go away so that the team could find its winning ways. It got bad enough that when the Broncos beat the Raiders, I actually felt a little bad.
A little. Now I feel more than a little sad. Al is gone and so is the anchor for all that antagonism over the years. Hating the Raiders will be a little bit harder from now on. And that will be a little less fun. Aloha, Al. Thanks for the memories.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bouncing Back

At the beginning of the year, as we teachers were busy setting up our classrooms, I stopped by to see how the third grade was shaping up. The lady who has been at the school longer than me pointed to the light fixture hanging from the ceiling. "Notice anything different?" I stared blankly for a moment, then smiled: "The paper airplane isn't there anymore." She was glad that I noticed. Thomas, a student that she had shepherded through the first grade, then the third grade before moving along to my fourth grade class, had tossed it up there years before. It had stayed as a reminder of his manic presence. Even after he had moved on.
Last week he came back. He was doing that thing that a lot of kids do when they get to middle school. He had come back to see if we were all still standing. He was looking for some permanence. He seemed much calmer and mature. The three years we had spent apart allowed us to meet again and shake hands. All of those frustrations and challenges were behind us. Not gone. Not forgotten. Just behind us.
He asked me about who was still at the school that he might remember. I asked him who he still saw from his old crew. We talked about his family. His sister was pregnant. His brother had just been released from juvenile hall and was sporting a number of new tattoos, including one on each hand: "Jail" and "Free." His brother was two years older and had been in my class too. I tried to imagine the curve of life that would take him from the mischief in my room to juvenile hall. I thought about the neighborhood and realized it wasn't a stretch. The fact that I was talking with Thomas in this relaxed manner was probably the surprise. He let me know that he and his family were living "across the street" from the school now. It made me wonder how long it might be before we saw his niece or nephew coming through our doors. It made me think about patterns and how hard they are to change. It made me think of paper airplanes.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

To Infinity And Beyond

I asked my son how he felt about the passing of Steve Jobs. He replied, "I'm sad. But then again, I don't care." I found his honesty refreshing, especially since his ambivalence reflected my own. I appreciate the world of change that Mister Jobs and his company has ushered in over the past thirty years. I might be sitting at this keyboard currently tapping away at my innermost thoughts, but I might not be preparing to ship them off into the blogosphere to share them with the rest of the planet. The way I listen to music has changed forever. The way I buy music has changed even more dramatically.
Steve Jobs didn't invent the technology as much as he made it infinitely more consumable. He made it cute. He made it shiny. And in some cases, he made it affordable. He accomplished something that the makers of other adhesive strips wish that Band-Aids had been able to do. These days, if someone asks if about an iPod, it can be assumed that the mp3 player you carry around is what they are talking about. The fact that he seems to have appropriated the first person pronoun to describe any and all personal electronics suggests marketing genius. He created the Coca-Cola of computing.
He also managed to stay outside of the bubble of CEOs and billionaires who have become detested and despised because of their wealth and machinations. His salary? A dollar a year. That figure didn't include his shares in his own company. Or his shares in Walt Disney's company. Or any other shares of anyone else's company across the globe. Be assured that Steve Jobs didn't die of hunger.
And it reminds me of the best gift that he gave me, personally: Woody and Buzz. Thank you Steve, and good luck on your most recent launch.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

It's a Grand Old Party

And now, a partial list of those who will not be seeking the Republican Party's nomination to run for President of the United States:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Former Alaska Governor and reality TV star Sarah Palin
Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels
Former Governor of Florida Jeb "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" Bush
Governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour
Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee
Governor of Louisiana Bobby "Bobby" Jindal
Former Governor of New York George "Tacky" Pataki
Congressman, not Governor, from Michigan Thaddeus McCotter
Real Estate Mogul, Reality TV Show Star, and fussy-pizza-eater Donald Trump
Senator from South Dakota John "Tommy" Thune
Congressman from Indiana
Mike Pence
Mayor of New York City Michael "No Really, I'm A Republican" Bloomberg
Senator from South Carolina Jim "De Sugar-Free" DeMint
Former President of the United States Richard Nixon
Former President of the United States and Former Democrat Ronald Reagan
Former President of the United States Abraham Lincoln
Former Sith Lord Darth Vader
Former lead singer of Creed Scott Stapp
Please mark your ballots accordingly.

Friday, October 07, 2011

A Point In Every Direction Is The Same As No Point At All

I remember my first protest. I stood around in a parking lot with hundreds of other like-minded souls, looking to shut down the military recruitment centers located in a strip mall in my home town. Except the longer I stood there, the less-like-minded I began to feel with those around me. I listened to as much of the rhetoric as I could understand through the garbled sound system, and I looked around at the various signs and placards that were being held up around me. I was there to slow or stop the flow of soldiers to Iraq during the first Gulf War: Operation Desert Storm.
I remember being conflicted because I appreciated the sacrifice that our volunteer military was making, but I was concerned that it was far too easy to get whipped up into a patriotic frenzy and suddenly find oneself on the firing line. That's what I thought these other people were there to protest.
Well, as it turns out, some people just like a good protest, and they don't care what the issue is. They'll bring their own: Gays in the military, oil company divestment, animal rights. Wait a second. How did that last guy get in? Okay, I could probably make the connection if given time, we're all sentient beings and no one wants to be forced to live, work or play in conditions that they feel are untenable. But aren't we losing focus?
I stayed long enough to hear a few more speakers describe how their causes were inexorably attached to the one for which we had all come together, whatever that was, and then someone announced that we were going to march. Out into the city to disrupt or redirect the general commerce and traffic of the city, including a stop at the local Hooters. I didn't stick around to hear if this was because of the objectification of women or the need for a few hundred orders of four alarm wings. The recruiting stations had been closed for more than two hours, and so the mob's job was done. There was plenty of wrongs left to right, and the night was young.
The Occupy Wall Street protests have certainly had their high profile moments, but I am as mystified by their intent as I was on that February evening so long ago. I can get behind many of the splinters in their platform, but some of them leave me confounded. Meanwhile, Wall Street remains open for business. At least we closed the recruiting station for a couple of hours. I'm probably too old to understand. Or too young.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Talkin' Trash

Last Sunday morning I came back from my run feeling energized. So much so that I felt I felt the urge to pull on a pair of work gloves, roll my trash cans to the curb and take on the litter that had begun to pile up on the street where I live. Part of the experience of running through the urban lanes and paths of Oakland is being made acutely aware of the way that my fellow citizens seem to casually leave bits of paper, plastic and sundry debris wherever it happens to fall. I collected half a barrel of trash over the course of an hour. In some ways, it felt like a victory. Not because I had filled the can half-full, but because it was still half-empty.
Admittedly, my street benefits from a regular sweeping by the city. I can also say that we have a number of residents on our street who have made efforts to limit the garbage that swirls around the fences and sidewalks of our neighborhood. But there are still those moments of blank confusion as I stare at what was once an entire meal from Jack In The Box, flattened and smeared for twenty feet. I try and imagine what sort of emergency that would have required the eater of such a repast to jettison his or her waste so abruptly on the street. Perhaps they were ambulance drivers and they had just been called to a house nearby where the victims had just been overcome by their own fast-food allergy. Throwing all that trash on the street actually saved lives. Or not.
Mostly, however, I assume that the prevailing sentiment of the litterbugs is that someone else would clean up after them. Last Sunday, they got their wish. I kept thinking about the visceral reaction I have to seeing anyone throw trash on the ground, brought on by years of walking around the woods of Colorado, and being reminded of just how important it is to take care of your own garbage. Pack it in? Pack it out. Woodsy the Owl. Iron Eyes Cody. And that green and yellow eco-flag that existed on the bumpers of Volkswagen buses across this great land of ours back in the 1970's. I know that I will be back out in the streets in a few weeks, picking up somebody else's trash. It's in my head.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Working It Out

The insult that made a man out of Mac: "Listen here, I'd smash your face... Only you're so skinny you might dry up and blow away." And with that, Mac hustles off to his home gym and, with the aid of Charles Atlas' book, he transforms his skeletal frame into that of a ripped Hero of the Beach. According to the ad, that was in the back of most every comic book I can remember buying for a very long time, it only took a "little while," or one frame, to make this somewhat magical metamorphosis. This allows Mac to become the guy who smashes faces. Hooray for Mac!
This was what was going through my head as I finished up my workout over the weekend. Three to five days a week, I spend thirty minutes to an hour with the expressed interest in getting that build for which Mac became famous. Running. Push-ups. Sit-ups. Yoga. Punching bag. Sweating. Straining. Exercising. It makes me wonder how long "a little while" really is.
Then I started remembering the comics that came before that ad. Spider Man. Captain America. The Incredible Hulk. Spidey and Hulk had various doses of radiation to thank for turning nerdy science-types into chiseled examples of manhood. Sure, maybe your skin turned green, or you have a propensity to stick to walls, but think of all that time you didn't have to spend working out. Then there's Cap, also known to his intimates as Steve Rogers. Steve just wanted to serve his country. He just wanted to fight and kill some Nazis. But since he was 4F, he wasn't allowed to. Not until he was given a dose of Super Soldier Serum. Now he could fill out those tights and skipped all that time in the weight room. Suddenly, I understood the rationale for steroids: The injection that made a man out of Mac.
I think I'll stick to the exercise regimen. At least this way I don't have to go toe-to-toe with Doctor Doom.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Up In The Air

U.S. officials said Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, was killed in a CIA drone strike last Friday. These same U.S. officials hailed the developments as successes for Washington and its partners in the fight against Islamic militancy. You remember drones, right? The little unmanned flying machines that bring death from the sky via remote control. Why put a pilot in danger? It can all be done with a twist of a joystick and the push of a button. And with that, yet another senior U.S. defense official said. "A very bad man just had a very bad day."
Meanwhile, across a vast ocean, a twenty-six-year-old man from a Boston suburb was arrested last Wednesday and accused of plotting to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol with remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives. Rezwan Ferdaus hoped to use military-jet replicas, five feet to seven and a half feet long, guided by GPS devices and capable of speeds over one hundred miles per hour. "The idea of pushing a button and this thing diving into the Pentagon is kind of a joke, actually," said Greg Hahn, technical director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. How ridiculous would that be? Flying an unmanned flying machine to bring death from the sky via remote control. Don't make me laugh.

Monday, October 03, 2011

On Target

Say what you will about our Commander In Chief, but please redirect your fire away from his wife. I'm not just saying this because I'm one of those wonky liberals. I am that. But I also believe that if the chips were down, she would probably be more than able to take care of herself. She works out.
The reason I feel compelled to make this plea, more than two years into her family's residence in the White House, is this: Not only did she not run for the office, she would probably be just a little happier if she wasn't The First Lady. My case in point: Last week, Michelle Obama went on a little shopping trip at her local Target. The first question that pops in to my mind is this: Isn't there some other minion capable of popping down to the local discount emporium to pick up some foot powder or some of those plastic tubs for organizing knick-knacks. Still, with access to all that information and intelligence, how could you simply overlook the weekly Target Bargain Flyer? Maybe she's helping out her husband by searching for the absolute lowest price on everyday items. She's a team player
But mostly, Ms. Obama said that she missed doing "normal stuff," and though she had a Secret Service detail there to scope things out before she began her shopping, she pushed her own cart and left without a fuss. Maybe that's what Sarah Palin, in her heart of hearts, wishes for as well. It's just so darn hard to find a place to park that bus.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Bad Press

At last, something the Great Satan and its most persisten enemy can agree on: Would Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad please shut up already? Yes, it would appear that al Qaeda is tired of the Members Only model spouting off his conspiracy theories about September 11, 2001. In the latest issue of the al Qaeda English-language magazine "Inspire", an author appears to take offense to the "ridiculous" theory repeatedly spread by Ahmadinejad that the 9/11 terror attacks were actually carried out by the U.S. government in order to provide a pretext to invade the Middle East.
For the hard-working terrorist, al Qaeda is the blue-collar upstart to the poseur bad boy clerics in Iran. When it comes to anti-Americanism, Iran feels like they should be leading the way. But really, what have they done lately? Starting up a nuclear weapons program? That's so bourgeoisie. When was the last time they got their hands dirty? Took some hostages? Blew up a car? Sure, there was a time when Iran could be counted on for those kind of shennanigans, but these days? Addressing the United Nations and clearing the room is hardly what we could call a terrorist act.
Iran continues to spread the conspiracy theory, al Qaeda says, because doing otherwise would expose their "lip-service jihad" against the United States. This reminds me of the old joke about the dumb terrorist who burned his mouth trying to blow up a car. Maybe they can work out their differences and get back to us once they've decided who the real bad guys are.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Just Play The Game

I shouldn't complain. I have a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. I know that there are a certain number of articles in every issue that will be more interesting to me than others, but I tend to use the magazine as a test of the week: If I can make it through, from cover to cover, I will mark it as a successful week. I have some measure of completion. All of that to say that I wish that I hadn't read the piece written by "Survivor" host Jeff Probst.
Not that there was anything patently offensive or outwardly disturbing about it. There was some discussion of the relative discomforts of both cast and crew of the show, including encounters with leeches and other insects. There was a recapitulation of the time a cast member fell into a fire and had his hand horribly burned. Those weren't the things that stuck with me. Instead I was struck, once again, about the relative reality depicted on the CBS TV show.
Jeff would like us all to be impressed by the humanity on display during each and ever episode, in front and behind the camera. He wants us to be impressed by the triumph of the human spirit, and the way that people's true natures are on display on a weekly basis. He lauds the heroes around the tribal campfires. The ones who are all trying to earn a million dollar prize.
He enthuses about how all of this is done "LIVE" and "WITHOUT WRITERS." Really? It seems to me that any edited version of reality is less than real. It also occurs to me that somebody must be coming up with those immunity challenges somewhere, possibly even writing them down in advance. Are the words coming out of their mouths "real?" Perhaps, but only as a reaction to a heavily fabricated pseudo-castaway experience that occurs under the watchful eye of the camera.
Okay, I have never seen an episode. I don't plan on it. I prefer to have my drama and comedy the old-fashioned way: Made Up. So, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and finish the rest of the video game reviews in this issue.