Friday, August 31, 2012

Watching Big Brother

It would be easy to say that I have my older brother to thank for not having to sit on a jury this summer. The fact that I sat there for four days waiting to explain my connection to law enforcement to the defense and prosecution means that I did my civic duty. When it came time to sit down in front of a judge and describe my feelings, as I was asked, I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I talked about my relationship with my older brother, who has been in the peace officer business since I was graduating high school. I've talked with him about the things that he wanted to, and he gave me insight to some things that I hadn't considered. When the judge asked me if this relationship, and whether it might color or shade my ability to be a fair and unbiased juror, I told the truth: "Yes."
I told the judge that my older brother was a hero of mine, and if that kept me from sitting on a jury for a murder case where a number of law enforcement officers would be called as witnesses, I said I was okay living with that bias. Of course, one of the things that my older brother has taught me over the years is that there are bad cops, just like there are bad teachers, bad stock brokers, and bad sport fisherman. I know that I need to look at every situation through a questioning lens. If that lens has a blue tint to it, that's a burden which I am comfortable accepting. The bottom line is that my older brother has been doing his duty for his adult life so that I could do mine. This is the kind of guy he is. He does the tough jobs, and then he goes back and does it again. I want to believe I do the same thing, or try. It's his birthday today, and I want him to know that he's my hero. And that's the truth.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet?

Sure, who wouldn't want to hook up with the Man of Steel? He's Superman, after all, and that kind of name recognition doesn't just drop out of the sky like a rocket from Krypton every day. I do wonder why Supes would have a thing for Lois Lane, not that she's not a lovely person with a terrific personality. I hear she's a swell dancer too. But she's not very good at her job. Metropolis' best investigative reporter seems to have spent the last seventy-five years or so being baffled by one of the simplest disguises ever: a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. Didn't she notice that that schlub Clark Kent was really filling out that dull blue suit jacket that he seemed to wear to every assignment? Maybe that's why the son of Jor-El decided to make the big leap this month and start dating someone with more similar interests and abilities.
Yes, if you missed it, Superman was last seen canoodling with Wonder Woman on the cover of "Justice League." The folks over at DC Comics are quick to point out that this is not an alternate reality, or a Bobby Ewing pops out of the shower after Pam has dreamed an entire season of "Dallas." This is a real and true power-couple. Lois Lane? She's probably working on her resume. Print media, after all is dead. Perry White has, no doubt, gone on to run a cable news network, and Jimmy Olsen is going to have to be satisfied with working as a "frequent contributor" to The Daily Beast.
It's sad when things don't work out, but I do hope that this new romance has a chance, but with all the super and wonderful expectations, I expect the pair will have their share of problems. I wonder if this means Superman will have to give up his Fortress of Solitude. Bruce Wayne is probably laughing all the way to his Batman Cave.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Good Luck, Mister Armstrong

"Good luck, Mister Gorsky!" These words were supposed to have been spoken by Neil Armstrong after he had taken his first stroll about our moon's surface, climbing back into his lunar module, or LEM as we space geeks referred to it. As a space geek, I never bothered much with the Mister Gorsky quote. I was more impressed with the presence of mind Neil showed as he remembered that the mikes and cameras were on as he dropped off one of the spidery legs of that odd looking craft where no man had gone before. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The chance that all those other satellites and probes that had gone before hadn't picked up on the voracious man-eating spores that awaited those first steps, or the way the crust was just a thin layer which would swallow up a figure of just that particular mass and density couldn't have been playing in his ear as he hopped into history. The fact that he misspoke his scripted lines by an indefinite article or if that "a" was lost somewhere in the 238,857 miles between the Eagle and Mission Control is inconsequential. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
I'm sure it pained Michael Collins to be left up in the Command Module, looking down on all that fun, and Buzz Aldrin had the relative distinction of being second. Everyone watched. It was the only time I can remember that my father cranked up the generator at our mountain cabin to make enough electricity to run a TV. We watched with fascination along with the rest of the world. Sure, the Russians were probably gnashing their teeth, but there was no denying what they saw. That came later.
I suppose we can all thank Neil for being that clever, brave, or foolhardy for taking that chance for all of us. He wasn't turned to dust or chased away by sprites. He kicked up some dust, collected some rocks, and came home. And he made Mister Gorsky very happy. I hope he enjoys this trip into the unknown just as much.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Prospering While Cheating

Yes, I was one of those who cheered when Lance Armstrong won his seventh Tour de France. Even way back then, I heard the voices in the background shouting, "Cheater!" Consequently, I cheered a little quieter. It was a great story, if you could block out all those questions about drugs and blood doping and all those things that boiled down to the same sentiment: "Cheater!" All that stuff about cancer survivor and American succeeding on a world stage was tempered by that refrain. "Cheater!"
Shoeless Joe Jackson, who holds the third highest batting batting average in baseball history, was banned from the game. "Say it ain't so, Joe." Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's record for hits by a single player, but "Charlie Hustle" won't be getting into the Hall of Fame anytime soon because he bet on baseball, and a whole lot of other things. The University of Colorado football team still celebrates their shared National Championship, even though they needed five downs to beat Missouri on their way to their Orange Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
On any given day, the sports page reads a little like True Crime: This guy's drunk, that guy's hitting his wife, another one is drinking while driving and hitting his wife. In the course of one week, the Bay Area lost two of their baseball stars to fifty game suspensions for using performance enhancing drugs. To be clear, the players were the ones taking testosterone, whether or not the whole Bay Area was taking hormones is their own private business.
And in the background, Roger Clemens is pitching for the Sugarland Skeeters. And Lance Armstrong was in a bike race. Until cheating becomes a sanctioned event in the Olympics, I guess I'll just continue to cheer*.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Public Service

How do we learn? By making mistakes. If we were all open to new experiences, such as being wrong. Last week, central Florida resident Mike Maisonneuve told local police that a gun with bullets and a knife were stolen from his unlocked car in his driveway. When he returned home from making his report, he he found a plastic bag next to the front door with words scribbled on both sides. On one side of the bag was the equation, "LOADED GUN unlocked car = STUPID!!" Turning the bag over, he read this reminder: "LOTS of children in area."
Inside the bag, he found his gun and knife. He did not find any bullets. "My mind's been other places the last week or so. I thought I locked my car. Apparently I didn't," he said. "I learned a lesson, a valid lesson" Maisonneuve told the local television station. "I should not carry a loaded firearm in my car."
Good enough, Mike. Now let's try a few more while we're at it:
Don't sleep in the subway.
Don't shave with a Ginsu knife.
Don't stick anything smaller than your elbow up your nose.
Meanwhile, the police are still looking for the person or persons who took Mike's bullets. Let's hope it's to congratulate, not arrest them.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Living The Dream

A few days ago, I read a teacher friend's blog that described the experience of waking up with that feeling that things were not as prepared as he had hoped in his classroom. That this piece was written upon reflection after being out of the teaching game for a year didn't make it any more real. Especially the part about showing up without any pants.
To say that I can relate is an understatement. Most of the time, I don't even bother with the dreams, I just wake up with a start and lay there in the dark, imagining all the ways that the first day of school could go wrong. I do know that having a lockdown on the first day of school would trump last year's experience, but I hope that's not the contest in which we end up competing. Instead, I prefer to catalog the little ways that things can drift south of going well, like the school's Internet connection winking out. The Internet connection that runs our phones, clocks, and bells, in addition to giving our teachers access to lesson plans that they chose to e-mail themselves rather than be stuck with all that paper that they were bound to lose anyway.
This reality is the one that runs right alongside the inevitable first day of school graffiti-fest. The one in which the neighborhood toughs take the opportunity to greet all the incoming kids with barely legible spray painted homages to their fallen heroes. The same ones that were painted over on the last week of school before vacation. Still, the persistent requests from emerging readers to help sound out the words they see on the wall is always a unique challenge.
Add to this the eternal struggle of corralling a group of three hundred and fifty kids into classrooms where they aren't sure they want to be, and a portion of those who just happen to be in the wrong room anyway. We'll straighten it out. It's always much harder to do at night. The night before the first day of school. Over the next one hundred and eighty instructional days, it gets easier. The dream never goes away completely. There's always something lost or broken or in need of clarification. But, as Mister Peabody reminds us, at least I've got my pants.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Don't Mess With Texas

I have a cousin who married a guy from Lubbock, Texas. It's also the birthplace of Buddy Holly. It's also where you'll find Judge Tom Head, who is currently bucking the Republican trend of no new taxes because he believes that if Barack Obama is re-elected in November that he will need more deputies to deal with the incipient Civil War. 
"He's going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens?," Head asked."I'm thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we're not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we're talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy. Now what's going to happen if we do that, if the public decides to do that? He's going to send in U.N. troops. I don't want 'em in Lubbock County. OK. So I'm going to stand in front of their armored personnel carrier and say 'you're not coming in here.' And the sheriff, I've already asked him, I said 'you gonna back me' he said, 'yeah, I'll back you'. Well, I don't want a bunch of rookies back there. I want trained, equipped, seasoned veteran officers to back me."
While Lubbock's Sheriff, Kelly Rowe, recently asked commissioners for more personnel, he also told local newspapers that he had never discussed these "worst-case scenarios" with Judge Head. This had the somewhat immediate effect of causing the judge to explain that his original comments about Obama in the White House and Democrats controlling the Senate were taken out of context. However: "I have some opinions what they're doing and what they're trying to do if they stay in power," he said. "And I have to prepare for that." The good news for Judge Head? If Democrats do gain some power, they might just fully fund that mental health program that seems to have gone to seed.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Uncle Creepy

"I don't think they are making them an elevated art form. I think it's still Batman running around in a stupid cape. I just don't think it's elevated." This was the review David Cronenberg gave to "The Dark Knight Rises." I have encountered a number of opinions that echo these sentiments, from friends to film critics around the globe. They have had the mild effect of dampening my own enthusiasm for Christopher Nolan's Caped Crusader trilogy. As the fifty-year-old father of a teenage boy, I should be the one rolling my eyes as he begs me to take him to see the summer's next blockbuster, or simply dropping him off at the theater so that he and his adolescent buddies can get their action-movie glands squeezed for a couple of hours.
Nope. I was there on opening day. I enjoyed the boom, crash, and bang. I liked the size of the story, but under it all the thing that makes it all work is the tale of this twisted individual bent on revenge. Who is this David Cronenberg, anyway? The director of a number of films about twisted individuals, who happen to be bent on revenge. For me, the biggest difference is that in Cronenberg's movies, that individual tends to stay twisted. Christopher Nolan offers his protagonists a way to untie the knot.
Way back when, David Cronenberg made a name for himself by directing a number of creepy, low-budget science fiction movies. His big break came when he was offered the chance to direct a big-budget remake of "The Fly." Then he went on to make a whole slew of medium-budget creepy movies. I found them all fascinating, but I can't help but feel that this most recent outburst comes at a point of professional jealousy. Twentieth Century Fox has decided not to make his suggested reboot of his 1986 creepfest. But let's be honest: A guy running around in a black rubber suit maiming and beating on people wouldn't be out of place in a David Cronenberg film. Maybe we should ask David Lynch to settle this.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pigskin Preview

Last week, as I was taking my daily stroll around the high school campus where I was attending a teacher training institute, I had a moment of what could be described as clarity. This is to say that, for me, it felt like a revelation. I have decided to take some of my personal emphasis on the upcoming presidential election on the upcoming congressional races. My justification for this re-framing issued forth from that font of all important rationalizations in my world: Fantasy Football.
Having Peyton Manning on your team is a great way to get points, especially if he's having a good day. The downside is that he only gets points for a fraction of the total yards for which he throws the ball. If he's running for first downs as well, it can start to add up, but then you end up with a Tebow experience, and that's never fully satisfying. Instead, it's better to have two or three players, a running back and a couple of receivers who can score points in addition to the quarterback. If the metaphor has been totally lost at this point, I will redefine: In this model, the president equals the quarterback, and the legislative branch is where you find your tight ends and the like. Policy is established in the Executive branch, but it's the Congress where laws are made.
I don't want Missouri's Todd Akin on my team, for example. I choose not to draft a guy who has ideas like "legitimate rape" running through his head. I would probably put Kansas Representative Kevin Yoder on the waiver wire as well, after it was revealed that he went skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee on a visit to Israel last summer. Just like I would have dropped Chad "Working On A New Nickname" Johnson after he was arrested for domestic violence. Just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no whining in football, and no skinny-dipping in Congress - legitimate or not. My over-arching concern now is to cut all of the pinheads.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lovely Rita

It's not very often that words fail me. Even at those moments when things feel most precarious, I tend to say a few just to test the waters. On Monday I ran out. It was a morning of phone calls. My wife's aunt was in the hospital. She had collapsed on her way to an exercise class. At this point, I still had words. Most of them were in response to my wife's fears. What was happening? What happens next? What do the doctors say?
I had so many questions because I had just seen her the day before. She had walked over and hung around the pool with us as we soaked up the late summer fun. We hugged goodbye when it was time to leave, and my son who is a most excellent son, went back for extra hugs and kisses when he was reminded. There was absolutely nothing in our visit that could have prepared us for the phone calls the next day. Which is why when the phone call finally came to tell us that she had slipped away, there were no more words.

As sure as she had been there the day before, she was gone. Caught on the wrong side of that awful swinging door. I spent the rest of the day checking in on people: mostly my wife and son. I attempted to make sense of the situation, but it wasn't any good because I was wrestling with an unfamiliar vocabulary. We made toasts and held on to memories, but the sudden void was too much. We tried to make ourselves feel better by presuming that she felt nothing. No pain. Then we went back to feeling our own.
Rita was a light in the world. A smile in a sea of furrowed brows. She lived a life of adventure with both feet on the ground. She challenged herself by trying new things. She could be counted on for a birthday card and a salad at the potluck. I don't believe that I ever fully appreciated her while she was here, and that lack of words will haunt me for some time, but I can say now that Rita stomped on the Terra, and she will be missed. Aloha.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Diminishing Return

Barack Obama says cuts in education "force kids into crowded classrooms, cancel programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, and shorten the school week and the school year." Happily, this year at our school we will be able to have full-day Kindergarten, and we will still have one hundred and eighty days of instruction. We will also have a few more students in our classrooms as a direct result of the five schools that were closed in our district over the summer, one of which was just over the hill from us. As an ironic piece of accounting, these additional students make us ineligible to participate in a program that gives us extra funding for maintaining smaller class sizes. "This year, several thousand fewer educators will be going back to school," the president said in his weekly address. More than three hundred thousand local education jobs have been lost since the end of the recession, according to a new White House report on the impact of teacher layoffs. Again, another bright spot for us is that we will be returning all of our staff, with the exception of our on-site substitute, and our full-time PE coach has been down-sized to a lunchtime supervisor. At our school, we continue to do more with less. Nothing really new here.
But last week, I was sitting in a week-long training for math instruction. Part of being a teacher is preparing for different ways to teach and assess the things that every kid needs to know. This particular seminar was being put on by the Silicon Valley Math Initiative. They are very clever people with a lot of good ideas, but I found myself poised over a piece of chart paper with a marker, ready to respond to these good ideas when I stopped. Here I was, just a few miles away from the center of the digital revolution. All of those advances were in evidence via the regular use of smart phones and iPads and laptop computers. Yet, here I was, transcribing my group's thoughts on a three foot by four foot piece of paper that was to be taped on a wall of the high school cafeteria where we were working. We weren't using all that fancy hardware to produce our results. We were using the materials that we were most comfortable with: the ones we would be using when we returned to our school sites.
I understand that it would cost billions of dollars to equip an urban school district with the kind of machinery and software that would make us look like we were educating kids for the twenty-first century. We're talking Department of Defense kind of money here. That's not going to happen anytime soon. I get that. But wouldn't it be nice if we can't have the fancy computers and digital projectors that at least when kids went to school there was a teacher there? If there was a school at all?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition

A punk band from Russia was found guilty of hooliganism. If it were the late nineteen-seventies in America, this would be a promotional event. Instead, we in the international community view it as a signal of Russia's intolerance of dissent. The three members of Pussy Riot were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow's main cathedral calling for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against Vladimir Putin, whose intolerance of dissent was precisely the thing for which they were protesting. The band now faces two years in prison for their performance.
It's been a while since any band in America was sent to prison for their act. Artists in general have a pretty wide berth, given all that wild talk about freedom of speech and expression. Even the performance art of glitter-bombing isn't getting the response it once did. Perpetrators of such insurrection are regularly detained, questioned and then released, only to roam the streets looking for new, unsuspecting targets for their confetti.
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest had these words to say about the punishment of Pussy Riot: "While we understand the group's behavior was offensive to some, we have serious concerns about the way these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system." Mister Earnest did not refer to the band by name. That would be ugly. Almost as ugly as last November, when the Senate voted to let the military detain terrorism suspects on U.S. soil and hold them indefinitely without trial. You don't have to be in a punk rock band. You just have to be an alleged terrorist. What are we? A bunch of hooligans?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

TV Guide

What is the biggest threat to our nation's youth? Gangs? Drugs? Violent video games? Facebook? Well, if you lived in the Ukraine, you might say "Spongebob Squarepants." Psychologist Irina Medvédeva is quoted in a study from that country's National Expert Commission for Protecting Public Morality, alleging that children aged three to five years old, "pull faces and make jokes in front of adults they don't know, laugh out loud and repeat nonsense phrases in a brazen manner," after viewing Mister Squarepants. Quel Scandale!
"Projects aimed at the destruction of the family, and the promotion of drugs and other vices" include "Family Guy," "Futurama," "Pokemon," "The Simpsons" and "Teletubbies." The Ukrainians dismiss Spongebob as "gay." Teletubbies: "deliberately aims to create subnormal (men), who spend all day in front of the television with their mouths open swallowing all types of information," and promotes the "psychology of losers." Their knock on "South Park?" "Reincarnation propaganda."
Meanwhile, back in the Estados Unidos, a University of Virginia professor claimed that watching just nine minutes of SpongeBob could adversely affect the attention span and learning abilities of four-year-olds. Upon hearing this, I stuck out my tongue and shouted, "Barnacles!" Of course, the Ukrainians still have to take responsibility for this guy.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

Twenty years ago, Bill Gates was a megalomaniac, bent on world domination at any cost. He wanted, or perhaps expected, to have a Windows machine in every home and Microsoft to be running through our collective veins instead of blood. I know this because I watched a movie about it, with Anthony Michael Hall, of "Weird Science" fame, starring as Bill. It was a little less than twenty years ago that "Bob" was released. It was supposed to be a revolution, replacing Windows 3.1 and 95, giving users a quaint and homey desktop into which they could relax and find themselves immersed. That didn't happen.
Still, Bill kept right on printing money, and was ranked as the world's wealthiest man for more than a decade, give or take a year. If you're not a fan of economics, maybe the concept of how money makes money is lost on you, but let me assure you that the cash breeding has gone on unabated for people like Bill even while the rest of us have had to lop off chunks of our 401Ks to buy groceries. As a result, his hard heart has softened, perhaps due to his marriage to Melinda in 1994. In addition to giving birth to three children, the couple has also spawned a philanthropic foundation that bears their names. The plan is to eventually give away ninety-five percent of their wealth. Don't worry about Bill and his kids. Five percent of hundreds of billions of dollars is still billions of dollars. They'll be okay.
They just paid one hundred thousand dollars for a new toilet. Only this one isn't gold-plated or designed by Leonardo da Vinci. This one comes from the minds of Caltech, and it uses solar power while generating hydrogen and electricity. The second place potty was created by Loughborough University, It produces bio-charcoal, minerals and clean water, and won a sixty thousand dollar prize. The University of Toronto got forty thousand dollars for their third-place toilet that sanitizes waste and recovers usable resources. Bringing sanitation to the world and finding new energy sources? Sounds as if Bill actually gives a crap. We're just hoping he's not putting his money where his mouth is.

Friday, August 17, 2012


It's that time of year again, where teachers dust off their briefcases and book bags and start heading back to the classrooms where they await, anxiously, the appearance of this year's crop of fresh faces. This is the time that we teachers gather together to discuss all the ways that we hope that we can find to squeeze that one little bit more of learning out of the marathon ahead. We call this "professional development."
Starting my sixteenth year as a teacher, I am always impressed to find the tip or technique that will help me grow as an educator. Learning, as we tell our little darlings, is a lifelong process, after all, and I expect to take something from every class, seminar and meeting I attend. But first, I have to cross the bridge we call "The Icebreaker."
Inevitably in these classes, we are asked to mix about and introduce ourselves to a colleague from the sea of faces that fill the multi-purpose room. I stand up, and shuffle about, looking for the moment of eye contact that says, "I surrender. You might as well talk to me." I introduce myself, and describe what it is that I do: I am the computer teacher at an elementary school. This is just before I get the response that chills me.
"So, you're not a real teacher?"
Not me. I'm a virtual teacher. Human cyborg, technology. I perform many of the same functions of a real teacher, but I won't immediately be confused with them. I don't have my own class. I have all of them. I don't fill out one set of report cards. I make sure they all get filled in and printed. I don't deal with the same two knuckleheads who sit in the back of the room all day long. I deal with them on Tuesday at nine. Then at ten, I get another couple of reluctant learners. At eleven I get the girls who haven't stopped talking to each other since first grade. I get them all.
I don't say this. I merely nod and smile, adding that once upon a time I did a tour of duty in fourth grade and so I can relate to the challenges of real teachers. The ones with twenty or thirty kids. They have my everlasting respect. And me? I've got three hundred and twenty-five of them, and I'm still waiting for that respect.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Labrador Resuscitator

A new study conducted by University Hospital in Finland tells us that children who grow up in households that have dogs as pets have fewer respiratory illnesses than those who grow up without dogs. Happily, the science here was specific to point out just how these children were healthier. I can say from experience that my son has probably come up just about even on the overall health score when it comes to sharing close quarters with a family canine. For instance, he would probably like to have back that tumble he took from the front porch when our dog went charging out the front door to be part of whatever action was taking place and effectively bounced our toddler in pinwheel fashion down the front stairs. There are those who would argue that it was as much a function of his father's inattention that he took this unscheduled trip, but all physical evidence points to the hard head and enthusiasm of our dog.
Sanitation is another area in which the benefits may have been on a par with the burdens. We saved a fortune on napkins for our little boy, who would simply drop his hands down to his side after he was finished eating, and the dog would do her best to make sure that they were scrubbed clean. As clean as the tongue of a dog can be, which is still a matter of some debate. I'm guessing that the doctors in Finland were probably basing their findings on the Finnish Spitz, mostly because it's one of the silliest names for a dog I have ever encountered.
And aside from the whole easy-breathing thing, there's the best friend thing that shouldn't be overlooked, unless your best friend just ate the last cupcake. He or she is probably just looking out for your health.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Punishment Of Crime

A year ago, I was recovering from the trauma of having my car stolen. Upon reflection, living here in Oakland for twenty years, the fact that it took nineteen of those years for me to become a victim of any sort of serious crime should be looked upon as some sort of minor miracle. And the anniversary of the purchase of our new car coincided with a visit from my wife's brother who had his car stolen. This is the same brother who, on another visit from Utah, was held up just a few blocks from our house. I would guess that his vision of Oakland as a high-crime area is, as a result of his per-visit experience with high-crime, different from mine.
At the same time, I do wonder how I have navigated through these streets for two decades with merely a few tales of terror and intrigue to tell. If I were to add in all those brushes with guns and drugs and violence offered to me via my job as a public school teacher, then I suppose my own ratio would become a little more top-heavy. I suppose that I don't think about it unless I'm actually staring down the end of the barrel of a gun, or frantically scanning a parking lot for a car that I am certain was there just a couple of hours ago. The sight of three or four police cars converging at the end of my block doesn't pique my curiosity the way it used to. It's part of the package. I assume, with some presumed naivete, that this is perfectly natural for an urban setting. Because that's where I live.
Meanwhile, my brother-in-law and his wife prepare to end their visit by purchasing a new car and driving it back to Utah, where it will be safe. With our apologies.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Can You Pick Your Running-Mate's Nose?

Paul Ryan is serious about protecting our children. Just ask Laurence Kotlikoff. "He holds the security and well-being of our country and our children first and foremost in his mind." That's because he's progressive. He wants to reform Medicare, which Mister Kotlikoff says may at first sound regressive, but is actually progressive. In his eyes, everything is apparently relative. Much like Ryan's suggestion that we lower the top level tax rates from thirty-five to twenty-five percent. Relatively speaking, if you're near the top of that group, you're probably thinking "progressive." Another shocking piece of news, he broke with a lot of his party to support the Employee Non-Discrimination Act in 2007. He explained his reasoning for the vote: "They [his gay friends] didn't roll out of bed one morning and choose to be gay. That's who they are." He's got gay friends?
And he's only forty-two. How much concentrated evil one can store up in that amount of time? Maybe that doesn't matter. The fact that the Mittenhauser Froth Romnington campaign raised more than a million dollars in the four hours after it was announced that Paul Ryan is the presumptive Vice Presidential nominee by the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Republican party. Contrast that with the fifteen dollars or so that trickled into the Democratic coffers when it was announced that Barack Obama was keeping Joe Biden. Nothing particularly progressive or regressive about that. It's going to be a long, long, Autumn. Relatively speaking.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Music News

Randy Travis got naked and went out for a pack of smokes. Well, first he got good and drunk, then he got naked and went out for a pack of smokes. It seems as though the auteur of such hits as ‘‘Is It Still Over?’’ and ‘‘On the Other Hand’’ may be searching for inspiration for his next country smash. Did I say "smash?" Responding officers found Randy's Trans Am had been driven off the road and struck several barricades in a construction road. ‘‘Travis had a strong odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath and several signs of intoxication,’’ according to a statement from the sheriff’s office. ‘‘While Travis was being transported, Travis made threats to shoot and kill the troopers working the case.’’ Getting drunk, getting naked, going out for a pack of smokes, trashing your Trans Am, and threatening to kill Texas State Troopers. Randy's no longer working on just a country-western song, he's got a concept album here.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Rick Springfield entered the plea to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving "with driving under the influence conditions." The composer of "Jessie's Girl" and "I've Done Everything For You" just looks tired in his mug shot. Randy looks like he means to do some harm. I suppose this would be the difference between a guy who played a doctor on a soap opera, and a guy whose life is a soap opera. All of a sudden,  I kind of miss Britney Spears.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

When Hope Dries Up

For my wife's birthday, I really wanted to fix global warming. It's been bugging us both a lot, this bit of science that points us at a place in the not too distant future in which our planet will be unable to sustain life. It really sucks every last bit of fun out of a birthday celebration. Trust me on this.
And so we have some choices: We can ignore it, as we often do when we get busy being worried about topics like crime in the street, public education, and the sequel to "The Hunger Games." As it turns out, this is no solution, and we just end up feeling worse because all that time we were fussing about Katniss and Peeta we could have been lowering our carbon emission levels. Then we go out and try to limit our carbon emission levels and we become overwhelmed by the math, but quietly smug about our tiny accomplishments. Presently, there is no scientific evidence that connects pride with greenhouse gasses, but the folks at South Park would like us to believe there is. I can only assume that Matt and Trey buy carbon offsets to deal with the havoc each episode they produce plays with the environment.
Instead, we have been staying home, watching our Energy Star compliant television, wishing that they were handing out gold medals for sustainability. Instead, we have been treated to NBC's promo for their new fall show, "Revolution." It tells the story of how some cataclysmic event causes all energy sources on our planet to disappear. The story picks up fifteen years after that moment, and lets us all know how brave humans strive to overcome their vine-covered world, and the nastiness that ensues when we lose all our coal and oil and Gatorade. The image that stuck with me was the one of a moss and vine covered Wrigley Field. Apparently it will be another hundred years or so before the Cubs win a World Series. It is nice to know, by contrast, that after fifteen years without lawnmowers or refinery fires that nature will begin its cleansing process. According to Wall*E, this should take at least seven hundred years, but since it's all science fiction, it probably doesn't matter much.
But we can keep talking about it, because that's something we can do.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Curioser and Curioser

Floods are ravaging Manila. The mid-western United States continues to suffer through the worst drought in decades as the hottest July ever has now been recorded. Civil war rages on in Syria with little or no hope of easy resolution. A fire at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California sends hundreds to local hospitals and pushes the price of a gallon of gas ever-upward. Where is the good news?
“I think the country needs a boost,” Clint Eastwood told reporters last week. That boost apparently comes in the form of Mitterson "Flopsy" Romney III. “Now more than ever do we need Governor Romney. I’m going to be voting for him,” Eastwood told Romney supporters Friday night.
“He just made my day,” Mitterson said. “What a guy.”
Hey. Wait a second. Where's the good news? I thought Dirty Harry was all about the Chrysler ad, and he was even ticking off Karl Rove.That was way back in February. Things change. Currently, the state of presidential politics seems to be centered on a six billion dollar contest to see who can stick their tongue out at the other farther. 
No wonder we're looking so hard for intelligent life on other planets. I wish I could ride along with Curiosity for a few months, at least until things settle down here on Earth a little bit. Or at lest until baseball season's over. Right, Clint?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Don't Stop Believin'

not a city girl, born and raised in south Detroit
she took the midnight train goin' anywhere

Well, she wasn't going just anywhere. She was on her way to something that she couldn't describe, just like when she was tiny and didn't have a word for watermelon, but she knew that was what she wanted. Is it any wonder that she has spent her life looking for words? In books. In magazines. In the newspapers, television, movies, songs and in the sky?
Along the way she's made some of her own. It helps to be able to make them up when the ones you have are limiting. And when all else fails: dance. Sing. Play along until that moment when the words finally do come.
She doesn't keep them to herself, either. She shares her thoughts, ideas and whimsy across the globe - the very globe she hopes to save for her son and his children. She tells her son stories. Some of them are true and some of them are gloriously made up. Sometimes they are wild mixes of both.
She's visited castles in Europe and temples in Mexico. She's jumped out of a perfectly good plane to fly through the air, and she swims in any body of water that will hold her. She's searching for something: a quiet moment or the perfect word.
Whatever it is, I'm betting that she finds it. That would be the perfect gift.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


If we were going to blame violent films for James Holmes' murderous rampage in a movie theater last month, what are we to make of Wade Michael Page's attack on a Sikh temple? When I dropped by the Wikipedia page for Sikhism, I read this: "A Sikh must also have the courage to defend the rights of all who are wrongfully oppressed or persecuted irrespective of religion, color, caste or creed." I'm not guessing that Page had any particular beef with Sikhs. Maybe it goes a little deeper.
What was Wade Michael Page doing before he killed seven people? He was in the Army. What did he do in the U.S. Army? He was a member of the psychological operations unit. Mister Page was discharged from the army in 1998 for "patterns of misconduct," and was deemed ineligible for re-enlistment, even though he was awarded numerous medals, including two for good conduct and one for humanitarian service. I'm guessing the Army would like those back.
Happily for the those who look for media connections, Mister Page was in a band called "End Apathy." This is where you can hear some of his pent-up rage. There is a whole list of influences listed: Sabbath, Slayer, Maiden, DRI, COC, RKL, GWAR, GBH, Aggresion, Misfits, Bad Religion and so on. The next few weeks will no doubt bring these artists more attention than they are probably comfortable with, but at least it will take the glare off the discussion of mental health and gun control. I guess that's what we can all ponder while Congress heads off for five and a half weeks.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

News Of The World

There is no such thing as bad publicity. You can take that from Navin Johnson. Or Oscar Wilde. With this in mind, I began to page through Jonathan Mahler's article in last week's Magazine section of the New York Times, entitled "Oakland, The Last Refuge Of A Radical America." The first question that occurred to me was this: "What is a magazine doing in the middle of a newspaper?"
And then I read more. I read the whole thing, even though there was nothing that truly constituted news for me in the article. I live in Oakland. I lived through most of what Mister Mahler described in his account of the ups and downs of the most recent revolutionary flurries here: The challenges faced by the Occupy movement, and the challenges they presented the powers that be in city government and law enforcement. Without taking a particular point of view, Mahler managed to paint most of his central characters as confused and out of touch. There were no heroes, and the villains were mostly those who were attempting to make the best of the bad situation which they had inherited. It paints a pretty bleak, sad picture.
It got me to thinking that a really great ending to this whole piece would be to have the people of Oakland do some sort of Mayberry/Hooterville double-cross on Jonathan Mahler, inviting him to the true anarchist inner sanctum, and feed him plenty of noise and fury about the next great insurgence, but it would be too believable. Rather than staging some sort of ugly scene on the occasion of Barack Obama's visit to the city at the end of July, protestors played it pretty much down the middle. Both sides seemed to respect the barriers set in place by the Secret Service. It wasn't until this past weekend that the rabble decided to rouse again as the local Art & Soul Festival prepared to get underway. Last Friday night was the night that "the people" took to the streets, they were voicing their displeasure with the permit system for vendors, police brutality, and culminating with their anger for plate glass windows at the Obama Campaign's Oakland headquarters. So much for Hope and Change, I guess.
There is an interesting moment in the article when Mahler describes a confrontation between "rapper and activist" Boots Riley and an African American policeman who says that he is a big fan of Riley's music. Both men are trying to do their job, trying to do what's right. Maybe that's the problem we all have with Oakland. Perhaps somehow, Jonathan Mahler managed to get that ambivalence just right.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Setting The Pace

I went for a run on Saturday. This is not news. I go for a run on most Saturdays. The fact that I ran to the lake doesn't make it much more sensational, since I've been doing that off and on for the fifteen years that I have lived in my house, a couple of hills away from the lake. Over the past few years, however, those runs to the lake have been less frequent. Instead, I have focused on keeping my training regimen on the shorter, neighborhood side of things.
What was going through my head as I left the house that morning was, "Is this really something I can do?" It was not my regularly scheduled, yearly ten kilometer race. This was my morning's exercise, and I hadn't experienced a very restful night's sleep before and there were a dozen other excuses that drifted through my mind as I ran out the front gate and down the sidewalk toward a path that I had committed to memory some time ago. As I ran, I argued with myself about the necessity to keep going, and that's when I thought of David Wottle.
If you missed the 1972 Olympics, or got caught up in all the tragedy and excitement that surrounded those Games in Munich, you might have missed Dave. He was the quirky guy in the golf cap, running the eight hundred meters for the United States. At ten years old, I was still a decade or so away from any interest I might find in distance running, but there must have been something about this guy that appealed to me. Maybe it was a funny-hat-Mike-Nesmith kind of thing. Or perhaps it was the fact that he waited until the last hundred meters to come all the way from the back of the pack to win the gold medal at the tape.
When at last I met up with my wife, who had driven over to the lake and walked a couple hundred meters to find me, I slowed down and caught my breath. I realized I was wearing a cap. It was blue, not white, and the medal David Wottle won was a lot more gold than mine. It didn't matter. I finished.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Spin Cycle

And now, the good news: It's not 2020. According to Peter Turchin, an ecologist, evolutionary biologist and mathematician at the University of Connecticut, that's when the United States will experience violent upheaval. "My model suggests that the next [peak in violence] will be worse than the one in 1970 because demographic variables such as wages, standards of living and a number of measures of intra-elite confrontation are all much worse this time." Remember, this is science, and people like Mister Turchin can't just make stuff like this up. It's a field of study called "cliodynamics," in which scientists attempt to find meaningful patterns in history.
If you recall, in 1970 there were all kinds of upheavals of society. The first Earth Day was celebrated, and it's probably no coincidence that this was also the year that the Environmental Protection Agency was created. But this probably isn't the heaving up that Turchin would like us to look at. Maybe it was the hundred thousand people who went to Washington DC to protest the war in Vietnam, or the shootings at Kent State. Or when Jeffery MacDonald killed his family and blamed drug-crazed hippies. Or maybe it was most visible in Chevrolet's unveiling of their new model, the Vega.
I'm not sure if Mister Turchin gets out much, but I'm guessing that even in Connecticut they must be getting the scent of trouble brewing, even if we still have eight years to go by his clock. Maybe not Civil War type trouble, but people in the U.S. are up and heaving even as we speak. Tea Party? Occupy? I suppose the happy part of all of this is that if his predictions come true, we can look back on these as "The Good Old Days."

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Top Ten

The Top Ten Pieces of Art for All Time was just announced by Art Snobs Magazine. Knocking the Sistine Chapel ceiling off the number one pedestal was the people's favorite, "Mona Lisa." Rounding out the top five were Edvard Munch's "Scream," Michelangelo's "David," and Van Gogh's dorm-room fave "Starry Night." Art Snob editor in chief, Blisterly Fitternutz, had this to say about the shift: "We believe that just because a guy lays on his back and paints the roof of a church doesn't make it best. Everybody knows Leonardo rules!" There was no explanation for how Michelangelo managed to sneak two works into the top ten if he was such a slacker. The next five works were Jackson Pollock's "Number Eight" at number six, then Monet's "Water Lilies," Picasso's "Young Woman In Front Of A Mirror," Renoir's "Moulin-Galette," and at number ten: A wall in a subway station Keith Haring once painted on. Mister Fitternutz explained, "We put some French guys on the list to show how sensitive we are, and the subway thing was pretty cool too, don't you think?
Actually, Mister Fitternutz is a figment of my imagination. He came about as a response to the editors of "Sight & Sound" magazine who just released their "Greatest Films of All Time" list. In their world, "Citizen Kane" was displaced by "Vertigo." Film snob Nick James asserted, "Vertigo is the ultimate critics' film because it is a dreamlike film about people who are not sure who they are but who are busy reconstructing themselves and each other to fit a kind of cinema ideal of the ideal soul mate." And "Citizen Kane" is just some movie about a sled. Ooops. Sorry. Spoiler alert.
If I agreed with the folks at "Sight & Sound" more, would I be writing this? I have no real beef with people stating their preferences. That is what art is all about. It is by nature subjective. That's why giving four stars or three hats to this or that movie while another one gets just the half bag of popcorn seems to be overlooking this. What makes a film or painting or macaroni collage special and unique is the interaction at the moment between the art and its beholder. Unless the pasta in question was manipulated by Martin Scorsese. Then it's a masterpiece.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

You Gotta Be A Football Hero

You don't have to forgive Tim Tebow. You don't have to blame him either. He's playing a game, after all. Apparently the game he's playing is bigger than professional football, at least that's what the powers that be have been suggesting. This now includes his teammates, both current and previous. Jet or Bronco, he just seems to be a lightning rod for attention.
And why is this? Is it because of his Heisman Trophy? There are plenty of current NFL players who have one of those. About ten of them. Maybe it's his unorthodox passing mechanics. Or maybe it's his lack of success in the NFL, if winning seven of eight games as a starter last year and the first Bronco playoff win since 2005 is lacking in the success department. Maybe it's his underwear ads, unless it's because he's wearing pants in his. Which brings us to the question: Does keeping his pants on make him more of a subject for ridicule? Taking off his shirt to run in the rain sure stirred some people up. This is a guy who takes off his shirt, keeps his pants on, and wins football games. What is the big deal?
Apparently, it has something to do with God. Not in the "God, why did he just throw that interception?" way, but more like the heavenly creator omniscient way. There was a craze that swept the globe at the end of last year, imitating Tim's post-score celebration, the one where he stopped to thank his heavenly father for the chance to compete in this great game. Seems crazy, at least compared to the other NFL players who are pointing to the sky after they make a touchdown, or kick a field goal. That makes total sense, since they're obviously much more likely to get God's attention by pointing at Him.
Or maybe it's just the mix of all these things that make Tebow such a thorn in people's side. ?A crown of thorns. After all, he's no Michael Vick.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Extreme Indifference

Nobody knows why it happened to those twelve people. Just a summer diversion, connecting up with a little of the super hero vibe. The people who got on that roller coaster at Six Flags in Vallejo, California didn't expect to be stuck up in the air for ninety minutes while rescue workers scrambled to bring them down. What sort of thick and chewy irony can be taken from having to be rescued from Superman is most certainly mediated by events in Aurora, Colorado two weeks ago. It was hot. It was scary. And everyone made it home alive.
Such was not the case for the twelve victims of the "Batman Shooting." There is little doubt that the dozen men, women and children who were gunned down that night had some of the same escapist impulse that the folks who stood in line to ride the roller coaster named after the Man of Steel. Investigators are poring over every inch of the amusement park ride, searching for a frayed cable or broken sensor. They want to figure out how the ride broke down so that they can get it up and running as soon as possible. "The Dark Knight Rises" continues to draw crowds to the theater, but the frayed cables and broken sensors that set off James Holmes may never be fully understood.
In the meantime, we all search for answers. We want to relax as we go about our summertime fun. We shouldn't have to fret as we stand in line for what ever blockbuster or thrill ride awaits us. My brothers and I used to joke with one another as we waited our turn on the roller coaster: "How long has it been since somebody died on this thing?"
"Died? Oh it's been a while. Injured? Not as long."
"I heard they put in nets to catch the body parts that fell off."
We did this with our outdoor voices, to make certain that everyone around us got to share in our funny bits. Professional comedian Dane Cook took his chances on making a joke about the Dark Knight massacre. He apologized, but who knows what made him want to make a joke about such an ugly topic?
I know. We want things to go back to normal. We want it to be safe. We want it to be fun again. We might have to wait for that.

Thursday, August 02, 2012


Convention season is nearly upon us, and preparations are in full swing: balloons are being inflated and confetti is being shredded. The Democratic Party has added new language endorsing gay marriage in its platform draft. The Republican Party's platform calls for a constitutional amendment that would ban all same-sex marriages, even in states that allow them. It's an interesting move, since Republicans generally look for the federal government to stay out of states' business. I guess for some, this is more important than tradition.
Speaking of tradition, Republicans were blessed with the bi-annual sighting of Dick "Dick" Cheney. The former vice president and Dark Lord of Sith has been storing up invective and bile over the past few months, and it was time for him to spout: "I obviously am not a big fan of President Obama. I think he's been one of our weakest presidents. I just fundamentally disagree with him philosophically. I'd be hard put to find any Democratic president that I've disagreed with more." It could just be that new heart talking, but it seems like maybe he's forgetting his old boss in that equation. He was also quick to point out that the selection of Sarah "Quitter" Palin was a mistake. “I like Governor Palin. I’ve met her. I know her. She's an attractive candidate. But based on her background, she’d only been governor for, what, two years? I don’t think she passed that test … of being ready to take over. And I think that was a mistake.” It should be noted that Dick has been sequestered in his secret bunker for the past four years with these infrequent trips out to check and see if he could see his shadow, so these comments seem timely to him. Interestingly, both Sarah and Dick's invitations to the Republican National Convention seem to have been lost in the mail.
Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

What I Don't Get

What I don't get
from her
I can't use
What I don't get
I try
To understand
What I don't get
We'll make
at home together
All those trips
to the grocery store
to Disneyland
to the Food Court
to Home Depot
We always come back
It's where we live
We gather together
It's what we do
It's a habit
A lovely,
That I don't want to shake
What I don't get
from you
I don't need.