Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Wouldn't it be great if we all grew up to be what we wanted to be? The world would be full of Nurses, Firemen, and Ballerinas.- Lily Tomlin
Lily had it right. We wouldn't get sick, or trapped in burning buildings, or have to look far for entertainment. That's kind of what Halloween used to be. I'm always gratified when the number of Spider Men outnumber the kids dressed as the psycho killer in Scream. There are still a number of little girls whose mothers indulge in the collective Princess fantasy, but those are the few and far between. A second grade girl announced that her mother was going to dress her as Nicky Minaj. "Fake eyelashes and everything." I shuddered to think what "everything' might mean.
I work at a school where, a couple years back, I had a fourth grader explain to me that his costume was "a pimp." We routinely have parents showing up as "hustlers," or "sexy witches." The good news is that this happens primarily on Halloween. The hard part comes when you have to put these images aside and go back to real life the next day. The superheros and ax-wielding monsters turn back into little boys and girls. The sugar hangover won't fully recede until all the Skittles and Butterfingers have been eaten, but the window into that other world will close again for another year. I look forward to seeing them again, when they are all grown up. When they become firemen. Or nurses. Or pimps.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let's Make A Deal

Don't worry. I won't be calling your house. Unless, of course, it's a social call or we have some business to transact. I won't be ringing you up to try and convince you to vote one way or another. That's why I have this blog. With that being said, I know that there are a number of people who have already punched out, off to look up whatever happened to Snooki's baby. There are probably those who, upon seeing the label, "politics," moved on before they read the first two lines. Serves me right for being honest with my intent. I am, in fact, here to persuade you.
I work at an elementary school in California. Over the past few years, our staff has shrunk. Not on an individual basis, though I am certain that the additional time and effort we have put in has done little to improve our posture. I mean that we used to have an assistant principal, who helped manage the daily tumult of an inner-city school. We used to have substitutes on site to help cover classes when teachers needed to collaborate or observe one another to refine their practice. We had a PE coach who set up games for kids at recess and helped organize after school leagues for them to join. They're all gone now. We're doing the same job, with fewer people. Wait. Strike that. We're doing a tougher job, since the standards in California have once again shifted, and we are all managing new curriculum and expectations.
It's not the first time. Back when I started, sixteen years ago, we had teacher's aides. We had a librarian. We had a security officer. We had a playground that wasn't more cracks and craters than asphalt. While it is true that we have had the generous support of bond measures that have allowed us to "modernize" our building, and a federal grant that has allowed us to lower our class size, the economic realities have hit us hard. So much so that education is now regularly referred to by some as a "special interest."
I know. It's that union thing. For that I apologize, but I won't apologize for the job we do: teaching children. Proposition 30 would make that job easier. Instead of looking over our collective shoulder for the next budget cut, this little piece of legislation would raise money for education by increasing the income tax on those earning more than a quarter of a million dollars a year, as well as raising the state sales tax by a quarter of a percent. I know. It's raising taxes. I won't apologize for that, either. That's what we do when we need to pay for things that have become more expensive. I wish I could tell you that we could all continue to do this teaching thing with less, but it's starting to take its toll on those of us on the front lines. Education majors aren't as attractive as they once were. If they ever were. Preparing the next generation to face a world that is changing faster than our outdated textbooks should be a priority worth supporting. Even if it means paying for it. You can't get something for nothing. A teacher taught me that.
Please vote yes on Proposition 30 - or I won't tell any more stories about lawn darts.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How Do You Figure?

No matter how the election turns out, I'm pretty certain that there will be more and more talk about how teachers are evaluated. Finding some way to connect student test scores to teacher performance is the kind of unified field theory that has mystified educators for years now. I continue to cling to my flat earth beliefs, because of where I teach. For example, last year we had a first grade class that started the year with twenty students. At the end of the year, only three of them were the ones who were there at the beginning. The other seventeen had come and gone, and some of them only stayed a few weeks before moving on to the next. We call this transiency.
I won't suggest a solution for this here. That is for people who have more negotiation and statistical skills than I have. Instead, I can tell a story of the Branham family. I had their oldest son in my fourth grade class six years ago. The next year, I had his brother. Though I switched back to the computer lab a few years back, I tracked the progress of their sister and youngest brother as they made their way from standing outside the gate, watching their brothers go off to school, to kindergarten, and onward and upward. Smart kids. Good kids with strong parents behind them, pushing them to succeed. They were one of the families who helped shore up some of the struggles we experience with those that drop in and drop out of our school. They were the ones who stayed and watched us grow out of Program Improvement to become an officially designated "good school." We have them to thank.
Now, the Branhams are moving. Their mother has decided that Oakland is just too rough a city to bring up four kids. The teacher part of me wants to argue with her, but the parent in me says, "Vaya con Dios." The youngest is in second grade now, one of the stable members of that first grade class that turned over almost completely and he will be missed, not just when test taking season rolls around. He and his older sister, a fifth grader, were part of those good examples that we could point to when things turned ridiculous. Now they're moving somewhere that feels safe. That makes sense.
Meanwhile, back here at the ranch, we'll wait and see who transfers in to take their place. It's pretty rare that we get the kids who show up ready to jump into our program. It takes a few weeks to figure out how to fit in and be successful. That's what we do. And we'll miss the Branhams. That's what we do, too.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Exactly Like Where You Are Right Now...

When I first heard that a scientist had proof of Heaven, I wondered if the election is over there. Then I turned to more pressing concerns: Are there cheeseburgers there? Doctor Eben Alexander wasn't quick with that answer, but he did offer some insight. Very personal insight. Alexander, a Harvard neurosurgeon, nearly died four years ago when a ferocious E. coli meningitis infection attacked his brain and plunged him deep into a week-long coma. He claims that it was during this time that he took leave from his body, which did him the favor of staying nominally alive. He says he went to Heaven.
"My first memories from when I was deep inside: I had no language, all my earthly memories were gone," he said. "I had no body awareness at all. I was just a speck of awareness in kind of a dark, murky environment, in roots or vessels or something. And I seemed to be there for a very long time -- I would say years. I was rescued by this beautiful, spinning, white light that had a melody, an incredibly beautiful melody with it that opened up into a bright valley," he added, "an extremely verdant valley with blossoming flowers and a just incredible, rich, ultra-real world of indescribable complexity." 
Wait a minute. Isn't this the description of that Robin Williams movie, "What Dreams May Come?" Or could it have been that Matt Damon flick, "Hereafter?" Or maybe some combination of the two? Alexander said there was a young woman who soared across time and space with him on a butterfly wing and gave him a message to take back from Heaven."She looked at me, and this was with no words, but the concepts came straight into mind: You are love; you are cherished; there's nothing you have to fear; there's nothing you can do wrong," he said.Wasn't that Terry Gilliam?
Maybe I should dial down all this cynicism and take heart. Perhaps there is a Heaven, and it's a lot like the movies. I just hope they let you put butter on your popcorn.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I've read the Bible. A few times. I confess that there are certain novels by Stephen King which I have spent more time perusing, but even though I can't call myself a scholar, I feel like I'm pretty well versed in the Good Book. That's why I'm always surprised when anyone claims to be the one to announce the Word of God. Like Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who made the following pronouncement at a debate this past week: "I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen," Mourdock said, choking up.
A couple things: First, Mister Mourdock is a Republican. Second, he did all of us a favor by introducing his opinion with the words, "I think." That does take the edge off, doesn't it? Perhaps not. After the debate, Mourdock further explained his comment. "Are you trying to suggest somehow that God preordained rape, No, I don't think that," said Mourdock, according to The Associated Press. "Anyone who would suggest that is just sick and twisted. No, that's not even close to what I said." Or maybe that kind of statement is open to interpretation, not unlike the stories and parables of the Bible. 
It certainly does make one wonder why the rest of the Republican party hasn't taken the lead from their man Mitt. If you get a lead, or something close to it, keep your mouth shut and smile. Of course, this doesn't make for very interesting debates, unless you're a fan of horses and bayonets. Or maybe that's in the Book of Mormon.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Playback Time

Playing music with "lasers." That would be cool. Not accompanying the music, like "Laser Floyd," but actually using a laser beam to make the music play. Digitally. Somehow, all those ones and zeros get translated into light and then sound. And best of all, you can carry it around in your pocket. If you've got a real flat, wide pocket. No more cassettes. No more albums. Compact discs. Little. Shiny. Compact. Finally science delivers in a way we can all agree on.
That was thirty years ago. We didn't actually all agree back then, either. The first Compact Disc I owned was given to me by my older brother, who helped replace the first album he ever gave me: Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." The second, appropriately enough, was Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," another case of upgrading to the future from an album he had given me in the past. At the time, I was the proud owner of several crates of vinyl. On the one hand, I was carting around hundreds of pounds of plastic and cardboard full of treasured sounds. On the other, I was carting around hundreds of pounds of plastic and cardboard. What did I have to lose by switching to a package that was primarily plastic and a little bit of space age aluminum? How about fidelity? Debate still swirls about in audiophile circles about the purity of music delivered by friction versus the sterile quality of digital playback. I shivered at the notion of having to replace all of those records.
I proceeded cautiously. It took me years before I started buying my music exclusively on CD. I was stuck on the price point: It cost me around six bucks for a new LP, but fifteen for a CD. If the important thing was amassing a collection, it was going to be financially clever to stick to vinyl. But my mind kept wandering to those snaps, crackles and pops that could be found in those crates. In the summer of 1986, I bought my last LP. Sure, it meant that I had to really want that new music. There weren't a lot of impulse buys for CDs.
More than twenty-five years later, those crates of albums have gone away. The bins of compact discs still follow me around, even as I evolve into an mp3 collector. Sometimes I burn those songs to a disc, but since my fancy new car allows me to play digital music through a wire that connects my digital music player, the CD is just something that can get lost, or scratched.
This past weekend, we lost one. Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. The Pastoral. I've had that one for more than twenty years. It got a little nick in the last movement, and if that's ever happened to you, I think you know how extremely painful that can be. My solution was to download Von Karajan's best with the Berlin Philharmoniker and melt it onto a plastic coated wafer. Ah, science.
As the CD approaches middle age, it is being phased out. The iPod is eleven years old. How much longer before I give up all my file space for a more virtual way to store music?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Follow The Money

There are plenty of reasons to be nervous about the upcoming election. Unemployment would be up near the top of that list, but you wouldn't guess that those people who have jobs would make it number one. Unless you worked for the Koch brothers: "many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences" of voting for President Obama and other Democrats in the 2012 elections. This was the message the boys from Wichita sent out to their workers at the beginning of October. Helpfully, they included a list of conservative candidates the company's political action committee endorses and a pair of editorials: one, by David Koch, supporting Mitt Romney, and the other, by Charles Koch, condemning Obama. They're not telling you for whom your vote should be cast, but we are suggesting that there is one right answer.
"Right." Get it?
A lot of bosses would encourage their employees to get out there and vote, and many would probably even offer up their opinions about which candidates and ballot measures would be best for the continued health of their company. I'm guessing that employees of the Public Broadcasting Corporation has probably sent a similar message out, reminding the biggest and featheriest of them, that their continued employment may hinge on the results of the upcoming election. Doesn't everything? But actual threats?
How about this one from David Siegel, the founder and CEO of Florida-based Westgate Resorts: "It's quite simple. If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company. Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.So, when you make your decision to vote, ask yourself, which candidate understands the economics of business ownership and who doesn't? Whose policies will endanger your job? Answer those questions and you should know who might be the one capable of protecting and saving your job. While the media wants to tell you to believe the '1 percenters' are bad, I'm telling you they are not. They create most of the jobs. If you lose your job, it won't be at the hands of the '1%'; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country." The name of that hurricane would be Barack, and if you don't know Mister Siegel, he and his family are the subject of an interesting documentary called "The Queen of Versailles." The Koch brothers can be seen in most film adaptations of "Alice In Wonderland."
I can't threaten your jobs, but I can threaten you with the continued care and feeding of plutocrats. And I don't mean Mickey Mouse's dog.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Climb A Mountain And Turn Around

Forty years ago is when I first came to the political arena. I didn't know much, but I was pretty sure this Nixon guy was a crook, in spite of his protestations to the obverse. In that election year, 1972, I was sure of one thing: I didn't want Tricky Dick to be president. He was a scary character, in speech, manner and practice. As far as my ten-year-old brain could comprehend, he was the reason we were fighting a war in Vietnam. That was bad. He was a bad man, and he would be an even worse president. In my house, we ran an anti-Nixon campaign. George McGovern was a bit of an afterthought. The Democratic candidate was the alternative, but I never felt that if I could vote, that I would be voting for him. I just wanted to be be free from the tyranny of King Richard.
When all those who could vote did so back in that long ago November, it wasn't even close. That was my first exposure to the concept of "Landslide." I learned that it meant crushing defeat. Bone crushing. As a result, when I collaborated on my first political cartoon, we depicted a long-nosed, beady-eyed Nixon standing atop a pile of rubble, flashing that enigmatic "V" for Victory. Even at the time I sensed the irony of this gesture, which seemed to have been borrowed from the Peace Movement. A lot of care and time went into that caricature. When we were done, our attention turned ever-so-briefly to the arm that was sticking out from under the rubble. We labeled it, "McGovern."
In the next couple of years, as the wheels fell off the Nixon bandwagon and he retreated to his cave in San Clemente, I enthused at the way we, the people, exacted our revenge. Guilty, guilty, guilty. Sure, he left in a helicopter, but he really was ridden out of town on a rail. The benign presence of Gerald Ford was a welcome relief. But it wasn't George McGovern. It never occurred to me that, since Richard Nixon had been elected via a campaign based on dirty tricks and illegal activity, that the office really belonged to the second place candidate. Sure it was a distant second, but he did take Massachusetts. Gerald Ford wasn't elected to anything. He was selected after Spiro Agnew quit because of his flurry of scandal. How fair was that?
Back when things were first set up, the second place vote-getter was elected to the vice-presidency. Before 1804, George McGovern would have become the president, and maybe some of that ugliness could have been avoided. But that isn't what happened. George became the poster-boy for losing, and his legacy was sealed. His three terms as a senator from South Dakota and his lifelong career in public service became obscured by that nasty business in 1972. He should have been the thirty-eighth president of the United States. And maybe "Landslide" would just be one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs.
Aloha, George.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Feed The Machine

I woke with a start: Two weeks until the election. The presidential election. The neck and neck, nip and tuck, down to the wire presidential election. You may have heard something about it. For the past year or two. This is the one that's going to decide everything for always. Until the next election cycle. The one that's going to start sometime around November seventh.
I have a friend who has suggested that it could be considered treasonous the way our two party system allows, nay encourages, one side to begin antagonizing the other at the moment that a candidate has assumed office. Blocking legislation, filibustering, and just plain poor sportsmanship. I consider this entertainment for our generation. The twenty-four hour new channels feed and grow off of it. Political action committees, super and not so, thrive because of it. Electioneering is big business. I know because people keep calling and asking me to donate more of my money to what is already a multibillion dollar industry.
So here's what I imagined: Maybe all of this campaigning isn't real at all. Just like that so-called "moon landing," this is all just theater for the masses. The story lines have already been scripted and predetermined, they are now being played out before the cameras in hopes of kicking loose those leftover dollars that are still sitting on the dresser, stimulating a moribund economy that needs a race to the very finish to keep the cash flowing. That whole recount business back in 2000? Quite the spectacle, right? It got massive numbers, even before Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary made the HBO version. John Kerry? Doesn't he remind you a little of another out-of-touch-with-the-common-man candidate from this year? Don't they even bother to write new scenarios? At least they switched the party on this one.
Or maybe it is all for real. All of this bitter rhetoric. All this anger and frustration. This is part of the Democratic process. Maybe the news channels will just report what they see, without someone behind the scenes pulling the strings. I'm going to go ahead and vote anyway. Just in case the whole thing isn't some crazy dream.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Don't Ask, But Do Tell

I grew up in the seventies, and so as a kid I listened to "Free To Be You And Me." My mother had a subscription to Ms., because she asked us so politely if she could. I learned that it didn't matter what you were on the outside, if you were a good person on the inside. Rosey Grier not only taught me that it was alright for boys to cry, but he got me interested in needlepoint. While my stitches never matched those of the two-time Pro Bowl selection, my suspicion is that he taught that lesson abut crying to any number of opposing quarterbacks as well.
Boys can play with dolls, though in these oddly mixed-message times we refer to them as "action figures." Girls can play football, but we prefer that the do it in their underwear. Men can be spokesmodels on "The Price Is Right," and the Minnesota Vikings' punter can pose nude in the current issue of OUT Magazine. "To me, this fight is about equality and human rights," Chris Kluwe recently told CNN. "The fact is, there are Americans who pay taxes and serve in our military - who defend this country - who do not receive the same legal protections as the rest of us. To me, that's flat-out discrimination. That's the same as segregation or suffrage." It doesn't have the singalong quality of Rosey's, but it's a message whose time has come. Forty-some years after the first big wave.
We've still have a long way to go, since our most recent examples of equality seem to require them to take off their clothes, but I suppose we have Joe Namath to thank for that. Maybe the next generation can get this right.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


It's been a long time since I have actively sought out Newsweek. The magazine. You remember, right? The Burger King to Time's McDonald's? Over the past few decades, Time has gone on to make billions of dollars with its Batman movies and cable TV, Newsweek has been losing bushels of money even after separating from that other print-monster, The Washington Post. All that news had to find someplace to go, and so it will now appear in  a digital-only version. On Al Gore's Internet. Right next to
So, what's the big deal? We save a few trees, and we won't have Michelle Bachmann staring at us from the coffee table. That was the one that caused me to wonder how I ended up with a subscription after years of eschewing all that news. I had moved on by then. I was now a committed Entertainment Weekly reader. It is only now that it occurs to me that I have unwittingly slipped into the corporate vortex that is Time-Warner. They're the guys who are putting the words into Wolf Blitzer's talking head. Well, at least they're paying for those nice suits.
Back in the day, it was a big deal when Bruce Springsteen made it on the cover of both Time and Newsweek in the same week. These days, as you are more likely to see the Boss on the AARP publication, and soon there won't be cover to Newsweek. Now there will only be a splash page. "Newsweek will transition to an all-digital format in early 2013," editor Tina Brown wrote in an email to employees last Thursday. "As part of this transition, the last print edition in the U.S. will be our December 31st issue." Thanks for the heads-up, Tina. In a twenty-four hour news cycle, we can only assume that if the news we are reading has been on our coffee table for a week, it's no longer news. And if this is news to you, maybe you should consider subscribing to this blog instead of the new web-based Newsweek.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Eyes Of A Child

It was in the first month of my tenure as computer teacher. I was sitting in front of a Mac LCII that needed some attention. When I looked up, there was a second grader standing beside me. "Hello," I said, pausing in my repairs.
The kid didn't move. He stood transfixed.
"Where are you supposed to be," I asked, assuming the response would have something to do with being at recess and then scurrying off.
"What'cha doin'?" He didn't move.
I turned to face him. "I'm fixing this computer."
"You can do that?"
My concerns about this kid's whereabouts faded abruptly as pride kicked in: "Well, I think I can."
That was sixteen years ago. The kid's name was Denny, and he will always be a special one in my book. Since then, I have had plenty of kids who were fascinated by my ability to make lights and sound come out of a box. These days there aren't as many. We now have plenty of kids who show up in my class with more technology in their backpacks than we offer them in "the lab."
Thank goodness for kindergartners. Even though most of these kids show up with some idea of screens and mice and clicking and Internet, they will still hold still for Mister Caven's demonstrations. They sit, every bit as transfixed as Denny once was, and stare as I open a drawing program. They applaud as I show them how to make straight lines, red lines, blue circles, and then erase them all to start again. They are anxious to get a chance to do this for themselves, but they still appreciate the show.
I know that the time is coming when my room full of computers running Windows XP will seem like visiting a museum, but for now, I'm reveling in the wonder I can still bring.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Not Quite Opera

I remember "The Producers." Not the musical remake, or even the Broadway show that made the musical remake possible. It tells the story of a crooked theater producer who enlists the aid of a weak-willed accountant to help him cook the books of an all-singing, all dancing monstrosity called "Springtime For Hitler." The idea is to create such an unwatchable play that, after gathering bushels of money from elderly investors, the beast closes and declared a loss. All those extra bushels of money stay with the producers, due to the previously mentioned creative accounting. Mel Brooks set this thing in motion back in 1968, and it has made money for him ever since.
There are, however, plenty of reasons to believe that Mel didn't make this up all by himself. One of the more notorious echoes of Mister Brooks' scandalous notion can be found in "Carrie, The Musical." Back in 1988, somebody got it into their heads to mount a musical version of the Stephen King novel. Why wouldn't it work? "Little Shop of Horrors" turned out to be a huge success, after taking a 1960 Roger Corman movie as its inspiration. It did some nice business off Broadway before moving to the Great White Way, and eventually a big screen adaptation in 1986. Why wouldn't anyone who was a fan of horror and musical theater rush out to see the story of a girl who has a little trouble coming of age, especially after getting a bucket of pig's blood dumped on her head. Oh, those awkward teenage years. "Carrie, The Musical" is still considered one of the most expensive flops in Broadway history.
In a world that supports the odd hybrid of "Spiderman, The Muscial," it's hard to imagine why an audience couldn't be found for "Rebecca, The Musical." The Alfred Hitchcock film was based on a novel, and now that bloodline has morphed into a German language stage production. Why not? Maybe that's what went through the head former stockbroker Mark Hotton, when he decided to bring this show to our shores. Or maybe he was remembering "The Producers." Mister Hotton was arrested early Monday on charges he directed an elaborate fraud on Broadway starring fictitious investors.
Hey, this sounds like a great idea for a musical! Are you listening, Mel?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What We Don't Know

A number of people, over the course of my life, have pointed out that I am not a very trusting person. I have taken this observation to heart, but it does make me wonder just why they would be saying this about me. Paranoid? Not exactly, but I am willing to learn. This is especially true during election season, as we are inundated with "facts" and the attendant "fact checkers." I figure I'm just doing this for myself.
It might also have something to do with the way I grew up, at times, stretching the truth with my parents. My sins were primarily those of omission, leaving out key bits of information in hopes that if there was no direct interrogation on the subject that I could avoid having to confess. Over the past thirty-some years, I have made amends on most of those little white lies. The ones that stacked up over time to become some pretty nasty charcoal gray lies. The most innocent of those, it seemed at the time, were the ones I told about practicing the piano. At the end of the day, a metaphorical day that lands me here at fifty years old, I wish that I would have put in those hours way back when. I wouldn't be stuck in a house with a piano, occasionally standing in front of it, wishing that I had some mad skills to sit down and play the way I always wanted. That took a different kind of commitment than I was willing to give. Of course, my mother knew that my brothers and I could never have possibly squeezed in three full practice sessions in the time it took her to go to the grocery store. But that was our story, and we stuck to it.
The piano wasn't the only time I lied to my parents, but I know now that I reap what I once sowed, and so when I find out that my son was busy posting cat pictures on Facebook instead of studying for a chemistry test, it makes me sad. I want to distill the feeling I have, standing in front of that piano lacking the Mozart and Beethoven, and give it to him directly. I also know that it will be another thirty years before he feels it the way I do. And that's no lie.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


One of the more stirring sights in professional sports is the home run. The ball leaving the yard is an emphatic statement: "What else do you got?" The opposite end of the spectrum can be found in a strikeout. The snap of the ball in the catcher's glove without the sound of wood making any sort of contact that says, "Whoops." This season, the Oakland A's managed to do both with alarming frequency. One hundred and ninety-five home runs in the regular season. Couple that with a major league-leading number of strikeouts, and you have a feeling for the roller coaster ride that fans of the green and gold were on from June to mid-October.
Maybe that's why, as the Detroit Tigers met in the middle of the Oakland Coliseum to celebrate moving on to the American League Championship, those green and gold clad fans of the hometown A's stood and cheered for their team one last time. The fifth game wasn't very close. It didn't have any of the drama that had become a trademark of the A's this season. There was no late-inning heroics. No walk-off pie in the face for the guy who came through in the end. They went out with a whimper, not a bang. And a standing ovation. A crowd that couldn't find their way to the ball park back in May, when the Athletics weren't exactly living up to their name, were now applauding and cheering for this scrappy group of incipient stars. It was comforting to see baseball being appreciated, even though there was no trophy being awarded.
The next day, the circus moved on. The Detroit Tigers went back to work, pushing the New York Yankees to extra innings and into the early morning hours in the Bronx. Back in Oakland, General Manager Billy "Brad" Beane promised to try and keep the team together over the winter. I glanced at the Yankees' lineup and noted Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez, both longtime A's. But what is a long time in Major League Baseball? All winter long? Or the time it takes for the ball to reach the seats?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Be Prepared - For Disappointment

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight

Well, there it is - in black and white and italics. It says "I will do my keep myself...straight." It says so right there in the Scout Oath. Why should anyone be shocked or dismayed when the Boy Scouts of America don't allow their Boy Scouts to be Gay Boy Scouts? Maybe it has more to do with the "duty to God and country" than keeping yourself physically strong and mentally awake. But it does seem, at times, that this group and their quirky fashion sense might protest too much.
Apparently, there is a long, not-so-proud history of less-than-straight sex in the Boy Scouts. Maybe that's the reason why, if someone were to say loud and proud that they were gay, it might make people nervous. Of course, if that gay person happened to be an eighteen year-old who has spent the better part of the past ten years trying to earn his Eagle Scout badge, it might stir things up quite a bit.
Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, released this statement last week regarding Ryan Andresesn: "This scout proactively notified his unit leadership and Eagle Scout counselor that he does not agree to scouting's principle of 'Duty to God' and does not meet scouting's membership standard on sexual orientation. Agreeing to do one's 'Duty to God' is a part of the scout Oath and Law and a requirement of achieving the Eagle Scout rank."
Somebody might have mentioned this to Ryan before the completion of his Eagle Scout project,  a "tolerance wall," that was inspired by the years of hazing he endured in middle school and later at Boy Scout summer camp, where his nicknames were "Tinkerbell" and "faggot." While this particular project doesn't compare with clearing a creek of debris to make it more passable for fish, it does address the dual objectives of Citizenship and Community.
Who knew that "Don't ask, don't tell" would be in place longer in the Boy Scouts than the Marines?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Full Slate

My college alma mater's football team, who continue to suffer through a dismal struggle of a season, found themselves with a nationally televised game against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Kickoff for this Pac-12 tilt came at seven in the evening, Mountain Time, last Thursday night. This was just about the time that Joe Biden and Paul Ryan were teeing it up in Danville, Kentucky. This was also a nationally televised event.
Over on the NFL Network, an injury-depleted Pittsburgh Steelers team was going head-to-head against a Tennessee Titans squad that hadn't yet lived up to their potential. This professional football contest began at eight thirty eastern time, which meant that by the time Joe and Paul sat down, the second quarter was just underway.
The Yankees and the Orioles were also busy working on what would become another closely contested game in their American League Divisional Series as the Vice President and Congressman were yet to settle into their debating positions. The Orioles face elimination in their best of five series, and so their backs were against the wall.
That feeling was echoed in the matchup on the other side of the country, where the Oakland A's and the Detroit Tigers were playing one last game to decide who would move on to the American League Championship. The Biden/Ryan draw was still in the early stages when the first pitch was thrown out in Oakland.
It was a night full of sports distractions, and right-thinking Americans would have, should have, tuned in to watch how the running mates of the two major parties would square off, just four weeks before the election. With all the television technology available to me, I found myself flipping about between the men in cleats and helmets rather than looking in on the guys in suits and ties. As it turns out, for my rooting interests, I was only rewarded with the vague satisfaction of seeing the Orioles beating the Yankees in the Bronx. The rest of the action left me a little drained. The magical romp of a season the A's had been enjoying came to an end. The Steelers missed their last-minute field goal only to have the Titans make theirs. The Golden Buffaloes had a competitive first half, but then succumbed to the mile-high reality of the rest of their season and lost by more than four touchdowns. What did I miss back in Kentucky? Joe Biden got everyone talking with his feisty, or perhaps overzealous performance. No one is blaming the altitude this time.Thanks for taking one for the team, Joe.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mad World

Carl got expelled from the after school program at our school. He was given innumerable chances, but since Carl is in second grade, "innumerable" is a concept that doesn't mean a lot to him. Not that he doesn't understand that poking other kids, calling them names and being overtly disrespectful to children and adults alike is hard for him to grasp. To some degree, he has a better sense of right and wrong than many of the kids at our school, kindergarten through fifth. He just tends to choose "wrong."
Why so many bad choices? It could be that he is a bad kid, but since I left that distinction behind decades ago when my father used to announce that "there are no bad kids, only bad behavior." At the time, this sounded like wisdom, and not an aphorism from the positive parenting book he had read. He said this in a suburban world of kids whose shenanigans never edged close to that of the over-the-top craziness that occurs on a semi-regular basis where I work. Still, the idea that was planted in my head by my father continues to drive my teaching career.
So, what's the deal with Carl? If he's not a bad kid, why is he getting into so much trouble? I confess that my own patience has been stretched with him, and I have had times when sending him to sit on the bench at recess was the option that I chose instead of getting down on a knee and talking things out. The other fifty-seven second graders needed my attention as much as Carl, so I made that call. At these moments, I have heard what has become a familiar chorus from kids in his situation: "I hate this school." Usually I let that hate slide off and assume that there is probably plenty of hate about plenty of things in that seven year old. When I heard that Carl had been asked not to return to our after school program, I decided to look a little further.
Carl came to us from a school up the street. This is nothing new, we have an enormous amount of transiency in our student population. We don't expect kids who come to us in kindergarten will still be with us in fifth grade, our students' families tend to move around a lot. Carl's family didn't move. His school was closed. Along with approximately forty other kids, Carl came to our school because his neighborhood school was shut down due to district budget cuts. Whatever friends, teachers, facilities he and the other kids became familiar with was replaced with us. Nobody consulted Carl on this. Along with any and all other challenges Carl may have faced, he is now being asked to start fresh.
I looked at the attempt he made at an apology letter to the after school program's art teacher. It was barely legible, and what made it decipherable was the fill-in-the-blanks format supplied by the powers-that-be. Of course Carl is angry. He's barely able to read and write, and the people who used to be there to help him in that endeavor are no longer there. Now he's got to deal with this brand new group of grown-ups with their rules and expectations. He's going to hate this place until he finds something else to hate. It's not the excuse for his bad behavior, but maybe it's the reason.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Blinded, But Not By Science

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,and it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” Obviously, these words come from a Man of God. They also come from a member of the House Science Committee, Representative Paul Broun from Georgia. He continued: “You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth,” he said. “I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about nine thousand years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.”
The Bible is a wonderful book with plenty of amazing lessons and wisdom for the ages. If I were going to construct, for example, an improved scanner for use in detecting passengers bringing explosives on board a commercial jet, I don't believe that I would look to the Bible as my guide. And I have no idea where in the Good Book one might find a reference to Biofuels, but Representative Broun is all for them. Maybe this helps even out the contradiction about that whole "fossil fuel" issue. If there were no fossils, we would most certainly need to find a source of fuel that's been around for less than nine thousand years.
Here's the part that makes my head hurt: This guy is a licensed physician, with a B.S. in Chemistry. He's also the guy who said this: “What I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”
Watch for the Broun/Akin ticket in 2016.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Trick Or Treat?

I don't believe in magic. This comes as a great disappointment for my wife, who does. I do, however, enjoy a good trick. Something on the lines of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast or some sleight of hand, the scale doesn't matter much to me. I enjoy being fooled. For a while.
That may be why I enjoy the "magic" of Penn and Teller. These two will go out of their way to explain how they perform their illusions, step by step. Then they finish up by taking that explanation, throwing it in a blender and making you believe that what you just saw was impossible. I spent a long time after seeing their show in Las Vegas trying to unravel the secrets of their act. I knew it wasn't magic.
Neither is David Blaine. Way back when, as a street performer, I had the same experience when I watched his up-close card and coin work. It made me wonder. "How'd he do that?" Then he started doing things like getting frozen in a block of ice, or hanging upside down for a really long time. These are not tricks. They are, at best, stunts. This past week he spent three days being bombarded by one million volts for three days. The challenge here is holding relatively still for three days. It does make one wonder how he took care of nature's call, but that's still more a logistics concern than magic. One million volts? How many amps, Dave?
Well, as it turns out, that's not really the concern. It's the spectacle, after all, and that's what people pay for. If you can't believe your eyes, look again. I suppose, in the end, David Blaine did deliver on my expectation of a good trick. Only his was more of a P.T. Barnum kind of thing.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Got Gas?

Our governor, Jerry Brown, has decided to take action on the way that gas prices have begun to spiral ever-upward in the past few weeks. Californians have been subjected to five dollar a gallon gasoline. In order to stem this tide, Governor Brown has ordered state smog regulators to allow winter-blend gasoline to be sold in California earlier than usual. This means that the supply, which had been limited by explosions and malfunctions at major refineries, will continue to flow. This comes as sweet relief to taxi drivers and pizza delivery drivers, whose business relies on a steady flow of gas into their tanks.
Why don't we raise the price of pizza to cover the price of gas? The kind we put in our tanks, that is. Why not raise the price on the meter for your average fare? Doesn't sound fair? How about drivers in Europe, where they are paying nine dollars a gallon? Like the old National Lampoon Public Disservice message: "Don't send CARE packages to starving families in Europe.Can you afford to live in Europe? No. You can't even afford to visit Europe. And do you know what they do with your CARE packages? They whack them with their polo mallets, and kick them into their swimming pools and have a good laugh at your expense."
Can you afford to drive in the United States? No? Then stop. Don't use "winter blend," which I believe comes with a tiny bit of fresh nutmeg ground into it. Ride the bus. Ride a bike. Or pay five dollars a gallon and be happy about stimulating our sluggish economy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Voice Of America

My son has the unenviable task of taking on a class debate that has him arguing that questioning the government is a bad thing. Okay, he's not arguing. He's debating. Still, if you're a fifteen year old boy, it strikes a dissonant chord somewhere inside. "What? I thought I was supposed to question everything. What am I supposed to do with this?" To his credit, he has been paying attention to his local politics, as he watched the merry pranksters of Occupy Oakland tear up his hometown in the name of free speech.
His parents are the generation of parents who just missed raising hippies, so we find it hard to raise a solid question for authority. We're suspicious, but not paranoid. At least that's what we like to tell the voices in our heads. The ones that make us read the ballot propositions carefully, but then wonder aloud why we are being asked to do the work of our elected officials. How should I know if retailers and manufacturers of processed foods should be required to label fresh produce or manufactured, packaged food that contain or likely could contain ingredients made from plants or animals whose DNA has been manipulated in a laboratory? And how long has this whole DNA manipulation been going on?
You can trust your government. This is a democracy, made by the people and for the people. How far wrong could this go? I suppose if we were all people working from a common blueprint, using some sort of road map or plan, like a list of rules or regulations, then we would be fine. If only we had such a document. It would make trusting the government so much easier. Unless that document was open to wild interpretation and confusion. Free Speech is Free Speech, right? But what if that right was given to you by the very government that is telling you it's okay to speak your mind? Don't shout "Fire!" in a crowded movie house. I get that. How about shouting "ouch" when the weight of the other turtles stacked up on your back gets to be too much?
That's kind of what takes place here, on a regular basis. So I'll be anxious to see what sort of grade my son gets on his debate. And I'll offer to help him with any extra credit he might need to make up for his father's democratic ambivalence.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The High Cost Of Ether

I can remember the first time someone suggested "free web space" to me. It was my wife, who has spent a goodly portion of her adult life in cyber-real estate. The idea that I could sit down at a keyboard and, with a few clicks of a mouse, hang my virtual shingle out there in the world. It was on a corner of Al Gore's Internet called Geocities. It was amusing enough to me that I could mount a nominally snazzy site just by copying and pasting and choosing attractive backgrounds from a host of selections offered by the friendly web developers at Yahoo. It had a cute picture of my then very young son in a cowboy hat alongside his faithful dog friend. It had a number of links to clever bits of writing I had saved but had no other place to display. It was connected to other bits of webmorbilia that would tell the casual visitor more about me: Where I worked. Where I went to school. Where I spent my free time.
Little did I know that I was sliding perilously close to becoming part of a prototype of social media. Before MySpace. Before Twitter. Before one billion people had signed up for Facebook. I had a guestbook and anxiously awaited comments from passersby. Eventually, I discovered the only way I could get people to look at my cool Internet page was to drag them bodily to a computer and show it to them myself. A year later, I stopped going there myself. It had become a boring waste of my time. Then, sometime later, Geocities went under, taking my embryonic web design with it. My chief regret at that moment was that I could not locate the original photo of my son and dog. That was easily made up for by my wife's efforts to bring the world to her virtual doorstep. She's everywhere out there. But it's not all free.
That's why I landed here, at Blogspot. Dot com. I'm all about the blog, spot, and even the dot, but the com as in commerce evades me. I'm happy to have a spot where I can be found, even when I'm resting, and people like you can find out all sorts of fascinating things about me and share in the wonder that is my world view. For free. Someday, the friendly folks at Blogspot may decide to charge me for this privilege. Or maybe they will go out of business too. But for now I'm still reveling in the absurd feeling of getting something for nothing. Perhaps you feel the same. Cheers.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey

That's another baseball season without a Cubs World Series appearance. This one wasn't even close. Chicago's north-side team lost more than one hundred games this year. The only consolation that Cub fans can wear as a badge of honor would be the fact that the Houston Astros lost even more. How's that for bringing honor to the franchise? In the meantime, there are other teams that are resetting their championship clocks. Pennants are being won by improbable groups of upstarts. Playoff games are being played in a Cub-free environment. Again.
This comes as precious little consolation to those of us who walk about mumbling the same nonsensical mantra: "Waitilnextyear." The Hundred Years' War lasted just a few years longer than these National Leaguers have waited around for a championship. In my half-century, I have yet to see the Cubs show up anywhere but in the bleachers for a World Series game.
But this is all history. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. In other words, if you don't learn from your prior experience, then you will keep doing it. Over and over and over. What sort of person does this? Saint Jude? And a nation of panda-shaped men who spend nine months of every year wishing and hoping for things to change. Well, that's not completely fair. Most of us spend the first four and a half of those months being hugely optimistic, and then start preparing our exit strategy from baseball season. I've met a number of these fellows in my travels. To a one, they maintain a charmingly self-effacing sense of humor about themselves and their allegiance, and they are the most loyal human beings you could hope to encounter. It is in their DNA. I suspect someday there will be a test for pregnant mothers to let them know if the child they are carrying is predisposed to this particular affliction.
For now, we'll have to take solace in that quirkiest of hopes: Next year has got to be better. For some of us. Time will tell.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

What's On?

"I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I like you too," Mitt "What's Wrong With Commercial TV Anyway?" Romney said during Wednesday's presidential debate. The Jim to whom he referred was PBS newscaster Jim Lehrer. Mitt "I've Got Dish At My Six Houses" Romney doesn't think we should "borrow money from China" to pay for Sesame Street. Or the PBS News Hour. Public Broadcasting is something we'll all have to do without in a Romney world.
He also reminded everyone just how much he supports public education by chiding Barack "Debate Prep Is A Drag" Obama for his priorities: "You put ninety billion dollars into green energy," Romney said. "I'm all for green energy but you could have hired two million teachers with that money." Of course, back in June he when he derided President Obama: “He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.” Then he declared, “It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.” I have a degree in English, but that does that mean that firemen, policemen, and teachers aren't Americans?
My high school German reminds me that "Lehrer" is "teacher" in English. Big Bird teaches kids about the alphabet and tolerance. While Mitt "Basic Cable" Romney assures us all that he will not cut our defense budget, he will be happy to cut off the funding for Public Broadcasting. Neil de Grasse Tyson, who has his own show to worry about made this analogy: "Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive." And maybe that's why Mitt "Oh How I Hate Big Bird" Romney wants to shut these guys up.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

America's Roast Beef, Yes Sir!

That was the phrase that appeared on the buttons we all wore for about three months while we hustled about, making Supers and Juniors and Regulars alongside orders of crispy potato cakes and hot apple and cherry turnovers. "Would you like a delicious Jamocha shake with that today?" Back in those days, when I was an Arby's employee, our goal at the counter was to serve two to three customers in two to three minutes. It was the epitome of fast food. Our store was located on the edge of town, and our lunch trade was made up in large part of IBM cubicle dwellers who roared down the highway and into our lobby with just enough time to roar on back to savor their beefy treats. On any given day, they stood four to five deep at each of our three cash registers, and as soon as one got their bag of food, another would step up.
In those early days, our regular customers knew what they wanted and didn't bother to peruse the menu. They just let us know what permutation they wanted their sliced meat to come in, and we got it to them. In two to three minutes. Even the newbies who were lured to our doors via the coupons that appeared in weekly circulars came because they knew what they wanted: Roast Beef. Yes sir!
Sure, there were those who lived on the edge with the microwaved sensation called the "Hamchy," because calling it a "Ham and Cheese" would be boring. Some wanted their super to be tomato free. Others wanted a slice of Swiss melted on their Junior. There were even those who favored a sliced turkey sandwich. We got it for them. In two to three minutes. And then the big-wigs in corporate decided to introduce new menu items: Sub sandwiches. This meant new combinations, new buns, and a dilution of our efforts. The prep time alone for these seven inch distractions was a drag, but when people started showing up with coupons encouraging them to buy two-for-one the two to three minute world took a hit.
Then came the chicken. Deep-fried and dropped on yet another kind of bun, we were dropping frozen solid planks of white meat into boiling oil and rushing about in the same chaotic way we did when it was a roast beef restaurant, but the two to three minutes became a thing of the past. Suddenly, customers were caught staring up at our menu board, trying to discern just the right choice for their forty minute-less travel time lunch period.
I didn't stick around much longer after that. That was thirty years ago. Now a new logo and a hodge-podge of new menu items are being introduced. No wonder it took me twenty minutes to get my Beef 'n' Cheddar when I went there this past June for my birthday. America's Roast Beef What's That?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Waiting For Perot

The best thing about the 1992 presidential race may have been the comic relief. Certainly the major party candidates offered their share of laughs, some of which came during the debates, but there was one feature of that campaign that was different than all the others that have come before and since: Perot. The man who is now a punchline in American politics once lead the polls, and for a period of time two decades ago, was only a hop, skip and a few dozen electoral votes from becoming the most powerful man in the world. Okay, maybe a couple of hops and a hundred or so electoral votes, but for a time, America was buying what this billionaire had to sell. And he was laughing all the way to the bank/White House.
We liked him then, how do we like him now? After a much-less ballyhooed run for president in 2000, Ross Perot drifted into the background of the political landscape. The highest profile third-party candidate we have currently is Rosanne Barr, who has no party with which to run since being replaced by Doctor Jill Stein on the Green Party ticket. Say what you will about Rosanne, but she's probably got a little more comedy in her than Doctor Jill. That's why it was nice for Mister Perot to pop back up last week to announce that America is ripe for takeover by foreign invaders. Maybe he's been watching too many previews of the remake of "Red Dawn," or maybe he's just crazy like a fox: "If we are that weak, just think of who wants to come here first and take us over," he asked cryptically in a USA Today interview. Actually, he may have missed the part where we already owe China trillions of dollars, and we've even got a tab running with Brazil these days.
So, maybe the old coot has a point, but maybe if we work things right, and we learn to love soccer, we can swing a deal with our neighbors down south. Just don't ask me to learn how to samba.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

First Cousin

I heard a voice from the past last Sunday. It was cousin Don. He was the relative with whom I most closely related as we were growing up. I've never been clear exactly how the progression of cousins go, as far as who is removed and how many times and so on, but for me he was my first cousin. We were close in age, and just a short trip up the road to Lafayette. That's where his family had a farm, and that's where we went for Thanksgivings forever. Besides that feast, they would travel down to our house for Christmas where we would return the turkey favor, and in the summer they were good for at least one trip up to our mountain cabin for a weekend of fun and frolic in the hills.
All of this closeness was put to the test one night when it was requested that I spend the night out on the farm. My mind filled with expectations: Riding tractors, milking cows, sleeping in a bunk bed. It could have been the best of times, but amidst the rest of those exciting opportunities came the fear. For all those years, I could never name it, but it was the thing that kept me from spending the night away from home, no matter how familiar of fun the circumstances might have been. When my parents left, and the sun went down, I felt the gnawing in my gut, but tried to put on a brave face. I did not want to disappoint cousin Don. I didn't want to embarrass myself. There was a room full of toys that I had never fully enjoyed in our brief visits before. There were all those laughs still to be had, late into the night.
By bedtime, I was almost ready to jump out of my skin, though I kidded myself that I was putting up a brave front. When the lights went out, I was alone. At least that's how I felt. I couldn't close my eyes. I worked myself up to such a pitch that I found myself in the bathroom, kneeling over the toilet, sure that I was going to heave all that good farm food. But nothing came. I moaned. I cried. I sobbed. Don's parents came and consoled me. They worked with me as best they could. They couldn't understand how this kid who was so gung ho about spending a night on the farm a few hours ago had become such a quivering wreck. Neither could I. Neither could Don.
The hours passed, and when the sun finally returned, I felt no relief. Just the shame of having spent the night tossing and turning, making deals like a man on death row. Here's the best part: Don never said a word about it. Not then. Not now. It was a sad, defining moment for me, but it never came up again. Not for all these years. On Sunday, we talked about his job and his family and my job and my family and all the things we have seen along the way. He told me he still read this blog.
Thanks for reading, Don. Thanks for being my friend.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Sunny Side Of The Street

Sometimes I like to imagine what it must have been like a hundred years ago, sitting in the front room of our house, looking out on the sidewalks that may or may not have been in decent repair. The houses next door were not apartment buildings. There was plenty of space between neighbors, and the sun could easily find its way in the front window anytime after noon. But in the twenty-first century, this old Victorian sits in a man-made canyon that casts shadows that defy the changing seasons.
As part of our post-burglary reclamation, we have been looking into all forms of entrance and egress from our premises. Doors and windows have been fixed, latched and repaired. Living in a house that was built in 1895 requires that we make these changes with some sense of history. Part of that history is our own. The drapes in the front room have kept the heat in and helped channel our view of the 'hood around us, but they needed to come down after years of inattention by us and our dog's curious habit of licking those parts that were closest to her.
We took them down. We laundered them. When we took them out of the washing machine, those years of wear and tear showed more tear than wear, and the decision was made to get new curtains. But a magical thing happened: With the curtains off the windows, the light came in. It made me think of a time, perhaps more than a hundred years ago, when ours was the only house on the street. When the street was a road. When our neighborhood was an orchard. When the sun came in the windows every day.
We'll get new curtains. The rainy season is on its way. But I won't forget the light we had.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


I'm a pretty big fan of free speech. It is precisely that little hunk of constitutional wisdom that gives me the opportunity to spout off about this and that. I have been sharing my opinions on matters big and small, but mostly small, on this virtual spot for several years now, and at no point has my door been kicked and by jackbooted thugs looking to haul me away to a re-education center on a distant archipelago. That doesn't mean that I haven't stirred up some strong feelings from those who don't exactly see eye-to-eye with me. Generally the comments I receive are supportive and when I manage to strike a nerve with a reader out there in the ether, I hear about it in one form or another. Of course I have no way to know how much of what I have written over the past few years has been dutifully transcribed or preserved on some government hard drive with the hopes of eventually catching me going just a little too far.
I'm guessing Nakoula Basseley Nakoula may have had a sense that he was being watched. The auteur behind the Youtube sensation, "Innocence of Muslims" might have had his bail money ready for the moment that federal officials came knocking, especially given the response his thirteen minute film created. This is not because the burning of American flags in the Middle East is an uncommon sight, but it usually comes as a reaction to some sort of international incident or policy shift. This guy managed to stir things up across the globe by posting his poorly made and inflammatory video that mocked the Prophet Mohammad next to "Charlie Bit My Finger." No word as yet what sort of protective custody Charlie is undergoing.
Nakoula was locked up in a Los Angeles jail because of "possible parole violations." If inciting global unrest is a parole violation, then lock him up and throw away the key. If they're keeping him behind bars because they figure he will be safer there, then they seem to be on the right track again. And just who is this "they" I keep mentioning? Maybe I should cut this short before I get myself in trouble. So just to throw them off, here's my recipe for coleslaw.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Black And White And Red All Over

I felt a wave of security wash over me as I sat on my couch, watching the events unfold on my TV. Our long, national nightmare was at an end. The National Football League had settled with their regular officials, ushering out the past several weeks of unrest as things got back to normal on the field. How gratified were the commoners to have their beloved referees back, replacing the replacements who had replaced them? The guys in the black and white shirts got a standing ovation in Baltimore. That may be a first in professional sports.
As this feeling of calm settled into the night and the rest of the week, I reflected on the work action that resulted in the average NFL official getting a raise from $149,000 a year last year to $173,000 in 2013. By 2019, that salary will be over two hundred thousand dollars a year. Of course, in the big book of NFL salaries and revenue, this is change dug from beneath the seats of Jerry Jones' Lincoln Town Car. Kudos to these hard-working, under-appreciated fellows who work under all kinds of adverse conditions while enduring the scorn and wrath of half of the viewing public at any given moment. Their plight was felt all the way to the top: both Mitt "Friend of the Working Man" Romney and Barack "Photo Op"Bama threw their thoughts into the fray in the days leading up to the settlement.
They were on different sides of the work action in Chicago a few weeks back. Mitt condemned the teachers. Barack condemned Mitt for condemning the teachers. This was all about the concerns of a group of working men and women who were making approximately one half the average salary of the average NFL official. Of course, these "teachers" were already suspect for their nine month school year and ridiculously short work days. Eight to three? Why all the fuss about a little more scrutiny over their practices and pensions? Get back to work, slackers. Our children need you.
But not as much as we need to have our professional referees. That sense of calm began to drift away.